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United Kingdom

20090426 Sunday in London - Part 2

No... Sleep... 'til DUBLIN!

sunny 45 °F
View Western Europe - Spring 2009 on icufoundme's travel map.

I'm inwardly amused at my sense of relief to be at McDonald's after the day's misadventures. It's an ironic oasis - part of my parallel universe. It makes me think of the Gary Larson cartoon where Beethoven (?) is in hell standing in front of an orchestra where everyone is holding kazoos. Those that have known me for a while will understand. To give a small perspective to the rest... I was a vegetarian for over 10 years, and an avid member of PETA. I would not have been caught DEAD at a McDonald's unless I was handing out flyers. (Not to mention that i'm across an ocean and should be eating ANYWHERE but here.)

Each time I've been to McD's to use the wireless, I've bought something to "pay for my seat" as it were. But tonight I only have 10 pounds left of the cash i traded in, it's not crowded, and I feel I've given them enough so far, so I just look for a spot.

At McD's there are a couple coveted 2-person tables. The rest are community-style tables, large 6-person booths, and a high bar-like counter with backless stools around the perimeter. I usually end up at the counter trying not to care that my laptop is situated so the whole restaurant can see what i'm typing if they care to look. I feel a bit like an accidental exhibitionist. What adds to this is odd feeling is that - regardless of the fact that this is the only free wireless around - i'm the only one with a laptop. (And it's been that way each time so far.)

It was only as I was using the restroom before leaving the last time, that i discovered they have a whole additional seating area downstairs. So, with hope of finding a quiet corner, i jaunt down the stairs merrily - looking forward to some purging writing - and nearly barrel through a blockade. I guess they are closing that floor for cleaning. *sigh*

I resign myself to a counter spot in the main dining area. Luckily it's not too busy, so I can set my backpack on the seat next to me instead of on the floor where A) it gets dirty, b) its inconvenient to access, and c) its less safe.

There is a young guy on my right with one stool between us, and an old woman on my left with one stool between us. i can imagine that she might be hard of hearing - and possibly sight impaired - since she doesn't seem to notice me settling in at all. but the guy is doing that "i know you're there but I'm observing the unspoken laws of personal space in a crowded place by choosing to ignore you" thing that urban humans do to preserve their sanity. i choose to break the contract and address to him instead of taking a chance on startling the poor lady out of her seat. I turn to him and ask "is it okay if i set this here?" holding my backpack and pointing to the stool between us. he nods an affirmative and i'm relieved he doesn't start a conversation at this particular moment. i start to settle in, and at the moment I have things strewn about trying to locate my maps - another young man about the same age walks with purpose to the stool my backpack now occupies and stops short, looking at the other man confused, then at me. It's obvious by his body language that my backpack is occupying what was once his seat, or what he had expected to be his seat. Now, an awkward social dance ensues where we all realize whats going on, but it turns out that these young men don't speak English. i smile apologetically and reach to move my backpack to the other side where the older lady is. he also smiles apologetically and tries to get me to leave the backpack in place. after some back-and forth he eventually acquiesces and takes the seat. we all smile at each other saying what needs to be said without words, then return to our mutually exclusive business. they have a rapid conversation where i hear "American" and they leave a few minutes later saying "bye bye" awkwardly on their way out. If I had to guess, I'd say they were Croatian.

my email is piling up and I'm conflicted about whether to answer some, or finish my blog post. I open a few messages to see if there is anything urgent. In the mean time, my battery seems to be dying quickly. 86% power already.
The older lady has finished eating and noticed me. I can sense her watching me out of the corner of my periphery. I opened a chocolate bar when I sat down (Thanks Madeline!) and I'm nibbling as I write. I turn and offer her a piece and she declines. She asks if I'm hungry and offers to get me something proper to eat. (Wow, do I really look that bad? Heh.) I thank her deeply and explain that I just ate less than an hour ago. I can see she wants to chat, and I have that moment of conflict where I really want to put up the "do not disturb" body language and get to my writing before my computer dies. But deep down I know that's unwise and unkind. Not to mention that when I feel the urge to close up and retreat it's proven best to stay present and open up. So, I turn to her and give her my full attention, and her face just lights up. that moment was worth anything i might miss otherwise. Olinda looks like a Spanish Nun. Maybe she is - not sure. But she talks excitedly about Catholicism, The Vatican, how much she loved President Bush, how I need to go to Medugorje when I'm in Spain, to go to confession before I travel to Dublin, etc.. It's not easy to stay open to all this. But her enthusiasm is genuine and kindhearted, so I listen with respect for her perspective. I'm not sure how else to explain it, but if you've ever heard the term "New soul" - she is the embodiment. She seems to me like a 5-year old trapped in aging flesh, eyes sparkling with wonder at the world. Or perhaps she has not always been this way. Perhaps she has found her way back to faith after a life of strife and it has given her this inner light. Faith, hope, love. Very powerful indeed. I miss that feeling - the unquestioning clarity of purpose. It gives me a stirring of sadness when I see it in others. Just the recognition of something I had that's now missing. But I do not miss it enough to return to being a sheep for it. Maybe I will find the path back to that place without needing to be a sheep. Maybe I will feel differently at her age. Maybe i can find that place with inner balance. Only time will tell.
(Sorry to digress... I just love to try and guess what made people into what they are presently. Hm... that reminds me of a Dave Matthews song "...could I have been... anyone but me?" ;)

Olinda seems satisfied with her sermon and my reaction to it - and switches topics to my travels. On hearing that I'm looking online for directions from my hotel to Standsted Airport, she hops down from her stool (No small feat with her tiny frail stature... yet she makes it look sprightly.) to recruit an even older woman sitting at a community table nearby. Eileen glides over to me, all in flowing black, squinting with piercing blue eyes less than a foot from my face - silver curly hair in a wild halo framing her face. Where Olita is a tiny tidy shiny lacy doll of a woman, Eileen is the complete opposite. I bet Eileen was the most handsomely unattainable and rugged Scottish beauty in her day. As Eileen talks about busses and trains and Liverpool station, my fertile imagination is weaving a Terry Gilliam tale around these two impossible characters in a London fast food joint. I keep having to internally shake myself and repeat what Eileen is saying to avoid going down that rabbit hole completely.

After a bit more conversation - Eileen recommending I see Lourdes - we all return to our posts. I only have about 8% power left in my laptop battery. I'm closing things up resigned to finishing my writing at the hotel and publishing my blog entry in the morning. As I'm closing things up, the (very large and intimidating) restaurant manager walks up to me, slams down a dirty tray aggressively, and launches into a loud tirade about 'who do i think i am coming into his restaurant and sitting there since 8:21 using the wireless connection and not buying anything! he has a business to run and he can't tolerate the likes of me coming in and just doing as i please! i need to buy something or leave immediately'. Hmph.
i'm so shocked i can't speak at first. then, i tell him i've been there and bought something the last 2 days. and he says i'm lying - that he is there every day and he hasn't seen me before. and even worse - i brought in food from outside (he gestures to the chocolate bar).i re-assert that i have bought food and if it was important i could prove it - but its really beside the point. i told him it was completely unnecessary to be rude about it, that i would have been more than happy to buy something. all he had to so was say so politely, and that making a scene was unprofessional. he blustered, repeating what he said originally, and stormed away.
I was so upset. I had to sit and regain my composure for a couple minutes. especially considering that I was already close to coming unhinged after the way the day had gone so far. Breathe, breathe... in, out.
i entertained thoughts of gathering all the "unsavory" characters I could find outside and bringing them in with me to buy them each something that would take a long time to eat. Alas, the usual crowd was not outside. i guess they all go "home" at that hour because it gets cold...? I decided it was for the best. In my heart i knew the intent behind the act was not kind. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, right? For all I know, he may be having a worse day than I. As a matter of fact, it was tough not to be petty in return and point out to him that he is a McDonalds manager so I can see why he needs to feel that he has authority over others in that small capacity. (Rrrrow, hiss, hiss!)
I went to the front to buy something but he was in the back making fries and there was a long line. I asked myself "Self, what are you doing? Hello! You have nothing to prove to that jerk!". So, I walked out, resolved to never return.
On the walk home, I entertained thoughts of eloquent and scathing letters to corporate HQ about how public humiliation is not a good business practice. Including receipts of purchases, threatening lawsuits, etc. Of course - all the time - knowing I would never actually do that. I still allowed a bit of indulgence in the safety of my mind. (Grumble, grumble. Stupid reality, consequence, karma, integrity, and inner peace. Bah!)

(As I'm stepping along, I start singing Black Flag "Rise Above" to myself to help let go of the petty thoughts. *whew* Now, that's better.)

I was hoping to stop at the grocery for a hotel snack, but they closed earlier tonight because it's Sunday. Of course they did.

i'm relieved to be back at the hotel. I resign not to take another half of a sleeping pill tonight so i can get the blog entries updated. I forgot that I bought a Stella Artois beer to keep at the hotel in case i wanted a midnight snack. But, I'm afraid to drink it because if the alcohol thins my blood, I might get another nose bleed that will take even longer to stop.

I make a last run to the restroom before battening down the hatches for the night. I wipe the side of my nose that wasn't bleeding earlier - and guess what. Yep. Now I have a nose bleed on the opposite side. Oh Yay. WTF, Universe?! Luckily this one is not as bad and only lasts a couple minutes. Today is all about appreciating the small mercies.

Now I have to go back and finish the entry for Friday night. But i just noticed it's getting light out. Heh. I was wondering why those doves were cooing in the middle of the night.
I should probably just stay up so I don't miss breakfast again.

(Sung to the tune of the Beastie boys' "no sleep 'til Brooklyn"...)
No sleep 'til [du nuh, nu nuuuh nuh...] DUBLIN!

Posted by icufoundme 12:52 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

20090426 Sunday in London - Part 1

Testing, testing, 1-2-3.

sunny 58 °F
View Western Europe - Spring 2009 on icufoundme's travel map.

[Sorry about any spelling and grammar issues. I don't have time to edit as much as I'd like. I need my own personal editor. Wouldn't that be nice? ;)]

I didn't want to get out of bed this morning. The sleep aid worked great and I didn't feel groggy. I just felt like I needed one of those "I'm on vacation and I want to lay in bed all day and read and doze and not feel guilty, dammit" sort of feelings.
The hotel was quiet so I figured it's early enough that breakfast hasn't started. I decided to doze until I heard rustling.
I woke with doors opening and closing in the hotel corridor and gave myself a get-up pep-talk bed based on the facts that; breakfast is free and i better get down there before the good stuff is gone; i could just be dealing with jet lag; it's my last day in London and I should go take the bus tour so I can see all the Important sites (After all - I turned down an opportunity to see the Hayden castle for this).

I do a shortened morning ritual and scamper down the 4 flights of stairs (no elevator). I swing open the door to the dining room and the staff is cleaning up. I'm 20 minutes late for breakfast. Gah! I fight the cranky feeling and tell myself it's OK ... that's just an excuse to try a traditional English breakfast after I get my bus ticket. I return to the room to get ready to go out. I watch the London marathon (The aver age age is 36 for women in the marathon. Go girls!) and realize that it runs along part of the bus tour route, so I start to wonder if the tours will even be running today. it's slow-going with a toothache and various other aches. I want to take Advil, but not on an empty stomach. I also don't want to get headachy from lack of food, so I eat some trail mix and cookies and take Advil with tap water. I finally get out the door and head straight to the bus kiosk. They are running alternate routes and returning to regular schedule in the afternoon.
The modified tour is still going by most of the major sites. It takes about 2 hours for the full circuit. I know I want to do postcards and blog stuff in the afternoon or evening, so I
decide to get a snack and coffee and take the modified tour without hopping off. That will give me an idea of what I want to see in more depth. So, I can do internet stuff mid-day after this tour, then take the tour again in the afternoon - hopping off at the sites I want to see more closely.
I cringe at the $30 ticket, but pay it anyway. I realize I only have about 15 pounds left, and I step into one of the many currency exchange kiosks between the ticket stand and the bus stop. I left my US cash in my bag at the hotel (not much), and the tax for using credit is 8% so I walk right back out again. Most places take Visa anyway. I'll get more cash later if I need it, but its not likely since I'm leaving in the morning.

From there, I wander into a "Pasty" shop to grab coffee and food for the bus tour. A young Indian man walks in right after me and as I'm pointing to the slice of Margarita Pizza I want, he says "you hungry? I buy for you" in a thick accent with a huge smile. I say "no, thank you, no" firmly but politely, and he proceeds to insist repeatedly until the other people and the clerk are getting upset waiting. i can see he will not back down so i make the mistake of showing my acquiescing nature by backing down for the sake of those waiting. [Thereby passing the "sucker" test.]

I take the slice, thank him and walk out the door suspecting it's not going to be that easy. i also didn't fail to notice that i just walked out of the cash exchange next door and didn't see him - he seemed to appear out of thin air. but i'm trying not to be too jaded. although... the food tactic would be a classic maneuver to establish that he has his own money to lower my guard, and make me feel indebted so i'll be more open to talking with him.
Sure enough, he is on my heels chatting me up. all outward signs say 'nice enough' but my instincts say to keep my guard up, so i do.

the bus stop is right across the street, so I'll be rid of him soon enough.
I give the tour operator my ticket and bid my farewell. he stands there and says "i go too?" when i say no, he just looks dejected. i climb to the top open level of the bus and wait for the tour to begin. The engine starts and I've got the headset plugged in. Its nice and sunny but cool, and I'm happy to finally be here - and about to finally eat. When... guess who comes galloping toward me waving and smiling. You guessed it. In my mind... "oh, crap. here we go.". he plops down next to me and and the bus takes off.


He was fine the first few stops. i ignored him pointing to my headphones when he spoke and looking through my camera taking pictures - not responding when he tried to catch my eye. i kept a close watch on my things. as i suspected, his behavior devolved over the course of the tour.
[For those who don't know me as well, I should give a bit of background here. I make an effort to be "open" when meeting someone new. This often triggers the "sucker alert" in predators when they do an initial boundary test. So, I have to deal with their silly games often. The lighter side of this same coin is that I meet a lot of amazing, kind and wonderful people I would not know otherwise. So, it's worth the trouble to me.]

I've dealt with enough manipulative and/or predatory types to hold my own in most cases. the wildcards are the sociopathic types. they decide they want something and go after it with no sense of boundaries, values, morals, guilt, or conscience. all you can do is hope they are less intelligent so you can find a way to manipulate their view of what they wanted. if they are smart - you're pretty much screwed. the best you can do is control the timing of when they find out they are not really getting what they wanted so you can be in a position to protect yourself from their wide range of potential reactions.

Unfortunately that is exactly what I found myself dealing with here. I kept a watchful and wary eye, ignored, evaded, distracted him. A quiet war was going on with me protecting my boundaries. I was mentally/emotionally exhausting but I was not in any real danger thanks to the environment.
On top of this, my camera battery died after about 20 minutes. After I switched to the spare, the camera complained that it was a non-Sony battery and shut off. I was livid! So, I resigned to get back to the area i am familiar with if I could tolerate him that long. i knew he would follow me off the bus wherever we stopped - and at least there, i know the area well. so, if he reacts badly when i tell him to piss off, or if he tries to follow me, i know right where to find the cops. i don't think he would do anything that dramatic, but you can't be too careful with a sociopath. if he bugs me too much in the mean time i'll have the tour guide kick him off the bus.

I won't go into details here - it would take too long, but we arrive at my stop without any incident beyond extreme annoyance. Although, I have a feeling he will act up when he realizes it's really the end of the line for him. (I can't quite tell if he's just unstable emotionally or mentally, or if he's on drugs.) After getting off the bus, i told him goodbye firmly and walked away and he did the expected "no, no, you stay - we have dinner" "i buy". and i wasn't surprised when it devolved to the scene he has been waiting to make: "i love you, no leave" "you beautiful" "please - one kiss", etc. and getting in my personal space so i have to push him away or back up. Instead of backing away, i push him away, then he acts like i'm hurting him to see if i will become apologetic.
when i didn't play into his act, and i just turned and walked away, he became angry and lurched at me, grabbing my arm. i'm sure i had murder in my eyes when i snarled "if you touch me, if you follow me - i'm calling the police! you understand me?!" and yanked my wrist out of his grip. he froze and i could see the conflict. the anger instinct fighting with reason. Trying to weigh the options. I was NOT bluffing and he was thankfully smart enough to see that. So, he chose the self-preservation route and his demeanor shifted instantly. he giggled sheepishly, "i only play" "i like you" " why you no like me?" "its ok - no problem, no problem". Then, he disappeared as quickly as he appeared.
His name was Asshat. (OK, not really - but it's fitting. And the name he told me sounded made-up so I didn't bother to remember it. But I took a picture of him as soon as he showed up on the bus originally - for a bit of added insurance.)

I was exhausted and pissed off and I needed to get my camera battery charged as much as possible so I could come back and take the afternoon tour and actually get some pictures this time. It was no longer something I just wanted - it was a mission. Things have been wonky all day and I'm not staying down, dammit! I watched my back the whole way home. Stuck to populated routes and zig-zagged to make sure I was not being followed.

Once home (aka hotel), I was so darn tired I decided that a nap was in order while the battery charged. I knew I should be doing postcards or blogging, but they will have to wait until tonight or tomorrow.

I get comfy clothes on and rinse my face. I go to the shared bathroom and before I leave, I blow my nose. Luck of luck, that starts one of my marathon nose bleeds. Can this day get better? Geez. It's bleeding so bad I'm not sure how to get back to the room without making a huge mess. I eventually make my way back and sit with my head over the little sink in my room for about 20 minutes before it slows down. I try to move to the desk chair, and it starts up again unexpectedly, staining my jeans, and it's about another 10 minutes before it slows and stops. I lay down - grateful that at least I'm in the hotel instead of on a tour bus dealing with this. And I fall into fitful sleep. Its afternoon when i wake. The battery is still charging. It takes me a while to get out of bed. I don't want another nose bleed so I'm being extra cautious. I'm hungry, but I'm determined to get that second bus tour before i leave for Dublin tomorrow. I pack up and head out.

When I arrive, the bus tour operator says that line has stopped for the day. Wow, I slept a lot more than I thought! (Earlier, he told me the buses run until 8:30). Apparently they are ending earlier today due to the marathon. He says i can walk a few blocks to the other station and take the sister tour which goes to most of the same sights. it won't come back to this stop though - it will stop in Piccadilly Circus. i resolve to go anyway and find my way back to Victoria station by tube.

I am hungry, cold, and tired, but determined. There are many different buses with different stops, so I pass the spot i need to be by a city block, then have to go back. i wait. and i wait. many buses come and go. one driver that came by for the second time asked what I was waiting for, and when i told him, he said, "oh, the last of those left at 5:21". So, I basically just missed it when I overshot the station by a block. Nice.

Now, I'm really fighting the urge to give in. But I decide to get myself a nice meal - maybe fish 'n' chips or meat pie. I wander into "The Shakespeare" and they put me at a table in the center of the dining room. There is only one other table in the center. 4 French tourists are there talking about me, i can only assume by their sideways glances. I'm sure they are saying how much they love my scarf. ahem.


It was about 20 minutes before they took my order. A pint and a meat pie dinner. Mmm, I cant wait. Thankfully, in the time i was waiting to order - I remembered I had the book "Eat, Pray, Love" in my backpack. As I'm reading it - the author is talking about her depression and her failed marriage and confusion and its just waaay too close to home. And my eyes keep welling up and I'm praying not to cry. Not here - not now. Thankfully the author is tactful at placing sarcastic jokes right in the places I'm about to lose my composure. *whew*.

My food finally arrives and its delicious. I'm so grateful. Then, as i'm about 2/3 into the meat pie I just happen to look more closely at a forkful of meat pie I was about to shove in my face... and there is a long thick black hair hanging there and I close my eyes for a moment and reopen them to make sure I'm not dreaming, it just seems so ridiculous at this point. Sure enough. I set the fork on the plate and push it away. I wasn't really hungry any more anyway. *sigh*. I go back to reading for a bit. I think to myself that i'm grateful that I have a book and a pint, so I pull my glass toward me and as I'm about to take a swig, I see a tiny fly there swimming his little heart out... drowning in ale. and i can't help but laugh at how ridiculous this is getting. I use my butter knife to fish him out and give him a second lease on life.


It's another 20 minutes or so until they come to my table to see If i'm done. I just want to leave at this point. I pay and walk out. Smiling at the cliche of "i should have just stayed in bed". I'm actually looking forward to getting to McDonald's and connecting with the world I'm familiar with for a little bit. I've absolutely HAD IT with London at this point and I'm looking forward to leaving for Dublin tomorrow.


Posted by icufoundme 12:05 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

20090425 Saturday in London - Part 2

A bit of Balti

sunny 54 °F
View Western Europe - Spring 2009 on icufoundme's travel map.

[I forgot to mention in this morning's post that It rained overnight, and everything was wet outside when I woke up. Luckily, it ended up being sunny and beautiful all day.]

[I also forgot to mention that I somehow managed to get a huge scratch on my sunglasses I bought for this trip. Something must have rubbed against them in my purse. Good thing they were cheap and I brought another pair ;)]

I wandered to McDonald's to use the internet connection. My laptop battery started dying before I could finish with the pictures. So, I wandered across the street to an internet cafe. Its 3 pounds per hour for a connection, but they are turning a blind eye to me using power. It takes a while to get photos uploaded and named, etc. Read email, yadda yadda.

On the flight over to London, when I was telling Chris about my family's English history (traced back to the 1100's) and the Hayden castle, he said that his brother lives in that area and he might be driving there Sunday to get out of town for the Marathon. He would keep me posted via email.

Also, as we were parting ways at Victoria tube station, he said if I liked Indian food to give him a call and he will take me to an area where there are a lot of Indian restaurants, and hopefully to one really great one in particular.

I decide that I'm not going to take the Sunday drive. I want to see the more touristy sites and get some photos. Maybe even get some pictures of the marathon since I'm here and won't likely have that opportunity again. Not to mention that it's about a 2.5 hour drive each way.

Indian food sounds like a great option for dinner tonight, though. So, I wander out to call Chris on a pay phone to see if the offer still stands. I discover that most London payphones have wads of paper jammed into the coin slots, or the coin slots are damaged. After about 3 attempts at the second phone, it finally accepts my coins, and Chris picks up. The call ends abruptly after about 10 seconds. I'm not having much luck getting the phone to take coins again, so I walk down the street for a couple blocks trying each phone along the way. At about the 5th phone, I find one that will take coins. Of course it is the first booth I've come across where the door is missing, so I'm hoping the traffic noise doesn't interfere. We have a brusque conversation concluding that he will meet me at the McDonald's at 7pm. It's 5:30ish now. My laptop is charged so I can do more work online while I wait. I can also fill out the postcards if I decide not to get online.

Chris shows up shortly after 7 and I'm impressed since London traffic is like nothing I've seen before. On the way to his car, I see a city worker pulling a large container with a vacuum hose along the sidewalk and I comment that I 'now understand why London is so clean'. Chris points out that we are in one of the better areas, Westminster - where there is tourism and government, but it's not this clean everywhere.

I also mention that I've noticed there is a clear lack of public trash receptacles - and the ones I've seen are these sturdy concrete jobs. He says that started in an effort to minimize the IRA bombs being dropped in trash bins (and now to minimize other terrorist organizations potentially doing the same thing). Wow. Ok.

I mention my amusement with using McDonald's as my home base and that I would have expected wireless to be available at cafe's like it is in the states. He says that McDonald's had some bad press and they are doing what they can to attract business. Well, it worked on me.

Chris drives us along the tourist route pointing out the sites. (There is a man who lives in a tent in the park. He has been there since the Iraq war started and the government has made a special allowance for him to stay there. Fascinating.) The traffic is horrendous, and I know it must be a pain for him, so I'm grateful. I'm particularly fascinated as he points out some of the original very old buildings that were not destroyed by German bombs in WW2. This is an eye-opener for me. We also go past part of the original Roman wall. Everything here makes me realize how young we are as a country in the U.S.. It's one thing to know something cerebrally, but to have the tangible evidence really drives the point home.

It takes about a half hour to get to what he says is the "East End" - not to be confused with "East London". It's an area that used to be where the lower class laborers resided. It's still less affluent, but the gap is not so wide. (Later, over dinner, we discuss concerns about how this gap seems to be widening again in both our home countries.)

We park and walk down to a street lined with nook restaurants along both sides sporting colorful lighted signs. (I can't recall the name of the street. Maybe Chris will leave it in the comments.) You can smell curry from the end of the street. There is a hopping brewhouse and a film festival going on. 3 men are playing live music out front. This area seems to be the place where hip London youth go to be seen.


Each Indian place we pass by has someone out front trying to pull you in with a deal. Chris said it's illegal so they stopped doing that for a long time, but it's started back up again.
We reach the restaurant that he says is the best: Aladin Balti restaurant (nobody soliciting here - just a bouncer to keep people from pushing their way in). They know him, and he says they will call us when a table opens up. So, we continue to wander through the crowds taking in the sites and smells. There is an Indian sweet shop that I drag chris into so I can take pictures because it's so fantastically beautiful the way things are layed out. We picked out a few things to try after dinner.


Chris shows me one of his favorite streets in the area. he used to live there his last year of college. The buildings are extremely old and some have been restored, but others have left the brick in it's original condition. In spots the brick is still nearly black from all the soot and smoke that used to hang all over London from the chimneys and burning coal.
Chris talked about the time when the Huguenots came through. (I wish I could recall what he said. I've been trying to enjoy my experiences in the moment instead of staying behind my camera and my notebook all the time. Unfortunately that means I lose a lot of details. But I have a great time!) This street reminds me of New Orleans. I think its the dark energy that swirls around the buildings... like they want to tell you their sad stories.


We walk back on another street that has the most interesting Moorish architecture on the building facade. At one point near the end of the street - they have built a modern glass building that comes all the way up to the facade leaving only about 5 feet between. They have propped the facade with wooden beams. So odd.


[It seems like all of London is in transition. Old and new together. Overlapping. It's not a clean transition anywhere tha I can see. You will have very old things in varying states of repair right next to very new shiny things everywhere you look.]

[At some point, Soho comes up and it reminds me of Salena Godden. I wish I was getting a chance to see her while I'm here :(. Have a wondrous tour love!]

Apparently it's common that a restaurant will not have license to sell alcohol, but you can bring your own drinks if you like. So, we stopped at a tiny shop and each picked out an Indian beer to take to the restaurant.
We wandered back to Aladin to check the status of our table. Not ready yet. There always seems to be a rotating mob of people trying to talk their way inside. Once people get a table, they are loathe to leave it, apparently. There isn't the same kind of 'rush the customer to turn the table quickly and make bigger profits' mentality here.
We end up waiting outside quite a long time, but I'm perfectly happy people watching and listening to the live music from down the street.
I comment that I like how most women here wear scarves, because I love to wear scarves, but its less common in the states. I also express my bafflement at some of the fashions. Are bubble skirts really needing to come back from the 80's? He says I notice everything. But i I know that's not true generally, so I think I'm just in observation mode. Besides, this is all different for me, where it's the norm for him.

A group of girls is trying to get into the restaurant and they are passing a wine bottle between them. I'm surprised to see anyone drinking on the street in such a blatant way and Chris explains that it's perfectly legal. At that point, I express my surprise that everyone is not drinking on the street while walking around. He seems to think that would be in poor taste. There is some cultural difference there, and we are both curious as to why. I explain that the only place people can drink in public in the U.S. is Nevada (I think). So, it seems like a novelty that you can only take advantage of if you are on vacation in Las Vegas or something. I still can't quite comprehend why it makes any difference in tastefulness whether you drink inside or outside if its all equally legal. But we chalk it up to a cultural thing. Moments after this discussion, we both realize that the girls passing around the wine bottle are American and exchange knowing grins.

[Chris says he has seen various minor celebrities and some MPs at Aladin on occasion. I say "I assume that doesn't mean 'Military Police'", and he laughs and explains that its a common reference to "Members of Parliament". Ah, ok.]

We eventually get settled into our table on the small downstairs part of the restaurant. The music is at that festive level where everyone has to speak loudly to hear each other, but you can still be heard. They are playing what I might qualify as "Hindi Club Mix" but Chris called it a name I can't remember - something related to Bangladesh. It's warm and cozy and the food is worth the wait. It's fantastic! There is orange zest in the Raita. Wow. Each dish has a unique exquisite blend of spices that I wish I could bottle and carry around with me to take out and sniff whenever I please. Heavenly.


Part of the reason this restaurant is so popular (besides the amazing food) is that about 20 years ago, Prince Charles himself made a speech about how this area used to be full of sweat shops and has vastly improved. And he mentions this restaurant in particular. By special request, they will play the tape for the guests. Lots of folks were requesting it, so I had the privilege of hearing the tape and cheering with everyone when the restaurant is mentioned. Woo hoo!

[I've noticed that you don't get water served at restaurants. If you ask for it, they serve you tap water.]

After we eat, there is one more sight that Chris says is not to be missed. The famous Bagle Shop. They are open 24/7 and have been around for a very long time - since this was a Jewish district. They hand-make the dough. Too bad I was so full. I would have loved to try a fresh baked bagel. And my photo turned out blurry. More excuses to return ;)


It's getting late and I have sweater layers but no jacket, so I'm getting chilly. We head back to the car. I'm closing my eyes half the time in the car because I can't seem to get used to the way people drive here. We talk about the differences between the countries in this respect and I also share my amusement with the cars in general.

I also realize that something is missing here in London that makes it seems very different from home... Mexicans! I have come across a few Spanish speaking people, but not a single Mexican. Nor a Mexican restaurant. Apparently there are a couple of Mexican specialty restaurants, but that's it. He said the population equivalent here would be the Pakistani and Indian. There are probably almost as many middle eastern restaurants here as there are Taquerias in California - so that makes sense.

Chris drops me at my hotel. We divvy up the desserts and say our thanks and farewells. [Thank you so much, Chris!! Let me know if you and Paula want a tour of Santa Cruz next time you are in The States!]

I check the time in the hotel lobby. It's 3 minutes to Midnight. And, yes. That caused me to get an Iron Maiden song stuck in my head. It seems fitting - since I'm in their home country.

I'm exhausted but I take a bite of each dessert because I'm curious and don't know if they will still be good tomorrow. The beige blocky one is the only one that doesn't make me cringe. It reminds me of something I've had before, but can't put a finger on. Perhaps marzipan.


One last random observation about London for the day. They can do just about anything with brick. I've seen more shapes, sizes, colors, patterns, and uses of brick since I've been here than I could ever have dreamed. I guess it's likely it stands out more to me being from California. You rarely see brick used in Earthquake country.

  • yawn* *stretch*

Good night!

Posted by icufoundme 11:22 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged food Comments (0)

20090425 Saturday in London - Part 1

View Western Europe - Spring 2009 on icufoundme's travel map.

I woke and the light was creeping in through the gaps in the sides of the black-out curtains. I'm curious what time it is. The hotel is silent so its either early or late. (It's so strange not having a cell phone! I keep expecting it to vibrate in my purse.)

I felt great after a long night of undisturbed sleep. Running my fingers through my hair, I found a big tangled clump. It turns out that my wax earplugs (which are amazing and highly recommended still, BTW) were stuck together and in a big knot tangled in my hair. Thankfully, it was fairly easy to untangle. It's mysterious that they were stuck together. That tells me that at some point in the night, I removed them and stuck them together, then fell back asleep before putting them down.

I wander out of my room and ask 3 different staff members for the time before someone understands me. I think the owners are Indian, the laborers may be lebanese (there is construction and painting on my floor), and the staff Ukrainian women... If I had to guess. But who knows. At least everyone is cheerful.

I was delighted to find that it's 8:20AM - still time to get the free breakfast! So, I put a scarf on my head and run downstairs to a tasty full breakfast. I'll take a picture tomorrow.
(At this point, I've decided to stay at this hotel. I thought about hauling my suitcase to McDonald's to use the internet and search for a hostel, and it sounded very unpleasant. So, I checked in for the next 2 nights and decided to search more aggressively for someone to share my room. During breakfast I scoped out the women for potential accostees. No luck so far.)

Housekeeping is ignoring the "do not disturb" sign and asking to clean my room. She agreed to come back in an hour. By then I should be showered and ready to go out.

I write the rest of last night's adventures and delete the redundant photos, rotate them, rename them by date and order taken.

Time to shower and head out for more adventure. I'll stop at McD's and upload the photos on my way.

Posted by icufoundme 11:13 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged lodging Comments (0)

20090423/4 First Day in Europe - London (Part 2)

The first Pint is the deepest.

View Western Europe - Spring 2009 on icufoundme's travel map.

After I sent my last post, my computer died before I could get the pictures uploaded. So, I packed up my laptop and walked down to the spot where Victoria station lets out. I was hoping to get a bus tour booked for tomorrow at the tour kiosk. They were just closing up, and gave me a brochure. As far as I can tell, I could walk the same route, and the difference would be the walking time, and the tour guide giving a bit of history. If I decide to go ahead with it - I can come back in the morning. The buses leave every 15 minutes. Its hop-on / hop-off.

[Update: The full size images are now posted at http://icufoundme.shutterfly.com/]

By the station, there is a little corridor shopping center with booths selling tourist collectors items. I bought some post cards and postage and eyeballed an army green silk paisley scarf for 2.99. Maybe I'll pick it up tomorrow.

The temperature is dropping and the breeze is cool. It reminds me very much of Santa Cruz weather. It's all about the layers. I put on my first of 2 sweaters tied around my waist.
It's about 5pm and the workers are filling the pubs. Time for my first pint in London.

I walk to the end of the block where I see what I assumed to be a pub. It turns out to be the Balls Brothers wine bar. I took a picture and walked back the direction of my hotel resolved that my first drink will be a pint of ale ;)


I come across "The Duke of York" and ask the barkeep to recommend a pale ale. He says "light or dark"? I choose dark, and he gives me IPA. I wander the pub and there are no seats. A nice gentleman named Jason offers me his stool, so I take a seat. I talk with him and his friend Tom for about 45 minutes as I finish my pint. I can't believe I forgot to get pictures. Well, I have Jason's email, so hopefully he will post a picture.


After that Pint, I continue down the street - stopping in a couple of ladies clothing stores that were very reasonable. Beautiful things, but nothing I need, obviously.

I really enjoy the small day-to-day differences between cultures. One of my favorite things to do is browse around grocery stores. I stopped in Sainsbury's to pick up snacks for later at the hotel, and took a bunch of pictures of things that amused me. Those who worked with me at SurfControl will recognize the Yorkie bars I used to have at my desk sometimes; "Not for girls!". Hahaha! Gin and Tonic in a can - nice!


After leaving the store, I come across "The and decide to have another pint. This barkeep picks up on my accent right away, and when I ask for a pint of ale - he tells me that they call lager "beer", and ale "bitters". So, I ask him to recommend a bitter, and he asks me "large or small". I say "pint", baffled. Then , I notice that lots of people are drinking beers from tiny glasses like ones I'm used to seeing at restaurants serving orange juice or milk with breakfast. A half pint, I assume.
He pours me a lovely pint of "London Pride". Nobody speaks to me the whole time I'm there except some tourists from Louisiana who agree to take a picture for me. I took a short video of the pub scene for anyone interested.


Overall, it seems that Londoners aren't particularly friendly unless you press yourself on them, then they open up. I suppose it's the same most places. The few friendlies I met were from outside London proper, and emphatically agreed that they had the same conclusion.

London actually reminds me of New York a bit. During the day - the city is all business. People racing around in expensive trendy clothing, pushing and shoving to get to the important places they are headed. Its very multinational. And there are obvious divides - and in some cases animosities - between the cultures. But for the most part... people are just people like they are anywhere.

After that last pint, it was my favorite time of day for photos - the golden hour and evening. I had a second wind and walked down Victoria Street toward the River Thames. I spent the time until dark taking photos of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Methodist Central Hall, and a bit of The Houses of Parliament and The Eye of London.


In my photos, I keep cutting the very top off of my subjects. Dang. I try to get as far away as I can, and zoom out as far as I can, but It seems like I just can't seem to get a little space at the top of the building images. I'm the ultimate tourist here - climbing up on fences, standing in streets, crouching under trees with my camera to get the pictures. Heh.

Well, its getting chilly and I'm Hungry, so I head back to the Hotel.
There's a subway in an alley by the hotel so I get a warm Italian Sandwich to go.

After I'm safe and warm back in my room, I eat and take half of one of the sleep aid pills my doctor gave me for the trip (Zolpidem). Dessert is dark Choco Liebniz abd whole milk - mmmm!
I charge my laptop grateful that I bought that $5 universal plug converter from Amazon.com.


I was already exhausted today. Now I can't keep my eyes open a minute longer.

Good night world!

Posted by icufoundme 06:05 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

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