London Day 3

The 8am alarm went off and I was hard pressed to find clothes, camera, and my Tube pass. Today would be Westminster and the awe-inspiring Westminster Abbey. There was no time for breakfast or a shower, as the 20 minute Tube ride would already put a dent in my eastward adventure. After all, I had to be back by 2pm to meet up with Dana.

By about 9am I surfaced back to dry land at the Green Park Tube stop just not far from Westminster. After making my way to the St James Park to take some Buckingham Palace pictures, I managed find my way to the back for a closer glimpse of the Royal Mews. Sadly, there were no cats outside. However, here is a decent shot of the building where the cats would frolic in the sand could very well double as natural royal litter for the royal mews:

You may notice the man on a horse to the right center of the Mews. Ignore it. There are no horses there.

However, there is the Eye of London in the background. From this contraption the Queen can peer from Morden...wait. No. This is the British Airways London Eye: a massive Ferris wheel right on the edge of the Thames River. Each of the observation pods rotate freely as the wheel turns, keeping citizens upright and supposedly give riders an amazing view of the city. Each of the pods are completely encased in glass, should it ever rain. Again, a beautifully warm day in the mid 70's with modest cloud cover. I was beginning to wonder whether this London showers was just a myth to sucker in more tourism.

Now, rotating the position just slightly to the left, I noticed the left side of the courtyard. The building was quite immaculate and truly embodied the essence of royalty. In the foreground, two vans of police dogs were summoned: perhaps to keep the unruly kitties of the Royal Mews well contained; for oh the turmoil the city would succumb if those felines were to escape.

All of these sites of cats and dogs were starting to make me hungry, so I turned and followed a small path into St. James park to look for breakfast cafe. This particular edge of the park had quite a garden flowing down from a small knoll. The view looks back on the Mews and in no way captures all the different flowers that flourished. Each was maintained in its respective colony and rounded the path both right and left.

I followed the path and eventually did find a cafe nested beneath the shade of some massive English trees. The place looked fancy, and with breakfast priced at over 15 pounds, I opted to forge elsewhere. More interesting though was the shade that covered an entire section of the park from only a couple dozen mammoth trees. These leafy monsters were very effectively planted. There was plenty of room to frolic about underneath without collisions. Down the knoll a bit farther from these trees was the pond/lake. Heading down, I recognized the small bridge on the far right of the picture as the one Dana and I had crossed while leaving the park the day before. Imagine somewhere up the pong a bit more on the right on the other side of the lake and you would have found us the day before.

Back to the left, more Mews.

The park was very peaceful and full of casual visitors borrowing some rest in its breadth. I, on the other hand, was pained by stomach pains. "Food!" I cried. I left the park and headed for the London Eye, figuring food was not far. While crossing through back streets I passed the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms. From this outpost Britain drove its sweep at WWII buried deep underground to avoid German bombing. I made a note to return once I had food. There was one last view of the park before leaving it for good.

Finally, I was dumped out of alleys into the Westminster Square. Almost surely I could find food, but as I began to get a lay of the land, my eyes grew wide at the famous sites. I passed two pubs and a cafe to cross the circus and venture over to the Abbey. This church was massive. Here is my first gander at it:

I got a closer look to the eastern entrance and noticed Mr. Ben peering over the left horizon. The intermediate building portion is connected to the Abbey still.

Following along the left street to take in the Abbey for it's full worth, what I would assume to be the main entrance:

Before I could navigate around the Abbey completely, I was at the foot of Big Ben on the corner of the Tower of Westminster. Now the Abbey was old news and I wanted to scope out the tower, also known as the Houses of Parliament where the two houses of UK congress meet. Of course I would come back to do these more in depth, but I think my wonder steered my feet more so than rationale. From so close, I could see some of the ornate decorations on the outside of the building:

...and as the road carried me higher, some details in the archways...

...looking up to realize that Big Ben was in fact big...

...and wanting to see the full building, I kept walking farther to get around it. Next I was crossing the Thames on a bridge, and with all of the construction on the bridge, couldn't get a decent picture of the tower until I got to the other side. Oh, the things I'd apparently do for a good shot...

Now that I was well oriented and had good outside view of the places, I was content to head back to the pubs I had passed back near the Abbey with full intentions to eat and explore the Abbey for it's full worth. I made my way back to the bridge to find police everywhere, with lots of yellow tape fencing off the areas. Already, two cars obstructed the bridge to the point no one could cross. I turned to the right, and they were taping off the intersection as well. While looking down the intersection to try find a way out, another police officer brushed myself and a few other pedestrians off of the sidewalk, back onto the park grass of the hospital area I borrowed to take the picture above. We were losing ground quickly, and soon wouldn't be able to leave the hospital at all. One person asked what was happening. Royalty was traveling through. I had explicitly told the Queen that I wouldn't be available for breakfast that day, and instead we were going to have tea later in the afternoon. I guess she just couldn't keep her pants on. The police recommended we head out the other side of the hospital. I looked back to the hospital and decided that wasn't a good move. After all, the London Eye was the other way, across the street. Surely there would be food on that side and I could just wait for the parade to pass. I darted across and hopped the tape before tripping on anyone's attention. Forging for food on the south bank sounded like fun at first, until urgency began to prod.

A few blocks up the river I found the base of the Eye of London, and there was a large set of stores along the major road running parallel to the Thames. One had breakfast all day, so I decided to stop. I grabbed a seat and found Full English Breakfast square at the top. Have I mentioned how good English breakfast's are? I also ordered some tea for the first time as well.

Within a few minutes I had a small teapot with English tea, and the food was soon to follow. I don't typically like breakfast sausages, but the one that came with this plate was delicious: definitely not Italian or of the typical link or patty variety. This one had a very light texture to it will very little grease. Tired and hungry, I ate two bites and felt full. Oh no. I decided then to sit for a while to recuperate. A few more bites. I watched the traffic outside, particularly noting the taxi-only lane closest to the curb. The place was fairly empty, with a few locals enjoying a late breakfast. A group of American tourists tackled a large table near the window. I casually listened to what each of their grandchildren were up to these days, and the latest in geriatric healthcare problems. My eyes became heavy. I poured another cup of tea and dreamt for a while out the window. The tourists left. I finished breakfast and found a forgotten paper lying on the table next to me.

After leafing through it, I figured it was time to leave. I paid the check. I left my watch back in the states, and had no timepiece on me except for my digital camera, which I had set the first night at the Ruskin. I powered on the camera to check the time. It was 2:30pm.

2:30pm!

Oh no. I was supposed to meet Dana at 2pm in Ruskin Square. How long was I sitting at breakfast!? Regardless, now was not the time for questions. I had to haul ass back to the square, but didn't have a reasonable clue where the nearest Tube station was or what line to take back. I bolted out the doors and headed up the river farther, figuring that I'd run into a tube station before I could make my way back at least to the Westminster station. Not far up the street was the Waterloo station. Waiting for the train, I figured a stop Leicester Square to change lines to the Picadilly route. I boarded the train. The train couldn't move fast enough. I waited at the next station. Altogether, I got to Russell Square thirty minutes later. I looked around. Dana was not to be seen. Oh dear. I had no cell phone or backup plan. I looked around again. Still nothing.

I pulled out my camera again. 2:50pm. But for being almost 3, my shadow was well underfoot just one day before the summer solstice. I asked a kind old lady for the time. 11:30am.

Sigh.

I had had problems with my camera when I first got it keeping the time accurate. I think Olympus has a bug in their system, because I know I had set the time at the Ruskin two nights before. If instead the time to ask questions had been when I figured not the time to ask questions, I could've explored a good chunk of the Westminster. Now, I was back in Russell Square exhausted and panicked. After a few deep breaths, I weighed the hour in round trip travel back to the Abbey versus something local. I reasoned to stay local.

So I didn't get to see the Buckingham for pictures, the Cabinet War Rooms, the inside of the Abbey, or anything in Westminster Tower. Ugh. Exhausted, I instead napped until 1:30pm and met Dana promptly at 2pm as planned. What a morning.

Dana was dismissed early from class, and had stopped to pick up a package of strawberries. Today there would be an escort from her program to get a group of students into the Royal Courts of Justice down in the City of Westminster. Sure I'd like to go. It'd be nice to Westminster for real. We split the strawberries while riding the Tube down to the city.

The Royal Courts are in a huge gothic hall. Inside are the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Justice of England and Wales. No photography was permitted, and we had to pass through reasonable security. There was over 40 courtrooms split on the two stories and varying in size. The smallest of which sat maybe 50 people on raised benches that stepped down to the attorneys in contest well beneath the judge sitting higher than the last audience bench. We were encouraged to sit in on a few hearing to get a flavor of royal court. With a small group of law students, we made baby steps through the halls. First we found some hearing in session by peeking in the windows. Then we tried out an empty courtroom to figure through the roles. Finally, we found a court in session and slipped into the last row, all sitting upright and ready to witness some fine English law.

This was some appeal relating to an appendix. For as long as we sat, that is the best I could figure. The law students didn't get much more than that, between the foreign jargon and heavy accents. The judge agreed often with the guy who talking, so he must have been doing well. What was fun however, was the fact that everyone taking part in the case was in costume. Everyone wore a wig. There were quite different wigs. Some with a single braided tail. Some with two straight tails and bows at each end. Men and women alike pinned a wig on top of their heads, and wore capes or gowns according to the rules. Before boredom ensued, we sneaked out of the court to take in the rest of the building.

On the second floor in the back was a small museum of costumed dress. Looking through the glass cases, these garments were by far the most ornate and detailed I have ever seen. Each one had a lengthy description and larger topics such as wig patents were covered as well. No one wanted to sit in on another case, so the group disbanded and Dana and I wandered back along the road we came to look for food.

Unfortunately, ever decent restaurant at this hour, about 4 in the afternoon, was not open. The Thai and Indian restaurants were only open during lunch and dinner services, which lasted from 12 to 3, and 5 to close respectively. Trying to kill some time until dinner, we crossed the Thames on the Waterloo Bridge to explore more. I had threatened Dana earlier to prepare for an evening of dinner and a play, and near the south bank of the bridge lay the Royal National Theatre. This theatre featured independent works of British stage, staging almost a dozen different works in a given season. We had checked out the list of plays but nothing quite warranted a true evening out.

Instead we made our way to the west side of the street and ran into the Hayward Gallery, part of the South Bank Centre reserved also for the Poetry Library, the Royal Festival Hall, and other cultured sources. The Hayward housed a collection titled Undercover Surrealism: art associated with Georges Batille's Documents magazine in 1929-30. Surrealism was the focus, though very little was actually Picasso. Once inside the door, a black and white segment of an old film looped a showcased dance number of some underwater mermaid. Two headed masks were strewn about on pedestals, and some pretty disturbing art and photographs lined the walls. Up the stairs was a photograph collection of blood and guts from a butcher. Large piles of entrails. Lines of hacked cow parts stood up against a wall. Most every display evoked some response from the viewer, as no one could skim past any piece. The art was exotic, at best. Each was a body of tormented colors and twisted shapes. It was awesome.

All of these works were either discussed or featured in the magazine, which also included criticism on jazz and early film as well. A small theatre played samples from the films that interested the editors: some were eclectic documentaries of Africa or a two-girl dance number. How bizarre. How bizarre.

At the end of the gallery was every issue of the magazine in its short circulation. We leafed through some of them before uniform hunger again swept over both of us. Late lunch turned into dinner "soon". We made our way to the Waterloo station and rode back to her dorm to find an Ethiopian restaurant online.

A few blocks west of the Kings Cross Station was a whole galley of Ethiopian restaurants. We stopped at the first we found. This was only my second time having Ethiopian food, so to say it was better or worse than my American experience is futile. It was good though. I ordered doro allicha (chicken in mild spices), which was served on traditional Ethiopian bread called injera. My plop of allicha was an absolutely delicious stew with a chicken leg and an egg. A bit skimpy I say. Dana got several mounds of vegetarian delight. One plop was made out of pumpkin. Very good. We sat for a long while talking and scooping up dinner with the injera (there is no silverware at these places). One thing about injera though: it expands with beer, so be careful. We ate and ate, and drank and drank, and Dana almost needed wheelbarrow to get out the door. But it was sooo good...

By the way, in London, custom has it that you must ask for the check. Otherwise, you will perish waiting eternally.

The USA was playing its last match in the World Cup against Ghana. We were hard pressed though to find a pub that was playing the game as Italy played the Czech Republic at the same time. Finally we found Mabel's pub, and sat alongside a bunch of other Americans to witness the USA defeat slowly and painfully. Defeat is much easier to swallow with Guinness though. The game finished, and the pub closed soon after that. Almost all of the pubs closed around 11:30pm, with dance clubs usually open into the wee hours of the morning.

Tomorrow would be another big day: another day in London!

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