Saturday, July 02, 2011

Street where the riches of ages are stowed… – Day 14

Portobello Road, Portobello Road,
Street where the riches of ages are stowed.
Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrows in Portobello Road.

I started my last day in London with a walk down to Portobello Road.  For those who have never seen the lesser-known Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury, this probably won’t mean much to you.  Though I’ve seen this movie way too many times to remember, and can’t get the Portobello Road song out of my head. 

Street where the riches of ages are sold

On Saturdays this street turns into a giant street market, selling everything from antiques to new chotchkies, to a more conventional farmers market with produce and other foodie goods.  And of course, the usual unique street performing entertainment. 

I lost my head!After a nice walk down this road and buying nothing, because I found no junk that I never knew I needed, I hopped the tube across town towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, famously in another Disney movie, Mary Poppins, where the old lady fed the birds.  

Along the way, I stumbled upon the Museum of London.  This wasn’t on any of the maps I had, but I stopped in anyway (it’s another free museum, so what did I have to lose?).  It was actually a very interesting museum specifically talking about the history of the city of London, with plenty of interactive things to play with (because just like any kid, I get bored in museums pretty easily if there isn’t stuff for me to play with).  It was a worthwhile diversion.  They should put these on maps. 

Finally continuing down the street, I made it to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  One small problem I hadn’t accounted for, however, was that on Saturdays it closed to visitors at 1pm.  Apparently Jesus needs his naptime.  Waah waah.  I lose.  Complete failure of planning. 

St. Paul's But what can I do?  I continued on down to Fleet Street, and kept walking around town.  Next thing I knew I was in the West End’s Theatretown, and there were theatres everywhere.  Being Saturday, they all have their matinee shows, and I walked past a theatre showing a new musical that I had seen advertised quite a bit around town this past week, Betty Blue Eyes.

Betty Blue Eyes There were still last minute day of show tickets available, and the show started in just 15 minutes, so I plopped down 20 pounds and grabbed a seat in the 3rd row of this beautiful theatre having ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what this musical comedy was about.  It story was set in Britain during the food rationing times of post-WWII, specifically around the time of the royal wedding of then-Princess Elizabeth and Philip.  The plot is entirely centered around key points in British history, which while an entertaining story with good music, would probably have a rough time playing to US audiences on Broadway.  Though I’d have to say it was worth what I paid to see it, and I enjoyed the well done show. 

Following that, I walked my way back across Oxford Street and the shops that still didn’t have anything worth buying.  But walking around the city as much as I have, this is the first time I’ve been in a city where people drive on the “wrong” side of the street.  And it’s confused the hell out of me.  Ultimately, the only thing that has saved me countless times when crossing at crosswalks is the abundant use of instructions to those crossing.

I would not survive in London without these painted at nearly every crosswalk I’d say they put these in solely for tourists, but that would be wrong. I think the locals use them just as much.  The problem is that you never know if the road you’re crossing is a one-way this way, one-way that way, or two-way street, each of which requires you to look a certain direction.  LOOK RIGHT –> and <- LOOK LEFT are the most important words you ever see.  Once you do that, the system works.  Though even after a week in the UK, I can’t for the life of me remember which direction traffic is coming at an unmarked crosswalk.  But the tricky part that I instantly realized is that not only do they DRIVE on the left, trains and subways travel on the left of each other, so at the train platforms you’re expecting the train to come from the other direction.  AND, walking on the street, you tend to walk on the left too, though with so many tourists in town, that quickly becomes a disordered mess.  Walking down the middle or against a wall seems to be the most efficient way to get through things. 

Well, the bags are repacked, ready to head off to the airport in the morning for 14 hours of in-flight relaxation.  Unfortunately, no direct flight home this time, so I have to split the trip in half with a stop at JFK in New York.  It’ll be a long day.  But fortunately the holiday weekend yields a day of recovery on Monday. 

For you avid blog readers who have followed my journey, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I’ll try to keep up with some intermittent blogging before my next adventure, but we all know how that goes.  Thanks for the memories.  Please tip your waiter.  Good night. 

Friday, July 01, 2011

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square – Day 13

Day 13, nearly at the end of our journey, but today was a bit more upbeat as I traveled to some of the more royal landmarks in London.

The day began with a stop by the Royal Mews, where all the Queen’s horses are stabled, along with the royal carriages and motorcars.  Of particular interest was an up close look at the Glass Coach which has famously been seen in many royal weddings, notably carrying Princess Diana to the wedding with Charles. 

Glass Coach - famously known for taking Diana to the wedding Following a brief stop at the Queen’s Gallery, which displays selected paintings and other artifacts from the Royal collection, I made my way down the street to Buckingham Palace. 

Orderly marching I hadn’t planned to see the Changing of the Guard, but just happened to walk past at the right time, along with the throngs of people who had lined the plaza to watch.  Almost every reference I read said that the changing is completely overrated and not to waste your time, but since I was there, I joined the party.  It wasn’t so bad. 

OK, so what I really enjoyed was the royal beefeater band.  They were rather good to listen to, and it was nice watching them march out. 

Clarinets at the back, as usual Not a large group, and as usual the clarinets are in the back of the block, but that’s to be expected. :)  They were followed by men with guns, and then a second group of just drums and fifes (or piccolos as the case may be, historical accuracy be damned).  They were fun too, but need a lesson in keeping the piccs in tune.  Seriously. 

Watch the band marching
Watch the drums and piccolos marching 

Continuing on I went to the Churchill War Rooms, which were the underground bunker rooms used by Churchill and the British cabinet members during WWII.  These were surprisingly interesting, and well worth the stop.  This also included the Churchill Museum, which was basically a biographical museum all about the man himself. 

Just next door is 10 Downing Street, home of the current prime minister.  It’s not quite as glamorous as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it seems to have nearly as many men with guns standing out front.  I could see about this much: 

10 Downing Street I was not on the guest list, so I moved on.  I apparently was on the guest list at Westminster Abbey, where I couldn’t take any pictures inside, but got some nice ones from outside worth seeing.

Westminster AbbeyThis place was second only to the Tower of London in terms of how many people were touring it.  And since it’s so much smaller relatively, it was next to impossible to get around in there.  But I still saw plenty of old stuff, and dead people crypts.  Classy.

From there, time had escaped me a bit, but I wanted to make my way down to Greenwich, and took a river cruise from Westminster down the river.  Sadly, it took about an hour and a half to get there, and I didn’t make it off the dock until a bit after 4pm.  Hustling up to the places I wanted to get, I had basically the option of going to the National Maritime Museum, or the Royal Observatory up the hill, in the time I had left.  I decided to walk part the museum and head up to the observatory, which I arrived at about 20 past 4pm.  I head on in, and actually viewed some rather impressive displays on timekeeping and how it all developed.  And more importantly, I saw the arbitrary line of no particular significance, except that they had to draw 0° somewhere and these people decided it would be through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich: The Prime Meridian. 

Half of me in both hemispheres This classy self portrait of me standing halfway in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres was my souvenir of this part of the journey.  Now my ironic gripe of the night:  I was informed when I entered the observatory at around 4:21pm that it closes at 5pm.  Fine, I figured I could see plenty by then.  I make my way through seeing things, and just as I’m heading into the last building, at 4:45pm, the lady tells me that they’re closed, and they kick everyone out of the place.  At 4:45pm.  WHAT THE DEAL?  The sign clearly said “Closes 17.00, Last admission 16.30”.  You would THINK that the place that DEFINES THE TIME FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD could at least get the time right.  C’mon Greenwich. 

Once I got over that, I went into the town of Greenwich, where I found a nice pub and had a tasty hamburger, for a reasonable price, which included a pint for only 50 pence more, so who could argue with that.  On the TV the big match that had England captivated was the Wimbledon semi-final between Britain’s own Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.  The world seemed to stop so everyone could watch this.  Even back in the city up on Oxford Street, an outdoor pub garden was packed with onlookers watching on the TV. 

Everyone watching Wimbledon And finally, on my walks through town I passed by another of the famous town squares, this one immortalized in song, Berkeley Square. 

The world needs more little squares like this Though I heard no nightingale singing over the hustle and bustle of a busy city, it still looked like a nice place to mention in a song.  I leave you with that song.