Friday, May 28, 2010

Walking and Connecting in London

By Claire
May 27
We woke up today excited to be in London, looking forward to another free walking tour but, most of all, to connecting with Chuck’s sister Penny and her husband, John. Penny realized that there would be one day when we would overlap in London, contacted us and through the wonders of email, and we were able to make a date to meet.

We started off by going back to the T-Mobile store in the morning to get the dreaded “content lock” taken off our account so that I could access our blog. It didn’t take long and it was a relief to have that behind us. Unfortunately, later that evening when I tried to upload a blog post, it took forever to bring up even one photo. I gave up and went to bed (Chuck was sleeping soundly through my frustration). In the morning I told Chuck about the problems and we made the decision to start over with a real internet dongle that is made for what we need—namely accessing the internet with the ability to upload photos. We were trying to get by with a SIM card for a phone that allows browsing but realized that it just can’t be done. More on this in the next post.

We caught the underground to Hyde Park where we met with the free tour—the same company we’ve used in most of the cities we’ve visited. Ed was quite entertaining but much of the "information" was pretty frivolous. However, we were impressed with the many war memorials in Hyde Park commemorating the war dead from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.

Australian WW II Memorial--similar to the Vietnam Wall Memorial but with names of battle sites rather than names of the dead

We stopped for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I have to admit, we were less than impressed--partly because we could not see through the gawking tourists (I am speaking of others, of course). I’ve avoided it before due to the crowds. This time it was mildly entertaining.

These guys held up traffic for at least 10 minutes.

One great story Ed told us was that a number of years back, some Germans were visiting London with their camping gear and planned to spend the night in Hyde Park. They came to the wall around Buckingham Palace (this is where it becomes questionable) and decided to climb over. They rolled out their sleeping bags, put up a tent, started up a little stove and made dinner. They spent the night, got up in the morning and packed everything away then tried to leave by one of the gates. A guard ejected them immediately. I wonder who lost their job over this? Ed claimed someone actually broke into Buckingham palace, a drunk who wandered from room to room, knocking things over, which set off 5 alarms at once. This guard decided that there must be a problem with the system since they wouldn’t all be going off at once like that. The drunk now had free reign of the place and ended up in the Queen’s bedroom in the middle of the night, sitting on the edge of her bed talking with her. He was out of cigarettes and asked her for one. She told him she would call her footman and ask him to bring up a pack. Or as Ed demonstrated it: “Hello, this is me. Yes, the Queen. Would you please bring up a pack of cigarettes FOR THE DRUNK WHO IS SITTING ON THE EDGE OF MY BED?” Several guards rushed into the room and took him away.

We moved on, enjoying the unique architecture and all the wonderful things there are to see in London.

St. James Palace

Trafalgar Square

This is the Citadel--a bunker that had a lawn planted on the roof during WWII so that it would blend with St. James Park, next to it, and avoid being bombed. The ruse was a success.

Westminster Abbey


Ed brought up a hapless volunteer from New Zealand to help him demonstrate drawing and quartering. If you don't know of this traditional punishment for treason, I will spare you; but, we are kinder, gentler retributors in this era. It certainly was a fun tour but didn’t have a lot of depth.

We grabbed a couple of sandwiches and sat in a park near some protesters before making our way to Penny and John’s hotel.

The guy at the front desk of their hotel acted surprised when we asked for Penny and John and told us they were not there. We were surprised right back because it was 3 pm, the time we had planned to meet. He wouldn’t tell us whether or not they had a reservation or if they were coming. We were puzzled but knew they would show up so left them a message letting them know we would be at the pub next door.

Enjoying Sangria outside while waiting for John and Penny

It wasn’t too long before a taxi pulled to the curb, an arm came out of the window waving and we knew it could only be John and Penny! We all rushed together hugging as John told me there had been a mishap but everyone was OK. Turns out, they had stopped to top up the diesel in their rental car just before turning it in. As John turned to replace the nozzle he realized in horror that he had filled it with gasoline! He rushed up to the cashier telling her what he had done and she immediately handed him a card with the name and contact information for a guy who could make it right. A man in line told John that he had done the same thing last week.

It took an hour to drain the fuel and another hour to clean everything up, including the engine. I suppose it could have been worse, like driving the car until the engine was destroyed, but fortunately John quickly saw what he had done. It’s too bad that the nozzles for diesel and petrol are the same.

Penny took a few gulps of my Sangria then they ran in to get checked in. We decided to sit with a half pint of bitters and get caught up. It was so great to see them!

After a bit, we walked over to the British Museum and looked at the Parthenon Sculptures (the Marbles formerly known as Elgin) and the Rosetta Stone. What a magnificent place!

They treated us to dinner at a fantastic place, Lock Fyne, where we all had exquisite sea food. We all chose a starter, mine was Thai fish cakes, Chuck and Penny had smoked salmon with capers and John had a prawn cocktail. John ordered a wonderful bottle of wine which turned into two, and we all had mouth watering, fabulous main courses. Three orders of Pan fried sea bass, and one of salmon fish cakes. I was so caught up in our conversation (and the wine) that I failed to get a single photo! This is probably the best meal we’ve had on the entire trip. Chuck and I shared another Toffee pudding with ice cream—a far superior version from the microwaved mess we got the other night. John and Penny had various cheeses—oh so sophisticated!

We parted at the underground station feeling so good about how wonderful it was to be able to hook up in London.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to spend quality time with Penny & John; usually, we have to share them with a handful of other relatives or friends; today, we had them to ourselves. We got caught up on the relatives whom we don't hear from frequently; apparently, everyone is either getting by or thriving. We were especially glad to hear that my Mother still enjoys reading the printouts of the blog that Penny and John provide--I think there are 9 binders full, so far! She vicariously enjoys the stories and the opportunity to share them with her friends in her home and in her day program. Shortly before we left, Mom mentioned that she envied my wall chart that is a timeline of the civilizations of mankind; I think that she gave that to me when she subscribed to National Geographic, many years ago; I was surprised she remembered. But then, I recall that she also surprised me when I was a teenager, learning to drive: She let me listen to music that I liked on the car radio; I thought that was so considerate and cool of her. It was only many years later that I discovered that she really liked Rock & Roll; so, it turns out that it was no sacrifice on her part, after all--but it was definitely a win-win for all concerned.

In the cookies of life, sisters are the chocolate chips. ~ Author Unknown

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