December 20th, 2012

Married to Graham

And back to London

Obviously, the rest of the trip was a bit more traditional, as far as vacations go. 

We settled into a lovely pattern the next morning. Graham would get up before me, and he'd wander around our immediate surroundings in search of coffee. I'd steal the rest of his blankets and snuggle in for a few extra minutes of sleep. That first morning, he found a coffee shop around the corner called Anita's run by a man from Kosovo.  It turns out that Kosovar people are still pretty psyched about Americans, and the owner of the shop chatted with Graham a bit about how grateful they all were to Bill Clinton.   Graham actually was in the military back in the early 90s, and nearly went to Kosovo at one point, so he was conversant on the topic. 

By the time he got back, I was ready to embark upon an adventure.  

We dressed, and consulted our maps.  I'd made a google map f our hotel's location, the location of the clubs, and places that we might want to see.   This map proved invaluable throughout the trip, especially because we could zoom in on our immediate location and see what was around there.  

british museumThe British Museum was a ten minute walk away, through a University.   We sort of stumbled upon it, walking in through a back door, and we didn't realize we were actually in the museum until we got into the massive atrium that surrounds the reading room.   We'd gone through a few exhibitions, but for whatever reason, we thought we were in a subsidiary building.  

I stopped at a kiosk for a scone (with amazing butter!) and we consulted a few floor plans.  My object was Egypt, since I've been reading the Amelia Peabody books for well over 20 years. Graham's interest was more Rome and Greece.  We were pretty lucky, because outside of Rome, Greece and Egypt (and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York), we were in probably the best place in the world to see artifacts from those countries.   

Our timing was almost perfect, too.  We were about 30 minutes ahead of most of the tour groups that descended upon the museum en masse and with little regard for the other museum goers. 

rosetta stoneAfter orienting ourselves, we turned into an exhibition hall and came face to face with the Rosetta Stone. I've been in the same space as important artifacts and pieces of art before, and I've always been suitably impressed, but this one is so important to human understanding that it was a little breathtaking to be standing right in front of it.  Of course, it was surrounded by tourists at almost all times. 

There were halls upon halls of rooms from Egypt, and the artifacts were extraordinary. Lots of sculpture, lots of parts of rooms.  HUGE pieces of rock.  I didn't realize when we first walked in that this was just part of the Egyptian collection.  The mummies were in a different part of the museum. 

elginAnd the Greek stuff was equally impressive, if a little funny to read about.  There was a little plaque somewhere describing how there was "discussion" about the appropriateness of some of the artifacts being there.  "Discussion" is a bit of a mild description of a debate hat has been going on for nearly two centuries now.  

Still, it was hard to argue that the pieces were in disrepair or otherwise in bad shape because they were in a Museum in London rather than on the Acropolis in Athens.  

The Roman collection wasn't as extensive as the Greek and Egyptian. We went upstairs to hunt that part of the exhibit.  And while there were plenty of artifacts, a lot of them were clearly acquired over time rather than directly from the source by the Museum's own scholars / looters.  My guess is that the Italians weren't as keen on exploration as the Greeks and Egyptians.  romanStill, there was plenty off really awesome stuff for my Romaphile husband to gawk over, and we spent a happy time pouring through statues, arms, pottery and other assorted items from the Roman era.  I was happy because the mosaic collection was quite extensive, taking up an entire stairwell in part of the building.  

We wandered the rest of the museum with less purpose, just letting the exhibits come to us as they caught our fancy.  We lingered a little bit in the European collection, and we spent way too little time in the Middle East, except when we found all the mummies in the secondary Egypt part (which I adored). 

graham romaphileIt was nearly lunchtime when we figured we'd absorbed as much as we could, and so we figured we'd eat in the museum cafe. I found a sandwich, and Graham some chicken.  Lunch was passable, but we'd come to regret it in about an hour.  

After lunch, we sought out the gift shops, but we didn't find anything that really caught our eye, so we ventured out into the pretty day. 

Pulling out the map, we realized we weren't that far from Covent Garden.  Of course London's streets are maddening in their ability to change name three times in the course of half a block. And in their inability to stay straight for any decent amount of time.  And the lack of "blocks".  3000 year old cities and their lack of central planning....   But we were really happy that Graham sprung for a data plan on his phone, so he could always access the map and figure out where the hell we were.    We did a pretty good job of navigating overground through tourists and locals at lunchtime.  

covent gardenAnd soon enough I had to resist reenacting scenes from My Fair Lady, because we were passing the Opera House and at Covent Garden. It was charming and touristy and all decorated for Christmas.  Street performers were all over the place: an opera singer in the lower level, some guy with a boom box and some props making crowd members dance to Village People on the steps of St. Paul's Church. A string quartet at some point.  And there were stalls and shops open all over the place.  

IMG_2192This is where we came to regret lunch.  On the south side of the market, there were food vendors set up.  Their food smelled delicious. Pastries, pies, burgers, paellas, and an assortment of other foods that just smelled delicious.  And by the look of the people standing patiently in line for the food, it probably was delicious.  If we'd known that these guys would be here, we would have gladly skipped generic museum cafe food

Instead, we found a place to have a coffee and planned out our next move, enjoying the bustle around us.  

London really feels like a city. There are people all over the place.  The streets always seem full, and I don't think I saw more than a half dozen parking places in all of the places we went in London.  A ton of the places we went were quite touristy, so there were people from all over the world around us. But even without the transient visitors, we thoroughly got the feeling that London was an international city. Certainly everyone spoke English, and a good hunk of the population looks Anglo Saxon. But a good hunk does not. But on the other hand, Graham, of Anglo Saxon ancestry, blended beautifully with the Brits.  Apparently, the olive tones in my complexion was more pronounced in a place where there aren't as many olive skinned people.  That's ok.  I blend very well along the Mediterranean. Graham, I fear, would not.  

We decided our next step would be Harrods, and this would require a tube ride, our first since leaving the airport.  A helpful nearby map directed us to the tube, and in what turned into a humorous "will it never end?" commentary, we decided to take the stairs to the Underground instead of waiting for the lift.  All 192 stairs. At least it was down. 

Harrods.  Yes, it's a department store. Yes it's ridiculous. But my god that food court! I went in search of the only thing my mother specifically requested: decaffeinated loose Earl Grey tea.  They didn't have any, but it was fun to explore all of the teas and coffees.  We went into the deli part, thinking that maybe we'd pick something up for the room since we had the mini kitchen in the studio.  But nothing appealed enough to stand in line for. We ventured past the sweets, seeing nothing that would work especially for Christmas.  

And then the meats, the beautiful, beautiful meats.  A humorous exchange between Graham and one of the butchers near some beef:

Butcher: May I help you, sir?

Graham: No thanks. Just drooling.

Butcher: Mind the glass. 

In another section, a turkey was all trussed and prepared, presumably for homesick Americans. The red currants garnishing the turkey were a nice touch. I'm guessing that there aren't that many cranberries on the island.  We'd more or less forgotten about Thanksgiving until seeing this, and the butcher asked us when it was.  

IMG_2198We ventured to the toy section after leaving the food halls.  I had read that they'd made the toy area gender neutral, and I wanted to see how that all panned out.  It was great! Extravagant and full of stuff, like the rest of Harrods, but lovely to walk through.  Some parts were still pink, because the packaging for those toys (*ahem* Mattel) was pink. But it certainly didn't feel like they were pushing girls in one direction and boys in another

Of course, Graham and I were drawn the most to the ridiculous Harry Potter section. It was like catnip.  Authentic scarves, jumpers and cardigans from all the houses. Wands from every conceivable character. Maps and prints and random scraps from all the movies.  Horcruxes, snitches, flasks, broomsticks, and marauders maps.  It was ridiculous.  

And of course we spent a ton of time there.  

Later, we wandered through the electronics, and we saw some of the movie memorabilia on sale in other parts of Harrods. And after that, we sort of wandered aimlessly, eventually finding ourselves in the basement at the foot of the Egyptian staircase and the permanent memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi.   It looked unchanged from the last time I saw it in 2005, though it's beginning to feel a little dated.  I'd forgotten about it until we stumbled upon it again. 

After Harrods, we headed back to the hotel for a nap.  It was mid-afternoon, and we were still jet-lagged and tired from the night before.  We'd walked a considerable amount that first day, well over 17,000 steps according to my pedometer.  But we were sure to set an alarm so we didn't sleep too much.  

IMG_2203It was dinner time when we woke up, so after getting re-dressed, we embarked upon a quest for food, deciding to head back towards Camden and where the club was the night before.  We walked up and down the Camden High street looking at various restaurants and pubs, and we ultimately settled upon the Lyttleton Arms, which turned out to be absolutely perfect.  It was a warm and cozy, with plenty of seating and fantastic service.  I got cider and Graham a glass of wine, and we settled in for a lovely meal.  

They were doing a lovely fixed price menu, so I ordered off of that, starting with Chicken and Chorizo skewers with red pepper dressing that were to die for. It took all of Graham's self-control to not devour them.  For my main, I ordered free range Glouchester Old Spot sausages on this amazing kale mash with red wine gravy.  I'd heard about the Glouchester Old Spot from some pork people here in Texas, and they were mighty tasty. The kale mash, though, was to die for.  I immediately started searching for recipes online as soon as I got back to the hotel, so as to ensure that I could make something like that later.   Graham had the Shropshire Roast Chicken with herb butter, red wine reduction, and fries. To die for.  

I splurged for dessert and ordered an apple and rhubarb crumble with custard, and I do not regret a solitary bite.  We really had a lovely experience there.  Our waitress was attentive and nice, and she wrote "Happy Thanksgiving" on our bill.  We stumbled back to the hotel sated and happy, though a little wet as it rained a bit on our way. 

Of course it did, this was London.