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Friday, May 23, 2008

London Closure

And so it goes... Our third day in London arrives, and I'm no more intrigued than the first day there.

The four of us arose early on Sunday morning to beat the traffic to Abbey Road, north of Picadilly. After a brief walk, we found the famous Beatles crosswalk, and took turns photographing each other in character: Siebe as George, yours truly as Paul, Mandy as Ringo, and Lana as John. It would've been cooler if we'd all been able to be in the picture at the same time, but alas, we were up so darn early that no one was around.

After our photo session, we raced to the train station to catch a ride to Windsor Castle, a little under two hours outside the city. The ride to the castle was so incredibly boring, hot, and it felt like it took forever, but Windsor proved to be a really quaint little town. And the Castle and its gardens were absolutely stunning. We had a grand tour, and saw a lot of ornate, yet empty rooms and left wondering what in the world they need so many rooms. According to the flag bearing the coat of arms, the Queen was at her residence, but of course, she kept to her private quarters.

The four of us made it back to the Kensington area of London by 3 p.m., promptly on time for high tea at the Orangery. The Orangery is the tea room located on the grounds of Kensington Palace, and is the grandest tea time experience in all of London. The restaurant is a large, long white room, with white columns, white tablecloths, and huge windows. The only color splash came from the miniature orange trees centered on each table, each with lilliputian-sized citrus fruits dangling among their leaves.

We each ordered the four-course signature Orangery tea service. Our first course, was of course, the tea. I ordered a traditional Earl Grey, and I went heavy on the cream and sugar cubes. They even had brown sugar cubes! Then, shortly after, our cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches arrived, stacked neatly without their crusts. The third course yielded a large shortcake biscuit and strawberry jam and fresh butter. To conclude our tea time, we were served a slice of the house Orangery cake, with melt-in-your-mouth, sweet orange icing. The Orangery was one of my favorite London moments.

After we'd carbed it up, we walked on the grounds to Kensington Palace, to see the much anticipated Princess Diana exhibit. Much to our disappointment, it was only a few of her dresses and a photograph or two. Woh-woh-woooohhhh.

By this time, it was early evening, and we decided to enjoy a little downtime in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. We finally parked ourselves on a large bench on the main walking boulevard connecting the two parks. For the next three hours, the four of us did what we do best: people watch. It was fascinating to observe the Londoners in their own habitat. I think it was one of the most fun and relaxing parts of our trip. We nicknamed our perch the "bench of judgment," as we'd try to figure out where people received their motivation for clothing choice, hairstyle, and other physical accoutrement. You let your imagination run wild when you try to figure out others frame of reference.

The Bench of Judgment

We did notice that no one really laughs in London, even during times of leisure. I'd guess this is just a cultural difference between Americans and the Brits, but I don't feel like a day goes by when I don't have at least one good laugh.

Sunday was a long day, and we had one more to hammer out before we hit the Chunnel for Paris. Our Monday morning started quickly with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Not that we actually saw the ceremony---there must have been thousands of people there! It was insane.

A short jaunt across town led us to the foot of Big Ben and Parliament, and it was a magnificent sight to behold. And Westminster Abbey was right at our doorstep.

Westminster Abbey is a Catholic church. When Siebe and I were planning our trip, I read online that you can only visit the Abbey during services. Upon learning this, I was disappointed, and decided that the four of us should attend Holy Communion in order to observe the Abbey during a service. This made perfect sense to me. Little did I know that this would cause us drama.

We arrived at the Abbey and walked into the side entrance for observation of Holy Communion. We were met at the gates by a Priest, who radioed in to another Priest that we were coming through the doors. Odd, I thought. But whatever. When we walked inside, we realized that you can go inside the Abbey without actually attending a service, but we were promptly met by the Priest and escorted to our seats. Immediately, we realized that we didn't need to be here for this, so we quietly got up and tried to walk out of the roped off area for the service. Seconds later, the same Priest escort got all in our business and told us to leave, and that we had to pay to get into the Abbey. Umm...we weren't trying to get a free ride, buddy. We were just confused. Needless to say, he was very rude and practically slapped our behinds when we walked out.

Soon after, we managed to secure paid entrance into the Abbey and we carried on with our plans to see the beautiful gothic structure. I was so impressed with the building and its ornate style, but was shocked to see so many tombs, crypts and memorial displays for priests, kings and queens of old. Hundreds of dead bodies in this building, all on display in little nooks and crannies all over this huge church. And we even found many authors, poets and songwriters in a section called "Poet's Corner." Pretty incredible stuff. All of the weird statues of the dead and ritualistic wording and symbols on the walls kind of makes me think conspiracy theory of the Catholic church. I think there were probably some crazy things that went down in that religion way back when. Just sayin...

Late afternoon led us to Covent Garden, synonymous with tourist shopping, dirty streets (and people) and expensive cokes. It's almost not even worth a mention, except for getting our second wind.

Next up was Harrod's, an old luxury department store in Knightsbridge. It was shuttered up on the outside for repairs, so we didn't see the famous twinkling lights that normally adorn every inch of the exterior of the building.

Dinnertime sent us back to Leicester Square, where we had one of our best meals in London, an Italian place no less. After a leisurely meal, we walked over to Trafalgar Square, our last destination on our itinerary.

Trafalgar Square is considered the heart of London, and is littered with monuments, fountains and tons of concrete. Mandy decided she'd like a picture atop one of the large bronze lions. We hoisted pint-sized Mandy up with no issue. Of course, leggy Lana wanted in on the fun, so she tried to scale the wall to the big beast. After several minutes of dangling off the side, she gave up. And I have it captured, frame-by-frame. It was hilarious, and we weren't the only people laughing.

Reading back through this, it doesn't sound terribly interesting. I didn't love London. I felt dirty the entire time I was there. And I'd be more than okay if I never went back. I was glad to experience a foreign hub city, but London isn't so foreign afterall. City of Lights onward!

Siebe & MA on the London Underground

Thursday, May 22, 2008


I can't stand un-originality. It's stealing. Stealing from me and claiming it as your own. No sir, I don't like it. And it needed to be said.

"True originality consists not in a new manner, but a new vision."
--Edith Wharton

"Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feel the use of."
-- John Stuart Mill

"It is better to fail in originality, than to succeed in imitation."
--Herman Melville

Sunday, May 18, 2008

London Pride

At the beginning, it seems like a large and tedious task to chronicle my eleven-day European holiday. Especially when I'm so dadgum exhausted. This time last Sunday, I was still on an airplane, probably about to eat a cardboard-like pizza at 40,000 feet. Is it possible that I'm still jet-lagged? The past week was so busy and long, and I'm still not rested.

It took us approximately 16 hours to make it to Picadilly Backpackers, our hostel home during our stay in London. That'd be 16 hours, 250 pounds of luggage, and several hundred steps navigating the London Underground. We were starving by the time we checked in, so after a quick freshen up, we walked down the street to find something to eat.

Ironically, our restaurant destination was called "The Crown." Fitting for a Queen's first meal across the pond. We all ordered and marveled that we'd actually made it to Europe. Little did we know that we were about to experience our first setback...

Our meal was delivered promptly, and I was rather taken with the beautiful display of fish and chips that lay before me. Lana, on the other hand, was mortified when she realized that her barbeque chicken sandwich was globbed with mayonnaise. Lana has an irrational fear of the white condiment, and nearly flipped out when she saw it oozing out between the bread. While Lana steamed, Mandy, Siebe and I focused on our food, and didn't speak for nearly five minutes. Finally, I began to snicker, and pretty soon we were all laughing at how preposterous the situation. Siebe admitted that her worst fear about this trip had come true within our first few hours in London: Lana would encounter mayonnaise. Anyway, my fish and chips were delightfully delicious, and I loved the mushy peas on the side. Mandy, however, prefers her peas from a can.

A very hungry MA & Siebe after a very long trip.

After dinner, we shopped around Picadilly Circus, Oxford Circus and Bond Street. We learned fast that the only shopping we'd partake in would be that of the window variety, as the dollar is so weak to the British Pound. Stops at H&M and TopShop were fruitless. But we did make it to Fortnum & Mason, and I scored some Queen Anne and Strawberry tea.

In the heart of Picadilly Circus with Eros

To be honest, I was a little disappointed in London. I expected much more history, and much less modernization. You'd walk past a quaint corner with historic architecture, only to find a McDonalds or KFC next door. And the people were not only quite ugly, but very rude. People on the street wouldn't think twice about barreling into you. It was like an angry ant hill. And a very dirty ant hill, at that. London is smelly and trashy---literally. People just throw their trash on the street. This is probably because there are virtually no trash cans to be found.

To end our evening, we embarked on a Londoner pub crawl and realized how exhausted we were after our almost 36 hour day. I had a pint of Fuller's London Pride, Outstanding Pale Ale, and then we tucked ourselves into our bunkbeds.

Saturday morning came early, and we rolled out of bed to get ready for the day. Our hostel bedroom was incredibly clean, almost as if it had been sprayed down with bleach before our arrival. The community bathrooms, on the other hand, were rather nasty.

Our morning descent onto the streets of London was lonely, as we were the only crazies to be up and out before 8 a.m. Us and the street sweepers, cleaning up all of that abandoned trash. Our first stop of the morning was St. Paul's Cathedral. We got there early enough so that the four of us got to experience the beautiful church without the masses of tourists.

After St. Paul's we traveled bankside to the River Thames to the lifesize replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. I loved this tour. We were even lucky enough to see a drama troupe rehearsing for a production of Romeo and Juliet. We ended the morning with lunch on the Thames. I was a little surprised at how boring the London skyline. There really wasn't much of one. And carved stone was outweighed by steel and glass.

The Tower Bridge

Siebe, Mandy, Lana & MA on the River Thames

As if we could schedule anymore into our first day of sightseeing, we traveled over to the Tower of London to visit the Beefeaters guarding the Crown Jewels. The complex was pretty amazing and the grounds were exceptionally kept. But it was miserably hot inside the non-airconditioned walls, and the rubies and diamonds were about the only eye candy we found. I did discover an award-winning loo though...

Beauties and the Beefeater

A long day in the sun yielded four hungry (and cranky) girls. We made our way to Leicester Square to have dinner at De Hems Dutch Pub, recommended to us by Mandy's cousin Tina. I had my second round of fish and chips, but not all are created equal. On our table, I saw a tri-fold table topper advertising Eiken Artois, evidently the brother beer of my favorite beer, Stella Artois. Has anyone had an Eiken Artois and can you get it stateside???

And the holiday continues...

Friday, May 16, 2008

One Down

Today marks my one-year anniversary of employment at L-Way Christian Stores. It doesn't seem like that long ago in April of 2007 when I was sitting in a carpeted corner of a Las Vegas Convention Center, eating lunch by myself and lamenting internally about my job at Adtec. One week later, I got the call about the job offer, and the future looked different for Mary Anna Brown.

One year later, I am still in awe of the Lord's provision and blessing. He sure did up the ante on my faith. Talk about bringing my trust in Him to a whole new level...

As if in celebration, I got an incredibly nice compliment today about a series of events that went down Wednesday and Thursday. A year of hard work is beginning to pay off, and starting to get noticed. I won't lie...I'm proud of myself. But still so thankful and humbled.

Well, ITZA Pizza day at L-Way, and you know what that means...

Oh ya---I'm back from Europe. Catch the multi-part blog series beginning this weekend!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Skipping Town

Siebe, Lana, Mandy and I leave town this evening for a European holiday. The past three weeks have been just heinous enough that I may not come back. If I don't return, assume I've run off with a Frenchman to the Riviera. I'm not kidding about this...

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