Friday, March 16, 2012

March Madness

This is the first time in about ten years I won't be filling out a bracket for the NCAA Basketball tournament. It's strange to see Facebook and Twitter posts about brackets and the tournament without having my own bracket to fret over. It's a strange relief. However, I bet I could fill one out this year without having seen a single college game and still be as good at it as I was in all those years past. As Bomani Jones says, it's impossible to predict the behavior of teenagers. 

I started the month with the annual Croydon Cyclone - the disc golf tournament at my "local" disc golf course. It was the first national tour event of the season. I can't remember having played worse in a tournament in my life; I didn't make the finals in my division. 

My Saturday afternoon (2nd round) group. 

The sun sets on our last hole of the day. 
It may have been that my mind was in other places: our friend from Raleigh, Edward, was arriving on Sunday to stay with us for a week!

He got in on Sunday morning. One of his cousins came to pick him up at the airport (as I was still in the disc golf tournament until late in the afternoon). They got to hang out, go down to Kent, see some more family, and catch up.

Monday evening, we three went to see Les Miserables. Edward was hyped to go, and there was no protestations from Kenz and I, considering how good the show is. We got some discount tickets a few weeks before he arrived.

On our way to the show! 
We took Edward to Wahaca pre-show. Naturally. 
By Tuesday, Edward had adjusted to sleeping on our futon and the time change. He had picked up some discount tickets to the London Eye. Both Kenz and I were a bit anxious about going up in the Eye. She gets claustrophobic, I'm scared of heights. We pushed through our fears to get some good views of the city.

I haven't had a chance to upload the pictures Kenz took with the real camera - all these are from my phone. When (if) she does a post, we'll get those pictures up on the blog.

Not a glamorous shot. On our way up. My heart is beating at about 100bpm.

The Eye turned out to be much more fun and not nearly as scary as originally expected. We got great 360 degree views of the city. Kenz and I found our little building in south London once we got to the apex of the ferris wheel. We could see everything, including St. Paul's, the Gherkin, HP, the Shard, etc. It was a trip. And Samsung has done a great job with product placement - there's 4 of their tablets secured inside each capsule; you can use them to tap on pictures of what you're seeing and get little bio's of buildings and sections of the city.

Dreadlocks + Mullet = Drullet

We also got to do a lot of people watching down on the southbank river walk. Theres always a steady mixture of locals and tourists walking by the Eye, National Theatre, and various galleries that litter the south side of the Thames.

Edward had taken our recommendation to download Rick Steve's free audio podcast tours for London. He and I proceeded to listen to these audio tours for the next few days while walking around. We did "The City," "Westminister," "The British Museum," and he did "The British Library" solo.

Dickens (National Portrait Gallery)

Poe (National Portrait Gallery)

Edward and the Rosetta Stone (British Museum)

Horse guards Parade 

Darwin (National Portrait Gallery)

Beards (National Portrait Gallery). I'm sure these guys are famous, but I just thought it was a beard hall of fame.

London 2012 Olympic (left) and Paralympic (right) gold medals, front and back. 
We spent so much time in the British Museum that we were the last ones out. It was crazy to get to take this picture with no one in the Grand Hall - it's usually filled with hundreds of people.

On Thursday, Eddie and I caved in and paid admission to the Tower of London. So far, we had done everything for free in London, but when we arrived at the Tower, he was sure it was worth the price. We waited for a guided tour (included in admission), and quickly found out this was definitely worth the 17 GBP. 

Tower Bridge

Tower of London (this is actually Whitehall inside what is generally referred to as the Tower)
We were happy to wait the fifteen minutes for the guided tour. We had no idea what type of tour it would be, but I always like to wait or join in on guided tours in progress. At the British Museum, I always just meld into the crowd around a tour guide - sometimes it's a private tour and everybody looks at me suspiciously. Whatever. Tours are great.

As it turned out, the tours at the Tower of London are done by Yeomen. They are the monarch's bodyguard inside the tower, and are generally referred to as "Beefeaters." Our guide told us there's no recorded history as to where the name originated, but told us a story that people accept as truth: In the days of Henry VIII, most people were poor and starving. Henry decided it would be best to make sure his bodyguards were fed well (happy). He gave the Yeomen 20oz. steaks every day. Whenever these guys would go out into the town, everyone would say things like, "There go the beefeaters!"

Becoming a Beefeater isn't an easy task. In order to apply, you have to have served in the army for 22 years, have achieved a rank within the army (I think Master Sergeant), and received a medal (I can't remember the name of it now) that symbolizes/recognizes Integrity, etc. After getting all three of these things, you then have to apply (about 200 applicants per year), and pass a battery of tests.

There are only 37 Beefeaters. All of them (including their families) live inside the Tower of London! There's a doctor, chaplain, and some other people that live inside as well. It's a miniature village.
Our Beefeater guide. Loud and funny. 

We had some Weasleys on our tour.

"Any Americans in the crowd? Well, we had the FIRST Watergate!" This was the aquatic entrance to the Tower. 
Our guide told us tons of stories about executions, escapes, kings, queens, etc. It was an hour tour that finished in the chapel. We learned about who was buried where, who got their head chopped off in what locations, how bodies (and heads) were preserved, and the like. It was fantastic. I recommend it to anyone planning to visit.

Guards preparing to patrol the Tower

Wooden carvings of past kings' faces
We walked through the building that houses the Crown Jewels. We weren't allowed to take pictures. There's a 500+ carat diamond in there. Crazy stuff.

Whitehall is now a series of exhibits that show what the building has been used for in the past 1000 years. There's a lot of old armor in there:

Edward and I scored some cheap tickets to Ghost: The Musical while he was here, too. Apparently they're having a hard time selling out each show, because we got the cheapest of the cheap tickets and got bumped up to the 20th row when we showed up. The technical aspects of the show were impressive, but forgettable performances and a tepid score had us leaving happy to have spent little on the tickets themselves.

Edward's last day started with a full English breakfast. We went with Kenz to the V&A museum, and strolled two miles through Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and over to Portobello Road in the evening.

Sad Edward doesn't want to leave

Dale Chihuly fixture at the entrance to the V&A (
Edward left on Sunday. It was sad to see him go, but he got to do everything he was hoping for while he was here.

We had great weather this week; I even got to open the windows!

And we got a package in the mail of some pots and pans we've been waiting for (thanks, Patti!). Included was the french press sister Lisa got us for Christmas (having coffee strained through a paper towel while visiting us at Thanksgiving motivated us to get a proper coffee maker for her next visit).
I've been making too much coffee as a result. 

Kenz's sister, Whitney, arrives at the end of next week. We can't wait! We're currently building the Ikea bed that we bought for Eddie's visit (that arrived two days after Eddie left).

Have a good weekend!