Bits and Bobs

img_20180604_161231799We love the transportation system here. We haven’t had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus or train–unless you count the Harry Potter shuttle, which comes every 20 minutes.

 

Don’t make eye contact on the street. Londoners seem a tad bit unfriendly because they never look you in the eye or address you when they pass you on the street. That’s the reserved way, so don’t take it personally.

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Random lovely lane in London

There’s a foosball table in Terminal 2 at Heathrow. Jake crushed me.

The beautiful weather made us realize that there’s rarely AC in London, so if you are going to be here and think it might be more than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, remember that buildings will be hot and stuffy.

Takeaway is cheaper than eat-in because you don’t have to pay the VAT.

There are only two colors of suits in London: blue, which is everywhere in The City and on Fleet Street, and tan, which is your Sunday casual sitting in the yard suit or your foppish summer suit.

 

The “bitter” beer is about 10 notches lower on the bitterness scale than our averimg_20180604_124754949_ll1age IPA. Yay! I don’t like IPAs, but I did like the bitter.

If you don’t like mayonnaise or butter on everything you eat, beware: It is ubiquitous. We didn’t really go to any upscale restaurants, which I am sure are different, but they are pricy and even though the exchange rate is good (about $1.34 to £1), eating out in London isn’t cheap.

We stuck mostly to the touristy stuff, which you know if you read this blog.There’s a whole other London left to explore. It’s like going to NY and never leaving midtown.

I could go on forever, but I will leave you with this: London is a good place for nervous or reluctant travelers because it is VERY organized and systematic and even though the English is different, it’s still English.

Next up: Road trip to Utah.

A Boat, A Train, A Play

Today we tried out two different methods of transportation: We took the Thames Clipper from Embankment to Greenwich. For £6.80 we got a 40 minute ride on the Thames with great views along the way. The boat is quite comfortable and stops right at the Cutty Sark. We discovered it while at the Tower of London, since it also stops at Westminster Pier. I’ve found that my curiosity often yields fun surprises.

We took the obligatory picture at the Royal Observatory standing on the prime meridian

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At Jake’s feet is Chicago.

(which we were informed is not really the GPS prime meridian–that lies about 100 meters into the park in front of the building. We got lucky because we walked into a building and a lovely volunteer was just beginning a talk on the invention of a reliable chronometer for navigating east and west on the ocean. Of course, Jake stumped the volunteer, who is an astronomer. He asked how they wound the clock without stopping it. since stopping it would make it less accurate. Anyone know?The grounds and the park are beautiful and there are lovely views across the river. Something I didn’t know about, but I’m glad I discovered is the Queen’s House, directly next to the Natioanl Maritime Museum. The house is chock full of amazing art and not Image result for armada portrait of queen elizabeth 1all of it is seamen and ships! In fact, the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth by George Gower (this one) hangs there as do portraits of Henry VIII and others.

Greenwich itself is a cute tourist town pubs, restaurants and shops plus a market housing food stalls and random flea market fair. On the way back, we took the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), which is overland and offers more lovely views. That completed our tour of all the trains London has to offer except the tram.

For our last hurrah, we saw The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, from the same folks who produce The Play That Goes Wrong, at the Criterion Theatre. Puns, farce, slapstick, and some crazy scene changes and stage trick had us laughing and laughing. It was a great cap to an amazing trip. Tomorrow, we head home.

Cheers, London!

Shut Up and Guard With Me

Today we saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Not because the ceremony itself is funny, but because the Band of the Guards Division played “Shut Up and Dance” at about half tempo. I couldn’t even sing it that slow, never mind dance to it (you can’t sing or dance even at regular speed), but boy were we amused.

Here’s a hint for Americans: The food hall at Harrod’s is NOT a food court. Yes, there are restaurants, but it’s more a food market. So, we went into Harrod’s and walked out of Harrod’s. Anyway, we went to Harrod’s as everyone should so you can feel not-so-posh. Then, wimg_20180604_125535503_lle decided a pub was more our speed and we headed over to the historic Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street. If it’s good enough for Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s good enough for me.img_20180604_124145987_hdr Jake had a burger and I went with the fish and chips. So good, but I think I will need to detox with a week of salad when I get back. I’m not sure even the mushy peas count as a vegetable. (Sam Smith’s!  My favourite brewery….The pride of Tadcaster…not like that nasty John Smith’s (boo!) – see their history).

Next, we were off to the Tower of London, because this is the ultimate Be A Tourist week. For me, the best part of everything we’ve done is the architecture combined with the history. We took the entertaining tour from a Yeoman Warder–you know them as beefeaters. The Queen does not mess around; in order to be a beefeater, you must have at least 22 years of distinguished military service, but then you get to wear a wacky costume and live on the grounds of the Tower of London. Funniest moment: Someone was walking on the grass. A beefeater yelled at them to get off and then said under his breath but loud enough for us to hear, “Ah, so what, it’s just queens were executed on that land.”

Museums and Music

This morning I got up before Jake and made my pilgrimmage to Abbey Road where I saw another lone person wondering how he was going to stand in the road and take his picture. We switched and now we’re both Beatles cliches. Yay!

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The Natural History Museum

 

Although it was another beautiful day (crazy!) we decided to hit the museums. There are a few streets filled with toursty-looking restaurants and quick-bite places if you’re hungry, or you can eat in the museum cafes. We started with Natural History. The building is lovely, but I know we in Chicago are spoiled because we were underwhelmed by the exhibits except for the minerals, where we spent a good long time. I guess if you really need to see an animatronic T-Rex, this is the place for you.Next we hit the Victoria and Albert, or the V&A, where I really enjoyed seeing the very old books, the photography, and some of the artwork. Worth the trip, according to me. There are also really cool, very old wooden doors and other architetural gems, among them, the space itself. If you’re into jewelry, you will enjoy the extensive collection, but we buzzed through because we were getting museumed-out.

Now, I don’t want you to think I’m classy or something, but to top off the day, we went to the Barbican to see the London Symphony Orchestra. The Barbican has several restaurants within its complex (it is a big entertainment center with movies and other performances). We ate in the cafeteria-style Barbican Kitchen and had just fine meals with fresh food. Nothing fancy–veggie wrap and side salads for me, mac and cheese and mushrooms for Jake–but convenient, especially on a Sunday when many things in the area are closed. This trip was my nephew’s idea. I would be more likely to go hear a band in a pub, but I have to admit that it was pretty spectacular. Jake said: “I couldn’t tell you which is better, the Chicago Symphony or this one. I really enjoyed it.” I know he had a huge grin on his face at the end of the performance and so did I. Another amazing day!img_20180603_190357935_burst000_cover_top

 

Harry Potter and the Lovely Day

Wimg_20180602_150653956_llow! I thought I would enjoy the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour, but it was great. I like Harry Potter, but I don’t LIKE Harry Potter. The behind-the-scenes looks at costumes, design, sets, animatronics, special effects, props, and scenery would be fascinating to anyone interested in movie-making. The Harry Potter movies were lovingly and painstakingly created, which makes it all the better. We took the Tube to the National Rail to a special Harry Potter shuttle. All went smoothly. The average group takes about 3 hours to go through the whole exhibit and we hit that just about right. If you like movies or Harry Potter, this will be a treat.

We didn’t want Butterbeer or Butterbeer ice cream or really any of the snack bar food available, so instead, we went to Kensington and had Indian at Dishoom. I was a little nervous because it’s a chain, but it’s a chain with great reviews and they are warranted. My nephew had never really eaten Indian before. We had okra fries and vegetable samosimg_20180602_191212965as, which disappeared pronto. I recommended chicken tikki and when I looked down at his plate after a few minutes, it was gone. He wants to go back. I am a dairy free vegetarian, which left out their specialty of black daal, but the bhel starter and the chanan chaat salad were delicious.

Next, we headed out to Kensington Garden and Hyde Park. I know you won’t believe this, but it was 75 degrees and sunny. Amazimg_20180602_194521891ing, although one of the Warner Bros. employees told me this was “moaning weather” for the English. She claimed it was hot and humid. Hmmmm. I say it was lovely. Lovely is one of my two new favorite words. The other is posh. We watched the Queen’s swans, and ducks, and pigeons. Then we wandered. And we wandered right into a lot of people with parakeets on their arms. They were holding peanuts and the birds would alight on their arms to eat. We each took a turn so the other could take pictures. It really does pay to wander without purpose sometimes. We ended up walking the 3 miles back to the flat. Along the way, we noticed that Saturday night on Edgware Road seems to be hookah night. The street is loaded with Lebanese restaurants and almost every one of them had outdoor seating with hookah service. I don’t know what the attraction is, but I am obviously out of the know.

What Should We Do Today?

We lounged a little this morning after the travel and long day Wednesday. We really had no plan but figured we would head toward Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace, because you have to, right? We walked out the door and Jake wisely (as usual) asked: “Is it too late to change plans because we are going to Buckingham Palace Monday for the changing of the guards?” “Of course not,” I said. So off we went to the British Museum. After a detour because the 4G left two directionally-challenged people on a train heading the wrong way, we got back on track, however, the track did not lead directly to the palace.

Once we got out of the Tube at Piccadilly Circus since I thought Jake had to see the Time Squares of London, we got a little distracted and somehow ended up with half price tickets to The Comedy About a Bank Robbery.  Know anything about it? Neither do we! Pushing our way through the crowds on our way toward the museum and checking and rechecking every map on the way, we realized we were hungry. Poof, we look up and we are in Chinatown. Perfect.img_20180531_135720835

A short walk later, a 5-minute wait, and free admission (see Americans, other countries support culture for the masses) found us wandering the British Museum. Jake was initially confused until I pointed out that the galleries were numbered and we could go in order. Phew! Sensibility is restored. Being me, I couldn’t help but say, “Wow! The British plundered some really nice treasures from the nations they colonized.” The English guy next to me did give that a little snort. Very emotional for the Brits we’ve seen so far. But really, it was a great museum (Did you know the Rosetta Stone is there? Neither did we.) and we only left when the place closed. No time for the gift shop. Bummer.

Finally, we decided to grab a bite (we had serviceable Italian) and then head toward the palace and Hyde Park since they are on our way back. Oops! Distracted again. Something was gimg_20180531_194034787_hdroing on in St. James Park. The Marines were beating a retreat as a kind older man told me. It was like a really posh marching band. We ended up talking with him and a couple who had come from the Garden Party at Buckingham Palace where they were in the same room as Queen Elizabeth and Prince William. Three degrees of royalty!

By then we were pretty tired so we gazed at the palace and then headed for the nearest Tube station.

Hello London!

Well, thank you United for simultaneously getting us here on time and reminding me why I really don’t like flying the friendly skies. No power to juice my laptop, non-working earphone jack in the “entertainment” system (which I think is circa 1981 with channels for the different audio and continuously running movies–want to see the beginning of the film? Guess that start time), and unavailable personal electronics entertainment.  To add insult to injury, the coffee tasted burned and flavorless at the same time. Boy that cup of joe sunk below my meager expectations for airplane sustenance.

We img_20180530_161758074_hdrarrived at our AirBnB near St. John’s Wood without much distress and found that it is lovely, although the owner neglected to mention the 61 stairs we had to climb to get to it. My nephew promptly fell asleep, while I drank coffee, unpacked, showered, and found some very British telly to watch. A game show where you are given numbers and you have to do math calculations to end with a certain sum? Yeah, that would go over big in the States (I think it is called Countdown and the woman who used to do the math or as the Brits say maths, was Carol something or other).

Once Jake was awake and semi-conscious, we decided to head to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Kind of a ripoff at 15 pounds a piece but fun to do since it was within walking distance. And I got a cool pic of me. Yes that’s me in the famous Sherlock Holmes hat that the amazing detective who never lived never wore.

Side note: Here’s a helpful hint if you are dragging your laptop with you: Make sure your converter is grounded. Mine wasn’t. Oops! We were passing a hardware store on our way to Baker Street, popped in, and got one for less than the prices I saw online. Plus, we met some friendly people.

For our first real meal here we had — surprise! — fish and chips at Hobson’s since it was on many best of lists and was close. A mile walk was about all we wanted.  I had matzo meal breading on plaice which I had never even heard of, but is firm, flat and moist; Jake had the classic battered cod. Both were delicious. I also ate mushy peas, because, well, funny British food. Plus, I had a soda called Fentiman’s Dandelion & Burdock. Don’t ask me what it really was, but it was pretty good if a bit sweet. The label was in English and Slovak, which we figured out with a little help from Google Translate. We finished the day with a walk just so we wouldn’t fall asleep to early. No time for jetlag.

All-in-all a good day, except that I wasn’t with Steven on his birthday. Happy birthday, Steven! (Thank you!  I am weeping into my COLD non-English beer because you are not here.)

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Planning on My Own

This London trip with my nephew is going to be great; I know it. It’s just so different once again planning on my own. I’ve gotten used to having Steven to leap on my crazy ideas and take them to the next step (I’ve never met a crazy idea that couldn’t be crazier…oh yeah…it is always better if you add a couple of days…). My nephew is graduating from high school in a week, so his mind is elsewhere (amazingly it is still on school!!).

The one person who did turn his attention to our grand adventure is, no not the royal couple, but Beethoven. Yes, my 18year-old nephew is a classical music officionado. So, his Aunt Susie, who thinks Springsteen is the world’s best everything  (use your own judgement on whether that is a sign or a cause of insanity) and listened to a lot of Ramones in her youth, will be trying to act classy at the Barbican to hear the London Symphony Orchestra. What do I wear so I won’t immediately be spotted as American? Anyone out there know?

Looks like the French train strike has thwarted our plan to take the Chunnel and spend the day in Paris. Bummer, but I’m sure we’ll find plenty to do in London.

Next Up … London

 

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What? Big Ben is silent and there are no doubledecker buses or telephone booths? My image of London is shattered (sha doo be).

Next up for me anyway. Steven is going to miss this trip.  Aunt Susie is taking her nephew to London as a high school graduation present. (Yes, I am the world’s best aunt!!) My nephew is a joy to travel with. He laughs easily, is game to try things, and looks at the world with interest and intellect. We will miss the royal wedding (I didn’t realize you were invited); our weeklong trip starts May 29 and we’re are staying at an AirBnB in St. John’s Wood.

All suggestions are welcome! I haven’t been to London for more than 25 years. We don’t have a complete game plan, but he is a math/science guy getting ready to head off to college, so Greenwich, Stonehenge, a museum or two, and Oxford or Cambridge (which one do you recommend?) Don’t come home if you don’t get a picture of you crossing Abbey Road. I am going to be the ultimate tourist. Too bad Big Ben is silent. I guess we will have to go back.Maybe I will even wear big, white sneakers so everyone will know without me opening my mouth that we are American. We are thinking about Chunneling to Paris for the day, but there is a train strike in France and as much as I would love to be stranded in Paris, I think my sister-in-law would kill me if I didn’t bring her son home.