Julia took us back to her and Richard's house in Islington, a nice residential area of the city. We met their two cats (Humbert and Mathilda) and had tea, lebkeuchen, and oranges. We also looked at photos and then freshened up.
We left the house at around 11 am, with Julia as our guide. It was a beautiful day. It was near 50 degrees, the sun was shining, and the skies were perfectly blue. We caught a double decker bus (#38), and were able to get a seat in the very front of the upper section. We had a great view of the city, and I was able to get my bearings pretty quickly (a rare thing indeed!) You hop on the bus at any stop, and if you don't have a daily TravelCard, the conductors will come around and sell you tickets after you have gotten settled.
We got off the bus near Buckingham Palace. We walked around and saw the palace, the Queen Victoria Memorial, St. James Park, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben, the Thames, the London Eye (the observation wheel which was built for the new millennium whose opeing had been delayed due to technical problems had just opened to existing ticket holders that very day), Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and the Covent Garden Opera House. We ate lunch outdoors at Ponti's at the Piazza in Covent Garden. We then took the bus back to Julia and Richard's.
We originally met Julia and Richard online through the Tom Waits email discussion list. She
and Richard came to Boston in September 2000 to see Tom Waits in concert, and we met up
with them then. So it was fitting that at their house we sat and watched a tape of Tom Waits on
the BBC in 1979. We then listened to a recording of Jack Kerouac reading On the Road
and looked at more photos. We met Julia's daughter, also named Julia. We ate a wonderful
dinner that Julia had prepared (soup, toast, and salad with sour cream.) Julia went to the
theater that night and Richard was working late. We were exhausted, and after talking to the younger
Julia and her friend for a while, we went to bed at 8:00.
We woke up at 7 am. We ate hot cross buns and "American-style" chocolate chip muffins. We then walked to the nearest bus station and took the bus to Piccadilly Circus. We saw the changing of the Queen's Life Guard. We took an audio tour of the Cabinet War Rooms, where Churchill and his cabinet met during the bombing of london in WWII. We went into Westminster Abbey, which was beautiful, but it was also sensory overload. It was amazing how many people were buried there, and there were monuments to countless others who were buried esewhere. We had bangers and mash for lunch near St. James Park.
We then took the Tube to Tower Hill. We went to the Tower of London and luckily caught the last Beefeater tour of the day. Our Beefeater (Yeoman Warder) guide was named George Brodie. He was quite entertaining and funny, and we learned a lot about the history of the Tower. It was not crowded at all, and when we went to see the Crown Jewels, there was only one other couple in the vault with us. There were moving walkways so that there is not a bottleneck of people looking at the jewels. We were able to get right back onto the moving walkway to have a second peek, since there were no crowds. By far the most impressive thing (in my mind anyway) was the Greater Star of Africa, the world's largest cut diamond. The weather was overcast and by the end of our stay at the Tower of London, it was sprinkling.
We took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus and ate fish and chips at Waxy O'Connor's Irish pub. While walking back to the Tube, I spotted a poster for Fantasia 2000 at the Pepsi Trocadero IMAX theater. It never made it to Boston in IMAX format, so we were psyched to see it. The next showing was in five minutes, so our timing was perfect.
After the movie, we took the Tube to Angel and then caught a bus back to Julia and Richard's
where Julia served us authentic homemade Russian borscht. Not being big fans of beets, we
were very pleasanty surprised, as it was delicious!
After that, we walked around and went into some of the shops. One of my goals from this trip was to buy a wool sweater, and I found a pretty blue one on clearance at an Edinburgh Woolen Mill for 9.99 pounds! Craig found a new Rick Wakeman CD at the HMV there.
We walked to the Canterbury East station, and took the train to Chatham (it was a 40 minute ride). We walked through the shopping district of Chatham. We found the Central Theatre, where we had front row tickets to see Rick Wakeman. Thanks to Julia for procuring the tickets for us! Seeing absolutely no signs for the show, we asked two women in the lobby if Rick was indeed playing there that night, They said yes, and laughed that we had come all the way from America. She said that Rick's car was around back, though it was a bit dirty. So, of course, we walked around the back to catch a glimpse of his car (a BMW with a license plate of "RW 100"). It really wasn't that dirty.
We went into Woolworth's and some other shops in search of postcards, but none were to be found. It really wasn't a touristy town. We went off in search of the vistor's center, but eventually gave up. We went into the Hogshead Tavern for a pint. We killed a lot of time in there and planned to eat supper there as well. The kitchen was closed, and there was confusion about when it was to reopen for dinner. When it still hadn't opened at 6 pm, we left. What a difference! The streets that had been bustling with shoppers were now deserted, and no stores nor restaurants were open. We ended up settling for McDonald's. As it was the only place open, it was packed with people. And we discovered that fast food is not as fast as it is in America. Also, there are no "double" anythings at McDonald's in England. Portions are much smaller.
We then went back to the Central Theater. There was a lounge downstairs, and we sat there until it was time to take our seats. We were in the front row center, and Rick Wakeman was amazing. Craig wrote a review of the show for the Rick Wakeman website. At the end of the concert, Rick greeted fans in the lobby. We tried to get toward the end of the line, as we didn't want to be rushed. It turned out that when Rick came out, he started at the back of the line, so we became first. He was very friendly, and seemed genuinely delighted that we had come from the States to see him. He talked to us for quite a while, patted Craig on the back, and kissed me on the cheek. We apologized for taking up so much of his time when there were others waiting. He reassured us that they would wait if they really wanted to talk to him. We got some other fans to take our picture with him.
We walked back to the train, where we were able to sit in a first class car since it was so empty. At Victoria, we got onto the Tube. Craig got on before I did, and the doors closed as I was about to step on. I was mortified! He had all of the British money, so I was standing penniless on the platform, not knowing how or where to meet up. Luckily, someone must have seen me, as the doors opened for one split second and I hopped on, adrenaline rushing. We took a night bus from Angel to Islington, and arrived back at the house by 12:30 am.
We got dressed up for an evening at the theater. We ate small pancakes with salmon pate and cod paste, as well as Smatana (a Russian version of sour cream). We departed for the Barbican. (It was very close by; we left the house 30 minutes prior to curtain time). Richard ordered drinks for the interval (intermission) when we arrived. The Barbican Royal Shakespeare Company theater was very nice. There are staircases on each side marked with letters so that you can easily find your seat without an usher. The seats were plush and had plenty of legroom. We were in the third row. The production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was phenomenal. At the interval, our drinks were waiting on a table, labeled with Richard's name. That was a major cultural difference between England and the States...in England, they trust people much more, and the people seem worthy of said trust.
After the show, we drove by the Lloyd's of London building in "the City of London" (the business district). It's a very industrial-looking structure (all of the duct-work is on the outside) and it was lit up blue at night. Then we went to the Marquess Pub in Islington (near Canonbury) for pints. I had an orange Bacardi Breezer (which was available in most bars and restaurant as a nice alternative to beer). We then went back to Richard and Julia's house and talked and played with the cats for a while.
We drove to Leeds Castle in Maidstone. It was very nice and had quite a history. However, it had been inhabited until 1974, so it was quite modernized. There were lots of birds on the gorgeous grounds, but it was drizzly and we arrived late, so we couldn't really walk around very much.
On the way back to Islington, we passed the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. Richard made a delicious dinner of cod with peppers and tomatoes. We also had mashed potatoes and a French white wine. His secret banana dessert was incredible!
We then went to the Barbican to see Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins. The singer, Anne Sofie von Otter, was incredible, and she did several encores.
We took the Tube to St. Paul's. We spent about an hour looking for a place to eat lunch. We realized we should have eaten near the Dungeon, where we had seen lots of restaurants. The places that existed near St. Paul's were mainly for businesspeople; signs forbade "site clothes". We ended up eating at the Grapevine at Cheapside. It was a tiny restaurant. I had spaghetti Bolognese, and Craig had chicken with cheese and mushroom's. After lunch we had planned to tour St. Paul's, but it was closed for a private service.
We took the Tube to Piccadilly Circus. The Lesbian Avengers were protesting a law which would forbid the teaching of homosexuality in schools. They hijacked a double decker bus and painted it pink, and they climbed the statues. Some young men standing behind us briefed us on the whole situation. We joked about how this would be handled in America.
We then had an early dinner at the Stock Pot. We got a 2 course chicken hot pot meal for 3.70 pounds. Craig got the minestrone soup, and I had the apple crumble custard. We decided to see Fantsia 2000 again. We went up the wrong escalator in the Pepsi Trocadero building, and were unable to find the theater at first. All escalators seemed to go up We finally went the wrong way down an escalator and found the IMAX thater again. We walked to Liecester Square, and then took the Tube back to Richard and Julia's for curried chicken and rice and good conversation. We went to bed at midnight,
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