London Day 7

Waking up feeling refreshed and rested comes at a cost. Typically, it involves lots of sleeping well past dawn and any reasonable waking hour. Today I woke feeling refreshed and rested as I rolled out of bed at 11am. Breakfast at the Ruskin had already passed, however by this time the soul shower on the floor was empty and waiting. Taking a shower only made me feel better as I rummaged through my backpack for my few remaining clean clothes.

All of this energy would not go unfocused. Today was to be a day of shopping.

Once my eyes adjusted to the bright sidewalks, I took note of the mostly cloudy skies before diving underground. At Knightsbridge stop laid the mighty Harrods:

Harrods tends to cast a shadow over most any department store conceived. The ground floor showcases fancy women's perfume. Some of these were priced roughly what equivalent amount of uranium would run on the nuclear market. I passed from the Beauty Apothecary through to the Room of Luxury 1, meandering to Room of Luxury 2. Through walls architected like a casino, I lost myself in the grocery located in the middle of the store. Despite feeling that I had covered the ground floor, I'd find more each time I passed through. First though, was to dig up and find an escalator.

Although the map indicates more, I was able to find 3 theme escalator wells. One appeared model runway oriented, with silver and mirrors glistening in every direction. The other paled however compared to the Egyptian Hall that spanned all 7 stories. Awestruck by the decor akin to Universal Studios, I rode the escalator to the top floor. Here's the top floor:

Some were plaster mockups, while others were glass cased originals. Mall-walkers would definitely have to dress up for a day here.

The top floor is nothing but sporting goods. Soccer uniforms, skiing, camping, and even horseback riding: each had a full room themed to the tastes of each sport. Despite this being the most casual floor of the entire building, I found my arms close and hands in my pockets in fear of tainting something worth more than me.

Merchandise aside, Harrods is also known for some impressive restaurants. A champagne and oyster bar, a Lebanese cafe, and a sushi bar give the flavor that Auntie Anne's pretzels didn't make the cut. On the fourth floor amid children's clothing and toys was Mo's Diner: a 50's style diner serving burgers, fries and milkshakes. As the least most Harrods-like place in Harrods, I decided to see what fancy American food would taste in London. Although the burgers did look impressive, I instead ordered a Cajun pancake breakfast being fond of all things Cajun.

This was ridiculous. On a pancake lay a stack of Canadian bacon, another pancake, and a fried egg on top. The whole thing was doused with spices and odd syrup. Around the side were two sausages and a side of chips. Now, I can't say that I've had luxury pancakes that were anything substantially better than Waffle House or IHOP. These pancakes, which I do not exaggerate, were at least an inch thick in the middle. Golden brown and lighter than whipped cream, they would melt in your mouth with each bite. These were no mortal pancakes, but the batter of the gods. I may not know how Harrods oysters or creperie fair against the rest of the world, but they do have the best pancakes I have ever sampled.

Mostly modern and artful furniture, the third floor also featured their electronics galleries adjacent to the room full of old maps and prints for sale. From a tack to an elephant, it could be found here. I spent a few hours making my way back down to the ground level. On the first basement level was men's clothing. Versace, Dior, and Armani were a few of the brands I recognized, although a number of independent designers also had top-tier fashions at prices that would leave skid marks on a credit card. Sadly, there would be no souvenirs from here, at least on this trip.

Having finally become glazed over by unapproachable fashion and priceless jewels, I was dumped out by Harrods into the back alley. I made my way back to the main street and walked down the length seeing what other kinds of stores could dare hold proximity to the mighty Harrods. Surprisingly, there were a few nice boutiques and cafes. Pictured below is the latest European fashion craze "de Emperor's Nu":

A side street full of quaint shop:

A passing bucket:

This is another one of my favorite pictures for the entire trip with me standing just in front of a bakery window. The street reflection played with the shelved wares in quite a display. This is all natural friends, no photoshop or smoke and mirrors here:

Running out of shops along the main drag, I turned around here:

Walked back to Harrods again, now from the other side:

A busy alley:

Although there were theoretically things to purchase here in the Harrods neighborhood, it didn't seem like the place most locals would shop. I decided to try back by Piccadilly Circus. Dana and I had stopped at a Virgin megastore a few days earlier where a dude with long blue hair tried to sell her industrial metal as an alternative to German punk. Ideally, there would be other, normal shopping in that area. The way to find out? Take the Tube! This is what many Tube stations look like from above ground, although some are in buildings that lead down by elevator or escalator. So long as I kept a sharp eye for the red circle and blue slash, my chariot was soon to arrive.

A blurry escalator shaft with lots of posters:

Piccadilly Circus didn't really have anything I had expected, so I pressed on street after street until I ran into Leicester Square, which was my first time navigating between these two areas above ground. For the most part, I traveled gopher style: being in one location, riding a Tube train that gently tossed us about for a short ride, and then finding my way out to another location. Although efficient, this leaves a significant gap in above-ground geography. Like a new passage to the West Indies, I had discovered that feet can indeed traverse inner London.

I found a few touristy shops in the square, yet with my shopping finished I still hadn't found normal London shopping. Surely they didn't only wear socks made of the British flag or don football scarves to match every outfit...

I quelled such thoughts temporarily though while I tried to get tickets for Avenue Q later that evening. Leicester Square was where I had bought our theater tickets last time, but now most all of the dealers were closed. Apparently, most of the theater district is closed on Sunday. It was getting to be early evening now, and although there would be plenty more daylight, I figured whatever normal shops I would find, if found, would probably close soon. While I planned my next move, this fine gentleman was busy handing out fliers for something I had no clue. Although my souvenirs were bagged and in hand, Candice did want me to bring back a nice English gentleman, perhaps a bit of a rogue, with a simply darling accent. He had an accent, although the rest is negotiable. Candice, your prince with a fan in the background waving hello:

Little did I know then that our paths would cross again...

There was no sense carrying my bags around with me all evening, so I tubed back to the Ruskin to drop off my things and freshen up for the evening. I left the hotel about 6ish looking for a nice restaurant to idle away the rest of the day. My first night here I had found a hamburger place on the main street nearby, so I ventured that way remembering an Italian place across the street paired with some other appetizing places. While passing the British Museum on the way I passed an eccentric bookshop filled with spell-books and demonic texts:

Nearing the corner I had intended, I noticed in the far distance that were many more shops and restaurants at the end of the block. These were pictured below to the small right:

I passed the Shaftesbury News while following this white rabbit of horizon:

If Marmaduke could only see his poor fountain now...

Each time I came to end of a block, I found even more stores and restaurants just out of my reach. Now quite a few blocks from where I had intended, I almost ate here uttering "ooo, I want to eat there".

Here is more fun with window shots. I have quite a lot of juice in my torso, and my conscience looking over my shoulder:

Things were definitely getting more urban as the occasional park and tree were fleeting:

Finally, I passed a Tube station indicating that I had wandered to Covent Garden. This was the next major station west of the Ruskin on the Piccadilly line, and many signs on the trains advised passengers to use adjacent stops to Covent Garden because it tends to be a very popular and crowded stop. I hadn't really questioned why the stop was so popular, but here is just one of the many streets lined with shops and food. Not only had a filled another travel gap above ground, but had managed to find where Londoners would shop in their natural habitat.

I was pleased to not recognize most any shop name. This was one I don't even remember:

Most all of the shops were indeed closed, but I still had a good walk browsing through the windows along the crowded sidewalks. Crossing another street I found Avenue Q that isn't actually on Q Ave.

But wait a second...Avenue Q is in Leicester Jove, I've done it again! Now I had a mental picture of the surface from St. Pancras all the way down to Picadilly Circus, which was by far the most frequented stretch of Tube I had endured this trip. It was late, and these were little victories.

In the picture above you can see a brown building with a spinning globe on top. Here is a closer look:

Now quite hungry, I spotted le Salisbury Buffet, and nearly might have actually eaten there had this old asian lady not tugged at my sleeve.

Just to my left in the shot above was a menu stand for a Thai buffet. She begged me to come in and just have a look at the food, which she herself had home-cooked from scratch. I came inside to have a peak, and it admittedly looked pretty good. Next thing I know she is pushed the chair under my legs for me to sit and is taking my drink order. She really knew how to reel in new customers, perhaps literally with a bear trap and fishing line. The food was very good, although they would not serve me tap water. Instead, I had to cough up the 2 for a lowly can of coke.

A few plates later I welcomed the check with my credit card. She wasn't happy. The restaurant did not accept credit cards. I told her I didn't accept food that didn't accept credit cards, but mostly just commented that I had no cash to give to her. She didn't seem to mind at all, and explained an ATM machine that was two blocks away. Together then we walked the two blocks as she explained to me that she has to tell people after the meal that they don't accept credit cards, otherwise she loses lots of business while they "find a cash machine" and then don't return. I withdrew twenty pounds to pay my bill, but had to pay the ATM fee as well. I didn't particularly like this system as we walked together back to her restaurant. Here's the culprit should anyone else get lured into the tasty trap called Chi.

The National Portrait Gallery would have to wait until next visit:

I then walked back towards Covent Garden along different streets than I had sauntered before. In doing so I found a number of small clubs and bars. The lab:

Following a bit more, now right on the rim between the theater district and the shopping area of Covent Garden laid an interesting area known as Soho. Something was different, but I couldn't put my finger on it:

Follow the man in tan with my eye:

I pressed on, noting this clever alley... fun glasswork... cool trees in window sills.

This was quite an interesting neighborhood to say the least. Seeing this sign, I hesitate to fill in the gaps myself, and although this is on the cusp of what I would gather to be little Italy, I instead will assume it is a Sushi place called It Lian:

I walked a few more streets until I ran into these two pubs that were doing quite well for a Sunday night. I had seen pubs that were full of people, particularly during the soccer game when England was playing, but at least everyone was covered under the roof. These two pubs, however, were overflowing with people that filled the entire street. Granted, this street was far from any main road, but I had never seen so many people drinking in broad daylight. Peculiar. Curiouser and curiouser, I continued.

By the time I came to this shoe and accessory store for men, I had a feeling. But then again, it was "Europe"...

It was at this point that I saw our dear hatted friend from above with the tie and slightly disturbing demeanor. He was with a number of other oddly dressed fellows that were passing out the same fliers. I stopped to pick one up. Cabaret music! I like a good piano now and then, so I followed his directions down the street and the appropriate corners. The first corner:

The second corner:

Now, I am not blind. Maybe this was just a shortcut. I found the place and peaked in the opened window as a piano rang out barely above the applause and whistles. The singer was tall with long blonde hair, a red and black dress with lace, and the most burly shoulders I have ever seen on a man. Right. I decided this might not be the place for me alone on a Sunday night, and headed back where I thought I came. In my first few steps, it became abundantly clear: nested between the theater, shopping, and sex district were those overflowing pub with nary a female in the masses. So, sorry Candice, your prince would not come tonight....

Before leaving Soho though, I ran into a very eclectic bookstore that was still open now late on a Sunday. Yes, they had a basement of whathaveyou, but the ground-level materials were a sampling of books I had never seen in a Borders. There was stuff about Zeppelin and Beatles, and a surprisingly bizarre literature collection. I picked up a book by some British author Samual Beckett quoted as a worthwhile read. Enjoying all things Beckett, I gave it a shot. Soon I was back to the streets back to where I thought I came. Obviously not, though, as I passed a church:

What an odd fence around a church you might ask. Well, here is the Intrepid Fox just up the street: a goth club with a dress code of black and heavy piercing:

Plus this:

And this:

Poor church.

Night was beginning to impose itself, separating me from what I figured was my way back to the Ruskin. Yes, I got mildly lost. However I remembered one very tall building I noticed often from the Ruskin Hotel so I crossed to the side I recognized and headed in a direction. Indeed, I ran into the backside of the British Museum, and the lion guarding the back door.

I returned to the Ruskin to drop off my bags, but ended up dropping myself off in bed for a while. Weighing an evening in a pub versus an early start at the British Museum tomorrow, I rolled over and hoped for the best.