Tuesday, January 19, 2016

9/20 London Day 4: “Rest” Day

9/20 London Day 4: “Rest” Day
More pics here.

Assuming we’d be tired from rugby, we didn’t have a lot planned for this day. We knew there was a USA game in the afternoon and decided to build our day around watching that. The weather was gorgeous and so we walked to Hyde Park to enjoy being outside and decompressing from the crazy schedule of the last few days. Blue skies, warm breezes, yipping dogs frolicking, youth football (soccer) games and families with strollers in the park – it was almost enough to make you forget you were in a major world city. We wandered around Kensington Palace but opted for the gardens over the indoor exhibits. 


We found a pub in Knightsbridge to watch the USA game and reveled in knowing that Tristan’s tiny face was on the flyhalf’s jersey – we had “sponsored” the USA team buy buying a spot in the photo collage that made up their jersey numbers. USA lost, as was to be expected, but it was still exciting to see our home country represented. 

We made our way towards central London on foot, enjoying the beauty of these fancy neighborhoods and their gardens, with a stop at Harrods to wander the food courts. I have to say, 10 years ago such expanses of world-foods were a wonder. Nowadays it felt like a stuffy version of Whole Foods. Of course the bakery and cakes were stunning, and walking through Harrods in general is always a reminder of that other world the super rich live in. But I also appreciated in a new way how much food exposure we have now. Stacks of dates were cute but nothing new. Sushi seemed commonplace. Jelly Bellies? We have those at home! The California wines were nothing notable, in our humble opinion. We live in a really special place, and this was a good reminder. 


After Harrods we wandered through Green Park and to Buckingham Palace. Since we had no agenda for the day, why not see what all the fuss is about? It was pretty in a city garden sort of way. It was hard to imagine the crowds here for major royal events, but it was an interesting stop nonetheless. Also, we found ice cream in the park and enjoyed a cone. We realized we’d almost wound our way back to the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, and decided to visit those while we were seeing all the classic tourist spots of London. 

Being Sunday, and a working church, the Abbey did not host tours. However, the public was invited to the organ practice recital for that night’s service, and we decided sitting through organ music would be worth seeing the inside of the Abbey. It was fascinating to see a non-Catholic, non-cathedral hall of worship at this scale. Stained glass portrayed famous Brits who made notable contributions to society. Modern martyrs, including MLK, were iconized on the building façade. Once we were seated inside, I looked down and realized my folding chair was placed over the grave of David Livingstone. It felt much less like a house of worship for a deity, and more of a deification of England. Fascinating of course, but a bit strange. And then the organ began. Organ music, well, I just can’t love it. I felt trapped in the Phantom of the Opera score and yet spent the time fighting sleep (despite the thunderous chords, all the days walking had me spent!), and pondering where the organ and its player were (out of site, behind lovely screens), and what sort of strange old man was dedicating his life to this awful music. At the end of the rehearsal, the organist (highly decorated per the program) came out for his bow, and was surprisingly young and normal. I hope others were clapping for him – I was mainly clapping that it was all over. We took the long way out, wandering past the sarcophagi of lords, knights, sirs, and other notables of the Empire. 


Outside we wandered the Palace of Westminster (akak the Houses of Parliament), Big Ben, and other historic buildings, this time on the north side of the river and during daylight. They were stunning but inaccessible and the area was fairly empty. We tried to find a decent pub but no one was serving food, and we were starving. Little did we know that this off-timing of our hunger and public food availability was going to be a trend on this trip.   But we did find St Stephen’s/Queens’ Head, a foodless pub showing the last few minutes of a New Zealand match, and we sampled a new beer.  Since it was built in 1873 across the street from the government powerhouses, some famous people have enjoyed a drink at this pub, and we wish we remembered them. Maybe Oscar Wilde? Definitely Churchill. Some others like that (you know, because those two are really alike…).  Perhaps if I had eaten, I could have retained all this information better. It was, at least beautiful (see link above).

After the pub, still starving, Ty had a stroke of genious and we trekked across the pedstrian bridge over the Thames back to the ultra touristy South Bank, and the Bleecker Street Burger food truck that Ty had spotted on our first night. By the way, do not open that link above unless you have really good willpower or access to a fine burger. It’s going to cause cravings.

Here is Ty’s official British Burger Report:  
The burger did not disappoint.  We first decided to eat sensibly, splitting a burger and fries.  However, this burger was the shit! The meat was perfectly seasoned and juicy (i.e. pretty fatty).  The melted cheese and house special sauce topped it off, and our half burgers went down quick.  It did not take much discussion before we ordered a second burger.  Juliana had made friends with a local couple who were also heartily enjoying their burgers and talking up the experience we were about to have, while we were waiting for our food to emerge from the hipster food truck.  The locals wanted to know what we thought of the burger and it was a bit awkward eating it in front of them. [Note: Juliana didn’t find this awkward at all. Either because she has not problem snarfing food in front of voyeuristic strangers, or because she was that happy to finally be eating dinner. Also, I don’t like burgers, really much at all. This was a damn good burger. I miss it. And who doesn’t respect a guy who takes a basic sponge bread bun, and combine it with dry-aged rare-breed grass feed beef AND plain old artifical American cheese? That is true high-low dining right there.]

We decided (or rather, I convinced a reluctant Ty) that Covent Garden wasn’t THAT far away, and I really wanted a cocktail instead of beer. The map showed a little martini glass symbol in Covent Garden and I thought such an area might still be open on Sunday night, unlike most of London apparently. After a mere 15 minute walk, we found the actual Covent Garden, a former large scale market turned retail center. There were plenty of people wandering around, although most of the shops were closing up. There was a beautiful display of what appeared to be clusters of white balloons in a two-story atrium, with gently pulsing lights sprinkled throughout. It felt like a cloud had descended into the building and made the whole place feel less commercial. 

We did find a lovely bar/restaurant and had a final cocktail, and looked forward to bed. Until I noticed on the map that China Town wasn’t THAT far away! I remembered walking through circa 1999 on an adventurous spring break trip with Emily and wanted to see it again. So we circled back again towards Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, and wandered through London’s Chinatown. We got egg custards at a late night bakery. We walked and walked and walked some more. Eventually we found our way home and collapsed. Our rest day had not been restful, but had been rewarding. We’d rest in Ireland!

In case you think London doesn’t require a trip of it’s own, here’s the impressive list of things we didn’t get to, …Old Spitalfields Market (where there’s a brick and mortar Bleecker Street burger shop!), London Museum, Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, theaters/shows, the red deer living in Richmond Park, and of course all the places within a day trip of the city.

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