Erected by Public Subscription on May 24, 2004

One last look around

Our last day in London, and we just did a walkabout. Down to Piccadilly, stopped in at some shops, petted a dog. We planned to have afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason, but in the event it turns out that they don't do tea on Mondays. So, back to the hotel for a rest, and we'll soon head out to our last dinner in London. Tomorrow morning, it's off to Heathrow and a cramped flight home... it will be so nice to be back in my own house. As much as I've enjoyed my vacation, I'll be glad to get home!

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 23, 2004

Stopping by Liz's house

Just as an aside, let me mention that as I write this, I am watching Ground Force as usual... except that I'm watching it in England, on BBC One. How cool is that?
05-23-04_1233.jpgAnyway. Today was an excursion out of town to see Windsor Castle. Remember that I told you HRH wasn't home the other day? Well, it turns out she was home at Windsor, as indicated by her standard, flying over the castle.
We didn't run into her in the halls, and frankly it must be terribly annoying to have tourists tramping through your castle. She can't even go out and sit in her gardens, because we're all there.
Probably the most interesting thing about Windsor these days is the fire in 1992. We saw the reconstructed rooms, but what was most fascinating was hearing from the Wardens how the town turned out to help carry out the priceless artworks and furniture. The rug in the Waterloo Hall, right next to the fire, is one of the world's largest and was woven as one piece... and weighs 3 tons. It took 30 men to carry it out. The same room is covered in portraits, all of which were taken out, some by crowbar, leaving behind the frames.
Train back to London, and now a bit of relaxing. This week has been really exhausting, and it's catching up with me. Frankly, I'm ready to come home, sleep in my own bed, and play with my dog!
Tomorrow: last minute souvenir shopping and a farewell tea at Fortnum & Mason.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 22, 2004

Speaking of fever

... can I just say that London is simply crawling with really cute guys?

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 12:34 PM | Comments (2)

I've got the fever

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Juicy Buns Fever! Catch it!
Just a sign I saw near Covent Garden today. We ended up there looking for a "Mind The Gap" t-shirt since I didn't find what I wanted at Portobello Road. I went there to search the flea market for a vintage Dr. Who Dalek model, or anything else cheesy like that. We walked the length of the market, about a mile, finding a few interesting things -- I bought a wind-up dancing robot -- but not a Dalek. (We did find freshly roasted monkey nuts, though.)
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Anyway, after picking up a t-shirt in Covent Garden, we made our way down The Strand toward the Tube... and what did I see in a shop window, but a Dalek... a REAL Dalek, 5 feet high or so, autographed by Tom Baker, one of the Doctors Who.
dalek.jpg Inside this shop, the Stamp Centre, there were Daleks galore: mini metal Corgi Daleks, radio-controlled Daleks, pewter Dalek salt & pepper shakers, and talking Daleks; not to mention books, videos, commemorative stamps, and miniatures.
Despite the best efforts of the shop guy and my aunt, I resisted. After all, how could I carry home a 2-foot high radio controlled Dalek? I settled for the talking model.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 12:21 PM | Comments (0)

Next scene

It seems that I am taking a Disney-inspired tour of London now. Yesterday I sat on the steps made famous by the old bird woman in "Mary Poppins;" today I'll be at the Portobello Road as seen in "Bedknobs and Broomsticks."
If only they had a cash machine at the Dawes, Hayes, Mousely, Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 03:19 AM | Comments (0)

In the news

One of the top stories on the news here for the last few days has been the stabbing death of a police constable during an arrest.
It struck me as unusual because back in the U.S., that story would be a local one, and last perhaps one day -- not several as here. Are police deaths so much more rare here?
The other big story is the appointment of a new BBC Director General. They've been giving this story a huge amount of play, on the BBC and other channels & newspapers. Everyone is weighing in on the choice, which shows just how important the BBC is to the British.
And you think gas is expensive in the U.S.? Here in Britain, the price has hit 80p per liter, which I worked out to be about $5.67 per gallon (let me know if my math is correct!)...

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 03:17 AM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 21, 2004

Give me Fawlty Towers any day

I once said that if I visited London, I'd probably sit in the hotel room and watch BBC 2 all day.
Well, when they say that BBC America is the "best of Britain," they mean it. British television is mind-numbingly boring. And with 5 channels to choose from, there's not much of it, either.
What's so sad is that people must pay a license fee for all this unwatchable stuff.
Oh, and the big buzz here is the Friends finale, which airs next Friday. I should go around telling people what happens. For £5.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 02:22 PM | Comments (2)

I know where the bodies are buried

Today's excursion brought us face to face... or feet to face, with figures from history. St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Both are wonderlands of memorials, both with and without bodies attached.
St. Paul's was the more understated of the two, featuring memorials mostly in the basement crypt. Lining the walls and massed underfoot, the various inscriptions are sometimes so long-winded it's like you're reading a sermon. Without thinking, Maura and I started climbing some steps, only to discover that they went up, up, and up, 259 steps to the base of the famous dome, what they call the Whispering Gallery -- so named because you can whisper on one side, and hear it clearly on the other. Unfortunately, with the cathedral undergoing a much-needed cleaning and restoration, scaffolding was in the way of the effect. The scaffold itself was a sight, precariously stuck to the sides of the dome with nothing under it except the cathedral floor, a hundred feet or so down. Behind the main altar is the American Chapel, dedicated to the Americans who defended Britain during the Second World War. A lovely gesture.
Being gluttons for punishment, we ascended another hundred or so steps and emerged outside, around the dome in the cold wind.
Down was more difficult than up, oddly enough -- one gets very dizzy on the circular and steep steps.
A good long walk along the river brought us to Cleopatra's Needle, an Egyptian obelisk that not only bears carvings of hieroglyphs, but scars of World War II attacks on London. (At this opportune moment, let me just say that today we discovered that German tourists are the most rude people we've ever met.)
bigben.jpgMore walking... walking... and there it is: Parliament. We couldn't find a place for public access, which is hardly surprising after this week's "attack" on Tony Blair, something the newspapers here are likening to an assassination attempt. Anyway, next door is Westminster Abbey, an amusement park of dead people. You can't take 3 steps without walking on someone's memorial, and the chapels off the nave are so chockablock full of coffins, mausoleums, and plaques that there is sometimes no room to walk among them. Among the luminaries interred there are kings and queens -- Edward I, Henry III, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots... and the likes of Chaucer, Laurence Olivier, and innumerable others. The British equivalent of our Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is here, along with memorials for Franklin Roosevelt and impressively, front and center above the Great West Door, a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lunch at a pub was followed by a stop outside Buckingham Palace, where we stood for a moment watching a guard... but HRH wasn't home, and we certainly weren't invited to stay.
I now have a dream: to be buried in an obscure corner of Westminster Abbey, with a long-winded and particularly amusing inscription, ending with "he was gloriously terminated."

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 02:19 PM | Comments (1)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 20, 2004

Visiting the mothership

05-20-04_0934.jpgGreetings from the lobby of BBC Television Centre -- it's like a pilgrimage for a geek like myself.
Two interesting and little known facts about this building, the first purpose-built television production center in the world: Viewed from the air, the building is the world's largest question mark. Second, the "live" newsroom video seen behind nightly newscasts is actually computer-generated, right down to the people. It was too problematic to air live newsroom footage, you never know what might happen in the newsroom!
The building itself is enormous and complex, and I simply couldn't keep track of where we were at any given time. Considering that much of the building is circular, it felt like the Pentagon of television.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

Yes, but do they make keys?

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Welcome to Harrod's Food Halls, where you can pick up such delicacies as ostrich eggs (below). We wandered through the halls, and had lunch at the Harrods deli -- where the Italian couple next to us spent the equivalent of $20 each for a hot dog. Not to be outdone, Maura and I moseyed (as we Americans do) up to the Urban Retreat, where after dropping $245, we emerged with new hair cuts.
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On the way back out of the store, some 4 hours later, we stopped off once again in the sumptuous chocolate hall, and picked up some exquisitely wrapped and boxed delights.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 01:59 PM | Comments (1)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 19, 2004

And only one blister

This was one of those going overboard, just one more block type of days.
We started out riding the tube to what has become our most visited station, Tottenham Court Road. On one side of the station, London's gay area where we stayed out late last night drinking at G-A-Y. The other side, the British Museum.
So this morning, when we'd finally woken up, we wandered from the station down Russell Street, stopping in at an artist supply shop, then taking a left into the British Museum.
I realized fairly quickly that I'm far more interested in the architecture and grandeur of the place than I am at seeing such things as mummies and sarcophagi.
(One interesting side note: mummies were emptied out, re-stuffed with packing material, and wrapped in rags. Today, you'd probably make mummies by stuffing them with styrofoam peanuts and wrapping them in Saran wrap.)
05-19-04_1619.jpgAfter the museum, we walked a bit then tubed a bit (which entailed MORE walking underground) down to the Tower of London -- once again, a sight which was more fascinating in terms of the architecture than the armoury, the crown jewels, and such. It cost the equivalent of about $50 for the two of us to get in.
The Tower Bridge was enticing from there, so we walked across, intending to go to the Tate Modern, the London Eye, and whatever else was on the south bank of the Thames -- but then we realized it was already late afternoon, and the sights were closing. We walked from London's city hall, a circular building that looks either like it's collapsing or is the hindquarters of a bee; down to Millennium Bridge, passing such sights as the Globe Theatre and London Bridge (really, really ugly and boring).
Crossing Millennium Bridge, we stumbled across a parade of officials, a drum corps, two Pearlie Queens, and a bunch of people with sticks. As it turns out, it was something called "beating the bounds," a ritual performed by a church to define the boundaries of the parish. They marched along the boundary of the parish, beating the drums. Once they'd passed, we continued on to St. Paul's Cathedral -- closed by that time, and disappointingly covered in scaffolding and obscured by dust covers.
On we went, walking... walking... walking. Eventually, 10 hours after we'd left the hotel, we ended up in Trafalgar Square, devoid of pigeons but all the cleaner for it.
Now, after another mile or so of tube tunnels to get back to the Central Line, we're back in our hotel room, nursing our feet and trying to figure out what to do for dinner... and if we have the stamina to leave the room again.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

Way Out

05-19-04_1444.jpgThe London Underground is perhaps the greatest scam ever: there are some stations where, when changing lines, you walk miles through windy tunnels to the train. You've just paid London Transport for the privilege of walking most of the way there.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

Frankie, I finally made it

05-18-04_2055.jpgLast night, I stood at 84 Charing Cross Road, slightly amazed that I was there and touching it; slightly annoyed that it was now home to a chain wine bar. The plaque commemorating Helene Hanff and the Marks & Co book shop was half obscured by a decorative lamp, the building front now looks nothing like it did when the book shop was there.
But still, I was there, leaning up against the column, where one of my favorite stories happened.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 04:48 AM | Comments (3)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 18, 2004

Day 1: We Need More Money

In the end, we were delayed by more than 4 hours, all of it spent on the plane. Ugh.
The trip over was just draining. The seats in Virgin Atlantic's economy class are about 2 inches apart. I am a relatively average guy, and ended up contorted as I tried to find some position that was comfortable enough to sleep in. I failed.
The announcements by the cabin crew implored the passengers over and over to please be nice, don't take out your frustrations on the crew, they weren't responsible for the weather. And in fact, there was no screaming and yelling, no incidents of any kind. Thank goodness.
The meal was nice, and came with wine which I hoped would help me sleep -- no go.
And the excitedly touted entertainment system at every seat only worked for a fraction of the flight.
Eventually, we made it to Heathrow, 4 hours late, only to spend another hour making our way through the airport to immigration. The line was incredible, but when we presented our passports we were only asked why we were here and how long we'd be staying. I asked the immigration officer what the rules were regarding passports -- did I need to keep it (or a copy) with me wherever I went? She responded, "No, this isn't a police state." I chuckled and realized that's why I'm here. To see what a non-police state is like!
When we got close to Hyde Park I started to get my bearings because of all the maps I'd studied for months. And when we reached Marble Arch, I even recognized the scene from the live traffic camera linked here on the blog, and saw the camera up on the pole. I knew exactly where we were -- I'd seen that Tube station a thousand times.
Our hotel is beautiful outside, a crescent of Nash townhouses. Inside, our $280 a night room is teeny tiny, with two small twin beds shoved together. All the things listed as included -- fax, internet, etc. -- are charged separately. A can of Coke from the minibar is priced at $3.15.
We ventured out to the corner to pick up a couple of sandwiches. Two sandwiches and two drinks: $13.
Off to the Museum of London to learn about the city we're about to explore. But halfway through the Tudor era, I began to stumble about, exhausted.
So, back to the hotel, where I've had a short nap and we can decide what to do for dinner, and how much of a home equity loan I should take out to finance it.
One last hint: I almost got run over -- already. It's not the looking right that's the key, it's the realization that no matter which way you look, you'll never figure out where traffic is coming from. Weird 3 point turns, cars round a corner then suddenly turn toward you.
Let's be careful out there.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 01:14 PM | Comments (1)

Just my luck

It's 10pm (eastern), and we're still sitting in the plane... at the gate in Washington. We left the gate late, owing to a missing passenger. Since the passenger wasn't aboard, his luggage had to be removed from the plane. (How did his luggage get there if he wasn't aboard, I wonder?)
We sat on the runway for 2 hours, waiting for a thunderstorm somewhere up north to pass. Eventually, we had to return to the gate for refueling. So far, we've been sitting on this plane for 3 hours, just waiting.
This is one of those "just my luck" kind of things, you know?

While I'm complaining, I have to ask -- what do so many people see in Virgin Atlantic? They've taken the class system to new heights.
If you're in economy class, you don't even get an in-flight magazine. That's reserved for Upper Class.
The seats are so close together that the "wonderful and innovative" in-flight entertainment system (which I haven't be able to use yet, since we're still grounded) is about 3 inches from my nose.
There's not enough room to use the laptop, I can't see this as I type. I'll have to clean it up later when I post it.

Yup, this vacation is starting swimmingly.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 14, 2004

Everybody talks about the weather, but...

It'll be a partly cloudy week in London, but with temps in the mid-70s, I don't think I'll mind leaving behind 90° sun in Washington for a little while.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on May 12, 2004

What To Watch

I (half-jokingly) claimed once that if I ever went to London, I'd sit in the hotel room and watch BBC 2.
Well, I've already found stuff to watch:

8pm Tuesday, BBC2: Get a New Life Australia
The Reeve family are giving up their stable life in Suffolk for a brand new life in Australia. But will they make a go of it, or are they treating relocation like one long holiday?

Wed 19 May, 2:05 am, BBC1: Ground Force Goes Hollywood The temptations of Tinseltown have finally lured the team to Hollywood. But before Tommy gets carried away by his brief shoot on the backlot of Universal Studios, the Ground Force team are in town to rejuvenate a garden for the Hollywood Sunset Free Clinic.

The Clinic, that dispenses free health care to patients who don't have US health insurance, suffered an arson attack two years ago. Since moving away from the premises while repairs were carried out, the adjoining garden fell into serious neglect. With three days, and the clinic's medical director to surprise at the end of it, Ground Force have an epic task, worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Without Willy to help on this trip, Tommy badly needs some assistance with all the concrete paths to be laid. But, unbeknown to Tommy, Charlie calls in Michael Mazarella, the gentle giant who was so helpful when the team tackled a garden in Manhattan two years ago. He was such a star then that he told his friends that he was on his way to Hollywood, and, sure enough he arrives to save the day.

With the largest pergola ever attempted, quiet area, peaceful planting and a last minute water feature, there's plenty to delight and surprise Dr Vickery at the end. In all his 32 years of voluntary service to the Clinic, he proclaims that the garden is just the medicine that the clinic's patients, and staff, really need.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 05:20 PM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on April 23, 2004

Down under

Vacation is drawing near: my London Transport Travelcards arrived today!
Soon I'll be tubin' it with the rest of London...

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 10:40 PM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on April 22, 2004

Have a cuppa

From BoingBoing today comes two London-licious entries. First, a link to a lovely blog all about having a sit down with a Nice Cup of Tea. Then, a little missive about a biography of London, and philosophical rambling about the nature of continuity and the identity of a city.

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 06:08 PM | Comments (0)

Erected by Public Subscription on April 19, 2004

Dosh

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A while ago on my other blog, I wrote about the British Pound (and bank notes in general), bemoaning how boring our currency is.
Today, noticing that exchange rates were going up, up, up, I stopped off to convert a load of cash to a load of dosh, picking up a few quid for our needs that first day in London. The exchange rate today is inching up and is almost at 2 to 1 - $1.90 to 1.00. Luckily, I've done all my London budgeting at a $2=1 rate just to be on the safe side, but still -- I'm amazed. Maybe this just means that there won't be as many American tourists about next month when we go. Or maybe it just means we'll be poor tourists.
Regardless, I'm enjoying just looking at these pounds, emblazoned with Edward Elgar, Charles Darwin, and Elizabeth Fry. Can you imagine the uproar in some southern states if we dared put an evolutionist on our money?!

This swinging entry posted by Gene at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)