Sunday, May 31, 2015

Day 4: A Rainy Day

It was a cloudy day in London Town. I had a nice breakfast of bacon & eggs, I must remind myself to always eat the masher first, if it's allowed to get cold it just tastes like congealed fat. I asked for a cappuccino thinking I'd get a dinky little cup and it was a huge cup with a pretty chocolate design.

I sat in the back with my back to the wall so I could watch everyone walk in, it's the most secure way to make sure no one snatches anything from you or sneaks up on you.

From breakfast to catching the trains, it all seemed good. I found the right train and managed to get out the right station. Then the directions stop. All I had to go on was to walk to Shakespeare's Globe theater. But apart from one sign with an arrow telling me which exit to take to go to the Globe, there were no other direction.

So I asked a couple of construction workers, I don't care, I'm just asking directions. He pointed out a street and told me to look for St Paul's Cathedral. No problem, it's Sunday and the bells were peeling! I followed the sound.

The little drizzle was now beginning to spit hard. I headed into a little alley with my back to the wall so it was only a turn of my head to see if anyone was coming. I needed to check google maps, but it was being difficult and it couldn't find the Globe either. Then I realized that I was the one standing in an alley!

I had come out and saw a woman on the sidewalk about to pass me. 

Me: "Excuse me."
The woman stopped, turned and looked at me.
Me: "Do you know where the Globe Theater is at?"
She looked at me and shot back immediately "No I don't." And quickly walked off. I was walking in that direction so, I continued. She started running away from me!

I was a bit shocked, I wasn't doing anything threatening, I didn't touch her nor ask for money but she felt threatened by me. Oh well, it takes all kinds.

I stopped again and checked the maps and found that I had gone the wrong way. So I doubled back and as I was walking I smelled something divine, fresh baked goods. So I stopped and picked out a maple turnover and a big pretzel with melted cheese. But the cashier had never heard of The Globe!

I found the Millennial Bridge and spotted the Globe, looks just like how I imagined it. I would have been in greater awe if it were not a replica from 1994. Oh well, it's better than nothing.

Then since it was still raining and didn't look like it would stop and my tour took longer than I expected. I never made the changing of the guards. Instead I went to Harrods.

Beautiful building, but I wasn't impressed, I'm from Chicago, we had Marshall Fields, it's about the same and I just don't have the fascination with department stores that other people have. I thought, I'll have lunch at Harrods. But all I saw was the Cap'cino or some posh way of spelling cappuccino and they were serving Italian. I thought, you'll be in Italy in two weeks, don't spend your money now!

I ending up on the other side of the building, I thought Harrods had a food section. I competent forgot about Princess Diana's engagement ring. Oh well, rings aren't my thing.

But google maps said that the Royal Albert Hall was just walking distance away. It was a distance alright! By the time I reached Exhibition Road and turned, the crush of a Sunday crowd was quickly dissipated by the driving rain. But I kept working because I had not other reason not too. 

My glasses were useless, foggy up and drenched with rain. But I was stubborn, after already walking some time, how could I allow myself to miss a few more steps to reach my destination?

 The rain picked up and things got wet fast and cold. When I got to Albert hall, I was like a drowned cat hoisted by her neck.  I was so happy to finally find the bathrooms were like a single room and I tried my best to clean myself up a bit. The big mirror showed a crazy disheveled mess. No wonder the lady ran away from me!

The tour was too long for me to partake, but behind the cafe were seats up against the wall and I noticed there was free wifi. So I sat and checked my emails, while I ate my pasteries, dried out and enjoy a sweep respite of texting.

Next I went to Wimbledon, the hallowed grounds of champions. If you are a tennis fan, you must visit and take the tour. Our guide was Nick a very proper British gentleman, complete with Mac and tie. He also swung around his neck a Wimbledon umbrella.

He took us to court 1 and center court, as to be expected. But he also took us into the media center and into the players press room and various other locations that the general public would not have to chance to see. 

Afterwards, it was time to return & pack my bags for my early morning flight. But not before I stopped at an English pub and ordered my fish n chips, which I love anyways.

No one told me I was supposed to walk up to the bartender and place my order and pay. Then they bring your food out, you eat and leave. It was a bit odd for me. But I think the bartender was a bit surprised how fast I ate. I've got to learn to eat slower. Do you see how big the fish is? I placed my glasses as perspective. I ate it all because it was good!

The other day, lunching with my cousin was a 2hour lunch, they linger and talk. Oh well, I am a solo traveler.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Day 3: Lost in London

So I started my day waking up very late. I don't know why I set my alarm to go off after 10hrs of sleep. Maybe it was a Freudian slip. I ran out as fast as I could.

I thought after having done the Tube thing yesterday, I got a little cocky. I blithely ran down the platform to hop on the district line only to end up in the wrong direction and I should have been on the circle line.

So I had to double back and get on the right train. When I finished my tour of The Tower of London and Tower Bridge tour, I walked back to the tube and promptly got on the wrong train again.

I got off at the next stop, crossed the platform and went the other way. All that trouble just to see 221B Baker Street. Yes. It's an actual address but I didn't stand in line because after all, it's not like it's Sherlock's stuff. He was just a character in a book. A most imminent character nonetheless.

Then almost next door is the London Beatles Store. She loves you yeah yeah!

Then I turned around and head back to the Tube. When I did get on the right train to get me to the right station, an announcement told us that no westbound trains would stop at the station due to maintenance. So I walked from Covent Garden to Leicester station so I could catch the train and head back.

London doesn't put their street signs on posts, they put them on the walls of the buildings on the corner!

So Google was saying one thing, my eyes said another and it resulted in me actually being lost. I had no sense of north or south. I'm used to a grid system of city as most of the U.S. is planned. This whole ring thing gets me confused. 

So when in doubt, I just kept walking and when I suddenly saw the Hippodrome Casino, it was like a miracle to me! I actually recognized something!

Apart from the lost thing, I lingered at Westminster Abbey, shocked and surprised to look down and see Charles Darwin's name indicating he was buried there. Everyone who goes inside gets an audio tour aid and it was grand. 

Every hour on the hour, there is a moment of prayer where they specifically ask you to stop and give over to a moment of silence. I did and I wanted to trip the people who kept walking and talking. 

I enjoyed the Poet's corner and seeing Chaucer, W.H. Auden, George Eliot had her real name on her stone, immortalized was amazing. I got such a chill when I stood upon Robert Browning's stone. It was different from the others, it had a border or light colored stone and his name was in a square of a reddish marble. I only got the chills when I stood on his name and no other.

One of my favorite poems ever, was written by Robert Browning so in deep respect for his memory and maybe just to show that he has not been forgotten. I recited the poem and the chill went away.

All that is lost is not often forgotten.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Day 2 London Walking

Once you get used to the Tube, its very easy. I thought it was crowded before, today traveling in the tube around 5-6pm, rush hour on a Friday was not as bad as I thought. 

But I noticed more of the train announcements and all I have ringing in my head is "Please Mind the Gap". I looked down and it's like a full foot gap between the platform and the train's edge!

Today I ordered a breakfast baguette. Didn't realize that the little piece of fried potato that tasted like deep fried mash potatoes may just have been the mash to the bangers(sausage) that I had. So that's the traditional breakfast right?

We rode around the tube and if the running up and down the stairs doesn't kill me, the vertigo riding up the escalators will. 

Found Picadilly Circus, it didn't look like one. It was very crowded, but I saw no elephants or clowns, except me clowning around.

We ate at China town-of course, we are Asians. I'm sadly unimpressed with "Chinatowns" in cities not in China. Although there was a the random Peking duck hanging on a window.

Then we asked a woman in the tube who was there to explain things to people how we were to get to Buckingham Palace. She told us to go back up to Regent street and walk towards St James Park and walk up The Mall until we end up at the palace.

The flag was bravely waving in the breeze indicating her Majesty the Queen was there. The guards with the big hats were not there. But we did see some guard going through his paces.

The tourists are all standing in front of the big black gates and a few little girls ran up shrieking "maybe we'll see the Queen!". Their tiny voices full of joy. When it was time to leave, they all began to scream "bye Queen, bye bye Queen!" It was so cute.

We took the tube out to Westminster where as I walked up from the tube you can see from the bottom of the stairs the iconic Parliament building. 

Then as we walked toward Westminster Bridge, where everyone congregated at one corner, I realized we were literally in the shadow of Big Ben! It is an impressive sight! I think of all the movies and TV shows that showed it, when you see any icon of London, it's Big Ben and deservedly so. There is something just magnificent about that clock that I wanted to take pictures of every side!

I learned that it costs 50pence to pee in a public restroom. There's a guy who makes sure you pay it too! It was also a chain flush! 

When it rains in London, it  will rain in buckets then it stops, like someone turned off the spigot.

To do one load of wash took £6 and £3 to dry it at a self laundry place. £9 is equal to $13-14.

I can't afford London.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Day 1 London

Chicago to London was the shortest international flight I've ever taken. I'm used to the crazy 16-24hrs of flying into Asia.

But as much as the U.S. is moving to apps & no paper, Europe still has trees and they wanted to see one from me, which left me in an uncomfortable position of trying to get an email out to the customs agent to prove that I wasn't trying to stay for employment reasons. Any other reason would just be nuts.

Don't ever exchange currency at the airport, wait until you get to your hotel, settle in and find an inside ATM in the bank and withdraw, it's the cheapest way.

You can still hop on the London Underground by picking up an Oyster card at the train station using your credit card, assuming you have no foreign transaction fees.

The underground was really easy for me, clear station signs but make sure you know how to get to your hotel/hostel before you get on. Only the Piccadilly line goes to Heathrow. And yes the line's final station is Cockfosters. But the train announcer made it sound very respectable. Some train stations have multiple levels of platforms and some of the escalators are so steep, you can get vertigo.

I crossed the street a few times and only almost got hit just twice. Don't be cool and try to jaywalk, I can see it end badly. Especially when at the crosswalk the Brits kindly painted in BOLD white lettering, which way to look. I'm sorry for those who don't use the same alphabet nor read English.

To an American, coins are a mystery, I just hold out my handful of hands and show them to the cashier. 

When Brits say you're on the second floor, it usually means 4 flights of stairs and oddly enough the stairs are very steep. This is just from the 2nd floor!

I did get mistaken for a shop girl at Sainsbury market, an older gentlemen just walked up to me as I was reaching for a banana.

"How are the bananas today?"
"I'll find out soon enough."
"Good eh? Well pick me out two big ones, I need one for today and tomorrow."

So I got him bananas, he thanked me graciously and I felt I had done some civil service.

I had a few questions, on the tube you have to scan your card to get into the station platforms to get on your train and then when you exit you have to scan it again. I'm assuming I'm not getting charged twice yes?

Also, I noticed several smartly dressed women wearing the most lovely but ginormous wide brimmed hat that covers most of their face. I'm assuming the celebrities of England don't go by tube hiding in plain sight, so is it just a fashion trend or are they hiding from the ubiquitous CCTV?

I've been awake now for over 24hrs and I guess there's a part of me that still can't sleep because any moment now, I might run into Doctor Who. Although when I took this photo just outside Earls Court Station, I did get a pretty young blonde come up and ask for some money. I should have looked for Bad Wolf posters, was that you Rose?

The underground does not run 24/7 unlike the U.S. So my 640a flight will require me to spend £40(~U$D 75) for a taxi to Heathrow, which sadly is why I can only stay in London 4 days.

There's a large Filipino presence, but the food sadly, wasn't the same. I left quite a bit on the table. Perhaps it was my jet lag.

My eyes are crossing and the styrofoam mattress is calling my name. Good night.