Wednesday, August 17, 2011

When in London...Don't forget to look up AND down.

Brad and I just recently returned from London.  I have since become obsessed with it, and have been watching BBC on a loop just to keep my English accent fresh.  I also subscribed to HELLO! magazine.  Not only did I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the city, but the people were the icing on the cake.  In a fairly short time, I was able to do quite a bit of sightseeing, and enjoy about 50 different pubs and ales while I was there.

English people have a very dry sense of humor, which I completely enjoy, and their outlook is very sunny for a country that sees its fair share of rain.

So the first day, I went to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen.  Old bird was on Holiday at Balmoral, so I was gravely disappointed.  I was fully expecting tea and crumpets with the Queen to be included with my ticket.  They politely explained to me that the Duke of Edinburgh, her husband, wasn't busy, because he NEVER is, but I declined, because he always looks like he is coming off of a long illness.

ANYWAY, I got to see "THE DRESS"!!!  It was amazing!  They had a whole video of how they hand- pieced together the lace with like a hundred different lace patterns and each piece represented the different Burroughs of London.  Kate "Mi-UL-ton" was apparently meticulous about the dress having a sense of meaning and history.

The tiara and her earrings were also on display and it was explained that her family got a new crest and the earrings actually have maple leaves and the inside dangling piece is an acorn, which are elements of their "new" crest.  I couldn't help but wonder if they just GOT their crest, or if they CHANGED their crest, or what in the hell was going on.  I also remembered that my Mom came back from her trip to England with a crest and she had pint glasses commemorating this event in her "pub" downstairs, so I am guessing they used to be a WAY bigger deal that they used to be.  Something that needs to be researched, FO SHO.  Just not today, because I have too much laundry.

Backing up, when Brad and I arrived in London, it was 10 o'clock at night, but felt like 5 o'clock to us - which everyone who knows me knows - is HAPPY HOUR.  So we went to the bar in our hotel, and it was the only one open, because bars tend to close rather early in London, for such a large city, and I started chatting up a young Czech girl who looked a little older that she actually was, and we were comparing different parts of the world that we have visited or would like to visit.  Just to be clear, EVERYONE I talked to in London says that if they travelled to America, they would want to go to California.  "New York is too cold.  I've got my fill of THAT!" they all would say in one version or another, but all I kept thinking about was the culture clash that would occur between the Brits and the Californians.

Case in point, I just couldn't get used to the fact that if you were crossing the street you had to look the opposite way for oncoming traffic that you are used to in the States because "in England, they drive on the WRONG side of the street" as my Dad likes to say.  No less than three times a day, did I nearly get run over by a cab or a double decker tour bus.  On the street, at crosswalks, they have painted in large letters "LOOK LEFT" and "LOOK RIGHT" depending on which direction you are crossing from.  It was very confusing to me because the "LOOK LEFT" painted sign would be in the middle of the intersection, and I would focus on that, and the "LOOK RIGHT" would be right at my feet.  I began taking social cues from the people that were crossing from the opposite side, when a Mother actually covered her child's eyes and gasped in horror as a bus whizzed by me and nearly took my life.  My point to all of this is that I was so grateful that I was not in America, specifically California, because I would not have been able to read the facial expressions on most women in large cities in America, because they have had so much botox and fillers that even if their inner feelings were that of the anticipation of a horrible pedestrian/automobile accident, I would only see the surprised look of that of "The Joker" character played by Jack Nicholson in the first Batman movie.

Another culture shock moment would be the food that is available in California.  It is all organic and healthy and leaves you wondering what you are going to have for your next meal when you are paying your check.  I had the pleasure of consuming a "proper English Breakfast" which consisted of two eggs, a mound of bacon, three HUGE pieces of sausage, two McDonald's-like patties of hash browns, half a grilled tomato, and pinto beans.  Atkins must be their diet of choice in England.  I loved it, though, and it sustained me throughout the day.

So...ANYWAY, back to the Czech girl.  We are bullshitting while the two large Russian men she was with were out "smoking their fags" (hopefully you figured out fags are cigs) on the sidewalk.  The Olympics came up and somehow Brazil, and she asked me if I had ever been there, and I told her I had always wanted to go, and she said, "OOOOOHHHH, you do NOT want to go to Brazil, they kidnap you and cut your insides open and sell your organs off to the highest bidder!"  I retaliated with, "But I hear they have great zip lines," and then her disgusting older Russian escorts came in from outside and grabbed her by the arm and manhandled her back to their table and I had the realization that she was a "hooker".  I mean, it takes me a while, but eventually I wake up and smell the coffee.

Let's be real, your average tourist in Brazil does not worry about their organs appearing on the free market, but that MAY be an occupational hazard for an international prostitute.  Instantly, I made a mental note to tell my girls when I got home.  Reason Number Two for not being an international prostitute:  your organs will be sold off for money in Brazil.  Reason Number One, of course, is no health insurance.

Which brings me to...the Jack the Ripper Tour that Brad made me take (Ha!  He was miserable all day and just wanted to "enjoy a pint in a pub.")  Brad dragged me to the Tower of London (where I kept wishing I had paid more attention in History class) and then got me buzzed at a pub in the financial district where everyone was dressed in suits from work and we stuck out like two American buffoons in our t-shirts, jeans, and running shoes, which was bugging me so much that I wanted to run inside a store and buy a full outfit for myself, but then I quickly forgot all about my shame we met our guide outside The Tube (which is their subway) for he looked like he had just stepped out of a Dickens' novel.  Tube below.  Sooo fun.

So the Tour consisted of walking around  "Lunden" as we enjoyed each gruesome detail of each attack Jack the Ripper made on each of his victims in the location in which they took place. All of the identity theories were laid out before the crowd in the dark of night, as the exact identity of Jack has never been discovered.  It was a magical night for me.  Forget romance and bloody candlelight, give me gore and conspiracy, ye crazy Yanks!

One of my many revelations I had while traveling in Lunden is that I love a good legend.  I love the story about Anne Boleyn, requesting a double edged sword as opposed to the traditional axe for her beheading at the Tower of Lunden.  As she stood "on the chopping block" so to speak, she delivered a rather long and famous speech which ended in, "And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me.  O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul."
After being blindfolded and kneeling at the block, she repeated several times: "To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul."

According to the Beefeater, which are the Tour guides at the Tower and are in special service to the Queen, the sword was so swift during her beheading that "her mouth and eyes continued to move for another 18 seconds after her head was detached from her body." And in true English dry wit and fashion, the Beefeater concluded that "it has always been a curiosity of mine to know WHO was in charge of counting during the event."  BRILLIANT.  LOVE IT! 

Our final day was spent at the Notting Hill Flea Market.  It is called the Portobello Road Market and it is held on Saturdays.  They had the COOLEST stuff and the setting is perfect, as it is obviously one of the wealthiest parts of the city, and I kept thinking of what my Dad said about it, when my Mom dragged him there are few years ago.  "Wudn't much to see to me, but your Mother seemed to like the fact that it was in that movie... You would like it, though, considering you have always had champagne tastes on a beer budget."

Just a little anecdote, that I keep thinking about when I revisit that day in Nottinghill.  To set the stage, the ENTIRE residential and commercial street (one on one side, one on the other, you see), is PACKED with people.  This is not a tourist event, it is a cultural one.  Anyway, all of the sudden, this guy in a Lamborghini comes speeding through the crowd, honking his horn, and stops smack dab in the middle of the crowd.  He then gets out, takes a huge box out of the back of his souped up sports car, stomps over to the beautiful row house that contains a plaque outside announcing that it is "the former residence of George Orwell - the essayist and philosopher", which in my mind, makes it even MORE expensive than the other billion dollar multi-colored row houses, unlocks the door, inserts the package, and then returns to his Lamborghini as he lays on his horn until the sea of Portobello Road patrons parts, and then speeds off down the road through the crowd.  Wow.  I just couldn't HELP but be impressed, not only by his weath and stature, but of his audacity.  I took great comfort knowing that the Americans in Lunden are not the ONLY assholes in the city.

Okay, I cannot end this post without mentioning my favorite two places I visited in Lunden.  Covent Garden is this ridiculously quaint area of shops, restaurants, and pubs that then opens up into a kind of palazzo, where street performers regularly perform.  It was very near our hotel, and Brad and I spent more time there, than anywhere else.  During lunchtime they have bulk street food and on the day we visited they had my favorite dish, Paella, and homemade Sangria.  We sat and ate and watched the street performers for a long while.  See pics below.

My other ABSOLUTE favorite thing about Lunden were the pubs.  I liked nothing more than immersing myself in the culture by bullshitting with the English.  They are infinitely cooler than Americans, no matter what their social class, which is a rather obvious distinction I noticed, as well.

On my first day, my knee was killing me after enjoying High Tea with Kate and Wills, at the Palace, so after walking the wrong way for over an hour, I passed a pub that was irresistible to me when I noticed THIS sign,

so I stopped to put my knee up and ordered a pint.  I ended up bullshitting with these Brits who had just gotten off of work where they were renovating an expensive flat in the area, to enjoy a pint and a fag.  We got on the very subjects of fags and how their meanings are very different in the two countries, and one of the men relayed a story to me, of how his father worked in Texas for a while, a few decades ago, before returning to England with a big sigh of relief.

Apparently, his father approached some "Good Ol' Boy" in rural Texas who was smoking a cigarette at the Oil Refinery or Dude Ranch or something.  His father said, and these are his exact words, "Do you have a spare fag?" and the cowboy promptly called the police and the man's father was taken to jail.  NIIIICCCCCEEEE.  Gotta make you proud.  Can't help but wonder if it was a Bush.  Sorry, had to take the shot.

Anyway, I tried to tip the bartender another five pounds when he brought me another pint, which yes, I "fancied", and he actually STOPPED me and told me "No more money, Miss, you do not tip in pubs and you certainly don't tip THAT much if you do."  The men who I had met, then hailed me a taxi and wished me "a nice Holiday" and I hobbled away loving the fact that I had FINALLY gotten to visit Lunden.  Here they are.

I got them to admit that they thought all Americans were stupid, and they tried to get ME to agree that all Americans believe the English have bad teeth.  Not about to.  They were too gracious.  I was not ABOUT to insult them. 

When I asked them what is the ONE piece of advice they would give to someone who has arrived in Lunden for the first time, one of them exclaimed, "LOOK UP".  The architecture and age and detail on the buildings is astounding.  I found myself "LOOKING UP" alot and I am so grateful for the advice.

My recommendation today is obvious.  Visit London!!!! It is so easy to get around using the Tube and the trains and a week's stay will only cover all of the tourist attractions, when the country is also an element of our trip that I was unable to fit in.  All of the places I mentioned above are a MUST, as are  Westminster Abbey, the Changing of the Guards, Kensington Palace (where Lady Di and Kate and Wills have taken up residence) are also a requirement.  We saw a play.  You need to do THAT or a musical, and my favorite place that we ate was actually a Mexican Restaurant called "Crazy Homies".  It is in Chelsea, which is a great neighborhood and it was recommended to us by a friend who lives in Lunden.  On it's website it boasts, "not a tourist's place" which I love and now completely understand. 

Soho is very happening, but I found it too young for my tastes.  Not so much for the thumping bass of clubs anymore.  If you are interested in more information, please contact me because I could go on forever.  Brad and I were given a ton of direction by a friend of ours, and it saved us alot of headaches.  It is best to buy all of the tickets you can in advance to any of the attractions, as well.  The lines are long and arduous if you don't.

Just bloody remember...don't forget to look up AND down!


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