Tuesday, June 29, 2010

London, last day

It's Tuesday, about 6 pm. I did three of the four things I wanted to do today. Couldn't make it to the London Zoo in time before it closed.

This morning I went to the Tower of London first. Kind of misnomer, since it has about 20 towers. The tour was a bit lame. I'm guessing that the guide didn't take us in towers because our group had at least 100 people. I did walk through a couple towers -- fascinating stuff. And I went into the Crown Jewels. Kinda crazy how you can't take pictures in there. Oh, man, I'm not a fan of diamonds and jewels, but those spectres and crowns are amazing! And before I left I caught sight of on the lawn in front of the Tower of London a touristy attraction where you could shoot the two-story catapult. It took four tourists to pull the ropes so that they could shoot a water balloon.

Next it was off to Westminster Abbey. Sadly, you're not allowed to take pictures in there, just like in the Crown Jewels building. Pretty amazing in there. It costs 15 pounds to get in, and they give you audio pieces where the actor Jeremy Irons is your guide. Besides the tombs of kings and queens, they have a Poet's Corner and a sections saluting the sciences; Isaac Newton is buried there and I think Charles Darwin, or maybe he's just memorialized there.

Big Ben is a block away, so I took pictures of it and the nearby Parliament building. Pretty cool to see it up close.

I came back to my hotel around 4 pm. I'm just resting now. Gonna check out the train station I have to go to for the ride to Cardiff, Wales. Only a 2-hour trek so no big deal. Then I'm gonna hit a local Italian restaurant. Feel like some pasta.

London, day 3

On Monday, after eating an English breakfast here at the hotel (sans eggs), I had planned to go to the Royal Albert Hall first, but judging by their website they don't have tours, so I blew it off and went to the Old Bailey a.k.a. the Criminal Centre, down near St. Paul's Cathedral. I didn't go inside because the line was too long and you couldn't take a camera inside, however I did take a picture of solicitors outside, though it's not the best photo since I was trying not to bring attention myself. I'm gonna have to go back and watch episodes of Rumpole and the Old Bailey because the real thing looked nothing that iconic TV show.

Growing more confident with taking the tube, I headed to the BBC Television Centre in the East End. I had to buy my ticket the night before online; the only slot left was 1:45 pm. Despite taking my time to get there, I had plenty of time to kill. The tour was OK. You weren't allowed to take pictures for the most part, but they did let us see two studios from visitor booths up high. Both were for kids TV shows; they were shooting one, a game show. Sidenote: interesting that they rent their studios to commercial stations, like ITV. Oh, and you should've saw how many lights each studio had -- I think they were all remote-controlled. Another fascinating tidbit (at least to me), a lot of their news show have unmanned cameras because the anchors don't move around; also, the anchors write their own stories, which is why they shuffle around papers. The tour ended in the BBC shop. They didn't have two DVDs I was looking for: Quatermass and Casanova, both remakes from the noughties.

In the mid-afternoon, on the fly, I went to Harrod's, a very posh department store. I went to the HMV on the fourth or fifth floor and bought the first series of No Angels, a nurse dramedy I heard about because of one actress connected to the Doctor Who universe. I then had dinner down in their food hall. It cost about 45 pounds but was really good: 6 crab/shrimp dumplings, chips (steak fries), a house salad, and the best iced tea ever (very sweet).

Then it was off to the West End. I had bought a ticket for the Agatha Christie play, Mousetrap, yesterday, but they didn't have a Sunday-night performance just a matinee, so I had to wait a day. The play was really good. Glad they had an intermission 'cause the day of running around caught up with me in the first half -- had trouble staying awake, but a bottle of water and a cup of ginger ale during intermission woke me up.

Tomorrow's my last day in London. Gonna try and squeeze four things in.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

London, day 2

Well, I'm much more coherent today than yesterday -- don't even wanna read yesterday's post. Though, I did wake up around midnight after two hours sleep. Here, I was rubbing my eyes raw. I had been sneezing after visiting Hyde Park, and it lingered; something there triggered my hay fever. But it's all good now.

I got up about 7:40 this morning (Sunday) and had a complimentary English breakfast in the hotel, though I skipped the eggs. Then I was off to the Shakespeare Globe.

I decided to walk, but when I got to where I thought it was, the West Ende, I realized I read the map wrong. So I went to the nearest Underground station and took the tube to where the Globe is actually at.

They do a great job at the Globe. Part of the property is an exhibit, which I cruised around in (nothing original . . . mostly reproductions) until my tour started at "half past eleven". The tour goes into the actual Globe Theatre, where they put on performances in the afternoon and evening; they were setting up for the former while my group of 50(!) visitors got schooled by our Shakespeare guide. I knew the Globe was a recreation. What I didn't know that the original held three times as many people (3,000) and that it was destroyed twice. First time a pyrotechnic during a production landed on the thatch roof and burned down the place; the second time the Puritans took it down along with other theatres in London, 'cause they saw plays as immoral.

Next it was off to the British Museum. Before going in I hit a deli a block away. Got a veggie sandwich -- this time I ate the eggs.

The British Museum is awesome! Puts Philly's Art Museum to shame. Took tons of pictures, including of the Rosetta Stone. I'll post several of those Museum pics when I get back to home.

Around four o'clock I came back to the hotel and mapped out tomorrow's itinerary. I'm only here two more full days. Tons to do. So on impulse I hopped on the tube to Buckingham Palace. Oh, I bought a day pass for five pounds, sixty pence. WHAT A BARGAIN!

Buckingham Palace is in/near Grace Park, I believe it's called. Tours are only in August and September, so with about a hundred other onlookers, I took numerous pictures. Even got a couple shots of the two beefeaters. Interestingly, they're behind the black-iron fence, about 30 feet back; I'll let you convert that to metres.

Leaving Buckingham Palace, my allergies acted up again, but not as bad as yesterday. I took the tube back the Paddington train station, which is a few blocks from my hotel. I was going to eat in a fish and chips place, but they had no restroom (I'm sorry, toilet). So I went to a restaurant across the street from the train station, a steak place. Good call. I don't eat steak at home. Got an 8-ounce steak, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes and a pint of milk. Good stuff and not too bad a price at 24 and change. I put 35 on my credit card 'cause the waiter, with the French or Italian accent, was very good.

It's about 10:20 on Sunday night. Gonna shower then watch the Doctor Who episode I just downloaded. Seems fitting to watch it in the UK.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

UK vacay, with Murphy's Law in full effect

My trip got off to a bad start. It was cool that my sister drove me down to the airport with her husband and three kids (good times), but around 3:30 p.m. an intense storm, going on for at least a half-hour. It was so bad, Air Traffic Control grounded flights, which pushed planes two-plus hours behind. My plane to JFK in New York was supposed to take flight at 5:50; it didn't leave till 8:30. While the plane was still on the runway in Philly, I called the airline (Delta) and they told that my flight out of New York, to London, was scheduled to leave at its scheduled time of 8:45 -- since I was going to miss my flight, they could have me on a 4:30 a.m. plane to Atlanta, then to London. I said I'd call them back.

I didn't arrive in JFK until about 9:15. I was standing in the longest line (about 75 people in front of me). The board above the Delta customer-service desk had cities like Dallas and Seattle and future flight times that night. I assumed the London flight was long gone. Boy, was I wrong, when 25 minutes later I turned around and saw Delta international computer screen. At 9:53 I saw that my London flight had been pushed back until 10. I ran from gate 24 to 12 as fast as I could, getting down there at 9:59, but the plane had taken off. Delta said they could put me on British Airways, but not until 9:35 the next night, so I booked a room at an EconoLodge in Queens -- not the safest of neighborhoods.

I checked out the next morning. Running low on cash (the taxi the night before cost me $20 [$14.90 plus a tip]), so I started walking the six miles to the airport. Luckily a few blocks into my trip I found out about a bus that went to the airport. Thanks to the kindness of strangers I made it the airport safe and sound (one flight attendant swiped her MetroPass for me and I paid her $2.25, since the bus doesn't take cash; and a TSA employee told me to sit tight when I almost got off at the wrong stop).

I lounged around the airport for about nine hours. Talked to my mom and my sister Diane a lot, took a nap in the afternoon in the waiting room of a rarely-used gate, and ate some overpriced food. Glad I went to the airport early because I went over to Delta and they verified that my one piece of luggage was in Heathrow already.

On the plane ride I mostly slept (kinda of a waste that I charged up my Mac and iPod). It only took six hours to get to London. And British Airways is the shiz-net! Very comfortable.

I got into London 9:30 a.m. local time. I went to the British Airways desk for my luggage. They had no record of it and said I should go to Delta's terminal, which was about a half-hour ride via Heathrow's free train system. Delta took me downstairs to their luggage department. Some kid sent my luggage over to British Airways yesterday. So it was another half-hour trip back to British Airways. I purposefully didn't talk to the same customer-service agent. Thank God! The one I zeroed must've been manager material because she pointed across the cavernous room to a stack of luggage in the corner that Delta dropped off yesterday. My luggage was there! Wish the first British Airways chick would've told me about that mountain of luggage.

The taxi ride to my hotel was 62 pounds (YIKES!). I gave him 70 because my travel book says a tip is not mandatory but expected, plus we had a nice talk about British Airways and UK TV.

Weird thing about my motel is that I can't leave with the key. They say there's 24-hour reception; I just have to drop the key off when I leave.

Since my room didn't have soap, I walked a few blocks down to this avenue, Everglade I think it's called, and hit the chemist. I ventured further down the Ave. and got a fried fish burger, steak fries (a.k.a. chips) and a can of Pepsi for 5.80. A nice treat since I don't eat breaded fish at home.

I then went to Hyde Park, which is about a half-mile away, because the band Blur played a pair of reunion gigs there last July for 50,000 each night. Beautiful park! It's huge!!! Best park I've ever been to. They have a Peter Pan statue, tons of fountains, and hundreds of people were out enjoying the 80-plus weather. I made it down to Princess Diana's Memorial Fountain. Interesting. It was ginormous circle -- little kids playing in it -- with the occasional tiny concrete bridge you could walk over.

Afterwards, I came back to my hotel and mapped out tomorrow's itinerary. Gonna take public transit tomorrow, so I was researching that. Looks like I gotta go about four blocks around the corner to Paddington Station and get a daily pass.

I also bought my nephew Billy his B-day gift -- his party was today, I believe. Got him a red double-decker bus and black taxi cab. It's not Star Wars but hopefully he'll dig it.

I then ate dinner at an Indian restaurant. Good food, slow service.

Oh, and at one point today I realized that I forgot to bring the attachment to download pictures from my camera to computer, so I had to go out and buy a memory card. I paid 30 pounds for 8GB; hope I didn't get ripped off.

It's about 9:20 p.m. I'm really tired. I know this is poorly written but I wanted to get it down on blogspot. Gonna watch a little telly then sleep like a frat boy through chem class.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Steinbeck on socialism

Been reading Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress. On page 124 it has an interesting sentence: John Steinbeck once said that socialism never took root in American because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.