Thursday, September 17, 2009

London: Land of Pubs, Dreary Skies and My Kin

September 12, 2009

We arrived in London after a 10 hour flight from LA, got on the tube from Heathrow to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus is like the Times Square of London only all of the buildings are super-old, beautiful and grand. We met Sam and Laura in the hotel lobby. So good to see them! One of the things I've been looking forward to the most about our trip.

After getting showered and ready, the four of us set off in search of a pub called The Harp. This was recommended by Kim Loeffert's boyfriend, Peter, who lives in NYC, but is from London. (He sent us about 3pgs. of inside info. on things to do in London, which was so fantastic and also one of the inspirations for our website.) So his notes give vague directions to where we're going and say that the pub is down a street two feet wide. After some wandering around the area that seems to be part theater district (like Broadway) part porn/sex shows (red light district), we found the tiny alley that we later found out was the skinniest street in London and went into the backdoor of The Harp. It was full of Brits - always a good sign. I had a Guinness, which I have been looking forward to in London. So much more fresh and almost a little nutty - tasty!

We hung out there for few hours and Laura and I had some great conversation about living in the present moment. She has read A New Earth and Awareness, which as you probably know, have been life-changing books for me. We also talked about the fact that by doing this practice, the "challenges" that come up in daily life seem so much less important.

At the Harp, we also learned that you don't tip the bartenders in the UK. We did, and after we asked, a British woman kindly told us that instead of a tip, you can actually offer the bartender a drink. If they are allowed to drink on the job, they would have half a beer, compliments of you.

We all wanted to try Indian food, which we had heard was amazing in London. So Laura turned on her sweetest Southern charm for some Brits and asked where we should go. We ended up at Maharashi in Soho (yes, London has a Soho too!) where they have white linens and tablecloths. Much different than the Indian restaurants we're used to, which are usually more Indian decor and less fine dining. But the food was so good! It was actually spicy, which the Indian, Thai, Vietnamese restaurants refuse to do for the non-natives in LA, even if you ask for it. Besides the spice, I was surprised to find that our Indian food in LA is just as good.

After dinner, Laura and I went back to the room and Sam and Matt went for another drink. I was so tired (even though we slept almost 8 hours on the plane), and I passed out at 11pm (3pm in LA).

After spending half the night WIDE AWAKE, Matt and I got up at 8am to see Buckingham Palace, the home of the Queen of England. It turns out that the Palace is only open to the public 8 weeks of every year, which just so happened to be the time we were in London. I know that my writing skills could never do justice to what we saw, but the palace was just divine. Glittering gold ornately carved designs on stairwells and ceilings, plush fabrics with bold covers on furniture, wallpaper that is so rich it looks like it has dimension, color coordination in each room down to the last detail. My favorite of all were the marble sculptures - busts of kings/queens/dukes and carvings in the curvature between the walls and the ceilings that either tell a story with the carved figures or just add to the grandiose character of the room. The other stunning part of the palace is that many of the rooms look out onto acres of green lawn with a river in the back. Right in the middle of London!

From there, we sped over to a super-fab restaurant, Bob Bob Ricard, in the trendy part of Soho. This was our first interview with a writer for our website, and the restaurant was suggested by our interviee, Louisa. For each person we are interviewing in London, Paris and Rome, we asked the writer to meet us on a certain date and time at a place they would review on their travel guide for the website. So Bob Bob Ricard is a cute restaurant with an air of exclusivity that is all aqua-colored including the booths, curtains behind the booths, server uniforms and walls. They feature "The Toaster" where the server brings you a toaster (plugged into your booth) and a bowl of bread for you to toast your own bread. Very cute, fun and different. Louisa is not only an experienced writer, (most recently under contract with Virgin Media), she was also extremely personable and seemed to be just the type of person we are looking for.

From there we went to meet Sam and Laura for the "original tour" of London. I am absolutely horrified to admit that we each paid 24 pounds (about $40) to go on a double-decker bus tour of London. Now this is a prime example of "never say never." I am the first person to gawk at tourists on these tours in LA. I may wonder aloud, "Why in the world are they on that bus?!" or "Such a crazy, touristy view of LA!! How lame!"

My only justifications for this tour in London are (1) we were only in London for 48 hours and (2) there weren't any specific sites I was dying to see. I know, still lame. Anyway, it worked out well, and I promise, I will try to never again knock the tourists on the double-decker buses in LA.

We saw Big Ben/Parliament (shout out to Chevy Chase's European Vacation!), many monuments, the Tate Modern Museum, London Bridge, Tower of London (a castle dating back to 1100 where Henry VIII had his wives beheaded), the London Eye (giant Ferris wheel), Tower Bridge, St. Paul's cathedral, Westminster Abbey (enormous Gothic cathedral), etc. Pretty much all of the sites in London.

From there, we went to London's east end, to a bar recommended by Louisa. Very hipster. Ironically, I think she thought Matt and I were hipsters because of the way we were dressed. The best part of the bar was being there with Matt, Sam and Laura and that we were the only tourists there. We all wanted to eat fish and chips before leaving London, so we went in search of Ye Grapes, which was recommended by both cousin Ben and Peter. True to London style, Ye Grapes was closed, but we found a restaurant nearby still open. The restaurant had short ceilings and dark wood paneling. It also had real candles on each table, which made me feel like we were in London in the old days. It reminded me that London is the land of my kin! I wouldn't race to eat fish and chips again. It was basically fried fish and french fries - nothing special but I'm glad I tried it.

The next day, Matt and I were up again early to go to Harrod's, the department store in London that can famously get you anything in the world. There is a story that the first President Bush went into the store and asked to order an elephant, and the clerk replied "would you like African or Asian?" We saw everything from clothes and cosmetics to fossils, antiques, dollhouse furniture and "children's formal wear".

Then we raced back to the hotel to get our luggage and go to the train station. Off to Paris!!

Overall - Best of London: Realizing I was actually on vacation, exploring the city with Max, seeing Sam and Laura, super-polite people, knowing that this is the land of my kin (spoken with an O Brother Where Art Thou accent) and the tube. Worst of London: JET LAG, the food, and gloomy, dreary skies.

I'll write more soon with pictures and video!

Jessica O.

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