Thursday, March 12, 2015

Five More Miles

We used public transpo three times today, didn't even get out of here until after 2 pm, and still managed to put in 5 miles of walking around. Faster, too, than yesterday. We were out about an hour less today, than yesterday.

Slept in after the long day yesterday. My body clock, never remotely normal, kicked into overdrive and kept me up all night. Martha, having one day less than me to get over jet lag, still managed to wake up by 11 am. But, of course, she didn't stay up all freaking night. She was sweet enough to let me sleep
until noon, I threw myself together, then we went down to have our shared breakfast BLT.

We'd eaten chips (which we know as fries) with every single meal since we've gotten here, but Martha broke the chain at dinner this evening and had mash instead. (You can figure out that's our mashed potatoes, right?) Since I had a burger, I'm still on a non-stop streak. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We enjoy sharing our BLT as we plan the details of our day. We have an idea of where we're going, but we work out the details at breakfast. Or brunch. Whatever.

Today, we knew we wanted to see the crown jewels, probably the furthest out we were going to venture while we're here this first round. Since it was the nicest weather we'd had yet, and were going to have before Martha leaves on Saturday, I thought it would be cool take one of the boats back down the Thames. We both wanted to hit the South Bank for a quick look at what was across the river from the main part of town we're covering at the moment, and that seemed to be both convenient and interesting. We weren't disappointed.

From there, the plan was to walk back up to the Covent Garden area and have dinner, then take the tube home. My little Audrey Hepburn fan may remember that is where Eliza Doolittle was selling flowers in My Fair Lady. And the buildings are much the same as they were during the period of the movie. Many of them are restaurants and bars now, though, and it is food rather than flowers being sold in the open areas.

Part of our plan was thwarted when I vaguely remembered soemthing about the Covent Garden underground station being closed temporarily, and sure enough, it is Exit Only for the time being. Not a problem, a 4 minute walk to Leicester Square brought us to another station that would take us to our destination, though I felt Fate was rubbing it in a little when the first stop we made was at the Covent Garden stop where we couldn't get on. But we were so tired, and so full, we didn't have the energy to register even a little irritation.

Getting ahead of myself again. Here's what we did today:

We wanted to take the tube to the Tower of London, and we needed to buy an Oyster Card so that we could get cheap fares on public transportation. We could load it up with funds, and it would give us pay as we go fares. Being from a different country, we couldn't do this with the automated machines, so we stood in line to deal personally with a human agent who was every bit as nice as every single other transportation agent we've interacted with.

We are ridiculously, all out of proportion excited to have these now. They only need tap the surface next to a gate to open it. When tapped at the end of a journey, it knows how much to withdraw from
the funds on your card. We absolutely love the convenience of this, and feel just like locals as we breeze through gates after a quick tap. Until it doesn't work, as happened at our last stop coming home tonight.

I panicked slightly as I tapped and my gate remained closed. Looking over at Martha, while continuing to tap madly - practically beating the surface with my card, really - I saw hers wasn't opening either. I'm sure I was wild-eyed as I met her look, but just as I was forming the question WTF????, she pointed at my gate and said, "Go, before it closes!" My gate had miraculously opened, after all, and after passing quickly through, I looked back to see hers had opened as well.

I've certainly made my share of stupid tourist mistakes since getting here. I got on the wrong train when I went to meet Martha the day she arrived, and we have had to get help on more than one occasion. But it's amazing how many times in just a few days that trains went to stops they didn't usually (change of plans, said the voice coming over the loudspeaker), or terminated it's journey a stop or two short of where it was supposed to (if you stay on long enough...) or something happens like a gate not opening when you expect it to.

Clearly there is some "special" Transport for London employee who just likes to fuck with tourists, and if s/he doesn't get his/her shit together there will be a special place in hell waiting for him/her. (I'm not usually so particular about gender identification, but I hate to blame a specific one in this case.)


Got the cards, loaded up with enough to get around with the next few days, and went to Tower of London. Like most places, no photos are allowed inside, but the outside was every bit as impressive.
We very much enjoyed looking at all of the many jeweled crowns and the gold plated decor pieces, as well as the gold/jeweled weapons and working pieces.

But Martha and I both thought there  was going to be jewelry pieces, as well. I could have sworn there were some when we were there before, so many years ago. But it was so very long, that our memories could well be mistaken. For the record, there should be a jewelry display. But maybe there is an exhibition somewhere else, we have just started seeing things, after all. Of course, if there is a royal jewelry exhibition, one would think it would be found in the Crown Jewels display, don't  you think?

Didn't really matter, we enjoyed it, and there was a cute gift shop where we each picked up a couple
of small things. Don't have room for much more than that. Which reminds me, I really do like the storage provided by our hostel. It's a big sliding drawer, which is SO much more convenient than a locker. We really do love this place.

 Back to the tower. Every time one of the costumed Tower employees noticed me trying to grab a photo, they stayed perfectly still to give me whatever time I needed to get a shot, which I very much appreciated.

Also, there was a display of monkeys on the roof outside, which I have no idea about. There was a
part of the Tower reserved for ravens, so I would have expected to see a display of those, if anything. But no, it was monkeys. (Adrienne, since you were so kind as to investigate the beribboned horse skeleton in Trafalgar Square, maybe you will have time this weekend to research Tower of London monkeys? I still have NO spare time.)

The boat ride from the Tower was every bit as nice as I'd hoped it would be. Much nicer, in fact, because I was somehow under the impression that the boat was an open one. Instead, it is a lovely

enclosed space with comfy upholstered seats and pretty much non-stop windows offering fabulous views. And these are regular public transportation, you take them instead of a bus or subway. So much more lovely and relaxing than either.

The South Bank of London got no respect for most of its history, but it's a lovely space now.
The boat
dropped us off practically beneath the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel which has pods instead of regular seats. Neither Martha nor I is comfortable enough with heights to brave this huge monster. But it looked very nice all lit up for the evening. And you can see Big Ben across the river behind it...and yes, we know, I'm not going to keep saying it's not the clock. Can someone please tell me how I'm supposed to refer to the freaking clock? I don't have time to look things up right now!!!!

And no, Adrienne, you don't have to do all the research. We've got kids in the family, this would be something both interesting and educational for them to look up. Or, can any of my London friends tell us, what do you call that thing?

Back to the fun stuff. The views are wide open and fabulous.

Everything across the river is stunning.

We walked back along the river, past a carousel, to the bridge we'd passed under on the way to our stop.

Crossing the foot bridge on foot yielded more fabulous views.

This city really shows to perfection.

Just walking around random streets provides plenty of lovely and/or interesting things to look at. And
I'm glad we arrived at Covent Garden after dark, I love the way it looks all lit up.

There is actually a place called The Dirty Martini, which given Martha's fondness for the drink, we had to consider. But menu didn't excite us, so we moved on.

There are heat lamps at a lot of these outside tables, like we see all over Las Vegas. And it was milder this evening than it has been the last few days. But I still don't know if I'd sit out in these temps. I can
bundle up all over, and I've been very comfortable for the most part, but my face gets cold and it's hard to eat and drink while wearing a ski mask. (jk, I wouldn't even go there. But neither would I sit outside.)

We'd found a restaurant online that seemed to provide English seafood, but Martha liked the look of one of the pubs in the area, The White Lion. It is actually part of a chain, but Martha said the Lamb Shanks Pie she had was one of the best meals she'd had in recent memory, and we both really enjoyed the small dining room upstairs. The lovely young woman who was serving us was a real sweetheart, and very good at her job
My Bacon Cheeseburger had a very strong taste to it, which I attributed to the cheese. I thought maybe they'd just put some type of strong cheese, because I hadn't even checked what kind they'd be
using. But my stomach was a little upset for a while afterward, and I told Martha I thought they'd had outbreaks over here of Hoof and Mouth Disease or whatever it is cows get that is very serious. She laughed, but we're going to be a pretty pair if I'm laid up with that and she's still got only one good arm.

In fact, we're already a pretty pair, with me not noticing all the different levels of ground inside and out - seriously, this country has the French Quarter beat all to hell and back, and her water bottle slipping out of her sling all over town. I swear I don't know what's happened to us, I think it must just be brain overload with everything we've been dealing with the last 18 months, because we still have the wits and skill to make all the important things happen. But where we used to accomplish things with elegance and efficiency, we are now like a live action cartoon.

And thank goodness we are traveling together, because it's taking two of us to catch each other's mistakes. Unfortunately, there are going to be a couple of short periods where we will each be left to our own devices in foreign countries. We are certainly up to the task, and have perfect confidence in our abilities to travel alone, God knows we've done it often enough. I just can't help feeling a slightly uncomfortable tickle at the back of my neck reminding me that we aren't operating at our usual peak efficiency level at the moment.

Oh well, everyone on this side of the pond has been so amazingly helpful, we will just have to continue to rely on the kindness of strangers when necessary. We're from the South, it should come naturally.

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