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erinb Nov 3rd, 2003 08:04 AM

London Trip Report Continued Day 6 and 7
 
London Trip Report
Monday, October 20, 2003
Finally, Crash!

This is installment 5 of day 6 on our recent London trip. Monday was scheduled to be the day we took our day trip to Oxford. Our day was to begin with a lite breakfast and then we would make our way to Paddington Station to purchase cheap day return tickets. We were going to spend all day in Oxford, come back for dinner at around 6pm and then chill until about 8:30 and then head out to the Tower of London for the Ceremony of the Keys.

Like all well planned trips, there are sometimes glitches. Mine began that Monday morning when I woke up about 7:30am to a raging fever of about 102. Coughing, hacking, sniffling, full out chest cold. Not just a cold that meandered its way from simple to bad over the course of a couple of days. Mine hit major impact within 24 hours. If I had not done the late night walks, I would have been in a major paranoid panic. (Can anyone say SARS fear here). Instead, I knew this was simply a stupid, stupid result of pushing myself to fast, too far, and too furious during what was my first season change to winter weather. Back home, that always resulted in a major chest cold for me every year around Thanksgiving. It just so happened that the first major change for me in weather was right now, here in London. My second big mistake was leaving a major piece of my medicine chest at home. My asthma inhaler. (I can tell you that I am still banging my head on that one) Nor did either of us take out trip health insurance. I was down for the count here. My trip budget did not extend to a major doctors visit and believe you me, I inquired. The lowest I would get away with in cost would be about 120 pds. The two or three clinics that I called always referred me as an American tourist to one of two private doctors. They charged an arm and a leg and I did not have one to spare this late in the trip.

This was a major disappointment for me because I knew that if I had any hopes of salvaging the next four days, there was no way I would be able to do the Oxford trip. I needed to baby myself and stay in today as much as possible. I called Penny and she knew immediately that there was a problem. This is where Penny is at her best. Adaptable. She actually didn't mind us cancelling Oxford because she was worried that we would not have enough time to do everything she wanted to do in London with the remaining time anyway. What a great friend! So we are sorry to say we canceled the Oxford trip and I stayed in bed most of Monday.

Penny headed out on one of her shopping walks and to add two bridge walks to her belt. I think I mentioned that one of Penny's goals this trip was to walk across as many of the bridges on the river Thames as she could, learning their history. As far as I could count, she had already done 3 this trip. After a morning of shopping and bridge walking, she brought lunch back to the hotel in the form of much needed comfort food, Burger King. She also decided to do another one of the London walks that afternoon. She agreed to meet me at the hotel around 6pm, when I would try to get it together for dinner and we would find a nice Indian restaurant.

I took that time to rest and finally got dressed about 4pm. I headed out to nearest pay phone to take care of money matters and that Visa problem. My next travel adverisary has to do with your money and access to it thru ATM'S and Visa's. In my last two trips, I had no problem with waiting and using my cards at the ATMs. Already on this trip I had experienced two problems. I could not seem to access my accounts on my regular ATM card. It was a different one this trip and had both my VISA and my savings account on it. I also had my VISA card itself, which had worked at the ATM and for purchases until late Sunday when it declined. The bank assured me that regular ATM should work even though it is a saving account not a checking. They would be wrong, but not because it was a savings. I would not find out until I got home that it was because the stupid card still showed my old checking as the primary account, and I had closed that checking months ago and opened another one at another bank that gave better rates.

Many of us believe that British Atm's do not work on savings accounts. That is not always the case, it is that they simply will only pull cash from the primary account on the card, and in most cases that is your checking account. Because they had never removed the checking as my primary and British ATMS are set to only take cash from the primary account listed on a ATM card, I never had the option of selecting which account. Each time I tried to get cash, it of course declined since the checking account at that bank was now closed. Aggghhhh! I didn't know this at the time, I just knew I couldn't get to my money.

To top this off, I don't have a high limit visa, but what I did have was free and clear and should have been enough for the trip. I talked to the same company, but it turned out to be a frustrating call. My visa is through a credit union and they can be finicky sometimes. They also have smaller ATM limits than most visa's (only $200 a day) and they also have weekend ATM and spending limits. This is a security issue to protect against theft. The only reason they could give me for the problem on Sunday was that it looked like all my purchases from Friday and Saturday were counting toward the weekend spending limit. They said it should work now and told me to try it at the nearest Atm and call them back if there was any problem. I immediately tried it again at an ATM around the corner and it worked fine, so as far as I was concerned the problem with the Visa was solved. This would be a wrong assumption and one that would lead to a very embarrassing moment later in the trip.

My travel adversery here would be to simply make sure you have access to all your funds in several different methods. When you arrive, check out all your methods of fund withdrawal immediately. If you experience any problems, take care of them right away at the beginning of your trip. If I had been smart, I would have set up a contingency plan with either my bank or my family at home. I had planned on the bank contingency but because of a problem at work the last two days before our departure to London, I had not had time to take care of it before I left so it was not an automatic and easy contingency. (What I am referring to is to give my mother or sister power of attorney to switch my funds around for me if necessary, my bank will not do it via phone call).

At that stage however, I was confident the Visa was okay and I was cash rich again and I went back to meet Penny at the hotel. She was on time and back at 6pm and took a few minutes to rest and change, then we headed out to find dinner. Taking the number 49 bus north on Gloucester, we got off at the north end, where Penny had remembered seeing several Indian cusine restaurants earlier in the trip. We began walking down until we found two or three restaurants right in the same area. After looking at the menus and prices, we choose Memories of India, a small simple restaurant on Gloucester Rd. The prices were reasonable and the smells coming out of the kitchen were heavenly. Worked for me.

Penny ordered an Indian beer and I think had the Spring rolls, while I ordered a glass of white wine and the cheese nan bread for my starter. We ordered our main courses, Penny had Chicken Tikka Masala
which is a boneless chicken in a almond and garlic cream sauce, and Saag Aloo, which is a potato and spinach dish, while I had the Lamb Korma and a dish I can't remember the name of, but was a fried eggplant in spicy sauce. We both ordered sides of Indian rice. I have to tell you that they brought out so much food, four people could have made a meal of it. We sampled each others dishes. All were excellent. I loved the Saag Aloo. I had never tasted it before. The lamb and chicken were as tender as they could ever be and the nan bread was wonderful. We were so full we did not have room for dessert and I ordered coffee to finish. This was a wonderful restaurant. One of things I love about Indian food in London, they serve it hot and always serve more than you can eat. I can't get this cusine in my home town and it is always a favorite when I come to London. I can highly recommend this restaurant, it service and it prices. The total cost of the meal for both of us was around 35 pounds including two drinks apiece. More than reasonable.

As we ate dinner, Penny told me about her day. With the exception of that evening, mine was a bust, so I will tell you a little about hers. She started that morning by heading to the Regent Park area for shopping. Penny's personal schedule would consist of several solo days in which she was doing a walking guide to London shopping. Her first hit was a china shop outlet. A friend of ours wanted an english cake plate of a certain style and Penny had no problem finding it. She was going to be pleasantly surprised. She had sent Penny with about $100 dollars and the cost was only about 25 pds. Penny also bought several porcelain jewelry boxes for her own collection. After that she went along with the tour she had mapped out. The book she had covered a 3 day very structured shopping walk, but because our trip was broken up a bit, she decided to select sections of the walk and try them out. She hit the Regent Park area and I think the Picadilly area on Monday. After bringing lunch back to the hotel she had headed back out to walk across two more bridges, the millinneum bridge and the Waterloo bridge. She finished up with shopping at Harrods for about an hour, which she said that, like my museum, she could spend a day in just the food court alone. Of course, Penny would be back there before our trip was over.

One of Penny's observations is something we both had know from our previous trips. We don't usually buy clothing in London or Paris. Don't get me wrong, they have some gorgeous stuff, but putting aside the fact that it is extremely hard to find plus sizes in Europe, they are just too damn expensive. She finally broke down and bought a sweater, because it was just so beautiful, but facturing in the exchange rate, her 60 pd sweater ended up being around $95. It's easy to forget that when you are shopping. I know this is stupid, but I still have to stop and switch my thinking, because when I see 4 or 60, I immediately think in terms of dollars, but it is not dollars it's pounds. It's easy to forget when you are in full shopping frenzy (grin). Does anyone else ever have this problem? With francs it was easy to remember because it was such a different amount.

After dinner, we decided to walk a bit, although that did not last long since my chest cold was severely affecting my breathing and aggravating my asthma. I couldn't seem to walk 50 yards without wheezing, so we took the bus back to the hotel, agreeing to meet down in the lobby at 8:30 to head to the Tower of London. Both of us were looking forward to the Ceremony of the Keys. We needed to be at the main gate by 9:30.

For those of you who do not know what I am talking about, every night the Yeoman Wardens of the Tower perform a ceremony that has been done for over 700 years. It is called the Ceremony of the Keys and it is the procedure in which the Tower is locked down each night. It occurs around 10:00 each night and is a very traditional ritual. If you are interested, you need to write and request an invitation. That is the only way to get in. Penny had written about 4 weeks ahead of our trip, but I recommend to all to make that 6 weeks. We almost didn't make it in, because the invitation did not arrive until the day after we had left. Pennys husband called us to let us know and gave us a number to call to report the problem. Since she was on the list for Monday evening, they told us to come and just show ID.

We arrived at the Tower Hill metro stop around 9pm and slowly made our way to the Tower of London main gate. There we waited for the Warden to let us in. About 50 people showed up for the Ceremony. At 9:30 a Warden let us in and checked for invitations or to see if you were on the list. We were not allowed to take videos or photos during the ceremony.

The Warden who acted as our guide explained the tradition and what we would be seeing that evening. It all would take place over the course of 10-15 minutes. During that time we were asked to be silent and take no photos. He gave us a brief history of the Tower and its famous prisoners and executions. I loved touring the Tower of London. This is one place I always read about in so many historical accounts, in fiction and non-fiction books. I had visited this site my last trip and was simply I awe of it. So many important political prisoners saw their last days here in these buildings. I loved watching this ceremony. It had all the pomp and circumstance you come to expect from everything royal and british. As we watched, the Head Warden locked the 1st and 2nd gates and then turned over the keys. The Guards were decked out in their finery, including the special fur helmets. (Which by the way are soft when stroked with the direction of the hair, but bristley when stroked the other way...ahhhaa...you thought I had forgotten that didn't you!). The Yeoman Warden was right, the ceremony only took about 15 minutes and then it was all over with. Our tour Warden ended the ceremony by telling us a few stories of the executions and some of those famous people that were buried there in the tower square. He ended the evening by telling us that the official ceremony would take place once we had left the Tower and they would truly lock the gates.

As we were lead out of the Tower, I can't help but shake my head in at the fact this fabulous structure is still standing. Like Windsor, it is testament to British tradition and honor, that so much of its past is still revered and cared for.

Penny and I made our way back to the hotel via the tube. We both were quiet and contemplative. This was the last thing on our list that we had missed in our previous trips and were quite satisfied that we had finally gotten to see it all. I personally felt a sense of peace that finally I had gotten to see all the things that I had waited so long to see. Thankfully, it wasn't a moment to soon, since I was headed to major sick and we only had 3 days left in the trip.

We made it back to hotel, me to nurse my cold and Penny was planning on catching up her travel journal. We agreed to meet for breakfast and decide how we were going to finish the trip. My illness was unexpected and really slowing me down, and I was worried that it would bring her down. We decided to talk about our plans in the morning.

All in all, we had a great evening. That day I was extremely thankful that I had asked Penny along for the trip. She is as independent as I am and had no problem getting around on her own that day. I nursed my cold that night in hopes that tomorrow would be a better day. We had a lot planned and I only hoped I would be up to it.

erinb Nov 3rd, 2003 08:14 AM

London Trip Report
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
There is still life yet in these here ole bones...

This is installment 6 of day 7 in our recent London trip. Tuesday morning dawned slightly overcast. I woke up about 7am and called Penny up. We agreed to meet at the lobby at 8:30. I still was feeling wheezy, although my fever was gone, my asthma had kicked in and wasn't letting go. I knew what had happened to me, but seeing no way to afford the cost of a doctor or emergency clinic, I decided to just try and baby it as much as possible until I could get home. If I was careful and didn't push myself to much it would be okay. I was determined that I was going to have a good time today and like my mother said...it's your outlook that makes a difference. I knew that half of my problem Sunday night was I was simply feeling so bad. Determined to change that for the remaining three days of our trip, I put some pep in my step and it made a difference.

Penny and I met for breakfast at our usual place, and talked about our itinerary for the day. We both decided that Madame Tussards was not really important and decided to skip that for the morning. Penny had wanted to finish her solo shopping walk and I wanted to visit two bookstores in the Notting Hill area. We also would be meeting one of my Fodor buddies, Starspinner(Judy) for tea at Browns Hotel that afternoon and then we would head out for some brief window shopping before going to the Prince Edward theatre to see Mamma Mia that night. We also had reservations for a post theatre dinner at the Rock Garden in the Piazza, a few blocks away from the theatre off of King Street.

I also talked to Penny about my illness and what it meant for me in terms of having to slow down. We looked at what we had scheduled and thankfully, with the exception of today, the rest of the trip was meant for solo days. This meant that Penny, for the most part, had already planned on being by herself doing her shopping walks and I was scheduled for book hunts, so I would not be slowing her down too much. We had already done most of the things we had planned to do together, and other than that day, Tuesday, the rest of the trip we had only planned on meeting for dinner each evening. She helped me pare down my own personal itinerary to a more reasonable level that would allow me plenty of rest each day. This would help keep me from getting any worse. If you are an asthmatic, you know what I mean. Sometimes over activity will just make it much worse.

So, she headed out on a morning shopping walk in the Chelsea District and I headed to Notting Hill where I found two bookstores and several more books. One of my finds was an absolutely wonderful volume of English history. I actually could not believe I found this in a charity shop. It was in a wonderful leather and cloth binding and had English history from the dark ages thru the end of the 19th century. I paid about 4 pds for it and counted myself lucky. The other books were simply good used copies of English prose, a small book on Shakespeare's sonnets, and the rest just some good used British fiction and romance writers. I spent about 20 pds on the lot and felt I had gotten some great deals.

The second charity shop that day yielded once again, more than just books. I think I have found my new favorite thing to do in England and that is to visit these charity shops. Yes, they have a lot of used clothes and junky stuff, but they also have some really wonderful funky and collectable items. I found two tea sets in miniature to add to my collection which was quite unexpected. One was full service, with teapot, tray, creamer and sugar and 4 itty bitty tea cups with saucers for about 7 pds. It was decorated in a wonderful English pansy pattern. The second one was simply of a gleeful snowman teapot and 2 cups and saucers for about 4 pds.

For years, I have collected normal size teapots of all sizes and shapes. The odder the better, but my hearth runneth over. In other words, I have over 50 of the damn things and no where to put any more of the normal size ones. So a couple of years ago, I finally switched to miniatures. I now have over 30 in that collection, oops, 32 now. I had not even thought about trying to find a set while I was in London, but they were too precious to pass up on. I also bought a book on English wildflowers that I know my mother will love.

That last find was at a Heart foundation store. I was talking to the sales clerk, I think her name was Peggy, who reminded me that book hunters are the same the world over. It's not just about the books. Like me, she loves to hunt books also and on her Saturdays off she travels to different cities all over England just driving the countryside and hunting books. I told her my favorite way to relax each weekend was just to fill the car with gas and hit the road. I have been known to just close my eyes and hit the map with my finger and head in that direction. Although books are the reason and excuse, and that is the common theme, searching for bookstores, it's also about getting out of your house. Many of us Americans work like the devil during the week, then collapse on our sofas the rest of the weekend. As a nation, we are becoming serious couch potatoes, rarely venturing outside of our own back yard for 50 weeks every year. On of the things I love about Europe, London and Paris, is the real sense of community that still exists between people. I think many of us Americans, especially those of us that are in our 30's and 40's who are still single, have lost that somewhat.

At least once a month, I make a weekend trip like that, sometimes revisiting towns with great bookstores, other times just driving thru small town America. I never take the main super highways. What fun is that? I always take the back roads. Peggy and I talked about doing the same thing and discussed American versus English fiction and romance writers. It has become extremely easy for British readers to find American fiction now, but this is not reciprocated. Unless the British writer is established quite big internationally, we can't find British fiction in small town America. We traded email addresses and I warned her that the next time I came to town I might contact her and see if she wanted to have company when she hit the road again. She laughed and said in proper British "Yes, let's do". This is why I love meandering the small shops of London. For the people you meet. Oh, and I thought it was kismet that I visited that store. I also found a wonderful pristine copy of the "Rituals of British Tea". I laughed when I saw it, and couldn't pass it up for 3 pds. In light of the fact that I would be having my first proper British afternoon tea in about 3 hours, I called it fate and would not have dared to pass it by.

After about 2 hours of shopping, I decided to head back to the hotel and rest for a while. I would need this as we would be going all out for tea and the theatre later. I took a short nap and then showered and dressed for tea. Penny met me in the lobby at 2:45 and we headed to the metro to take the Piccadilly line to the Green Park metro station. We were to meet Starspinners (Judy) one of our Fodors buddies for afternoon tea at Browns Hotel.

First, why Browns and not the Ritz? Well, I have this picture of afternoon tea in England. In my mind, tea is served in front of a roaring fire and in comfy deep chairs in which you can sit back and relax. When I was doing my research, I found that the Ritz, for all its wonderful reviews, was too formal for me. Someone at the Fodors board recommended Browns Hotel. When I researched it, I found that Browns served afternoon tea in what they called The Drawing Room. The picture of the room was exactly the type of room I had pictured. I made reservations for us and they were confirmed. For the record, Browns has three seatings for tea, the 1st at 2pm, then one at 3:45 and one at 5:15. We all agreed to meet at the 3:45pm tea.

Penny and I arrived at the Green Park tube stop and walked about 4 blocks up Piccadilly then left on Albemarle Rd and there was Browns Hotel about halfway down the road. It is a beautiful, elegant, quiet hotel. I could only hope to one day be able to afford to stay there. I have promised myself a week there one trip after I retire.

Judy AKA Starspinners was waiting patiently for us in the lobby and knew us right away. (Hey, I had told her to look for two plus size women in black and plum and we did not disappoint her on either count (grin)). We had gotten there just on time at 3:30. I immediately recognized Judy as a warm, open person and she had the gift of gab just like all of us at the Fodor's board, and this made her a delight to talk with. We had talked several times via email and many times on the board and I looked forward to spending time with her.

Although we were early, and our reservation was not until 3:45, to my delight they seated us right away. The room was just like the photo's. It had these wonderfully deep chairs and deep sofas all grouped around tea service tables or coffee tables. They took our order of a traditional afternoon tea. To my further delight we all would be given our own personal pot of tea and you had a choice of about 20 different teas from the traditional English to the exotic Chinese teas. I think I ordered oolong tea, but I can't quite remember, the others ordered I think Darjeeling and Earl Grey tea. Within minutes they were serving tea and had brought out a huge 3 tiered tea service caddy filled with pastries, scones and finger sandwiches. I don't know about the rest of the bunch but for a few minutes there I was almost orgasmic. Pastries are my friends...(Okay, some would say my downfall, but why be negative (grin)).

1st the company was wonderful. Penny and I spent almost two hours talking to Judy about our respective experiences in London and I immediately knew that what we had here was a very seasoned traveler. To me this was a treasure and I knew that Judy had a wealth of knowledge. I hope my enthusiasm didn't scare her, but like most of the people I have met from the Fodor's board, she made us immediately at ease. We had such a good time, before we knew it the pastries and sandwiches were all but gone. I looked, Judy looked and Penny looked and we just laughed. We had been so busy talking, I don't think any of us remember eating it all.. And even though we were all but stuffed, they brought around cakes for us to choose from and a second pot of tea.

Remember this. Browns Hotel for afternoon tea. You will absolutely love it. It is a warm, relaxed atmosphere. We saw many people from all walks of life there, in different stages of attire from casual to dress. It's expensive, around 25 pds per person, but well worth the experience. It's the way afternoon tea should be done, in a wonderfully rich and warm setting, and the food 5 star. Oh, and if you have time, check out the ladies loo downstairs...It's almost a religious experience. (grin)

After tea, Judy decided to hop along with us to the theatre district, and although her show didn't start until 8pm, she offered to show us where our theatre was. I am so glad she did because I am not sure if we would have found it on our own. We had originally planned to just take a cab from Brown's to Old Compton St., but Judy knew exactly how to get there on the metro, so that saved us time and money. And during our trip there, I discovered something extremely important. The real Charing Cross Rd.

We took the Green Park station and arrived at the Leicester Square station and it immediately lead out onto a very busy road. Judy led the way and as we were walking down the road, I realized that we were passing bookstores...many bookstores. I stopped to catch my breath (thankfully Judy was really patient and knew after my explanation that I needed to stop every so often to rest), I came up for air and I know I sounded like a crazy person but I suddenly exploded with, where are we? What are all these bookstores? Then I looked and saw the sign for Charing Cross Rd. I told Judy that I had never seen these stores.

If anyone on the Fodors board remembers, I had thought I found it my last trip and had been very disappointed in the few stores that were left. Whatever road I was on that last trip had not been the main Charing Cross Rd. Judy said I might have found the other tail end of it, where there were just a few stores left. It looks like that is what had happened, because all around me for 360 were bookstores, bookstores and more bookstores.

I don't think Judy realized the danger here, because she was already walking on, but Penny had an almost paniced look about her because, yes ..she knew me and saw the glaze beginning to form in my eyes. I was headed for my "oh my god! Bookstore beserker stage". But, she gave that look that said "Don't you dare" and I realized that yes, we had already paid for those theatre tickets and this was something Penny really wanted to do. And for gosh sakes, the bookstores would be there tomorrow. I took a deep breath, well as deep as I could and put my head down and trudge on past them...saying to myself "You can do this, you can walk past these bookstores and not go in,you can...you can! I could hear Penny's silent sigh of relief when she realized that I was okay and back on track....(Hey, I was in a cold sweat, you don't know how close it was, all I can say is that I was weak from the cold and also from fear that Penny would squish me like a bug if I dared step foot in one of the bookstores 30 minutes from our London musical was to start!(grin))..

We headed toward the theatre and arrived a few minutes later. I was coughing like a banshee and needed something warm to drink and water, and we still had about 20 minutes, so everyone agreed to go into a little café just across from the theatre. I ordered water and cappuccino and Judy and Penny ordered hot chocolate. It was wonderful and blessedly warm. Remember comfort food in times of stress and illness. A European cappuccino is comfort to me, cappuccino in the states is very bitter to me. Judy told us about the shows she had seen on previous trips and that she would be seeing several more on this trip. Like her, I was interested in the remake of "Wait Until Dark", but knew we just didn't have time to fit it in. I rested a few minutes. We spent a few minutes talking about our respective plans for the rest of the trip and the fact that we would be meeting again the next night for dinner and would meet up with another Fodor friend Kavey, who lived in London.

I hated to leave her, but our show was going to be starting and we said goodbye. We had an absolutely wonderful time with Judy and I was looking forward to the dinner the next night. Something I try to do every trip now is to meet up with some of our Fodors board friends and I have not regretted it once.

Penny and I made our way the Prince Edward theatre. Our tickets were taken and we found our seats. I was worried being a plus size women in an older theatre, but the seats were surprisingly comfortable and roomy. I was also kind of surprised because I had thought that I had originally purchased seats down on the bottom level. The dress circle is actually the 1st balcony level. Our seats were still good ones though, because we were about 6 rows back on the side, but with aisle seats. They couldn't have been any more perfect. The show we would be seeing was Mamma Mia and if you have visited the board lately you know that is the show in which all the ABBA songs are used.
What followed was 2 hours of the most fun I have had in a show in a long time. While we didn't have the wild dancing in the aisles that some say occurred at the beginning of the season, we had plenty of ABBA fans rocking back and forth. I enjoyed it immensely and you could see so many others did also. The play was wonderful, it had drama, humor and even a surprise ending. The setting was simple and the costumes were colorful and sometimes even hilarious. If you are looking for just a really feel good musical, this is your number. The way the writer and director used the ABBA songs to stage this was perfect. Penny and I left the theatre just riding on an absolute high, and I know we were grinning like loons. ABBA for god's sake, could you get any more retro! It was perfect.

As we exited the theatre we knew we were turned around a bit in direction. We finally got our bearings and although we had originally planned on walking to the restaurant, it was about 15 blocks away. I knew I would not make it, so I thought we would take a cab. Newsflash, at 10pm, even on a weeknight in the theatre district, you won't be able to find a taxi because everyone exiting the theatres are grabbing them. So we got creative. Sitting outside the theatre were these young kids in Chinese rickshaws, I looked at Penny, she looked at me and laughing we both said why the hell not! For 8 pds the young man would take us to the restaurant. We hopped on and nearly upended ourselves falling in the seat (they are deep, really deep) and I whispered to her that the young man would be earning his tip that night and wrapped up in the blanket provided and had a thrill of a ride to the restaurant. God it was cold, but fun!

Our restaurant was The Rock Garden, a older, but renovated restaurant that served post theatre dinner as late as midnight. We actually arrived about 10 minutes late. Our reservation was for 10:15pm. I didn't need to worry, because that late, the restaurant had very few patrons. We had a choice from their late menu of 1,2, or 3 courses ranging from 5 pds to 11 pds. Both Penny and I picked the 2 course at 9 pds and ordered a glass of wine. I had a starter of Caesar salad and then the pasta Rigatoni, and Penny decided on a entrée, the roast chicken and pasta, and then sorbet for dessert.

I will say that the food was excellent, but after delivering the 1st course, they seemed to forget we were there. We had been seated up on the 2nd level to over look the square outside and only one other table was seated up there. They left about 10 minutes after we arrived. My starter was excellent and then they brought us the entrée and promptly forgot us for about 30 minutes. We finally caught the eye of one of bus boys and he immediately ran downstairs. The next thing we knew the manager was at our table apologizing. He asked us what had we ordered. Apparently something had happened to our waiter. I would say he went home, but I am not sure...lololol, we didn't see him again that evening.

The manager brought us Penny's dessert and the rest of the bottle of wine on the house. Our coffee arrived and then they forgot about us again for about 30 minutes. We both were just getting up to find someone for the bill, when the bus boy ran up to ask us if we needed anything else. He came back with the bill and we paid for our meal. The food had been excellent and the prices were great. The service needed some improvement, but I have to wonder if it just wasn't that time of the evening and things had been winding down. However, at this stage of the evening I didn't worry about it too much because, I was feeling no pain after 2-3 glasses of wine on top of the cold medicine I was taking,,,,whooops. In fact over the last 30 minutes I was feeling quite tipsy, in spite of the coffee.

We left and I walked around the square for a few minutes trying to clear my head and trying to decide which metro was closer. While Penny was looking at the metro map, the bouncer for the nightclub next door offered to help and we started talking and too my amazement, he started flirting with me. He was quite cute too, tall, muscular, my age and had a little bit of a Slavic accent and a really sexy shaved head...why is it that men with shaved heads seem sexy to women? I dared to ask him. He laughed and said he didn't know but it seemed to work for him. He then promptly told me he found my accent quite sexy...hey I can drawl with the best and he asked me what part of the states I was from, and I told him from the best part, the south, then Penny, the old married lady that she is, just took me by the elbow and said "it was time to go home Scarlet", so I bated my lashes in good southern style. I think I waved bye bye to the man. He laughed and pointed us to the metro around the corner. I moo mooed to Penny and she laughed. I told her to remember not all of us are old married women like she was. Of course, she laughed at me (while she was all but dragging me away by my hair) and said that it was bed time and she needed all her energy to get me back to the hotel and keep up with me the next day. Snor...yeah right, I said, a snail would not have a problem passing me by in my condition.

We made it safely back to the hotel, my American virtue intact (dammit!) laughing and in a great mood! She made me promise not to overdose on cold medicine, or head back out on the sly(grin) and we agreed to meet the next morning for breakfast. I promptly destroyed my closet looking for my pj's, turned the heater up way too high, grabbed a box of tissues, which I slept on all night, slapped an inch of vapor rub on my chest and sat sleeping propped up by a gazillion pillows, hoping I would breath easier and sleep, or least have a really good dream about the sexy bald man with the Slavic accent(shivers and that was not chills(grin).

Another travel adversary. Don't drink wine and take cold medicine at the same time in a strange city.

All in all, despite the fact that I was extremely ill and in denial about it, Tuesday in London was a super great day! My book hunt that morning had been very productive, I had visions of the 10 bookstores to scout the next day on Charing Cross Rd. I enjoyed meeting Judy, our Fodor's friend and had a wonderful time with her and Penny at our Afternoon Tea at Browns. I can highly recommend it!. The theatre that night had been just wonderful. <b>Go see Mamma Mia!.</b> You will sing and laugh, I mean it, if you are over 30, you won't be able to stop yourself from grinning or clapping. The late dinner was great, abet the lack of service, and most important of all, <b><i>I GOT HIT ON IN LONDON, BY A TALL MYSTERIOUS BALD SLAVIC MAN WHO WILL FUEL MY FANTASIES FOR MONTHS</i></b> What else could a 43 year old American female tourist ask for! PLEASE...TELL ME! Life was great! Snore....snore....cough...snore! (big GRIN...BIG BIG GRIN)!

Toodles!

DixieChick Nov 3rd, 2003 10:15 AM

Tell us more about the Mysterious Slavic Man. Where exactly in the square did this &quot;hitting&quot; occur? Need to know for future reference.

Seriously, nice report, ErinB. Now that you're home, no need to visit anymore bookstores, right?

erinb Nov 3rd, 2003 04:08 PM

dixie, dixie...tsk tsk... are you crazy, I gotta have my bookstore fix every week. It a obsession with me. You remember Mel in conspirary theory and how he has to find the &quot;catcher in the rye&quot;. I normally can't pass a bookstore without going inside, that's why Penny was working herself into a panic that night....and I almost passed out walking by them.

Now about that mysterious bald slavic man....are you crazy...why would I send every single 40 year old american female tourist after him....hey wait a minute..that might be quite funny....hehehehe.. London's newest attraction....

It was off of the Piazza on King street near the theatre district...the club was the Garden Club.....tell him Scarlett from the south sent ya! (big grin). he was gor-ge-ous and sexy!


Sylvia Nov 4th, 2003 03:07 AM

Good Evening: My name is Sylvia and I am a book addict.

My husband says he is going to start a branch of Bookbuyers Anonymous. He and I are quite hopeless. We once staggered out of a bookshop with a complete set of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
Of the charity shops, Oxfam is wonderful for books. They have actually started to open shops decicated to books alone.
I enjoyed your report. You obviously had a great time.

erinb Nov 4th, 2003 09:03 AM

hi sylvia,

thanks for taking the time to read it. I know it is a book in itself. I really did have a great time.

Now about that BA club. We tried it, and unless they are selling books it didn't help.(big grin).

I don't think there is a cure for my disablity (love of books).

Thanks

Keith Nov 4th, 2003 09:11 AM

After all your comments about age, I was rather suprised to learn you are several years younger than me.

Keith

erinb Nov 4th, 2003 05:31 PM

hi Keith,

I am assuming you are speaking about me. Sometimes, this year, I just feel ancient! Age is relative, but I have had a relatively stressful year this past year so that is probably why the &quot;oh woo is me, I getting up there&quot; theme. Last year, I felt as spry as a spring chicken...this year I went thru my 25 year reunion. All my high school friends have gone and married/divorced, remarried and now their kids are in college.

I had no problem with the 30th birthday, but my 40th bugged me big time!

I hope next year is better!


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