Saturday, September 3, 2011

England Swings Like a Pendulum Do

There is something about that song that sticks in your head and refuses to leave while in London. I found myself humming away like Roger Miller while walking around the sights. Of course, it did succeed in getting "New York, New York, a heck of a town!" out of my head.

On my first trip to London, in the early 70's, I arrived quite sick from India with long hair, a beard and a backpack. It was cold and rainy and I was dressed for 100+ degree weather, having just been in New Delhi, with a stop in Saudi Arabia on the way to England. I hated London.

Since that trip, I've had a number of pleasant trips to London. On our most recent arrival, Karen and I were sitting in first class, looking out over a clear sky at night, with Big Ben and the tower bridge in view, we felt like Wendy Darling and Peter Pan, flying over London. Between my first and the last trip, I recommend the last.

We were met at the airport by our car, with a driver holding up a poster, "Gary Barnum". We couldn't actually see him right away and I had to call the car company to get his location. I think he saw our luggage.

Karen and I are a "portable" couple in the classic Victorian sense. With one, possibly two, porters, we can pretty well navigate our way anywhere on the globe. At hotels, once we are close to being packed, I call down to the front desk and indicate "we need help with our luggage." I usually follow that with, "he should bring a cart . . . a large one . . . possibly some friends." In fairness, if they survive, I am a good tipper.

Well, our driver came out of hiding after his bosses tracked him down and he helped us portage our luggage to his car.

Shortly after that, we arrived at the Doubletree Hilton at West End. This is not to be confused with the Hilton we later stayed at in Dublin, this was a Hilton in training. Paris Hilton would not stay here, she wouldn't even allow it to carry her name. I assume this is why it was referred to as the Hilton at West End and not the Paris Hilton.

We arrived at the desk and were greeted by a confused but friendly man who apparently was recently from New Delhi or near there, given his accent. He looked vaguely familiar and I could recall giving a bunch of rupees to a seven-year old in New Delhi from my death bed so he could go buy my some Scotch (he picked me up a bottle of Black & White, I suppose that is why I am still fond of Yorkies). I know, who gives a seven-year old a bunch of rupees to buy Scotch? But he was good for it, and I am a good tipper.

Well, it seemed that, at the Hilton, notwithstanding our reservation and that we had prepaid it some time before, they were very crowded and only had a downstairs room that wasn't quite up to prime. We assured him that would not be acceptable and asked him what else he could do? He went to the backroom for a bit and came out all bright-eyed, assuring us that we could stay in a "Von room apardment, velly velly nice." We asked if that was better than the downstairs room. His eyes got even bigger, as he said incredulously, "Dees ees a von room apardment, velly big, velly nice!!!" I think the concept of having more than one room was too much for him to fathom. We went up to the room, named the "E.M. Forster Room", though I seriously doubt that he stayed there, or would approve. The room was tired, in a way that English hotels sometimes excel at, and the air conditioning had given up its job and went on holiday some time ago.

We declined this room and moved to the first level room, which was better, but not by much.

We were reserved for the "Executive King Room" and, if our bed was a king bed, it was for one of the more diminutive kings. From an executive perspective this was, at best, an assistant vice president, perhaps only an assistant treasurer. We did have the advantage of a long flight and an abundance of vodka, so sleep was achieved, though not what you would term a long or comfortable one. The next day, while we were gone, they did relocate us to a better room, with a bed made for a somewhat larger king, and working air conditioning. Still . . . .

The lobby was the nicest part of the Double Tree West End.

On our first full day in London, we were met by Michael Churchill, who was to be our personal guide for the day. We came across him on Trip Advisor. He gave us a 4+ hour tour of London and it was outstanding! All sorts of fun facts and places which we either had or would have walked by without ever knowing about. At the end of the tour, he dropped us off at the Old Vic Theater, where we had tickets to see Richard III, with Kevin Spacey in the title role.

Michael Churchill of Black Taxi Tours.

The play was wonderful, our only problem was lack of food and drink between riding about all afternoon and rushing straight into the theater. We managed to survive that trial and worked our way to the OXO Restaurant for Cuban night (yes, we were confused, too). The food and drink were plentiful, so all was well.

The view from OXO Brasserie.

The next day, we slept in, which is not so amazing as "we awoke" - a daily miracle. We had tickets to see Buckingham Palace, which is not normally open to the public. We had booked the "full meal deal" with all of the trimmings. The first thing to see was the Queen's Gallery, which is apparently a bunch of paintings that Bess has collected over the years. If you have the chance to see it, I'd give it a pass. She has made a good go of it, but there is a lot better stuff elsewhere.

From there, we went to the Buckingham Palace Staterooms. Now, this was worth the price of admission. It's a very nice, well-kept palace, not like some of the ratty or tarty ones we have seen on the Continent. This was the kind of place you could sit back with a brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other and go, "Good show, Chuck! This will possibly be Willies' some day?"

The big thing at Buckingham was the recent wedding of William and Kate and it was abundantly clear that they were cashing in on it. There were all sorts of memorabilia and an abundance of photos of the occassion. They even had the wedding dress on display, though it had a creepy Addams family feel to it.

Gary asked "Where's her head??"

We came out of the Buckingham State Rooms, had some coffee, scones and clotted cream and then decided to wander down towards the "Royal Mews", the next item on our agenda. Unfortunately, no one had told us that the exit from the Buckingham State Rooms and the entrance to the Royal Mews are at opposite extremes of London and a healthy walk is involved to get from one to the other. On top of that, our tickets indicated that the "Royal Mews" closed at 4:15. As the gate keeper helpfully informed us at the Buckingham State Roooms, "Oh dear, you'll never make it in time." We had a hurried extended march around a number of street corners, each one displaying no entrance to the Mews, until we finally came to the doors, promptly at 4:17. Apparently, being union, they had closed the doors. We went to the gift shop, which was open and plead our case. I can't tell you exactly what we said, though it involved travel from a distant land, leaving the country the next day and possibly a fatal disease, but we managed to work our way into the Mews "after hours". It was well worth it. We had a wonderful time and it was a highlight of our experience.

The next day, we were off to Ireland!!!!

No comments: