Sunday, April 4, 2010

Part II - 1st Time European Travel - Impressions

Well damn, it would appear that I have a few people waiting on me to finish this blog entry. Though I suspect the motives of at least one to be similar to my own, she will rename nameless, but she did buy me a very nice "ARSENAL!" scarf on our last day in London. :)

So...lemme turn the way-back machine on again, to the second day...

Wow, my memory is horrible..., I do recall accompanying the nameless one on a quest to find breakfast, we went to the National Gallery Cafe.

This is a very nice place for breakfast, we were greeted by someone who told us that the self serve portion wasn't quite open just yet but they were happy to get us coffee and tea while we waited. The fifteen minute delay was worth it, the coffee was really good, and the gentleman working the back room at the time was very chatty, but in a good way. :)

After coffee, fresh organic yogurt and a large cup of fruit, I was a very happy camper. My friend proceeded to show me one of her most favorite pictures in the museum, it's called, "The Battle of San Romano" by
Paolo Uccello. It's really stunning and this picture doesn't do it justice...

We took a quick tour of Covent Gardens, an area of London who's roots go back to Roman occupation when it was used as a burial site for high borne folks. In the 1700's it was converted to an arcaded piazza and became London's premier market square for all things fresh farmed. Now the venue of all things material, and touristy. Hey you gotta make your money somehow right?

If you try, with just a little effort, you can imagine horse drawn carts laden with all manner of fresh produce traveling upon the cobbled stones as vendors prepare their wares. It's pretty cool.

We had a reservation for high-tea, so with our schedule in mind, we made our way back towards the hotel. On our way back we wandered into Waterstones Booksellers Ltd., which was strategically located very close to our hotel on Northumberland Avenue. This is a very nice, three level book store. My only complaint was that it needed more space for people to sit down and peruse their possible purchases. They had a great selection of historical documentation on London, I found and purchased a wonderful little illustrated history book on Westminster.

With purchases in hand, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for high tea at Browns. For the uninitiated, this is a very proper and very traditional tea setting, and was my first experience. I was warned before the trip that blue jeans, tee shirt and tennis shoes would simply not do and that I'd have to wear something more appropriate. So clad in polo shirt, tan slacks, and dress shoe's I accompanied my seasoned companions in taxi to the Browns Hotel. This is a very traditionally styled luxury hotel and we were met at the door by a very attentive bellman...

I loved this place, it was really everything I'd imagined it would be like and more. The service was very attentive, the tea was great and the clotted cream was to DIE FOR!

If you ever go to London folks, be sure to come away having had this traditional meal, if for nothing more than to experience an activity that is extremely British.

We had the opportunity to meet and chat with a friend of one of my travel companions. It was great fun, I'd always heard so much about him. He's a very charming native and a professional stage actor who can be found performing every year in dramatic performances in either London or Berlin. :)

With tea finished and plans to meet up with our actor friend later, we caught a taxi back to the hotel to change in more practical clothing. It was time then to seek out the sight and sounds of Piccadilly Circus.

Folks, for those of you who enjoy being a part of the teaming masses, this part of London is the place for you. It is wall to wall flesh, and in March too!

For those of you looking for the a-typical shot of the neon banners, I borrowed this one from the Wikepedia page...

I may have disappointed my friends by my sheer lack of interest in the square. Except for the architecture that wasn't covered by hideous electronic banners, and an ever pervasive sense of history, I was done with it quickly.
Honestly in the time it took for us to get there and take these two pictures...all I wanted to do was get the hell out. :)

At some point we wandered back to hotel where we grabbed some snacks and drinks at the local Tesco. Not too long after that we caught our first subway ride to visit our actor friend from earlier in the day.

Whoa! I had never been exposed to a subway in my life, this was an interesting experience and one I was very happy to be doing in the company of experts. Honestly, the London underground was nothing like I'd imagined it to be. Heck I figured the deepest we'd ever get might be thirty to forty feet at any given time? Holy crap, try up to one hundred and eighty feet! In my entire stay in London we traveled at least three times this way and I found it to be fun, but extremely intimidating!

The following day, we decided to spend it as a group since it was the last day the four of us would be together. Three of us would be heading to Cornwall on Monday and one would be heading back to Boston. So after another fantastic English breakfast at Fiori's Cafe, we headed off to the Museum of London.

I think by this time I'd driven my friends crazy enough with my never ending questions, so they figured this would be a good place to shut me up. We decide to walk a portion of the way there, which I must say...if you have the time and the weather is accommodating, do so. The city itself is a living history museum, everywhere you go there is history. As was the case of this large and somewhat unremarkable brick building, who's place in history is identified by the following plaque...

Which simply explained that the "Norfolk House" was the temporary headquarters of Dwight D Eisenhower from 1942 to 1945 and that from this place, he and his allied commanders planned and eventually launched "Operation Overlord", for the liberation of Northwest Europe. For a WWII history freak, this was totally awesome.

More to come...

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