FRIDAY FINALE: The Theatre, The Tate, The Tower, The Thames

Our priority on Friday (and Chris’s number one for the whole trip) was to see the Globe Theatre. From there, we would semi-improvise.

To the Tube!

Tours of the Globe are held only in the morning. After surfacing from the Tube (and contending with some more stressful London street confusion), we arrived just in the nick of time for the last tour.

A die hard Shakespeare veteran, at the birthplace of it all.

And needless to say, a thrill for a big Hamlet nerd…

A moment of awe when we walked inside, first arriving at today’s “cheap seats.” Interestingly, they were actually the expensive ones four hundred years ago, being further away from the epicenter of the stink-cloud. Imagine a thousand packed-in folk, who only bathed twice a year and would eat garlic throughout the show.

It’s one thing to hear Shakespeare lines and transport yourself to the Globe in your mind’s eye. Quite another to actually occupy the space itself, feeling it all around you, while hearing the lines in your mind’s ear.

This most excellent canopy the air, look you…

This brave o’er hanging firmament…

This majestical roof, fretted with golden fire…

Truly awesome to be there in the flesh.

After the Globe, we stopped in to the nearby Tate Modern.

Time to move north across the Thames, into downtown, on our way to the Tower of London.

Lexy spotted a single playing card on the street. Chris took it for good luck. What might the 9 of clubs portend?

The Tarot equivalent, 9 of Wands, shows a weary man in a defense posture, after fighting a battle and winning. He appears exhausted but is ready to overcome a final challenge to reach accomplishment and victory. Sounds eerily appropriate.

… Or not.

Apparently it portends that, twenty minutes later, your chest will be shat upon from above while standing in the Tower of London ticket queue.

Is that good luck? Superstition says so. And hey, some people pay good money for that kind of action.

After some cleanup, it was time for the Tower, home to a thousand years of kings, soldiers, and ill-treated prisoners.

A medieval castle, right in the heart of a huge, modern city. So strange to people who live in a country as young as ours.

Winding passages, tiny staircases, bed chambers, thrones… all very cool.

Onward to gawk at the Crown Jewels…

Sorry, no photography allowed inside!

It was (literally) spine-tingling to be totally surrounded on all sides by huge solid gold objects and diamonds the size of a fist. Never before or again will we be that close to that much treasure. Some estimate the value of the collection to be in the neighborhood of 11 billion dollars.

Back over the Thames now, via Tower Bridge, to find a particular vegan-friendly cafe that Lexy wanted to check out.

We were there too late in the day to eat for dinner what they were offering, but you can’t beat the name:

On the way back toward the Tube station, we were able to successfully help a tourist from Connecticut find her way through the torturous London street system. It can’t be emphasized enough how maddening it is to get around here on foot. The streets are laid out like a web spun by a drunken spider on meth. But being able to help somebody else, when we actually knew exactly where we were going for once, was a confidence-boosting moment.

For dinner, we decided to see how London does Mexican food at Chilango, “London’s Best Mexican Restaurant.”

Turned out to be little more than a Chipotle of the UK, but that’s alright, we like Chipotle.

Yep, that’s a burrito alright.

Time to experience the Tube, during rush hour! The trains are squat and tight, and even more claustrophobic when at full capacity.

We stopped at Tesco again to get snacks for the plane, and to blow off our last £10 note. Here’s Lexy reading ingredients, which she does with just about everything lately.

Now back at the hotel, we boarded the elevator, “going up” for the last time.

Our plane home leaves tomorrow. One more post to tie it up? Perhaps!

Thursday: STONEHENGE (and British BK)

Leo, our tour bus driver for Stonehenge, was a snarky, likeable fellow. “Don’t get too excited,” he said before we left town. “It’s just a pile of rocks.”

A trip to the countryside was nice. Not just because of the reprieve from the city (they don’t come hustlier and bustlier than London), but the two hour drive was a chance to sit, zone out a little, and just look. We had been pushing at full steam for four days. This one would be more casual and relaxed.

The night before, Chris had gotten a pasta salad at the grocery store for the bus trip. For some reason, pesto seemed like a good idea. The container wasn’t well-sealed, however, and ended up lubricating one inside pocket of his messenger bag with a fine coat of oil.

Also gave off a nice, pungent odor for our bus mates.

Too bad there were two books in there with the pesto explosion salad. Oh well, now they have memorable stains.

Stonehenge itself was about what one would expect. Definitely worth checking out, but, well, it’s a pile of rocks!

We had fantastic light, clouds, and color for our photos. Thanks nature!

Lexy realized that she had some Honus Honus stickers in her purse, and that this would be the perfect opportunity for a few #deadagain shots. (If you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it, Chris doesn’t either.)

Stonehenge, everybody!

Chris now has a seriously bad ass cover photo for his Facebook profile!

Next came woodhenge, which is another henge. Made of wood.

Woodhenge is actually older than its stony brother.

Chris theorized that sitting on one of the posts might imbue his butt with mystical powers. Seems to be working so far. Thank you, British ancestors!

No trip to a foreign country would be complete without a sample of the localized versions of our fast food. When we got back into town, we headed straight for Burger King.

Would the flavoUr be the same?

Hours before, we had walked by a Burger King, and Chris  noticed something called a “Prague Crunchy Cheese Whopper” featuring a cheese patty, onions, bacon and BBQ sauce. (You read that right – a cheese patty. A fried cheese patty, to be more specific.) It was love at first sight, so Chris made a date with this sexy thing.

Now came the moment of truth.

It was everything Chris had hoped it would be.

Offering a black bean burger (to accommodate the local vegetarian Indian population), British BK was able to feed Lexy something more than just fries. It was “eh.” The fries and chicken nuggets were also off somehow. But it was all definitely Burger King.

Only one more day now! Amazing how little time five days actually gives you, once you get into the thick of it. We had to scuttle at least half a dozen possibilities, including a ride on the chunnel to France. C’est la vie.

For our final day, we’ll be walking along the Thames to check out a few specific spots.

Wednesday: The Zoo, Camden Market, Gambling

London Zoo had been a top priority from the outset, not merely because a nearby zoo will always be a priority for Lexy, but because Chris had (somehow) never been to any zoo, ever!

First obstacle was construction barricades at our bus stop, which meant we had to reroute a little. Much easier said than done in this town. Buses aren’t quite as straightforward as the tube.

We found an alternate stop without too much trouble and were on our way.

The weather was perfect, at least to our tastes (crisp and overcast), and unlike just about everywhere else, the zoo was wonderfully sparse of humans.

No gorillas for Chris today (they were hiding?), so he took a picture with this one.

We more than made up for the lack of great apes with Lexy’s favorite primate. These lemurs came surprisingly close and personal, leaping and climbing around well within touching distance, which made them difficult not to touch.

Ms. Giraffe, moments before relieving herself for the spectators.

Lexy found some goat friends. Two of them escaped. Staff went after one, who they identified as “Brambles.”

Way too many critters to see and photograph here, and if you wanna see a camel, a sloth, a colobus monkey, a lioness, or anyone else we bumped into, the Internet can give you better photos than we can. The zoo, at any rate, was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Next we headed for a vegan ice cream and bakery in Camden Market, about a mile north of the zoo. Very nearly got ourselves lost again, as we didn’t realize until quite a ways along the wrong road that we were supposed to be following a riverside foot path. We righted ourselves quickly.

Camden Market was a loud, aromatic, busy crush of humanity.

After some fruitless searching (Google maps and directions are only helpful to a limited degree in an outdoor market), we asked some folks who were able to point us to the place.

Lexy got a cookie dough shake, Chris got the brownie shake.

Plus two donuts for breakfast on Thursday.

Dusk, which is more leisurely at this latitude, was falling as we walked back to our bus stop.

We headed to Farmacy for dinner, a restaurant specializing in vegan and vegetarian cuisine.

No reservations taken here, so we were in for a 45 minute wait. Some nice, leafy decor in the waiting area.

With our table still a ways out, Chris took the opportunity to make a time-killing suggestion.

Gambling is legal in the UK, but unlike in Vegas or Reno, one doesn’t find himself drowning in an endless, droning sea of casinos. They’re peppered about here and there, infrequent enough to be… enticing.

Lexy was averse to even stepping into any of these places. Chris, on the other hand, was being pulled like a magnet. While gaining access to a casino floor with real table games, dealers, etc. would have required signing up for a membership (the casinos here are all “clubs”), the upstairs slot areas were walk-in ready, and Chris was ready to walk in. We had a table to wait for, after all, and a £10 bill into the roulette machine wouldn’t hurt anybody. What high-rollers.

“I’m bad luck,” Lexy said. She was right. The £10 was gone in a few minutes. Left to his own devices, Chris would have hunkered down and gotten cozy, but it was time to head back to the restaurant and be seated.

Chris ordered mushroom tagliatelle.

Lexy had a black bean mushroom burger.

That’s a garlic aioli you see on the patty.

The drinks here were lovely.

Another day, gone quickly.

Leaving London for Day 4 to get our stone on!

Tuesday: Liberty, Hippo, Obligatory Spots

Visiting Liberty of London was the thing that I (Lexy) was the most excited about! Chris was able to get us there with no problem, we even got our sweet Oyster passes for using the tube, so everything went pretty smoothly!

Liberty is a massive (and old!) department store, but they also have some of the most amazing and high quality fabrics ever! We carry a few Liberty prints at Harts, but usually no more than 4 or 5 at any one time. So being able to see a whole floor of Liberty fabrics was insane!

They even had silk! If I weren’t terrified of sewing silk (and if it wasn’t £50 a meter) I would have loved to buy some!

I did end up getting a meter of one of their cotton lawns, I’m not sure what I’ll make, maybe bloomers??

In their sewing notions section they had a whole display of Colette patterns! It made my little heart so happy to see them in the UK!

They also had a section of garments made from Liberty fabrics, soooooo pretty!

In their home department they had tea sets with Liberty prints! I pretty much died! I wanted to get a tea pot soooooo bad, but I already have like 5 tea pots and I would be afraid of it getting totally shattered on the flight home.

I can’t get over how pretty everything was! I wanted to live there!

I also wanted this mint toaster! Holy shit so cute!

The building is so pretty! It was built in the 1870’s!

I’m surprised I didn’t end up spending thousands of dollars! Chris was very patient and surprisingly not bored by all the time I spent flipping out over fabric 🙂

Liberty <3

Food time! I had researched vegan restaurants in London and there were lots of good reviews for the Vegan Hippo, and it was only a 15 minute walk from Liberty, score! Luckily Chris had thoroughly mapped out our route beforehand, ’cause the place ended up being in kinda a sketchy area. Not dangerous or gross, but there were like three porn shops and a bunch of massage parlors around it! Plus the streets in London make no sense at all and it is stupidly easy to get lost!

Anyway, the food was AMAZING! We both got vegan gyros, and they were seriously so delicious! It actually made me sad because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat them again. Why can’t this restaurant exist in Santa Cruz????

(… Chris taking over from here…)

It was now time to get onto the beaten path a little for some of the standard tourist stops.

Trafalgar Square was busy. Something to do with the Olympics? Seemed to be a celebration of winners. We saw the crowd and steered clear.

Can’t visit London without taking a Big Ben selfie:

And of course, a ride on the London Eye.

Oh, pardon me, the Coca Cola London Eye…

The folks in the next pod were getting married (or something):

We established a policy on the first day to put all of our change in the hands of street musicians and/or panhandlers. Bagpipe Guy here was today’s donation.

For most of our time here so far, we’ve felt like aliens among the locals. But in the London Eye area, we definitely felt like tourists among tourists. Preferring alien, we quickly headed back across the Thames.

Cavalry at the ready:

Buckingham Palace. I was surprised to learn that the Queen’s Guard are actually functional soldiers, and not merely ornamentation. (Then again, isn’t the Royal Family itself merely ornamentation now?)

Walking through Green Park, we encountered hundreds of wild critters, mostly squirrels, birds, and such, with utterly zero fear of us (and utterly no interest once they saw that we had no snacks for them).

Plenty of unfamiliar species, like this guy (thanks for the photobomb, goose):

We moved from Green Park back into Hyde, much of which was fenced off today for some sort of construction.

The 7/7 Memorial:

Gingerbread-looking cottage that we wouldn’t mind living in:

After a rest, we headed out to the Queensway area for dinner, deciding to just wing it for this meal and try a place at random.

Lexy got a pizza with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and no cheese; I had a meaty burger (with delightfully fleshy bacon) and a Hoegaarden.

We walked A LOT today. The numbers tell the story.

Next: London Zoo!

Monday: Tea, Shopping, Culture Shock

We left on Monday morning on a mission for high tea. Of everything we wanted to do in London, this was top priority, and it seemed appropriate to go on our anniversary.

Lexy’s research on tea services in London turned up a particular restaurant that specialized in a vegan menu. It was within walking distance of our hotel, so that was a bonus, and the directions were easy… or so we thought.

Chris made a friend after we headed out. He purred with a British accent.

We went up the correct street initially, but walked right past where we were supposed to go. The sign was nondescript and easy to miss.

We quickly learned that a single wrong turn in London can cause major problems, as the street grid is utter chaos. We were suddenly lost. Luckily we came across a bus station with a “YOU ARE HERE” map from which we were able to reorient ourselves. We showed up only a half hour late for our reservation.

Tea service was very similar to what we’re used to in California, except for the vegan menu, which she hasn’t been able to find at home.

For the first round of tea, Lexy had Genmaicha; Chris went with Earl Grey.



Then came the sandwiches. Lexy’s favorite was the sunflower seed pesto and the mushroom. Chris liked the tofu scramble.

Scones were next (lots of them), then another round of tea, and finally, dessert.

Happy anniversary!

After our long and leisurely afternoon tea, we explored nearby Queensway Road, a busy shopping district, stopping at a grocery store (Tesco) to stock up on snacks and breakfast items for the hotel room. We’ve found most of London to be expensive so far, but groceries almost bizarrely cheap.

At dusk, we went to take a walk in Hyde Park. Unfortunately, they closed the gates soon after we got there. We’ll be back.

For dinner, we decided to keep things simple and order room service.

img_2575

One day after landing, we’re starting to get our bearings. English-speaking as it may be, London is still quite foreign. Nearly every step we take is hesitant, since literally everything here is different, if not outright backwards, from what we know. We always feel that we’re on the edge of doing something awkward, rude, or deadly.

Our room is comfortable.

Upon entering, we encountered a booking snafu. We got a room for “two travellers”, but didn’t check our parameters thoroughly, and ended up with two beds!

Believe it or not though, this actually works out just fine. Lexy is a tosser and turner (especially with such a dramatic shock to sleep patterns), but with separate beds, she can thrash around like the Kraken all night without bothering Chris.

Our command center (centre?), from which we plan (and blog):

Our disturbingly-narrow bathroom door:

Tuesday we’ll check out the Thames area.

Sunday: A Flight, A Nap, a Pub

Our flight was about 10 hours, super smooth, and honestly did not feel like 10 hours. The value of a direct flight is immense. Even a single plane-change has a way of doubling the perceived length of a flight, so we didn’t have to worry about that.

Lexy requested a vegan meal when we checked in online. They came through (and she was part of the first group to be served, so that was a bonus). It was totally edible. Sorry for the dark/red pic; Virgin Atlantic has a trippy lightshow thing going on, it’s always orange, pink, or purple in there.

No problem getting through immigration, out of the airport, and to our train. In fact, our first actual, frustrating obstacle of the trip was getting out of Paddington Station once we got there. An immense building that seems designed to obscure and lie about where the exits are.

Once we escaped the maze, our hotel was a short walk away. We got there right at check-in time. (We’ll post more hotel pics later, we’re just half-unconscious at the moment.)

They say not to go to sleep when you arrive after a trans-Atlantic flight, but to just fight through the jet lag until bedtime. We ignored this advice and took a three hour nap. (Not to worry, it’s bedtime now, and we’re definitely ready to sleep again.)

After our nap, we went out to have our first ever-meal in a British pub,
complete with live music. Hard not to smile at the sound of some English kid singing Bob Dylan and Tracy Chapman songs.

Without many vegan options (without any actually) Lexy settled for fish and chips:

Chris had a chicken and leek pie. Very tasty:

We were very happy to have avoided any and all disasters up to that point. Then, when Lexy was ready to plug her hair dryer into the wall adapter, Chris warned her that the dryer probably wouldn’t enjoy 240V DC too much. She used the wall-mounted one. Luckily her flatiron is dual-voltage. Phew, still disaster free so far…

Once we were back in the room, it rained for about twenty minutes, complete with lightning and thunder. Should be mostly clear the rest of the week.

That was it for Day 1. Amazing how short a weekend feels when you lose eight hours of it.

It’s now early Monday morning, which means that it’s our anniversary. We’ll be sticking close to our vicinity tomorrow, probably venturing further out on Tueday.

120 Hours

In five days, we’ll be crossing the pond!

passports

Unstable as geopolitics are right now, we nonetheless can’t help but be pleased that the pound sterling just so happens, in the last couple of weeks, to have hit a new historic low against the US dollar. This will make everything roughly 30% cheaper than it was in 2008 when Lexy last visited.

We do, however, have a special request to World War 3: please wait until November (at the earliest) to get fully underway. Any sooner and you might seriously inconvenience the trip. Thanks!

– Chris