Three things

1. I can't believe this guy was elected to office in the state just below me. By "this guy," I mean the Representative from Virginia, who apparently has never taken the time to read important government documents like, oh, say, the CONSTITUTION.

2. The New York Times says it is okay to be messy. I am so relieved. Also, cognitive ergonomics? How cool is that?

3. I have to say I agree — some times things are funnier with bleeps.



There are so many things I need to get done this weekend, and yet here I am procrastinating via blog.

Last night I had a dream where I was at Disney World with my family, which is weird enough in itself, since my family hasn't gone there, appropriately, since my sister and I were kids, and isn't likely to ever go back. So anyway, in the dream, we went to get on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride (okay, so this may have spawned from watching Dead Man's Chest DVD extras) and they announced that they were going to use the submarines from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea instead of the regular boats. And my immediate response was, "Sweet, a mashup!"

Which is simultaneously amusing and frightening.

Did you know that it is pretty much impossible to find cannoli shells in Rockville? I've tried the regular grocery store, Trader Joe's, World Market, the gourmet grocery store, and no cannoli shells. So there goes my grand plan to make cannolis for the holidays, unless I can talk someone from my family into going to the (close, for them) Italian grocery store in Akron.


London (Radio Edit)

And so that, in a very long and rambling fashion, was my trip to London. There may be more as I think about it. I'm sure I have a DC Metro vs. London Tube post in me somewhere.

There are links from individual places to tags in my Flickr account, but if you want to see all the photos, here they are:

England highlights

Seriously? You want to see more photos after the first one?

Day 8 (November 18)

This day, our last full day here, became catch-up day.

We decided to make another run at English breakfast, and this time we had more luck. We ate at a pub in Covent Garden. I had the vegetarian breakfast, which was like the regular but with carrot and parsnips sausage instead of meat sausage and ham. The rest? Fried eggs, hash browns, a grilled tomato and baked beans. It was quite good. Carrot and parsnips sausage? Surprisingly tasty.

After breakfast, we hopped on the tube to St. Paul's Cathedral. After seeing so many churches all week I was still really glad we found the time for this one. It was spectacular — so much detail everywhere it was impossible to take it all in: the glittering mosaics on the ceiling, the black-and-white checkered floor, the dark, intricate woodworking, the paintings, the gilding, the enormous dome.

We walked around awhile, and then Eileen and I (Jeff had just seen it last year, so he opted to explore the area around the cathedral) hiked up the long, partly spiral staircase to the whispering gallery in the dome. I enjoyed this as much as the cathedral interior. It felt like a hidden space that you weren't really supposed to be in, even though there were plenty of people walking up with us. We were between the outer walls of the church, with a few small windows providing much of the light. In the straightaways, the space was barely wide enough for one person. In one area, we could see the smaller lower ceiling domes from the straight wings of the church. A sign pointed out damage from the Blitz. It's amazing to me that the church stayed standing throughout World War II.

When we finally got to the top, it was higher up than I had expected, and my fear of heights kicked in. The seats and people below looked so tiny from up there. There wasn't a lot of room in the ledge around the dome, either. There was a metal railing all around, and a wooden row of seats. I felt more comfortable sitting, so I did that for awhile. As I was sitting, I could hear people whispering — some near me and some across the dome. They all said something like "if you can hear me, wave your arms." And then sometimes I'd see someone across the dome waving their hands.

We didn't climb any further up, although the view from the top of the dome is supposed to be spectacular. I could see the balcony rail for it and it was really high up, plus we would have had to climb another 300 or so stairs. Uh, pass on that. We made our way down, walked around the main level a bit more, and then went down into the crypt. Unlike Westminster Abbey and the other churches we visited, most people at St. Paul's a buried in the crypt, including Lord Nelson.

One thing that really struck me at St. Paul's, and I suppose I had started to realize it at the previous churches, was the strong connection between religion, war and art in England. There were a number of war memorials, and some of the tombs featured very elaborate sculptures. One I really remember was a wounded soldier being pulled from his horse by another soldier. Coming from the United States, where though sometimes separation of church and state isn't quite what it should be, it's still pretty commonly recognized as being one of the founding principles of the country, it was kind of hard to wrap my head around.

We walked from St. Paul's to the Millennium Bridge. It was a brisk but sunny day, which made for a great walk. Lots of people out, and a street vendor selling roasted nuts (there were a lot of those throughout the trip). We only walked halfway across since we didn't actually need to go across. I took a lot of pictures.

We left the bridge and walked back past St. Paul's to the Tube. We wanted to catch a 2 p.m. London Walks tour of the British Museum. Like Westminster Abbey, we figured a guide to help us hit the highlights would be much better than wandering aimlessly ourselves.

We got to the Tube station where the walk met early and there was a Sainsburys across the street. We went in and wandered amidst the British food. The saddest thing — the giant spread of instant coffee. I seriously think it was more instant coffee than I have seen in the last 10 years. Maybe more than that. I had some very good espresso while I was in London, so I know there's a crop of people who appreciate good coffee. But then there's all that instant coffee...

The tour took us through Bloomsbury on our way to the museum. This is a big literary area in London (Virginia Woolf and others lived there) and it was absolutely lovely. I wouldn't have minded spending more time there.

The museum itself is in this huge neoclassical building, great big pillars. We went inside to its covered courtyard, which is immense and has this beautiful ceiling. That space used to house the British library, but all that's left of it now is the circular reading room in the center. We got to take a peek inside and it was a totally cool space — all those beautiful old books up on the shelves.

We didn't have much time before it was on to Egypt and the Rosetta Stone. There were a lot of people looking at the stone when we first came in, so we looked at some hieroglyphics and statues. I did get a good full look at it before we moved on, though.

We spent a long time in the Greek area, looking at ruins from the Parthenon, both the carved frieze from the building and statues. The carving was amazing.

Before walking to more Egypt, we saw the ruins from one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. I have to be honest, I don't have them all memorized and I didn't remember this being one of them, but it was pretty impressive. You could tell how massive the thing must have been, from the ruins.

And then it was on to the mummies. They creeped me out a bit — the idea that these people were buried so ceremoniously and now they're on display in front of millions of people.

That's kind of a theme for the whole musuem, the way it was filled. The English show up at some place of antiquity, say, "You lousy slackers, how can you let your priceless ancient ruins fall into such disrepair!?! We will save them for you!!!" And then the ruins get carted off to the British Museum. And then some period of time later the place the ruins came from decides it wants them back, so there's controversy.

The final exhibit we saw had no such controversy — it was a series of artifacts found in a field with a series of burial mounds, much like the ones we'd seen in the fields around Stonehenge. They determined the artifacts belonged to a king during the Dark Ages, and the richness and intricacy of their work meant that historians had to rethink how backwards things were during the Dark Ages.

That exhibit concluded the tour. The museum is definitely expansive and impressive — we probably could have spent a whole week there.

After we left the museum, we made plans to go on another pub walk in Hampstead, after a trip back to the hotel to pack a bit. We never made it there, though, because they suspended Tube service on the line we were on for a person on the tracks. We were in Camden, so we opted to just find a pub there; I enjoyed walking through the area — it was another place I would have liked to spend more time. We ended up at a bar Eileen had read about in her guidebook — Monkey Chews. We had some very tasty drinks and then walked back to the hotel, where we ordered a pizza from the future, which will make me giggle every time I think about it, ever.


Day 7 (November 17)

We woke late in the morning and walked over to Abbey Road, whcih was reasonably near the hotel. We took pictures of the Beatles' studio and held up traffic walking back and forth across the zebra crossing to attempt to take each others' pictures.

We took the Tube over to the London Eye, where it was fairly clear, so we got tickets. I was a little nervous, as I'm so afraid of heights, but it actually wasn't that bad (okay, I stayed away from the edge). It moved so slowly that there was plenty of time to adjust. The view was outstanding — I took lots of pictures.

After the Eye, we walked across Westminster Brige to a phone booth with Big Ben in the backrground (Eileen's mom had requested she take a picture there to match one she had of her brother). We ended up all taking each others' pictures there. Here's me.

We walked over to Eileen's favorite sandwich shop for a quick bite, then boarded the #3 bus to Oxford Circus — my first double-decker bus ride. The view was great (of course, we went to the top). The driver was pretty wild — I'm sure that was amplified by being so high up. It started raining when we got to Oxford Circus, which put a bit of a damper on walking around and shopping. I could see it was a lovely area, with great (largely high-end) shopping.

We walked from there to Picadilly Circus to get our tickets for Avenue Q. That show was great — really sharp, witty and hilarious. The description we'd heard was "Sesame Street for 20-somethings" and it totally lived up to it.

After the show, we walked over to Chinatown and picked a restaurant (out of like 5 billion) to eat at. We ate down in the basement again. They were playing karaoke on the television there, but no one was singing. Weird.

Day 6 (November 16)

We didn't have plans until later in the evening, so with a pretty free-form day ahead, we woke later (okay, later than we expected), with plans to get English breakfast somewhere around the Smithfield meat market off the Farringdon tube station (my Underworld fan status dictates that this must be one of my favorite stations, along with Baker Street, which is not in any Underworld songs but is just plain cool). But there wasn't nearly as much breakfast to be found around there as we'd expected, so we ended up getting lunch food at a pub (super-fresh bacon and avocado sandwich for me). The bartender seemed amazed that I wanted my cafe Americano sans milk and sugar. Heh.

After eating, we headed to the Covent Garden market for some shopping. I bought a few things at Lush but decided it would be better to wait and truck it out to the one in Georgetown rather than hauling home a bunch of stuff. I did, however, go pretty nuts at the Transport Museum shop.

It was already super-Christmassy there, with lots of people out, kids singing on a stage, etc. We had mulled wine, which was perfect for the chilly afternoon.

After Covent Garden, we headed to Harrods, which I found impossibly huge. I did a lot of gawking as we went throughout the store. We were in there for quite awhile and I'm sure only saw a fraction of the things there.

We had a fairly early dinner at Belgo, a Belgian restaurant in the sprawling basement of a building (putting things in basements seems common in London, and I think it's awesome). There were lots of exposed metal pipes, and the waiters were all dressed as monks. I had a half chicken, which I have to say I enjoyed more than the Portugese chicken. Score one for the Belgians.

From Belgo, we walked to Bookmarks, a socialist bookstore (Eileen is right, they should have called it Bookmarx) in the area. Not that any of us are really huge socialist supporters, but Billy Bragg was speaking there, and Eileen wanted to check it out (head to her blog for a photo).

We headed back to the hotel to change and drop off our purchases after Bookmark(x)s, because we had tickets to a benefit at mega-club Fabric. Fatboy Slim headlined and the dance floor was jam packed for his set. We spent the hour doing a combination of dancing, trying to stay on our feet, and trying not to get crushed. Which sounds like it would not have been fun, but it was!

Then we went to another room to see Damon Albarn's set. It was a little drawn-out and big beat for me, but there was more room to dance, so that was a plus. Here we could see the space a little better too — Fabric is in what looks like unused industrial space. It felt like we were deep underground, and there was a lot of brick, archways, etc.

Eventually we headed to the third room, which was a housier sound and much more my style. And even more room to dance!

We took a black cab home to cap off our enormously fun night. It was a real highlight of our time in London.

Day 5 (November 15)

We went to Bath via train in the morning. Once we got there, we first went to the Roman baths. Much of the ruins are very well-preserved — the main pool still looked like you could have gone in for a nice relaxing soak. The whole process of bathing must have been so relaxing and restorative for the Romans. At the baths, we drank some of the water (it had been purified), which was very warm and minerally (kind of rotten eggy...not the tastiest of stuff).

After the ancient baths, we took a bit of a walk around town. It really built up during the 17th century, when people came there from the city for the restorative properties of the hot baths (built amongst the Roman ruins). AS a result, all of the buildings were old and charming. We went to the Circle, where Jane Austen lived, and the Crescent.

Eileen and Jeff had wanted to go to this thermal outdoor pool even before we got to the city, and after walking through the Roman bath I was glad they did, as I came out really wanting a nice swim in some warm minerally water. So we went to a spa where you could buy time at an outdoor thermal pool. We swam for more than an hour in the nice warm water, although later into our time a cold rain started to sprinkle on us, which made it really tough to get out. One thing I really liked about the water was the scent — I'm not quite sure how to describe it, but it reminded me of something Aveda would put out.

After the bath, we were relaxed, refreshed and super-hungry. We headed to a nearby pub for a pint and dinner, and I had a super-good steak-and-ale pie. When we left the pub, most of the shops seemed to be closed, so we started the cold, rainy walk back to the train station.

I slept during much of the train ride back (how is it I can sleep on the train, and the van from the tour, but not the plane over, when I really needed to?). After we got back and took the Tube to Swiss Cottage, we opted to go to the actual Swiss Cottage, a restaurant/bar in a very Swiss Cottage looking building. Inside, which was warm, homey and not very Swiss, we planned our next day over a pint.

Day 4 (November 14)

This was the day we did our tour in the countryside. We started in Salisbury, at the Salisbury Cathedral. It was smaller and simpler than Westminster Abbey, but in many ways that made it more beautiful.

Then it was on to the ruins at Old Sarum, the remains of a castle on teh top of a hill — just the foundation remained. During most of our time in England the weather was cold and often misty, but manageable. On the top of the hill here, though, it was freezing.

We had lunch — fish and chips — at a quiet little pub. Everything we saw was so picturesque — all these little places with thatched roofs!

After lunch it was on to the real highlight — Stonehenge. It's amazing, and I'm not sure that I can adequately describe it. But I really like that a mystery like Stonehenge exists, and I was very glad I got to see it while we were over there.

We went on to another small town, Avebury, enclosed in a stone circle. The stones were interesting, but not nearly on the scale of Stonehenge (Note to self: next time think about the extra time it takes to clear customs coming back to the United States when you walk through a sheep pasture looking at old stones in England).

After a ride back to the city, we got sandwiches and soda at Caffe Nero (it's more fun when you call it Caffe Nerd, but it was probably my favorite cafe/sandwich shop type place there, primarily because they made a wicked espresso). Then we went to see Mary Poppins, which was a quite British way to finish off the evening.