Thursday, September 20, 2007

The London Journals


Just to let you all know, these are random thoughts without any real thought behind them. I didn't want to think much while I was here, and I succeeded. Don't expect the normal English pyrotechnics that I enjoy so much. I can tell you that these entries are all very bare and need editing, but I felt that editing them would hinder the spontaneity of the entry. I still have to enter more for all of the days after today. They may be coming after Sunday or I may even wait until I get back from England. If I can post it, I'll even post the video blog that I did last night in my room. So, here are the London Journals, unedited and ready to be ripped apart for a lack of any form of cohesion.

15/09/2007
9:38 P.M. London Time

I arrived in London yesterday, but, being that Heathrow Airport's customs line was of an ungodly fashion, I really didn't feel up to the task of thinking. I intend to have one blog up for every day that I'm here.

I'm sitting on a very undersized stool in a very undersized room in a very big city. The room feels like the uppercase "L" that you would see in a kindergarten classroom with the size approximations not far off. Being about 6' tall, this can inspire a feeling of claustrophobia, but I'm not agitated by this. I'm currently listening to the first movement of Stravinsky's Firebird and, for once, I am totally at peace. This city is absolutely incredible. It's also incredible expensive. When you take $380 American (which translated to approximately £175) and blow through about $100 on a 20 minute taxi ride to the hotel, you know that your currency is basically useless. Yesterday was an adventure in itself.

The plane flight was magnificent compared to every other flight I'd ever taken. Virgin Atlantic seems to take their customers very seriously unlike all the other American airlines companies that I've encountered. The airline food was much nicer than any other airline food, the stewardesses and stewards were extremely accommodating, there was a television on the back of every seat for the person behind you complete with games, television shows and all the latest releases in theaters and, most importantly, it was clean and roomy. I have never before been on an airline that provided some stretching room for their economy passengers. First Class, as I briefly walked through it, looked like it would have been much more enjoyable. Each passenger had they're own seat and foot rest. From what I'd experienced before this was highly unusual and almost too chic for my ingrained sense of simplicity. It would have been nice, though, just for the experience.

I left Newark International on time yesterday at 8:20 A.M. EDT on Friday, September 14th and arrived in London "early" at about 7:35 P.M. BST on the same day. The flight was about six hours total and, considering that I'd never been out of my own time zone before, I really wasn't too jet lagged from the experience. I did have some cramps, but they were soon alleviated by the wait on the runway at Heathrow. Being that we were early, we couldn't get a proper gate to exit on so the airport had us exit the the plane on the runway and they had us bused to our terminal. I was stuck waiting for approximately twenty minutes on the steps of the hatch ramp while we waited for the second bus. I was mildly agitated at the congestion of Heathrow, but I realized that, were we in Newark, we would have been stuck the entire time on the plane. This quelled my frustration temporarily.

We were bused underneath what looked like a large parking garage and exited to an open outside foyer and to, what seemed to be, a never-ending maze of steps. In order to spare you the lifeless and drab details, we finally made our way into the terminal and customs. For those of you that have never waited in line for your passport check, I can only say that this line is pure and total evil. I think that I've waited in better lines on sweltering summer days at theme parks with a plethora of water rides. I was tired, bored and edgy and just wanted to get to my hotel but, instead, I waited on a line of smelly and intellectually unstimulating neanderthals. To tell the truth, I couldn't tell you how bright any of the people around me were (except the one person behind me who was not quite an idiot). I just wanted to leave.

After about an hour (I'd lost track of time by this point) I finally made it to the customs desk. The man that accepted my passport was of southern asian descent and was, for the most part, very soft but sternly spoken. It was a most unsettling experience. He asked me if I had ever been to England before, which I hadn't; he asked me the amount on money that I had on me and the credit cards that I carried. This was strange to me and almost shocking. He then proceeded to ask me if I had my return ticket. I had no knowledge of my ability to even obtain my return ticket on the day that I was actually getting to my destination.

After maybe two minutes of intense interrogation, I was released to claim my baggage which I did in an easy, yet, random fashion. Bags and people were all over the place and the baggage claim was complete and unabashed chaos. I had remembered hearing on the BBC that Heathrow was one of the busiest airports on the planet, but this was ridiculous. The airport at check-in looked more like a multi-ethnic lynch mob. There were people of all ethnicities which was, strangely enough, very comforting in an almost communistic kind of way. I would later find out that London itself was what New York should or could be but, sadly enough, isn't in any way, shape or form. The racially segregated districts in New York prevents this while London, on the other hand, is one big racial district. Either way, the baggage claim, while greatly disorganized, only took me about five or six minutes to locate my (or, should I say, Mike's) bag. I then made my way towards the Taxi signs but not before stopping to exchange currency. A friend had, about two months before, visited Rome on business/pleasure and mentioned that foreign money looked a lot like Monopoly money. He could not have been more right. I was shocked, however, to note that on the back of the the £20 note was a picture of the composer Sir Edward Elgar and on the reverse of the £10 note was the portrait of Sir Charles Darwin. These portraits were the first tokens of my easy assimilation into British culture. These faces, or any like personalities of their like, would never be represented on the backs of American currency. The lack of American pride in arts and science would prevent it.

The taxi port was open to the road and, thankfully, very light in business. I was able to catch a cab very quickly which set me at ease. The inside of the cab was open, as it seemed that they were built with the middle seats removed so luggage was easily accommodated without having to deposit it in the trunk, and sterile. The cabbie was a might quiet in the beginning due to the clear plastic partition between us. Come to think of it, he didn't really say anything to me until we were on West Cromwell Road and within a couple of hundred feet of the hotel. He finally cracked the silence barrier and asked what the name of the place that I was staying at was. I mentioned that I was staying at the West Cromwell Hotel and he quickly pulled over to the corner which was within three doors of my final destination. The amount came to approximately £42 (about $87 American!) for a 20 minute ride which would, even in New York or Boston, equate to a resounding NO from any sound-minded rider, but, being that this was neither New York or Boston, I paid the cabbie and gave him an £8 tip. His lack of personality changed at this point. It were as if he'd never been given such a nice tip. When I gave him a full £50 and told him to keep it, he mentioned to me that I had given him way too much. But I insisted and he gave me his number so I could call him for the return trip of which I agreed. He wished me a nice holiday and I exited the cab.

Upon walking up the steps to the, what would have been a brownstone in New York but was instead a gorgeous Victorian-style apartment building in wooden whitewashed glory, hotel I noticed that this neighborhood seemed very affluent which was a good sign. I didn't know the neighborhoods of London well and booked this hotel with the hopes of some place that was, in the least, half-way decent. It seemed that I had guessed right and a sigh of relief washed over me in waves of cool. The man at the front desk was very helpful (even through his heavy Northern Indian accent) and he pointed me to the closest pub for when I was ready to go out. (Mind you, the time was about 9:30 P.M. when I arrived at the hotel.) I received my keys and made my way to my room in a timely but almost toilsome manner.

I walked up the steps to the immediate door in front of me as I was instructed by the man in the office and unlocked the door only to find, beyond the door, a microcosm of a foyer with another door directly to my right. In the first place, it was not an easy task to get in the first door but then I had to deal with getting my luggage and myself through the second door. The only luggage that I had, other than Mike's large bag, was my laptop backpack, so it wasn't as if I were totally loaded down. At this point, I realized that bringing an instrument, which I didn't, may have truly been a mistake. I congratulated myself and then I cursed the idiot hat designed this apartment. When I actually got into the room, after an intense struggle, I turned to the left, being that it was the only way I could go, and almost killed myself when my bag got stick on the corner of the bed. I searched the walls for the light and, when I didn't find it, I looked into the now dark foyer to search for a switch. I had to open the door to the hall again to get some light to see but, once I had accomplished this near impossible feat, I noticed that the light switch was on the wall of the foyer and I had merely passed it on the way in without giving it any notice. Upon turning on the lights, I lay down Mike's large bag on the floor and proceeded to take up almost all of the available walking room with his bag. It was obvious that my room was only slightly bigger than my closet. I felt as if I were in National Lampoons European Vacation with the room that could be a closet in the U.S. The room itself was bare with off-white walls, a bed (complete with Sponge Bob Squarepants comforter, very nice in my opinion), a nightstand with a phone, a wastebasket, a radiator, a long mirror on the wall, and a small desk complete with a box of a closet on top of it, another wall mirror in front of it, and an excellent electric water boiler for tea. The bathroom was actually about the same size as the room itself with an unusually high toilet that flushed like it had two garden hoses coming from each side of the mouth. The sink spewed water in a similar fashion. Again, the light switch for the bathroom was on the outside wall. However, through all of this, I found the toilet the most unusual aspect. If I were to generalize things here then it would be stated as the following; everything on this small island is small (including the toilet paper strips) except the shitters.

I knew that I would need an adapter to be able to charge my laptop and my cell phone so I purchased them in America to beat the cost in one of the worlds most expensive cities. Apple was very helpful and sold me the correct adapters for my laptop. Radio Shack, on the other hand, sold me the wrong adapter for my cell phone charger, even after I asked them if it would work in England, so I had to go out eventually after I got settled in. The original plan was for alcohol, but now it was to be able to communicate with the people I knew. The guy working the desk basically told me to head in the same direction that he had told me before to find a pub and check in with one of the convenience stores along that drag, so I headed out to my destination.

The streets in London are, from what I've see so far, immaculate as compared to New York and they even make Philadelphia's nicer areas look filthy by comparison. Many of the streets are one-way but you always have to be mindful that the traffic is moving on the left side of the road. The best rule of thumb is always remember to look to the right first because the closest immediate traffic (unless you're crossing a one-way) will always be coming from the right unlike America where the immediate traffic will generally be coming from the left. After crossing at that first traffic light I noted that London drivers are much more weary of pedestrians than any other big city that I knew. A New York walker would be greatly hated over here in all of their ignorant glory. Cabbies in New York won't stop so pedestrians force them to stop by walking in front of them. A New York city walker would probably back traffic up for miles here.

I walked for a block up the mildly crowded street and came to the Earls Court Tavern. It was a very homey and old style pub with an unusual accompaniment of semi-club music. It seemed the best I could do, so I entered and ordered my usual (Guinness for the less adapt to the obvious) from a very pretty and Raven-haired English girl. I paid my £3.20 and took my pint and sat in the corner cool down from this semi-terrible day of travel. The pint was from an Extra Cold tap and the creamy head sat on my tongue like a light cheese cake. It was the best part of my day. I was drinking Guinness in London. The only thing better would be drinking it at the St. James Brewery. This didn't last long as m mood was slightly brought down when I took a gander at the wall and, even though they claimed to be open "extra late", their closing time was 12 A.M. This was preposterous. I'd never heard of a pub closing "extra late" at midnight. Either way, I finished my pint quickly and ordered another along with a shot of Jammesons just to finish the job. These two didn't last long either and I made my way out to find a convenience store which didn't take very long. The guy at the counter knew exactly what I needed and, it seemed, that the power converter he gave me was actually cheaper than the same exact one that I was going to purchase (but didn't, due to an uninformed staff) at Radio Shack. I paid the 3£ and left to head back to my room in which, upon entry, I turned on the television and promptly passed out while watching some very comical English humor.

I received my wake-up call this morning at the stated time of 8:30 A.M. BST (3:30 A.M. EDT) so I didn't miss the breakfast that the hotel provided but I didn't actually wake up until about 8:40 A.M. Upon arising, I jumped in the shower and took care of the normal morning routine. My eyes were blood shot, most likely from the day before, but I was well rested in a way that I hadn't been in ages. The bed was more comfortable than I would have expected and coupled with the alcohol I consumed and all of the events of the day before, I felt like a fresh bloom of plumerias. I didn't smell like then, though, until after the shower.

After getting myself freshened up, I partook in the hotels "continental breakfast" which turned out to be cornflakes, orange juice, tea, and toast. It wasn't particularly exciting, but it was better than paying for breakfast with my first born. I had to wait until lunch for that. The cornflakes had an odd taste due to the room-temperature milk, but they were cornflakes; plain, dry and good for my taste. I don't require anything extravagant for the most part so they did me well. The orange juice was a little warm, also, but not bad and the toast was a little bland which was eventually remedied with some strawberry "jam". I accentuate the "jam" because it seems to be called that here as opposed to my normal title that I would apply to it, "jelly". Either way, breakfast was fine in a bland kind of way and I asked at the front desk my best route to the infamous London Underground station.

I found the station, which was maybe a seven minute walk from the hotel, and, as I walked through the main entrance, I noticed that I was walking into the Earls Court entrance which was, if memory served me correctly, a site that was part of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. I couldn't help to sneak a grin looking at the sign on the wall in the tunnel itself. Using the ticket machines gave me a chance to figure out the money system which wasn't too hard. It looked as if anything in lesser denominations than a £5 note were in coins but, otherwise, it was almost like American money. Finding this out before would have helped me more being that there were no change machines, but I managed to make out fine from the handful of change that I had from the night before. The ticket walkways are almost identical to the ones in the Path Stations throughout New York; ticket in the front and out the top. The platform was tidy and free of chewed gum. New advertisements lined the far walls of the cylindrical platform. The walls were a pretty fresh yellow and, when the car arrived, the cars were new, efficient and fast. They didn't creak like NYC subways (especially the E train which may be the worst line in NYC) and the speakers sounded out your current location, current line, and the next stop. There were also illuminated signs telling you all of the information you needed. I found the Underground to be all that I had heard. It clearly is the cheapest way to travel (even at £3-£4 a trip) and safety doesn't seem to be a problem. The employees are very helpful and always willing to help which makes getting lost on the Underground damn near impossible. On the way out I found out that, unlike NYC, you have to pass your card through the booths again to get out. A cop saw me having a problem and mentioned this to me. At this point I was very thankful that I actually picked up my card when I dropped it earlier on the Earls Court platform. He did mention that it was a valid ticket but, for some reason, I hadn't paid enough so the female cop that was with him very nicely instructed me to go to the ticket window and pay and extra pound. While I was there I managed to purchase day to prevent this from happening again.

I came out at the Picadilly Circus exit and ended up on Regent Road so I could redeem my London Pass which would allow me into all the exhibits I wanted and would get me free Underground rides for three days. This was quick and painless and really not worth explaining for the sake of brevity. After this I decided to do some site seeing. I didn't know it, but Picadilly Circus was actually in Westminster which was the general location of most of the most well-known attractions. After meandering about for an hour, I asked an older gentleman where I could find Westminster Abbey as it was on my list of definite places to go. Apparently, getting directions in London was a little more complicated than the brief methods we use in the U.S. This very chordial and very well-dressed older gentleman gave me three different ways to the same places and he would express directions with his whole body instead of just his arm. It was a very fun experience. I enjoyed his animated response. After we parted ways I took to going back the way I came initially and turned back down Regent Road, but going to the right, away from the Underground and towards the Thames.

16/09/2007
1:51 A.M. London Time

Continued 16/09/2007
4:20 P.M. London Time

Ran out of steam last night. Had to wait until today after my sight seeing to finish up yesterdays events. I hope to catch up to todays right now. Sorry.

I came to an open space and a wide roadway that, once I crossed it, looked as if it were taking me in the desired direction. As usual, my keen sense of direction proved correct. The first sign was the House of Parliment, which I didn't stop to see. The immense structure stuck out like a single lotus on a lake. Directly across the street was my prime target, Westminster Abbey. The outer edifice was of mammoth proportions and was a sight worthy of a kingly burial. It just so happened that it was a kingly burial. Many of the tombs of the great English kings resided there along with many other individuals that I found much more interesting. Among them was Handel, one of the great Baroque composers. Edward the Confessor was also housed here along with several other kings and knights. I can't recollect all of the names, so I will continue on.

The Westminster Bridge was relatively close by, so I decided to take a walk up the Thames to see what the side of the city that I was in looked like from the other side of the river. There was, however, one strange tidbit of information that I failed to mention before. London has a strange odor all its own. I noticed this when I got off the plane initially and, until I was actually crossing Westminster Bridge, I hadn't really wondered what was the cause. This walked changed that. The Thames is, or seems to be anyway, a very muddy river. The smell, which wasn't necessarily bad, seemed to be emanating from the river itself. I'd heard that it was a sewer up until a couple of decades back which probably is the reason but the Hudson in NYC doesn't cause a scent like this. The Hudson just reeks of garbage. I can't tell you what the Thames smells like because I've never come across a smell like it.

After walking across the Thames I decided to take a stroll along the Victoria Embankment, a very nice stretch for walking. There were people sitting on raised benches as I strolled by, keeping their eyes focused on the brown waves of the water in order to guess what it would be like were it clear, I suppose. I walked until I came to a small eatery on the way and stopped in for a sandwich. I had a tuna melt that was cooked in the same manner as they cooked sandwiches at the old eatery Zam's that use to be in the Raceway Mall. This sandwich was, however, not nearly as good. At this point I realized how dull English food can be. But, I was hungry, so I finished it without question. After the hike of several miles that I had just taken I would have eaten a rotten horse burger.

I crossed back over another bridge (the name evades my memory) and came back up along the Victoria Tower Gardens and Millbank Street. There were then police sirens and cops on motorcycles and traffic stopped as a hearse drove briskly through the intersection. What followed was maybe the strangest thing I'd ever seen. When you think of the traditional "biker gang" you think a bunch of rowdy American males, all tuned up and ready to go all with tattoos sleeving their arms and their black-clad women on the back of their bikes. You never think of these gangs anywhere in Europe, though. However, the following procession looked as if every biker from Europe and the U.S. had turned up to pay homage to the leader of the Hells Angels. The procession took about 30 minutes to finish with an average of between 20 and 60 bikes a minute. I honestly stopped counting a about 150. The oddity was that they were escorted by police. I found that to be the strangest part of this.

I proceeded back up to the area of Westminster Underground and took the train back to Earls Court and then walked back to my place and proceeded to pass out for a few hours. I woke up around 8:00 P.M. (approx.) and went back out for dinner at the Earls Court Tavern. I really was growing a liking for this place. It had a nice vibe, but I'd only been there once and it was to drink, not to eat. When I got there I bought a pint of Guinness, took a table in the back and, took a look at the menu. I'm adventurous, but chicken liver wasn't anything I'd ever really wanted to try. I decided to play it safe and get the small Fish n' Chips. (The smaller Fish n' Chips, it turns out, was Haddock while the larger was Cod.) I had assumed that Fish n' Chips would be small pieces of fish like fish sticks or something so you can imagine my surprise when she came out with a slab of deep fried fish. At this point I knew that eating in London wasn't going to be easy so I decided to abstain from eating much of anything while I was here. Twice a day is fine for me with as little fried food as possible. The "chips" were regular french fries which were petty good and the fish, though a bit messy, wasn't too bad. The peas on the side did give me a problem, though. They were probably freeze dried at some point and they just didn't want to be stabbed with my fork. After dinner and another pint of Guinness I walked back to my place and that was where I started last night. Todays entry will follow later.

16/09/2007
5:16 P.M. London Time

16/09/2007
11:26 P.M. London Time

I've finally managed to catch up and get on track as to where I should be with this.

Today started out much the same as yesterday only I slept past my wake-up call and didn't get up until about 9:30A.M. This wasn't a problem, however, since I couldn't sleep last night after doing all that typing and after drinking the two cups of coffee and two extra cups of tea. After I got up I decided to shower and jump on the chance to use my London Pass and actually go somewhere. I hopped on the District Line at the Underground from the Earls Court station and headed east to the Monument station. I realized that I should have jumped on the Northern line heading south (?!?!?!) here but I decided to hike it across London Bridge which was, apparently, rebuilt. I walked for about a half hour before I got into view of the Tower of London but, when I actually saw the looming stone structure I knew that it was well worth the trek. The walls and outside towers were enormous and they really stood out from the rather modern district.

Luckily, I didn't have to wait in line at the ticket booth (but I didn't realize this so I did anyway) because of my London Pass so, after a security check of my bag for explosives, guns or just bad style in general (I don't know how I passed them but I passed all three) I was loosed into the edifice. There was the St. Thomas Moore Tower (I think) directly to my left after the doors, so called because it is believed that he was incarcerated there after he refused to endorse Henry VIII's divorce. I walked up the walls through waves of tourists and into the walls which had absorbed more blood than a dinosaurs Maxi Pad.

I wandered through and spent most of my time in the Armoury and the Bloody Tower. In the court yard the spot were Anne Boyelyn was beheaded was marked with a glass sculpture of a pillow with a head imprint on it. I had read that there was originally a plaque but this sculpture had been placed there sometime ago. The Crown Jewels were, to say the least, a Hip Hop artists dream. The queen clearly is the Queen of Bling. I saw a 100 Carat diamond in that exhibit. It was the size of my fist. Does human greed get any worse?

Either way, I took a lot of pictures of The Tower and a couple of the Tower Bridge from The Tower. After I finished there (after about 2 hours and I didn't get everywhere) I walked to the Tower Bridge and took the tour. The tour wasn't very exciting but the view from the upper pedestrian walkway was great. Unfortunately, I ran out of space on my sim card for my camera at the Tower of London, so I couldn't get any shots from the upper walkway. After this, I walked back down and out to what looked like a street fair. It turned out to be the Thames Festival which was a yearly festival on a smaller scale. I dropped by, had some Chicken in Bean Curd at a Thai/Chinese tent, took a look over at the stage where the sound guy couldn't figure out that the reason he was getting so much feed back from that Mandolin was because he must have had the gain cranked too high, and took my leave. I decided on a walk to the Underground so I could get to Whitechapel today and, hopefully, check out some Ripper history.

I took a walk up to the London Bridge station and took the Jubilee line west to the Canada Water (Who come up with these names?) station and then hopped on the East London line going north to Whitechapel. I exited the station to what would have been a heavily Muslim neighborhood. Unlike most Caucasians, this didn't bother me. I was just along for the ride. I turned down a wrong street and didn't actually realize it until I saw the signs the said WHITECHAPEL ➔ which was the opposite way I was going. I turned back the way I came and back towards the Underground station. I passed several notable places, namely the College of London and the East London Mosque (of which I was tempted to enter but decided against it) but nothing really that caught my eye. There WAS a tour going on (which I should have stopped at) that may have been the Ripper Tour, but I wasn't sure a the time. I'll look into it further later. I walked until I came cross some back streets which were loaded with street venders. I walked through, took a glance at their wares and continued on my way. I ended up among a desolate avenue of what looked to be business buildings This seemed to be the heart of London's Business District, but I wasn't really sure. What I realized was that the streets were empty and I was alone. I walked for about five blocks before I started to encounter life but I also noticed that even the restaurants and coffee shops were closed. It may have been a Sunday but it was only about 2:40 P.M. and the streets were dead. This would never happen in NYC.

It took me some time to find the nearest Underground station which turned out to be Bank. It was, as one might guess, in the business district that I was in and had a winding cavern that, eventually, lead back to the District Line. The walk to the line was pretty amazing considering. I would estimate that it may be a half mile or so stretch from the entrance to the District line, maybe longer. Either way, I finally got to the District Line and headed west, eventually making my way back to Earls Court station. I really got the hang of the Underground and I wished that I had something like this in New Jersey. Too bad it's the armpit of the U.S.

I walked back to my room and wrote the end of that last entry, picked up a fococio sandwich (which wasn't really all that bad) down at a place on Earls Court, and then watched part of Pan's Labyrinth. I took a nap from 8:00 P.M. until 11:26 P.M. when I started this entry. I may see if I can get a pint tonight, but I'm in my bedtime clothes and may not feel like heading out again.

17/09/2007
12:32 A.M. London Time

17/09/2007
9:23 P.M. London Time

I'm running a copy of the film Zodiac in the background as I type this. It's not Fincher's best film, but you can see the similarities between the Zodiac murders and John Doe from his masterpiece SE7EN. Today was another giant tour of Eastern London. I missed breakfast as is becoming the norm here and I decided it would be advantageous to take a run up to the Globe Theater and a wine bar called Vinopolis which were only a few minutes walk from London bridge. I took the District Line across to the Cannon Street station and took a walk across the Southwark Bridge. Once I was on the southern bank of the Thames finding the Globe Theater was simple. I made a right off he bridge and, when I finally found the theater, I realized ht it wasn't open for tours. Being that I didn't feel like watching a production of The Merchant of Venice I decided to see what there was in this area to do. My time on my cell phone strangely set itself this morning to London time (without my wanting) so my internal clock was a bit off today.

I came across a small museum set up for an old London prison that was no longer there. It was a waste of time, but it would kill some time while I waited for Vinopolis to open. After walking through this pointless little museum, I strolled through and ran into a copy of Sir Francis Drake's ship that was set up in a dry dock. This didn't hold my attention long enough so I kept walking west and eventually I walked right into a less-than-savory neighborhood of which I quickly backtracked and got back to where I had been. I hadn't noticed before, but it seemed that Vinopolis was having its interior painted. This pretty much killed the rest of my plans for the day, so I decided to take a trip up to Kew Gardens to visit a friend's sister's restaurant.

I walked to the Cannon Street station and hopped the District Line all the way to southwest London and exited at the Kew Gardens station. This was an open terminal and was a little more confusing (especially when getting back on later) than the other terminals. I got off and proceeded to walk all the way down the road that ran parallel with the train. Going on the map that I had printed out before I left, I realized that I was on the wrong side of the tracks so I asked a bicyclist that was passing how to get on the other side. He was very helpful. I continued down the road and eventually I came to a pedestrian crossing that went over the tracks. I had already walked about a quarter of a mile from the station and, since the restaurant was within a two minute walk of the station, I knew that I would have to walk a bit to get back to the area that it was in. After this walk I found the restaurant without a problem, but I noticed that they were closed today and wouldn't open until tomorrow at 6 P.M. I was a little let down, but at least I knew where to go. I walked back to the station and, after a bit of a problem thinking (mostly due to a slight case of exhaustion from all the walking I had been doing), I finally figured out how t get to the second platform which would set me on the District line back towards Earls Court station. While I was on the train, I decided to actually keep going west and make an attempt to see the terra cotta soldiers of China's first emperor at the British Museum. This required me to switch at Earls Court to the Picadilly Line and head more northeast. I switched lines and got off the Picadilly Line at Holborn station.

Like I said before, getting directions in London can always be an adventure in itself. I asked a door man at a hotel the whereabouts of the museum and he gave me clear and simple directions that turned out to be totally and completely wrong. After walking around for another hour (it's about 2:30 P.M.) I stopped in at a pub (can't remember the name) that was of the late Gothic style that I so loved. The bartender was Brazilian with a think accent and seemed very cordial. I stayed there for about an hour, had two pints of Guinness, and some very good tomato soup. He and I agreed that England seemed to close their bars too early. I mentioned that I was within an hour of NYC and I was used to bars closing after 2 A.M. he mentioned that most Brazilian places closed around 2 A.M. but he also mentioned that there were after-partys that were always going on. It was good to finally have a conversation with someone.

The bartender gave me directions to the museum also, but, you guessed it, they turned out to be wrong, too. After another hour or so of aimless wandering, I gave up and decided to head back to the Underground. I boarded the Picadilly line at the Russell Square station and took it all the way back to Earls Court. When I got back to my place I took a nap for a couple of hours and then took a walk to get something to eat. I decided to hit up an ATM (the first time I've had to do it) before hand, though. When I got to the ATM I forgot that I had left my cards in my backpack for safe keeping so I had to walk all the way back to my place to get my cards and then all the way back to get some money. When I was finally able to get some cash, I stopped at a small Mediterranean eatery to pick up a doner (something like a Gyro). The chili sauce made it excellent. My observation at this point was that if it weren't for the population from Asia and the Middle East, all the food in London would probably suck. I then stopped in at the Earls Court Tavern and topped it off with another pint of Guinness and (after taking a small walk to see if there were any places to catch some live live music which there wasn't) I came back to my place which was where I started.

17/09/2007
10:28 P.M. London Time

18/09/2007
11:58 P.M. London Time

Today was probably the most uneventful day I've had so far. The most unlikely fact is that it was the best day so far. I woke up late as usual, but today I woke up later than I have been. I got up around 11:30 A.M. and got everything together quickly. I headed out to Earls Court station and took it north for the first time. Unfortunately, I ended up at the High Street Kensington station which was a dead end. The only other way I could have gone was back. I decided to walked up to the next station which was Notting Hill Gate. This turned out to be a 25 minute hike that brought me to the Underground station and also a bagel shop, which I didn't know existed in London. Come to think of it, I thought that bagels were only something for North Eastern Americans. I acquired a very tasty cinnamon and raisin bagel with butter and headed for the Underground station which was right outside the shop. I was attempting to find the Handel House Museum. I jumped on the Central line east and got off at the Bond Street exit. When I came out on Bond Street, there were several signs pointing me in the direction I wanted, but not a one pointed me in the right one. I found out that the museum was on a side street, which I found, but, for some reason, I couldn't seem to find this museum either. I gave up and decided to continue with my walk through this very affluent area. I don't think I'd ever seen so much money in my life in one place. I felt completely alone here. Everyone was wearing Armani and Prada, and I've never looked so out of place. I was a human in an alien landscape.

I walked for a while and ended up back at Picadilly Circus. This was not where I liked to be (basically, it's like Times Square with less people) so I headed to the Underground station (yes, the Picadilly Circus station) and headed back to Earls Court station. Tonight I had to be ready. I had intended to head back to Kew Gardens to Maral's sister's restaurant, so I had to change and shower. I did these and killed a couple of hours deleting doubled songs in my MP3 folder. The restaurant opened at 6 P.M., but I wanted to get there early, so I left around 4, giving myself some time to try out a cafe that had "internet service". They had computers downstairs, but they didn't have wi fi , so I paid for my coffee and headed to the Earls Court Tavern and had myself a pint while I did the sudoku puzzles in a newspaper that I was handed in the street, I headed back to the station at about 5 and got on the train without incident.

When I got to Kew Gardens I realized I was early and knew that, being that I figured out the correct way to get to the restaurant, I would be very early indeed. I walked towards the restaurant expecting to be early when a guitar shop on my right caught my attention. I walked in, took a look at the basses, and asked to try the PRS that they had. A man that looked quite the fit for an older Def Leppard quickly picked up the bass (he also mentioned that he didn't want that one to sell as it was everyones favorite in the shop) and brought me downstairs to the testing room. It had a nice tobacco burst and really caught my eye but, after a run through and a look at the astronomical price (these were British Pounds, after all) I brought it back upstairs and mentioned that it was too much like a P Bass for my liking. I mentioned that I would be in the market for a Wal if he ever got one in and he said he'd send me an email. I gave him my business card and headed back on my way.

When I got to the restaurant, the door was open, but no one was up front, so I decided to head back for a walk as I was still a few minutes early. I walked back to Starbucks, got a tea, took a leak, and headed back. When I got there, there was a man out front getting the seating ready. I asked him if they were open and he mentioned 15 minutes. I then told him that I was friends with Maral and I was looking for her sister. It took him a minute to realize who I was talking about, but then he remembered. He had been on holiday and just found out about me stopping by the day before. He invited me in and we talked for a while. He turned out to be Maral's sister's husband. He also turned out to be totally awesome. I felt right at home there. We talked off and on while he was waiting tables (he owned the business but he had everyone else off that night), and I felt very much at home there. Maral's sister and one of the Czech girls that worked for them showed up about an hour and twenty later and the party really began. We drank a bottle of very nice Italian wine which he highly recommended (I think it was made by Don Bosco), I ate some really excellent asparagus starter dish (I love asparagus), and we had a grand old time later after closing eating watermelon seeds (they really are awesome when they're dried and salted). I hadn't experienced that kind of company in this country until tonight. We agreed to meet up again tomorrow so I can get some proper Fish N' Chips (they insist they're good if you go to the right place) so, that is where tomorrows journey shall lead me.

19/09/2007
12:41 P.M. London Time

19/09/2007
10:49 P.M. London Time

There is not a single toilet in all of London that has a tank. This fact is disturbing me. All of the tanks, it seems, are built into the walls. What if there is a leak in the tank? Do you actually have to rip the wall out to fix it?

I woke up today at about 11:30 A.M. I was supposed to be in Kew Gardens to meet Maral's sister today at 1. Originally were supposed to meet at 12. Needless to say, I didn't shower until about an hour ago. I hopped the Underground to the Kew Gardens station and stopped in at Starbucks for a cup of tea to waist some time. I showed up around 12:45 P.M. so I was a bit early. After some waiting, my party arrived and we drove off.

The original plan was to get me some proper Fish N' Chips, but since the weather was rather bleak, we opted to stay out of the country side and go more local. We ended up at an excellent Thai food restaurant that had some of the best pork I'd had in ages when it came to Asian cuisine. We talked about everything from politics and religion (of which none of us were religious in the least) and had a very good lunch. We then headed back to their house and watched some TV. I needed a day to just hang out and do nothing since my right knee was beginning to bother me from all the walking that I was doing. It was very relaxing. We watched TV and munched on watermelon seeds. Maral called later on and I got to talk to her and show her how bad my Farsi was. This was really great. I wished she were there, but there is only so much I can do. Maybe next year things will be different.

Later on I met the Czech girl's German boyfriend. He had just flown in from Frankfurt and was staying for a couple of days. Strange fact: I have not yet hung out with anyone that is a non-immigrant to England. I've hung out with two Iranians, one Czech and one German. Most people might find this strange as I am in England, but the English don't seem to be that well-tempered to people from the outside. I've noticed it as an American. Either way, after they had left to find one of their friends that was lost somewhere in London, Maral's sister and I headed out and she dropped me off at the Underground station.

I headed back to Earls Court and decided to stop in for sushi at one of the sushi places along Earls Court Street. I'd heard great things about London's sushi restaurants, so I was curious and I hadn't had sushi in quite a while. The food at this particular venue was excellent, but the portions were small. A "sushi roll" in America usually means about 5-8 pieces. It seems that in London the standard is only 2 while the prices are identical, in number anyway. What I'm trying to say is when I ordered a sushi roll they brought me 2 pieces and charged me about £8, which is about $16 American. I mean the sushi was very good, but that was a bit pricey for my taste. The wine selection was also a bit pricey, so decided on a house wine that was, as compared to what I drank last night, terrible at best. I think from now on I'll stick to the middle eastern take away food places. The term "Take Out" also isn't used in London. Instead it's "Take Away". This wasn't odd, just different. After I had eaten and left the waitress a rather large tip (especially for London) I headed out to the Earls Court Tavern to have my nightly pint of Guinness. I've noticed that tips in London aren't what they are in the U.S., too. People here don't tip and, much of the time, the owner takes the tips. This is almost infuriating. Rule of thumb would be to ask the waiter or waitress if they get to keep their tips before you give it to them. Anyway, after my pint I came back to my place, watched the end of Jacob's Ladder and that is where I am now.

19/09/2007
11:22 P.M. London Time

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