London to Oxford – Big City to University Town


It’s time to move on – we’ve spent 14 days in London, toured 12 Museums, saw 3 amazing plays, rode buses from East London to West London, attended Services in Cathedrals and local parish churches, worked at an Organic Wine Fair, even enjoyed a gourmet meal at “House” at the National Theatre. So – London done – we’re on to Oxford.

Oxford – town of 38 colleges that together make up one University – the University of Oxford. Not surprisingly – there sure are a lot of students here. And with all that youth comes plenty of coffee shops, lots of walking tours – and the 2nd largest library in the UK after the British Library in London.

The Bodleian Library has well over 153 miles (230 KM) of shelving, and adds 1000 books and 2000 periodicals a WEEK. It’s huge. And housed in bits and pieces, all connected by underground tramways, throughout all of Oxford, plus the new huge facility outside of Oxford in the town of South Marston for less used books. Clearly it’s a must do tour – and being the budget travelers we are – we opted for the lowest cost option – an audio tour that allowed us in to see only one small part – the Divinity College. And really only one tiny part of that – but a very nice part it was. For a bit more you can take a guided tour of the Humphrey Library – which is featured in Harry Potter when they are searching the ‘reserved’ section. But we were content with the Audio Guide and simply looking around.

Best part of the tour – and it was free to everyone – were the two special Exhibitions in the ‘new’ Weston Library (First built in 1937 as the ‘New Bodleian’ and extensively renovated and re-opened to the public in 2015 – it’s beautiful). The first was on Volcanos, and featured books dating from 1430 onward that had drawings of the supposed inner workings of Volcanos. Incredible to think that this library has kept these books safe for so very long. The 2nd exhibition, entitied Treasures of the Bodlian Library, is a revolving exhibition of rare finds. The version we saw featured contrasting items – in one case there was an original copy of the Magna Carta from the 13th century, complete with rodent chewed holes where the document had been folded for storage – and not properly stored at that. In the same case, the contrasting item was a book so small that it was shown chained to a life sized mouse – who could have easily dragged it around.

Other remarkable treasures – one of the First Folios of Shakespeare (not such a big deal as per the easy to read description – there are 233 known copies), and most impressive to me – a copy of Tycho Brahe’s “Astronomiae instauratae mechanica” dated 1598. This is the data collection that allowed his assistant, Johannes Kepler to formulate the laws of planetary motion. 1598. Imagine.

We then wandered over to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, known best for it’s outstanding glass topped building and wonderful displays of strange things – including the bones of the last Dodo. Famously, this is the spot known to have been visited by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), the author of “Alice in Wonderland”. The best section was a new exhibit hidden high up on a balcony and dedicated to new research on the brain. This very intriguing exhibit focused on the growth and development of the brain, carefully tracing it’s changes from pre-birth to old age. So interesting.

The day before we’d ‘done’ the Ashmolean. This huge museum has literally something for everyone, and then some. Our favorite section was on the challenges related to conservation, including detecting frauds, using UV to check for repair work, and a series of displays on making the decision to repair vs leave it as it is. Clearly being a museum curator isn’t as easy as one might imagine!

Naturally – I had to visit the Harry Potter ‘sights’ – including catching a glimpse into the courtyard used for learning to use your broomstick at New College (New in 1379). We also checked out Blackwell’s – billed as one of the worlds largest book stores with 7 km of shelving – and winding under Trinity college from a tiny and easily missed door front on Broad Street.

Our visit culimated in Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral in Christ Church College. It is ‘song’ nightly, sometimes by the church choir, sometimes by visiting choirs, sometimes by just male voices. We lucked into the male voice version – and it was glorious. Mostly done without organ music (A Cappalla) – the 14 choir members filled the huge space with wonderful sound.

What did we miss? We didn’t get into the Pitt River Collection – so we didn’t get to gawk at the shrunken heads. It was closed for a university function. We did wander into the Covered Market, but didn’t think it so remarkable. We checked out the college quads that were easily visible thru their wrought iron gates, and spent time chatting up a guide in St. Mary’s Parish Church – the official Church of the University of Oxford, with sections going back to the Medevial history of Oxford.

We skipped most of the modern part of Oxford, and sadly didn’t get to go into a pub. But lovely Lucy’s lodging, that we found thru Air BnB, was right on the river – so we did get to admire the boats on the water.

All in All – it was a great visit – but we need to get on – and Birmingham is our next stop. First thing tomorrow we will pack out bags and head on out to the bus station.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

London’s Top 12 Museums – Rated and Reviewed for your Amusement


12 museums in 13 days – hours and hours spent walking up and down stairs and corridors – and the result is our list of the 12 Top Museums in London – in order from Best to least favorite. Enjoy – and let us know if you agree – or disagree!

1. Museum of London – This is one huge exhibit divided up into generations of London History, and it’s astoundingly well done. I loved strolling the Victorian Shop Street and evesdropping on the Regency chatter in the Secret Garden. I suggest skipping the pre-history and start with the Romans – walking through and around the displays is simply incredibly interesting. And take a moment to do the docent guided talks and tours. Super. Plan on 3/4 of day – maybe more if you watch every video and listen to every talk.

2. Natural History Museum – Dinausaurs, Human Biology, Creepy Crawlies are steller displays – and rate a “Must See”. This museum really needs an entire day – we had to skip at least one major secton – Human Evolution. Human Biology is a remarkable collection of interactive toys and videos and games. It is a challenge to leave. And the Dinosaur Display is justifably famous. The audio-animatronic T-Rex is worthy of Disney Land, and the multi-layered effects create a dramatic and exciting stage on which information about Dinosaurs can be displayed.

3. Somerset House – The Courtauld Galley – Outstanding collection of Impressionists. It’s hard not to love a museum that boasts such an extensive and well laid out colleciton of such magnificant works of art from Degas to van-Gogh, Monet to Manet and all the artists inbetween. Well lit, well curated, interesting tid-bits of information – what’s not to love. It’s really only two floors – so 1/2 a day is enough to see everything.

4. Design Museum – The only free section is on the third floor – but it’s outstanding. It covers Industrial Design from the Designer, Maker, User perspective starting in the 1700 and in a rather jerky fashion – moving forward till today. And it’s brilliant. Engaging, entertaining, and in some cases – down right funny. Since you only see one floor – you can do this one in 1/2 a day, easy.

5. Imperial War Museum – Only the WWI and ‘Family thru the War’ sections are worth spending time at – but the WWI exhibit is truly outstanding – probably one of the best and most complete museum treatments of WWI I’ve ever seen. I even enjoyed walking thru the Trenches. So see those 2 – and leave. Budget 1/2 a day here.

6. Tate Modern – it took us a day and 1/2 to ‘do’ the Tate Modern – there’s simply so much information crammed into the audio tour. But this is modern art – and not all of it is going to be your ‘cup of tea’. So it’s easy to skip past some very interesting exhibits because you just don’t understand or can’t appreciate what the artist is trying to do. Budget a day – but be prepared not to finish if you opt for the audio tour – which is highly recommended.

7. National Gallery – The individual talks about specific paintings by a curator are not to be missed. We lucked into one about a Rembrant – and she made the painting come alive in surprising ways. Highly recommend figuring out where/when these talks will happen. 1/2 a day was long enough to get the idea – they have a lot of art! Be aware that the Rembrants have been moved to the first floor to make room for a special exhibit – we ended up circling around twice before we found them.

8. Tate British – Like the V&A, this is a mother-ship of museums and could use a bit of sprucing up. The Turner collection is huge – and honestly, if you’ve seen 10 Turners, you’ve seen them all. I did love the small collection of Henry Moore pieces – donated in most part by the artist. And there are some stunning pieces hidden in almost every room – which makes the Tate British slow going. You skip ahead at your own risk. You will miss something amazing – you have been warned.

9. RA – Royal Academy of Arts – America after the Fall. This special exhibit was a block-buster – but since there are constantly new special exhibits, and no standard exhibit – we voted to demote the museum to the #9 slot. But given how great the exhibit was, I’m willing to suggest that this is one museum where paying the extra for the ‘special’ exhibits might actually make sense. How often does one ever come face to face with Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

10. Kew Garden – comletely weather dependant of course – but the Princess of Wales Conservatory is the star attraction – and possibly one of the best of these we’ve ever seen with over 14 different climate zones and simply incredible flowers. I found the 2 carnivore sections particularly interesting. The acres and acres and acres of wandering space is also wonderful.

11. Victoria and Albert – Great Tour, Great Restaurant – rest of the museum is more ho-hum. There is a lot of wonderful things inside, but it’s hard to read the signs, and there’s little to engage you unless you have a specific interest in the topic. One clear exception, the Display on Theatre and Staging. That we can easily recommend. We also enjoyed the free hour intro tour to the Museum. It was fast, but surprisingly entertaining.

12. Science Museum – terrible let down. Could’a been great – didn’t deliver. Skip it. You have better uses for your time – even if you are here with kids. Just watching the horse guards was more fun.

Ok – there you have it – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler’s reviews of the Museums of London. I feel a bit like an ad for a financial planner – this represents our views – you might disagree completely. And past performance is no guarentee for success.

Signing off to go tour the museums of the rest of the UK – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Take on the Tate Modern!


So – you think you know Modern Art, eh? Well think again. The Tate Modern isn’t your soft fuzzy easy approach to art. This is ranchy, hard core, over the top (and sometimes under the bottom) art. None of those cutsie Impressionists – no sir. We are the Tate MODERN!

Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t visit – it just means come prepared for some rather surprising things to be called art. And some pretty nice things too. This is a museum devoted to the surprise, the curious, the edgy and it definitely delivers.

The building itself is hardly the glory that is the Herschorn in Bilboa, Spain with it’s stunning silvered outside and huge Koons Puppy. Nope – the Tate Modern is housed in an old pumping station and switch house located on London’s South Shore, catty-corner from the Sommerset House with it’s outstanding collection of Impressionists. Talk about contrast. And between the Tate Modern and the Thames is one of the main sections of the Queen’s Jubliee Greenway – a walking, strolling, family friendly path that winds for miles along the Thames. Just walking in to the Tate Modern past the bubble blowers and living statues is an experience!

The building is huge, and the collection is also huge. The ceilings are at least 40 feet high – as befits it’s factory origins. And the renovation has creatively made light as important as the art. The ceiling of the inner courtyard is a massive 2 floor high light box – and the enormous hallowness of the courtyard echos the emptiness that most of the art on display is attempting to explain.

Modern is not necessairly comfortable or easy.

The inner courtyard links the two original buildings. On the Thames side is the Boiler House – 6 floors high, only 2 of which contained ‘art’. The restaurant on the 6th floor was – for us – an overpriced waste of money, but the view was lovely. More stunning was the view from the open observation floor on the 10th floor of the building on the ‘not’ Thames side – the Switch House. Open to the air, and running completely around the entire exterior – you had massive views into the million dollar appartments that are the Tate’s neighbors. No curtains or window treatments blocked the view into these homes, although their mininmal decor made it hard to imagine who might be living in these places. Curiously – signs on the columns of the viewing platform suggested it would be nice to be polite to the neighbors – I’m not sure how we could have been polite given our birds-eye view directly into their homes.

But as usual I meander. This is supposed to be about the art.

We splurged and paid for the audio guides, an expense that is well worth it in this case. Too often you get cheap and figure the audio guides will slow you down – but I find that the better guides give you insights into the art and the artist – and sometimes even the curator – that you would never normally get. And in the case of the Tate Modern – the audio guide is a clear winner. Each selection had at least one short discussion about the art – but often there were additional options, including videos of the artist at work (I loved the one where the artist is shooting at balloons filled with paint hidden under the surface of the work). Do get the guide.

While there are many ‘rooms’ – there are really only two sections that require a significant time to explore – both on the 2nd floor of the Boiler House – the building nearer the Thames. Entitled ‘Artist and Society’ and ‘In the Studio’. I found both well worth the 4 hours we spent in them, although I will admit that ‘Artist and Society’ made more sense to me. It was clear in this section that the artists were responding to the society of their times – and often they were taking on opposing and/or contrasting view points. The counterplay made for interesting viewing.

We had to come back a 2nd day to do the rest of the museum, fortunately the staff maning the audio tour guide desk took pity on us and gave us a 2nd day free. Good thing – you really need the audio tours to make any sense at all of these surprising works of art.

There is one section that I think is a must-see for any woman – artist or not. It’s on the 4th floor of the Boiler House – the building closer to the Thames, and it’s in a general display area called ‘Media Networks’. The room is called ‘Andy Warhol and the Guerrilla Girl’ – and it contrasts the approach towards gender equality that these artists were championing. Andy Warhol’s art appears sexless – while the Guerrilla Girl art is more in your face obvious. One piece was actually a poster showing a naked woman in a traditional reclining pose with the caption – Women – if you want to get in a museum – do it nude! The poster goes on the explain that while 70% of the women in a major museum are in paintings as nudes, only 2 are artists.

Another poster has the headline: The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist:
followed by a list of 13 advantages including:
“Working without the pressure of success”
“Having an escape from the art world in your 4 free-lance jobs”
“Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty”
“Not being stuck in a tenured teaching position”
“Having more time to work after your mate dumps you for someone younger”

You get the drift.

Most memorable piece of art? A huge room filled with what we originally thought were giant potatoes, but turned out to be hand sewn brown and burlap sacks stuffed with paper. They were scattered around the room – and the audio defended the display as art explaining that the amorphous forms were made to make us think of bodies.

I must also admit a fondness for the urinal turned sideways and labeled fountain.

Bottom line – worth two days – but not an easy two days.

And if you want to go to the 10th floor to see the view (and you should) – start on floor 0. If you try to catch the elevators upward at any other floor – they will be packed – and you won’t get in. Start at the very bottom. And don’t tell anyone else.

Off to see some more of the Impressionists – now that’s art I can understand without an audio guide….

The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Navigating the London Underground


Not simple this – not simple at all. First off – London is a very expensive city. Expensive to live in, expensive to eat in, expensive to travel around in. On the other hand – it does have a wonderful bus/tube system (don’t call it Metro or Subway – folks will look at you bewildered).

You can get anywhere you want by bus or tube – and while it might not be fast – you will get there. On the bus – you can only move as fast as the traffic – which is generally slow walking pace thru most of the inner city. On the tube, you move much faster – but there are frequent stops. From our lodging to downtown is over 20 stops – and we’re only in Zone 3. And there are no ‘express’ trains on the Tube lines. So it’s stop and go, stop and go, repeat and repeat.

On the other hand – the trains run smoothly. Very few of those jerks and bounces that are so hard on aging knees.

And it is clean – amazingly clean. In over 10 days of riding the bus/tube – I’ve seen someone eating on the tube just once. People are generally very polite, even during rush hour when the trains can feel more like sardine cans than transport. And there are trash bins – mostly 1/2 empty – everywhere. I’ve seen folks sweeping and picking up trash constantly. And the elevators never smell bad.

They even have toilets. And Lifts. Not in all stations – but often enough to realize it’s a reasonable thing to expect to find.

One thing about the lifts – the stations that have lifts have clear labels (the international wheelchair sign) to let you know. What they don’t tell you is if there will be escalators or just stairs at the other stations. That’s a huge difference – I do wish I knew which stations had only stairs – vs those that offer at least an escalator to get you up or down to street level.

But this blog is about the fares, not the lifts. And the fares are seriously confusing.

All over the metro there are signs advertising the ‘new’ capping system. The idea is that if you use the tube and the cost totals over 7.7 GPB on one day, the rest of that 24 hours is free. It’s a great idea.

Doesn’t work as far as we could tell unfortunately. We were averaging aound 10 GPB a day of money coming out of our ‘top-up to pay’ cards – I never spotted the cap being applied. Very frustrating.

They also have a 7 day travel card – and there’s a cap on the amount spent for 7 days. So one would assume that the cap and the card were the same. Not so. The card is a MUCH better deal if you are going to be staying outside of the Central area of London and will be using the tube/buses at least twice a day, occassionally during ‘rush’ hour. And of course you will be using the thing during rush hour. It takes a pretty amazing tourist to avoid doing that – at least in the afternoon!

Another reason the 7 day card is the better deal – it starts on the day you first use it. That means you can get 7 days from Monday to Monday, Tuesday to Tuesday – you get the idea. On the other hand, the cap only works from Sunday to Sunday. So unless you arrive on Sunday morning – it will never work out.

And here’s the most annoying thing about the CAP. Even if you qualify for a refund – you’ve spent more than 38.50 GPB in travelling around Zones 1-3, the refund only appears on Thursday of that week. So for a tourist – it’s a complete waste. You spend the money to front load the card, and by the time you get the refund- you are ready to leave.

If you even get the refund. We haven’t seen it yet. I don’t think it’s going to happen. And we spent over 90 GPB in one week before we smartened up and bought the 7 day card.

And it wasn’t for lack of asking! We must have chatted up 6 different agents on the tube line – each time getting a slightly different story. Only twice did we get the right advice. The gal at the Underground Information Booth at Victoria Station knew the ins and outs of the program, and she promptly told us – if you are here for 5 days or more – the 7 day pass pays! The gal at the airport information booth suggested it at first, but never clearly explained why spending 38.5 GPB up front was the smart idea.

Anyway – that 90 GPB is spent, and now we have the 7 day card – and life is much easier.

Signing off to go ride the Tube…
The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveller

Getting your Spiritual High in London!


Feeling the need to get a Spiritual high? Well if you are in London – you are in luck. There are so many places to get a spiritual recharge in London, it’s hard to turn around without hitting one!

For us, we get our Spiritual Highs on by going to church. And since it’s Sunday – our options are almost unlimited here in London. In fact, picking just one favorite was too big a challenge. We ended up with two.

Since the Intrepid Traveler is Catholic – we historically gravitate towards Catholic churches, but we are hardly limited. We share an open door policy. If a place of worship has an open door – we are going in! Which explains why the Intrepid Traveler and I have attended weddings and funerals, births and first communion – and just about everything in between. We are definitely fans of religious ceremony, regardless of the specific religion. Buddist, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Private Weddings in China, Shinto Shrines, you name it – We’ve tried it.

But back to getting our Spiritual High here in London. It turns out that the Brompton Oratory offers a Children’s service on Sundays at 10:00, and at 11:00 there’s a Latin High Mass. I adore High Mass – so that was an obvious choice. But The Intrepid Traveler had heard that Anglican Evensong services were wonderful in London, so we did a quick google search – and found a site that listed every church with an Evensong service (mostly Anglican of course, but there were some Roman Catholic options – including Westminster Cathedral). And on the list was Westminster Abbey. Oh man – that’s sounds ideal.

There are 3 major reasons for seeing churches during services. Advantage One – they turn on all the lights. Too often the lights are turned off during ‘touring’ times – and it’s a challenge to see the decorations on the ceilings, or even into some of the side chapels. Advantage Two – it’s Free! If you want to see Westminter Abbey on Monday to Saturday – you’ll be paying a pretty penny. But if you are willing to go to Sunday services – you’ll see the Abbey for free – as the designers meant to be seen – as a place of worship. And Advantage 3 – they play music – the organ, the drums, the choirs – any and all of which add to the atmosphere – the spirtuality of the experience.

So our plan organized – we head out on the tube to London. Our location in Cheswick means a 30 – 45 minute tube ride, so we get an early start on the day – after I pop into my local coffee shop of course. The guys and gals at Cafe 430 are so well trained that when they see me open the door they grab the to-go cup and add in my 3 sugars. I just say hi – and pay my 2.2 GPB. Deal done. Cafe 430 – you do rock!

We take the tube to South Kensington, and encounter our first challenge – finding the Oratory. There are signs for the museums of course – but nowhere do we see a sign for the Oratory. I know it’s next to the V&A – and I use my iphone ‘Maps’ App to find the directions. This works great – until in concentrating on my phone – I miss my step and fall. Hard. Onto the road. In front of oncoming traffic.

Panic. The Intrepid Traveler tries to get me to my feet – but I’m not getting up that fast. I don’t think she could lift me in any case. Meanwhile the water bottles have flown out of the backpack onto the road, and my phone is lying about a yard in front of my face. And the traffic light is turning green. Here’s where the good news starts – right in front of us are a very good looking young man with his lady friend. They whip around when they hear the crash and he bodily hauls me to my quivering feet as his lady friend gathers the iphone and water bottles and we clear the road.

I’m dizzy, dis-oriented, and scared. My knees took the brunt of the fall, and we immediately check that I’m not bleeding. I lean against a handy lamp post and wait for my head to clear. When it doesn’t, our new friends help me across the rest of the road to a bench on the far side. I gratefully sit down – and they ask if we should call an ambulance. Having checked my knees, and knowing that I’m just feeling the effects of Adreline shock, I tell them no – and eventually they wish me well and continue on their way. The Intrepid Traveler and I sit quietly for a few minutes while I catch my breath, slow down my rapid heart beat, and stop feeling the world spinning around me. Eventually I feel well enough to go the few hundred feet to the door of the Oratory.

It’s well into the Children’s service – but I’m grateful to simply sit and listen. A children’s choir is hidden above our heads – and the music fills the large space. We kneel and stand and sit as needed, and eventually the service finishes with the priest congradulating the kids for trying. So cute.

We move ourselves up front (I much prefer the view from the front), and the High Latin Mass promptly starts at 11:00 with a short procession including 3 priests in gold cassocks. There is ample swinging of incense, and sprinkling of holy water. Not only the audience, but the altar get more then a fair share of incense – these guys mean business.

The mass is beautiful. The choir is an adult choir of about 12 men and women. Highly trained with beautiful voices, they compliment the organ perfectly. It’s splendid. During communion, everyone goes up to knee at the rail, and the priests move back and forth making sure that everyone is greeted properly. The Intrepid Traveler tells me that most Catholic Churches in North America have taken down the rails – or if they can’t do so – have the priests come ouside the rails to give communion. But this is old fashioned enough to stick to the older ways – and it’s to the rail you must go.

At the end they announce a reception to which all are invited, but we opt to leave and head over to the V&A for lunch. I’m still feeling a bit shaky, and the idea of a nice hot meal is truly appealing. We share one lunch for two, and an excellent lunch it is – Roasted Pork Belly with two sides. Yummy, and just over 11 GPB in total. We are doing great on our budget. Now if only I can figure out what I’m doing wrong with the tube fares.

After lunch we realize that the V&A have opened a new exhibit since our visit just 3 days ago. It’s a collection of giant photos from 12 of the world top photographers – competing to be photographer of the year. We slip in quickly to take a look and I’m immediately drawn to a series of photos of Japanese men and women smashed up against the glass windows of a series of subway trains. Sure enough – the pictures were taken at rush hour in Toyko – when pushers shove larger and larger numbers of commuters into the trains. They are stunning. There is also a series of photos taken of the inside of ‘container’ houses in Hong Kong. These 6′ square containers are home to thousands – including families, couples, and the odd bacholer. Everything you’d need to live in less room than a toilet takes here in North America.

We now wend our way to Westminster Abbey. It is a rather surprisingly long way from the V&A by bus – we might have made faster time walking given the congestion in downtown London – but after my fall, we are playing it safe.

Upon arrival, we’re ushered into the abbey (after they make sure we realize that this is a service, and we must sit tight for 1.5 hours), and led into the back half where royality sits. Unbelievably luckily, we manage to be invited to sit in the choir stalls – my specific seat is actually the seat of the Mayor of Wesminster if he decides to show up. I’m right behind 1/2 the choir – with a prefect view of the choir master.

Evensong is described in the ‘program’ as a service in song – and so it is. Even though this is a Church of England (Anglican) service – it is so similar to the Catholic one that it would be hard for me to explain the difference. Mainly – it doesn’t end with communion as far as I can tell. We sit quietly while the rest of the audience files in, and eventually the bells of the Abbey stop ringing to let the priests know to start the service. The choir gathers on the far side of the screen that divides the Abbey in half, and sings the first psalm. The voices are heavenly. Then they march in, escorted by two lay priests. They fill the 4 choir aisles reserved for them – two in front of me, two opposite me, and sing another psalm. Priests are marched in – more psalms are sung, readings are read, and the fully glory of the moment hits me. I’m in Westminster Abbey – listening to the organ that every Monarch ever to be corenated here heard – and hearing the voices of angels. It is the ultimate in inspiringly beautiful sound.

One young man, at most 7, looked like an adorable mischief maker, but opened his mouth and hit high notes I’ve never heard anyone sing before or I suspect again. Amazing.

After the service we went looking for toilets – and then checked out the cloisters. While I read the tomb stones, The Intrepid Traveler started chatting with Reverend Jenny from Austrialia. She is a 62 year old priest at Westminster, has been there for 2 years after a long career in various aspects of religious life. Among other highlights – she had served her first Eucharist in the Abbey just that morning. We must have chatted with her for 20 minutes – a fascinating woman with a unique career. Another highlight to grace an amazing day. Right up there with staying at the Shinto Temple in Korea, or visiting Koya-san in Japan.

After such an inspirational day, the trip home and our quick pizza dinner (just 1 GPB) is hardly worth mentioning.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Exploring the London Museum of Natural History


In a word – Awesome!

It’s hard to complain about museums in London – most of the bigger ones are free – and with an under 10 GPB budget a day – free is great. But just because they are free doesn’t mean they should be poorly laid out and boring.

We have high expectations of museums – and the London Museum of Natural History is a winner. And Free. Now that’s a tough combination to beat.

One slight negative – the cloakroom charges 2.5 GBP to keep your stuff – so pack light – and don’t say I didn’t warn you. The other museums have a ‘suggested’ donation of 2 to 4 GBP – but at the Natural History Museum, there’s no politely ignoring the sign. You must pay.

On to the muesum.

There are so many sections to love about this museum, and we carefully toured every section that wasn’t full of glass displays of stuffed animals – where the museum got it’s start. There’s the section on Earthquakes and the planet Earth – reached by an escaltor that asscends thru a sulpture of the Planet. The highlight of this section is the Kobe Grocery store that is destroyed by an Earthquake – while you stand inside. Noisy and very cool. Other interesting and very hands-on displays in this section involved looking at volcanoes, touching rocks, and studing potential early warning systems. Very well done.

Then there’s the justifiably famous Dinosaur Exhibt. Not your every day display of dinosaur bones either. There are two audio-animatronics that would make Disney proud – including an outstanding T-Rex that turns his head, studies the room, and then picks someone to snarl at! I found almost all of this section fascinating, and I’ve been to Drumheller in Alberta – I know dinosaur displays. This one is close to perfect.

The Creepy Crawly section on 4 broad categories of insects is another winner. We particularly loved the full sized house that showed how insects can have a negative impact on your home. Yuck. Watch out for that giant wasp nest – and nope – we didn’t think cockroaches were good for us at all. But the best laugh was the pasta with extra protein. That’s a positive spin on a negative subject.

Another excellent section – and one that I have since found myself quoting sections of to the Intrepid Traveler is the massive display titled Human Biology. We expected boring – and found anything but boring. At the beginning there’s a 8 times normal size infant in the womb – the detail is amazing. Even more interesting were the sections on human learning, and on human behavior. In the learning section, there are videos of babies who are at the age when a toy that is out of sight is out of mind, followed by videos a few weeks later of the same baby – now old enough to realize that when you cover a toy with a towel, the toy is still there! So well done. But the section that really ‘hit home’ with me was the part on adreline. Short videos showed people getting scared – then the video would go on to explain what happened – dilatied eyes, sweating, rapid heart beat etc. Ok, that’s cool. But then the very next day I tripped and fell onto the road. Dilated eyes, sweating, rapid heart beat, dizzy, and unable to stand. Hey – I just got hit with an adreline attack! Talk about taking learning to a new and highly applicable level!

Bottom line – this is a wonderful museum, and you don’t need to be a child to appreciate it. There’s a ton of stuff that even the most jaded adult will have to say – “Hey, I didn’t know that”. And it’s fun to explore too. Just don’t expect a nice quiet museum environment – until about 2:00 PM it’s packed, packed, packed with kids. Only after 2:00 does it quiet down. We decided that by 2:00 the school trips end, and the kids with parents are all tuckered out.

Our plans for tonight are simple – home, quick dinner, and bed.

Well – quick dinner on a budget means a 45 minute tube ride, followed by walking 15 minutes to the nearest grocery store, buying a roast chicken (5.6 GPB, enough for two meals), and then walking back home. Basically dinner wasn’t ready until 8:00 PM – but hey – nothing to do after that but bed down for the night.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Oh bummer – it’s 2:00 AM and I’m UP!


I’m just not enough of a jetsetter I guess – my body hates long air flights – and I just flew from Montreal to London – a short 7 hour flight – but just long enough to make sure my body is in to denial.

So here it is – 2:00 AM London time, and I’m up. So Naturally – I’ll do a blog. Plenty of time, and the internet is always fastest at this hour anyway.

Our official 2nd day in London was spent at the Victoria and Albert Museum. We’re serious museum buffs – the Intrepid Traveler is a docent at 2 museums (that’s a fancy word for knowledgable volunteer), and of course she wants to see all the museums. I’m in total agreement with her. Public space devoted to the display of art, or history, or science, or music, or – basically anything – I’m totally there.

So – The Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s huge. Really really huge. I think the guide from the free tour we took mentioned 7 acres of hallways and displays – and untold acres of storage space. They have one of almost everything there is on display. We only managed to do a 1.5 hour guided tour, and hit 5 spaces – Silver, Jewelery, Beatrix Potter Theatre and Scenery, and the Lunch Room. My favorites were Lunch and Theatre!

First Lunch – we’d been told that the food at the V&A was good – moderately priced, nicely portioned, and delicious. And I have to agree with the critics – they were right on the money. We shared a stuffed yellow potato – stuffed with avocado, cheese, and veggies – and served with two sides. It was delightful. Later in the day we came back and shared a ‘Green Tea Scone’ which was served with clotted cream, butter and jam. It was Yum. So the Lunch Room (they refer to the space as the ‘Cafe’) is a definite yes in my book. Add it to your must do list. Jill notes that it isn’t only good food – it’s pretty with huge chandaliers and wall paintings.

My next favorite spot was the Theatre and Scenery Exposition. At least 5 rooms have been set aside for this topic, and highlights in my book included the mock-up sets of at least 10 famous British stage productions. A particular favorite among these was the mock-up of the staging and lighting for “Sweeny Todd”. This section was extremely well conceived, laid-out, and realized. And almost totally empty! But then, outside of the main passage ways and the must see “Jewelry” room – most of the V&A was surprisingly empty. Very easy to browse to your hearts desire.

Having ‘done’ as much of the museum as our time warped legs, knees, and backs could handle – we headed on towards the National Theatre. We had tickets for “Consent” and were keen to get ourselves organized for an evening at the Theatre.

First off – getting tickets. This is easiest to do ahead of course – and for discount tickets in advance – sign up for “Time Out London”. It’s a daily email full of discount options – and the National Theatre is often available there. I managed to get tickets to three performances – while not free (my favorite price point), at least at a discount. They also offer 15 GPB tickets for the week ahead every Friday Morning on their website. This is a great option if you are flexible on dates.

Anyway – back to our play. “Consent” is advertised as a look at the legal and moral issues of rape from several points of view, but I found it more of a look at marriages of today. Having kids who are married – and friends with kids who are married – my gut feeling is to echo Maurice Chevalier – “I’m so glad I’m not young anymore”. And this play takes a very hard, and not very kind look at today’s young people and their attitudes towards children, loyality, sex, and marriage. To keep it short, no one is very happy – and they take out their inability to be happy on their partners – by cheating on them. Seriously – kids – get a life! This is hardly the only solution to the challenges of having children, working in a difficult environment, and having friends with issues. We walked out feeling that we wanted to spank each and every one of these spoiled, self-absorbed young adults.

Which I suppose is the hallmark of a good play!

Back on the tube – and a 45 minute ride to our lovely comfy loft – and to bed.

Speaking of which – now I’m ready to go back to sleep.

Signing off – The soup lady and the sleeping Intrepid Traveler.

On the Road Again – London and the UK – here we come!


Well, it’s that time of year again – wanderlust has set in, and off the Soup Lady and the Intrepid traveler go on another adventure.

This time – it’s the UK. Land of bobbies on Bicycles two by two and the Tower of Big Ben. It’s also the land of the very expensive pound – at least in the spring of 2017. So money is going to be a theme thru much of this report. We’re trying to stay under $26 Canadian – 15 GBP per person per day. I don’t think it’s going to happen in London – the costs to ride the tube are excessive – running us 2.8 GPB one way if we travel off-peak – or 5.6 GPB a day minumim, and an outlandish 7.2 if we add a bus ride. That leaves around 7 to 10 GPB each for food and museum admissions – not a lot to spend even in Canada. But we shall do the best we can.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Trips for us start with organization – what cities do we want to experience, where can we stay for the least money that’s not a dorm room, and how many nights in each do we need to check out the highlights? After exploring the internet, reading several guidebooks, checking out VRBO, Booking.com and Air BnB we opted for this list: London, Oxford, Birmingham, Lancaster, York, Edinburg, and finally Glasgow. We’re got 5 weeks – so it’s 2 weeks in London, the rest spread apx. evenly out over the other cities. We shall be using trains and buses to go from city to city – after my experience driving in Spain, I’ve opted to stay alive – and take the bus!

Our first stop is London. After a long, relatively boring flight from Montreal, we arrive at 9:30 AM in London Healthrow. It takes over a hour to get off the plane, thru the horridly long line at immigration (for the first 20 minutes – there was only one customs guard…), on to the luggage carosels, past the ‘Nothing to Declare’ signs, and out. My favorite part of arriving at a new city is to study the signs of the drivers waiting for guests – Mr. Fred, Mrs. Salmon, IBM, the George Family – the range is huge but the glassy eyed drivers and the printed or for the more techy – ipad – signs are mostly the same. This time there were no kids with balloons, or weepy wives – just the line-up of drivers!

We do what I love best when I get off one of these flights – get a cup of coffee and give me time to get my non-sea legs back on. I hate rushing when I get off a long flight – I’m tired, I’m sore, and all I really want is a lovely cup of coffee and a chance to get used to breathing real air.

Once recovered – we make our first big mistake – we don’t buy a 7 day travel card. The price frankly scared me – 38 GPB seems like a huge sum. In hindsight – it was a bargain – but never mind. Instead we put 30 GPB onto an Oyster card and head off by Tube to London.

Originally we’d thought to crash at Colin’s – the host of the VRBO lodging we’ve booked for 2 weeks. But at the last minute, I ended up packing a huge (read that as ‘heavy’) suitcase full of stuff for Abigail, my new grandaughter – and we opted to take the tube to my dauther’s flat and crash there. It’s over a hour on the tube – so we arrive around noon – and I’m completely out of it. At least I manged to find my daughter’s place! Happily she has prepared the bed for us – and I promptly fall into it.

Several hours later I wake, much refreshed and almost on the new time zone. While I cuddle Abigail, My daughter trades us a loaf of bread from “The Little Bread Peddler” and 1/2 of a Tunsworth cheese for the goodies we packed in Montreal for Abigail, and we head off to our lodging. We opt to take the boat – and it’s a lovely boat ride along the Thames to Embankment – where the captain announces – end of the line, everyone out. Oops – not going all the way by boat then, I guess. We transfer to the District line following Colin’s excellent directions, and end up in Cheswick Park – a lovely, very green, relatively quiet residential area in West London. It’s a left, and a right to the end of a magnificant street filled with Victorian Houses packed absolutely wall to wall with each other. Postage stamp sized front gardens are bursting at the seams with roses, flowering hedges, and cars. Yup – even in the ‘suburbs’ – finding a parking place just isn’t that easy – and sometimes your front yard must do double duty. How they got the cars onto the front lawn is a miracle – but never mind – there they are carefully parked.

Our VRBO home is at the end of the cresent – a lovely 100 year old Victorian that has been remodeled from Stem to Stern, bottom to top. Glorious. The kitchen/dining/living great room has had all the dividing walls taken down, creating a wide open lovely feel. And it’s white – white walls, white cabinets, white clock. Even the washer, dryer and dishwasher are white. And it’s bright – which is lovely. Sun streams in the glass wall to the garden although the garden itself is badly in need of a crew cut and is dominated by a large deck and an even larger trampoline. Colin has two little girls who spend 1/2 the week with him – and it’s adorable the amount of kid stuff that is ‘hidden’ from view in kitchen cupboards and dining room shelves. Clearly these kids are artists – and I’m quite keen to meet them. But today is Tuesday – and they will arrive late Wednesday. So meeting them will have to wait.

Actually – meeting our host will also have to wait. Colin is working late tonight – and has emailed us specific instructions on how to make ourselves at home, which shelf in the fridge is for us (it’s the empty one), and which room is ours – very top of two flights of stairs.

But he has left out some important details – like where to find the silverware. We open up all the cabinets in the kitchen – certain that the silverware has to be hidden in one of them. Nope, Nope, and nope. Where is the silverware? In the living room? In the dinning area? A hidden drawer under the dinning table. No luck. We are on our third round of opening kitchen drawers when I realize that the top section of the drawer, after the main part is open, seems a bit thick. So I lightly pull on it – and behold – a hidden drawer. This one has cooking tools – but if there is one hidden drawer – there’s another – and I’m determined to have a knife to spread the cheese on our bread. So we try others – and sure enough, under the main kitchen counter – there it is! The silverware drawer. Hurrah – now we can eat.

So we set ourselves a lovely table of great bread, lovely cheese, sausages from my daughter (Check out Crowne & Queue). We chow down on the free goodies from my daughter, bread make ourselves some tea/hotwater, and relax – At the end of our meal, we toss what little remains into the fridge and head up stairs to bed.

Our white white white loft palace has a bedroom, a sitting room, a bathroom with a lovely shower, and angled ceilings. After hitting my head twice, I opt to use the drawers in the sitting room – at least there my head clears the ceiling. The Intrepid Traveller is shorter – but even she has to be careful in one part of the room. The ceiling takes a surprise downward dip – and the whiteness of the paint hides the dip from view. But it’s no biggie – we’ll get used to avoiding that corner fast enough.

Thru the huge window over our bed, we admire the view of the backyard and the factory that dates from the turn of the century behind the house. Then I pull down the blinds – and we go to bed.

Tomorrow will be another day!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Oh Bummer – They closed the Ski Hill!


How could this happen? We’d planned a wonderful 6 week ski holiday – 3 weeks in Deer Valley, Utah, 2 weeks in Jackson, WY, then back to Deer Valley for one more week before hanging up the skis and calling it a season.

Everything was going perfectly too. We arrived as scheduled in Deer Valley – Well – Park City to be honest – and stayed in two different timeshares. Ok, and not so OK. But we knew what we were getting into – and hey – it’s location first and second right? So ignoring the self flushing toilets of Park Plaza and the kinda crummy tiny spaces of the Park Regency – we skied and movied. Well – I skied, Victor movied. It was the Sundance Film Festival – and thanks to our good friends Kit and Mike, Victor had tickets to over 24 movies. He ended up only seeing 19 – even the most fanatic of movie goers runs out of steam I guess.

Meanwhile – I skied. I generally got on the hill at 9:00 – tried for first tracks (yum), then headed into the trees if there was powder, or stayed on the groomers when the powder got skied out. I had a blast. A blast and a half to be honest.

Three great days were spent with Jeff – a friend I met in an intermediate tour who wanted to have more challenge in his life, but not ski killer stuff. I was happy to oblige. I skied him all over Deer Valley – we found powder shot after powder shot – and I even got him back to his palace (in comparison to the shack I was staying in) on time. It was a Blast I tell you.

After the movies ended, Victor and I even got a couple of ski days together – and a lunch at Stein Erikson’s that was amazing. All the crab claws I can eat – and trust me – that’s a lot of crab claws! Awesome bread pudding for desert too. Of course you can’t ski after such a meal – but hey – I’m on day 19. I’m cool.

Then we rented a car – a Fab Jeep Grand Cherokee – with 4 wheel drive and tons of space – and drove ourselves down to Salt Lake for the Regency Romance Ball. It was a ton of fun too. I adore the caller from Old Glory Vintage Dancers, she is best. We danced, we ate – and Victor was given the Mr. Darcy Award – 2nd year in a row! He’s so adorable in his uniform, and he guarenteed the win by sweeping the floor with his plume when he bowed for the ladies. Sigh – I’d take him home even if I wasn’t married to him!

Next morning – it’s up and at’m. We have a long drive today – we’re headed for Jackson, WY. Home to Jackson Hole Ski resort – one of my favorites. And they have tons and tons of snow – I shall have a ball.

We actually drive thru the Teton Pass – skirting around droves of cross country skiers, snowmobilers, and snow shoe fanatics. There is even a car tipped over on its side to be avoided – but our Jeep shows it’s true blue colors, shifts effortlessly into 4 wheel drive and motors on.

Our new home is another timeshare – Jackson Town Center. It’s basic – very very basic – but at least they use wood for decor not antlers – and there are 2 bathrooms and 2 bedrooms. Unfortunately – there are bunk beds in the 2nd bedroom – not sure how Alex and Rachel – who are coming next week for a couple of nights – are going to love that.

But worst – it’s unit 13. Lucky 13. It’s on the 2nd floor – diagonally oppositive from the parking lot – and up a full flight of stairs. Did I say this place is basic? Well – there’s no elevator, no luggage carts – no nothing. It’s lift and drag everything from the car to the condo. And we have 6 weeks worth of supplies – including stuff for 6 meals. It’s a lot of stuff.

But it’s Jackson – and the skiing is amazing. I’m excited.

Monday morning I’m up bright and early – Victor decided to work, I’m going to ski. Victor helps out by bringing all the skis and poles into the locker room – and promptly gets his Carbon Fiber Leki poles stolen. Well, probably just borrowed actually – whoever took his poles, left a pair of Leki poles (not the fancy ones), in their place. Bummer. But hey – these things happen.

I leave a sign at the Locker desk – maybe the ‘thief’ will notice – and get in my first day at Jackson. The ski trails are great – powder almost everywhere – and super easy skiing. But I have a problem. On what turns out to be my last run of the day – around 1:00 PM – I have a relatively bad fall on flat icey ground. I was going a bit fast, caught an edge – and oops – down for the count. My knee gets bent under me – and it hurts. Fortunately the skier behind me stops and helps me get untangled – but the damage is done. My knee wants no more of skiing – and besides – they are closing lifts due to high winds. I carefully ski down, and head home. I’ll be fine tomorrow.

Tuesday I wake up – my knee is still a bit achy – so I opt to stay in the condo and ice and heat it to get the ligment back in place. Not a bad plan – but I didn’t count on what happened Tuesday around 6:30 PM.

I’m watching TV and the lights flash – TV reboots – lights flash – TV reboots – and all seems fine.

But it wasn’t fine at Teton Village where the ski hill is located. 17 Huge Metal Power Poles are blown flat in a freak flash wind storm. They are guessing that the wind was up to 90 Mph for just a few seconds – long enough to completely down the poles. No powder. None.

We get up Wednesday AM to discover that the Ski Hill is closed until they can get power back – as is all of Teton Village. We’re staying in Jackson – and are completely uneffected – from here it looks great. But it’s not so hot in the hotels in Teton Village. They are sending their guests on to other lodging, and telling their employees to go home. And the ski hill is closed. Shut down. No power, no lifts, no grooming, no nothing!

We had bought 7 and 10 day ‘passes’ – which at first they said they would not be refunding – after all – with a pass we can return – but I just got told today that they have rethought that – and whatever days I don’t use – they will refund. Right now it looks like the Ski Hill might be reopening on Monday – which is pretty amazing actually. I’ll be lucky to get 3 days of skiing in – and Victor will be lucky to get two out of the 10 and 7 we’d expected. On Wednesday Feb 15, Alex and Rachel arrive – and we are so keen to see them we aren’t planning to ski. We shall take it easy and probably see the Wildlife Art Museum here – it’s reputed to be spectacular.

But that’s looking forward – meanwhile it’s Wednesday Feb 8th – the Ski hill is closed – and we’re sitting in Jackson. And it starts to rain. Guess what – rain on fresh snow is what they call a recipe for Avalanches – so now all the passes in and out of Jackson are closed. Teton Pass in particular is a no go – but even the ‘lower’ passes are blocked by Avalanches. The gal at the front desk here at Town Center had gone home to Idaho Tuesday night – and just got back to work on Saturday! She’s been stuck in Idaho because the passes were all closed.

What to do? Well – I play bridge one afternoon at the Senior Center, we have tickets to theatre for 3 nights, there’s another bridge game on Monday evening – and we opt to take a snow coach tour of Yellowstone.

We’d done a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone some years back and hated it – you can’t drive off the rutted road – so the snowmobile bounces and bangs you for hours on end. We figured a snow coach – heat bus with giant fat tires – would be fun.

It was underwhelming. I did like watching Old Faithful, and it’s pretty cool that they can predit when it will errupt with in 20 minutes – but you aren’t exactly close, and the sky was grey – so the pictures are – well – dull.

My favorite part of the entire 12 hour adventure was the 20 minutes we took to visit the Sapphire Pool. That was cool. Rest was a waste. We spent more time eating then seeing sights – had only an hour total to take pictures otherwise we were stuck in the coach with rain drops on the windows – so photos were yucky. And it was expensive. Bottom line – waste of money and time. My frustration was increased by the boorish behavoir of some of our fellow travelers. One gentleman in partcular decided to describe – in a very loud voice – all of the other trips he had taken. We got to hear about his 40′ fifth wheel, his career choices, his trips scuba diving, his home, his marriage – etc. etc. Twice I worked up the nerve to say – I can’t hear the guide – which would shut him down for a bit – but soon enough he’d be back at it.

So 12 hours trapped in a 12 seater bus with a boor, a guide who tried to talk over him, rain streaked windows, and little in the way of heat at my seat. (The heater did manager to melt the boot of one of my fellow travelers – so I guess it was on. Just lousy circulation.) It was such a relief to get out of the bus – even for a few minutes.

Oh well – at least I can definitely cross Yellowstone off my list of National Parks to visit.

Back to our ski hill – the latest news is that they have managed to get replacement wooden poles set up – and are predicting getting power back to Teton Village by tonight. The mountain is hoping to have skiing on Monday – and we will be there.

Today we walked the village – and bought a pair each of Yaktracks – things you attach to your shoes to walk on ice. They really work too! Tonight there’s a comedy show, tomorrow a talk on Grizzley bears – and then – finally – skiing again!

I can’t wait.

Signing off to make dinner – The Soup Lady.

Why do we go to the Theatre? or The National Theatre in London Rocks!


Why do we go to live theatre? It’s expensive, it’s awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable – and it can be risky. What if we don’t like the play? What if the main actor gets sick and we are stuck watching a 2nd rate understudy? What if the guy sitting directly in front of us is 6′ tall and has bushy hair? Honestly – Live theatre is such a challenging concept if you think about it.

And it’s not just a challenge to the audience member. Depending on the play – anywhere from 1 to a hundred performers have to get ready to entertain us – ushers have to be preped to find us our seats, concessionaires have to get their goods ready – ticket takers and ticket seller have to be on their toes. Musicians have to tune their instruments, conductors study the score, tech guys get their acts together. And then there are the behind the stage crews – lighting, costumes, stage managers, props – the list goes on and on.

So again – why bother. Why not do as a friend of mine suggested recently – stay home and watch You Tube – it’s just as good.

But actually – it isn’t. Not to me anyway.

There’s a special thrill you get when you hand in your ticket and take your seat. There’s the sharing with the other members of the audience – what have you heard about this play – will it be good? Will it thrill me? Will it challange me? Will I understand the dialogue? (Not a trivial question here in London – I’ve now been to 2 plays I didn’t totally understand – and I’m sure they were in English.) Will there be something amazing happening, or will this presentation be ho-hum? Will the tall person in front of me slump down in their seat when the curtain goes up?

I love that moment of anticipation just before the curtain goes up. And I admit to loving live theatre in general.

I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort to get in as much live theatre as I can – and that’s a lot of discomfort. I have issues getting to the theatre – here in London that has meant using the “Underground” and then walking. And in more cases than I care to think – getting lost. I spent 2 hours wandering the dark streets of downtown London after a recent performance (which wasn’t that great to start with) because I couldn’t find the sign for the Underground. I ask you – why do they love to hide those things! You can walk right by them – and never know it.

But I digress from my topic – which is really about the play I saw two nights ago. It has a terrible title really – “The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer”. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to be upbeat, eh? But I found cheap tickets (in London – that’s under $20 a seat) – and it was being performed on one of the stages the National Theatre – which I know how to find! Cheap seats, easy to find stage – I’m so on top of this!

So ticket scored – I take my weary body to the theatre, hoping that the performance will keep me awake – unlike my last outing to a disaster called “The Dresser”. Ugg.

First – food. One of the things I love about the National Theatre complex is the bookstore and restaurant selection. There’s a coffee shop, and at least 2 restaurants – a ‘lower’ cost option called “The Kitchen”, and a slightly higher cost option called “House”. Ok – I scored a cheap seat – I’ll splurge on dinner. And “House” has a 22 pound Table D’hote. That’s about $30 US – so the cost of the evening is under $50. If the play is good – I’ve done well!

Dinner is amazingly good – guided by the bar waitress – I go with her selection of Hake. That’s a rarely served fish in North America – but I’m not sure why. It was divine. And it came with some vegetables – and not just potatoes either. And they were warm and properly cooked. For dessert (2 course meal – I opted for Main and Dessert – spank me now) I had what was described as Coffee Brule – a take on a Creme Brule but made with coffee – and served as a stand-up custard with two thin slices of Pastasho Biscotti. Oh Man – Score! Great food – awesome bread – delicious butter – and all within a price range I could afford. Best of all – I could hang in my comfy seat until the last minute – I was already at the theatre!

On to the Show. The Dorfman Stage is reserved for new productions at the National Theatre – an off the ‘end’ beginners stage if you will. It’s a flexible stage – offering the designers options like thrust, modified-thrust, standard Procenium, etc. This play was in a modified-thrust format – so my ‘restricted’ view cheap seat wasn’t horrid. Most of the action was far forward – and I could see very well.

The designer starts the show off by explaining that talking about death and Cancer is never easy – even if all of us will die – and 1 of every 3 of us will die from Cancer. So they opted to make it a musical – in hopes of getting some kind of an audience to attend.

Apparently it has worked – the reviews were quite good, and the main ‘stalls’ on the ground floor were full. The upper ‘restricted’ view seats were quite empty – which worked in my favor – I paid for a 15 pound seat – but ended up in a 20 pound seat. I’m ok with that upgrade.

The story line is interesting. A woman and her young baby – carried in a chest pack like the one my daughter wears – starts the show by explaining that she’s not sure why, but the hospital has called her baby back in for tests. She sure that she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream – but meanwhile – she’s doing as she’s been told – bringing her baby in to the hospital.

The baby is taken away – for those undisclosed, undescribed tests – and she is left waiting for something, anything to happen. What happens is that she runs into a variety of other folks in the oncology section – a pregnant woman having her in-vitro baby tested for cancer, a chain smoking older man with lung cancer, a son and his mother facing the likelihood that he will never father a child, a woman in the final stages of cervical cancer, and the like.

Thru music, thru props, thru great acting, and thru a believable – if horrid – story line, the cast explores the war on Cancer – from the perspective of the unwilling victims. Memorable songs include a Western Stomp done with the ‘hospital staff’ wearing cardboard bedpans on their heads like cowboy hats, and a couple of stunningly beautiful ‘blues’ songs sung by the glorious lovely gal with ‘cervical’ cancer.

I was particularly taken aback by a piece about friendship – which poignantly points out that for many of the patients – their best friends are now their fellow patients – because they understand what is happening emotionally and physically to each other.

The piece dramatically and emotionally ends with the cast coming on stage – no longer in ‘costume’. They sit on stage and talk about what it is like to die (in most cases – quite peaceful apparently) and then they invite folks in the audience to say the name of a loved one who is ill or has died of Cancer.

It took me 20 minute to get back enough strength to start walking back to the tube. The security guard found me in the ladies room during his closing routine – good thing too – otherwise I’d have spent the night locked in the theatre.

This is why I go to the theatre – to remember why we go to the theatre.

Signing off – The Soup Lady