Amanda and Kelly stayed with me en route to Indigo for a 3 day Phish concert for about 4 days before I left, they departed on Friday while I went to school to attend the call back and then do my first surgery OSCE, which turned out to be a success. I got home at 9pm after grabbing something to eat with Larry. He had to pack at his place, so he didn't end up getting to my place until about 2am, then forgot his passport and had to go back to Oakland at 2:30am. I was out for all of it. I remember the alarm going off at 5am which was just too early...
We left on the Bart from MacArthur station to SFO international terminal. We transferred back to domestic since this flight takes us to JFK then on to London from the East. We had a very pleasant 6 hour flight to JFK, and the plane wasn't totally full so Larry and I were alone in a 3 row- so I plopped down on his lap soon after take off and dozed on a comfy thigh for a couple of hours. We got to JFK and had a 3 hour layover to kill, had some pizza on styrofoam trays with plastic non-recyclable cutlery and a host of single use consumer products that are NOT recycled at all in JFK. In fact, there is no recycling in the airport at all. Not even one. Shocking and very, very upsetting. Environmental responsibility aside, we bought another power adaptor for Larry that somehow seemed to not make it here to the hotel in London- probably lost on the plane, then had a beer after we ate the Styrofoam pizza and arrived at the gate to learn that the flight was not just full, it was overbooked and they were asking for people willing to take a flight tomorrow. We got on, and it turned out well: the aircraft had 2 side aisles with only 2 seats a piece in them, and a center aisle with 3 seats. We got one aisle with just the two of us. Nice. We unloaded goods and stowed the rest in the overheads and the pilot came on letting us know we had some very unusual and very good tailwinds for the flight, which would cut flying time down from 7-8 hours to 6! Because of some regulations about lading times at LHR, we stayed ont he plane at the gate for an hour before taxiing and finally taking off well after 9:30pm. I was tired enough by this point, but never once in my life have I been able to sleep in a plane, so sleep was not in sight. We had dinner of tortellini/lasagne stuff that was actually pretty good, watched Wall-E on Larry's' Pod and then he went to sleep and I tossed and turned and tried to sleep without success.
Somehow the 6 hours went by fast and we ate breakfast and landed. I was ready to keel over and barely made it through passport to get into a bathroom, but we managed to get to our hotel (which is basically a few blocks from my usual Kensgate House off Gloucester Road!). Larry read the online reviews of the Ambassadors Hotel we had booked (through the agency, not our pick) and they were pretty dismal. We arrived and Larry had mentioned that they didn't seem like the type of place online to let us check in early, and sure enough, the woman behind the desk sent us away at 10am to wait until 2pm, when check in begins. We could check back at 1pm, but she couldn't promise anything.
So, crabby, wildly tired, in really gross baggy tee shirt and yoga pants Larry and I stored our suitcases in the little back room behind the desk and set out into the London rain to find some way to bust up 3-4 hours. It was constant rain. It occasionally slacked to a drizzle and in turns raged like a downfall. Larry's umbrella kicked the dust when a large gust of wind flipped it and broke a spoke. We went down Cromwell Road toward the Victoria and Albert Museum, passing the natural history museum on the way, me thinking a museum would be indoors and a good way to loose some time. There was too long a line so I opted to skip that and we got back on the tube to my haunts near Trafalgar Square. It has been so long since I've been here that I actually got off at the wrong tube station (Piccadilly) and had to get back onto the train to Leicester Square. We headed in the rain straight for the Bear and Staff, where we found out that before noon, so no beer is served and no meals except breakfast. So be it. We had time to kill and Larry insisted he be sitting down, so lattes with eggs on toast and we managed to lose and hour. We were not the only people unaware of this no-beer-before-noon thing, there were a number of folks coming into the pub asking for beer like we did, all to be turned away. We felt somewhat justified in having beer before noon considering our time it was about 3am, well into the middle of the night and a perfectly acceptable time to drink beer. Breakfast was good- the lattes were something like heaven when we got them and we promptly drank them dry and had to get new ones while we waited for breakfast to come. Larry got this breakfast sandwich on grilled panini bread (apparently this panini craze extends to the Brtis as well), and I got eggs on taost. The eggs were etherally fluffy and light but the toast was dry and the whole thing wanted a little butter or jam or something. I kept sprinkling on the salt and pepper. After breakfast was consumed, Larry was not inclined to wander out in the rain again too fast, so I went into St Martin in the Fields leaving him in the Bear and Staff with a book while I checked out the candlelight concert schedule to see if anything was of interest this week. What I found was that they had done some amazing building- that entire courtyard that used to be behind the church where they'd have a market has become a new entrance to the cafe in the crypt, the shop (no tee shirts to replace mine which is 12+ years old and falling to shreds!!) complete with lots of meeting rooms and an art gallery. Very cool. I picked up some brochures, observed Trafalgar Square bustle for a few minutes then retrieved Larry at the Bear and Staff, where we made another loop around Trafalgar and Leicester Squares before going back to the hotel (now 1:10 pm). I was going to strangle that little 80 pound snot if she told us our room was still not ready... We were taking a big chance coming back early, but we did it anyways.
She let us check in. Room 601, in the attic, is small and very sparse, but in my opinion, good enough. We showered, slept for a couple of hours in the rain and woke up to head out into Soho for dinner. We wandered and wandered the tiny streets, unusually quiet and kind of deserted feeling on a Sunday night, and checked out pubs, Indian places, Italian places, grabbed a couple of spring rolls from a street side Chinese deli place and continued the search. The sky had bled itself dry during our nap, and when we came out in the evening, it was a perfect 50 degrees outside, crisp and dry. Perfect London fall weather. We wandered around and stumbled onto Zizzi which is located someplace in Soho at 33 Charlotte Street (zizzi.co.uk), which was quite charming and had a reasonably priced menu and good wine list. We got seated and ordered. It was quite the bustling scene in there... I had a shiraz/voignier blend which was wonderful and Larry had a forgettable and more expensive Barbera. We split a mozzarella and tomato appetizer, then split a wood fired pizza, half red sauce with chilis, peppers and arugula (a bit ruined by the slices of serrano on there which added nothing and confused the palate) and half of it was this white pizza with sliced and salty potatoes, which was fabulous. We dined and realized we were tired, so after paying the 40 pound bill, went back to the hotel. Melatonin now and Larry is already asleep next to me and snoring lightly as I type this, and I'm fading fast.
Tomorrow, Westminster.. my favorite! Info on a Jack the Ripper walk, and hopefully a free service at the cathedral in the am, then free lunchtime concert at St. Martin in the afternoon and lunch in my favorite crypt. We'll see...
Monday, November 2, 2009. I woke up to the distention of my bladder after having got out of bed to empty the very same, put the laptop down, and pull the shade in the attic room here to block out morning when it came. I also set the alarm for 7am before Larry dropped off only to notice that it was 10am when I got up. Argh! Not one buzz out of the alarm, although it was likely user-error. We dressed quickly, and missed the hotel continental breakfast, and left by 10:40 for plan B. Larry got out of bed and pulled up the shade and startled with surprise "Woah! You gotta see this!" and over I went to the window to see beautiful blue skies and a few puffy clouds over the London skyline. This would be perfect for plan B, which would be slightly disastrous in the rain...
We set out, put our valuables in a lockbox behind the counter (the only one remaining, the man reluctantly checking after he told me they were all gone) and when he dropped the key in my palm let me know that I better "not lose that- it's the only key. You lose it, we have to break into the box and pay for the damages." One more weirdness at the Ambassadors.. Onto Collingham Road, we were met with brisk autumn temperatures to the tune of maybe 50 degrees, me in a sweater and scarf and Larry in a jacket. http://www.charmeycam.com/london/London_home.htms it turns out it was actually about 46 degrees, but I was so happy to be rested and emerging into sunshine that I was willing to give mother nature a few erroneous millemeters of mercury. Larry paused outside the door, realizing that he was definitely going to want his scarf as well, so back up to the room he went for the newly purchased fleece scarf. This turned out to be a very good idea since he decided to let me know about 15 times throughout the day that he was damn glad he brought that scarf. We walked along Cromwell Rd to the tube station, and into the usual little mall I pass through en route where we stopped at the Java Bean Cafe for breakfast and a little wi-fi. London is very behind the times with the wi-fi as they have internet cafes all over the place, but none with wi-fi and you have to pay for access, and sit down at some old fashioned monitored terminal for your business. This actually has wi-fi, so we got onto their network with Larry's ipod (must be a unique identifier password since it wouldn't log me onto mine) while we had the 3 quid breakfast of croissant, little fresh squeezed oj, and a latte. What London seems to lack in Wi-Fi, they do make up for in great latte...
After coffee, we got onto the tube for Tower Station. For the now 10+ times I've been to London, I've never failed to come to the Tower on each trip, just because it's a really cool place. People always seem to sneer at me when I explain that I actually like the tourist stuff, like the Tower and I'm not sure why. I've done my exploring and findings little great places in small little twisty alleys in SoHo as well, but I really do like the historic (however toursity) places as well. The site was originally a stark fortress built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and became the central hub of the royal palace basically from that time until the 20th century. Monarchs no longer live here, but the Yeoman warders and their families and various staff of the Tower still call this place home. The rest is open to the public. It has, over the centuries, housed the royal menageries, the royal mint, the Royal Public Records, the Observatory and many famous prisoners. The famous white tower was part of William the Conqueror's original fortress, and Henry III in the 13th century had it whitewashed. Lady Jane Grey, nine days queen ,was executed after being put on the throne in a plot to control the monarchy by her father, Duke of Northumberland and her uncle, Duke of Somethingorother. She was imprisoned in the tower along with her husband, and she got to listen to his execution which took place in the usual execution place on tower hill and the roar of the crowd as his head hit the scaffold, only an hour before she was beheaded herself in tower green, to a closed and private audience. She was placed on the throne as a protestant plot to keep Mary, the rightful heiress off it, and lasted only 9 days before this plot was overthrown. She was married to another Duke at age 15, and at age 16, spent 9 days in power before the real rightful heiress, Bloody Mary, was restored to the throne (along with her Catholicism) for a quick but bloody reign before Elizabeth's equally bloody reign began. Also executed here were Henry VIII's second wife and royal queen consort, Anne Boleyn, as well as his cheating fifth wife, 19 year old Catherine Howard. As a vengeful and bloody monarch, Mary unfortunately had little choice but to execute both Jane Grey and her husband after she regained power, although poor Jane was merely a scapegoat in the web of men's lust for power. Anne Bolyen was likely also innocent of all charges pitted against her, including incest with her brother James, who was also executed, and treason. Henry is never accused of incest, of course, when he fathered a son with Anne's older sister Mary, of course. And in those days they really didn't count the royal bastards.
In the basement of the white tower is a very cool new exhibit housing the armor of Henry VIIIth. It's only here for a limited time, but it's very cool, one of the very few things Henry's son Edward ever managed to accomplish as monarch in his few years on the throne was a catalog of his father's possessions, many of which were full of hunting and sporting gear. Henry was, in his younger and vigorous days, a formidable sports man, although in his day sports like jousting, of which he was most fond, were usually lethal ones. They had a 3 floor display of his gear, his many armors, his horses' many armors, his tennis ball, his falconry gear, and many, may spears, swords, crossbows, cannons, guns and armors he and his army wore in battle- although his reign in England was peaceful for England, he spent 50% of his reign at war with France, and the cost to the English people was heavy both in time and resources, including money. War in those days did not boost the local economy, it drained it and the people paid by having taxes levied against them. Despite the wars, the taxes, the rif-raf with the reformation that began all of the strife between protestant and catholic that ended hundreds of thousands of lives and persisted for centuries (millenia if you look at Northern Ireland who is still fighting this battle), Henry was a popular monarch. He was fearless and enjoyed jousting and "royal" tennis (more like squash these days) as his favorite sports. The History Channel obviously funded the exhibition, and they had these pretty cool huge monitors displaying factoids about armor, Henry's 'changing physique,' and sports like jousting on them which I enjoyed. Larry found them a little too History-Channel-esque. The exhibition ended in this large hall full of hands-on exhibits which were very popular- they had royal coins on display, lots of displays on war gear of the day, an interactive game which reminded me of the whack-the-popup-gopher-on-the-head for points Medieval style with this cludgel thing you whacked as enemies poped their heads up into the display that made this loud, rhythmic banging and drew a pretty big line waiting and watching. I went down to find a rest room and told Larry I'd meet him in a few minutes outside of the exhibit to find that that was only the half of it- the regular exhibit in residence is the royal armory so all of the things which are normally on display are still on display, it's just more than double the size with the Henry exhibition. So there was a lot still left to go through.
Also, and most spectacularly in the tower, are the Crown Jewels. They are amazing and awesome. I didn't know this, but monarchs apparently seem to have their crowns and jewels mainly approved by the English government (at least now) and often the public didn't pay for their finery- Queen Charlotte had jewels removed from one of her most fine royal stomachers to be put into a crown she had a jeweler make specifically for her own wear- at her own expense. The public footed 300 quid in 18 something to have some of the gold for the crown forged, but she paid for all the rest (they didn't give the price). Apparently, there is a crown which is used solely for coronation which dates back to 1600s, and immediately after the coronation, the procession from the church takes place and the royal crown is then removed and replaced with a second crown worn only for the procession. They are both dating back to the same era, and are always worn since the 1600s for these purposes. Queen Victoria had this little teeny diamond crown made which she felt fitted her status as a widow much better than her full on headgear. There were some other special crowns, such as the royal crown of india when the then monarch went to preside as head of state over India when the Brits annexed the country for several hours which has never been worn since. Apparently, there is a law that the royal finery never leave England for any reason, so this crown had to be made special. Of the millions of jewels in the vault are the famous Cullinan I and Cullinan II, both cut of the famous roughly cut Indian treasure presented to Queen Victoria as Koh-i-noor, which she cut down into 3 stones, one of which is over 500 carats and sits in a crown of state, and a second which is over 300 carats in weight which also went into a royal crown. Vicky was picky, along with everything else she was.
After the tower, we went to have some lunch/dinner since we were both rather hungry, and found a pub where we alighted the tube at Manor House in the city, right in the shadow of St. Paul's cathedral. We had beers and I ordered a greek salad and the daily tomato soup, and Larry got a steak sandwich. This marked the second meal where I ordered something the waiter didn't even pick up on- I ordered the green beans at Zizzi, and the tomato soup at this pub, neither of which even went into the system, I'm chalking both of these snafu up to language failure. Apparently even in English it happens...
The tube has changed since I have been here last in 2002- replaced is the mindless male drone voice repeating "Minduh the Gapuh." Now it's replaced with a most libraian-esque female voice letting you know that "The next stop is Leicester [pronounced Lester, for you non-Anglophiles] Square. Alight here for the National Gallery." Who tells you to "Mind the gap between the platform and the train." I like her voice. I think it was this disembodied voice that inspired me to try my hand at impersonating the Brits when I'm here... Although I've been told that I sound a bit too much like 19th century British aristocracy when I try- this is likely too much Jane Austen. Lol. Larry and I fell into the trap and basically managed to pick up "britspeak" while we here here the whole time.
After dinner, which was a large but 7.95 greek salad which actually cost me about $18, PLUS the beer, we walked along the embankement to the Blackfriars area, the tube station being closed. We stopped for drinks at one of my favorite places in all of London: Blackfriars Pub. When we walked in, we hemmed and hawed over the beers which seem to be almost nationally brewed and sent to all the pubs complete with the same pulls (all beers here are pulled, folks) and the same marketing, while the bartender was singing to the music and said something to us as we came up to the bar about the phrasing sounding like a Kanye West song, and I found this most hysterical because it in fact, did sound like something Kanye West would sing.
We sat with our beers and played with lighting and photos and the dim settings on our cameras and got a few cool shots, note the reliefs of the black frairs on the walls and the wildly cool interior. Those of you who know me, know why this is my favorite place... After a couple of delicious brown ale pints and a whiskey for Larry, we walked along the emabnkment again to Temple station where we got on the tube for Gloucester Road. We stopped quickly in Sainsbury's for wine and a power adaptor and I got a little fruit, and then back to the hotel where I worked on this page. At about 9:30pm I seemed to get hungry again and went out for Indian to my favorite local fare dealer on Cromwell and Larry decided to join me- and we got a late night meal. We sat down inside the place, where we were the only 2 patrons and there were 3 Indian men in full waiter-with-vest garb on simply standing there, waiting on our every move. Not super comfy to be the only two people in a large dining room at 9pm with 3 waiters standing 20 feet from you, watching you like hawks for something to do.. They pulled out a table for us, sat us down and ceremoniously presetned us with the menus. While we looked over the menu, the quiet and low volume Bali-music in the speakers and our voices were the only noticeable things in the dining room, we decided to go for takeout. We got chicken tikka masala (which is British, not technically Indian as the Brtis created it) take out, and headed back to the hotel to eat in (however undignified) unobserved peace, until my smart boyfriend realized they didn't give us silverware. A fast stop back to pick them up, and we came home. Chicken Tikka Masala now digested to both of our satisfaction, we are off to bed at 10pm. Hopefully, with Larry as King of the Alarm, we will wake up in the am to get to Westmister on time :)