ELEVATION: The Tour Diary ("For my sanity and your entertainment," M.) - Page 5
The weekend is on the horizon and so I better get it in gear and tell ya all about last weekend.
In short, London is a wacky city, a clash of cultures and a clash of times - no wonder I relate to it so well.
Saturday was spent getting reacquainted with the city in a massive tour de force of site seeing. The soul was feeling good as I got back into an artsy-fartsy state of mind. (Hopefully my photographs will reflect more of the former than the latter.)
It was like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet after fasting for seven years. By the end of the day, I was beat and ripe for Big Mistake # 2 (BM2)... More about that later.
The biggest surprise for me was to exit the Blackfriars tube stop and round the corner to see... my old office building demolished! The fences were up around a vacant lot that used to be good ol' 162 Queen Victoria Street.
There's no going back, now is there? My old high school closed the year after I graduated; IBM moved out of Connecticut after I left; the old marketing company moved to smaller, less posh digs after I jumped ship; and now this... With that kind of track record, what will be the fate of JDE? Hmmm...
But I digress.
£ On to London.
A pleasant 35-40 minute train ride from High Wycombe takes you to the Marylebone train station, in one of my less-favorite areas. Just down the block, though is the Baker Street station - yeppers, the neighbourhood of 221 B, residence of Sherlock Holmes. (His profile still decorates the walls around the Underground signs at the station.)
And the last time I was here Starbucks was just starting to expand across the States. Now, you would be hard-pressed to find two blocks back to back in London without one of those shops! If not a Starbucks, there's bound to be some other coffee shop in spitting distance. (In keeping with my "go local" stance, I have yet to patronize one out here.)
The walk around town was a big blast from the past for me:
George Bush Protesters. (OK. They weren't here before! They were parading through the city, waving posters declaring, George Bush: WANTED For Crimes Against the Planet.)
Garfunkel's (a restaurant chain I was fond of before, but the lunch I had on Saturday made me wonder why)
All was good.
And now there's the new London Eye - a massive Ferris wheel across the Thames from Parliament. The Millennium Bridge, a 2000/2001 novelty pedestrian bridge down the Thames, by the new Globe theatre (more on that in a bit), was closed for remodeling already. Seems it swayed too much under heavy traffic, so now they need to buffer it up and it won't reopen until next year, as I recall.
£ Oxford Circus
The Oxford Circus shopping area was packed with people - worse than Times Square!
Adding to the mayhem, there was another batch of G8 protesters that situated themselves right outside the United Colors of Benetton store, right in front of the main Oxford Circus roundabout. Their banner read "Castrate G8" and they wore those scrub outfits found in your friendly neighbourhood nuclear power plant. And, in the ultimate demonstration of defiance, the protestors knocked clothes off shelves of the Benetton store. Um, lads and ladettes, that's not exactly an intelligent avenue of political discourse. Regardless of the activities of the corporation behind the stores. Try again.
Even with all the commotion and mass humanity, I still got singled out by a girl in need of directions. She asked for "the station - any station - the tube." A question I was able to answer easily - the Oxford Circus Underground was just a couple blocks down. She answered, in a sweet, classic British accent, with the traditional, "That's brilliant, thank you."
That would make it 2 for 3 in providing directions.
Yes, ladies and gents, Saturday evening was spent at the Globe, a faithful reconstruction (well, aside from the Christmas lights adorning the balconies and other electrical lighting enhancements!) of the House that Shakespeare Built. It was fantastic!
Yeah, I hear the moans and yawns. But Shakespeare can be very enjoyable - when well done.
When I last left London, the lot was just being cleared to make way for the new Globe. Now, an opportunity to experience it. For £5, you can get a standing ticket in "the yard," on the floor in front of the stage. I was pleasantly surprised to see a very good-sized crowd take the "standing offer" and there were very few empty seats.
The play was Cymbeline, often referred to as one of Shakespeare's "lesser works," but still an enjoyable evening of theatre. At roughly 3 1/2 hours in length (including a 20 minute interval), it can be a long haul to stand (especially after walking all over the city). Thankfully, though, I was able to grab a piece of prime real estate right off stage left - and rested me elbows on the stage as the actors performed - brushing back when they came running across the stage to stand directly in front of me. All the actors (8, filling out 27 roles!) stayed on stage throughout the performance, taking a seat on the floor at the back of the stage while not performing. Every one stayed focused, especially the star, Mark Rylance, who had gained some good press for his performance.
It's a highly recommended experience!
Strolling down the riverwalk after the show, there was a big Indian music and dance performance going on in front of the National Theatre. After checking it out for a while, I felt the need for food and did a late night Indian dinner near Leicester Square.
All of this timed out for my meeting with BM2.
£££ Big Mistake # 2
A quadrillion or so people live in and around London. Given that, and my recent trip to New York (with its round the clock mass transit), I had totally forgotten about the train schedules in London. Having mislead myself into misreading 13:30 as 1:30 AM (d'oh! It wasn't as stupid a mistake as it might sound, now was it?), I spent Saturday night carefree and without rush. Alas, when I entered Marylebone, it was not a pleasant discovery to hear the last train to High Wycombe had left at 00:10! So there I was, stranded down by the Strand.
Even the tubes stop running around midnight or 1 a.m.! Unless you drive or can walk to your destination, you're taxi bait! After fighting it a bit and trying to find a local, cheap hotel at 2 AM (and in a rare moment of no change in my pocket for the pay phones), I splurged on the most expensive cab ride of my life. Well, what can ya do? These things happen!
The next morning got off to a late start, obviously. Even though the unlicensed cabbie charged by the mile, he drove slower than the molasses in January! I didn't get home 'til 3. And I was still up and ready before the pubs were open for food! Which leads me to...
£ High Wycombe
It's not all that bad, when there are actually people around! But, the pubs and coffee shops are dominated by (local) chains.
The "late morning" unfolded with some nice moments of people watching.
At The Falcon (pub), a group of old men congregated to, no doubt, escape from the missus and banter on like men. Overheard was the following:
Strapping Old Brit: "You look well."
A Very Genteel, Aged Irishman: "Don't be tellin' lies. Even me hair hurts!"
Somewhere along the way, the conversation within this click of multi-nationals drifted toward women. The Brit (I'd bet he was in the RAF) went all melancholic as he started reminiscing about women... he had this far off look in his eyes and spoke of... well, it was sweet, humorous and kind of... bizarre. I wish I had a tape recorder!
To top it off, there was a beer-bellied old man sittin' on a stool with only one button on his shirt buttoned; holding a beer and just watchin' the world move.
At Costa (coffee shop):
On the PA system, a taped message offered Italian translations of those all-important phrases, "I feel this espresso working its magic," "Are we there yet?" and "Don't stare at me like that!"
At O'Neill's (pub, evening visit):
I was the opportunity for a new hire to make her first shamrock in a Guinness Extra Cold. It was small and barely noticeable, but well-intentioned.
Let's Go books suck. Berkeley put out some really good travel books for a while, but then stopped publishing. So, I thought I'd give Let's Go another chance (their inclusion of lodging e-mail addresses was enticing in efforts to coordinate long-distance journeys).
Thus, I made the drive up to Cheltenham based on the recommendation in my Let's Go: Western Europe travel book. I seemed to constantly disagree with the sarcastic authors of the 1993 edition and found myself tearing it up and throwing it away as I went along on my travels, using it almost strictly for food and lodging locations. So, Cheltenham the town came to me totally overrated and without much to offer for a city that's "a nice break from the heavily touristed Bath and Stratford."
Of course, being there on a Sunday, when the tourist information office is closed, doesn't help matters. After a walk through the city centre, I pretty much had my fill and headed on out. However, by chance, I drove by a field where a cricket festival was underway. The gentle old men at the entrance told me it was too late to buy a ticket, but I could get in for free. (Yippee!)
What I saw was some kind of cross between golf and baseball. The crowd (of good size when I arrived) was oh so quiet except for the occasional gasp and ohhhh! - and some polite applause. I think there would have been a greater display of emotions if it were an Ashes test. The game was in its final hour (or so, ya never know with cricket) and I tried to get some decent shots of the "pitcher" going into his run and wild wind-up before letting loose of the ball. It was quite interesting to watch, although I had no idea what was going on. After I got done checking out the grounds and snapping photos, it occurred to me I should ask some fans how the game is played. Just then, more applause.
So here, for your pleasure, are the basics of cricket, thanks to cricinfo.com:
and here is the rundown of the game's stats:
It all makes sense now. Right, mates?
All of the above was preceded by an unexpected diversion to Oxford Friday night. I hit the M40/A40 highway with destination anywhere on my mind... only to find the highway hopelessly backed up because of some accident (and heavy traffic).
So, I got off in time for Oxford and found my way over to Rosie O'Grady's Irish pub. It was a great place; live music on one side, a quiet, old-fashioned lounge on the other. And it was my first Guinness Bitter. Yeah, the Guinness family is branching out big time. But, the jury's still out on the Bitter. That's right. I'll have to have another before leveling judgment...
By the way, let me tell you about the car. It's a Vauxhall Corsa. Light blue, very small, no A/C and no CD player. A tight fit, and me bum feels like it's been dragging along the ground after a long drive. Oh well. It builds character.
I just called a bed and breakfast in Dublin (yeah, FINALLY getting on those Dublin lodging arrangements for the Slane shows).
The kindly lady said she can't plan that far ahead!!
That was hilarious! All the procrastination to get around to setting up the lodging, goaded on by warnings from numerous people about being stuck on the street while 79,999 other U2 fanatics take up every last remaining room in Greater Metropolitan Dublin, and this is the response I get!
But, I called another B&B and this really sweet old lady booked me for a room for the 24-26 and said she could help me find a place the other nights.
Ahhh... When I told her I was from Colorado, she said, "Ooh, you're a ways from home." I replied, Yeah, and it's been great.
Then, when I told her my name was Anderson, she said, "Ooh, got some Irish in ya, do ya?" I said, Based on the amount of Guinness I drink, I must. She thought that was really funny.
She then gave me detailed directions on how to get to the B&B - only one pound 50 pence by bus (3A, 3B, or 3C), but maybe ten pounds by taxi. Then something about getting off at a specific corner and walking in a specific direction. I don't know; I didn't get it all written down - TMI!
Woo-hoo! The plans are finally coming together...
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