Thursday, March 15, 2012

Notes on London trip

Ok, the last time I posted was ten weeks ago. Time for some updates.

I went to London in February.

The trip was so great. I didn’t expect the city to be as different as it was since Americans came from England, and because we all speak English. But honestly, sometimes I couldn’t even understand what people were saying! Usually that would happen when I would ask what beers they had on tap (they’re not always marked) and they would say all these unintelligible proper nouns over the din of the bar. I would just look at them with this total uncomprehending expression on my face. Then they would give me a sample.

I actually got into drinking beer at a warmer temperatures. And how I loved cider! Cider in America is often really sweet and barely alcoholic at all, so it makes me feel really full, bloated, and sober. The cider in England was stronger, really light and refreshing, and slightly more alcoholic (4-5% I think). It made a difference.

I loved the cabbies! I am so used to half the NYC cabbies having no idea where they’re going, that I am on edge every time I take a cab. On New Year’s Eve I was going home alone and the cabbie missed the exit off the FDR! It was so annoying! Or they just go the only way they know, which is longer, more expensive, and often involves lots of traffic. But the English cabbies have to take the “knowledge,” a test that takes years of studying, and know every single intersection. Even in the age of GPS, this is pretty helpful.

The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey were my favorite attractions. Westminster Abbey was surprisingly secular for a cathedral. They have pavestones dedicated to Isaac Netwon and Charles Darwin, who as I recall were not particularly embraced by most churches at the time. Also, all the kings and queens are buried there, so it feels more political than religious. It’s quite awe-inspiring to see where Queen Elizabeth is resting, Bloody Mary, Mary Queen of Scots, etc. And it’s where Kate Middleton was married. SO topical!

Some people say the Tower of London is really Disney, but it’s actually the real deal. All the towers and castles that I’ve seen up to the point were stealing from the Tower. I guess if I explore Europe more there will be plenty more (possibly more remote) castles to see, but this one is in the center of it all. What’s crazy about it is that there must be ten different styles of architecture. New styles were built onto old styles. It’s the equivalent of adding a split-level house to a classic colonial, then some modern building on top of that. Wow.

I loved the gastropubs. We had the most amazing meals—a “pumkin” soup that tasted so clean and vegetably, not creamy. On the other end, the most buttery “mash” you’ve ever known. Duck salad, leg of lamb, fish of chips with chunky, homemade tartar sauce. And lord, sticky toffee pudding. That stuff was tops.

English people love mushrooms and tomatoes. I ordered steak one night and it came with roasted tomato and the most delicious mushrooms. You get the same two sides with an English breakfast. Mmmm. We went out for Indian one night with E’s co-workers and they ordered mushroom rice as a side. It was just rice with mushrooms mixed in, but exactly my kind of thing. The English have some things figured out!

I feel like I’m a pretty good pedestrian. I can navigate myself all right in the West Village, the most confusing neighborhood in Manhattan. But no. Our skills were no match for London. The first night, we spent an hour and twenty minutes looking for a restaurant in our garden. We knew we were in the general vicinity, but every single road we turned onto was called some version of Onslow Gardens. We asked for directions from a few people, but no one knew where the place (Anglesa Arms) was. We asked this older man, then continued lost. After a moment, he actually chased us down with a copy of “London A to Z” and helped us look up the street. Even then, we saw the road name and some sign that said “opposite,” which we interpreted to mean the wrong thing. So we crossed the street again, and thank goodness we finally found the place and got the only table for two available. We had actually been just half a block from this restaurant! When we looked to turn left, the road was called Onslow Gardens, then it changed its name HALFWAY DOWN THE BLOCK. I wasn’t aware that you could change a road’s name when you are halfway down it. But you can in London!

London’s Tube is so much nicer than the NYC subway, too, though it closes at midnight. That’s a pretty big downside, but it also means they have much more time for maintenance and cleaning. All the trains have countdown clocks, which I am a huge fan of. And when the train is stopped on the tracks, they actually give you specific reasons for why it’s down. Like, someone pulled the emergency brake in the train ahead. We should be moving shortly. So sorry (all done in the most awesome British accent). They apologize for everything! In comparison, we get some computerized announcement or a vague reason. I like the specificity.

E is going back to London next week—so I’ll give him the extra pounds and pence I had left in my wallet.

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