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 I can get you tickets to any tournament in the world EXCEPT Wimbledon”  Nick Bollettieri, Tennis Coach

The above quote was made during a conversation I had with Nick Bollettieri in the early 1990s. It made an impression on me because Wimbledon has been on my list of things to do for years but his comment made it more of a challenge and I knew if I ever had the opportunity, I would have to jump at it.

Everyone in my family liked to play tennis so I started when I was young. I think my Dad had visions of the next Chris Evert but that wasn’t meant to be. I’m thankful he got me out on the court though because to this day it’s my favorite form of exercise. Just need to play more often.

As a child, I remember watching the big tournaments on TV with my mom and dad so actually going to Wimbledon has been on my “must do” list for years. One of the first things I did when I moved to London was enter the lottery for tickets to Wimbledon. Sadly, no response from them. BUT we were lucky enough to get tickets through a friend for the Men’s Quarter finals on Centre Court! And, yes I’m bruised from pinching myself to make sure it’s real!

Wimbledon My Golden Ticket

My Golden Ticket. I know how Charlie felt going into the Chocolate Factory! Instead of Candy ~ I got to see fabulous tennis.

Wimbledon view of Centre Court

Wimbledon Centre Court line up

View from our seats ~ my big fear was getting caught on camera blowing my nose or something like that.

Wimbledon medical call

Literally, less than four minutes into the 1st match Del Potro was down with a knee problem. He rallied to come back and win. I was cheering for Ferrer,the Spanish player.

Wimbledon Fernando Verdasco

The second match of the day was Fernando Verdasco against Andy Murray. Verdasco is an incredible tennis player (One of his serves was calculated at 139 mph) and he gave Andy a run for it by winning the first two sets. Andy Murray is lucky the crowd was so encouraging and cheering for him because I don’t think he would have won otherwise ~ he seemed to feed off of the crowd. Hopefully he’ll go on to win his first Wimbledon trophy this weekend and be the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. It’s going to be party-time in the UK come Sunday if he wins!

Wimbledon Andy Murray warming up

Wimbledon Andy Murray Backhand

I only took photos during the warm up session. Someone took a photo at eye level right when Andy Murray was serving a crucial point and the flash went off. Oh, my ~ if looks could kill.

Wimbledon Cameraman

Wimbledon Media Coverage

Of course there was media everywhere!

The grounds at Wimbledon are beautiful:
Wimbledon Centre Court

Wimbledon Restaurant area

Wimbledon Linesmen

Wimbledon Club

Wimbleton Flowers

Wimbledon is definitely going down as a top highlight of our time here in London! Now on to the rest of our must do list…only a few weeks to go before we move back to the states.

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Trooping Queen

Trooping the Colour, also known as Her Majesty The Queen’s Birthday Parade was held this past Saturday, 15 June. Her birthday is actually on April 21 but the celebrations are numerous and culminates with the “official” Birthday Parade. She turned 87 years old this year and seems to be going strong. Tickets for the Parade are given out by lottery which I wrote about a few months ago (click here). Although I did receive lottery tickets for the Colonel’s review practice ceremony the week prior, John was able to get tickets for the Official Birthday Parade. Tickets cost £30 each.

Trooping with Monument

The sheer number of Soldiers and horses was impressive. The parade included 19 officers, 626 soldiers, 225 musicians, 23 mounted officers, 219 mounted soldiers and 245 gorgeous horses.

Trooping two guards on horse back

Trooping white horse

Despite my allergies going crazy from the pollen and other unidentified particles flying through the air (London seems to be at the height of allergy season right now), I was thrilled to witness a British tradition that’s been going on since the reign of King Charles II (1660 -1685). In 1748, it was agreed the parade would be used to mark the official birthday of the Sovereign and it became an annual event as of 1760 during the reign of George III.  I enjoyed seeing the grandeur, the band (so fabulous!), the Soldiers, horses and, of course, seeing the Queen.

Colour (yes, I’m spelling it the British way) refers to the regimental flags of the British Infantry. Since the times of Kings of Babylon, the flags have been used as a rallying point for Soldiers. The Colour being trooped was the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards and, since the Queen was present, it was Queen’s Colour on parade.  Hope I got that right!

Trooping Queen III

The Queen has attended the parade and taken “the salute” since her accession to the throne ~ 61 years! Until 1986, she rode a horse to take the salute but since then, she’s taken the salute from the dais. Unfortunately, our seats didn’t provide a view of the dais.

Trooping Harry, Camilla, Kate

Trooping Kate, Camilla, Harry

Other Royal Family members participate in the ceremony as well. If you squint, as I did at the ceremony, you can see Kate (Duchess of Cambridge), Camilla (Duchess of Cornwall) and Prince Harry in the open-carriage. My understanding is this was Kate’s last public event until she gives birth.

Trooping Charles, Anne and William

Not a great photo but those mounted officers with the Blue sash(which signifies they are in the Order of the Garter) are as follows: On the far is Anne, The Princess Royal and a Colonel in the Blues and Royals.  In the middle is Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Colonel Irish Guards. On the right is Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Colonel Welsh Guards. They followed directly behind the Queen’s carriage.

Trooping Bunker seating

Trooping Best seats in the house

The Old Admiralty Building with the Bunker Seats and “hanging out the windows” seemed to provide great views.

Trooping Horses

The horses are beautiful and so well behaved. It’s obvious they are a bit spunky since they looked so pleased when they were finally able to do the “quick time” meaning then got to canter rather then walk pass the Queen.

Trooping Band on Horseback

The band sounded fantastic~ both those on foot and mounted. Have to say, I still don’t know how they play while riding horse back. Just riding a horse takes all my concentration!

Troooping Sea of hats and horses

There were hats and horses everywhere. I find it difficult to distinguish the different uniforms but I do know the blue plume on the hat means Irish Guards and the red plume means Coldstream Guards.

Trooping David Cameron

We didn’t have a good view of the Queen but David Cameron (Prime Minister) and other international dignitaries were close by.

Trooping Turning left

Trooping with sword

Wasn’t quite sure what the pointing of the sword meant since it was being pointed directly at David Cameron but John explained it’s like a turn signal. Ah, that explains it…

Trooping Logan

At the end of the ceremony, we couldn’t resist snapping a photo with a foot guard. My favorite quote of the day was Logan stating “They really are the Red Coats”

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Meanwhile back in London (taking a break from John’s India, Nepal, Bangladesh guest posts)…

At a pub quiz this past Sunday night, I mentioned I’m a fan of the “Graham Norton Show” and an expat New Zealander said she’d been to TWO tapings of the show. Needless to say, I pressed her for all the details of how, when and where. Here’s the down and dirty: Tickets can be applied for through SRO Audiences.  Click here for a list of shows and ticket requests).

First thing was to sign up for “The Graham Norton Show” ~ it’s done by a lottery and hopefully I’ll get picked for next week’s show. Fingers crossed!

Since signing up with SRO Audiences, I’ve started getting information about other shows. On Tuesday, I received information about a BBC 4 (radio) taping of a pilot called “Britain vs The Rest of the World” ~ a light-hearted, humorous contest between comedians. I applied for and got four FREE tickets for the following day (last night).

It’s definitely a last-minute sort of thing but if you’re up for a little spontaneity and something to do on a weekday night, it’s a lot of fun. Since I had two extra tickets, I was thrilled my friend Leslie and her husband could make it. Always more fun to go with a group. In the UK corner was Hal Cruttenden and the international representation was Henning Wehn, a comedian from Germany. Isn’t it an oxymoron to be a German Comedian? Just KIDDING! Ed Byrne (often seen on the Graham Norton show) was the “referee” of the contest.

I’ve never been to a taping of any type of show (radio or TV) and here’s what happened. I got an email with my eticket and a detailed list of dos and don’ts. Most important information was doors open at six and there’s a bar while you wait until the show starts. Makes the wait so much more tolerable. When we got there at six, there were already 10 or 15 people waiting to go in. As we walked in, they asked my name and gave each of us a pink wrist band with a number. I later found out pink bands are the “regular” ticket holders. Blue ones were for special/personal guests. After relaxing in the (hot) bar area for about an hour, we were called according to the numbers on our wrist bands. Having gotten there early enough, we were able to sit in the second row. Did I mention hot ~ be sure to wear layers so you can strip down a little. I’m so glad I wore a sleeveless lightweight top.

Because they want to fill all seats, they do “overbook” to make up for those who don’t show up. All seats were filled last night and I noticed a few people who didn’t make it past the bar area. My advice if you go is to get there early. If I get the Graham Norton tickets, I may go there at lunchtime and camp out…just to make sure I get a seat.

Since this was a pilot show, I’m not sure if it will be picked up and become a hit but I enjoyed it a lot. Ed Byrne was VERY funny as the moderator. He’s quick and witty. I also really liked Henning, the German ~ very dry humor.  His sidekick on the team was a Canadian who announced she really sounded American because she lived so close to the border. Hmmm…NOT! She sounded very Canadian to me and she should be proud of it. She had a deadpan sense of humor as well.

Bonus for me, the studio happened to be in Soho and was only a 15 minute walk from our flat. Another reason (I think I’m up to reason number 1,438) why I’m going to miss London so much.

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If music be the food of love, play on.” William Shakespeare

I wasn’t exposed to musical instruments as a child. OK, maybe I strummed a Ukulele once or twice as a little kid but none of the schools I attended in Hawaii or Puerto Rico offered music classes.  But not having learned to play an instrument makes me no less inspired and in awe of those who can.

Having moved 20 times, or on the average of every 2.5 years, I’ve learned to hit the ground running. Logan’s London school doesn’t have an orchestra and I didn’t want her viola skills to get rusty. Within the first week in London, I started my search for a viola tutor. I didn’t know any one in the area yet, so I used (gasp) Google. The Tutor Pages website popped up with lists of tutors and their information. I was impressed with Maja Wegrzynowska’s information and made an appointment to meet with her the next week.

Since safety is my first priority, I did a basic background search (again Google) and made sure John was aware of where we were going. Can’t be too careful these days ( for all I knew it could have been a bogus listing) but any worries I had were set aside when I met Maja. She’s been a fabulous tutor for Logan. Because she is a performing artist, the practice schedule is fluid ~ we make arrangements each week. Works out well for her and for Logan. We’re thrilled she makes time to tutor when she has such a busy schedule performing.

For the last few months, I’ve wanted to take Logan to see Maja in concert. I’m a firm believer that you can learn a lot by watching the experts live. Until now, we’ve had conflicting schedules but finally, this past Wednesday, we were able to attend Maja’s performance at the 35th Anniversary Concert of Live Music Now. It took place in Hall One at Kings Place (near Kings Cross Station) and featured performances by current musicians and distinguished alumni. Maja has worked with them in the past.

Live Music Now is a UK-based charity. Over the last three decades, it has conducted 50,000 participatory performances thus reaching over two million people with disabilities, the elderly and children with special needs. The charity hires young professional musicians out of music school, pays them a salary (one they can live on) and teaches them to use their talents for the benefit of those who are otherwise excluded from access to experiencing live music. In the states, I’ve heard of volunteers who do similar events but this charity takes it to another level with PAID professionals. We saw a short film showing the musicians in a classroom setting and one in an elderly home. It was heartwarming to see the smiles brought about by the fabulous music brought to their lives ~ even for a short while.

The concert was FABULOUS. It began and ended with the toe tapping harmonica/banjo duo of “Walsh and Pound” and all kinds of wonderful music in between. There was jazz, Spanish guitar, an opera singer, etc. Maja played in a trio called “La Mer Trio” ~ it consists of the viola, harp and flute. An interesting combination and they sounded so beautiful together.

La Mer Trio (Maja Wegrzynowska (Viola), Renate Sokolovska (Flute) and Hannah Stone (Harp)  Photographer: Grzegorz Golebiowski.

La Mer Trio: Maja Wegrzynowska (Viola), Renate Sokolovska (Flute) and Hannah Stone (Harp) (Photographer: Grzegorz Golebiowski)

Hall One at Kings Place (Photo Courtesy of Kings Place)

Hall One at Kings Place (Photo Courtesy of Kings Place)

Hall One at Kings Place was a pleasant surprise. I was a little worried since our seats were towards the back but there’s not a bad seat in the hall and the acoustics are wonderful. It’s attending events such as this remind me that I’m going to miss the heck out of London. If you get a chance to go to the 36th Anniversary concert next year, do so. It only cost £14.50 which was so worth it!

If you want to see La Mer Trio in concert, click here.

For more info on:

Kings Place upcoming events, click here.

Live Music Now charity, click here.

The Tutor Pages, click here. 

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Guest Blogger: Logan, 15 years old

We are frequent visitors to Regent’s Park, many times as a short cut to a friend’s flat in St Johns Woods. A couple of weeks ago, we came across Gorilla Circus ~ Flying Trapeze School. They are located at the corner of Outer Circle Rd and Avenue Rd on the north side of the Regents Park. The closest tube station is St Johns Wood (Jubilee Line).

We stopped to watch the school for a moment but ended up staying longer since we were all mesmerized by the wanna-be acrobats swinging through the air. I could tell John and Logan were tempted. Me, not so much ~ I have limited upper body strength. Logan made arrangements for a class which took place yesterday. She agreed to be a guest blogger and here’s her story:

After seeing the Flying Trapeze School, I was interested in going but hadn’t looked into it any further. Coincidentally, my friend said she went to the school and loved it. She asked if I wanted to go with her and she made the arrangements for a class which was yesterday. The maximum number of students is 10 and we had 9 in our class. They told us we would have a warm-up, practice on the lower bar and then we would go on the flying trapeze.

First, we did basic warm up which included jumping jacks, stretching side to side, running in place and a few balance exercises. Then everyone went over to the lower bar, they explained we would hold the bar, bring our legs up, hook our legs onto the bar and reach back. There were two people helping everyone up on the lower bar so don’t be intimidated if you feel you wouldn’t be able to lift yourself onto the bar. 

The instructors worked with you on your level of expertise so if you are more experienced, they offer more difficult “tricks.” Having never been on a trapeze, I was at the beginner level with the majority of the class. After my turn on the lower bar, they hooked a safety belt around my waist and we walked towards the ladder. It was very fast paced and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to do it but most of the people were worried too so it was reassuring. A few people wore jeans which I think made it more difficult. It’s better to wear tights/leggings.

We were briefed as to what would happen on the flying trapeze along with commands that would be called out. A person from the class was chosen to be an example and the instructors called out the commands which were:

  • Ready: bend your knees
  • HUP!: Gently jump from the platform with your arms extended straight out (locked arms) 
  • Tuck: put your legs onto the bar
  • Release: drop your hands and reach out

After the lower bar practice, we waited for our turn. I was nervous but concentrating on watching the other people so I could learn from them. Climbing the ladder turned out to be the scariest part of the whole thing but you’re hooked to a rope just in case. Once at the top, there’s a platform assistant who hooks you into the safety ropes and he holds onto the back of your belt so you don’t fall off the platform while reaching for the bar. The bar is heavy so reaching out to grab it is difficult because it felt like it was going to pull me right off the platform. Thankfully, the platform assistant was strong enough to hold me back. I followed the commands and “hupped” ~ I’m very happy they don’t say jump because that sounds more terrifying to me. “Hup!” seemed much less scary.

Grabbing onto the bar

Grabbing onto the bar

Ready To Fly

Ready To Fly

HUP!

HUP!

Knees Hooked

Time to get those knees hooked!

Hands Off, Arms locked and reaching

Hands Off, Arms locked and reaching

Success....

Success….

Flying Trapeze

Flying Trapeze

It was thrilling and I’m happy I did it. I want to go again. It’s an interesting work-out but the instructors are all very nice and supportive. There were all different age levels in our group. The minimum age is 8 years old but no maximum age. If you don’t “get it” on your first try, there’s usually time for another attempt.  I think my parents would enjoy it so I’m hoping to go again with them.

I have to admit, watching my 15-year-old be brave enough to do the Flying Trapeze has at least peaked my interest in wanting to try it. Since it seems very safe and the instructors didn’t “shame” anyone who missed the “hand off”, I might go just for the fun of flying on the bar.  If you’re interested, click here for all the pertinent details and let me know how you like it.

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The only West End Show John has begged repeatedly asked me to get tickets for is “Book of Mormon” which opened in February 2013. By the time I checked for tickets, the show was sold out through the summer with only a few very expensive seats available on third-party ticket sites. Last Tuesday, he decided to go to the box office to see if there were any same day tickets to be had. Turns out they have a lottery everyday for FRONT ROW seats. Here’s the deal: A lottery application has to be filled out at the Prince of Wales theater 2.5 hours prior to the start of the show. At 5 pm, John filled out his lottery application (photo ID is required). At 5:30pm, two hours before the show, they drew names from one of those rolling cages. It’s all very exciting as the names are called out. John went on a Tuesday, there were 21 tickets available for about 100 hopefuls and, “Hallelujah Joseph Smith”, John was the sixth person called for two tickets. The winning tickets are only £20 each. Quite a deal for any West End show but especially for this very extremely popular one.

The lottery in progress...

The lottery in progress…

John will his winning ticket

John with his winning ticket

Review (hopefully without any spoilers but I will mention a specific line and song titles)

Front row is not always considered the best seat in the house because you get a myopic view of things but I love to see the actors up close ~ sweat, spit and all. I’m in awe of those who can perform on stage night after night with such precision and energy. “Book of Mormon” did not fail in any aspect. The actors, music, energy, set were all top-notch.

The play was written by the creators of South Park and it’s a religious satirical musical with plenty of clever lyrics and catchy tunes to keep your toes tapping. My favorites are “Turn it Off” and “You and Me (but Mostly Me)” which both John and I find ourselves singing frequently around the house. But mostly John.

Having lived in an area of the US with a lot of Mormons, I caught the little detailed nuances regarding the culture and terminology  of the Mormons but it seemed everyone in the theater enjoyed the show even the older Spanish-speaking man sitting directly behind me. During the opening number of “Hello” with the Mormon Boys, it had me wondering where they found so many Mormons who could act and sing. Even their twinkling eyes had me convinced they were the real deal. There’s something about a devout Mormon and his “smiling, shining eyes”. But when the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” came on and those same guys came out, they looked nothing like Mormons. And it wasn’t a costume change, it was solely their attitude and great acting.

It’s sacrilegious, vulgar and I have to admit during one song I thought to myself “I’m going to have to go see “Mama Mia” so I can wash off the stench of this song.” BUT the story itself is about acknowledging and respecting everyone’s right to follow (and sometimes invent themselves) any faith they choose. It’s an all-out onslaught at Mormonism through many fun songs but it could have been any religion’s dogma. What I took away from the play was it’s easier to tolerant another person’s religion if we look at the effect it has on the practitioners and not at the religion itself. In other words, actions speak louder than words.

Having seen the show, I’m surprised several British reviews I’ve read are less than glowing. I thought they’d love the satire. Perhaps it’s the complexity of the American view of religious tolerance, no matter how extreme the religion (so long as it doesn’t physically hurt others).

I would definitely recommend “Book of Mormon” but with the caveat that they understand it’s satire. Or as my favorite line in the play states “It’s a F&&^ing metaphor, you didn’t really think there was a Salt Lake City, did you?”

(more…)

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Urban Dictionary defines photobomb: “any time the background of a picture hijacks the original focus”

If you spend time around central London especially highly concentrated tourist spots such as Big Ben, Parliament, Tower of London, it’s obvious London is a photobomber’s dream. I still duck and attempt to stay out of other people’s photos but John has gotten into the game and loves to wave/smile big if he happens to run by when someone is taking a photo.  More and more I notice people posing in my photos. Recently, while walking along the canal near Regent’s Park, a runner stopped mid- stride and asked me if I wanted her in my photo. Awkward! If I said “No” she might feel rejected and “Yes” seemed a bit creepy.

During our short weekend trip to Spain, my daughter Logan was taking photos at Plaza de Puerta del Sol when a very colorfully dressed man did his best pose. First he sees his chance:

Opportunity Idenitfied

Opportunity identified

..and he definitely steals the focus while doing his best vogue:

Bam! Photobombed!

#Photo credit to Logan

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Hever Castle, located in Kent, definitely has what most would expect in a medieval castle: towers, a moat, a drawbridge, the “murder holes”, beautiful gardens, a maze and swans in the lake. Add a warm, sunny day and it made for a wonderful visit. Over 800 years old, Hever Castle was the family home to the Boleyns. Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII and her sister Mary was a mistress of Henry’s for a short time. Brother George ended up being executed along with Anne on (trumped-up?) charges of Treason. In 1539, the Castle came into the King’s possession after the death of Anne’s father. A year later, he gave it to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as part of their divorce settlement.

In 1903, William Waldorf Astor purchased and restored the beautiful house and gardens. It’s obvious he was very particular about what he wanted for the house and it can be seen in the details such as the beautiful wood paneling, antique furniture, Tudor paintings, portraits, collection of torture devices, classical statues and a portion of a Roman triumphal arch (circa 52 A.D.). The only original part of the castle is the gatehouse.My favorite treasure of the house is Anne Boleyn’s “Book of Hours” ~ a prayer-book she had with her in the Tower of London on the eve of her execution. She wrote in the book “Le Temps Viendra” (“The time will come”). There’s also the room where Henry slept during his few visits to Hever. There’s a portrait of the king in the room and I can’t help but wonder what he really looked like since none of the portraits I’ve seen are flattering. I imagine the artists “air brushed” the portraits in order to win favor from the monarch (or at least avoid his wrath) so I can only imagine how his portrait would look if the artists were completely honest.

The Long Gallery is an impressive room and chronicles Henry VIII’s six wives using mannequin images. In case anyone forgot, the wives are: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr. The guide told us the rhyme to remember what happened to the wives: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.

Hever Castle, Kent, UK

Hever Castle, Kent, UK

Hever Castle with rental cottages in the backgound

Hever Castle with rental cottages in the backgound

Hever Castle Fountain

Hever Castle Fountain

Hever Castle Love in the Gardens

Hever Castle Love in the Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Garden Statue

Hever Castle Garden Statue

Hever Castle Garden Walkway

Hever Castle Garden Walkway

Hever Castle Statue

Hever Castle Statue

Hever Castle Gardens

Hever Castle Gardens

Graveyard outside of Hever Castle

Graveyard outside of Hever Castle

Outside Hever Castle ~ Bench

Outside Hever Castle ~ Bench

Hever Castle Swans ~ True Love!

Hever Castle Swans ~ True Love!

If you want to visit Hever Castle, it’s located 30 miles SE of London and can be reached by train from Victoria Station in about 50 minutes. We went by bus and it was about a 1.5 hour drive. Click here for information about visiting Hever Castle. No photos allowed inside the castle but the grounds are gorgeous for photography.

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I don’t think of myself as a “foodie” but I’m learning a lot in London. This city has a fantastic array of restaurant and market choices. I may not be an expert when I leave but I know I’ve been spoiled!! Seems around every corner is an opportunity for a great meal or nibbly bits. We happened to walk by Green Valley Market the other day on our way to Hyde Park. After seeing the gorgeous mounds of Baklava in the window display, we couldn’t resist going in. It cost under £5 to buy 300g of assorted Baklava. YUM! If you’re in London (living or visiting), I would highly recommend checking this market out.  In addition to Baklava, they have fresh fruit/vegetables, a deli, other candies, bakery items, etc. It’s located at Edgware and Upper Berkeley close to Marble Arch/Hyde Park.

Baklava at Green Valley Market

Baklava at Green Valley Market

Green Valley Market on Upper Berkeley and Edgware Road

Green Valley Market on Upper Berkeley and Edgware Road

Baklava in the Market Window

Baklava in the Market Window

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Last night, we were invited to a reception at the Penthouse of a building just off of Trafalgar Square. The outside of the building is not so pretty but the view is spectacular! Unfortunately, I didn’t have my canon camera but did get a few shots with the compact camera.

View from the Penthouse

View from the Penthouse ~ love all the red buses

Overlooking Trafalgar Square

Overlooking Trafalgar Square

London Eye, Big Ben, Whitehall, Horse Parade

London Eye, Big Ben, Whitehall, Horse Parade

Overlooking Trafalgar Square at Dusk

Overlooking Trafalgar Square at Dusk

Looking out to Westminster and Big Ben

Looking out to Westminster and Big Ben

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