Ok. So my travel journal turns out to be huge...I seem to have written kind of a lot. So what I'm going to do is pare down a little. And put it in small print. Please disregard any confusing changes in verb tense, and if this is still too long...well, suck it up, I guess. If anyone wants the full experience of the journal, let me know.
5/7-8 Toledo-Detroit-London-Kew Gardens
I was ready to go when Babs picked me up, and made it through Toledo security in no time. The flight to Detroit was uneventful, and I sat around until my London flight reading a Dick Francis novel.
Now, the planes have changed since Italy 2001—for one thing, every seat has its own monitor, which turns out to have a wide variety of movies and games. Sweet! This will be especially handy on the way back when it’s a day flight.
About seats. The plane is like so:
xx xxxx xx
I am in the left side of the bank of four, and the seats to my left are full, and the far right two are full, and there’s a cute college guy (who turned out to be from Muskegon) by the name of Brian at the other end of my four. We waited and waited for our seatmates, and they never came. So we had four seats to stretch out in. I joked that maybe we were a couple on honeymoon, and we knew we’d be mad at each other so we bought four seats. I also joked that I liked to snuggle, so if I accidentally rolled over 2 seats, he’d just have to deal with it. It was very entertaining. I know I’ll never get that lucky again (No, not like that!)!
Watched The Fugitive, tried to sleep, watched Finding Nemo, played Bejeweled. Ate chicken and rice with a bit of salad and some cheese, and cranapple juice. Didn’t have breakfast—just wasn’t hungry. Also, Babs gave me some cookies, and I ate some of those throughout the trip. Landed in good order, had to climb downstairs because the jet thingy wasn’t working. The immigration official I had was a jerk to me, particularly on the point of whether I had friends or family here. She actually asked me how “I planned to get by.” Come on, lady, I’m an American tourist. Surely thousands come in without even having travel arrangements and hotels. She inspected my money. I hadn’t written down my hotel’s address on my immigration card because I wasn’t sure, but then she made me anyway. There’s this big sign about not bullying customs officials—but what happens when they bully you?
Anyway. Was reunited with my slightly squashed suitcase and got into London via the Gatwick Express and then bought a 7-day Travelcard to get me to the Bayswater Station via the Tube I got to my hotel at noon and was able to check in at the Kensington Gardens Hotel.
My room is very nice. I’m actually now a little paranoid about the room rate (note--no problems were had. It was a good deal for a good are of London, I believe).
Almost immediately after I got here, I went to get a phone at a T-Mobile down the street. The helpful guy, Chris, sold me a £25 phone—10 for the phone, 15 for the time on it. I also ordered an international bundle. The only problem is, I had to pay cash because their card reader won’t read my VISA because it doesn’t have a chip. I don’t know now how often this will be a problem and am worried about shopping and ATMs.
Note: Tell Carrie that the shop was playing “Mushaboom” by Feist, one of my favorite songs, which she introduced me to.
Anyway, I called Mom while I was headed out to Kew, then made her call me back to make sure it all worked. By the time I was done talking, I was at Kew Gardens.
Kew is lovely. The day was partly cloudy but occasionally sunny and also windy. I was glad I had my coat and a little sad that I wasn’t wearing long socks under my back-slit long skirt. I took some nice pictures, including of the Palm House, my favorite—misty, hot, and loaded with palms in an old conservatory building. Also saw the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the Temperate House, the Lilacs, and tons of other places. They have the most beautiful old trees. Huge, full of personality. Like Ents.
I started to get cold when the sun began to go away, so took a trip through the gift shop—they had a sign about problems with ccs so I didn’t buy much, just some postcards. Bit of a shame, because they had neat things. Came back on the Tube, then stopped at Tesco Express for a sandwich—ham, cheese, and pickle—apple slices with honey yogurt dip, and a Dr. Pepper (hooray!). Had dinner in my room.
At this point, I was exhausted, so I decided to watch TV (US crime shows :) and doze a bit, eventually having a hot shower and going to sleep.
The news is full of a story about Maddy—a little girl missing now for five days. Prayers with her and her family.
5/9 National Gallery--British Museum--Victoria & Albert Museum
Current time: 6:50 pm. Location: The Prince Alfred. Eating: A giant burger. But I get ahead of myself.
I rolled out of bed around 9:10, I think, and set about getting ready for the day. Note: scarves are very big in London, so I was glad I'd brought a few, including my pashmina.
After a brief stop at T-Mobile to fix my charger, I set off to the National Gallery. My Travelcard has made things very easy, and the subway is similar to Chicago—look, I’m calling it the subway in rebellion against my Brit slang all of a sudden. Anyway. I think I saw everything free in the National Gallery. My favorites were a picture called “Portrait of a Lady in Yellow” by Baldovinetti, and “A Grotesque Old Woman” by Massys—also enjoyed the Seurat, Degas, Monet, etc. in the basement, and lots of other neat stuff.
I was making good time—I’m a browser not a studier with art—and headed off to the British Museum, getting there by 1. Bought a map. Priority list: Greece, Italy, and Egypt, and that’s actually about all I saw. I saw just what I wanted, though, plus some Assyrian stuff and the Sutton Hoo ship burial stuff. Made a stop for gifts. Now here’s where things diverged from my previous plan. I was supposed to go to the British Library and forgot. I just didn’t look at my list. How dumb! I thought, gosh the V & A is open late tonight, I could take the Tube back and then walk across the gardens for a meal (also, bear in mind, I’d had cookies, and a water at the Museum. That’s it. May not have been operating at top form). So, I did get back to the V & A. It turns out, though, they changed their late night to Friday. I had just the right amount of time to tour the Fashion exhibit, then take a peek at Indian textiles. I truly enjoyed the fashion—it was a nice difference from the other museum stuff I’d seen, though that was nice, too. How can you go wrong with marble from Temples and scads of mummies? Just add to that frocks and rugs. I may need to go back to the V & A. Not sure.
Anyway, it was pouring when I went in to the V & A but ok when I got out, so I did indeed walk across the west end of Kensington Gardens back to the area of my hotel. I am now doing some damage to a Blackthorn dry cider from the tap, and a ribeye steakburger with mozzarella, and chips—by which I mean fries.
And it is here that I remembered the Library. I notice, though, that it is in a position such that it would add nicely to the Mme Tussaud’s and London Zoo day tomorrow. I think. I’m hoping it doesn’t rain. If it does, some days have to switch around. Unless I just decide to soldier on, which is possible.
Have I mentioned how much I love you? (NOTE: I was tipsy by this point)
Some thoughts on the value of the pound: OK, so over $2 per £ is steep. But I sort of think the GBP is a better system just now. It may not go very far, but it is more psychologically helpful. A burger for £6.99 is reasonable. But that’s $14. They should be closer, but from our side.
Oh—I was officially flirted with at the National Gallery. Yes, he was an old guy, but he said, “Oh, good afternoon, my beauty.” or something like that. It was funny.
And, I told the barman he was my new best friend, when he brought my sandwich.
5/10 Madame Tussaud's--London Zoo--British Library
Began my day late again, by half an hour. Oh well. Put on jeans and long socks, polo over long-sleeve collared shirt, arm gauntlets, and bun covers to match, with coat. Was later very glad for the gauntlets, because it was cold today, and rained. It was all right to start, as I headed out munching a croissant and drinking fresh OJ from a shop (missed breakfast again). Took the Tube (almost called it the El) to Edgware and walked the rest of the way to Baker St and Madame Tussaud’s. I arrived at such a time as to be just in the first ½ of the morning’s rush. I was able to buy my ticket with some American dollar travellers cheques, which was exciting. So, first thing in the wax museum are all the Hollywood stars. I watched someone bump into Patrick Stewart and promptly took my picture with him, as well as pics of Indy, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Capt. Sparrow, Alfred Hitchcock, QE1, Bill Shakespeare, and Pavarotti. Enjoyed the Chamber of Horrors. Didn’t see any Ripper stuff, but did enjoy the Spirit of London ride dealie. Didn’t buy my photo from the ride. Bought a London Underground lunchbox purse with marshmallows, and some cards, and had a bit of a chat with Iain the cashier. He’s going to look me up if he’s ever in Mich-i-gan. Except he doesn’t know my name.
Set off to walk to Regent’s Park and across to the zoo. (I was paranoid about needing to use my map to get to the park, but actually headed off in the proper direction regardless.) It was cold by this time, but I happily entered the zoo and traipsed about, even when it started POURING. At least that hurried the kids groups so things weren’t crowded, and if I got soaked to my pant legs from splash ups, oh well. Favorites: listening to the English kids, including one rendition of See Saw, Margery Daw, which I’ve never heard from a child before (some of the kids seem quite bratty, though); giraffes up close from their inside, quiet enclosure, eyelashes and all; a serval; staring into the eyes of the big cats; some of the largest pelicans I’ve ever seen; and a butterfly house, where they’re just flying around you. You have to check for stowaways when you leave. They also have a few habitats where the animals can move around you if they so choose, like bitterns and small monkeys.
It was still pouring when I left, walking across the windy park to the Baker St station. I took the Tube to King’s Cross because I had the perfect amount of time for the Library exhibits. I saw the Magna Carta and Shakespeare’s first folio! Also some beautiful sacred texts, the first ever libretto to Handel’s Messiah, some notebooks and notes by Da Vinci and Newton, the original Alice in Wonderland, etc. Also the many feet tall glass-enclosed King’s Library. I didn’t take a picture of that as it was in a public area of the library, and I thought I could find a postcard, but couldn’t. I did find lots of other stuff in the gift shop for...gifts, and verified that they could take my sort of credit card. Only the card was declined. TWICE. I had to use the family card. In a semi-panic, I tested the card when I got back to Bayswater at an ATM and got my £20. I have no idea what that was about. It happened once before, ages ago, in the States.
I dropped off my shopping (who knew the British Library would have the best shop so far?) and went to Whiteley’s Marks & Spencer for food. At last—a grocery, but with lots of other food, readymade, including a lot of food you can eat cold. I settled on olives and feta with pita, feta and spinach pasties, some cocktail sausages, and an apricot sponge roll cake. With a pint of milk. Sat around the hotel room reading, eating, watching TV, and talking to Mom. I’m watching CSI.
Today is the day Tony Blair announced he was stepping down in July. In light of seeing political figures together at Tussaud’s, and the Christianity-Judaism-Islam Sacred Texts at the Library, it really makes one think about the state of the world and people’s ability or lack thereof to cooperate. Also, France just elected a new president, one who has already expressed friendship to the US. What a strange, fascinating time.
5/11 Tower of London--St. Paul's--Covent Garden--Piccadilly Circus--Natural History Museum
My feet are so sore. And my hips. I got up at 8ish, dressed, stopped for a quick croissant and juice at the continental breakfast dealie, and got on the train to the Tower of London. No lines for tickets, not very crowded inside. All this was great because I could zip through without waiting for people in front of me. Suspect it will be different at Westminster tomorrow. Actually, it was very nice at the Tower—my favorite place so far. I love those old, old buildings; even though the Tower was rebuilt and remodeled several times, it feels old, and all the armor and historical events contribute to that feeling. Plus the ghosts. I forgot to look up where it’s said Anne Boelyn walks. The Beauchamp Tower was under construction, so I couldn’t do that one. I kept slipping ahead of and amidst an Asian tour group in the Jewel House. There is a moving sidewalk on either side of the jewels themselves, which is sort of funny. I gather the lines are huge in peak season, because they had those corral things like at amusement parks, some with video.
Poor little princes.
We had some sun and some drizzle both at the Tower—it was good to see the sun, at least for a bit.
After the Tower, I walked to St. Paul’s and again got in with no line. Saw John Donne and William Blake memorial, Duke of Wellington and Lord Admiral Nelson, of course. All kinds. Did not go up into the dome—not really in the mood for stairs—but did pause a bit to look up.
After St. Paul’s I did some shopping, but my heart wasn’t in it much. Covent Garden Market was nice and contained, and there were sopranos somewhere singing the Flower Duet, but Piccadilly was chaotic and walking around was exhausting. The Burlington Arcade was quite nice, though, with some high end shops nearby. Despite this, the vast majority of stuff bought today was in the Tower of London gift shop. Who knew?
Anyway. I gave up on shopping at 4 and decided to go to the Natural History Museum and see what looked best to me. I started with dinosaurs, moved to mammals, then the rest of the animals, then a minerals exhibit, then an exhibit on the earth and its treasures. It’s not a gigantic museum; or, it is sort of big, but when you are used to Chicago’s Field, it seems much less demanding. Thank goodness. I saw everything I wanted to see in around an hour and a half. For free (well, donation). Carrying shopping.
I got back to my area and again went to the M & S for a pint of milk, an egg and cress sandwich, and a banana. I also finished off the pasties, and will likely finish off the pita and olives/feta tomorrow. I’m craving produce, so maybe I’ll get some fruits and veggies tomorrow. So basically, food cost £1.71 today. 3 bucks.
Also, I almost got gypped £10 today at Thomas Cook’s. I put the money away, then habitually reached into my bag to count it, and came up short. I went to tell the lady, and she immediately said, “Oh dear, you’re absolutely right, I forgot. I’m so sorry.” I was glad she didn’t ask for proof, but still. Weird.
5/12 Westminster Abbey--London Aquarium--Harrod's
I’m watching this crazy show called Eurovision Song Contest. Right now, there’s some electric cello going on and there’s a guy in a bubble. The announcer for TV, who is pretty snarky, just said, “God, I hope he’s wearing something” and “You don’t see this every day, a man swallowing a fluorescent tube.” And “You spend all your life in a plastic bubble and the first thing you do when you get out is shove a fluorescent tube down your throat.” He’s kind of stream of consciousness, with a comment every 10-15 seconds, never very long, but usually pretty damn funny.
Also, I’m eating part of an apricot jam sponge roll. This is London. Get into it. I do like the electric cello. (edited to add: Serbia won).
OK. An account of my slightly surprising day. I set the alarm to 8:30 (haha) and got up between 8:45 and 9. I had laid out all my clothes, so I was ready around 9:30, stopped briefly next door to pick up my daily croissant, and ate it on the way to the Tube station. The Circle line and much of the District line are out this weekend for service, so I had to do a weird combination of trains and it took forever to get to Westminster. But there was Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, and the Abbey. I went all the way around before finally finding the entrance, but that was fine. I wasn’t as early as I would have liked, but it turned out not to matter. I got momentarily stalled in some bottlenecks, but nevertheless made it round in an hour. Saw the Poet’s Corner, of course. The ceiling in the Chapter House was amazing. When I came out at the end of the walk, I paused a few moments to look up, and felt teary. I felt that way in St. Paul’s as well. So much work and craftsmanship and love goes into these Houses of God. It’s amazing that as soon as we’re outside the doors again, we so quickly forget that silence, that salve.
Forgot to mention that there was some dancing going on in front of the Abbey. Have no idea what was going on, but there was a man with a horse head. Sarah would know.
Anyway, I was in the Aquarium by 11:30, though that involved going through a maze of unmarked corridors because I went in on the wrong side of County Hall. And—I was through there in an hour as well. Couldn’t believe it. These British museums have tanks and exhibits with space, or space and readings, or space and a TV display between them. Definitely not what I’m used to. Anyway, they had some beautiful octopi and upside-down jellyfish—I don’t remember seeing these before but I saw some in the zoo the other day. The tanks at the Aquarium were often chest high and open, which is strange. In America, people would throw things in them. The aquarium also has several robotic fish, which move by undulating the way real fish do. The outside body design is still a little clunky materials-wise (though if I didn’t have my glasses on I wouldn’t be able to tell), but the movement is spot on.
Anyway. When I was done, I grabbed a Coke for “lunch” and began my walk toward Buckingham, just to see the outside and take a picture or two. Then, walked past St. James Park, and on and on. And on. The plan was to visit the South Ken., Chelsea, and Notting Hill shops I had on my list to buy some last presents and see if I could find anything cute for the Pea. Went to Harrod’s and bought a lavender bag to put most of my shopping in when I go back. It will be my new carry-on. I hope everything fits. You’re only allowed to take the equivalent of 1 carry-on through security at Gatwick.
It was pouring when I got out of Harrod’s, but I soldiered on to the last shop, in Notting Hill. Then I walked back to Bayswater. I navigated pretty well today. Lots of map-reading and checking, but most of the time I’d made the right direction choice. It was a long walk, and I went through many shopping neighborhoods. I wonder how people decide which shops they want to go to around here. How do they find their favorites? I have guidebooks, but you could see people who obviously were in those neighborhoods a lot, and people who had come to shop for the day in the areas. It’s just odd.
I stopped at M & S as usual. That’s getting to be my favorite part of the day. It has some clothes, and then a grocery—like a very small Meijer. I’m sure the big M & S has much more stuff, but this is enough if you are just looking for dinner. They have all these pre-fab meals—healthier ones than in the US, but they go in the oven and the microwave. You can even get a packet of veg, assorted, all prepared, in the produce refrigerated section—but there’s a regular produce section, too. I don’t know, it’s just entertaining to me. I’ve had a variety of sandwiches here. Tonight was roast beef and horseradish, but they have an entire section of sandwiches, like the section in our campus convenience store on steroids. Egg and cress is tame compared to salmon and cream cheese, avocado and chicken salad, all kinds of things. It’s a tough choice. I’ve gone for “plain” sandwiches mostly, because I want to keep my stomach healthy. I have the mini-fridge in my room, and because I finished up the olives/feta and pita today, saved half of my sandwich for tomorrow’s trip to Windsor. Might have lunch for a change!
5/13 Windsor--V&A Round Two--Science Museum
Today, my niece was born. Happy birthday, Ruth! (I have omitted a great deal of baby babble. But it's in the journal.
Today I went to Windsor from Paddington Station. I bought a ticket easily―£7.70—The ticket was very open for time, but didn’t say anything about which train, nor was Windsor listed on the trains’ boards. I asked, and it turns out you take the 10:42 Hereford Train and change at Slough. (Mom, the map you got me came up trumps here and on Monday, because I could figure out where I was and which stops to pay attention to). There’s a Windsor train from there that leaves often and takes 6 minutes, thus I was shortly in Windsor. The station emerges in Royal Station shops and cafes, and I got a coffee and some juice to drink with half a sandwich later. I went up and got my ticket and went through security (bag checks are common at museums), and trucked on into the castle grounds. In the rain. It wasn’t terribly crowded. Just some people, enough to make it social. Windsor Castle is huge, it almost looks fake because it’s in such good shape, but of course it’s a living castle. The gardens by the moat are lovely. Had to wait a few minutes to get in to the State Apartments and Queen Mary’s Doll House, because of the Doll House—there’s a darkened path around it and you go single file. But it was my favorite thing. I love those elaborate doll houses, like Queen Mary’s, and like the Fairy House in Chicago’s Field. QM’s has the most lovely ballroom, and even little maids’ quarters. There were also some big French dolls (not for the doll house) with a HUGE trousseau in an adjoining display. So beautiful, little gloves with bees on, little shoes, gowns, and furs. From there, into the gallery, with Da Vinci drawings, and royal weddings pictures. From there, into the State Apartments. My favorites were the Queen’s Drawing Room, and the Ballroom. They both had these amazing tables or desks, and lovely wallpaper—that colored, velvety looking stuff. Once again, I got sort of stirred up by the grandeur. Windsor is truly lovely. There are also lots of rooms with armor and swords and pistols and such in displays. There was a lovely sword of some sort with a blackish top and blue jewels set in in a striking but not overly opulent design. That’s the sword I would have.
It was POURING when I got out, but I took some pictures, then went down and back into the shops outside the Castle, ate my lunch, did a bit of window shopping, and then decided I might as well go on back and pop back into the V & A. The trip back to London was uneventful, and I was in the V & A pretty “quick." I walked around the V & A. That museum is kind of confusing. I didn’t take another map, but there are signs everywhere...but the signs don’t always make sense, lots of galleries have multiple entrances, some of which are closed, or look closed. I did see plenty of pretty things, like furniture, and a lot of old and ancient fabrics. The plaster casts. A Bernini sculpture. The jewelry gallery was closed for real, as were a few others.
Anyway, I wandered around there for an hour and a half or so, and then had time left over to go to the Science Museum, which closes at 6. I got the map and then picked what I wanted to see most. The spy tech thing costs £8 and seemed mostly for kids, which is a shame. But I walked about Energy Hall and some technology galleries, and learned about space and space missions a little. I put a nut on a bolt with some space gloves on. Took a picture of some planes and cars. Saw the DNA model by Crick & Watson. Saw the Apollo 10 capsule. But of course then they were closing up. In the Bayswater area, I had trouble finding food on a Sunday, but went to Tesco Express and picked up some tomato basil pasta salad, an apple, a roll, some cheese, and a Dr. Pepper. Now, I have been watching TV and while I don’t get itv 2, which has Supernatural, I am watching Nick and Simon’s Perfect Night In—Nick Frost and Simon Pegg doing a clips shop and being funny. They had an X-Files clip on a bit ago! And lots of unfamiliar BBC shows with familiar faces.
I feel all nervy. I have felt that way all day, long before I heard from Mum. I did have a strong coffee this morning, but the feeling kept popping up today; I thought it was related to getting damp at Windsor, then getting a chill a couple of times and being a bit too hot at others. I felt icky in my throat this morning; London air is not good in my throat. Come to that, nor is London Rain—Heather Nova, I love your song, but I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.
Had kind of a rough night. Could NOT fall asleep—excitement, nerves, and possibly caffeine all rolled into one restless package. I relaxed a little after the baby call, but still had trouble getting and staying asleep, and getting comfortable. Imagine my irritation when, at 9 am this morning, the alarm went off and...I was finally comfortable and didn’t want to get up!
Well, I’m on the Bath train. Got up, changed my last travellers cheques and got £93.60, then promptly spent 47 on my Bath roundtrip fare. Ouch. Tonight I face the arduous job of packing everything into my 2 bags, including my new lavender Kipling bag. I think I could have gotten something cheaper if I’d gone to the travel store in Whiteleys, but I guess buying a bag at Harrod’s is a worthy experience.
Some thoughts on English sizes—smallest size in women’s generally found: 8. Smallest underwear size found: 8. Smallest bra size—32 A. Yikes. Something about this makes no sense. I tried on a size 8 skirt at the Kew sale shop in Whiteley’s and it was too big, of course—not by much, but enough to tell me I’m certainly a size smaller. Yet when I was poking around in Marks & Spencer I didn’t see any 6s.
I had a chat with the Lush girl about this, and she was very thin also, and shorter than I am. She said she has trouble finding clothes, but then when she was in the states, she also had trouble. I wonder if they have juniors here—if not, she wouldn’t know to look in the young ladies’ clothes, or in stores like Wet Seal. Our country caters to the thin. She mentioned that Britain is also having an obesity epidemic, which surprised me, because I haven’t seen many truly obese people, I don’t think. Or maybe I just don’t notice because I’m so used to it. But somehow I don’t think that’s it.
Anyway, lots of those meals in M & S are encouraging people to Eat Right and offering big convenience via the aforementioned pre-fab meals and the benefits of health. In other words, it’s just as easy to buy one of those nice meals as it is a pizza. I do wonder what the fat comparisons are with those meals. I haven’t really checked. I do think I saw a sandwich or something marked Weight Watchers the other day.
(edited to add: this is really an important distinction. The Eat Right campaign is huge, and targeted to everyone. If you’re in a US grocery store, you see healthy food, but no believable and classy campaign encouraging you to take part in a change. We’re all so henpecked to eat properly by the gov’t bodies, but not in a way that actually lets us easily change habits, and not with the cooperation of the food industry. In London, it seemed extremely easy. The whole time I was there, I saw one Weight Watchers commercial, and again it wasn’t packaged in an insipid way. It simply was there, and easy. The US just makes everything so complicated, and there are so many mixed and double messages. I think England has it down better. I wonder if it’s working.)
I am suddenly very sleepy on this train. It’s noon. 7 am Ohio time.
OK. It’s 5:30 pm. I’ve just gotten back on the train back to London Paddington. I spent the time from Bath to Chippenham talking to a young man in college who asked me to wake him if he fell asleep before his stop—he’d just had a Clinical Psychology exam. I told him I wasn’t much better off because of my niece’s birth, and he’s an uncle, so he understood. We spent the time touching briefly on topics like the British exams and school system—he’ll be mailed the questions for his final exam. Weird! They’d never risk that in the states. We also talked about psychology and literature a bit. In his English lit course, they read Shakespeare and Atwood, which seems awfully comprehensive. Anyway, it was a nice way to spend some time, but now he’s gone and I’ll be in London in an hour, and there’s a zine with an article on the LotR musical.
So—Bath. I touched down and looked at a map, set off...and promptly got lost. The problem is I didn’t look at the scale of the map, and so went further than I should have in the twisty town. I guess. Anyway, after wandering back down I hit the right pedestrian signs and found my way to the Assembly Rooms and Costume Museum. The Assembly Rooms were largely closed for refurbishment, just the Octagonal Room open. The Costume Museum was very interesting. I didn’t use my audioguide much, except to learn about ladies’ pockets, worn under overskirts and reached through slits. I took a couple of pictures. They also had a display of things from Rudolf Nureyev’s collection of costumes and textiles and such, including his Romeo shirt of red satin.
By the end of the exhibit, the beginnings of a massive group of French kids was taking over, and I didn’t linger. Instead I got back on the pavement and windowshopped my way to the Roman Baths, and got in there on my combined ticket, and set about exploring. I used more of my audioguide this time, to illuminate some interesting areas and figures and whatnot. Imagine it being the fashion to go to a communal bath house where there’s a natural hot spring bubbling up with green, steamy water, and be pampered and still in the dark, intoxicating rooms. The fashion, not just a fun time. Wild. Anyway, I went through and still had some time left before the time I meant to get a train. I went to the Abbey and walked around for a bit. I always love those old choir lofts. For some reason that’s my favorite. I also did just a touch of shopping, stopping at Monsoon to get my niece an outfit.
Around 5:15 I got on the train back to London, and it was a bit delayed, but I was in London around 7. I’d planned to have a little feast, and even buy a beer or some wine at M & S, but then didn’t—instead I got milk, with a roast chicken breast, a roll, and a banana. I left half a roll and the banana for breakfast, and ate the remainder of my sponge roll for dessert. I watched a bit of telly and dozed, then decided I’d better pack. Which is good, because it turned out to be much harder than I thought. I have to check two bags and carry on my tote bag. Customs is going to be a nightmare.
5/15...-16 Home...and Home
An observation about England—it’s much more successfully multi-cultured. I saw a program in which the “English” Britain was feeling disenfranchised, but at the same time as I look about the airport, there are many cultures represented, at all levels of power. That’s really the difference, I think. I like it.
Anyway, got up, dressed, and all ready to go, then ate my little breakfast, got my invoice downstairs (having already paid for my room a few days ago), and set off. Got to Victoria, got ticket for the Gatwick Express, and then got to Gatwick. Checked in and went through customs questions and checked my bags. Please, please, please God look after my luggage. I’m freaked about the contents of the lavender bag. Went through the first security very uneventfully, bought some strawberry champagne extra jam and some cocoa at the shops, then headed to my gate. Then things got interesting. Security again. My boarding pass got torn in 2 by the check person at my gate, which means I got searched. I had a brief body search, and then they went through my bag—I’d unpacked into 2 because I thought I was done with security, and before boarding had to hastily shove everything into the one bag again, so it was difficult for them to unpack and repack. And funny. Crammed all but the Underground lunch tin purse back into the bag and climbed aboard.
I have confirmed that customs happen in Detroit, and that I claim my bags and then put them on a transfer belt when I’m through with customs.
I’m in 27-G and once again, there are 2 seats open in my four set. This whole plane, in fact, is very uncrowded. There are lots of open seats, and everyone has sort of spread out. Weird! It’s like we’re a private party!
Meal: Chicken tomato basil; couscous and green beans, cold; roll, risotto, cheese, and some cake and cream with raspberries. This is the most delicious airline meal I’ve ever had! It tasted like a restaurant, I think. I actually want to make this couscous and beans thing at home.
Now I’m watching Pan’s Labyrinth and sometimes I take a little break during torture and battery. You know, gore that is non-fantastical in nature. That I don’t want to watch on a plane or otherwise.
Ok, after Pan I needed something more lighthearted, so I watched Beauty and the Beast. I dropped off a bit, during “Be Our Guest” of all things, including one huge jerk awake. Then I watched Toy Story 2. I was not at all into the scenes of luggage being thrown around. Then, I played a game of mahjongg and then started some Broadway. Think I’ll work on customs in a few pages and then do some sudoku or something.
Important breaking news: This aircraft has a Depeche Mode channel in the music section! Get into it!
So I did my customs form and then worked on my sudoku/logic book for a while. There were storms over Detroit, so we slowed up a bit—the storms were gone, but congestion was heavy—and then we ended up landing early because of turbulence.
Oh—I forgot to mention that we had a “light snack” of a tomato and cheese roll and some truly delicious Belgian coffee ice cream.
Anyway, we landed. Safely. You know, there was an extremely cute one-year-old baby boy on the flight with his Mom, and the baby didn’t cry—not once. He made some whines once in a while, but they were always short-lived, and he slept a lot. He seemed more interested in the flight, takeoff, landing, plane and all.
Ok, so back to this. Landed, whizzed through customs with no questions, resisted the temptation to check for damage in luggage, then went through more security. This is where customs karma bit me—I had bought the jam without any thought, forgetting that it’s large, and it’s jam. And it was confiscated. They offered to help me check it, but of course I’d checked 2 bags already, and they were already long gone.
Good feeling gone.
So, I walked away, and started crying. I’ve finally stopped, mostly, and am now waiting at my gate. I’m absurdly early, and there are vast amounts of clouds in the air indicating more storms, and the flight ahead of mine is already delayed. I just want to land and check my luggage.
(later) I am in the middle of a gate nightmare for the staff. This weather is wreaking havoc on the scheduling. Everyone’s gates keep changing as a result of storms and delays. It’s crazy! Quebec just got cancelled, Memphis got bumped ahead of Toledo. This is nuts.
“Quelle night” as Holly Golightly might say.
It is now 5/16. In a throwback to PEI’s “vacation that wouldn’t die” events, last night at 10:20 my flight was cancelled. They strung us along until the very last minute, which was irritating. They ended up cancelling, I think because they couldn’t get us on the ground by 11 when the crew had to be off.
Anyway, they had us get in lines for our “options” and I waited 15 minutes in line thinking I could get my luggage and drive, because they said driving was an option, and made it seem like it was, in addition to a free hotel (driving would be at our own expense, which is ludicrous). But by the time I got to the counter, I learned that all the car rental places would be CLOSED, and I’d have to wait 2-3 bloody hours for my bags. ZUT!
I was kind of rude to them because I was furious about being misled, and exhausted, and then of course I cried as the guy processed my 9 am flight for the next morning and my vouchers for hotel and meal. A shuttle picked scads of us up and took us to a Best Western. I had a huge room, two beds and a kitchenette, but it was a little scary. I don’t know what it was, it was just a feeling. I couldn’t make a call at first, even with my cc from my room because I was on a voucher, so I had to buy a $5 phone card, and finally got ahold of Babs (my ride) and my parents’ answering machine. I washed up and Mom called. When I say washed up, I mean I rinsed my mouth out and washed my face. All of my toiletries are in my luggage, which I don’t usually do. I only have my makeup.
Ok, boarded my plane, got going, landed largely without incident. The guy next to me was eating sushi before takeoff. Weird. He was nice though. Australian, I think.
I saw Babs as soon as I got in, and got my bags with little delay. Babs even brought me a little food for breakfast, which was nice; I hadn’t had any.
Got home, noticed no luggage damage, changed, and went straight back out.
The world has gone cuckoo bananas, as Lisa would say, in my absence.