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On the Bucket List: Return to London


On walkway across the Thames, looking back towards St. Paul’s.

I’m sure it’s not a shock that there was too much to see and do in London that it would not fit in a one-day visit.

Last week, my wife and I were hosted in London by our daughter and son-in-law. We took a train from Norwich Saturday morning, visited two museums that day, walked about central London Sunday morning, and returned by rail to Norwich Sunday afternoon.


Sunshine Sunday morning.

Along the way, we had a very nice Easter dinner in a local restaurant. It was a very pleasurable visit, and I thought about all kinds of things I would like to do now in London that 24 hours would not accommodate:

•    Visit the British Museum. I was in the same town as the Rosetta Stone, but didn’t stop by to say hi.
•    Ride the Eye. Easter weekend was a busy time at any tourist attraction in London anyway, so not standing in long lines for a giant Ferris Wheel was, all things considered, a good move. But it would be nice to spend a few days in London and maybe ride that thing on a random Tuesday or Wednesday morning when the crowds and lines are merely large and not hugemongus. This particular ambition, by the way, may come as a surprise to my kin and friends because I have a well-deserved reputation of being terrified of heights in general and Ferris Wheels in particular. But just as I can fly to London despite the clear irrational nature of the activity (you want me to strap myself into a pressurized metal tube that flies 10 miles high and trust it will both ascend and descend safely?), so I think I could screw my courage to the sticking point and ride in the London Eye, stealing brief glances at the city in between shutting my eyes or staring fixedly at my feet.
•    Do art. I would have to research which museums to stop by, but I generally love art museums, and didn’t stop in any during my brief, first visit to London.

Not that London is paradise. There is a thing called “weather” and it doesn’t play to the city’s strengths. There is a saying in Iowa that if you don’t like the weather just wait 10 minutes—in our volatile climate, the same week or day can feature warm sun, cool rain and snow, as this week testifies.

London, based on my small sample, is more so. We were blessed with sunshine Sunday for our stroll along the Thames, but we were also cursed with sudden, nasty cold rains that had us scurrying for shelter in doorways or under bridges. We saw sun, wind, rain, hail, and, briefly, snow—all in the course of one three-hour stroll.

At least we had some sun.


Granddaughter peeks out at cold, heavy rain. We are sheltering in a church doorway.

Also, London is also not the cleanest of cities. It’s not drab and black and smoggy as it used to be, by accounts I’ve read, and I’m grateful for that, but the Brits could learn to use the waste bin a bit more efficiently. Then again, to be honest, I’m not sure London is as dirty or dirtier than any large American city, where there are plenty of litterbugs, too. Maybe Norwich, a much smaller place, spoiled me a bit.

London is also full of Londoners. You have to get used to being in a crowd most of the time, which an Iowan isn’t. I didn’t’ find that to be a nasty or unpleasant experience, just a bit of a new sensation.

Of course, we were visiting the Natural History Museum and the Science Museums on Easter weekend, as was, apparently, most of the inhabitants of the small island nation were London is located. So crowds were partly an artifact of where we were when we were there—and on many parts of our walk—the journey back from the Easter restaurant, for instance—we had the narrow, inadequate sidewalks of the old imperial capital mostly to ourselves.

London! Dinner at the Chop House, dinosaur bones and old planes, fantastic architecture and a pleasant tidal estuary to stroll along and over—you are, all in all, a wonderful city. It didn’t hurt that I was surrounded by family during the visit either—it’s always nice to be in a strange place with familiar people who know their way around, and I am grateful to Matt and Amanda (and Lizzie and Juliet and Audrey) for sharing the experience with me.

I will treasure many memories. I was very enchanted by the underground and the rail system in Britain—it’s a country that makes traveling without a car an easy thing, something that the U.S. should look into sometime. The museums that we did visit were fascinating, especially the Natural History Museum where we got to say hello to Charles Darwin who was taxidermied and placed in a hallway there (not really, it’s just a statue, but this is April 1).


Charles Darwin, stuffed, mounted and placed on stairs landing.

At one tube station, there were lifts to take you to the street. While Amanda and Matt and family wisely rode those lifts, my wife and I walked up the stairs.


Looking back at many, many stairs I have just ascended. Way down there is a tube station. Way, way down there.

The sign warned us that the number of stairs was the equivalent of a 15-story building. I don’t know about that—maybe British stories, which, like everything else in Britain besides museums are smaller than their American equivalent—but it was a hike. Better to look back on than forward to, I’ll give it that. We made it, and frankly we enjoyed the long hikes—and were very impressed at how well our young grandchildren did doing much of their London adventure on foot.

London! I hope to see you again.

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Now We No Longer Have to be Dreaming

Cone flower seed head in snow.

Cone flower seed head in snow.

Our White Christmas in most of Iowa is assured. Last night and today, we were smacked by an old fashioned Midwest blizzard. More photos of the result from a Facebook gallery.

My daughter lives in England, where, apparently, the word “blizzard” merely means a storm in which snow accumulates. Here in the midst of the giant flat plain of North America, where the little ripples in the land don’t pose much of a barrier to an Alberta clipper as it sweeps 1,000 miles across a basically flat surface, a blizzard is something else, something powerful and primeval.

Rose leaves in snow in my back garden.

Rose leaves in snow in my back garden.

It’s been months since the last snowstorm of the last winter. We had a hot, dry summer followed by a warm, dry fall. So we can’t complain too much about inches of heavy, wet snow, for any H2O from the sky in any form is a blessing.

But, what a way to introduce the winter of 2013! Sustained winds of 35 mph with gusts over 50 mph. Sticky, wet, heavy snow, plenty of it—and if it didn’t quite add up to a foot in Cedar Rapids, it was plenty heavy enough in the shoveling, let me tell you. We even had thunder booming as the snow fell Wednesday night, although I wasn’t up late enough to hear it. (My son was, and I saw numerous reports of it on Facebook).

Well. Mount Mercy’s campus was closed today, as travel in Iowa was too hazardous. That’s OK, I have a mountain to grade and brought most if it with me. I’m done with two classes, two more to go. I’ll finish tomorrow, and maybe be lucky enough to enjoy some of the cold winter sunshine when I’m done.

The first snow was pretty, but also pretty impressive. I don’t want too many more blizzards, although I won’t mind if the snowpack proves persistent and grows in depth.

Any H2O that falls from the sky in this drought-ravaged land it a blessing. Merry Christmas.

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Bugs, Birds, Poop and Other Signs of a Winter Thaw


Cardinal on the deck

The thaw cleared away all the snow on our deck, and a cardinal enjoyed an afternoon snack of the revealed spilled seeds under a bird feeder. Yes, the dog is on the deck. No, the cardinal, which is very wary of us, does not care. Shows some intelligence on the part of the cardinal.

I think it ‘s a thaw, and not an early spring. We’ve had a run of warm days lately, and it’s misting outside—wet stuff, not white stuff, is falling from the sky.

But, average temperatures and lows are pretty low, still. The National Weather Service web site lists 34 as today’s normal high and 17 as the normal low. The calendar says “February,” and it’s useful to remember that snow is not unusual in early May at this northern latitude.

Still, even if it’s a thaw, a mere foreshadowing of weather to come, it’s a nice foreshadowing. Spring-like things can be seen outside on these odd, warm February days. Signs of the next season that is a few short weeks away? Here are a few:

  • In the sunshine Monday, I noticed some insect activity outside Warde Hall at Mount Mercy University—some flies and box elder bugs.  I can understand the flies–all of the accumulated dog poop of winter walks is also revealing itself, luckily that is more in the woods behind my house and not at MMU.
  • A few flower bulbs in my back garden, right by the house, are just starting to poke tentative green points above the decaying, wet leaf cover. Well, the flowers in that garden, where the snow melts first and bricks warm the soil, are always the first to appear, and some of them, tulips in particular, may rue the day.
  • I rode my bike Tuesday. Didn’t today—foggy and icy this morning—and it’s looking too wet tomorrow. In fact, slightly colder weather, which usually feature dry air that would bring bare pavement, would be better for biking right now.
  • Audrey and I want for a late afternoon walk today. A foreshadow of a time not long off when such walks will be our regular daily routine.
  • I picked up some sticks on my lawn and set out the “yardy cart” for pickup tomorrow. It’s been some time.

Spring! You’re on your way, aren’t you? March, at least early March, is part of the winter season in this part of Iowa, but I think we can enjoy a mid-February thaw.

Just don’t poke up too far yet, little flowers. Your time will come.

Basile Hall stairs.

RANDOM PHOTO TWO: Why? Why not? Random abstract image while I was waiting to ride home with Audrey, at least you can see the sunshine more clearly.


Stairs in Basile Hall

RANDOM PHOTO ONE--What? Abstract view of Basile Hall stairway, for no particular reason. Sun shines a bit in the background.

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