Sunday, March 06, 2016

Old Favorites, New Favorites (London 2016, Part 10)

After a lovely day out in Battle and Bexhill, chasing down some Keane fan favorites, I returned to London ready to do some walking...and shopping.

In all my time in England, one thing I'd never experienced was sitting in traffic on the M25, a highway that circles Greater London. Daryl and I did that for a bit before finally getting onto a road that would lead us back into Essex and Shenfield, where I could catch my train back.

While still in Sussex, I snapped a sign pic:

My duck lady Amanda said, "Was there also a 'Or the Highway'
sign nearby?" 

By mid-afternoon, I was back at Liverpool Street, and taking the Tube to Charing Cross Road. 

I spent a lot of the first four months of 1999 walking the length of Charing Cross Road--it was very near to where our school building was, and a quick jaunt takes you to Leicester Square and Trafalgar Squar, two of my favorite tourist delights in London--and both so vastly different for the fact that they are pretty much back-to-back with each other.

This day, I didn't walk down Charing Cross, instead taking a slight back way and discovering some new little corners I'd never seen before.

A French restaurant.

I had never heard of or been to SoHo Square, and found it to be
quiet and serene, even though it's just a few blocks from the
chaos of Charing Cross Road.

Finally, I emerged onto Charing Cross and walked past a few theaters and a lot of shops towards Trafalgar Square--I had a mission, you see.

London was still decorated for the recent Chinese New Year celebrations.

Pub signs are the absolute best thing in the world.

Approaching Trafalgar Square--a glimpse of St.
Martin's-in-the-Fields church looking lovely in the sunlight.

Just before you walk into Trafalgar Square, you come across the entrance to one of my favorite museums in all of London--the National Portrait Gallery. I had promised myself a visit on this trip, and was determined to get in before closing. Turns out, it was absolutely perfect--it was their late closing day.

I had plenty of time to look, but the museum was filled to the rafters with people, so I did a quick hop around to find some favorites.

I'm not entirely sure photography is allowed, but I whipped my phone out to get this one of Shakespeare, because I kind of have a crush on him.

I missed one of my favorite rooms--the one where Elizabeth I is on display, but managed to pay my respsects to my most favorite piece in the building. It's not a portrait, but a statue, a marble, larger-than-life rendering of Victoria and her beloved consort, Albert. I remember the first time I saw it, a 20-year-old California Girl in London for a semester in 1999, and how I stood there staring at it in absolute awe. The romantic in me adores that they were a love match, that he genuinely respected her as Queen but also helped her run the country. I find it terribly sad that he died young, that she spent the rest of her life grieving him.

After seeing that, I was ready to get away from the crowds, so I went downstairs to the gift shop. I have a collection of wonderful stitched ornaments from both of my times in England, and was delighted, on this trip to find that new ones were available, including the Jane Austen (there might have been an audible squee from my throat when I found it) ornament that is now proudly stored in my Christmas things, waiting for Christmas 2016 when it will find a prominent spot on my tree.

So it was out into the noisy bustle of Trafalgar Square, a large, beautiful square surrounded by traffic and filled with every possible language being spoken. And selfie sticks. I saw some of those, too.

Keeping watch over Trafalgar Square is Admiral Horatio
Lord Nelson, whose leadership in a naval battle at Cape
Trafalgar made him a British hero...and named a whole
square in London.

Yes, that's Big Ben in the center of this picture, just a quick walk down a busy
road from Trafalgar Square.

The Canadian Embassy

Nelson's Column

A close-up of my favorite London icon, looking so pretty in the sun (despite
the big ole whopping security camera).

No selfie sticks here, just my arm.

The National Gallery. I didn't have the energy to battle more
crowds, but on my next trip, I'll visit the huge Seurat painting.

Amid street performers galore, some fun chalk art, inviting all
to leave a wee tip on the flag of their country.

I left a coin on my flag.
From Trafalgar Square,I made a circle around to another old favorite: Leicester Square.

Leicester (pronounced Lester) is the complete opposite of the grand Trafalgar Square. Where Trafalgar celebrates a war hero and great art, Leicester Square celebrates...entertainment. It is here you find the famous TKTS booth, where cheap deals can be found on that night's theater performances. The square is home to two large cinemas, a casino, and several tacky tourist shops (the kind I love most). 

In the center of the square, a Shakespeare fountain.
Meg 'n' Will.

I bought a few souvenirs here and moved along, walking back through Trafalgar Square and then over to Admirality Arch, the beginning of the road leading to Buckingham Palace.

Well, of course it had to be done.

Way down at the end is Buckingham Palace.

I started walking down the road to the palace, but as I wandered, I realized I'd never really seen St. James' Park, so I sent a telepathic message to Queen Elizabeth that I'd see her next time I'm in town, and veered left.

It was getting too dark to take quality pictures in a darkening park, but I took some interesting shots of the surrounding area as I walked along, and then walked back out into civilization again.

The back side of Admiralty Arch.

There's an airplane in this shot. There's a constant stream of airplanes over

London Eye playing peek-a-boo.

Approaching the Horse Guards' gates from behind.

There was only one guard out at this time, and no horse
in sight. However, there was an armed bobby (police
officer) nearby. He was smiling and saying hello to people,
but he was also armed. I remember being charmed by the
unarmed London bobbies in it's a new world.

Selfie with Horse Guard.

I don't remember seeing this on previous trips to London.
It's very near Downing Street and Parliament, and it's
large enough that I'd have noticed it, so it must be "new."
Or, you know, ten years old but I just haven't been there to
see it.

You can just see a peek of Big Ben and the other end of the Parliament building
behind the bus.

Moon over Big Ben.
I caught the Tube at Westminster, and started heading--I thought--towards High Street Kensington. Alas, I was going the wrong way. When I got off, instead of getting on a train going the right way, I left the station and started wandering. The best thing about London? Getting lost there.


You never know what you'll find, and on this day, I found my way to a place I'd heard of and--shockingly--never been to: Harrod's.

But first, a shot of a lonely phone box on a side street.

By the time I realized the giant building completely lit with tiny white lights was Harrod's, my feet were tired, and my blood sugar was dropping fast from lack of proper lunch and only a few meager snacks throughout the day. I stopped for tea, cake and WiFi at a Costa, asking the barista there if he knew what time Harrod's would close.

"Oh, they're usually still open when we close here, and we close at 9:00," he replied.

In a country where the Marks and Spencers close at 6:00, I must thank dear Harrod's for being open for a woman who would be leaving the country the next day, and still had gifts to buy.

I'd never felt any particular urge to see Harrod's, but had been told it's wonderful, so I figured, eh, why not?

Spoiler alert: It's marvelous.

Most of the floors are the designer, high-end things that don't even have price tags and I'm not going to ask because HA!! I'm a teacher. But the Food Hall was worth a peek, and certainly affordable--I just didn't feel like buying anything there.

If I thought these would have made it through an eleven-hour
trans-Atlantic flight, I would have bought them. 

And then I found the "tourist floor," as I think of it. It's really just Harrods' gift shop, if you look at the rest of the monstrosity as one big museum of shopping decadence.

I lost track of how much money I spent there, but I had extra cash on hand, and been pretty frugal throughout the week, and I'm pretty sure they must have been playing subliminal "buy all the things" messages through the sound system.

After resisting gift shop ducks all week, I couldn't turn down a Harrod's Union Jack duck (christened, on the spot, as Harry Swimmy).

I bought make-up bags for friends, some wee Harrod's bears (one will be a Christmas Bear for me, the other is a gift), Christmas ornaments, English toffees, London-themed children's books for my school's library, fancy soaps and hand lotions, and, best of all, the most adorable green polka dot purse for myself. When you factor in exchange rate, there's no way I'd usually spend that much money on a purse. I am an unapologetic Target and Kohl's kinda gal. But I had to have this particular purse (and later, at Heathrow, the Oh My God matching wallet). Turns out Cath Kidston is my kind of London designer.

For a store as high-end as Harrod's, I was pleased to find that the employees were all extremely friendly, and a couple even asked where I was visiting from. One, in particular, finding out that I'd be flying to San Francisco in less than 24 hours, remarked, "Oh, I'd love to go there. Is it wonderful?"

"I'll tell you what," I replied. "I have two favorite cities in this world...London, and San Francisco. And I've seen New York City, and Paris, and Rome."

"Oh, really?!" He was delighted by this. And, of course, there was the inevitable weather discussion, in which I told him that my part of California had, until about a week before my trip, been just as cold as London was now.

As he bagged my (many) purchases, he told me to be sure to take lots of pictures, especially of the famous bears, so I felt no shame in doing so.

Will I visit Harrod's every time I go to London? Maybe, maybe not. But it was great fun to explore, and while I spent a lot of money there, I felt I got a lot for it.

After this, I found the nearest Tube station and headed back to Queensway, stopping only to get a sandwhich and a ton of English sweets at a Tesco Express on my way to the hotel, where I deposited all of the day's haul on my bed, and removed my boots to find out just how I'd gotten a blister between two toes, but nowhere else.


Turns out, it wasn't a blister, but instead, the toenail on the fourth toe was a little jagged (oops), and had rubbed against the middle toe all day, causing bloodshed. 

I was exhausted, and starting to feel emotional at the thought of leaving London so soon, so I ate my Tesco BLT and started packing...and realizing that not everything was going to fit in my suitcase. I'd left plenty of space coming over, but...well, these things happen.

I did my best and determined to buy a new bag in the morning. I'd have to pay a whopping sixty-five pounds ($90 on my Mastercard, thankyouverymuch) to check a second bag, but what the hell. This trip was always going to be a little bit over the top.

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