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"It Will Rain Tomorrow." England Weathers The MaiTai Four.

"It Will Rain Tomorrow." England Weathers The MaiTai Four.

Old Nov 13th, 2013, 02:17 PM
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<B> CHAPTER THREE – Swans & Squirrels, Horsing Around, A Huge Cock, Glorious Gallery, Hyde But No Jekyll, The $16,000 Purse, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Go Soak Your Feet, Going Green, Our Corgi Will Be So Happy, An Evening Appearance At The Queen’s Residence and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas - Part Deux</B>

Turning the television on in our room, we heard the now familiar London forecast: “It should be pleasant today, but it will rain tomorrow,” the weatherman promised.

Somehow our feet were able to get going, and across the river we walked, heading for St. James Park. After our Starbucks experience of the previous day, we decided to give another chain our business.

Pret A Manger has about a million stores in London, and their food and coffee were quite good. I had a fresh Focaccia breakfast sandwich that had a hard-boiled egg and Canadian bacon. When you are walking 11 miles a day, you can throw calorie intake out the window.

We walked by Westminster Abbey and about 9 a.m. we found ourselves at the lovely St. James Park. Once just a swamp near a leper colony, St. James Park is lush with foliage and had lots of birds and waterfowl. Squirrels, pelicans, swans and ducks frolicked while we took a ton of photos. There were plenty of flowers in bloom, and we wished we could have spent more time there, but we had someplace to go.

The reason we were in this part of London was because Tracy had been told not to miss the Changing Of The Royal Horse Guards, which takes place across the street from the park. The last time we took time out from our schedule to see some horses on vacation was when we visited the Lipica Stud Farm in Slovenia to witness the world famous Lipizzaner stallions prance around and do virtually nothing for an hour. Nothing could be worse than that, we thought.

We were wrong.

At about 9:45 a bunch of beautiful black horses ridden by guys with red and white uniforms with cool gold helmets came out from under an arch. The horses and riders stood in front of the Horsey Palace (not the building’s real name). About ten minutes (seemed longer) later, another bunch of horses came from the direction of Buckingham Palace, hoofed it past the crowd and were positioned so they were facing the first group of horses. “This is going to be good,” I thought.

I was wrong.

Half of the horses (as it turned out, the lucky ones) left. The excitement was, well there was yet to be any excitement, but we were sure the pageantry would begin any second, and these beautiful creatures would amaze us as the changing of the horse guards transpired before our very eyes.

As we watched intently, the horses stood…and stood…and stood…and stood, doing nothing…and I mean nothing. Fifteen minutes later the horses were still doing nothing, although I think I saw one of them check his iPhone to see what time it was as he pawed at the dirt.

“This can’t be it, can it,” Tracy asked? Oh, yes it was. Looking around at the crowd, that horse was not the only four or two-legged creature checking to see what time it was. By 10:15, the horses had now continued this World Wrestling Federation-like stare-down for nearly 20 minutes. I actually think one of the stallions became cross-eyed due to excessive staring.

We don’t know what happened next at this gala event, because the four of us walked away, shaking our heads in bored disbelief; a half hour out of our lives that we will never get back. As we were nearly out of sight from this non-spectacle, we turned around one last time to see if maybe, just maybe, the horses were doing something. Nope…the horses were still just standing there, staring at each other like they were on the worst blind date ever.

It was time to move on to The National Gallery. As we neared Trafalgar Square, I looked up and saw something that somehow I had missed the first day we were here. Sure as hell, there was a huge, blue cock (please insert your own joke here) looking out over the square.

“That’s the biggest cock I’ve ever seen,” Kim said. “I wonder when it was erected,” I asked? Trust me…it got worse from there as we reverted back to eighth…no make that sixth… grade humor. Mary and Tracy headed directly to the entrance of the National Gallery, as they had heard this shtick too many times before.

We toured the National Gallery (free admission – no photography) for about 75 minutes. Tracy’s favorite painting was Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières while I was partial to Van Gogh’s Wheatfield With Cypresses. On a really positive note, I didn’t see any horse paintings.

The plan was to have lunch at the Café At The Crypt below St. Martin-in-the-Fields, but the menu did not appeal to us this day, and the restaurant seemed (somewhat ironically) dead. Instead, we hopped on the tube to the Hyde Park stop. After quickly checking out the park, we walked down to London’s “Department Store On Speed”…aka Harrods.

Encompassing a mere million square feet or so, if you’re a shopaholic, this is where you could spend your entire London vacation. Unfortunately, you would also probably end up in Debtors Prison.

As we walked through the store, Tracy said, “Look Tom, here’s a purse for 10,000 pounds. Should I buy it?” For a minute, I thought I was married to Oprah.

Walking through all the massive and elegant food courts, we surmised that Chef Mario Batali and all those involved with Eataly in New York City came up with some ideas from the layout here. We ate at an Italian restaurant upstairs, and the pizza, pasta and beer were good. By this point, we were all just happy to sit down.

After lunch, we walked through various parts of the store, which really was overwhelming, including a huge section devoted to Christmas. Tracy and I got our picture taken next to a large stuffed bear. “It is only September, isn’t it,” I asked?

Sure the Harrods is touristy, but as I always say (at least when I’m on holiday), “What the hell…I am a tourist.” If you’re in London, I think it’s a pretty neat stop in the midst of all the museums, parks and still-life horses.

All our dogs were barking, so much so that we all decided to go back to the hotel and soak our sore feet for a bit before we ventured out for our evening tour of Buckingham Palace that I had booked several months before we departed for England.

After a little down time, we rode the tube to the Green Park stop, where we disembarked and took a stroll (one always strolls when in a park) through the smallest of London’s eight Royal parks. A short time later we were at the Queen’s residence (she had smartly packed up the Corgis and went to Scotland on vacation knowing we were coming).

Actually, the reason we were able to secure these tickets is because when the Queen hightails it to Scotland during August and September, they open up the joint for crazy tourists who want to spend some discretionary cash. Cost for this experience is £70 apiece for the 90-minute or so tour, and I had debated whether it was really worth the price, but thought, “What the hell, you only live once…let’s give it a try.”

In addition, we would get a free glass of champagne, a souvenir book, 20% off at the Palace gift shop and free admittance to Buckingham Palace for the next year (doubt we’ll take advantage of that deal).

Speaking of the gift shop, Tracy now has a beautiful Swarovski crystal crown brooch that thankfully was much less expensive than a $16,000 purse. She also purchased some gifts for my sister, her mom and some friends, although she has not given the brooch to our female Corgi (Remi) like she had promised her before we left. I might have to go online an get one for her as a Christmas present.

Our tour group of about 20 people consisted mostly of Aussies and UK citizens. We were the only ones from the U.S.

Was the evening tour worth? Well, it depends on your point of view. Sure, you don’t necessarily see anything that a regular tour doesn’t offer, but it’s pretty cool to go zipping around Buckingham Palace on your own personal tour while getting some of the inside skinny on the goings on of the Royal Family. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Plus, I’ll do anything for a free glass of champagne, which was fun to sip as we stood on the palace terrace overlooking the expansive grounds. “So that’s how the other half lives,” we thought.

It was now dark outside, and since the people in charge would not let us spend the night, we were escorted by golf cart to one of the entrances to Buckingham Palace, where many tourists were still milling about outside the fence taking photos.

As they opened the gate to let us out, one person asked me, “How did you get in there?”

“Oh, we were just having a couple of beers with Harry, William and Kate. By the way, that George is a cute little guy.” I couldn’t tell if he was impressed or just thought I was an idiot, but I really didn’t care because I was hungry.

The tour guide had suggested a pub for dinner that was open on Sunday night, which was situated not too far from the palace, so we walked down to The Bag O Nails for our first real pub dinner. The food once again exceeded my pub food expectations, the Guinness cold and the atmosphere friendly.

Looking over to the bar (as I am wont to do), there were already placards touting their Christmas holiday meals. It would be the first of many times we would see establishments showing off the holiday menus. I guess Christmas comes early in England.

Tracy looked at our vacation insurance policy when we returned to the hotel to see if transporting corpses back to the U.S. was included in the price. Tomorrow would be the day that prognosticators were listing me at even odds of not making it back. Our group would attempt the great climb at one of London’s most spectacular landmarks. Sure, there was that chance I could die tomorrow morning, but on the flip side, if I survived, I knew later in the day we would visit the coolest little pub in all of London. Damn…I hope I made it!

<B>NEXT: CHAPTER FOUR - Blood, Sweat & Whispers, Fantastic Audio Guide, Museum Overload, Walk Like An Egyptian, Soane Near Yet Soane Far, A Cute Pub Right Down Our Alley (if we can find it), We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Nap, Photo Ops, A Change Of Plans and A Little Bit Of Italy In London </B>
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Old Nov 13th, 2013, 03:40 PM
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I tell you I just love your trip reports. You must be a handful for Tracy with all your witty repartee! Even my reserved husband chuckles at your trip reports. Thanks!
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Old Nov 13th, 2013, 04:26 PM
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Tom, it's my opinion that anything goes with Sticky Toffee Pudding.

I am enjoying your report so much. It's been a few years since I've been able to go to London but am planning on a trip there for a few days and then up to York and on to Scotland next fall.
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Old Nov 13th, 2013, 07:59 PM
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Great tale, Tom! Your reports are always so full of humor and info. Thanks!

By the way the humor about the cock which you called sixth grade would probably extend from fifth grade to eighth these days (at least in the district where I taught. Some days I had to turn to the blackboard to keep the kids from seeing me laughing.
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Old Nov 13th, 2013, 09:32 PM
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>> the humor about the cock <<

All the greater the day it was unveiled by, of all people, Our Beloved Mayor™.
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Old Nov 14th, 2013, 06:35 AM
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I was so glad to see this and finally able to sit and read the first 3 days. As always, your trip is great and great fun.

More please, soon!
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Old Nov 14th, 2013, 07:22 AM
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Here's a question that I have never asked before and never shall again...is that a permanent cock and why is it there?

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Old Nov 14th, 2013, 08:14 AM
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nah, there has been an empty fourth plinth (careful how you say that) for many years. In the past few years there have been various competitions to fill it and generally it has become a place to amuse yourself with the actions of the Metropolitan "elite" and of course the London Mayor. (Newt fancier or blond Turk)

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Old Nov 14th, 2013, 08:47 AM
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Tom, if it is a "permanent" cock, should,'t one see one's doctor after four hours?
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 01:52 AM
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<i>We toured the National Gallery ... On a really positive note, I didn’t see any horse paintings. </i>

Tom, you missed Whistlejacket by George Stubbs! http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/pa...-whistlejacket

It was right across from the doors to its gallery when I saw it in '09. A gorgeous, life-size painting. Seen in person, perhaps it would have had more "life" than the horses you saw outside

Thank you for the wonderful trip report.
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 02:40 AM
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>>Tom, if it is a "permanent" cock, should,'t one see one's doctor after four hours?<<

Especially if - as in this case - it's blue.

>> In the past few years there have been various competitions to fill it<<

The candidates for the next occupant have already been on display in St Martin's crypt. My money's on the big thumbs-up:
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 03:24 AM
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Patrick I love the big thumbs up haha that would definitely get my vote!!!
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 04:51 AM
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I'm really enjoying your report!
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 06:39 AM
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More! Please.
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 07:58 AM
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Loving this! Keep going please
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 08:00 AM
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BTW, really upset for you regarding being let down by the rental agency on the even of your departure. Very poor service indeed!

I have stayed at that hotel on business. Not the greatest location, but a good hotel.

Best Ger
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 09:11 AM
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Scotlib, thanks for sharing that link to the great Stubbs paintng of "Whistlejacket."

It's one of my favorite at the National Gallery...
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 10:13 AM
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yes, from looking at that painting, the painting of Whistlejacket os much more interesting than the Changing Of The Horse Guards.

<B>CHAPTER FOUR - Blood, Sweat & Whispers, Fantastic Audio Guide, Museum Overload, Walk Like An Egyptian, Soane Near Yet Soane Far, A Cute Pub Right Down Our Alley (if we can find it), We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Nap, Photo Ops, A Slight Change Of Plans and A Little Bit Of Italy In London </B>

Expecting that soon-to-be-here rain as we awoke, I looked out the window and saw cloudy, but dry skies (it had rained slightly overnight). However, the cracked weather people were predicting rain for tomorrow.

Our first stop of the day was what I hoped wouldn’t be my last stop…ever. The four of us were heading to St. Paul’s Cathedral and, legs and mind willing, we were going to climb something like 528 stairs to the top. We stopped and had a quick coffee and croissant from a nearby Caffè Nero.

St. Paul’s is yet another 2FOR1 attraction (£16 for two). There was no line on this Monday morning. Once inside we picked up the free audio guide, which was perhaps the best audio guide I’d ever seen. “Seen,” because in addition to the audio, you also could look at pictures on the handset.

St. Paul’s is another of Sir Christopher Wren’s mega masterpieces, and we walked around this beautiful cathedral taking in its entire splendor. It was then time for the Ascent Of Death. There were no defibrillators on hand, so up we went.

Fortunately, after about 200 stairs or so, there is a bit of a break at The Whispering Gallery. This would not be a good place to discuss an affair while your wife is sitting on the opposite side of the gallery. These walls have ears.

Tracy and Mary stood on one side as I made my way to the opposite side…slowly. Sure enough, they whispered and I could hear what they were saying. Either that, or I was just hearing voices after the first part of the three-part climb.

Break time was over, and we made our way up to the Stone Gallery that encircles the base of St. Paul’s Dome. The only photos you can take at St. Paul’s are from the outside, and we stepped out to take some.

Next stop was the Golden Gallery, more than 500 stairs from the cathedral floor. What we noticed from this vantage point is what we saw from virtually every London vantage point, a city that is under massive construction. Looking in several directions, it looked like there were more cranes than buildings. I didn’t really care, because I had made it virtually unscathed to the top (except for a small scrape on my arm, which drew surprisingly little blood…I guess Sir Bleed-A-Lot stayed at home this trip), but all the cranes and construction made for less-than-stellar photo ops.

Back downstairs, we descended to the Crypt where we saw Wellington’s tomb (actually a beef Wellington sounded pretty good after that climb) and Wren’s memorial (an understated slab of stone) with the words, “Lector, si monumentum requires circumspice" (“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you”). Wren was the only architect of his time who actually lived to see his cathedral completed, or so we were told.

Invigorated, we took the tube to Tottenham Court Road, grabbed a quick lunch at a fairly bad restaurant (although the server was nice) called Garfunkel’s (I guess Simon’s was closed), and it was on to the British Museum.

If one really wanted to fully explore the British Museum, it would probably take about half a lifetime. Since we knew there was a beer in our future, we took the information desk’s suggestion and went on the “British Museum’s Greatest Hits Self-Guided Tour.”

After an hour and a half of old coins, old chess sets, old sculptures and lots of other old things, we old folks finally arrived at the bottom floor that contained the famed Rosetta Stone. I hoped that by looking at it I would learn another language, but I guess that’s not the way it works.

The Nereid Monument from Xanthos (which I thought was an Olivia Newton-John movie) was also very interesting, but Museum Overload had overtaken the group. I had seen so many old statues that everyone in our group began looking like Ramessis II, so we left before we started walking like an Egyptian.

Our next stop was tentatively going to be a pub I had read about, but we found ourselves near the Sir John Soane Museum, so I was talked into going to see it. Mercifully, it was Monday, and John was closed. I’m sure it’s wonderful, but at this moment The Pub Museum sounded a lot better. Of course, we had to find the damned thing, and we were a little confused...nothing new there.

Walking in what we hoped was the correct destination, we ran into a couple of guys selling paintball experiences, and they were very helpful in leading us in the right direction. Looking at our little map (and then one of the city’s five minute maps…more on those below), we thought we had it nailed as to where the elusive Ye Olde Mitre pub was located, but it was not to be found.

We walked up and down the street and figured that the Klingons must have cloaked the alley to the pub. It was not there. There was a jewelry store on the corner, and one of the guys who worked there came out for a breath of fresh air. “Do you know how to get to Ye Olde Mitre pub,” I asked?

He answered, “Yes,” smiled and said nothing else. Great, I had run into a jewelry store comedian.

The guy was actually very nice, and once he had played his mini-prank on us, he pointed down the street and said to make a left at the postal box onto a tiny alley on to Ely Court (off Hattan Garden). I don’t think it was the first time he had been asked this question.

Ye Olde Mitre Pub is as cute as the photos I had seen on the Internet. I think I read that the building dates from the mid 1500s. It has two small rooms on either side of the bar and we consumed some Dark Star Ale, London Pride and Discovery Blonde Ale…just what the doctor ordered. We chatted with a nice couple from Cambridge who were in London for the day and we thoroughly enjoyed the pub’s atmosphere.

If you can’t find the place, duck into the jewelry store and listen for a funny guy. He’ll help you out…eventually.

DIGRESSION: One of London’s greatest attributes is its “5 Minute Maps” located throughout the city. When we got a little lost (which was often), we would invariably find one of these sidewalk maps showing attractions and streets within a 5-minute radius, and these were great help for directionally challenged tourists like ourselves. More cities should install these signs.

We took the tube back to the hotel, but there was no rest for the incredibly weary. Usually we take short naps on our trips, but it was such a beautiful late afternoon (deep blue skies…where’s that rain?) that we decided to take a walk up toward Parliament and Big Ben for some photos, and then find a place to eat.

The first part of that equation was simple; the second, not so much. We took some photos and then fortunately wandered by Westminster Abbey, which we were intending to visit Wednesday morning. Problem: The sign said Westminster Abbey did not open until the afternoon on Wednesday, so we decided to change our schedule and visit Westminster the next day and postpone our trip to Hampton Court until the following day. All that thinking made us hungry.

We found a few restaurants in the area, but none were “calling our names.” We then remembered the Italian place in South Ken (we were getting familiar with the area now and figured we could be more informal), so we hopped on the tube to South Ken and walked over to Rocca di Pappa (73 Old Brompton Road).

The restaurant was packed when we arrived a little before 8 p.m., but we scored their last four-top table, and we were happy we did. In about 15 minutes the wait to get in was a long one.

The food was terrific and everyone from the greeter to the servers were all very friendly. They were also from all over the globe (our United Nations of servers,” we called them). One waiter was from Portugal, another from Napoli while our very cute waitress (yes, Tracy gave me the eye more than once here) was from Croatia. When we told her how much we loved her country when we had visited, she said that she still remembered being a little girl when all that fighting was going on around her.

She seemed to be happy to be living in London instead of her home country. She told us she had a good friend who was a Serb. “I could not have done that back home,” she said.

Our meal rivaled the delicious dinner our first night at Noor Jahan. I had a delectable ravioli all’ossobuco and a panna cotta for dessert (no trip is complete without at least one panna cotta). Tracy started with a rocket & Parmesan salad and then pasta with eggplant and zucchini.

Kim and Mary each had a half of grilled chicken with salad and chips. A few bottles of wine later, the total bill went up to £120, but it was money well spent. The restaurant provided a great vibe, and we thought we might be able to return before we left town.

Mary and Kim stopped off at The Rose for a nightcap, while the old Maitai and Tracy headed back to rest our feet (12 miles on this day had done us in).

Tomorrow would be our last full day just in London, and we’d hit four more interesting attractions, although we would encounter our first problem with 2FOR1.

<B>NEXT: CHAPTER FIVE – Breakfast On The River, Follow The Hordes, Tombs With A View, A Slight Problem With Churchill, Just Another Magna Carta, Channeling My Inner Gerry Rafferty, The Beverly Hills Of London, The Frick: London Style, Afternoon Pub Stop, Vexed At Vauxhall, Party In The Room And Finally Some Fish & Chips</B>
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 11:12 AM
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>>>grabbed a quick lunch at a fairly bad restaurant (although the server was nice) called Garfunkel’s<<

Too bad. They are a truly awful tourist trap chain with branches all over central London. Local people would avoid like the plague.
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Old Nov 15th, 2013, 11:21 AM
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Yeah, but we all lived, the beer was good and I could make a Simon and Garfunkel joke, so all was not completely lost.

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