Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Battle of the Elite: Westminster Abbey vs. Winsor Castle

Well folks, we've arrived to the title game and without a moment to spare. Because I feel I've discussed both sights quite a few times now, I will be forthright and announce Westminster Abbey the winner!

I now have a burning desire to write some literary masterpiece so I can be buried there, but in the meantime, I think I'll just reiterate that Westminster Abbey may offer the best example of worldly compromise I've ever witnessed...a little something I think we can all learn from.

If Charles Darwin can be buried at one of the world's most historic churches, then I think we should all be just a bit more understanding of one anothers' viewpoints. I mean, c'mon, how much further can opinions get than from Darwin and church?

Didn't know you would get a morale lesson out of "Carly's Mad March in London" did you? Mwahaha...

Winner: Westminster Abbey

Update: Carly Mad March in London

So it's come down to the battle of Royal splendor - which will it be? Could it be the massive church where only the pure of blood can get married and be buried or the little home where the Queen Mum goes to relax and occasionally dabble in the adorable little town of Windsor? Wouldn't you like to know...

Final Four: Carly's Mad March in London

It only took a week and a half, but at last we have arrived to the Final Four of "Carly Mad March in London" - I'll keep this to one post as it shouldn't take too long to sort this out. Drumroll please...

Buckingham Palace vs. Westminster Abbey
While Buckingham Palace and its park (St. James) absolutely blew me away, Westminster has since stayed with me, and inspired me to write more so that I could be buried alongside Chaucer.

Winner: Westminster Abbey

Stonehenge vs. Windsor Castle This was much harder to decide than the game before as I absolutely loved Stonehenge and it's bit of creepy mystery. In the end however, it was Windsor that gave me chills and made my mom gasp, and therefore edges out the rocks.

Winner: Windsor Castle

And then there were four...

We are down to the final four and shortly the winner - stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Elite Eight: Windsor Castle vs. Roman Baths

Windsor Castle vs. Roman Baths

Well this was yet another hard decision, seeing as the historic nerd in me was quite conflicted. Here's the breakdown.

Windsor Castle
Call me crazy, but there's something about an over the top home that just gets me revved up. Aside from St. George Chapel, my favorite portion of the Castle were the extravagant State Apartments housing an array of elaborate designs and historic artifacts - an abundance of war weapons, murals of queens who didn't bare any sons, pictures painted by Rembrandt, golden lions stolen from's quite amazing.

Roman Baths
Well, most of what I wanted to say I previously posted, but I can't help but express how eerie and exciting it is to walk on and around something that was built some 3,000 years ago. It took everything in me to not leap into the Bath to experience the same waters Romans lounged in, but with my parents present, I remained civil.

One portion I didn't love so much, though I suppose on paper it was a good idea, was the actors walking around as if they were modern day Romans. They looked alright I suppose, but it added an unnecessary cheese factor - as if it were an amusement park rather than standing history.

Windsor Castle eeks out the win.

Winner: Windsor Castle

Elite Eight: Stonehenge. vs. Thames Boat Cruise

Stonehenge. vs. Thames River Cruise
I don't think this post needs much because literally the Thames Boat Cruise got to this point literally by default. Not that it isn't amazing, it just really can't compare to Stonehenge. So, I will leave this one short and to the point.

Winner (by a landslide): Stonehenge

Elite Eight: Abbey Road. vs. Westminster Abbey

Abbey Road. vs. Westminster Abbey
Tis the battle of the Abbeys. Sigh, and it is so freaking hard. Again, this side of the bracket completely goes down as the equivalent of the "East" in this year's NCAA tournament. Had I payed a bit more attention, I don't think I would've had Abbey Road, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, all of which deserve to be in the final four, on one side. But I suppose it makes it all a little more interesting...or that's what I'll keep telling myself.

Abbey Road
The beauty in Abbey Road is what it represents, symbolizes. I'm not sure I would ever have the interest in England that I do without the Fab Four. Sure, my family speaks of its history often, and my mom frequently tells me of Ms. Marple and Hercule Poirot episodes she's watched I'm sure a dozen or so more times, but would it have gotten to the point it has? Sure, I'd still drool over Mr. Darcy in the BBC's version of Pride & Prejudice, but would I have that deep, burning desire to visit and perhaps one day live there? I can't say I would.

So when I came to Abbey Road, when I looked at the crossing, a flood of emotions came over me. Accomplished dreams, unreached goals and an array of pride all took over. Observing the passion of so many others, written on the wall in front of the studios for all to see, only made me feel closer to a land thousands of miles away from me - reunited by our love for The Beatles. If this all seems a bit dramatic, it's because it is, and because I am. No apologies here. I love those freakin mop tops.

Westminster Abbey
Oh let me count the way I love thy. Again, this was such a surprise for me because as I will reiterate for the hundredth time, I am would never expect I would feel so emotional in a religous setting. I was not expecting what I saw let alone how I felt when I saw it. It really was all much more than I can describe to you.

So with all that said, I have to declare the upset in this bracket - yes, it is true, Abbey Road will not move on. Not because Abbey Road disappointed by any means, how could it, but more that Westminster far exceed expectations. As sad it is to say it, Westminster it is.

Winner: Westminster Abbey

Elite Eight: Hyde Park vs. Buckingham Palace

Hyde Park vs. Buckingham Palace So we've made it to the elite eight, only one week behind schedule. :)

This is where it's beginning to get increasingly difficult. As you know, I selected the eight sights I loved most, so choosing between the best of the best is quite tough, but I'm always up for a challenge, so let's do it to it!

Buckingham Palace

As I mentioned before, it really was St. James park that impressed me most about Buckingham Palace...and that's saying a lot considering its detail and extravagance. Home to the Royal Family and the Queen Mum, it demands respect and class, but I couldn't resist gallivanting through its park and stalking its inhabitants (animals not humans, that may have been grounds to dismissal). I took multiple photos of its squirrels, swans and pelicans - all of which were rather tame and allowed me to get rather close. The photo I included here is looking at Buckingham from St. James park - I like to think it reinforces the home's elegance.

My mom was pretty geeked out about the Palace's famous balcony where the Royals go to address its public (it's slightly hidden behind up in the photo above). It's here where Colin Firth, er, King George VI, restored confidence in Britain during the WWII attacks. It will be here where Prince William will be announced an honest man and wave to the broken hearts of many English girls. Tis a fine balcony indeed.

Hyde Park
While I did love the park, I found I could not resist comparing it to my current boyfriend, Central Park (refer to March 12 post). It is truly beautiful and vast, and while I can see why many would appreciate it's open space for recreation and sunbathing, or demonstrations if that's what you're into, I think I was expecting more of a cluttering of nature - more trails, hills, greens. I'm not sure if this makes any sense at all, but it may be due to my overwhelming love of Central Park. I shouldn't have compared, but again, couldn't help it. This may be my bad.

I did come across an "Andre the Giant Has a Posse" sticker which made me quite happy (see picture). That definitely gave some bonus points.

But in the end, Andre and the random hand holding the little black car (refer to Hyde Park vs. Trafalgar Square post) just didn't surpass the beauty and history of Buckingham Palace. I do hope to visit Hyde Park again, and I do believe that if on my own, lost in the powers of my iPod, I may find myself rather inspired and writing a good bit. If this is to happen, I suppose that new connection would have the power to oust competitors, but because it didn't happen this time around, I have to stay true to my current feelings. Buckingham Palace moves on.

Winner: Buckingham Palace

Monday, April 4, 2011

Update: Carly's Mad March in London

So it has taken me some time, but the bracket is slowly unveiling the sights I found most interesting. Tomorrow I will update with the next two rounds and Wednesday I will reveal which sight made its way to the center of the bracket and the center of my heart.

Stay tuned for more details on the prize and the winner of "Carly Mad March in London!"

Carly's Mad March: Roman Baths vs. Piccadilly Circus

Roman Baths vs. Piccadilly Circus
So this was yet another easy game for me to decide upon. I think it's probably clear that the Baths easily trumped Piccadilly, but for discussion sake, let's review.

Roman Baths
This goes back to two of my loves: History and ancient religions. I was extremely excited to visit the Baths because they date back to 70s AD - I was walking in something thousands of years old! The Roman empire has always been much discussed in my family, mainly because my brother believes himself to be a dictator and because The Aeneid (about the founding of Rome) is one of my favorite classics of all time. So again, I was very, very excited to see this place.

We took a bus tour, in combination with Stonehenge, to get to Bath. Now, before I even get into the Roman Baths, I must say the town itself goes down as one of the neatest places I've ever visited. Talk about history! It turns out Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage (but who really cares about Nicholas Cage) both have houses there because of its beauty and history. The city has many protective laws that shields its original architecture from being demolished, and the result is absolutely breathtaking.

The Baths themselves - well, what can I say? Their history was beyond comprehensible and it's obvious to me, even more than before, that the Romans knew what was up. They utilized natural hot springs to create what I would like to think has to be one of the first spas. What was also really cool was the surrounding museum which held artifacts from the original plaza where the Baths were located - from coins to clothing and pieces of the original temple, I was taken back by what good shape everything was in for its age.

Piccadilly Circus (picture coming soon)
So I didn't know much about this area except that it was explained to me at London's version of Times Square, which, I can now confirm. In visiting though, I did also learn that the word "circus" in England actually refers to "circle," and not the circus one may think of here in the States. It kind of bummed me out in a weird way because I thought it was a clever title for a place I would definitely refer to as a circus.

Piccadilly was neat for what it was, and housed some good shopping and I assume great shows, but up against the wonder of the Baths, it simply fell short.

Winner: Roman Baths

Carly's Mad March: Windsor Castle vs. The Monument

Windsor Castle vs. The Monument
So this wasn't much a competition, but for consistency sake, here's the low down.

Windsor Castle
Let me start by saying that my parents accentuated this trip and made it more than memorable. My mother's passion for the royal family made her an impeccable tour guide, often times knowing more than the tour guides we actually had. So with her by my side, this quickly became a favorite sight.

We took a train to Windsor from London and thanks to a colleague here back in New York, I learned that Slough, where we transferred to catch the train, is the city where the British series, The Office, takes place (equivalent to the American version's Scranton). And when we arrived, we were delighted to come across a quaint little town, full of character and good shopping. We caught a brew at a local pub, The Three Tuns, which turned out to be the oldest building in the town where I was delighted to hear a little Lou Reed while dining, "Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side" - a perfect soundtrack to my first overseas experience.

Moving onto the castle, I must state it was outstanding, but what I found of most interest was it's on site church. Buried there is Henry the VIII as well as King George VI (Colin Firth in the King's Speech) and his wife. Needless to say, my mom was freaking out.

We explored the state rooms, near where Queen Elizabeth still resides today - as you may know, Windsor is her weekend/country home to Buckingham Palace. Between the paintings, the mural and opulent wood and marble work, I was blown away by the castle's extravagance.

The Monument (picture coming soon)
The Monument was interesting, but a bit disappointing in the same fashion. It was built as a memorial to the Great Fire in which most of London was singed to pieces (although few casualties we were told). The statue was built to be exactly 202 feet tall which represents its distance from the site of the fire - a baker's shop on Pudding Lane (I know, I was excited too that a baker worked on Pudding Lane).

While it was tall and towered over many of its surrounding buildings, there really wasn't much to it, and so Windsor Castle, which its rich history and lavish nature steals this one easily.

Winner: Windsor Castle

Carly's Mad March: Chatsworth House vs. Thames River Boat Cruise

Carly's Mad March: Chatsworth House vs. Thames River Boat Cruise

So this may mess up some brackets because turns out, I never made my way to Chatsworth House, much to my dismay. I completely bit off more than we could chew, and I think ran my parents to the ground (or did they run me?). So here, by default, the winner is the Thames River Boat Cruise, which is nothing to scoff at.

We picked up the cruise from the Tower of London, and took it to the House of Parliament. It was a gorgeous day, so I was able to catch some really great photos (refer to the Abbey Road vs. London Eye for another photo).

I learned here that much to popular believe, the attached picture is the London Bridge, and not the much photographed Tower Bridge, which is what I think of when I hear, "London Bridge is falling down, falling down," and so on. In fact, that reminds me of the Beefeater at the Tower of London, who sang the Mother Goose rhyme, and ended it with "no it isn't," rather than "my fair lady." I found it amusing.

I also learned, but sort of knew from my "Who Knew"s at work, that the original London Bridge is in fact in Arizona, and the one in London today was built back in the 1970's. There you go.

Winner: Thames River Boat Cruise

Carly's Mad March: Stonehenge vs. Kensington Palace

Stonehenge vs. Kensington Palace
This was quite interesting because I had higher hopes for Kensington Palace, despite it's #4 seed. Here's the breakdown.

Okay, by now I'm sure you've established that I'm a bit of geek, so let me reiterate that with my love of the Beatles and history, I also have a lot of cults. Yes, cults. As I mentioned earlier (see Tower of London vs. Westminster Abbey, now with more pictures), I am not a religious person. With that said, religion has always fascinated me, especially ancient religions and yes, cults.

Now, there are many debates on Stonehenge, but to me, it had to have been a sacred land where people gathered to worship someone...or something. This has not been proven, but I like to believe it, so let me just run with that, will you?

This past Saturday (April 2), my parents and I took an amazing bus trip to Stonehenge and Bath. The countryside views along the way were beyond description, but I'm sure you can imagine the beauty. In fact, between the landscape and Mumford and Sons in my iPod, I was able to pump out 10 pages for my book, so that should provide some insight into how breathtaking it must've been.

Our tour guide, a good-looking English professor (well, that's the story my mother and I gave him), told us the little known history of Stonehenge along the away. It was fascinating. The first stones were believed to be placed there sometime in 3000 or 2000 BC...BC! I didn't realize that it actually went through several iterations before it became what it is today with the last known construction around 1600 BC...BC! So that means, on Saturday, I was walking near a monument constructed nearly 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Tell me you have chills because I know I certainly do and did.
There are several theories as to what Stonehenge actually is/was, but what really stood out to me is that is served, and still does I suppose, as a clock and calendar. In fact, the Summer and Winter Solstices are the busiest tourist dates for the wonder because the sun will align with several of the rocks during those days. I mean, the rocks in of themselves are remarkable - I can't imagine what is must've taken to get them there. Simply amazing.

Last note on Stonehenge - I actually viewed it the same day Kentucky played in the Final Four. Considering this was the first time my boys have made it that far since 1998, I was a beyond proud (hence my picture). Though we lost to UConn and lame Calhoun, it's hard for me to be disappointed. We went further than anyone anticipated, leading me to win my office pool. Woo, freaking, woo!

Kensington Palace
Okay, I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting here, but it was a let down. All I knew of this place was that it was the last residence of Princess Diana before her untimely death and according to Mom, the residence of the other, slightly less important royals (translation: family to the queen who need some digs but aren't cool enough for Buckingham Palace).

I actually found the walk through Hyde Park to the Palace to be prettier and cooler than the Palace itself. The gardens were nothing short of beautiful, and I had a fun, small photoshoot with a squirrel that followed us for a short time.

Here are my mom and Pops standing outside the gates to Kensington. The gates were beautiful, but much of it was under construction. What was rather annoying was that because of the construction, the company heading up the tourist portion of the palace, erected an "Enchanted Castle" near the home. It appeared very fake and somewhat out of place for this historic Palace, and in my mind, took away from the sight.

In the end, it was very clear that Stonehenge would take this win, and deserving so.

Winner: Stonehenge

Carly's Mad March: Abbey Rd. vs. London Eye

Abbey Rd. vs. London Eye
So no real suprise here, it's Abbey Road by a landslide. For anyone who knows me, I am a Beatles fanatic (hello title of my blog), and have been since I was around eight years old. I look at the Beatles as the soundtrack to my childhood - while everyone else was listening to old school rap or Pearl Jam, I was humming along to "She Loves You" or "Drive my Car." This of course made me a bit different from my classmates who never understood why I didn't know all the words to the latest pop songs, but led to great conversations with their parents. In the end, my understanding of 1960's British rock became an advantage when my friends wanted to sneak out and party. Their parents would never believe Carly McLean would do anything bad, not after quoting lines from Help.

But enough of that and on to why the London Eye was blinded by Abbey from the start.

Abbey Road
What can I say other than I almost cried as I approached this crosswalk. In such a silly way, I was nervous as it came into sight. Who knew a simple intersection could represent so much for this midwestern girl. Well, I suppose I did, and from my parent's proud smiles, I suppose they did as well.

As I came up to it, I just stared for a bit. I may have jumped up and down, but will not confirm that at the expense of sounding too much like a nerd. It was busier than I thought it would be, but what I really enjoyed what that we met a family of four from Philadelphia who came to do the same as we - photograph themselves crossing the road just as the iconic Beatles' record illustrates. A young girl, must've been in high school, was driving the image for her family, even going as far removing her shoes and socks to mirror the image of Paul. She was very set in how the picture must look, and so I offered to take the photo and direct as needed. I knew what she was looking for, and was a bit jealous I didn't have more of my family with me to create the same image which represents a musical phenomena.
In return, they took a few photos of me and Fasha (otherwise known as dad). We didn't adhere to the Abbey Road code, but rather looked at the camera and smiled. It was okay though - us McLeans are always creating our own versions of history.

The other fabulous part of my Abbey adventure was that the same young girl (reminded me much of myself at that age) brought a Sharpie to write on the walls lining the actual studios. When she was finished making her mark, she offered it to me. I was so taken back that I was at an actual loss of words (must be the first time in my short history), so I simply wrote "From Strawberry Fields to Abbey Road, Love Carly." I know I could've been more clever, but my hand was shaking from the excitement of it all. It is also an incomplete sentence, so that bugs me a bit too. Ah well, I suppose I can always go back and elaborate.

Here I am attempting to point to where I wrote (actually it's a bit more toward my leg), but you can see Abbey Studios behind me. Still so cool.

London Eye
Now, I don't mean to diminish how cool the Eye is, simply because it went against the awesomeness of Abbey Road because it is great spectacular. It is quite grand in person, and though I didn't ride it, I can only imagine it's views.

Sitting on the Thames River, it serves as the perfect backdrop to a skyline well known around the world. I came across it several times, but really liked this photo from a river cruise I took earlier in the week. I have another nice photo with Big Ben in the middle of the Eye (taken from Tower Bridge), but selected this one as it was just a bit different that most views you may come across.

Again, I think it's clear where my heart is with this one. Abbey had the #1 seed and for many reasons. It was A Long and Winding Road that finally got me there, but Abbey Road, anyone can tell you, She Loves You. But this girl really does.

Winner: Abbey Road