May 15, 2009 at 5:00 pm
I was crammed up against an Indian man in a business suit and trying not to bump my nose on the hardback novel a woman next to me was reading when I came up with a piece of advice none of the guidebooks mentioned: Do NOT ride the tube at 9:15 in the morning if you can help it.
After my fellow sardines and I arrived at Hyde Park Station, I took a look at the Wellington Arch and Aspley House and then walked towards Harrods. The perfumes, clothes and jewelry were of no interest to me. Instead, I headed straight for the food hall aka the Dionysian feast of abundance
They have practically anything and everything you could ever want to eat and never knew you wanted to, like ostrich eggs.
I got some mint chocolate gelato, and then had to vacate the premises to eat it. I’m not sure if this is because Harrods didn’t want me getting their floors sticky, or if it’s because in Britain they charge you a smidge more if you dine in rather than carry out. They gave me a teeny-tiny plastic spoon, which you could use to feed a guinea pig. I thought it was comical at first, but then found it be practical for making me eat slower. I found some chairs outside a Mexican restaurant and finished most of it before the owner came out and heavily implied I should leave. I went across the street to a Pret a Manger which is a popular chain selling fresh, ready-made meals. There appears to be a Pret a Manger on every street corner, and while they all claim to have free wi-fi, this location’s wi-fi actually worked at a tolerable speed, so I checked up on some emails and confirmed my lunch date that evening.
I hadn’t visited any museums in London yet, unless you count the Tower of London, and most of them are free, so I checked out the Victoria & Albert Museum which I loved, loved, loved. The thought of museums does not typically tickle my willy, but the V&A displays clothing, silverware, jewelry, stained glass and more, items I find interesting to gaze at. The museum is small enough that I didn’t feel like I’d left half of it unexplored, but it’s also large enough that I didn’t see everything. The jewelry was displayed in a black room so the necklaces, rings, and bracelets sparkled brilliantly against the background. The silver wing was so shiny I felt blinded. The oddest exhibit by far was a recreation of Kylie Minogue’s dressing room.
For lunch I ate a Cornish pasty which is like a Hot Pocket except it tastes good. It fueled me for the guided walk of Kensington led by London Walks. This turned into the “places where dead writers used to live” tour. We saw the houses of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. These are easily found because they put blue plaques on houses where famous people lived. I saw down on a wall to rest when the tour guide said, “This wall is getting it’s own blue plaque soon because Sylvia Plath and her husband used to write here.” My butt has been where Sylvia Path’s butt has been!
We headed towards Kensington Palace when our guide got serious for a moment. “Do NOT point your cameras at the Israeli embassy. You are not allowed to photograph it and the two men with automatic weapons at the front door will confiscate your camera and never give it back.” I shoved my camera deep into my purse and didn’t take it out again until we were out of sight of the embassy.
I feet hurt by the end of the two-hour tour, so I took the tube to Bea’s at Bloomsbury where you can get afternoon tea for only 5 or 8 pounds. Afternoon tea or high tea is a fancy pancy British name for the occasion of stuffing your face with pastries in the afternoon and washing them down with tea. My treats were served on a cute double-decker cookie platter. I had meringues, brownies, scones with cream and jam, and a chocolate cupcake. I would show you a picture of this sinful platter, but my camera battery chose that moment to lose all electrical charge. This is also why I cannot show you a picture of the street sign that said “Humps.” (It means speedbumps.)
I dropped to the floor of my hostel room because my back HURT. My lower back does not approve of my new habit of carrying a bag around town all day. I lied on the floor for 15 minutes, but had to rollover and get up because I could not do a sit-up to save my life. Then I was off again, across the Millennium Bridge to Wagamama, a Japanese restaurant, where I had dinner with Kristin and her husband who are friends from Indianapolis. Oddly enough, our schedules overlapped, and it was nice to see an American who could explain to me that yes, London does not serve traditional brewed coffee. The closest you can get to that is an Americano. This makes me infer that Mr. Coffee does not do a lot of business in London since they only use Cappuccino or Espresso machines.
They walked me back over the Thames to the hostel and I commented on how narrow the Thames is. It’s a good size river and could easily kill me if I fell in it, but I lived in Louisville, Kentucky for 8 years and the Thames ain’t got nothing on the Ohio River. Compared to the Mississippi, it’s just a crick. When I reached my hostel I was ready to take my shoes off, which were binding my hot, damp feet. I crawled into bed knowing I’d seen what I’d really wanted to see. When I woke up the next morning, I thought London, you are lovely, but I think it’s time we started seeing other cities. I hear Paris looks lovely today. I’ll go check it out.
Earlier: European travel journal – Day 4: West End, British Library, Camden Market and a show!
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