Monday, October 02, 2006

London, Part 6

Today was bittersweet. We were sad to see the vacation end and leave London, but being sick we were pretty anxious to get back home to our own bed and bathroom. We also wanted to see how Jess-Belle was doing after so much time away from us so soon after her surgeries. She was, by the way, completely healed and happy to see us when we got home, jumping and running around, back to being the same old Jess-Belle.

Our first plan for Saturday was to head back to the Tottenham Court Road tube station to take more photos of the interior, as it was the setting where David kills the businessman in An American Werewolf in London. Interesting side note-apparently the actor who plays the doomed businessman is the same guy who plays Bib Fortuna in Return of the Jedi. Anyway, that plan was thwarted because that station is on the Central line, which was closed for the weekend. The posters all over the Underground warned us that closures, especially on weekends, could affect our journey. We should have heeded that warning. So we have no photos of the interior walls, which have very Aztec-y mosaic work on the walls.

This also meant mapping out a different route to the British Museum, which was our second plan. I forget which line we took, but it was easy since there are maps all over the place in the Underground. London, as I said before, is very well labeled, unless you are looking for a street sign. And the Underground is so great. I miss it.

We got off at the Russell Square, which is not surprisingly, a square. It is a little park with a nice pond and really aggressive squirrels and birds. I think somewhere in her carpet bag Mary Poppins has another snowglobe of Russell Square-the birds and squirrels have been very spoiled by some of the old ladies who spend time there.

The British Museum was very busy, but not so bad that you felt like a sardine. It is an odd place, as there is nothing British in it, just spoils from the conquests of the British Empire. There weren't even that many British people there-it was mainly us and about 20 different Asian tour groups. Being a Saturday, there weren't any field trips so all of the tours were adults. A nice feature, I must say. We saw (and photographed, obviously) the Rosetta stone, and one of the smaller heads from Easter Island, as well as pretty much everything that used to be on the Parthenon. That really struck Chris, as he could recall visiting the Parthenon when his family was making the trip back to the US from India, and he remembered thinking how bare and empty the ruins looked. Even to him as a small boy, that seemed odd. Now he knows why-it was all shipped to England and installed in the British Museum.

Everything was really neat to look at, certainly. The mummies were fascinating, and the stone sculptures from Egypt, Greece, and Rome were amazing. But we found it interesting that the people who brought these items back had enough of a sense of history to know that these items should be preserved, but did not consider the idea of not only preserving the items but the locations as well. There were no conservation efforts in the countries of origin, as if they could not see the forest for the trees. Perhaps a sense of nationalism was the other motivating factor, and the thought was wow, we really need to keep these things we found nice so everyone can see all we have accomplished in our explorations.

The middle of the building is this domed rotunda called the Great Court. The room in the middle is a huge library, which was incredible. Filled to the top with books on everything. I'm such a nerd-I adore libraries!

We were able to make 2 more additions to our floaty pen collection at the gift shop, which was cool, as we hadn't seen many of them elsewhere. Also, I did not see a lot of Pez in England, even in the sweet shops. All I could find were the same things I can get here. After the museum, we headed back to Bayswater and had another pub dinner at the Kings Head Pub. I could not resist getting fish and chips again, and I was not disappointed. Each time the filets had the skin still on one side, which actually added a lot of flavor. I also tried Strongbow cider for the first time. Quite nice.

We then stopped at the Whitely shopping center for one last trip to the HMV. I had decided that even though it was 13 pounds and I could most likely find it cheaper at home, I really did in fact want to buy the new Iron Maiden record. Part of me wanted to listen to it on the plane, and part of me wanted some British metal that was actually from England. I suppose I'm not completely over the whole wanting to own something from somewhere cool thing. It is pretty good-it has some shades of prog, actually. Better than Dance of Death, but it's no Powerslave.

We also stopped in the Marks and Spencer for more orange sparkling water and some pastry. I ate this really yummy and flaky praline twisty thing. We then went back to the hotel to put all of our new records on our iPods for the trip home, and to try and sleep a bit before our 4:45 am departure to Heathrow.

We did get a few hours nap time, and around 4 were ready in time to have a breakfast of tea biscuits, Pot Noodle, and everything else we had not yet finished from all of our grocery trips. We checked out of the hotel, (our incidental charges only came to 28p, since we remembered to return the internet cable) said goodbye to our tour director Peter (GoAhead vacations made all of our travel arrangements, then set us free in city-the perfect "tour") who was great to us the couple of times actually crossed paths with him, then headed for the airport with 2 women from Oregon who had also been part of our tour. We then stood in line from about 5 to 7:30 trying to check in for our tickets for our flight, which was overbooked. We made it, though.

Our flight home was a little longer than our flight there, since we left from Dulles in D.C. but returned to O'Hare in Chicago, but there was a lot less turbulence on the way back. And it was daytime, so we saw more of the ocean. Breakfast was not so great (do NOT eat the sausage links on an airplane) but the lunchtime snack was this really nice ham sandwich on pretzel bread. As I was in full on cold mode, I took a Tylenol PM to thwart the inevitable pressure headache (I was unable to bring peppermint oil in my carry-on because of the no liquids thing) so I slept for about 5 of the 7 hours, waking up in time to see the end of X-Men:The Last Stand and to see Lake Michigan.

Our 2 hour layover in Chicago was just enough time get through customs and immigration and still make our flight. But even if we had missed it, we were just in Chicago, so we could have driven home had that been our only option. We were so anxious to get home and shower and see the kitty. We caught a fast wind on the way to Columbus, so that flight was only about 40 minutes. My parents picked us up, and my Mom who had been cat-sitting (along with our gems of next door neighbors Michelle and Nate) had bought us prepared food so we didn't have to cook when we got there. That was a very thoughtful surprise, as we were so sick, so tired, and so filthy-all we wanted to do was take a shower and lie down in our bed and feel clean. After being in that small hotel room, our apartment looked huge! And as always, I was really glad we cleaned before we left. Coming home from vacation to a messy house is such a letdown.

And such was our trip to England. Aside from the colds, it was a blast. Like all vacations there were things we loved and will miss dearly (the cool record stores, the Thames walk, the Underground, Tesco microwaveables, Magnums, cheese and onion crisps), things that we were glad to leave behind (the understaffing at Heathrow, diesel, an almost complete lack of air conditioning, roundabouts), and things that were so different they weren't good or bad, just part of the experience (constant late night porn and gameshows on television, a large variety of coin denominations, mushy peas). Like most large cities I visit, I would love to return for a visit but would not want to live there. I don't think I could ever afford to enjoy it on a constant basis. But I would jump at the chance to return, and recommend it to everyone as a vacation destination. Get some good shoes, a good tube map, an Oyster card as your pass to ride the Underground, and 123 GO!

We came home to a healthy kitty, a clean house, and our 4th wedding anniversary. This made coming home as nice as it could be. And now that we are home, please feel free to smack us if we start to say things like lift, fortnight, mobile, or anything else Anglo-phile poser-like that does not involve describing the trip. Thanks for reading!

From top:
1) The Great Court of the British Museum
2) The Rosetta stone
3) An Easter Island head--er--torso
4) One of the many massive Egyptian pieces that had me in awe
5) The King's Head pub in Bayswater on our final night in London


Hiroshi said...

Wow! What an awesome trip! Great photos and although there are other virtual tours of London available on the web, how many are so festooned with comic book and pop culture references-!? Thanks for taking the time to post!

Chris & Xan said...

Thanks for taking the time to read, Hiroshi!