Thursday, May 18, 2006

"How was London?" he asked.

Well it depends on which day you ask me.

Saturday, wherein we arrive in Londontown:

I can’t believe that my room at the Radisson Edwardian Mayfair will not be ready for an hour. Off we go then, to walk outside in Green Park. Wow, its kind of nice, I just wish I was not ready to fall over. Oh, look there’s Buckingham Palace. Wait I thought that the guards were outside the gates, well then, no point in trying to see the changing of the guard, then is there? Too bad, I left my camera in the bags back at the hotel or I could take a photo of the palace. Oh well, back to the hotel for some rest, since the room should be ready.

OOOOHHHH…look at the flowers….imagine huge banks of tulips and lavender and other flowers. Photos to come after my dear husband gets the film developed for me.

Did I mention that everyone is out in the park…not a free bench to be found, and folks laying on the grass. There were even couple sleeping together on the benches. No. Really. They were asleep in each others arms. A bit odd really. Are they Londoners or visitors?

Sunday, wherein we wake well-rested:

Well I got a nap and a decent night’s sleep. Almost I feel human. Up I go, and out the door to the yarn shop. Six times I walked back and forth in Islington looking for the right road. Four times before asking the way, and then a couple more for good measure. Cute shop, not a lot of yarn on display but after asking there was more downstairs. Oh Joy! I walked out with one skein each of Colinette Giotto and Prism in Peaches and Cream, as well as two lots of the same yarns in different colorways for some summer shells. I also got LeftCoastKnitter some Colinette per her request. I will let her agonize a bit over what I got her! But I do have to say that I took forever in the shop to decide….mostly because another customer was there with her 7 month old son who kept distracting me with adorable coos and the Throw the Toy Down to be Picked Up game. After all I was separated from my dear daughter for the first time in her young life and it was just heartbreaking to see a baby about her age…..and they are EVERYWHERE. God, what was I thinking on agreeing to take this trip?!

Ah, well, off back to the hotel and then maybe wander around London a bit.

Hey, there are those open top buses! Twenty quid for the whole thing with on and off as much as you like. Okay, let’s do that then!

Look kids Big Ben, Marble Arch., Piccadilly, Covent Garden up that way, Oxford Streets with 300 shoe stores (poor Left Coast Knitter will weep when she reads this), Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, Eye of London, Tower of London, not in that order. No sorry we don’t sell tickets to the Tower after 4pm as it is just not worth, no you missed the stop. Yes you can get off here….Piss off!

13 quid for access to the Tower. Nope ain’t worth it tonight. Maybe I can come back tomorrow.
But in the mean time, check out the shops, change money (1.92 USD/GBP). Hmmm maybe I should have changed money there, what is there rate? Damn 2.01 USD/GBP?! The pound sterling has not been two dollars for like twenty years. Damn Bush and Big Oil!
Alright then, some chips and then back home. Meeting my colleague for dinner, and need to be back there.

I just had to take a picture of this. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Henry 8's GINORMOUS codpiece. Overinflated ego, indeed!

Back in the room now, and hmmm….where is my novel? I left it right there on the bed. Well I will find it later.

My colleague wants Chinese, big surprise! Chinese then in Soho.

Back to the hotel, and turned the room upside down for my novel. It is nowhere to be found. Well I have to pump, but have no book, I guess I am pumping to the TV. That bites.

Monday, wherein we find adventure:

I got through the night, more or less, with my phone chiming at 1am or so, and of course not getting back to sleep at all, so up at 5 to get dressed and pull myself together to run out to the Victoria Thistle to catch the tour bus. I got there at like 5:25, and was informed by some woman, who must have been the concierge that I could sit down in the back….as if I needed permission to sit in a chair. It was odd, both for the way it was phrased and how I reacted. Another couple came in for the same tour, and we waited and waited and waiter. Finally at about 6:15, the damn bus pulls up….You know I could have used that time, for Oh-I don’t know, some sleep, some breakfast.

Oh, and it’s raining. Hard.

The other thing was that I am quite sure that the taxi driver stiffed me…..I gave him a 20 pound note for a 7.80 bill, he made change for 10 pounds. It’s not the first time that it has happened, and may not be the last, but it really pisses me off.

So I get on the bus, sit down and proceed to do. Nothing. I have a whole bunch of knitting, but not a stitch coming from my hands. I just want to do nothing at all. I did finally get out the Disco gauntlets----I am talking about the Disco sock yarn….you know self-striping, with a silver strand throughout.

We stop for a bit on the road once outside London at what is basically a rest stop, for coffee, the bathrooms and a bite, and then hit the road again.

Finally, about 8:30 the rain stops. It’s still icky outside.

8:45 the sun comes out and you can see it in the distance even from the road. There it is.
A ring of standing stones in the middle of a plain.

The tour guide, who is a history professor normally but helps out with Astral Tours when things get busy, briefs us on how things will proceed. We will wait for the previous group to move out of the monument then we get a chance to take photos before we all go in. Normally, you don’t get to go in, because they have restricted access to the monument in order to preserve it, but since we are on a Stonehenge Special Access tour, not only are we there before the tourist hordes, but we get to go inside the ring fence. I should mention that the guide’s name is Robin and he is quite tall, broad, but extremely soft spoken. The whole tour, he called me young lady, apparently because he thought that I was like 23. I love that folks think that I am several years younger than I actually am. I guess it makes me seem so much more interesting, since I have packed a lot into my 23 years.

For those of you who may not believe that I was there, here is a picture of me actually TOUCHING the stones. Actual photographic proof that I was there, and all my children get is this stupid T-shirt. HA HA

We pulled up and walked out to the Monument, with Robin filling us in on the history. I wish I had had him as a history teacher, because he was quite good at it, and easy to listen to. Everyone got photos of it and then we descended on it, in it, around it.

Now I have to say that I did not know what to expect. At NewGrange, I was very creeped out, as if someone was standing behind me the whole time, but with naught but empty space there.
Stonehenge felt CLEAN. I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

After a while, we gathered together again and left for a pub breakfast in Salisbury Town, think full Irish Breakfast, and then off to Salisbury Cathedral to see the Magna Carta. Both were nice, and the Priest at the Cathedral called for prayer while we were there, which is fine, but I have to say that I am used to the Lord’s prayer in the Catholic sense, where it is recited with virtually no pauses. This priest kept pausing for effect, which totally messed up my recitation.
There was a translation of the Magna Carta, which is significant as the inspiration for the US Constitution and associated documents, but upon reading the translation, I was very surprised to see what was included. The clauses were very specific, and yet they were in there for a reason, being the items were big issues at the time.

Anyway, thereafter, we went back to Stonehenge to check out the shop, and off we went back to London. Everyone by this time was wiped out and fell asleep in the van, which is almost unheardof for me. I just don’t sleep well in Trains, Planes and Automobiles, however I am getting better now.

Monday Afternoon, wherein we distinguish between the best part of the trip and the other parts.

Upon getting back to the City, I again searched for my book. Nowhere to be found. So I called the duty manager of the hotel (mind you the room is like $300 USD equivalent a night.) to complain and basically got a shrug and the comment that they would check with housekeeping, who disavowed any knowledge of course, not that I thought they had stolen it, just that it get swept up in cleaning by accident. My book never showed up, the hotel never did anything but talk to the housekeepers, never did replace my book at twice the price in London, or even accepted any responsibility.

I then went out for a bit more of the bus thing thinking I could take it to the Tower of London. The guides on the Big Bus Company assured me that we would be there in less than 30 minutes so that I could catch the last tour of the day at the Tower. Repeatedly.

It took 70 minutes. I arrived pissed. These folks that do this job know the conditions, and how long it takes. Instead of telling me that, they just kind of brushed me off so that they would not have to deal with it.

And the best part, the absolutely best part was that the Tower was really boring. Now I know that the Brits that read this are probably really proud of their Tower of London, and so I will qualify it a bit. I don’t like the touristic routine… know, Big Ben, Palace, etc etc. Not because of the monuments, but more the history. I just don’t enjoy the more recent versions of history. But if you want to talk about medieval or older history, I am all over it. The rest is just kind of boring. I think it really comes down to the whole Man vs Man thing which I find uninteresting. Man vs Nature really give me a tingle as the Brits would say, and Man vs. The Unknown is another good one for me. Also Man trying to fathom the Divine is also interesting. (I was not raised to be a religious person, and so now as an adult I wrestle with the idea of sanctity and faith that runs alongside religion, because they are foreign.)

That said, there was one part of the exhibit where they showed the cutting of the Cullinan Diamond and the various diamonds that the cutting yielded. That was really interesting! But really, my husband would have enjoyed it more than I did, although I have to say that seeing Liz I’s rooms for her visit would have been nice too. They may have been there, I just did not find them.

Alas, here lies the problem with whirlwind trips.

Tuesday, wherein we go to work:

Did I mention that I got my 5am wakeup call again, despite canceling it twice last night, and did not get my 7am wakeup call? I never did go back to sleep.

Right enough, today off to Croydon on the train and tube, meeting everyone that we can that day, but particularly the key person in London with whom we will deal. Finally as I come up on my 10th service anniversary, I get to meet the people that I have been working with all these years. There are some familiar faces of course, where folks have come to the States, but everyone else is literally coming out of the woodworks to find us and say hello. I have to say that I am enjoying the little ego boost at having people seek me out for the introduction.

Off for beers in the pub and to find some dinner.

Wednesday, wherein the wakeup call takes on new meaning:

Again with the frigging 5 am wakeup call. Only this time, I fell back to sleep and managed somehow to sleep through the 7am alarm on my phone, right through the time I was supposed to meet my colleague at Victoria Station. So I am rested, but 30 minutes late for my meeting in a building I can’t locate.

Did I mention that I walked in late, and turned out to be the ONLY Woman in the room, for the entire day?

Busy busy days, but then my contact in the vendor office took me for drinks and dinner in the city at Sri Siam City Café near London Wall, for those who know it. The meal was lovely. He then packed me off in a cab back to the hotel!

Funny thing though, we are going along and as we turn I see that we are on Newgate. So I asked the driver if Newgate Prison was around? After he picked himself up off the floor of the cab at an American knowing Newgate Prison, he pointed it out and continued to chat about London. For those who don't know Newgate Prison was the debtor's prison for a long time for those who defaulted on the equivalent of credit cards at the time.

Did you know that the London cab drivers have to study for 3 years in order to become a cabbie? Only drivers in the world that have to study. He also makes better money than I do, where his income last year was 70,000 GBP, which is about $140,000 in US dollars right now. He does however have to buy or lease a new cab every 4 years which eats into a bit, but it’s still a good living!

Thursday, wherein we run all over the outskirts of London while working:

This morning, back to Croydon, then on to Bromley in the afternoon, lunch at the Bromley Conservative Club, and then a long presentation in the afternoon, followed by introducing myself to God and everyone. Well really, God knows me well, but what the heck?
I had plans to meet with an old friend to have dinner, which fell through as he was ill. I then tried to make plans with the other vendor contact that I wanted to meet, who went to hospital on Thursday evening and missed our meeting. My travel partner ate on the way back to the city so I was on my own. So I did what every girl would have done having had 3 dinner plans failed. I grabbed my book by Barbara Sher "I Could Do Anything, If I Only Knew What That Was" and went to the hotel restaurant for dinner.

Amba was the restaurant. I have to say that for some reason, this meal was extremely enjoyable. I started with a glass of French wine, since most of what we get is Californian for some strange reason. The wine was a smooth red from Bordeaux with nice legs and a clear fruity aroma, perhaps peaches or apricots? Then I had appetizers. The first was scallops with roasted peppers and a pureed pea garnish which sounds off, but was lovely. Then I had quail breast salad, with little quail parts grilled to perfection and delicately spiced. All of this wrapped up with a poached rhubarb dessert against the waiters recommendation of the bread and butter pudding.

Sorry, don’t do pudding.

All in all, a very pleasant satisfying meal in which I did strike up a conversation with a couple of Americans at the table next to me. The son was just returning from 3 months in Rome by way of Berlin, and back to Pennsylvania. I wish I had done a study abroad. I had wanted to, but we could not afford it.

Finally, I was able to get a ticket for Coriolanus at the Globe Theater for Friday night, which was Opening Night for the season.

Friday, in which we continue to meet people up to the very end of the day and then set out on our own:

But then finally getting out of the office for the weekend, I naturally headed straightaway to Finsbury Park to buy yarn. Specifically Rowan yarn, having reviewed LeftCoastKnitter’s SP8 questionaire wherein she specifically enjoys Rowan yarns. More on this in the Yarn Report to be announced.

Having completed my shopping, I headed straightaway back to the hotel, to get dressed for the play, after getting the concierge to help me with calling home on my calling card. Then off to Coriolanus at Shakespeare’s Globe, which is the first play of the season called The Edges of Rome. I was seated on the Upper Circle, row D seat 4. Even though I was in the nose bleed section and could not hear all of the dialogue and did not know this play, which if you see Shakespeare, you know that you really kind of need to know the story, I still followed the story well, was engaged easily and stayed engaged. It was a great show, with the players moving in and out of the audience in the Yards, and Coriolanus’ death taking place in the Yards. It was a lovely show, that I really enjoyed, and easily ties Stonehenge for the high point of the trip.

I then walked across the Ladies Bridge so named as it was built during WWII when the men were off to war, and through London City in search of a tube station.

Saturday, wherein we head home to see our family:

Up early enough, packed the bags and then set of in search of the spaceship, which we did eventually find, but they were by that time preparing to take it away to some ultra top secret classified bunker wherever they keep the ultra top secret classified bunkers in the UK. I did also see a giant little girl, and a giant elephant preparing to rampage through the city, as well as six cars sewn to the pavement.

It was such a relief to get home from this trip and see my children. My son did not seem to miss me too much.

My little girl’s face lit up when she saw me, and she wanted just to be held. I got some very nice baby hugs where her little body just melted into me and tried to become a part of me again to make up for being apart. Since then she wants to nurse constantly, as if she can ever make up for the 8 days that she did not see me in the space of an evening or two. But the worst part is that little shock when you see your children again after a separation and all the little changes are so apparent to you, how long his legs are and how manly he is looking at the robust age of 5-going-on-6, and how the little rolls of fat just above her baby knees are going away now that she is walking so much, and how her roly-poly face is not quite so roly and a little less poly.

But alas such is the way of the jet-setting world traveler life.

Sigh. It’s good to be home.

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