Days 17-18: Asian-American in London Sees An American in Paris

Blenheim must be one of those architectural gems featured in An Outline of European Architecture  by Nicholas Pevsner. I wanted to run to my tattered and worn copy on my shelf at home to see if it was. The book got me through most of my Architectural History classes, just at a time when I wondered why studying palaces like these were useful endeavors in life.

A rare English Baroque palace, Blenheim was built by John Vanbrugh. He was a controversial pick over Christopher Wren, who designed and built St. Paul’s Cathedral. Van Brugh managed the project poorly and he himself had to be managed during the process. In the end he left the project in disgrace. It’s funny, but I’m sure I didn’t learn the project management details in architectural history, but it figured prominent in the storytelling about Blenheim.

Van Brugh was probably better known for his layout of the rooms. He originally designed an entire length of the building intended as a picture gallery. It didn’t work out. Maybe there weren’t enough portraits of the family. The walls were converted for use as a library. One of the photo shows how it looks like…well, an afterthought.

The Duke of Marlborough, an original Churchill, lived here. He was granted the property after winning the war against France and Prussia around 1704. The battle took place in Blindheim, Bavaria with 50,000 troops on each side.

Sir Winston Churchill was also born in Blenheim–I didn’t realize that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, as they say. Sadly,  I didn’t find this palace very impressive, even though it is now an UNESCO World Heritage Site,

To reach Blenheim by public transportation, it takes a side trip from London through Oxford by train, then by bus to Woodstock. We stayed overnight in Woodstock (half an hour from Oxford) to visit the Palace early the next morning. Woodstockers are proud to claim their namesake that preceded Blenheim by about 500 years, and  ‘way before the piddly little NY town claimed the name. It’s famous for glove-making.

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Before the palace was open, we took an early stroll through the grounds. The rolling hills were fun to navigate among the pastoral sheep and a stray pheasant here and there. Not much going on except extensive stretches of green lawn as far as the eye can see and shady trees as shown above. No one was in sight, until we arrived back at the entrance where the tour buses were just unloading the hoards. It started to feel a little bit like St. Petersburg again so we hustled our way out of the throngs quickly.

Our friends in Bath had recommended the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, so we stopped there after Blenheim on the way back to London. The museum has an impressive ancient art and archaeological  collection and many representative pieces I had not seen elsewhere. I could also continue pursuing Silk Road connections and learn more about the string of cities along it.

From what I recall,  art history seems to formally begin around 3000 BC, when Egyptian civilization became established.  One of the earliest pieces in the museum was from as early as 8000 BC, during the Neolithic period in Metsopotamia. Here are a few of my favorite pieces from later periods:

On return to London, I planned a special return visit to Fez Mangal, an “authentic” Turkish restaurant in the Ladbroke Grove neighborhood. I craved its fresh mezzes and kebabs as much as those in Istanbul. Friend and fellow traveler Karen will remember this restaurant from our 2014 visit to London. While we waited for a table SRO, we ordered our sea bream and mixed grill (with lamb, chicken, and mixed lamb kebabs) dishes in advance of being seated.

An American in Paris (see curtain call in featured photo above)

Unfortunately, despite excellent dancers and singers, the confusing and dated dialog from the original production couldn’t be improved. Save your money and watch the movie.

By the way, I forgot to mention in my previous post that Bath is also a world UNESCO site.

In keeping with my celebration list, I’d like to wish dear Dresden friend Hannelore, who keeps me motivated and learning German, a “Happy Birthday” or “Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!”

6 thoughts on “Days 17-18: Asian-American in London Sees An American in Paris”

    1. While I’ve honed a particular way of traveling that may not appeal to all, it works for me. I try to focus on one or two events each day (sometimes more) but try to ask myself afterwards, “what did I learn from this experience that I didn’t know before?” Sometimes an event connects me back to something I did before. Writing this blog has been helpful to record events and to reflect on them. As I am sure you do with singing every day, writing frequently helps to improve your flexibility, agility and style. I was never a great writer so this takes me out of my comfort level. Maybe these simple steps will encourage you to travel more with intent and to blog while you are doing it! Then you can teach me to sing!!

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  1. You do well out of your comfort zone, your adventures would scare the heck out of most people. Due bist eine gute Erzahlerin!

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    1. I won’t tell you some of my gory details!! I spent the last few days in Frankfurt getting my passport sorted out! Travel to Europe now requires 90 days validity on passports after departure. Didn’t have problems on past trips because passport was not up for renewal. It was hairy!! This one has been a bit rocky compared with the others.

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  2. Very impressive architecture especially the main hall with very tall ceiling & the library with huge organ. Interesting but delicious looking Turkish food you had. Important sites of ancient history are unfortunately in areas of conflict in modern times. It’s good that some relics have been collected into museums around the world.

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    1. You raise a very interesting point (…about ceilings and ancient relics!) First of all, I appreciate the UNESCO world sites and the effort required by each country to get them recognized. While it does bring both wanted and unwanted tourism, they do protect the history and human endeavor of each unique culture. I hear that many of the earliest Neolithic relics are being destroyed in their native environments, and I am saddened that they will no longer provide the proof of those signs of human development. Having what was taken and preserved in non-native sites (eg Oxford) is odd and somewhat disturbing, but maybe more justifiable now. I’d prefer to see them in situ as many beautiful signs of Islamic architecture are in Uzbekistan, but maybe places like Oxford are the next best. As for the ceilings and room layout in Blenheim, the high ceilings gave plenty of room for grand displays and whatever needed to be changed within. But the organ in the library and not the chapel depending on what came first was a head scratcher. I really think learning architectural history in retrospect was not about the practice so much as a primer for avid and insatiable tourism. It becomes an addiction with no particular benefit, except to say you’ve been there!!

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