neither here nor there: day 2

Look, kids, Big Ben!

Sorry, I couldn't help myself. Big Ben in London is like the Prudential Center building here in Boston: you can see it from almost everywhere. But I promise that's the last time I'll do that.

As usual, though, I'm getting ahead of myself. The B&B bed, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, proved to provide, oddly, a better night's sleep than the massive king-size bed in Athens, but the first night was a little rough. Understandably, what with the five-hour time difference, and considering our luggage ordeal, I had a hard time getting to sleep. After I'd finally dozed off, I was woken up by the sound of someone arriving outside by taxi and a few seconds later, luggage wheels rolling on the sidewalk. In my sleepy state, I fantasized that our bags were being delivered early. They weren't, of course, and I finally fell asleep shortly after that.

It was downright painful to wake up at 7:30 the next morning, not only to make the most of our first day in London but also for the free cooked breakfast. I felt considerably more awake (and then slightly queasy) after some muesli, fried eggs, bacon, beans, toast, juice, and coffee. Breakfast got edited each subsequent morning (turns out I'm not a big fan of beans for breakfast) and white toast was wisely replaced by "brown" toast, but that first morning I wanted the whole enchilada, as they say. Or maybe that's what we say. Anyway, it wasn't quite as good as the English breakfasts of my youth (rather the two or so years I lived in Bedford, an hour or so north of London, and traveled extensively throughout the British Isles) - no tomato, no fried toast - but it kept me from feeling hungry until about 3 p.m. each afternoon. And every morning they'd ask if you'd prefer muesli or corn flakes and then something along the lines of "and how about breakfast," as if you had any real choice other than how you wanted your eggs cooked. After that we cleaned up as best we could with our hairspray and soap (provided by the hotel), reluctantly put on yesterday's clothes, and headed out for our first day on the town.

Here's Neal readying the film camera outside the Tufnell Park station. Note the "Boston Boston" pub in the background. We took the subway to Victoria Station and walked to Buckingham Palace from there, where I forced Neal to suffer through the longer-than-expected Changing of the Guards ceremony.

Initially, I had planned a day of introductory London stuff with the second day at the British Museum, since that was the top priority on this trip. Then, when I saw that it was supposed to rain off and on that first day, followed by clear and sunny weather the rest of the week, I thought we'd spend the first day at the museum instead. But for some, mostly irrational reason, I just didn't feel ready. I guess a clean set of clothes seems like the least one can do for a visit to the Elgin Marbles.

Anyway, I don't know why I'm so fascinated by the Changing of the Guards. I had fond memories of this from earlier visits but I don't remember it taking so long. Our guidebook indicated a duration of about 45 minutes, with something about guards lining up at 10:45 and then something else happening close to 11:30. That's just about 45 minutes so I assumed those were start and stop times, but really, the show doesn't even start until about 11:30. We were there at the gates probably by about 10:15.

I also don't remember the guards charming the crowds much and asked Neal if it was like, legal for them to smile at us like they would before each turn (as they walked the width of the yard about a gazillion times before the drummers and such arrived). Having arrived so early, we had no difficulty getting a spot up close...and got pushed closer and closer to the gates as the show went on, arms with cameras in hand reaching over our shoulders and heads occasionally to take blind pictures. We were asked more than once to take pictures for folks behind us. The lady next to us had a pained look on her face the entire time.

We worked our way out through the crowd to the blessed, blessed air before the ceremony was over and walked to Picadilly Circus in the rain, where we picked up the hop-on, hop-off tour-bus. Not the best rainy day option and not exactly the most practical way to get from point A to point B, but with a ticket good for 24 hours and a free Thames River cruise, it was worth it in the end. Eventually we made our way to the Mayfair and Marlyebone neighborhood, where we enjoyed an afternoon snack of scone (mmm, clotted cream) and pavlova (basically a big meringue filled with, you guessed it, more cream of the whipped variety) at Belgian chain Le Pain Quotidien. A bit overpriced but tasty, and they serve their coffee in bowls (what is it with French-speaking countries drinking beverages from bowls?). This was perhaps my first sighting of hot pink, a typical color in the London palette.

We finished the bus route, stopping off at the Globe Theater to buy groundling tickets for a Wednesday afternoon performance of Othello, and ended back at Trafalgar Square, where I was completely enthralled by a large sculpture of a pregnant Allison Lapper.

Here she is in context:

And another of the half-dozen or so shots I took from different distances and angles:

Also mesmerizing (both to me and the guy in it) was the elevator on the upper level of the square.

There's something a bit Monthy Python-esque about it and I wouldn't be surprised if that was the intention, not just a coincidence. The English are funny like that.

From there we walked to Covent Garden (here's Neal on Neal Street:)

where we had fish & chips at the Rock and Sole Plaice. We picked up some Dairy Milk to enjoy later before heading back to the hotel, where we were greeted by our luggage. "Yay, clean underwear," is what I wrote in my journal later that night as I watched a bit of the Great Britons 2007 Awards show. They even have a category for the arts. Banksy won, of course.

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