Monday, October 01, 2001

Gruesome London

Gruesome London
It does not seem unreasonable to believe that if you are in a people oriented business such as a Guesthouse owner, they you should have some personality, charm, cheerfulness, or at least honesty in advertising. It seem we have run aground on all of the above with the owner of this pension. When perusing the web site for this accommodation, it was shown as a warm, friendly place with everyone knows your name, even the white Scottie dog Dougall, was a greeter and companion during your visit. The vast garden was available for eating breakfast and some one was available to answer questions as they arose. The Internet does not lie. Web designers lie.
Now don’t misunderstand me, we are very satisfied with our room, though it is the most we have ever paid for sleeping accommodations ever, with the one exception of the one night at the top of Machu Pichu, but that was Christmas Eve. When I first investigated places to stay, I checked out a number of sites. London is expensive and we knew that coming in, but decided we would do the heavy spending the first month or so and then live like paupers the rest of the trip. This place seemed to have a good deal offering a well-acquainted room with breakfast for 79 pounds a night. Since our top of the line in the past has been $55.00, this was quite a stretch for our budget travel minds to assimilate. The selling points were that it had the English garden, the little dog that would help us miss our own less, and they offered a 7-11 special. Book seven nights and receive the 7th free or book 11 and receive the 7th and 11th free. That seemed like it would be less of a financial shock and we booked for the 11 nights. When I received the confirmation e-mail, we were confirmed for 11 nights at 99 pounds a night. Of course I pointed out that the request was for the 79 pound room, not the 99 pound deluxe and the response was that the correction had been made without a problem.
Upon arrival, I paid with my credit card, received our receipt, grabbed our keys and off to lullaby land to shake off the stress of flying. The owner had given us some maps pointing our favorite nightspots in the local area as well as other areas and wished us a pleasant stay. The English Garden it turns out is indeed lovely, if we could get to it. The owner keeps the door locked. The first morning, we asked to go out there and drink our coffee, but his attitude suggested we were putting him out by having to unlock the door. Of course since it rained the night before, he would have to spread a towel for our soiled shoes, but not to worry, he had one handy.
Each progressive day, there has not been one word about our visit, what we have seen, what we liked or didn’t. Our morning conversation consists of “Would you like coffee or tea this morning?” One morning, I arrived a minute before Ron. After greeting John by name, I said that I would like tea and Ron would like coffee, please. He nodded his head and I thought I had spoken clearly enough. A minute later, he said to me “Would you like coffee or tea this morning?” I repeated the request both for myself and for Ron. John’s reply was “You are confusing me. Do you want coffee or tea, this morning?” A minute later, Ron appeared and he asked Ron the same question. It seems to me that if you are confused that easily, you certainly do not have the capacity to run a business.
We had the audacity to arrive to breakfast at eight minutes before nine one day and five before another. Now the breakfast room is locked until precisely 9:00 am so that we do not disrupt his morning routine. John shared with us on check-in that many reservations were cancelled due to NYC, so business is slow. It befuddles me how he could cope if the place were at capacity. Even the dog Dougall snubbed us the one day that we saw him. We called him to us and he walked right past us as he looked the other way.
It was not until a couple of days later, that I had noticed the bill and in the back of my mind, the total seemed off. We did not receive either the 7th or 11th night free, but were in deed charged for every single night. When Ron went to refute the bill, he was told that I had changed the room from the 99 to the 79 pound rate and therefore the special was invalid. I could not find anything on the website that makes that distinction, but rather than fight with John, I will just post my comments on eight different web sites for others to be forewarned. Hence, for those of you who may have been wondering why we do not get out earlier and get breakfast elsewhere, we are trying to get the most this place has to offer, so we can skimp a little on food elsewhere.
Now on with our tour, we went first to the Tower of London. As we entered a Yeoman Warder or Beefeater, as they are otherwise known greeted us. If you have ever seen a bottle of Beefeaters gin, you will know what a Beefeater looks like. If you have never seen one, then run down to the store and look now at the gin. I want you to have a mental picture of the costume these men wear. I will wait for you to return from the store. The Beefeaters, all men, are former members of the Army or Royal Air Force, but not the Navy since the sailors are seafarers and the Beefeaters have to be landlubbers for the most part. Beefeaters are chosen from the decorated men of the Royal services and have to make a twenty year commitment to the service of the Royal House in order to be chosen. He was our guide for part of the tour of the Tower.
The Tower started out as a castle with an access way from the Thames River, where supplies were brought in by boat. It was later turned into a prison and execution spot for the more famous names of history. Ann Bolyen (spelled a couple of different ways on the grounds itself) was beheaded here. She was one of the many wives of Henry VIII. She refused to put her head on the chopping block, so they beheaded her in a kneeling position. Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned here three times. On one imprisonment, he wrote “The History of the World”, but only completed the first volume before dying. Two young princes, who were in line for the throne were murdered by their uncle so he could be crowned king. Years later, their bodies were found in the walls of the building. The chapel is filled with the remains of famous historical bodies and it is still in use as a chapel with regular church services.
As they say, this is a living building. The people that work there live there. The queen still resides there at times still today. The Royal jewels are kept there and are on display. The crowns from the earliest kings are in cases for the viewing, as well as the crowns for various functions of the current Queen. The world’s largest cut diamond is in a crown as well as rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and other precious gems. Other rooms have displays of armor throughout the history of England and that of royalty as well as their horses’ armor. Some of these kings were short, very short. One room had models of each king’s favorite horse. All told, we spent over three hours touring around and it was time well spent. It is a magnificent area to explore.
The Dungeon of London sounded fascinating in our little book and we walked the Tower Bridge to get there. It was so windy, we could easily have been blown down, no small feat since as you will remember, I have all of that extra baggage I am still carrying around. It was truly windy, but we made it across and to the Dungeon. It is listed as a place where you can learn the history of the old days of London when torture, mayhem, and murder were common events. What’s not to like about that? Really, it was supposed to be another piece of London history, but what it turned out to be was a historically based fun house. Ron looked at me and said, “This is your Halloween experience, so enjoy it.” It was interesting truly, but what can I say, hokey? When you enter they have one of you put your head in a stocks (Ron) and one of you hold an axe as if you are going to chop the head off. They take your picture to sell to you later. Ron refused to buy it because he thought I looked too gleeful with the axe. Once you are in, there is no way to get out until you have completed their maze of things. Some of it was interesting and educational, but mostly not. We took off from here to Kensington Palace.
By the time we got to Kensington Palace, it was closed for the day, being 5:00 pm, but the Orangery was open. The Orangery is a large greenhouse that was built as a gift for Queen Anne, but is now used as a teahouse. We decided to have a tea since it was part of our Pass. Ron ordered Shortbread cakes and I had Sable and Whites. These were round flat, but thick cookies that were ginger in the center and chocolate on the outside ring. They were delicious and the mix of ginger and chocolate is one that I would never have thought of mixing. Everything goes better with chocolate.
When we finally emerged from our afternoon tea, feeling like proper British folk, it was raining lightly. A walk in a light rain is mentally refreshing as well as physically, so we strolled past the sunken gardens and walked to the lake near the palace. The lake has dozens of swans and other waterfowl around the lake. Most of the swans were on land and not in the water. They are so accustomed to people, they have no fears about coming right up to you. Swans are really magnificent creatures and watching their antics on land gives insight to their swan culture. As we were observing them, the rain changed from light showers to torrential rainfall. It continued like this for about 20 minutes and even with our shelter, we were drenched. As soon as it lessened, we were off again.
The next stop was intended to be Soho, but we missed a turn somewhere and found ourselves in the Piccadilly area, which was fine by us. Just about anywhere in London is wonderful. With a sausage sandwich for dinner and in hand, we headed down to the Thames for a fifty-minute moonlight cruise on a catamaran. I had not slept well last night and this is the last thing that I wanted to do. I was exhausted and really wanted to crawl in bed. I knew Ron wanted to do this once while we were here and it was included in our pass. Since the weather was cooperating, it seemed like a good time to push my limits. The weather is so unpredictable. The catamaran goes as far as the London Bridge where it turns around and goes under the Tower Bridge. London at night is quite beautiful. The London Eye is still operating. This is the giant Ferris wheel type ride, but people stand in it. It goes so slowly, the first three days we were here, we thought it was stopped. The idea is to give you the most fantastic view of London that you will ever see. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will have time to do it. As it turns out, it was a positive enough experience that I did not feel badly about having to extend my energy level and my feet gained a fifty-minute break.
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