Sherry and Melle’s Jolly Olde London Adventure, September 19-27th, 2013

The photo collection.

Parliament and Big Ben, London

September 19-20th

Photo set

We departed without incident, though looked like the weekend’s wet weather arrived while we were at the airport. Didn’t have a problem leaving that behind, though was certainly hoping we didn’t take it with us. Oh, and some guy wearing a plastic Captain American mask hollered hello to us on the 401. It was actually kinda funny.

For some reason, we were marked down for special meals on the plane, and so received fruit plates for both meals. Thank goodness we’d had cheeseburgers at the airport and weren’t overly hungry. We looked over the list of potential special interest groups and decided we were Hindu.

The movie pickins’ were slim, which made me sad. Flying time is when I love catching up on bad movies, particularly since I never sleep much, even on overnight flights. I watched Silver Linings Playbook (alright, but really cut down from the book and not as good) and most of Jack Reacher (hilariously awful).

We arrived at Heathrow with about a million other flights, so got to wait in the security line for quite a while. Ahh well, not that big a deal when you’ve been sitting for 6 hours.

Tubed it to King’s Cross/St. Pancras station and walked to the hotel, which wasn’t terribly far. (I learned after we got home that there was a faster express train, but it was pretty early, and we had nowhere to be) Hotel was next door to St. Pancras church. Check in time wasn’t til 3, so we stored our big packs and off we went. Ended up walking our asses off.

Realized over the course of the week that King’s Cross/St. Pancras station had been where the trains involved in the London Bombings had left from, hence the grand opening of upgrades and such while we were there. There was also a plaque up the street from our hotel, which was where the Tavistock Square bus bombing happened. Yikes.

With vague intentions, we headed to Westminster and crossed one of the bridges over the Thames and did a bit of meandering along Southbank. We declined to wait in the huge line to ride the London Eye, not to mention the facts that it doesn’t actually stop moving (even to get on/off) and it’s glass to below knee height would have killed Sherry. We decided that if we were ever back in the neighbourhood with time to kill and the line was shorter, I’d give it a go and take lots of pictures, but didn’t end up getting around to it.

Saw Big Ben and Parliament (hehe). Briefly lost Sherry when I went to say hello to Churchill, and had very nice bobbies asking if I was lost, etc. Found Sherry out front of Westminster Abbey, then headed in. “Met” many famous dead people and accidentally stepped on Charles Darwin. Tragic that we couldn’t take pictures in there. So much glorious history and age.

After that we were pretty tired and foot sore (and had been awake somewhere near 36 hours), so we headed back toward the hotel. We walked instead of tubing it, which was a bit dumb, since it ended up being almost an hour’s walk. However, turned out well, since we found Mom’s requested souvenir mug (Wils, Kate, and Georgie to go with her Chuck and Di plate) at a gift shop, and a solar-powered corgi bobblehead for Ed. Which was, of course, magnificent.

After retrieving our bags and checking in, getting our shoes off and napping was lovely. The beds were a bit firmer than we’re used to, but with the workouts we gave ourselves, that was probably a good thing for the hips and back.

Turned out the pub I’d earmarked for dinner (we generally do some Yelp and Trip Advisor perusals, which serve us well) was more of a neighbourhood hangout than dinner place, so we went back to a tiny Indian place we’d passed, which was quite tasty. I was introduced to the English tradition of pints after work, with people just spilling all over the sidewalk with their beers. (Standing around almost on the road, not literally spilling.) It amused me to think of Canadians doing that in February. 🙂

After a big meal of Indian food and and some booze, we were pretty much done. Settled in after that and went to bed around 10:30. Didn’t sleep real well – unfamiliar bed, down pillows, off schedule – but crossed fingers for improvement.

Old Operating Theatre Museum lobby sculpture

September 21st

Photo set

Vastly superior to breakfast in Amsterdam – breakfast is included, and is actually at the hotel (restaurant). Fairly good, too (combined buffet and hot breakfast). And not 25 Euros each. 🙂 (Though declined the black pudding and fried mushrooms and tomato…)

First we headed to Lincoln’s Inn and wandered around the Fields a bit and got coffee until the John Soane Museum opened. That place was a bit nuts. The stuff! Basically an entire house full of things stolen from Rome, Egypt, Peru – you name it.

Well, technically it was three houses, eventually. How one manages to hang a large chunk of Roman temple off a wall and keep it there for a century I’ve no idea. Hell, how they even got some of that stuff into the house I have no idea. Though I enjoyed how the limestone Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement was on its own rolling cart.

We then headed back down toward Westminster, and largely accidentally saw the changing of the horse guards (such gorgeous horses), walked through St. James Park, then saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It was a zoo down there, which I’d been told it would be.

After that, we headed back to the river and crossed, then started heading east. Stopped for lunch in Lambeth at a pub called The White Hart and had fish ‘n’ chips and my first proper pint (“real ale”, aka cask-conditioned) – Holden’s No. 4.

After that we headed even more east, and finally found the Old Operating Theatre Museum. Had to kill about 45 minutes as it was full up during a lecture when we got there. We went across the street to the Borough Market, which was another cool accidental find, and also a zoo. Loved the fishmonger displays particularly, though.

Operating Theatre was cool, very macabre, and had an amazing sculpture in the lobby of a skull made up of archaic surgical equipment and the like. The garret also smelled like an Earthwinds thanks to all the herbs and things. It was over what was a church and specialized in treating women and children. (The operating tables were very small. Meep.) Not only did they have a box of sawdust under the table to catch blood, between the floor and the ceiling of the church below was packed with sawdust as well to prevent blood leaking through and dripping on the heads of parishioners. Yikes.

Took the Tube back to the hotel after, since it would have been quite a hike again. I certainly wouldn’t have trouble getting around London without a car. After nap and down time we decided on Great Queen Street gastropub for dinner, which was delicious, and we didn’t end up having to sit at the bar.

Sherry greatly coveted their game pie, which comes with a chunk of bone marrow roasted in the middle, and has to be a couple of pounds of food in the filling. Oy. Instead she had a somewhat amusing partridge that I named Bartlett. I had Hampshire pork Piedmontese and another local ale, Spriggan by Skinners. Dessert was orange thyme sorbet for Sherry and poached pear, chocolate sorbet, and quince pain d’epice for me. Delish.

Tomorrow, Brick Lane Market and The Tower!

Armour detail, White Tower

September 22nd

Photo set

Headed east again this morning to the infamous Whitechapel-ish area (it’s changed rather a lot). After a bit of navigational overshoot, we hunted down Brick Lane Market, which was largely a disappointment. I can see how it might be cool if you’re not used to markets, but mostly it was like the flea market area of St. Jacobs, but a bit sketchier. There was one cool stall that had old military uniforms and such. Rather Captain Jack. 🙂 And the neighbourhood would certainly be great for an authentic curry and such.

After that we headed south on the tube to Tower Hill, and embarked on The Tower, which is a serious chunk of real estate and takes a good chunk of the day. (Once again we clucked our tongues at the myriad Unsuitable Footwear on so many women.)

We toured around for a good three hours, and saw pretty much everything but the Crown Jewels, since you can see them online, they herd you through, and the line up was ridiculous. Really fascinating to see all the eras of history in how it’s built up. Also: ravens!

After that we headed back to the hotel for nap time, then ended up at a Thai place in Soho called Patara for dinner. Excellent food, though a bit far afield for Sherry’s taste, especially overshooting and taking longer to get back (once again, tubing it would have made sense). However, she got her Big Fat Quiz of the 80s show, so all was well.

Tomorrow, mixed bag day!

221B Baker Street

September 23rd

Photo set

Apparently gremlins show up at the end of a weekend. Weird, annoying noises overnight in the hotel, more cold spells in the room than before, housekeeping moved stuff around and did something weird to the shower, which made it leak and killed the water pressure, and what sounded like a fire alarm briefly this morning. Whee!

However, managed to tally ho, and headed southwest to Baker Street. (Mine! It’s all mine!) First stop was a rock shop called It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll. (They had a Beatles shop down the street, too.) We picked up t-shirts, though choosing was hard. Guns ‘n’ Roses for me, Queen and Zeppelin for Sherry. Alas, no belt buckles for Andrew.

Then we crossed the street to 221B. Didn’t bother to go through the museum – he’s not real, how can you have a museum? Loved the shop, though. So fabulously kitschy. I bought a Sherlock rubber duck and a Baker Street plaque. (The rubber ducks would become a bit of a theme…)

Then back on the tube and headed to St. Paul’s, which is so big that it’s amusing we managed to miss it and briefly go the wrong way. 🙂 It’s imposing and lovely and the church yard would be a great place to lunch. I wasn’t terribly interested in paying £16 to tour yet another big, old church, though, so we didn’t.

We wandered up the road and found what’s left of St. Mary-le-Bow church, which was largely destroyed in the Blitz. Apparently back in the day you could only call yourself a Cockney if you lived within hearing distance of its bells.

Then since we had nothing to do and could go anywhere, and decided to find pizza, and the best rated place was called Homeslice, in Covent Garden. A bit tricky to find, but in a cute little alley/neighbourhood called Neal’s Yard. We split a Caprese, and I had a local lager from Camden Town Brewery. The pizza was 20 inches across. The table was 24 inches. It was comical, though delicious.

After that we stumbled on French place we’d considered for dinner, and I got coffee and Monmouth, since I was told it’s the best. (Good, but not better than DVLB.)
Then we walked back to the hotel, and Sherry napped until her work con call at 4. I hunted down the highly rated Euston Tap for a fine pint.

Ok, two pints. 🙂 Literally a gatehouse turned into a pub. (The gatehouse on the other side is a cider bar.) Maybe 20 feet square, with the taps along the back wall and the bar taking up a good part of the space. Bars along two walls with a few stools, and a narrow spiral staircase in the corner going upstairs to more sweating for maybe 20. Most people jusdt took their pints outside. Had two – had to, since the minimum charge on a card was £5 – which were quite good, both from Bristol Beer Factory. And low alcohol meant I was fine walking the 600 feet back to the hotel.

We chilled for a while and mused about dinner, and decided on the French place – Mon Plaisir (London’s oldest French restaurant, who knew?) Meal was delicious, though we managed to get by with just one bottle of wine and not the millions the table behind us drank. Walked back to the hotel, which helped with not feeling overly full after the wonderful steak I had.

Tomorrow, the British Museum!

Assyrian wall sculpture

September 24th

Photo set

Today, the pilgrimage! Headed to the Museum a bit before 10, and passed someone I knew from Waterloo on the way. (Apparently he’s living in London for a year.)

Our first stop was the Pompeii/Herculaneum exhibit, which we bought tickets for months ago, and which ended the weekend we left. We were allowed to queue up about ten minutes early, then headed in. Plenty of people showed up who were late for their time slots – 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour… The docent told us that one woman arrived and got quite shirty at not being allowed in immediately… and refused to believe until they made her look at her tickets that she was off by a week.

The exhibit was excellent, though they certainly didn’t pull any punches by starting it off with this. (Later in the exhibit they show the dog mosaic, which apparently is from the same house.)

The point was to really shed light on everyday life, which it did, at all social strata. The fresco sizes and colours were still amazing in many cases, and the fact that recognizable foods (carbonized) remained was incredible. (Including bread with the baker’s stamp still visible.)

The fact that the household toilet was in the kitchen was a bit disturbing, though I guess it was a couple of millennia before germ theory. Toilets were used as a “dispose-all”, from kitchen waste to human waste.

The attempted subtlety of some of the inscriptions was hilarious, particularly on the pornographic stuff. (Seriously, when a satyr is buggering a goat, it’s not “lovemaking”.) All in all, the exhibit was the perfect intro to an amazing place.

We wore out our feet on the rest of the Museum. Much Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Assyrian, and everyone ever after, too. Big fan of Assyrian art. Could have lived without the hordes of school kids, but as Sherry noted, seriously cool to be able to learn about these things at school, then go see it. Chunks of the Parthenon, Lindow Man, Roman perfume bottles – you name it. And hey, the gift shop provided me with the finest new ducks of my collection. 🙂

After that we headed back to the hotel to put our feet up. Mine were in rough shape that day.
Dinner was at a Turkish place, Tas, that Sherry selected, and yet another excellent meal. I managed to replace my sunglasses, too, which got smashed from riding around in my backpack.

The sunglasses will be important, because tomorrow is… Tour Day!

Tom Tower, Christchurch College, Oxford

September 25th

Photo set

The day began early and foggy, and initially seemed like we’d be spending the day changing buses. Coach to Victoria, wait in the terminal, get on our coach, get off our coach, get on another, non-bilingual coach… And finally headed out. Bus was full, too, which surprised us a bit, since we were past high season for tourists, or so we thought.

Nice drive out of London into the country, and some solid napping for both of us. First stop was Warwick Castle, which is cool, and done up for commerce something serious. Definitely family-oriented.

Main areas were typical historical stuff – armour, 18th century furnishings, oil paintings, etc. – though there’s an upstairs “Secrets & Scandals” section where they delve into the backstairs and under-the-covers lives of the family. Particularly the scandalous Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, who sounded like quite the character. Lavish parties, many affairs, illegitimate children, embracing socialism, as long as it doesn’t touch her and her furs…

Then we headed down the road to Stratford upon Avon, which has Shakespeare’s family home and is a bit like St. Jacobs on steroids. We did our tour of the house, then headed out to find lunch, which ended up being a bit of a rush. However, managed to find Mom’s requested candy and another friggin’ duck. Making the main thoroughfare pedestrian-only seems like a genius idea. Keep the tourists in one place and maximize their shopping potential.

Headed out again at 2:30 for Oxford, and again some fine napping on the way. We were a bit rushed by the time we got there, since our guide wanted us to see the great (dining) hall and courtyard around the Bodleian Library and it was getting late in the day. Oxford is just gorgeous, and it’s easy to see how it inspired Harry Potter sets. And, y’know, centuries of great minds.

As Sherry noted, we could have just taken the train up to Oxford ourselves and gone for a wander, which is true. Picked up aspirational t-shirts for the girls, and then it was time to head back to the bus and back to London. And yes, more napping. Honestly, why can’t I pass out like that on planes?

Took the tube back to Russell Square station, then had a pub dinner (probably the best fish ‘n’ chips of the trip, and a Flying Scotsman ale from Caledonian Brewery) and eavesdropped on some Australian boys, one of whom really wanted to get a tattoo. It was amusing to hear Killing in the Name on the stereo at a pub in London. Really tiring but decent day, and the weather continued to be gorgeous.

Dinosaur, Natural History Museum

September 26-27th

Photo set

Final big day in the city, and was grateful for the more “restful” day before for the sake of my feet, cuz it was back to walking.

Took the tube to Earl’s Court station for a wee pilgrimage. The mystery of the large number of nerds on the tube and outside was solved when we saw the sign for the Euro Gamer Expo across the road. And then we went around the corner and found the TARDIS that’s on Google Maps. Huzzah! Could not get inside to determine how much bigger it really is.

After a few nerdy photos we headed off down Cromwell Road and hit the Natural History Museum. It’s pretty cool, especially starting with the dinosaurs. There was many a child losing its shit in that section. The building in general is stunning, too.

After much walking we covered many eras and animals (particularly aged and much faded taxidermy specimens), then headed back down the road for a burger lunch. And then back up the road again to the V&A. Another wander through many eras and materials, and we were done. Sore of feet and full of eye. I think it was good that that was our last day, as I was pretty much museum’d out by then. (And yes, I know we didn’t see the Tate and a bunch of other things.)

We picked up the tube at South Kensington and returned to the hotel for some antiques show goodness and quiz shows. Dinner was tasty Indian served by annoying people, at an intersection that had like four Indian restaurants, most of them vegetarian. And no, WE DO NOT WANT ANY PAPADAMS. 🙂 (And after half an hour I finally realized that the ladies next to us were speaking English. They were just REALLY Scottish.)

One more evening of fine British TV, and then it is time to head home. Fortunately, fitting everything into the backpack wouldn’t turn out to be an issue this time.

Flight back was uneventful, and we even got in a tad early… which turned out not to matter since we landed in Toronto at about 5:30pm on a Friday. Customs wasn’t bad, but the wait for baggage and for the car was pretty nuts. Finally, though, we were home… and then of course wide awake at 4am thanks to the time zone change. 🙂

All in all, a most excellent trip, and a fine introduction to a most excellent city.

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