High Tea? Check.

Seating for one at Harrod’s Georgian Restaurant for tea, complete with finger sandwiches, scones, desserts and huge tea pot of green mint tea: 19.95 GBP.

Tip for service: 5.05 GBP.

Taking in the ambience while savouring the gooey, sticky sweet goodness: Priceless.

That’s right. I finally made it to Harrod’s in Knightsbridge. I went. I ate. I bought tea. I have a plastic shopping bag. I am a Harrod’s virgin no more.

(I was going to title this post, “Tea at Harrod’s, Bitches!” but considering there are probably friends and acquaintances who got there long before I did — and probably actually shopped there — they’d probably think I was an immature loser who just happened to do what thousands and thousands of people do all the … Oh, hell. Who am I kidding? I had tea at Harrod’s, bitches!)

I think I was there for about an hour and 20 minutes, but I didn’t care. It was great. I did manage to eventually peel myself off of the chair to look around. I barely got a look at the place in the short time I was there, but what I saw was surreal. The Egyptian Room. A chocolate bar. (No, not like the candy. An actual bar. With big churning vats of chocolate instead of hard liquor along the back counter.)

I didn’t want to get near anything, for fear I’d in some way damage it and have to pay for it. Costly pots … pans … hats … Fendi and Jimmy Choo bags … If I was a shopaholic with a penchant for expensive things, this place would be my Waterloo. It was certainly something else.

Earlier, I’d (finally!) gone to the Tate Modern, which I missed on my last trip to London. Of all the stuff I attempted to digest in the two hours I was there, I must say that this was my favourite (next to Picasso, of course). Don’t ask me why, but I remember spending more time looking at it than most. Oh yeah, this was pretty good, too.

This, however, annoyed the snot out of me. Don’t be fooled by the still picture. I wish I could find a video version of this to properly convey what I mean. Take my word, though – It was almost the audio-visual equivalent of being shot at with a pellet gun.

Of course, me merely mentioning it probably means the artist has achieved what he set out to do. But if you ever go to Tate Modern and stand in front of this thing, leave within two minutes. ‘Cause if you’re not afraid of clowns before you approach this work, I can see the possibility that you just might be when you leave it.

But on a slightly serious note, I can’t believe 10 days have come and gone already! Luckily there’s still more to come. If I’m not held up at the train station by long lineups and luggage searches, that is.

Torture and Jewels at the Tower of London

So after The Day Of Neverending Travel, I slept in and didn’t venture out until well after 2 p.m. My plan: to see the Tower of London.

I took the District Line down to Tower Hill. Unlike the other lines I’ve been on, it’s definitely an older one. The tube cars are old and clunky, and the term “Mind the Gap” definitely applies at each stop – it looked like there were about three to four inches (at least) between the cars and the platform. You could definitely jam a leg down there. Well, it looked that way to me, anyhow.

The Tower is definitely worth it. When you surface from the Underground, you can see a piece of the original wall that fenced in ancient London. And the actual Tower of London (a series of towers) is gigantic.

I can honestly say the best part of the Tower is the tour given by the guards there (called Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters). The one I got was quite lively and very funny. Definitely entertaining if you’re a kid. I think the tour lasts about a half-hour, and then they let you loose to see the other towers. We got a glance at where the prisoners for execution were brought in, heard a few of the stories of folks who were imprisoned, even where a couple of Henry VIII’s wives were (privately) executed. Fascinating stuff.

Most guide books will say you need to give yourself at least a couple hours. I think – if you want to be thorough – you need to give yourself several hours. Because I went so late, I didn’t get to see all of the towers. I spent the most time in the White Tower, but that was because there were so many people. There’s a lot of armour, and a lot of weaponry in there, so if that’s your thing, you would probably appreciate it. (I must say, if you go to the armoury area, check out the suit of armour for Henry VIII. He was pretty, ahem, generous with the codpiece.)

I then had to scoot over to see the Crown Jewels. This is a must. Yeah, the blinged-out crowns and sceptres are sparkly and impressive. But there’s this golden punch bowl … holy crap.

I wanted to get into the Bloody Tower, but only made it in to see the torture implements in the lower levels (nothing says “pain and suffering” like a device named The Scavenger’s Daughter), and then the place closed down.

I definitely would pay to see this again, if only to hit the rest of the towers and Tower Bridge which, even from a distance, is pretty impressive. Alas, another time, another trip.

Portobello … and uh-oh …

On Saturday, my friend’s fiance John and I went down to Portobello Market. It wasn’t too bad, if a bit crowded. I’ve been told it’s in one of the more expensive parts of town, being in Notting Hill. But we mainly stuck to the long stretch of road with vendors and antique shops.

Of course, with it being a location flooded by tourists on a regular basis, no doubt things were a bit pricey, depending on where you went. I didn’t really see anything that caught my fancy, save for a necklace I ended up purchasing (10 GBP – not the best price, but it was okay).

We then hightailed it out of there, and John took me to this historic old tavern, the Cheshire Cheese. Built after the Great Fire of 1666, it’s pretty much remained standing ever since. I had a pint of cider (not Strongbow, but actually quite nice). Unfortunately, most of the bar had been either closed off or reserved for private functions, so I really didn’t see a whole lot past the front drinking room, which was really small. Come to think of it, most of the bar (and the staircase down to the toilets) was pretty small. People must’ve been tiny back in the 17th century. Like Shetland Pony-tiny.

Later in the evening, I met up with my friend Shenaz (who lives in Canary Wharf) and her friend for a play over in the west end, at Hammersmith. It was a political play about the Iranian constitutional revolution of 1906. Interesting stuff.

After, we drove downtown to Covent Garden. I must say – from the back of a car, London at night looks awesome. I tried to take a couple pictures, but they didn’t turn out as well as I thought they would. We went to this place called Pizza Express (where they eat their pizza with a knife and fork – !!!) and chilled and joked around for a bit.

It was a great end to a good day … except for one thing.

Unlike the subway in Toronto, the London Underground – as great as it is – has this annoying habit of shutting down completely after about 12 a.m. So by the time we figured this out, Shenaz’s friend – who’s from East London – had to drive me all the way BACK to West London. And we had to stop a few times along the way to figure out which way we were going. I eventually got dropped off at about 2:15, 2:30 a.m. or so. I offered to pay for gas, but he refused.

I felt awful. I was also vowing to myself not to let that happen again. Famous last words.

Out of The Hole …

I haven’t had the chance to write for a couple days, and that’s mainly ’cause I’ve been a bit worn out by all the things I’ve been trying to cram in. I just got home not too long ago from Birmingham, so while I’m up, I’ll fill you in.

On Friday, my friend Mandy and I went to St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’d been there the last time I was in London, but never got to go above the ground floor due to renovation/restoration. But it certainly felt like I was going in again for the first time (especially when I found out I had to pay 9 GBP. I definitely do NOT remember that part). Being the Baroque style of architecture, the craftsmanship is phenomenal and elaborate. The artwork is unbelievable. The whole place is ridiculous, but in a good way. It just boggles my mind whenever I see stuff like that, to think human beings are capable of such massive works of architectural art. And that’s the old stuff.

A couple things I learned about myself (or at least admitted once again):

(a) I am an out-of-shape loser. There are 530 little, tiny steps going up into the upper areas of the cathedral, and I got winded after about the halfway point. Meanwhile my friend – the runner – didn’t even break a sweat. Note to self: Resume cardio when I return to Toronto.

(b) The older I get, the more uneasy I am of heights. I’m not scared, per se. Otherwise I never would’ve said, “Let’s go up to the top!” The sections outside the actual building were fine. However, when we got to the Whispering Gallery up in the Dome and I looked waay up to all the artwork above, my stomach and my brain both said, “Oh, hell, no!” in unison, and I held on to that metal bar with at least one hand (and clutching my stuffed MEC bag with the other). Of course, Mandy – being the fearless runner friend she is, ducked in between the railing. Show-off.

Climbing the spiralling metal staircase to get up to the Golden Gallery, the uneasiness continued. I didn’t dare look down, and I didn’t even attempt to look up. Just straight ahead – or at least at Mandy’s feet as she ascended the steps ahead of me.

Once I was outside at the top, I was pretty much fine. I snapped a couple of pictures, took in the skyline, which is quite the sight. But I felt the slight vertigo return on the way down. And I specifically remember getting back down to the ground floor of St. Paul’s and feeling a slight wobble in my legs. That can’t be a good sign.

We also spent part of the afternoon in the Museum of London. Nope, not the British Museum. There’s an actual museum dedicated to the history of London, from prehistoric times onward. I can’t speak for my friend, but St. Paul’s tuckered me out, so we never made it past Roman times. Luckily the Museum was free.

Then we met up with Mandy’s friend from work and we had dinner at or near Kew Gardens. It was a cute little pub called the Rose and Crown. Definitely good food, and the building – like most in London – had a history behind it.

More a bit later …

A Tale of Two Houses

So two out of three ain’t bad.

I wanted – more than anything – to visit the British Library (a.k.a. Wordgeeks’ Paradise), but I just stopped short of actually heading inside the premises before having to turn around and head down to Canary Wharf to meet a friend.

(That’s what you get when your friends give you a phone you can receive calls on, but can’t make because you have no phone minutes and your phone hasn’t been topped up. Problem later resolved, though.)

However, I did hit the Dickens House Museum over on Doughty Street (after getting lost on foot – surprised?) first. It’s an interesting, if slightly cheesy, place. First I caught a 30-minute video on Dickens’ life. (Well, most of it. This was the cheesy part. And I think I was caught nodding off by this 11-year-old blond girl sitting right next to me. I didn’t look right at her – who needs dirty looks from a tween, anyway?)

Then I took a bit of a self-guided, brochure-free (one pound fifty pence EXTRA for the freakin’ brochure!) tour. Not bad. Saw some objects that inspired his works. Did you know he and his family spent time in debtor’s prison ’cause of his dad? Totally sucks, if not character-building for his literary works. He also apparently had quite the gaggle of lady-friends throughout his life. I even got a photo of the last desk he worked on before his death in 1870 (which I’ll post later).

Compared to Dickens’ residence, Sir John Soane’s Museum may look like a typical nondescript historical home on the outside (it’s actually three adjoining houses), but the inside is another kettle of fish. I went in blind, not knowing who the guy was (one of Britain’s leading architects in the 19th century; responsible for designing the Bank of England), and was actually impressed.

Dude was eccentric. For serious. Mirrors. Tinted yellow glass in the roof. Crazy, beautifully designed domed skylights and ceilings. Artifacts up the yin-yang. Folding walls of paintings with stories. (Oh yes. Folding walls). And oh yeah – there’s a sarcophagus in the basement.

Of course, like most museums, I couldn’t photograph any of the wicked mirrors or skylights, so all I could really get is this lousy picture from outside (above). But that place seriously makes for good photography. If anyone finds a way to sneak a camera in and snap one of those convex mirrors, I’ll be your BFF. Well, maybe not – I’d just think you’re really cool for, like, a week.

Update: Responding to my comment about my friends’ loaner phone. I was being sarcastic and was explaining a brief moment of frustration, which quickly passed.In all seriousness, I am indebted to them for letting me stay with them during this trip and tricking me out with a phone and other things at my disposal while I’ve been here. It’s leaps and bounds more than most people travelling do get. I’m very lucky and I know it.

Take Two …


Much better today.

I actually got my carcass out of bed before noon, got to the right tube station this time, and hightailed it down to St. Martin-in-the-Fields church. Not bad – and surprisingly shorter than I thought it would be.

Also managed to have a muffin and tea down in the Crypt Cafe. My table was actually sitting on someone’s tombstone.

After that, I went to buy my ticket for the Houses of Parliament tour. To kill time until the tour started, I went to a place called The Jewel Tower. It’s a good primer on how British government essentially works, and a good history. It was also a rip-off, at 2.30 GBP. It should have been free.

I then snuck over to Westminster Abbey. Okay. Didn’t expect it to take THAT long. SO many crypts and memorial plaques. And people. (Don’t go if you don’t like large crowds.) But still, it was all right. Got to touch Geoffrey Chaucer’s tomb over at Poet’s Corner and see one of the smaller gardens in the back.

Finally, I went on a tour of the Houses of Parliament. Worth every pound, I think. The only thing that would’ve made it a bit better was if the House was sitting … but then again, we probably wouldn’t have seen as much as we had. And I always thought the actual House of Commons was bigger.

After a late lunch, took a long walk up Charing Cross Road … took in the sights, had my first Hare Krishna sighting, went through Soho (kinda, briefly), and up along Tottenham Court Road.

I pretty much tired myself out enough to catch a snooze on the tube back (and not miss my stop).

We’ll see what’s next.

South Ealing Christening (or, A Little Poo on the Shoe)

A bit of a slow start on Day 1 of my fabulous vacation.

I eventually did leave the house after about 3:00 in the afternoon. I tried, in my sleepy-but-fairly-rested haze, to remember my friend’s directions to the Northfields tube station. Two rights, then a left, then a left. No problem.

So imagine my surprise when I turned up in front of South Ealing station instead. A check of my guidebook showed I’d actually walked up to the next one up on the Piccadilly line. No worries.

Next step was trying to trying to figure out what kind of ticket I should buy. Which meant getting change.

As I paced back and forth, I was trying to figure out (a) where I needed to go, and (b) who I should ask for change, and (c) who I should ask about tickets. I wasn’t sure what to do next. And the station kinda smelled like ass. I wasn’t sure why, so I tried to ignore it, since I figured I wasn’t going to be there very long.

As I was standing over at the map for the upteenth time, I noticed the floor was kinda slippery, ‘specially under my left foot. I couldn’t figure out why … until I looked down.

Crap. Literally.

Someone’s dog had shat a bunch of fresh, reddish brown ones on the place where I’d been standing, and I managed to grind the mushy mess into the treads of my left loafer. Classy. I hobbled outside, sidestepped more poop to find some newsprint, something to wipe the mess off. It helped a tiny bit, but not that much.

So, trying to do my best impression of the British stiff upper lip, I ignored the dung, broke a twenty at the guys who (I guess) handle cab service, got some help from a really nice guy at the wicket, and managed to catch the tube to Leicester Square (sitting, with my right leg firmly crossed over my left the whole time).

I managed to get to the National Portrait Gallery (where I later washed my hands and tried to diminish the poop on my shoe before washing my hands again). Not bad, but I think I spent too much time trying to take in all the pictures from the Tudor and Elizabethan eras. Meh.

I couldn’t really see much else, since everything pretty much closes between 5:30 and 6 p.m., so I took a stroll down to Trafalgar Square and snapped a couple pictures of the fountain and the monstrous Nelson’s Column.

I walked past the Old Scotland Yard, went through Victoria Embankment Garden, and then decided to go home. (Which was interesting in itself, since I managed to get on the wrong line and changed trains probably 3 times before I got back to my friend’s place. I honestly don’t remember getting lost on the tube once when I was here the last time.)

I did manage to have a nice dinner at an Indian restaurant with my friend, with free Tia Maria shots to boot.

It ended well. But there’s always tomorrow.