Friday, October 2, 2009

Back on the Bus: Day Three, London Calling

Sleep on Day 2 lasted until 2 am. We slept for five hours, but at 2 am I am wide awake joined by N. We are giddy, laughing at anything, silly, I try to read, but can't. Barbara Ehrenreich, my political soul mate keeps my interest for a little while, but instead I turn on the television and alas, the Europeans have magic on the teley. The Wire, the single greatest television show to ever grace the small screen is on the BBC. We watch as Michael turns the tables on Snoop and becomes a killer. By 4 am Nicole is asleep and I am back to Barbara. I finally fall asleep at 5 am and am awake at 6:30, realizing I will not be successful at sleep, I shower for the first time in Europe. We rush down to breakfast at 8:30 and most everyone has already eaten. We see April and she is so glad to see us, we have already become best friends. "I thought you had gone and abandoned the Tour. Thank God."

We sit down for breakfast, "coffee or tea?" "Both," we answer, tea for N and coffee for me. "Toast?" Yes, I answer. "White or Brown?" "Excuse me?" I say though the question is familiar. I answered this question, brown or white toast the first time at Cafe Rio, I am not sure what I said because I didn't understand, though I ended up with a white bread sandwich. She sees us pause and she says, "mixed?" Yes, exactly. Before the mixed toast is brought to the table I explore the buffet style breakfast, scrambled eggs, sausages, fully cooked tomatoes (?), their bacon - our ham and a whole host of fruit. Nicole sticks to the cold cereal and I go for the hot. Average, but on the whole not terrible, the coffee is decent and I am somewhat satisfied. Am I desperate? The mixed toast arrives and indeed it is white toast or brown toast, your guess is as good as mine just what the brown toast is made out of, I stick to the white. We rush to the tour bus waiting outside.

We enter the front of the bus, which is the opposite side you enter in the states, we say hello to Robert, unsure if he is happy to see us, we continue on, as I pass seat after seat I notice, there is no one on this bus without grey hair, row after row of elderly folks, "is this elder hostel" I ask myself. When we booked the tour, we could have booked a "55 and smiling tour," but of course chose another tour. Are the rest 65 and smiling? We enter the last seat behind our new friends on tour, we sit, me by the window, N stares in at me with a wry smile, without saying a verbal word she says: "Well, look what we got ourselves into." Are we being ageist? No, I don't think so, we aren't like that after all, we don't want to be the odd people out, the different ones, stand out because after all, we stand out in our lives enough. I peruse the bus and say to Nicole, "I think I saw someone up there who might be 50!" This doesn't displease her. But, our friends Paul and April sit by us and we smile at them, newly retired they are by all intents and purposes in our median age group. And by all measures wonderful people.

We are told by Robert after entering the bus, tomorrow there will be assigned seats because we don't want people hogging the front seats, it is getting worse, we are being treated like kindergartners. "So please all of you check your assigned seat tomorrow before boarding the bus." In horror, I think does that mean N and I might not sit together? Of course it doesn't mean that, but I am still horrified, and when I feel rules begin to cramp me, I begin a vicious rebellion. Uh-oh is N's only response. "Please control yourself." Before Robert departs, we are told "tour guides request that you tip, so please do so at the end of the tour." She greets us with a "brilliant" English accent and are instructed we will be seeing London and Westminster, the tour will end at the "Tower of London" and a viewing of the "crown jewels" of which I have no interest whatsoever, nor am I sure what exactly she is talking about. I don't admit this of course out loud until later, to N. I am excited to see this marvelous city, however. A city I have heard about since "London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London bridge is falling down, my fair lady."

We pass by Westminster Abbey, view Big Ben from a far and stop for a photo, we stop at Buckingham Palace and pass by Trafalgar square, of which N and I vow to come back to, to see the National Gallery. The architecture is overwhelming, hailing from the states the term old has a different meaning. William the Conqueror declared himself the King of England in the 11th century beginning England's dastardly deeds on the planet and commenced the construction of the famous "Tower of London." We see the famous people who were tortured and executed here and do visit the "crown jewels" a pretty amazing sight. We watch a video of Queen Elizabeth II crowned as the Queen in 1953 as a young girl, Paul turns to me and says: "I remember this on television as a kid" It was a world wide event." The Royal family fascinates me, why the English would rather be "subjects" rather than "citizens" confounds me. But, after visiting here, one begins to understand their perspective. They can no more abandon the Royal family than we can abandon our Constitution. We take several pictures of the Thames, the Tower Bridge and are ready to move on to Trafalgar Square.
Before walking to Trafalgar Square, we enter a 7/11 type store for some British candy, N goes bonkers for this stuff, for good reason I might add. I sit by myself for a while and worry about the tour, "what were we thinking?" I thought about doing it ourselves, but that would have taken some planning, time of which neither of us had, so we went with the tour, but I am worried if I can handle these AARP Republicans. After a photo stop, I decided to wander into a coffee shop, I talked to some of the locals, making conversation, ordered myself a latte, just to see if Cafe Rio is the norm in tasty lattes. N. came running after a couple of minutes, "the bus is leaving, hurry up!" Again, the rules, "this is not good." I try and justify myself to the tour guide.

The rest of the day we visit the National Gallery, a similar feeling I had at the Louvre. We are viewing nothing, but original paintings by the masters, I am a bit awestruck. The Italians of course are the best, but N is partial to the French. She still will not admit to me she is a francophile! We eat a very good lunch at the National Gallery, I am exhausted and tell N we need a nap. We decide to walk home through Picadilly Circus, an appropriate name for Broadway, the Times Square of London. It is just as ridiculous, but the architecture is splendid, so how bad can it be?
We nap, are blown off by our corporate lawyer landlord who we were trying to meet for dinner. We thought we might receive a nice flavor for the local scene somewhere, but she blew us off, so we are on our own for the evening. We'll see if rent is on time in October. We roamed the streets of Fitzrovia, Soho, Bloomsbury, the Public Gardens, Marleybone and on to the West End, we ate at a Lebanese restaurant that was not so good, N knew it, but she was too tired to tell me. After all, I ordered Beef Stroganov, what kind of Lebanese restaurant serves Beef Stroganov? The neighborhood felt like those cheesy restaurants by NYU, not very good, but popular with people who don't know New York.

We struggled afterward to find dessert in London, in New York there are countless dessert options on every corner, hell in Jersey City and Hoboken they are everywhere, but in London if you want a pint throw a dart, if you want a piece of cake, take the Chunnel to Paris! We found a little chain restaurant serving crepes and it was decent, but by this time all we really wanted was a bed. We roamed a bit more, thought about jumping on the tube for the last time, but decided to walk home, dream about our assigned seats on the bus and whether the next two weeks of our lives will be a mistake. Tomorrow, our luggage has to be at the door by 7:00 am, breakfast is at 7:15 and we need to be "back on the bus" at 8:00 am to be at our first stop in the morning. Did we really choose this?

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