Friday, September 28, 2001

London, Here We Are!!

London Here We Are!

Breakfast at the B&B is limited, but satisfying and is served from 9:00 am to 10:00 am. My thinking is that is a little late to start the day of touring, but we will deal with it. They also offer breakfast in the room, but then you have to make decisions of what you are going to want to eat the night before by 8:00 pm. That does not fit into my live for the moment and stay focused way of thinking that I am trying very hard to stick to. There is a selection of fresh and warmed croissants, both plain and chocolate, cheese, ham, cereals, yogurt, and orange juice. We have a choice of tea or coffee and are presented with our own pot for either. The breakfast room is in an atrium type room that looks out on a small English garden. The birds in the birdbath sometimes entertain us while we break our nightly fast. The sun is shining and it promises to be a wonderfully warm day again in the 70s.
When we leave the B&B, henceforth known as “home” for lack of any other residence at the moment, we have a nice jaunt down to the Tube or subway. Our first stop this morning was Green Park, where once we surfaced from the underground like gophers, we were face-to-face with a Starbucks. What a glorious city this is. We did manage to by-pass it for this go around and walked on to Buckingham Palace to check the times and dates for the tour of the State Rooms. During the summer each year, some of the rooms of the Palace are open for public viewing. Normally, this ends at the end of August, but this year it was extended through September 30th. The tours are by appointed time and for the day that you book it only. We decided this would be our first stop tomorrow after we collect our London Pass later this morning.
The London Pass is a pre-paid ticket that if you purchase it outside of England, you can opt for a transportation ticket in addition. The pass itself gives you pre-paid admission to dozens of attractions and purportedly saves you money. We chose the 6-day pass to maximize our savings (hopefully) and to make sure we get to see all that we want to. The book that comes with the pass shows all of the features, attractions, museums, historic sights, etc. that are included and it is like being a child in a candy store.
From Buckingham Palace we went to the Wellington Arch, which is now open to climb to the top, but again that is a London Pass feature, so we by-passed it for another day. Wellington Arch is a monument to Lord Wellington. When you climb to the top, you are able to view London from up yonder. At the top of the arch is a famous sculpture of “Peace Descending on the Chariot of War.”
We found our way to the British Tourist Center, which is where the London Pass is obtained. We had ordered it ahead of time, so it was ready and waiting for us. We were not going to activate it until tomorrow, since it was already late and we wanted to utilize it for the whole day. The transportation card will be a great savings as the Tube is 1 pound 90 each way within 2 zones and they gets to be very pricey at one pound equaling $1.63 cents American. In the Tourist Center, they have a section for England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Each has their own area with their own tour information and guides. Ron made the rounds and collected some goodies that we may or may not ever use, but they were all extremely friendly and willing to answer any questions.
From the center, we walked and walked all day long. We covered a number of the parks in the Royal Park System. Besides Green Park, we walked through Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and Regent Park. In Hyde Park, we walked the length of Serpentine Lake, which turns into The Long Water after you cross a bridge. The sides of the lake are marked off as a bird and wildlife refuge. We have seen an incredible number of birds that we have never seen before. One in particular is about the size of a pigeon, but is all black with a white head and a red mark on their beaks. The feet on these birds look like flattened pea pods, but black in color and white spots where the peas would have been. They are fairly fast swimmers too. Some of the waterfowl do not have webbed feet at all and it is amazing to see what efficient swimmers they are. Kensington Gardens boasts a magnificent monument to Prince Albert, the prince consort to Queen Victoria. It is a beautifully constructed structure that looks like a very ornate two story gazebo with a large statue of the prince in the center. Along the waterway called “The Long Water, there was a statue of Peter Pan with all of the characters from the book pouring out of the base. It was festive enough to take a picture of and I may have it printed in poster size to send to my father, the other boy who refuses to grow up.
By this point in time, we were aching, our feet ready for a hot bath and massage, but that was not going to happen. We had a date to meet Yolande at 7:00 pm at the Embankment tube station. Nick was driving into London from work and would meet us. Yolande works in the city and commutes. The question at that point in time was where could we spend a couple of hours without walking until it was time to meet Yolande.
We thought a cyber cafe would be a safe bet and set out to find the EasyEverything cyber café, reportedly the world’s largest. This meant more tube rides and more walking. We decided to get a tube day pass for 4 pounds, rather than the 1.90 we had been paying. When we found EasyEverything, it was a great boon since their rates were so low. One glitch, they did not have hard drives, so it was impossible to upload this letter. More walking and more looking for other cyber cafes, which could accommodate my needs, was partly the love of sending this off to everyone and partly the need to sit for a period of time. Okay, more for the sitting than anything else.
When we found such a café, the floppy drive did not have the correct file on it and I could not figure out why. I had loaded it before leaving this morning, but it was gone. Later, I realized that I had misnamed it and it was indeed on the disc. While I was online, I received an e-mail from Anne and Bruce, another couple we met on the cruise in Egypt. They live about a half a mile from where we are staying and wanted us to come for dinner on Saturday. Funny how our social life is better in England then it was in California. My feet had been aching and was thankful for the break.
We met Yolande at the tube and we were thrilled to see her again as well as anticipating seeing Nick too. The three of us went to a pub to spend some time before our 8:30 dinner reservation. It was a lovely downstairs pub with all dark wood walls and private little rooms for parties that want a little more privacy. The pub was crowded with people in suits and dress clothes that had come directly from work. It was definitely a Thank God it is Friday atmosphere. Ron and I sampled a Dave’s Whollop beer in pewter mugs. We were hoping the Whollop would quiet the screaming our feet were doing and it did, or at least the company took our minds off of our aches.
From there we took a taxi, our first London cab ride, to pick up Nick from his parking spot and on to dinner…a dinner that was tattooed in our memories, never to be forgotten. This was a restaurant that Yolande had been to once about three years ago and had not had an opportunity to return. This was her self-admitted golden opportunity to return, bring Nick and to treat us all at the same time.
The name of the restaurant is Archipelago. None of my descriptions can do justice to this space. It is decorated in a Balinese, Thai, and other out of the ordinary styles. The lighting is low and the walls are covered with wooden statues, masks and other artifacts from exotic places. The restaurant is a feast for the eyes and the smells wake up your appetite as soon as you enter. You know immediately that this is not a dinner, but a life altering experience. The table was set with mismatched silverware, but each piece was a work of art, not just a functional tool. Joining us on our table was a hand carved foot long wooden iguana, a tropical bird and a small treasure chest and there was a vase of peacock feathers. The glasses for water and wine were each different and each a work of art in their own right. The treasure chest had four scrolls that were held by flower rings. The scrolls were our menus. On one side of the menu was an ancient looking picture of sail ships crossing a sea. The other had the offering of the establishment. Our waiter looked like Dennis Miller and had hair like a brunette Phyllis Diller with glitter not only in his hair, but down the front of his shirt too. He had a wonderful tableside manner that would not allow anyone to refuse to have a good time.
Even the bathrooms carry the theme. Both doors to the Men’s and Women’s room have identical Thai woodcarvings on them, not giving a clue, as to which is which. I chose one the first time and felt like I had walked into someone’s private bath. There were assorted cloth hand towels spread out, jars of various crème perfumes, and incense burning. I assumed that I had made the wrong choice and should have chosen door number 2, but Ron tried the door and found the same there.
Everyone’s dinner is a minimum of two courses, either a starter and main dish or a main dish and a dessert. However, for starters, they provide appetizers. Nothing on the menu was ordinary and the adventure was about to begin. One was quail eggs on slice of an unusual bread and the other was a chicken salad on spice crackers. Breads were served in a Thai boat basket and there were four varieties, all uncommon types. Yolande and I chose the Cayman Islands for our starter. The other name for this was Croc on a Rock. The platter was a piece of slate with two hot Tiger Eye rocks on it surrounded by three large strips of crocodile and a dipping sauce. Ron skipped over the starter, but tasted my croc. I admit that I set out to have an adventure, but biting through the skin of the crocodile did make me have to think of other things in order to continue. The last piece I successfully pulled all of the skin off of before biting it, so it was not so visually stimulating. Nick chose Galapagos Dodo Spears or more commonly known as peacock with a fruit satay. In addition, he ordered a side Locust Eater salad, which was greens with fried crickets, locust, and topped with a fried scorpion.
Entrees were equally enticing. Yolande ordered the Hot Marsupial, roo as in kanga rump on kumara. The waiter explained it as a big chuck of “Skippy’s ass”. Ron had the Coral Reef, which was Red Emperor fish with macadamia crust, I had the Swamp Fever or otherwise known as green-laden chicken Vietnamese style, and Nick had the Berber Tents, lamb with injera pancakes. Other options were frogs and other tasty treats. The desserts were equally ingenious and some were covered in 24-carat gold leaf. Ron, who had not ordered a starter, had to pick a dessert so thought he was safe with the Eskimo Tiramisu. It came as a chocolate and vanilla ice cream tiramisu with fresh raspberries surrounding it along with chocolate covered coffee beans and the garnish was a chocolate covered scorpion. After some hesitation and cajoling, he did eat the scorpion. We each had espresso with our dessert and even the sugar was unusual. The waiter brought out a tray with rock sugar, brown raw sugar, granulated, and fake sugars. This was a truly once in a lifetime experience for all of the senses and the company was as magnificent as the atmosphere and before we knew it, it was after midnight.
For as great as this city is, it is amazing that the tubes close around 12:30 am. Yolande and Nick went on the tube with us to his car and we said our good-byes there. Ron and I did not wander into our room until after 1:30 am, but it was a night like no other. As we readied for bed, Ron found a bit of scorpion stinger still in his teeth, another reminder of his walk on the wild side.
As we were getting ready for bed, we were saying how fortunate we have been to meet such quality people along the way. It amazes us that people that we hardly know, but hope to continue to get to know can be so generous, not only by inviting us for dinner, but by spending their time with us. We are very fortunate to have had so many people in our life both before we knew each other and since so willing to give of themselves.
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