Friday, July 31, 2009

Europe Day 59 of 59, London to Los Angeles

First of all, there is not a picture you can take that says, "It is 7 Am, and I just slept one hour, and now I am getting ready to walk three blocks to a subway that will take me to an airport so that I can fly to a home I haven't seen for two months." No wonder rock stars and other people who "tour" become terribly unbalanced.

Riding the tube, one last time. I am ashamed that I did not take a pic of our luggage all stacked in the corner. Where was my head?

For a reason that I do not understand, the powers that be in Heathrow are unable to tell you what gate to go to until shortly before your flight. This is where they stick everyone to wait for their flights in Heathrow. Thank God I know Barbie, for it is because of her that this place where they "stick" everyone is skipped over.

Welcome to the Virgin Upper Class lounge.

It is absurd. Last year, between South Africa and Los Angeles, we showered here between flights and Barbie got a massage. You actually want more time here. You want three hours at least to unwind, relax, eat and drink. Today, we only had time for complementary breakfast.

We sat in the nice little restaurant section of the lounge.

I'd been looking forward to the eggs benedict here for a while. Most of the hotels didn't quite get it right.

Barbie shows off one of the lounge's cooler chairs. I would definitely say that you do not see this chair in that public seating area six pics above. Soon enough, it was time to head to the gate.

The sea of red jackets coming towards us looked like a commercial.

There she is, the last plane of... 10. (Just had to count them up.) Her name? Mustang Sally. My brother will like that.

The last view of London. Last view of Europe.

Cozy in my coffin.

The soup was good.

The chicken, not quite as good. I watched, "The Boat That Rocked." Very good movie.

I had planned since the night before to stand in front of all the Upper Class cubicle thingys and take a pic. Surprise, surprise. To my left was a movie actor and his girlfriend. If I stood up and took a pic, surely he would think it was about him. Even worse, he's the sort of movie actor who is known for getting a little violent and he had some wine as soon as he got on the plane.

Alas, I opted instead to a pic of the people across from me instead. The odds that they would jump out of their seats and try to kick me with their white leather cowboy boot was much lower. Yes, the guy was wearing white leather cowboy boots on a plane.

It would have been uncouth to take off my socks for this pic. But appropriate.

Could it be Los Angeles? You know, I learned something very interesting in an early 1900's encyclopedia I found at my grandparents home. Under Los Angeles, it described a small, unique city with neighboring cities such as Santa Monica, Tujunga, Owensmouth, and more. This city of just over 150,000 residents enforced a moratorium on building height. City Hall was visible from all around because of this law. In essence, they legislated sprawl and low density as Los Angeles slowly absorbed every neighboring city. And low density makes public transit less efficient, which leads to traffic. Which means when you fly over Los Angeles, all you see is roads and short buildings for miles and miles.

Crossing the 405 and spotting Century Boulevard brings the blog to a close. I was toying with the idea of taking pictures at the airport and customs, but the actor was standing in front of us in line at customs and I didn't want to come across like I wanted his picture.

Ironically, as David Scharf was picking us up curbside, there were two sad looking paparazzi taking shots of the actor with his girlfriend and the man who was picking them up. The dude picking them up looked like he might be the attraction, to be honest. Mr. White Cowboy Boots began posing for them, wrapping his arm around the dude. I took a picture of them taking his picture, and now for the life of me I cannot find it. Bummer.

Now that the saga is over, I leave you with this terribly professional representation of, "Barbara Howard's 50th Birthday European Tour." I am putting this on the front of a t-shirt for her with every stop we made listed on the back, just like a rock and roll tour shirt. When I have a t-shirt design approved by the Birthday Girl, perhaps I'll share it on here. For now...

... you get the map.

Live well. And, as St. Augustine is reported to have said, "The world is a book; those that don't travel only read one page."

Europe Day 58 of 59, London

July 28. The last full day of this trip. We allowed ourselves a late start, which isn't saying much because we have allowed ourselves a late start nearly every day. (Editor's note: Barbie would point out that when she's working until 3 or 4 AM in the hotel room, it's not like waking up at noon is sleeping late. It is sleeping a normal amount of time.) After our later than the rest of the world start, we had a fairly small agenda: hit the Tate Modern, see things on the way there and back, and then meet my Freshman year roommate for dinner. Honestly, I was super excited about that dinner. How often do you get to see someone you have not talked to for 19 years? And to see that person on the last night of a 59 day trip? Fantastic.

The day began with the tube. I never get out my iPhone early enough for the truly long escalator pic. This one is from around 1/3 of the way down. We normally blend in on public transport, looking and acting like locals, but lord knows I didn't blend in when I took a pic of the down escalator every time we descended into the London Underground.

Rats. Damn technology. This pic was upside down on the PC. Somehow the iPhone encoded it in a way that allows the blog to autocorrect. Trust me. It looks very cool upside down. And get this. When I rotate it to be upside down, somehow the blog corrects it again. Spooky magic, the computators.

Out of the underground, we walked over to the Thames. We came across a diagonal walkway between office buildings. Beautifully, they had this channel of water running through the space, leading directly to Tower Bridge. It was too clever to not take a pic. Or ten. (They named this development, "More London." Presumptuous, but acceptably so.)

I really did take this shot around five times, each from a different distance. The funky dome-ish building on the right is London's City Hall, which I like but even as I like it I assume that the architect may be hated by many.

Across the Thames you can see the Tower of London. We visited it a few years ago. No need to visit the crown jewels and medieval armaments again. Are the amazing skies getting dull? Not for me. Look at that mother scratching sky. It's awe inspiring.

Hiding along the skyline, one sees the skyscraper affectionately named The Gherkin. Odd that Barcelona names its similarly shaped tower The Suppository while the notoriously anal British nickname this tower after a small pickle. I never got near either building, did I?

Tower Bridge. Three years ago we watched it go into action as a drawbridge and took an embarrassing number of pictures of the process.

Tip for husbands: When you see a sign that mentions female royalty, you tell your wife to pose next to it.

London Bridge. It's really no uglier than the London Bridge the city sold to that guy in Arizona. This spot does have a fascinating history of bridges that I'll not bore you with, but I recommend reading the Wikipedia entry on London Bridge. There were eras during which it was amazing.

The out of focus finger indicates that this man is about to seriously injure THAT.

We happened across Southwark Cathedral on the south side of London Bridge. We'd better take pictures inside and out, because we have no choice when we see a church.

Turns out Southwark Cathedral is the UK's oldest Gothic cathedral, potentially 800 years old.

How is this for vague? Shakespeare's brother Edmund is buried at this church and they promote the fact that William Shakespeare likely worshipped here, as the Globe Theater of his day was likely nearby. Double likely? I didn't know you put up a statue because it is "likely" someone "might have" spent time somewhere.

A train track runs along the back of the cathedral, and buildings along the front. This beautiful Gothic cathedral is essentially surrounded by obstructions, forcing the intrepid traveller to take close-up pics.

Less than 25 feet from the Southwark Cathedral was the smell of burning meat. We were drawn to it.

That is a lot of pig meat.

Paella and chorizo for him, paella and bread for her. It was... not great. I recommend not eating outdoor Spanish BBQ in London.

There it isn't, the Globe Theater. The real Globe Theater made famous by William Shakespeare closed in 1642. They rebuilt this "Shakespeare's Globe" in 1997, so that suckers like me will take its picture, perhaps buy a ticket, and feel a connection to England's greatest writer.

The Tate Modern, housed in a former power station. It is such a great space, and I love it when old industiral buildings are put to use like this. They do not allow photography inside.

This is inside the Tate Modern, but I figured that I was allowed to take this pic because it is not of the artwork, it is out the window towards the Millennium Bridge that leads you directly to St. Paul's Cathedral. A stunning view and a fantastic pedestrian only bridge.

The Tate Modern has a very good collection, though I think I prefer Madrid's Reina Sofia. There was one moment when I was tempted to try to sneak a pic, and that would be in the room with the gigantic table and chairs. Based on the scale of the furniture, I was eight inches tall in that room.

The Millennium Bridge makes for one of the most picturesque walks in any city in the world.

I took a dozen pictures, so, really, it is self-restrain that I only include two in the blog.

Doesn't St. Paul's look sort of like a monstrous alien, ready to attack the city? Those buildings around it jsut do not match, and the angle makes me think it is somehow stalking its prey. And boy oh boy is the United States Congress "inspired" by that cathedral.

We zipped back home through the underground, and walked along New Bond Street toward the hotel. When we passed the Apple Store, it seemed like I had no choice in the matter.

We now had a strict agenda. Visit some luxury hotels as we walk toward Covent Garden to meet Paul, whom I met the summer of 1985 between my Junior and Senior years of high school and have not seen since 1990.

Amusingly, The Soho Hotel had this group of young women in front waiting to take pictures of and/or get autographs from some celebrity staying there. We did see some on our tour of the hotel, but none I'd expect 15 year old women to worship.

By the way, want to see the most amazing hotel suite in London?

If you checked in to a hotel and this was your suite's living room, I think you can rest assured that your life has gone just fine up to this point.

This is your bedroom. Again, whatever mistakes you have made in life, if you are staying here they were not so bad.

Another oddly rotated pic. Yet I love the "Give Way" sign enough to leave it on the blog in this state.

Yes, musicals are wonderful. Everyone loves musicals. I hate musicals. It's me who is wrong, the rest of you are right. That said, when I see a gigantic high heeled shoe, I take the picture. Also, this movie was wonderful. Too wonderful for me to ever see the musical based on it. Give me Terence Stamp or give me nothing.

We met Paul at the Covent Garden Hotel, had a drink, and then strolled over to an Indian restaurant.

The food was excellent. Absolutely delicious. Perhaps the best Indian food we have ever eaten. We also had a fantastic time with Paul, who was wonderful to see. I only hope we get to meet him, and his wife (who was in France with the kids this time), every time we visit London in the future. Which for us is fairly often.

And now... for your viewing pleasure...

Paul & Jeff, Winter 1986, Santa Barbara, California.

Paul & Jeff, Summer 2009, London, UK.

Honestly, this was the greatest possible way to end two months of travelling. Visiting with a friend who I had not seen for almost two decades was more special than any sightseeing possible. One of the best things about this trip has been the people we have gotten to see along the way. Touring cities is great. Museums are great. Architecture and culture are great. People, meaning friends, are even better.

Tomorrow, at 7 Am, we have to wake up, get ready, and ride the underground to Heathrow.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Europe Day 57 of 59, London

Sure, you may think of this as day 57. I think of it as Mother's Birthday. We kept an eye on the clock all day figuring that we would give her a Happy Birthday call in the evening, that is London's evening and California's morning. Being 8 hours ahead of your mother is a serious plus in this regard. It all but eliminates the possibility of running out of time. Heck, we would have waited until 4 AM the next day to call.

Today's Agenda: National Gallery and general walking before Barbie has high tea with the people of The Brown's Hotel.

London stroll. I am actually going to miss clouds when we are back in Los Angeles. Though you don't know how beautiful they are until you look at the pictures much later.

I made a point of taking our stroll to the National Gallery by the Crimean War Memorial in Waterloo Place. Why? I learned about the Crimean War from The Clash, and for me The Clash represent London better than any other band, ever. (A note to parents, your children learn European more history from punk rock than high school.) If this pre-World War I conflict is not on your radar, it should be. It is considered the first modern war for the technologies involved, and sadly more than 200,000 soldiers died of disease. Getting wounded on the battlefield was deadly.

Florence Nightingale, added to the Crimean War Memorial 50 years after it was first erected. Heard of her? Think of her as a famous nurse? What she did that is truly special was make the world aware that unsanitary conditions were killing as many as artillery. She learned this as a nurse in the Crimean War.

The Frederick, Duke of York Memorial. I didn't get a picture I like where you can see his statue on top, but I happen to like this one where you cannot.

Talk about public art. This karate bunny is, well, perhaps its artistic value is as a counterpoint to anything else you will see on the streets of London.

As you see, there are two Karate fighting bunny statues here, and to see them in front of the Admiralty Arch is perhaps the embodiment of the counterpoint concept.

It doesn't get any better. Thank you, karate bunny.

Entering Trafalgar Square. Among other things, this pic shows what a shame it is to surround something like Nelson's Column with traffic lights. I just realized that I have completely forgotten to mock the English for the fact that they have not won a Memorial worthy battle since the 19th century.

Honestly, we never really dealt with crowds the first 56 days of this trip. But London, she has crowds.

The National Gallery has a fantastic collection, and a no pictures policy. Great art from around the Europe rests here. I had a little extra fun as a world traveller, noting which rooms had artwork you'd find at Florence's Ufizi Gallery or Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum, if only the British hadn't snagged them first.

Leaving the National Gallery, I had to snap this one from behind Nelson's Column.

Next door, we hopped into the St. Martin-in-the-Fields church. It is going to be difficult to break this habit of stepping into every church that we see.

Simple and refined. Those who worship here may not be aware of God's "How big and ornate was your church?" policy at the gates of heaven.

Outside St. martin-in-the-Fields was this very peculiar statue. Incredibly well sculpted, it's also a tad creepy.

Walking home through Leicester Square.

Walking home through Piccadilly Circus.

We got "home," and clearly there was no irony in calling a hotel room, "home." It is home. Anyway, once we were home the netbook was miraculously able to handle accessing the iPhone's directory of 6,000+ pics, which meant that while Barbie went to high tea I blogged days 55 & 56. It was time for dinner. Days 57, 58 & 59 will have to be done from home.

The line was too long HERE. We'd eaten there before, but a friend wanted us to get a t-shirt for his wife. We ducked into a pub across the street for dinner and got the t-shirt after the line was gone there. A line at the Hard Rock Cafe Shop? Madness.

The pub food... care to guess?

Barbie got fish & chips, of course.

I got a meat pie, of course. (Chicken and pancetta, for those keeping score.)

After dinner we walked over to check out a luxury hotel we hadn't seen before. This took us across the street from the Wellington Arch.

We crossed the street, of course. If you were across the street from the Wellington Arch, you would cross the street as well. Have you read the blog loyally enough to recall the Wellington Monument obelisk in Dublin from Day 32? Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, KG, KP, GCB, GCH, PC, FRS (he racked up the titles, obviously) was born in or around Dublin. I do find it kind of perplexing that we saw an obelisk to to the same man for whom this arch was dedicated 25 days ago on the island next door.

We strolled in the not-too-cold night air over to Buckingham Palace, and to the Victoria Memorial. It was nice to see kids climbing all over it, even at night.

I found this spot I liked and stood there, taking pic after pic, trying to catch a car speeding by with just the right placement. Who says you need to be able to control the shutter speed to get the results you're after?

After strolling to the luxury hotel, which took us to the Wellington Arch, which took us to Buckingham Palace, we spotted the top of the famous clock known as Large Benjamin and, moths to flame, strolled in that direction.

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. Words are funny. The United State's Congress, where the House of Representatives and Senate meet, is truthfully more over the top than most buildings you would call a palace. But could we stomach our congress meeting in a palace? Never.

The colors of that building next to the London Eye kept changing and I decided on the spot that I would take a bunch of pics and then put them together just so.

THAT is a large clock.

On the way back to the hotel, I managed to get one more of these "zipping car" pics. Not sure why I like them so much. I guess I am drawn to pics that represent something you cannot see in real life.