Sep 29, 2009

Lost Diaries 13

Did you think that we left France and fell off the face of the earth? Not so. We said “Au revoir” to Lyon an hour after Damon’s final exam, and were in London for suppertime. The story of how we accomplished this feat is something of a tale unto itself. It involved us both waking up very early, me changing train reservations, washing all our clothes, and packing our entire room, dragging 7 bags and a box of wine to the train station via taxi and sitting on the luggage like a hen on eggs until Damon met me. (One thing to note from this situation is that the luggage was so heavy the wimpy French cabbie refused to lift it and made me help out…what a jerk.) Storing the majority of the luggage during our 2 hour layover in Paris also turned out to be an adventure. Because of the London bombing, the 1st train station would not let us store our wine or computer. Both men spoke only French, so we could not explain our predicament. When we changed train stations to board the Chunnel, Damon was able to find an English speaker and explain that we were not terrorists and simply needed to store some things. Once that was out of the way, we were literally 100 pounds lighter. Unfortunately, during the wild goose chase that was baggage check, Damon accidentally left his license at the money change counter. We also had a rather disappointing money changing experience, when $100 of traveller’s checks became €60, which in turn became £55. Our money is worth less than toilet paper over here, basically. The train ride was a delight. There were English magazines and announcements, as well as a 1 hour time change and a complimentary meal. If this was our first taste of the UK – we loved it. Those of you who know how unadventurous I am with food may be surprised to learn that I consumed a potato loaf held together by scrambled eggs, as well as pistachio cake in the course of this meal. I’ve come a long way, baby. Hunger will do such things to you. By the way, you’re only in the actual tunnel for about 20 minutes. Our plan for arrival in London was to find a hotel and crash, so I consulted Rick Steves and found a tube stop that looked to have several properties close by. We set out, and I finally understood the “Mind the Gap” thing. You always hear people who have been to London saying that and they all wear obnoxious t-shirts with the slogan. If you ask them about it, they are usually snotty and tell you something like, “It’s a London thing – you wouldn’t understand.” in their best Madonna -I-think-I’m-British-and-therefore-superior-now accent. Well, I refuse to be a part of this group and therefore I am now going to unlock that little mystery for all of you commoners out there thirsting for the truth. The “tube” is just a subway, but the geniuses that built it apparently neglected to make sure all the platforms and trains lined up. This means that each time you get on or off a train there is some type of gap, whether it is a step up or down, or an actual space between the train and the platform that you must step across. Damon and I decided that the city must be paying for all the lawsuits they get from injured people with the proceeds from the obnoxious t-shirts. So there is London mystery #1 debunked for all of us.
Back to the story – after trudging through the streets with our luggage for several blocks, we happened upon the King’s Cross station, which, unbeknownst to us, was one of the bombing sites. The sorrow surrounding the place was palpable. Fliers of missing persons fluttered softly in the breeze, attached to aluminium barricades that had been erected to hide the damage. It was a touching testament to the eternal hope of humanity. The people in the fliers were obviously not coming home, but their families were still clinging to the hope that they had survived and were simply taking their time letting their loved ones know it. It was so like September 11th – a pain that just takes your breath away. I think it is your soul mourning the death of your innocence and naivety. Tragic.
We entered the station and were directed to LastMinute.com, where the overly friendly Michael helped us find a clean and reasonable room. We then hopped on the tube to the Baker Street stop, and made our way to our new home away from home. If Baker Street sounds familiar, that is probably because it looms large in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Sherlock himself is immortalized outside the station in a statue, and his silhouette decorates the station in a myriad of miniatures. Did you know that he ranks as one of the Top 10 Most Well-Known Brits in America? Most Americans think that he was an actual person rather than a fictional character, so if you thought he was real tuck that knowledge away and use it to make someone else feel dumb in the future. Elementary, my dear Watson! Damon fell ill just before his last final – a head cold- so he was so miserable by the time we finally made it to the hotel that we did not go back out. The hotel had just been redone – so new everything- shower, commode, bedding, etc. Just great.
Sunday morning, July 17 – our first full day in London started with a British breakfast. British breakfast consists of eggs, toast, beans, ketchup, and ham. I could not stomach the eggs, because of my food touching rule. I cannot eat foods that have touched, unless they are meant to be together. Eggs are NEVER meant to be with beans or ketchup, so I could not eat them because of that pollution. I ate about 7 pieces of toast, though, with strawberry jam that Grandma would have loved. After that, we set out to find a battery charger for the camcorder. In my haste to leave France, I accidentally left the camera charger in Paris in storage. We spent the morning comparison shopping on Tottenham Court Road and finally decided on one for £45. (which was ridiculous, because that is about $90) We then ate at a Pizza Hut near our hotel. London is almost as great as America. There is a Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway all within a block of our hotel. Score! We stopped back by the room and were able to grab the camera and make it to Westminster Abbey in time for the Evensong Service. Evensong is a worship service consisting mostly of music, sung by an angelic choir. After the service, Damon wondered where Poet’s Corner was – turns out we had been sitting in it. Beneath our feet were Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. Nearby was Charles Dickens. I took the opportunity to perform some of my Muppet Christmas Carol quote repertoire: “Why thank-you, Mr. Dickens!” in my Rizzo the Rat voice. It was amazing (the corner, not my impression, but it was pretty good, too, if I do say so myself). One Westminster Abbey inhabitant that I found surprising was Charles Darwin – wasn’t he an atheist? Seems odd to bury the Father of Evolution in God’s house. As we were leaving the church, who should we bump into but Sonny and Louise? You may remember that we met them by accident on top of the Eiffel Tower as well. We decided to go have a coke together. A coke turned into dinner, and we stopped in a pub where Damon ordered fish and chips, and I had nachos. Damon enjoyed the fish, which he described as “very white, but not too firm,” and the nachos were just nachos. Sonny and Louise left to meet an old friend, and we set out for the Jack the Ripper walking tour, departing from the Tower Hill tube stop. This tour was one of my London fantasies. I have a strange fascination with serial killers and Jack is one of the most notorious, after all. The tour was led by the foremost authority on the Ripper, Donald someone, who was just delightful. We visited several of the murder scenes and learned fantastic tidbits about the murders: for instance, the average East End prostitute, contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal, was in her 40’s, missing several front teeth, wore all the clothing she owned at once in layers, and was shod with woollen socks and men’s boots. Dead sexy, huh? Back then, a good time cost 3 pence, 2 pence, or a day old loaf of bread, so these women were not quite the entrepreneurial equivalents of today’s Amsterdam whores. A bed for the night cost 4 pence, so these women had to turn at least 2 tricks a day just to have a bed, forget food. Gross. Soldier’s prostitutes were known as the most disgusting and diseased. Go figure. This might be a good time to mention that the fish and chips were not being so kind to Damon. Queen Elizabeth was taking her revenge upon him, and he had to abandon the tour to find facilities. We agreed to meet at the tube stop where we started the tour, so it was our first day in London and we were separated. We reunited after Damon spent a few tense moments retracing the tour route. We tubed it back to the hotel and began looking forward to tomorrow. Visions of theatre danced in our heads…
Oh, and one thing that I forgot. We also had our first celebrity sighting yesterday. Damon saw “Stick” from the movie Elektra, and grabbed me from a souvenir shop in time to run down the street after him so I could get a peek. He was out shopping alone and carrying 2 bags of groceries and a backpack. I told Damon he was total B-list, but thanked him for his good eyes. It took us a while to figure out who the guy actually was, but Damon finally got it and I have to agree. To see more on Stick, visit: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000654/. By the way, he also plays the boss in My Boss’s Daughter.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Monday got off to a rather slow start, since Damon was still not feeling well. We ate an English breakfast and then went back to the room to call about theatre tickets. We were able to get tickets to Chicago, The Lion King, and Guys and Dolls. We were both really pumped about that. We stopped by the internet café first to email the moms and write the latest diary installment. That took a while. We finally set out to pick up our tickets at the various box offices. On the way, we also stopped at a drug store and got Damon some cough drops and Manexes…Kleenexes for men. They are bigger and stronger than your average Kleenex. We were able to pick up all the tickets except for the ones for the Lion King, and by that time it was about 14:30, so we grabbed some Subway and decided to hit the British Museum while we were near it. I had read in the guide book that they had a “Top 50” audio guide that took 90 minutes. I shot some video in the great hall while Damon got audio guides. Turns out the 90 minute “Top 50” is another Rick Steves myth. It was a 2 hour tour, but we got it anyway. Damon navigated, and I shot video, and we hit the last 5 exhibits right as they were closing the doors for the day. We saw some really neat things, including the Rosetta Stone, Ginger the mummy, and the man they found in the bog. Those were our favorites…the bodies. They still had hair and everything. It bothered me a little that in a thousand years my body might become a tourist attraction, but I finally got over it and just thought if I can bring someone else as much happiness as Ginger and the Bog man brought to me, it is worth allowing my dead body to be a sideshow.

After the museum, we rushed back to the hotel to get ready for the play. Damon had seen in a newspaper on the tube that the UK premiere of “The Fantastic Four” (or as they say in France, “Les Quatre Fantastiques”) was that night at 7 in Leceister Square. He has been dying to see the movie, so he was even more excited at the prospect of seeing the 4 themselves. Our show did not start until 8, and it was close to the premiere, so we decided to stop by and see what we could see. It was a really cool atmosphere, people perched in trees like Zaccheus trying to get a peek at the action, fire shooting out of the theatre marquis…really something. But then it started to rain. I took shelter under a nearby awning, but Damon was a hard core fan and stood in the rain with the camera under his shirt to try and get a peek at Jessica Alba. In the end, we both saw her and the 3 other fantastics, even though I only saw them from 300 yards. We also saw the villain who is one of the guys from Nip/Tuck. We left at 7:30 for our show.

Chicago was our first London show. We were both excited because we loved the movie and were interested to see how it would be staged. Brooke Shields was supposed to play Roxie, but she was out sick, so that was a disappointment. The show was good, but the set was very plain and the talent was not the greatest. This was a case of the movie ruining the play for us. We still enjoyed it, but I would say if Chicago visits a stage near you, save your money and get the DVD. We give it 2 stars.

After Chicago we were exhausted, so we grabbed some KFC near the hotel and crashed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tuesday morning I started feeling about like Damon. I woke up with a stuffy nose, sneezing and snotting all over the place, just like old times before my allergy shots. Lovely. I was determined that we would see sites, though, so we ate breakfast and boarded the tube for Shakespeare’s Globe. When we got to the stop, there was a bike shop there, so Damon of course had to go in and peruse the merchandise. He wants a rode bike so bad he can taste it. This may also be a good time to mention that our first 2 days in London had been HOT, but this morning since I wore shorts and a tank top, it turned freezing. After the bike shop, we made it to the Globe, in time for me to browse the museum for 30 minutes before our actor-led tour. Damon decided that he not only wanted to see the Globe, he wanted to see a play at the Globe, so he went to the box office to secure tickets. He came back in time for the tour which was short but informative. For example, since there were no fire regulations back then, they could cram as many people as possible into the theatre, and the pit for standing room often held 700-800 people. Fighting for a space was tough. There were no public restroom facilities, so during the 3 hour play if someone heard the call of nature they would very often answer it right where they were standing, rather than risk losing their spot. Now that is what I call hard up for some entertainment. This, you can imagine, caused a glorious stench to pervade the area, so people would bring oranges and eat them, then use the peeling to form a makeshift gas mask. The people rarely threw fruit at the actors, like you see in the movies, because they were so poor if they had any fruit they were going to eat it. Also, contrary to “Shakespeare in Love” the queen would never have come to the theatre, since all the theatres were located in rather dodgy areas. (Dodgy is one of our new British words…it means shady) The top floor of the theatre was frequented by prostitutes, known as the “Something Geese” (the something was a place name, but I can’t remember it). They would use the shows as a way to drum up business. To get “bitten by the geese” meant to catch one of their VD’s. They were actually condoned by the local bishop, who collected taxes from them and regulated their activity. Those guys will definitely not be up for the “Best Christian Example” Award. Anyway, Damon got us tickets for the 14:00 performance of “Pericles.” I was not really pumped, because I had planned on doing more site seeing, and Rick Steves said the plays could get boring at the Globe. Damon was trying to be a good husband, thinking that I would LOVE to see a play at the Globe, so we had a little miscommunication there. When the tour was over, we had about 2 hours to grab something to eat and be back, so we stopped in a little café where I ordered a hamburger and a hot chocolate to warm me up. As they were cooking the hamburger, I remembered about mad cow disease, and I got very nervous. I ate it anyway, though, and it was truly gross. The pattie was as big as my head, but very flat, and it did not look like beef to us. It was served on a strange bun, and the mustard was some kind of Dijon that tasted toxic to me. Damon had a chicken wrap that I don’t think was much better. So far I have suffered no ill effects, even though I am not sure what the mad cow symptoms are…

On the way back to the theatre, we passed the Clink…the original prison that lent its name to all others. I was dying to go inside, but Damon was nervous about having time to rent seat cushions and a blanket, so we split up. I took the camera and explored the Clink, and he went to the theatre. The Clink was a big letdown. Rick Steves was right when he said that it was a series of rooms filled with paper mache gore but little information. I did not film hardly anything. The neatest thing that they had was an iron boot that was used as a torture device. They would put your foot in the boot, pack wood chips around it, then fill it with water or oil. That way the wood chips would swell and crush your foot. Then they would light a fire under the boot and boil the stuff inside, so that your foot would fall off and leave you with a bloody stump that would soon catch various diseases inside the filthy Clink. Good stuff, huh?

I made it back to the theatre in time to use the WC and browse the gift shop before we settled in for “Pericles.” The play defied all of our expectations and cemented our opinion that Rick Steves is an idiot. It was three hours long, but there was not a boring minute. The actors were great, the story was exciting, and they did lots of rope tricks, where they would climb ropes, swing from them, and do somersaults and flips. It was wonderful. We agreed that it was our favorite non-musical play ever and we were glad we decided to attend. The atmosphere was great as well. The Globe is open air and the seats are just wooden benches, so it had a very casual and fun vibe. We give it 4 stars.

After the play, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for The Lion King. We had just enough time, and again stopped by a pharmacy to get medicine (for me this time). When we got to the theatre and were directed to our seats, they were great. We were right in the center and on the first tier above the floor. About 5 minutes before the performance, some people came who were supposed to be in the same seats. After some confusion, and asking the ushers again, they told us they were wrong, we were supposed to be downstairs. So we rushed downstairs to sit down, were directed to the wrong seats AGAIN, and Damon basically had to almost knock down a girl usher who was not going to let us back out to get to our seats. They had given us bad info too many times, though, and we were determined to be sitting for the first song. We made it and they turned out to be the best seats that we have ever had in the history of our theatre going. We were in the center, 7 rows back from the stage on the floor. The first song was a parade of all the animals coming in to “The Circle of Life” and Damon could have touched the elephant. The costumes and staging were great, but the story was obviously a bit of a snoozer, since we already knew what happened. We give it 3 stars.

We were again exhausted after the performance, so we grabbed some Burger King and soon were back in the room for a nice rest. More later!

Wednesday, July 20
I guess now is later. I am writing this final installment from the comfort of my kitchen in LaPlace. I took notes on everything that happened for the rest of the trip, but typing the diary each day was taking too long, so we decided that I would work from notes for the final chapter. Here goes….

Wednesday…We started the morning at the British Library. We sprung for the audio guides and headed for their “Treasures” room, which houses all kinds of neat stuff like the Magna Carta, an original Gutenberg Bible, and first editions of Billy Shakespeare’s plays. Really enjoyed that. We were attending a matinee performance of Guys and Dolls that day, so after the library, we headed over to the Picadilly Theatre area and grabbed lunch at a pub across the street from the theatre. We both had some pasta, which was alright, but nothing to write home about. Our seats for Guys and Dolls were the most expensive seats that we had for any London show, but they were also the worst. We were on the very back row of the first tier of seats, and there was another tier above us, which hung down so far it partially obstructed our view of the stage. I was devastated, since I have been waiting practically my whole life to see Ewan McGregor. He was playing Sky Masterson in the production (the Marlon Brando role) and was the main attraction as far as I was concerned. There were some other famous people in the show too, but they paled in comparison to the dreamboat that is Ewan McGregor. In spite of the cruddy seats, the show was WONDERFUL. Hands down the best show that we saw in London. We give it 5 stars, and this is really something since the scale only goes up to 4. On the way out of the theatre there was a group of girls waiting at the stage door for Ewan’s autograph, and Damon asked me if I wanted to go over and join them. I refused, because when I meet Ewan, I want it to be on equal footing. I refuse to be a faceless member of the autograph mob. I will wait until he is on my turf. We did spot his henchmen, though, or I guess you could call them bodyguards, and they were very burly black men.

After deciding against stalking Ewan for his autograph, we set out for another highly anticipated stop, Harrod’s of London. Harrod’s is THE department store of London. It is on the level of Neiman Marcus in our country, but really has something of a very expensive Walmart vibe to it also, because they sell everything you can possibly think of that a person could spend money on. I am talking horse saddles to raw meat. It was about 8 stories high, and each floor had more on it than the last one. The man who owns the store is Egyptian, so he has a little King Tut motif going on in the store, and his son was also the one that was engaged to Princess Diana and got killed in the car wreck with her. I think she was planning on making him the Aristotle Onasis to her Jackie Kennedy. They had a big memorial set up to honor Dodie and Diana, and it included the glass they had drank wine from the night they died and also the blinding engagement ring that he had bought for her. They had preserved the wine glass a little too authentically, and the fact that they did not wash it before putting it inside glass was apparent by the disgusting mold growing in the glass. The ring was also one of the gaudiest things I have ever seen. When people get too rich I think their sense of fashion just hibernates. It was terrible. Oh, another thing of note to mention was that while we were on the way to Harrod’s, we walked past a hotel where some kind of secret service security operation was going on. There were two creepy guys in suits in a van monitoring everything and wearing earpieces and they were sending signals to this other guy in a suit who was trying to blend in to the street scene. I just knew they were guarding someone famous, but we had no idea who. My theory is that it was Goldie Hawn or Kate Hudson, or maybe both, because they were in London that night for a movie premiere, we found out later. So I am going to go ahead and claim that I saw Goldie’s henchmen too.

Thursday, July 21

We got up this morning and packed our bags. We ate breakfast and stored the bags downstairs so we could go catch some more sites and film a few things for all the people back home. Before we could do any siteseeing, though, we had to find a way out of London and into Ireland, so we hopped on the tube and rode to Marlyebone Station, which was a train station as well as a tube stop. They did not have the info we needed, so we tubed it over to Victoria Station, and then to King’s Cross to check on plane tickets as well. We finally ended up back at Baker Street booking an online flight, which we found to be our cheapest travel option. Since we were flying EasyJet, which is a notoriously low priced European airline, they flew out of an airport far away from town, so we had to book a bus ticket to get us to the airport as well. We debated for a few minutes whether we should grab our luggage, hop the tube to the bus stop and eat there, or eat first and then get the luggage, but I had some postcards to mail and we were both famished, so we decided to eat first. I ordered our KFC while Damon ran across the street to buy some stamps. While he was in the post office, the people working there told him that they had just heard a rumor that there were more terrorist attacks going on. All the cell phones were down, and they thought that had something to do with it. Damon came back to the restaurant with the stamps, and I stamped postcards while he told me what he had heard. The dad of a family sitting next to us tried to use his cell phone and appeared to have problems, so Damon asked him if it worked and filled them in on what the post office people had said. The phone was not working, but came back up in a few minutes, and the man received a news alert to his phone that there had been more attempted tube and bus bombings, and it was suspected that there were chemical weapons utilized this time. You can imagine that we grew very nervous from this news. We finished eating, and raced to the hotel to get our luggage and get out of town. We watched a few minutes of Sky News in the lobby, which is like British CNN, and it confirmed our worst fears. London was under attack again and we were right in the middle of it. One of the tube stations that had been hit was one tube stop away from us. We tried to have the hotel call a cab for us, but none were available, so we dragged our luggage into the street and started walking in the direction of the train station. Damon said if we could not find a cab, we might have to walk the whole way, which would have been quite a hike. We passed a bus stop and a bus was there that was going to the station that we needed to go to, so we decided that might be our only chance to make it to the station in time to catch our plane and got on board. We were both very nervous during this bus ride, since a bus had been attacked. I prayed a lot. We arrived at Victoria Station in time to get on our National Express bus for the airport and flew out of London and into Cork, Ireland, safe and sound. God really had our angels working overtime.

When we arrived in Cork the first exciting thing was that we got new stamps on our passports, and they were green. We tried to rent a car, but they were very expensive, Damon had no license, and they only had stick shifts available, which I cannot drive, especially when the shifter is on the wrong side and they expect you to drive down the wrong side of the road. We rode a bus into town and got the last room at a Jury’s Inn near the bus station. We were starving, so we went out to an Italian restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious meal and delightful conversation with two of the most sparkling personalities that we know: each other.

Friday, July 22

We rose early and hopped a bus to Waterford. I grabbed breakfast for us at a nearby grocery store, muffins that were the most delicious of my life and ironically named “Cuisine de France.” After all the nasty French food I had endured, here was finally a decent culinary offering from the French, and it was not even available in their country. Go figure.

2009 UPDATE: Apparently, July 22nd is where I quit writing the Lost Diaries. I do still have my notes from the U.K., though, and I will tell the rest of the story in one final post, coming soon, I promise. Oh, and if you had a little bit of deja vu during this post, it is because Lost Diary #12 was actually an excerpt from this. I am not really sure how that happened. Sorry!

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