We’ve whipped around the sun again and it’s time to take stock of my reading for 2016.

I start each year with several goals:

  • Read a minimum of 20 books,
  • Read at least one classic,
  • Read one book about baseball.

Because I stopped doing my stupidly long commute, my total is significantly down from 2015.

My classics were limited to the sci-fi genre: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I found The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to be silly and weird but, for 410bnolmnol-_sx331_bo1204203200_some reason, my mind keeps wandering back to it. Maybe that’s part of what makes it a classic. More about The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress below.

I never got around to reading a book about baseball. I guess nothing struck me as a must-read. I’ll have to make up for that in 2017. I did gift two baseball books to family members: Zim: A Baseball Life and Shoeless Joe (the book Field of Dreams is based on) because both are excellent and are must-reads for baseball fans.

This was my year of reading books about astronauts. I read three: A Journal for Christa: Christa McAuliffe, Teacher in Space, Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space, Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe. I didn’t intend to read three astronaut biographies, it just happened that way.

I read A Journal for Christa beacuse, working at Christa McAuliffe Charter School I felt I needed to know more about this remarkable woman. It’s not great, but I think it ought to be required reading for staff at the school. The books about Sally Ride and Mike Massimino were excellent.

I had the unique experience of reading a book that was, in small part, about me or, more accurately, about some work I did in the 1990’s. I had known Shadow Divers Exposed: The Real Saga of the U-869 existed, but had always assumed it was sour grapes from one wreck 41qpc6chpal-_sx301_bo1204203200_diver about the work, and media success, of another diver. I was wrong. It was really about setting the recored straight about who should have been given credit for uncovering the identity of a World War II German U-boat that was discovered off the coast of New Jersey. As it turns out, I assisted significantly in that effort but was not given credit. Who knew?

The best books I read in 2016?

Both were fiction: The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War. These were both outstanding. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress provides ample evidence that Robert A. Heinlein was a master of the sci-fi genre. It was an absolute joy to read and I 51hayo7qynlthink about it surprisingly often. I read and enjoyed Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising about World War III in the 1980’s. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War is the 21st century version of that novel. It takes place 20 to 30 years from now is about a geopolitical showdown between China and Russia one one side and the United States on the other side. Lots of ships and marines – it was great – and scary.

This was also my year to reach out to authors and have them respond. I tweeted to Lynn Sherr author of Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space and she tweeted back to me.

I contacted Andy Weir who wrote The Martian and Sam Kean author of The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements. Both of the writers agreed to sign my copies of their amazing books. There are days, I love the internet.

Here’s my complete list of the books I read in 2016:

Time’s Eye (Time Odyssey) (Audiobook)

Great Classic Science Fiction: Eight Unabridged Stories (Audiobook)

The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (Audiobook)

13 Hours: The Inside Account of What Really Happened In Benghazi (Audiobook)

Scared to Death: Do it Anyway

Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College

A Journal for Christa: Christa McAuliffe, Teacher in Space

A Cruise Ship Primer: History & Operations

The Darkest Hour: A Novel

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files)

Red Desert – Point of No Return

Where Divers Dare: The Hunt for the Last U-Boat

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

Shadow Divers Exposed: The Real Saga of the U-869

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space51bvtanlvil

Stories of Your Life and Others

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Voyeur’s Motel

Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War


I feel like I’ve seen more than the 72 artists and groups perform live, but these are the ones I can recall. From my first – Bachman-Turner Overdrive, to my most recent – Paul McCartney, I’ve have some wonderful and amazing evenings experiencing live music.

A few of my favorite concerts would include seeing BB King at his prime in 1976, Seeing Blue Oyster Cult open for J. Geils Band on Halloween in 1978 and Springsteen each of the three times I’ve seen him.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing major artists perform for very small audiences at The River Music Hall. These artists include Jason Mraz, David Crosby & Graham Nash, and Alanis Morissette among others. There is nothing like going seeing an artist perform with just 25 or 30 other people – it’s a very personal experience.

I’ve seen Azetc Two-Step maybe ten times. I’ve seen them in Newport, at colleges, in tiny little venues and big rooms too. They are always a favorite. My son, David, even arranged for Rex Fowler to call me one year and wish me a Happy Birthday. So Cool.

I guess that’s what the live performance is all about – the personal connection between artist and spectator. And really, when watching live music, you’re not as much a spectator as a participant. The artist’s emotional energy is cycled through you, the listener, and reflected back to the performer and then right back to you.

“With so many ways to communicate at our disposal, we must not forget the transformative power of a live music experience and genuine human exchange” Jon Batiste

Still on my list to see are Billy Joel and Paul Simon- maybe in 2017. Feel free to comment and add your own list.

Aztec Two-Step *

Aerosmith

J. Geils Band *

B. B. King*Version 4

Doobie Brothers

Beach Boys

Bruce Springsteen*

Paul McCartney

Buddy Guy

Papa John Creach

Steve Miller Band

Barry Manilow*

Linda Ronstadt

Blue Oyster Cult

Donny Osmond *

Donnie and Marie

Shaun Cassidy

David Cassidy

Art Garfunkel

Cat Stevens

Poco

Seals and Crofts

Logins and Messina

Chicago

Neil Diamond

Boston Pops *

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra

Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Jason Mraz *20759802-mmmain

Pat Benatar

Neil Sedaka *

David Crosby

Graham Nash

Neil Young

Coco Montoya

Raul Midon

Chris Isaak

Wiz Khalifa

G Love and Special Sauceimg042

James Taylor *

The Crusaders

The Wallflowers

Trace Adkins

Suzanne Vega

Styx

Pousette Dart Band *

Marc Broussard

Laura Branigan

Jill Sobule

Jethro Tull

Jackson Brown

The Fray

Don McLean *

Carbon Leaf *

Boston

America

Ryan Montblau Band

Bachman-Turner Overdrive

Joe Cocker

Smokey Robinsonmarkmrazandfish

Bruce Hornsby

Minnie Driver

Bob Weir

Carly Simon

Todd Rundgren

Kings of Leon

John Sebastian

The Carpenters

Temptations

Alanis Morissette

Virgin


My Protest Vote

18Oct16

This November marks the tenth time I have had the opportunity to cast a ballot for the office of President of the United States. It is a responsibility I take seriously, a right I cherish and, this time, a choice I cannot make. I am not “ undecided;” I have decided I cannot support any of the candidates on this ballot.

I am dismayed, disgusted and deeply disappointed by these candidates. None of them are fit to lead this country and, sadly, one of them will.

Gary Johnson succeeded in blowing up his candidacy by fumbling two pretty easy foreign policy questions. Foreign policy is a pretty big part of the job and, at this point, he is clearly not ready for prime time.

Donald Trump is an ignorant, narcissistic, blow-hard. I have seen no evidence that he has the interest or the intellect to actually do the job. His plans and positions are vague, amateurish and shallow. It’s all about “The Donald” all the time. He is intellectually, temperamentally and morally unfit to serve.

Hillary Clinton is highly qualified for the job. Former first lady, senator and secretary of state – she knows the job, knows the players and knows how to get things done. Unfortunately, she is completely untrustworthy. She will say and do anything to achieve her goals. She lies, even when she doesn’t have to. You never get the whole truth when she’s on the hot seat – you get a version of truth that is carefully parsed to do the least damage to her image. Character is the first requirement for a leader and she is completely lacking in this department.

I refuse to engage in the “lesser of two evils” politics. I’ve done it before and I’ll never do it again. As an electorate, we need to aim for loftier goals than this one’s less awful than the other one.  We need presidential candidates who raise the level of debate in this 1235px-flag_of_the_united_statescountry – not ones who debase it. We need candidates we can enthusiastically support – not ones that force us to hold our collective nose as we enter the voting booth.

So, what am I to do?

I’ve been batting this around in my head for months. I’ve talked to republicans, democrats, independents and libertarians. I refuse to support these candidates and I need to find a way to express my disgust and outrage.

Finally, I’ve decided what to do.

I’m voting.

I’m voting for the kind of leader we need. A leader who is smart, politically savvy, even-measured, unflappable, honorable and intellectually up to the challenge.

I’m writing in Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and I urge my friends to do the same. I’m not suggesting Charlie should be president, but he’s the kind of candidate we need on a national level.

His positions mirror the majority of Americans: pro-choice, pro same-sex marriage and he’s a fiscal conservative. When faced with a looming budget deficit, his first act was to make government smaller – not raise taxes and fees. He’s proven he can lead in a crisis (think back two winters ago when the MBTA stopped working). He’s fired people from his own administration (members of his own political party) when they misused their power for personal aggrandizement and punished those who have undercut the public trust.

Please consider joining me in my protest vote. Write in Charlie Baker – send a message to both parties about the kind of candidates we need. Maybe next time, we’ll have candidates we can get excited about, be proud of and who are truly fit to serve.


I can’t take it any more. The alerts, the interruptions to programming, the weather updates crawling along the bottom of the screen are too much for me. The StormTeam-Extreme-Weather-First-Alert-StormTracker-Breaking-News folks are driving me nuts.

Weather is big news. It’s become the biggest part of local news. If you watch WCVB, my station of choice, the weather leads the news, then gets a nice 5-minute chunk in the middle, and then, just before they end the broadcast, the weather guy gives us a summary of the forecast. During the Noon broadcast, they don’t even do sports…they just do more weather.

Heaven forbid there be thunderstorms within 200 miles of Boston and the weather geeks go all in for updates, the “Get our Weather Alert app” appeals begin and the incessant crawl along the bottom of the screen starts.

Ya know, we don’t live in tornado alley. I don’t need a notification on my phone that a tropical storm just off the coast of Africa, that has virtually no chance of ever reaching Boston, has been given a name. Nope, not information I need immediately.

And it’s not just local news, the national news outlets are doing the same thing. Every night, they talk about extreme weather, super storms, tornado clusters and the like. The Weather Channel has started naming storms – not hurricanes, just regular winter storms.

A temperature of ninety-six degrees is not enough, now meteorologists need to talk about the heat index, so they can flash 101 degrees on the screen – three digits are infinitely more dramatic than two. In February, they’ll be doing the same thing, instead of 12 degrees we’ll be hearing about wind-chill – “but it feels like 134 degrees below zero.”  It’s all so dramatic and over-the-topIMG_3056 (1)

It’s like grade inflation but with weather. Everyone got used to hurricanes, so now they’re “super storms.” It’s not a blizzard, it’s “Juggernaut Juno.” It’s not a thunderstorm, it’s “severe weather.”

It used to be the weather guys ’n gals would get all geared up for snow storms. They’d put their flannel shirts on, fire up the Winter Weather Storm Force graphics package, and shove some poor part-time reporter out into the storm. But now, it’s everything. They gear up for soaking rains, severe drought, a beautiful sunset, you name it and they’re in overdrive. The tone is earnest, the updates incessant and the weather radar in the corner is continual.

Harvey Leonard, I love you but take a breath. Relax. I know it’s New England and things happen fast…but, really, you’ve got to tone it down a little. A line of thunderstorms falling apart as they move easterly through New York state is not a big deal. There’s no reason to get all amped up about it.

I’m sorry weather folks, I refuse to be scared of all the weather all the time.


Oh, the things you’ll see. Look up. Look up and you’ll see such amazing things.

Planets – Tomorrow is August 1, 2016. Look up at the night sky and Mars hangs in the blackness of space, big and bold and oh, so red. To it’s upper left, is the second largest planet; a dim, yellow Saturn.

Jupiter, Venus and Mercury are visible at dusk. I’ve always found Mercury to be a challenge  to see regularly. It never gets far from the setting or rising Sun, but we can use the moonWEBvic16_Aug04ev to help find it on August 4th. The crescent moon will be right next to little Mercury on the 4th – see the diagram from Sky and Telescope.

That’s all five planets visible to the naked eye – and you can find them all on the same night if you look.

ISS – We’re also in a nice time-frame to see the International Space Station. In August, it is making passes over the region in both morning and evening times. Visit Nasa’s website, Spot the Station, to see exact days and times for your location. There is a crew of six living and working on the station right now, so when it passes overhead, wave.

Meteor Shower – Later this month, the Perseid meteor shower peaks on the morning of August 12th. Get up early, about 2 to 3am, and lay on the grass or a lawn chair and just look up. You’ll see scores of meteors every hour. What you’ll be seeing are tiny bits of comet Swift-Tuttle’s debris tail as Earth crosses it’s orbit.

Eclipse – Next year, on August 21st, the United States will see a total eclipse of the sun. The Moons shadow will trace a thin line from Oregon to South Carolina. People within that 635925186082143379-AP-Australia-Solar-Eclipseline will see a total eclipse of the sun. The rest of the country, including New England, will see a partial eclipse.

None of these amazing sights require anything other then your eyes. Just tilt your head back…steady yourself so you don’t topple over and look up. The things you’ll see…so amazing.

If you enjoy reading about space, check out these other posts:Pizza, Pizza Guys Get It Wrong, Wrong,  It’s All About ScaleThe Day I Met An Astronaut


It happened by accident – a happy accident, to be sure. My friends at school have known and at least one chided me about “taking advantage.”  But, now the truth can be told. I can get it off my chest and ‘fess up about the sweetest deal I had going at the expense of one of America’s corporate giants.

It’s all about my insatiable need for massive and regular infusions of caffeine. My preferred delivery method was the Grande Pike Place with room for cream at the local Starbucks. It became a daily ritual with the 8th grade team at my school – so routine that we’d just ask, “Are you going?” We all knew where we were going…to Target and, more specifically, the Starbucks just inside the door.

Now, this is not an inexpensive habit on a teacher’s salary – $2.14 a hit, five times a week (sometimes more) starts to become a noticeable expense. Think about it: one coffee per day for 180 days is almost $400. gty_starbucks_cup_111207_wmain

This is where the accident comes in to play. Every day I’d leave the house with a 22 oz, Starbucks travel mug full of caffeine, err coffee. Later, I’d bring my mug to Starbucks and have the lovely baristas fill it up again. They’d charge me $2.14 and off I’d go.

One day I said the magic word – “refill.”

When they rang up my coffee it was 53¢.

Yes, 53¢. They were charging me the same rate they charge for that second cup after you sit in the store and drink your first cup ‘o joe.

I said it again the next day, “refill”  – Bam, 53¢.

I said it the next and the next…it was always the same. I felt as if trumpets from upon high should have been blaring. What an absolute miracle. I had accidentally stumbled upon the magic word.

As if that wasn’t enough, I received $35 in Starbucks gift cards at Christmas. I loaded them onto my Starbucks app and started paying with my phone.

Guess what? They discount their price 10¢ if you bring your own cup, so then my coffee was just 43¢ a “refill.”

Glory be – I was set. I had $35 in gift cards to play with and I made it last the whole rest of the school year.IMG_2805

At one point I realized I could actually make money from this sweet deal. Mind you, it was just a thought. I never took it this far, but I could have.

My chosen artificial sweeter is Splenda. At home, we usually buy the small 50-count box for about $2. That means the unit price of a Splenda packet is 4¢.

One day while I was waiting for one of my colleagues to receive her five-dollar, whipped-cream-topped, chocolate-drizzled frappawhatever (let’s just call this a dessert, shall we?) it occurred to me if I stuffed 11 extra Splenda packets into my pocket, at 4¢ each – I would be making a penny each time I bought a coffee.

Like I said, I never did it. Okay, maybe a couple of times, but just so I’d have a few extra packets in the car.

But, think about it, I could have made money each time I bought coffee.

Turning Starbucks into a profit center? Sweeeeeeet.


Every year my family doesIMG_1845 a trip together. We’ve done cruises, car trips, and resort vacations. This year we did a quick and intense trip to London and Rome. What a fantastic trip! The things we saw, the places we went, the people we met – it truly was an adventure.

This was not the ideal way to do this trip but it is how it worked out. We had agreed as a family to go to London for vacation. We booked it, pooled our money, and paid for it in January. Then we found out how inexpensive it is to fly around within Europe and added a two-day jaunt to Rome in the middle of our London week.

So we did London – Rome – London. Crazy. We might have to work on our trip-planning skills for future adventures.

Saturday/Sunday

Our flight left Boston at 9:20 p.m. Saturday and arrived at Gatwick airport outside London at 10:10 a.m. Sunday. We had a delay getting out of Logan airport because the airline had loaded the wrong luggage on board.

I had ordered a car and the driver was waiting for us at the exit despite our late arrival. He was holding a piece of cardboard with “McKellar” on it. This was a first for us – one of many firsts on this trip.

We arrived at our temporary home, the Dolphin House Hotel in the Pimlico section of London, at around noon. Since our rooms were not ready, we left our bags and took the underground to Leicester Square to pick up our London Passes.

The London Pass is a must-have for tourists. It allows for skip-the-line entry into many of the city’s most popular attractions. We had also ordered prepaid subway passes called Oyster cards. The London Pass also includes a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that is fully narrated. It’s not inexpensive but it is a great value and huge time-saver.

We picked up our bus tour at Trafalgar Square and made our way around the city. The commentary was really interesting.

About an hour into the tour, we were all getting hungry so we hopped off near the Tower of London and popped into a pub called the Hung, Drawn and Quartered Pub. Lunch was wonderful as were the pints we enjoyed.

We hopped back on the bus and made our way to the other side of the city, getting off at Hyde Park. This particular bus did not stop at Harrods, so we wandered around for quite awhile looking for it before we found it.

Sadly, we had just 40 minutes until closing time. My eldest son, Mark, wanted a watch so he and my wife, Laura, went in search of the “watch department” (no such thing) while my youngest child, David, and I hunted for a restroom.

It’s a miracle we ever found each other again in that monstrosity of a store. When we found them, Mark was looking at a watch with a price tag of 30,000 pounds. He did not buy it.

At this point, we were exhausted. We had been up all night – with maybe a brief nap on the plane. We grabbed a cab and headed for the London Eye. We knew if we went back to the hotel, we would crash and never leave again. IMG_1893

The Eye is an enormous ferris wheel standing almost 500 feet tall. Instead of seats, it has glass-enclosed rooms that carry you around the wheel. The views  are stunning. It is diagonally across the river from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. It takes about 30 minutes to circle the wheel.

After the Eye it was time to head back to the hotel to check in, unpack and take a nap. We stayed in and ate at the hotel restaurant. It was an awful meal and ridiculously expensive – a place best avoided in the future.

Monday (Laura’s Birthday)

Because of the way we set up the trip, we only had two full days in London – Monday and Thursday. Monday was Tower of London and  Westminster Abbey day. We used our Oyster cards and took the underground to Tower Hill station right across the street from the Tower. We skipped the line with our passes and joined a tour lead by a Yeoman Warder or Beefeater.

He was great. He told wonderfully horrid tales of torture and executions. What a brutal place this once was. The White Castle was built in 1066 AD (and we think we have antiques in Boston!)

The weather felt like it was about to rain but it never did; in fact, it never rained the entire time we were there.

After the tour, we saw the Crown Jewels. They are so spectacular they don’t even look real. There is one diamond that is 3,106 carats! At the end of the tour is Queen Elizabeth II’s crown. They show a little video of her coronation and then, just around the corner is the actual crown.

While Laura was looking around in a gift shop, I noticed a carving on the rock wall. I could not read a lot of it, but the date stood out clearly – 1606. The shopkeeper explained that during their imprisonment, men would often carve final messages on the walls of their cells. She said, “look about, they are all over.”

As we wandered through the castle, we saw many other carvings.

By the time we were ready to leave it was too late to visit Westminster Abbey. We found another pub, ordered some pints and strategized about how to reconfigure our itinerary.  We’d made it 24 hours before having to make major changes to our plan – typical. We opted to swap the Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Abbey, so we headed off on the subway to the Westminster underground station.

One of our friends had told us that the first time she came up the stairs from the subway, trumpets from heaven ought to have been playing. She’s right. The view of Westminster Castle (the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben) as you emerge from the underground is awe-inspiring. About two blocks from there  are the Churchill War Rooms.

During the fall of 1940, the British government hastily reinforced a basement and subbasement in a government building to be used as a safe headquarters for the prime minister and his cabinet. After the war, they were left virtually untouched until the 1990’s. At that point, they were opened up to the public. Windows were cut into walls so you could see the rooms without entering them. It’s a fascinating look at how Churchill lived and governed during the war.

Later we took a cab to the hotel so we could shower and relax before dinner. Before leaving for dinner the boys gave Laura her birthday gift – a date on the town with me! It included dinner and theatre tickets for later in the week.

That night, we went to Piccadilly Circus and looked around for a restaurant. More Pub grub – as it turned out, we wandered into the the most American pub in London. During football season, they show American NFL and college football on the TVs. Fish and chips and a few more pints later, we decided to call it a night. We couldn’t stay out too late because on Tuesday we were flying to Rome.

Tuesday

Our Tuesday started right after our Monday ended. Our car picked us up at 3 a.m. for our early flight to Rome. Ugh

More firsts: From the plane I saw France, the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea.

It was noticeably warmer and greener in Italy than England. We found a private cab from the airport to the Hotel Solis. On the way we passed many ruins including an huge aqueduct. Traffic was ridiculous. The rules of the road must be optional.

Our hotel was a 10-minute walk to the Colosseum. The whole place was like out of a movie. There were outdoor cafes across the street. An accordion player was serenading the diners. At the hotel we were greeted by a little man who did everything at 100 mph. He ran up the stairs to show us our rooms, down the stairs to answer the phone, up the stairs to bring us our luggage, and answered all of our questions fast, fast, fast.

We had lunch across the street and then poked around for a bit before our tour of the Colosseum and the Forum. IMG_2046

I could write pages and pages about our tour. It was spectacular. Our guide, Nicolas, was fantastic. He was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We all learned so much about Rome and the history of the empire, city and the Colosseum. First off that’s not even its name! It’s a nickname that we all use. The actual name is Flavian  Amphitheater. Only about a third of the original structure remains. It was built a thousand years before the Tower of London in the year 80 AD. Yes, 80 AD.

The tour was three hours and was very strenuous. We hiked all over and around the Colosseum and then went to the forum. The Roman Forum was the heart of the Roman Empire. There is a particular structure from which the distance to things were once measured. Ancient Rome was the first city on Earth to have one million inhabitants. After the empire collapsed, Rome emptied. In just a  handful of generations, the population dropped to 20,000 and they were living in poverty.

For a thousand years, the Colosseum was used as a quarry. It was looted for its marble, metal, artwork and architectural columns. It wasn’t until the 1700’s that the pope ordered it preserved.

The last part of the tour is climbing Palatine Hill. The view from the top is magnificent. Our guide pointed out all seven hills of Rome to end his commentary. I think it was the highlight of the trip.

After a much-needed nap and shower, we went to dinner. I had seen a nice write-up about a local restaurant that was in our area but not a touristy type of place. As it turned out, Taverna dei Quaranta was a nice, authentic neighborhood restaurant. The meal was incredible!

Wednesday

We checked out of our hotel and asked Mr. Speedy to hang on to our bags. We toured the Vatican Museums this morning. The first hour was really interesting. The middle 90 minutes was just too overwhelming to process. So many sculptures, tapestries, and paintings. The place  was wall-to-wall people (and this was on a “light” day crowd-wise). Finally, we could not take it anymore. We opted out of the final 30 minutes of the tour and headed straight to the Sistine Chapel.

The Sistine Chapel was stunning. To see the work of Michelangelo with our own eyes was surreal. Again, it was ridiculously crowded and the guards kept yelling at people to be silent (yes, ironic huh?).  After our obligatory visit to the gift shop, we headed back to a busy shopping district near the hotel. Mark was looking for a suit or shoes so that’s what we shopped for – after a nice pizza lunch, of course.

Then it was off to the airport and back to London.

Thursday

Technically our Wednesday did not end until we arrived at our hotel about 2 a.m. on Thursday. We were out on the streets heading to  Buckingham Palace by 9:30 a.m.

The changing of the guard is one of those must-do things in London and it definitely didn’t disappoint.

The bands played Happy Birthday for the Queen’s 90th Birthday and, surprisingly, Copacabana.  After the changing, we walked through St. James Park and had sandwiches in the park.

After lunch, we stopped at the horse guard, shopped for gifts and  souvenirs, and had another pint or two. We took a cab back to the hotel to rest and clean up – this was theatre night for Laura and I. David and Mark had plans of their own — visiting several pubs and having a few more pints.

We chose to see Sunset Boulevard – an opera based on the 1950 movie of the same name. Glenn Close was starring and I loved the movie. As it turned out, Glenn Close was ill and her understudy took over. I have never heard of her but she is a long-time west-end theater star. The crowd went crazy when they announced her.

The play/opera was great. It was done by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Phantom of the Opera). The music was wonderful and these actors can SING! At the end, there were five or six curtain calls. At one point the conductor came down from his platform to join the actors and it was Andrew Lloyd Webber himself. He’d been conducting all night and we didn’t know.

After the show, we walked around the block and found a nice restaurant for a late dinner.

Friday

I got up early and took the underground to Piccadilly Circus and walked over to the hotel I stayed at with Mom and Dad in 1974. I found it pretty easily and took a few pictures. The front desk is still located exactly where I remembered it being.

This was Westminster Abbey day (remember, we swapped around the  Churchill War Rooms for Westminster on Monday). The boys opted for more sleep (I think I heard them come in at 1:45 a.m.) so Laura and I took the tube to Westminster.

The history and beauty of this place is magnificent. I had been once before but was still blown away by the place. I was awestruck to stand before the tomb of Sir Isaac Newton.

This was the highlight of the trip for Laura, barely edging out the Colosseum.

After checking out of the hotel we had a crappy snack at the crappy hotel restaurant and headed off to the airport.

As I write this, we’re approaching the coast of Newfoundland. It’s been quite a week. It was a go-go-go vacation, not the restful kind of vacation we usually go for.

We planned very carefully but still had too much stuff on our itinerary.

We had planed but were unable to visit the British Museum and the British Library (handwritten Beatles lyrics, notebooks of Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci, and the Magna Carta).

But that just leaves more cool stuff to do next time….