Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just Brilliant

The Crowe British adventures continue apace. Eric has been in mid-day meetings, also known as boozy business lunches, so I've been left to my own devices. I'm a bit of a wayward tourist - off on a frolic of my own. I navigated the classic double decker bus with only a bit of confusion. On one bus you wait for the fare to be collected. On another you must buy your ticket before boarding. However, there is no place to deposit the ticket. You're just supposed to show it. Confusing. No wonder the locals end up at the Bag 'o Nails Pub by noon. 

My plan was get off the bus at Picadilly Circus, but missed the stop and found myself in the Haymarket Theatre area. After a little wandering I stumbled upon Trafalgar Square. Enchanting.  With its fountains and sculpture and imposing facades, it reminded me of San Francisco Civic Center Plaza back in the days before homeless encampments caused it to be closed down. As an aside, I  have not seen one homeless person here.

In the square there is a clock counting the hours, days and minutes until the London Olympic Games. At that time it was 402 days. I took a quick spin through the National Gallery and had lunch in their cafe. It was a great, inexpensive meal in a seemingly pleasant atmosphere. The sign warning of pickpockets was the only note off tune. Trafalgar square is right near Downing Street and Westminster Abbey and Big Ben - one iconic, historical pile after another. Throw in the Churchill War Room and the Household Cavalry Museum and it's almost overwhelming.  

A peek at the Thames and it's up Birdcage Walk to St. James Park which has albino pelicans. London has a well designed green belt with three major parks adjoining one another. St. James starts near Parliament Square and runs right into Green Park which is where Buckingham Palace is located. Oh, look, it's the changing of the guards. I'd always heard about it, but what a thrill to be there. Around the corner is the beautiful Goring Hotel where Kate Middleton spent the night before she was married. It has the most incredible window boxes with light pink hydrangeas. 

All the walking really did require a stop at the Bag o' Nails on Lower Grosvenor Place. It was a good place to sit and reflect. One large glass of Rose later and it was back to Hyde Park where, guess what I found? Tennis courts. Not two blocks from our hotel. It turns out they have a robust youth tennis program, pay to play courts, lawn bowling (whatever that is) and formal English gardens which are open to the public. When Eric got back from his meetings we went to the tennis courts. Lined with lavender, there are six courts plus two mini courts with tiny nets for lessons. We got a court and played mixed doubles with an English couple named Charlie and Lucy. That was after purchasing balls in the pro shop which cost six pounds (about nine dollars).  When it began to pour our opponent, Charlie, scurried off to collect the balls. No kidding. They're very expensive.

After three wonderful days at the Gore Hotel it was time to move closer to downtown where Eric would be having some meetings. "The City" as the area is called, is near the Tower Bridge and more importantly, Lloyd's of London. It was our last night on the company dime, which was probably just as well. I found myself getting annoyed that I couldn't get the television over the bathtub to work. The towel heaters also remained mysterious. Time to get back to reality. We had dinner at the Butler Wharf Chop House. The food was good, but we sat outside and as it got dark the view of the Tower Bridge was breathtaking. Was there sex in the city? I guess you'll never know.          

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tower Bridge

Mind the Step

The flight from San Francisco to London on Virgin Atlantic was uneventful. I slept and Eric watched three movies. The flight attendants made some announcements prior to arrival. Strollers are " buggies", the " s" replaces a "z" and they don't have baggage claim. They have "reclaim" which really makes more sense. We're not in Kansas, anymore. Obviously, the  Brits speak English, yet some of it really is "English" English. London is so international that black people, Asians, Indians and Pakistanis can all have British accents. You just don't know until a person begins to speak.      

Our hotel is old and gorgeous. Like Eloise, in the Plaza, I just love, love, love hotels. I love them even more, without guilt, when Eric's firm is footing the bill. Our hotel was built in 1895 and it's got spectacular molding, tasteful paint and wonderful antiques. The street in front of the hotel resembles Paris with the wide, tree-lined avenues and stately buildings. Paris, minus all the dog shit.  

Right across the street is The Queen's Gate entrance into fabulous Hyde Park. Breakfast at Lido Cafe on the Serpentine. Walks through the flower gardens and a visit to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. I remember the controversy when the "fountain" was being planned. I agree that it was a posthumous slight to her memory.  It's in a lovely location, but so understated. It's a large, oval hole in the ground with water running through. The Cornish granite is beautiful, but the fountain is more like a kiddie pool with toddlers wading through it in their knickers. Doesn't seem right, but so much of Diana's story didn't.

I love London.  Now I'm talking like  a tourist slogan. Just slap me on a t-shirt and wear me around. Traveling just about anywhere is stimulating and interesting. London feels like home. I even came across a store in Kensington called "Partridges". Beyond charming, London is a feast of wrought iron, leaded glass, topiary hedges and window boxes spilling over with geraniums, hydrangeas and coppa. At home I've been on a binge painting things black, most recently the Dutch door. In Westminster, near Buckingham Palace, there must be a thousand doors painted black. 

Mews are my  new muse, although Eric isn't quite as a-mewsed. I traumatized him on our first afternoon here by making him search for a particular pub in a very out of the way mews. We never did find it, but I loved the other mews we found while getting lost. Cobblestone streets and narrow, winding alleys with sweet residences and businesses tucked away from the traffic. Speaking of traffic, they drive on the WRONG side of the road here. We both agree we wouldn't want to get behind the wheel. Way too nerve-wracking. We've almost been run over crossing the street at least three times. Even though the crosswalks are painted with reminders to look right or look left, it's still hard not to step in front of a bus. It's just so backwards. 

The locals have been delightful - friendly and helpful. Unlike many other tourist spots, we've yet to encounter the "ugly Americans". Other than us, of course. So far no sightings of Gap or Banana Republic, even in the trendy neighborhood near Harrod's. There are quite a few Starbucks, though. I guess coffee is now giving tea a run for her money. We had a wonderful cab driver who told us his wife wants Starbucks every morning now. He said, "I tell her to shut up and drink her tea." 

Time to visit the Tower of London. Off with her head.           

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hyde Park

Bon Voyage

This morning, while packing for tonight's flight to London, I had an appalling thought. Due to our ridiculously complicated itinerary, which I've spent months not exactly perfecting, there will be eight more times when I have to cram everything I could possibly want into that suitcase. Granted, packing what you've already brought is MUCH easier than deciding what to pack. I'm trying to channel Allie and plan adorable outfits, but with temperature variations of as much as forty degrees it gets a little complicated. Actually, that is just like our local weather, so I'm theoretically used to it. Currently we have 55 degrees with a howling wind. Drive fifteen minutes from here and by this afternoon it could be in the eighties.

I have a new suitcase which I'm very excited about. I'm not sure, but this may be my very first, just belonging to me, suitcase. A Victorinox, it is so highly evolved that I don't really understand how it works with all the special features. Reminds me of when we got our front- loading washing machine which came with a demonstration video. Needless to say, I never watched the video and I think I've packed the way I always do. Unzip every fold and squish a bunch of stuff in. It's got to be better than the time Lucy and I went to Europe and we each travelled with a nylon Gap duffel bag. Talk about cumbersome. Never again will I roam without wheels.

I keep urging Eric to take more clothes and he is imploring me to take less. I am not an extremist, but my packing philosophy is "more is the new less". I have never once arrived at a destination and wished I hadn't brought something, but many times I've wished I had some clothing that I happen to own, but left at home. Like in Chicago. Never believe the weather report. We were both so unprepared for the early fall chill that we had to buy North-face zip up jackets and I got some slacks. There will be a slight problem bringing back gifts on this trip. There is already no room. I may have to pitch some dirty clothes in Spain.

Out destinations are not exactly primitive, and we can buy whatever we need when we get there. We're not roughing it. Our idea of camping in Yosemite is staying at the Awahnee Hotel, not Curry Village. No fleabag hotels for us, although I guess bedbugs can be anywhere. As challenging as it is to mobilize for the trip, it will be so good to get away. It's my first time in England, the family homeland. My immigrant ancestor, Captain John Partridge, departed from Navestock, England in 1650. Watch out, England, we're coming back.

Feel free to email me with brilliant tourist suggestions for London, The Cotswolds, Valencia or Barcelona. Or even how to meet the Royals, although we've already done Charles and Camilla up close and personal. They were touring organic gardens in West Marin and finished their tour in Pt. Reyes. We drove out there on Eric's motorcycle and ended up not ten feet from England's dorkiest couple. Kids, don't try this at home. Lucy was right. Motorcycles aren't very safe which we found out the hard way. Stay safe, in all your adventures, and if I can surmount my technical challenges I'll try to post from the road. Adios, amigos.