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Thursday, May 18, 2000

We left the hotel around 9 a.m. and took the tube to the British Museum. This is a must if visiting London. Here you can see all of the marvelous treasures of antiquity that the British have plundered from the rest of the world. The museum is large but doesn't take more than an hour or so to visit (depending on how much you spend looking at each exhibit).

The thing I most wanted to see was the Rosetta Stone. This was the stone that allowed linguist to finally decipher hieroglyphics. On the stone is a proclamation in three languages. Two of the languages linguist already could read and the third was hieroglyphics. By using the first two as the key they were able to decipher the hieroglyphics.

At my college (Mobile College) in Mobile, Alabama they had what I thought was a "life size" replica of the Rosetta Stone. What I was amazed to discover was that the real stone was much smaller than the replica.

The museum also contains a wide array of Egyptian artifacts and mummies. Another fascinating portion of the museum is the stone carving that once surrounded the Parthenon (which the Greek government now wants back). There is also a large collection of Sumarian stonework.

While at the museum we met the lady and daughter that I had been speaking with at the Ceremony of the Keys. I had also wanted to visit the British Library to see the collection of ancient manuscripts. However, we decided to instead go to St. Paul's Cathedral. So we found the bus stop and took a bus to the cathedral.

St. Paul's is a massive cathedral. I tried to talk Alan into climbing the dome. I didn't succeed. It is a beautiful building. The most fascinating part of the Cathedral is the crypt. Here many famous people of history are buried. I also find it fascinating to see the "unknown" tombs. By "unknown" I do not mean that no one knows who is buried in the tomb. What I do mean is that if you asked people today, not one in a million could tell you who the person was or what they did in life to warrant being buried in such a prestigious place.

For example, the tomb of Sir So-n-So. Born 1620, died 1682. Who was this guy? What did he do in life? I am sure he was some sort of big shot or well known but today we don't have a clue. How fleeting is fame. And there are hundreds like this. Of course, there are many very well known tombs such as the tomb of Florence Nightingale.

Our next stop was Les Miserables. Disappointed that I had missed the show on Saturday night, I had called on Tuesday to see if any matinee tickets were available for today. There were plenty of seats available. In fact, the theater was only half-full. We possibly could have got half-price tickets but I didn't want to take a chance.

We arrived at the Theater about 45 minutes early so we decided to stop and get some lunch. It had been raining off and on during the morning. If you are facing the theater, there is a small alley that runs down the right hand side. About halfway down this road on the right was a very small but very good Chinese Restaurant. It was basically Take-Away but they did have a couple of tables. For about 3 each we had a very large portion of food. It was very good. So if you need a quick, cheap, tasty meal before the theater, stop here.

Our tickets were for the 3rd balcony second row (the second row has more leg room than the first row). The seats were very tiny and not very comfortable. Luckily we were able to spread out as there were many empty seats around us.

While the production is not as amazing as Phantom, the music is much better (at least I think so). The production was very interesting. The stage is on a huge turntable, which rotated, allowing the actors to walk forward while props were placed on the table that they would keep approaching (think of a record player with someone standing on the record walking - they would appear to stay in the same place). I hope this makes sense. It was very innovated. I was completely captivated throughout the performance.

I kept trying to discover why the acoustics were so good. Finally, near the end of the show I realized that the small bumps on each actor's brow was a mike that was taped in place. One day I would like to see the show again with seats up front.

During the show we could hear a thunderstorm outside. As we left the theater, it actually started to hail. Our next goal was to reach the Shakespeare Globe Theater. We had tickets for the 7:30 showing of The Tempest starring Vanessa Redgrave.

The Globe Theater is a re-creation of a theater from the time of Shakespeare. To see what one is like, watch the movie, Shakespeare in Love. There are three balconies surrounding a flat open area in front of the stage. The ground level is for the "groundlings." The groundlings are the cheap seats except there are no seats - you must stand for the performance. The best thing is you can watch the performance for only 5. The theater is open to the sky, and the show goes on rain or shine.

I had purchased the groundling tickets just for the sheer opportunity to experience the play this way. And am I glad I did. Yes, The Tempest is 3 hours 15 minutes long. Yes, I was very tired of standing. And Yes, I would do it again (and I did and will again)! Read Hamlet and find his poking fun at the "groundlings."

Here is the clue to surviving the groundling tickets. Get to the theater early and stake out a place next to the entrance door (when we were there this was up the stairs inside the exhibition building, by the glass doors going outside to the theater). As soon as they open these doors run, don't walk, to get first in line to the entrance going into the actual Globe. And as soon as they open these doors (usually 30 minutes later), run, don't walk, to the center of the stage. I say run because you will only have about 20 seconds before the area next to the stage is filled.

We managed to get almost center stage. The stage is about 5 feet off the ground. You can lean on the stage and even rest your arms on the stage. In fact, you are almost in the play - and sometimes you are in the play!

The night was cool but not uncomfortably so. Having read The Tempest, I had some idea of what it was about. However, Shakespeare is to be experienced and not just read. The play was awesome. It was the most enjoyable time I have ever had watching Shakespeare. This was the first "interactive" Shakespeare I have ever witnessed. The production kept the crowd involved in an indirect manner.

The only disappointment of the play was Vanessa Redgrave. She must have been having a bad night as it seemed she was stretching to remember her lines at times. Another person I spoke to later in the trip had seen her on another day and said she was wonderful.

I could go on and on about this production. If you are in London during the summer, make a special effort to see a performance at The Globe. And take a chance, buy the groundling tickets and get right up front. Yes, your legs will be tired but you will never forget the performance.

The show ended around 11 p.m. and it was nearly mid-night before we reached Bayswater. We grabbed a Burger King sandwich for a late night supper. My little store was closed so I had to skip getting a cola and settled for some bottled water I had in the room.

Today was our last full day in London. Even with missing a day because of my flight, I felt very satisfied with all that we had accomplished.

One last thing, when I am on vacation I generally have the rule that I do not want to eat anywhere that I can eat at home (i.e. Burger King). However, you may have also noticed that for the most part eating isn't that big a priority for us. Except for tea at The Ritz, the fanciest place we went the entire week was Angus Steak House. Most other times found us in sandwich shops. We did eat pizza one night at a pizza buffet. And the late night Burger King sandwiches were primarily due to being the only place opened in the neighborhood. During the rest of the trip we ate in pubs primarily with a couple of exceptions. I enjoy experimenting with new foods much more than my mother or brother. As a result I broke my aforementioned rule so that they could have the comfort of Pizza Hut or Burger King.

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