Thursday, April 29, 2010

London - Part 5 of 6

Part 5: Sunday - The One Where I Spent Far Too Much Money
Since the breakfast at the hotel was nothing spectacular, Henni and I had decided to find a cozy-looking cafe to have brunch at one day. Lars isn't big on brunch, so he want to brave the toast-lady himself, while Henni and I headed out towards Brunwick(sp?) where we'd previously found a cafe (Giraffe) that fulfilled our requirements.

Good choice! The bruch was delicious! Henni had a fairly standard English brunch, but I'd decided to order their Mexican brunch with salsa, guacamole and scrambled eggs on a tortillas. It wasn't as heavy as brunch usually is, which was both good and bad, as I ended up being hungry for lunch after all!

From Brunwick we walked to Russel Square to take the train to Warwick Avenue and Little Venice. That turned out to be easier said than done as there were signalling problems on the Piccadilly Line, but fortunately it's really easy to find your way around the London underground, so I quickly found an alternative route, and we were on our way! :)

Little Venice was rather quaint-looking, and it turned out that we arrived at the perfect time to take the water-bus through the canals of London to Camden Market. Honestly, the trip was as canal tours are most, and not something I'd be likely to repeat, but it was a nice way to get a fair distance without having to worry about sore feet! ;)

Unfortunately we weren't too keen on Camden Market. It was a lot bigger and more busy than Borough Market, and seemed both more touristy and as if it appealled to a very different clientel. Henni did find a tea booth, and I fell in love with bags made out of zippers! (didn't buy one though), so it wasn't that it was a waste of time, I just very quickly felt stressed out from having so many people around, and not really feeling like I knew my way around. I don't think it actually was that big, but there were a lot of windy passages, up stairs, through houses, down stairs inside the house etc... Like a labyrinth really! I think I'd have liked it a LOT more if there had been a tad fewer people, and if we hadn't gone there on the second-to-last day where my legs had more or less had enough! So after about an hour we jumped on the water-bus again and went back to Warwick street where we took a train to Piccadilly Circus.

As has become tradition I wanted to buy a Swarovski figurine while in London. I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but Henni and I had visited practically every Swarovski boutique we'd walked past, and I'd fallen head-over-heels for a slightly bigger, and definitely more expensive! figurine than what I'd usually buy. I hadn't wanted to spring such an expense on Lars, so asked him for 'permission', and thankfully he saw nothing wrong with me splurging a bit, so after having arrived to Piccadilly Circus, Henni and I walked up Regent Street (making a detour into the National Geographic store, which has some AMAZING photo books, but otherwise wasn't really all that interesting. But those books? Wow!) and popped into the Swarovski store there to add to my collection:

Welcome mother and baby koala! :D

From Regent Street we walked to Oxford street to browse a bit, but discovered that both Borders and Waterstones had closed :( Instead we found the nearest "Pret a Manger" to relax for a bit with our books and a cuppa.

Once our legs decided they were on speaking terms with us again, we left the cafe and walked past Foyles (so I could pick up the Walter Moers book I was missing, as well as a present for Isabella) down past Cleopetra's Needle (which was unfortunately being renovated, but Henni did get a photo of the miniature Sfinx next to it) to Temple station where we'd arranged to meet Lars.

Henni and I had found a very nice English pub close by when we were in London last, and we wanted to have our final dinner there.

Unfortunately it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment :( I don't know if the pub just did lunches better than dinners, or if they'd just deteriorated in the two years since our last visit, but unfortunately it really was nothing special :-/ It wasn't bad just not as good as we'd hoped or lead Lars to expect. We weren't even tempted by any of their desserts!! ;) Ah well, we bought some chocolate on our way home, and ended the evening with a very cozy chocolate-tea-bezzerwizzer-fluxx session back at the hotel :)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

London - Part 4 of 6

Right, I've finally gotten hold of Henni's photos, so time for me to continue! :) Unfortunately I noticed she had some really great ones from the days already written - specifically Stable Inn, Greenwich Foot tunnel and the Monument - that'll teach me to start writing down the travel journal before I have all the information! ;)

But anyway! Onwards and upwards!

Part 4: Saturday - The One With Yummy Ice cream, Sweet Friends and a Disappointing Musical
Last time Lars, Henni and I were in London together, Henni and I had walked past Westminster Abbey, but hadn't actually gone inside because of the cost. Henni had regretted that ever since, so obviously it was on our "must do list" this time.

Fortunately we were there early, so the line wasn't too bad, and it got even better when they opened up a new line just a couple of minutes after we'd joined the original one, and invited me to the front! Of course it may just have been a coincidence, but then again, it may have been because of my crutch. Either way, I'm not complaining :)

I'm glad I finally got to see Westminster Abbey from the inside. I still think the outside is the nicest (best Abbey EVER! ;) ) and probably don't feel any real need to go see the inside again, but it did have it's cool points... seeing England's oldest door for instance - or discovering that people actually still live in the Abbey! My favourite was the Poet's Corner though - I liked seeing how many of the artists I actually recognized.

Once done with the Abbey we walked past Big Ben to the nearest tube station so we could take the train back to Leicester Square. Henni and I wanted a quick bite to eat before meeting up with friends at the Häagen-Dasz restaurant, as that would otherwise be our only lunch, and we thought Chinatown was as good a place as any for that.

Unfortunately it turned out to be not the best idea we'd ever had - the service wasn't as quick as we'd expected, so it ended up being rather rushed, and one of the things we had (trying something new, so yes, it was a risk) was pretty much inedible :( I don't even know what it was... it mostly resembled a deep-fried sea-food dumpling. Thankfully the other (which turned out to be fairly standard spring rolls only with shrimps) was fine, so we did get a bit of a snack. Both Henni and I want to try again for a proper lunch next time and hopefully end up with a better experience.

At 12:30 we'd arranged to meet up with Alisa and Natasha (two of Lars' and Henni's old class mates) on Leicester Square. Natasha had also brought along her boyfriend, Ben, and the 6 of us ended up having a wonderful time together. I'd met Alisa once before, but never Natasha, and none of us had met Ben, but we clicked right away, and really enjoyed ourselves.

Of course it didn't hurt that the ice cream was absolutely delicious too ;-) I'll always be grateful to Lissanne for introducing me to the place :)

We ended up sitting around talking for AGES. The waitress came past twice to ask if she could get us anything more. I did feel a bit bad about taking up the table for so long, but she made an effort to ensure us we weren't being thrown out, and there were plenty of empty tables, so I guess I shouldn't worry. Finally we figured we'd better move on, and went for a walk down to Trafalgar Square (which turned out to be handy, as you'll see when I get to write about Monday) as there was some sort of happening/demonstration/speech going on there. I never did find out exactly what was going on, but Natasha and Ben wanted to stay for awhile, and as it was time for Henni and I to head towards the theater anyway, it seemed like a good time to part. Alisa walked back to Piccadilly Circus with us - the four of us had had dinner together one evening when we were in London last, and I remembered really liking her, but time had dulled my memory, and I'd forgotten just HOW MUCH I like her. She has this exuberant personality that draws a person in completely and made me feel like I'd known her for ages, despite it only being the second time we met. She's absolutely delightful, and we've already made plans to meet up again when she (hopefully) comes to Denmark later this year.

It's long been a tradition that I go see a musical every time I'm in London. I think I've only missed once, and that was when Lars and I were there just the two of us, and I didn't much feel like going alone (I mentioned this to Natasha who immediately said that next time I should give her a call as she'd love to go with me. Excellent!) Anyway, fortunately Henni thinks that's a great tradition, so she's joined me the two times we've been in London together. This time we'd decided to see Thriller - Live. Neither of us knew much about it, but we both like Michael Jackson's music, so figured it couldn't be too bad.

... Okay, I have now learned my lesson. Next time I will research before buying the tickets!! No, it wasn't bad, it was just boring. I don't really know what I had expected, but my thoughts went along the lines of either something similar to We Will Rock You or perhaps the story of Michael Jackson's life or one of his tours. It turned out it was neither, but basically just a concert with a bunch of his songs. Not bad at all, and the singers were excellent, but not something I'd pay to see live, and definitely a disappointment when I'd expected a musical. Ah well - you live, you learn. I think that's actually the first time I've been disappointed by a musical I've seen live - considering how many I've seen, I've been really lucky!

Lars met us after the show, and we decided to have dinner at the nearest Garfunkle. Good choice too, as they had excellent burgers! And we were obviously in just the right place for people spotting - we'd gotten seats by the window, and I think 3 or 4 hen parties walked past while we were sitting there. I missed the planning, but suddenly Lars and Henni started waving and making weird faces at one of the parties - they'd gotten it into their heads to do something weird, and see what would happen! I think they were a bit disappointed when the women just laughed at them and moved on ;)

But a little weirdness has never hurt anybody, and we seem to revel in it... proven again by the fact that Henni decided to act tour guide on our way back to the hotel! She doesn't know her way around London as well as Lars and I do, so without thinking about it, we've taken to mostly lead the way around - which of course doesn't help her any. However, she'd bought a bright pink program at the theater (don't ask - I have no idea why it was PINK!) and figured that meant she was the tour guide, so lead us all the way back to the hotel, holding it up above her head so we could see to follow! Gotta love that girl :D

Saturday, April 17, 2010

London part 3 of 6

Friday - The One With TOO MUCH WALKING"
Friday morning after breakfast Lars wanted to try out the high speed trains going out of London, so Henni and I walked him to Euston station before taking off on our own. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, so I wanted to see London from the top of Monument.

I hadn't stopped to think how it would look to others that I was intending to climb Monument while carrying a crutch, and can't really blame the guy selling tickets for asking me if I'd be okay ;) I assured him that the crutch was more a symbol than anything else, and up we went! Those of you who've been to Denmark and visited the Round Tower - imagine the top stair case, only 10 times as long! I didn't count, but the guidebook said that there were 311 steps to the top, and I believe that number. My legs were shaking beneath me when I got to the top, but the view definitely made it worth it!

The funniest part was when we were getting ready to head down again. We had to wait for a family to pass. The father was huffing and puffing, looked at me, looked at my crutch, "You did that on a gummy foot?!" Hehe. Well, yeah! If I didn't I'd never get to see anything that required proper walking.

From Monument we walked along the Themes to Tower Bridge, passing Tower on the way. I haven't seen either in ages, but it does look impressive in a weather as gorgeous as this.

(I think it was around here that we actually took off our jackets and walked around in short sleeves! For the first time in at least 6 months! :D )

The Tower Bridge exhibition had a lot of information about how the bridge was designed and built, how it had changed through the years (not much, except for the paint job in honour of the Queen's something-anniversary), special events that took place on and around the bridge (i.e. a bus that didn't stop in time and therefore had to jump the gap as the bridge started opening!) and other major bridges around the world. It was actually surprisingly fascinating! We skipped the engine room though - neither of us had any real interest in that.

Once on the South side of the Themes we started walking West, as we'd read about a local market down between London Bridge and Borough station. If you ever go to London, I can highly recommend Borough Market! It was absolutely the highlight of the entire trip! It's a shame I haven't gotten Henni's photos yet, because I didn't think to take any myself. Very quaint and atmospheric, it seems very much like a local market and not one specifically aimed at tourists. Although that may have changed in recent years, as it was apparently used in the filming of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ;) It was slit up into three parts - they had names, but I don't remember them, so I'll just refer to them as the food market, the produce market and the spice market :)

Coming from London Bridge as we did, we hit the food market first, which was very convenient, as we were quite hungry by this time, and definitely ready for lunch. The food market had stalls offering dishes from all over the world, and smelled fantastic! I'm sad I only had room for one lunch! It also seemed like this was where business people from the neighbourhood came to get lunch, as we saw a number of people in suits - again leading me to think it's not first and foremost a tourist attraction.

The produce market mostly had butchers and stalls with fruits and vegetables, so we didn't spend too much time in that section, and made our way over to the spice market instead. Here they had stall after stall with different spices, different oils, different varieties of tea, olives etc. I don't know if I'm glad or sad I didn't actually live close by, because I could have gone absolutely crazy there! As it was I limited myself to a bottle of chili-garlic olive oil, but would have loved some of the different olives as well. Yum :) Henni and I both agreed that we definitely want to come back there sometime.

We took the train back to Central London and went to find a Swarovski store, as Henni needed a new battery for her watch. My legs were absolutely killing me by this time, so while she was getting that done, I went to the nearest Starbucks and found us a table where we could get a cuppa and sit and relax for an hour or so. While there Lars sent me a text message saying that he'd been contacted by the police (happens occasionally - in Denmark as well - they tend to want to know why he's taking photos of trains ;) ). As per usual all was fine once he explained that he was a trainspotter, and the female police officer almost felt sorry for him when she heard that his wife was shopping in London ;)

At 5:30pm Henni and I caught the train back to Kings Cross station as we were picking up Katie at 6pm. She lives up north of London, and had arranged to come down for the evening so we could have dinner together. I think it's been two years since we saw each other last, so we had a brilliant time catching up. We'd found a very cozy-looking Italian restaurant close to the station, so we wouldn't have to worry about getting her back in time, and fortunately the food turned out to be excellent, so we've added that to our mental list for another time.

After dinner we still had about an hour before Katie's train left, but apparently King's Cross is far away from the very center of London to be dead in the evenings, because though there was both a Starbucks and a Pret a Manger just across the street, they both closed at 9pm! Ah well, giving up atmosphere for some extra time to talk, we found a Starbuck inside St. Pancras Station and sat chatting away there until it was time for Katie to go. As always we had a lovely time together, so I'm really, really glad she had time to come down and see me! :)

Friday, April 16, 2010

London - Part 2 of 6

Part 2: Thursday - The One With Greenwich and SHOPPING"

After a very restless night (I never sleep well the first night in a new place) we got up at 8:30am to have breakfast at the hotel.

I don't think I can properly explain how absurd (I was going to write 'surreal', but I'm not quite sure if that's the right word) breakfast is at that hotel. They have complimentary continental breakfast. Most things are on the buffet as per usual. Not toast however. No, toast is only supplied if you want it. There's a small toast-lady (at least, that's how we've taken to refer to her) who'll walk around asking tables "Toast? White or brown?" (I've never heard her say anything else, so we're starting to think that's all the English she knows ;) ). She'll only ask one table at a time though, and you have to be quick, or she'll only take the order of 1 or 2 people at that table, and then disappear. We have a theory that they can only toast 4 pieces at a time, so she sees no reason to take orders for more ;) Also, you have to be careful how you order. The standard portion is 2 pieces, so one morning we ordered "1 white and 2 brown" - expecting to get 6 pieces in total. Nope, we got 3 pieces in total. Fair enough, our mistake in not being clear enough. The next day we asked for "2 white and 4 brown"... and ended up getting 12 pieces in total! After that we just took to each answering for ourselves and not trying to sum it up in any way ;)

Henni and I both commented that anywhere else we'd be completely frustrated by the level of service, but here it's so wacky/far out that we just laugh and take it as part of the experience :D

After breakfast all three of us walked to the British Museum. It's almost become a tradition for us to visit that together, and it's SO huge, so there are still lots more to see. This time we visited the Chinese/Japanese/Indian/South Pacific sections, part of which was really interesting, the rest - not so much. Lars was hugely amused to find both a snake god Nagiri and a goddess Pavarti in the Indian section though. We have a feeling a certain author may have gone there for inspiration ;)

From the museum we walked past a games store to see if any new expansions to Munchkin had been released (not the case, but we found another Carcasonne-like game that looked interesting) and then on to the nearest station to take the train out to Greenwich. I have to say, I was NOT impressed by people's reactions to my crutch in London. I'd remembered it today, as I knew we were in for a lot of walking, and had expected the same level of courtesy as I'd experienced in NYC, but that was not the case at ALL. In NYC I'd say people stood to give me their seat 90-95% of the time. In London it was 50% at most. I was especially annoyed on the DLR to Greenwich where the train manager pointedly looked at my crutch and then asked me to move as he needed my seat :-O I'm very glad I didn't actually need-need the seat, but I was definitely very unimpressed by his actions. And no, there were no signs that that seat was reserved for the train manager. Ch!

Ah well, we arrived safe and sound and walked through the Greenwich foot tunnel to the other side. Once there (after I'd rested for awhile - the 99 steps back up from the tunnel were a bit of a challenge ;) ) we found a wonderfully quaint British pub called The Spanish Galleon where we had the best lunch of the entire trip :) Definitely a place worth revisiting.

After lunch we walked over to the Maritime Museum to have a look around there. Unfortunately it wasn't all that interesting, so very much a waste of the little strength my feet had left at this point. Especially since it meant we got to miss out on the Royal Observatory. Ah well, I was the only one who really wanted to see that, and it's not like it's going to go anywhere before I make it to London next ;) Instead we walked back to the nearest DLR station to take the train back to the center of London. On our way there we stopped to get some ice cream... usually I probably wouldn't have thought that noteworthy, but it ended up being the basis of a running joke for the rest of the vacation. One of the flavours offered was Hokey Pokey which is a flavour of ice cream invented in New Zealand. I don't particularly like it myself, but was very amused to see it offered here. I became even more amused though when Henni ordered it, only pronouncing it "Hockey Pockey". I don't know why we thought it that funny, but both Lars and I cracked up laughing. Even more so when we realised she had no idea what it was, and only ordered it because of the name!

Funny! ... but probably one of those "you had to be there" moments. Henni later commented that it would be a great name for a house boat (of which there are several in Little Venice), setting us off again ;-)

Aaaaanyway, Lars, Henni and I went our separate ways with Lars going off trainspotting again, and Henni and I taking the train back to Oxford Circus to walk down Regent Street (and drool at the gorgeous Swarovski figurines) and browse in the HUGE Waterstones bookstore by Piccadilly Circus. However, I was very unamused to find that out of the four books I'd found and wanted to buy, they only had two of them - two of the three I'd found by Walter Moers. Figuring I could always go back to Foyles, I didn't mind too much, but walked around for a bit looking at their other offers. I don't know if I'm getting more picky or what's happened, but I didn't find nearly as many books of interest as I would usually have! Strange ;)

While I was browsing one of the cashiers suddenly noticed I was holding The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear and called out "Great book!" As I'd already read that one and completely agreed with him, we had a small chat about the book and Walter Moers' other books - including the one I hadn't been able to find there. I 'complained' that they didn't have it, and he went to look it up for me. Turned out it was sold out from most of their stores in London - at least the ones in central London. Upon hearing this I mentioned, "I hate to say this, but they have it at Foyles..." He looked at me, and then with a grin replied, "Go Foyles!" Not often you actually have cashiers tell you to seek out their competition ;)

It didn't end there though, when I later went to pay for the books, another cashier was cashing me out, and when he came to Captain Bluebear, he called out, "Hey, John! Check out what she's buying!" to get the other's attention! Obviously he's not making it a secret that he likes that book ;) Well, it IS excellent! He then had great sympathy for me buying such heavy books, "And you're on a stick too! I hope it's just temporary?" After the indifference of the train manager earlier, it was great with some sympathy, even if I didn't quite know how to answer that question. Ehh... it's permanently temporary? ;)

We'd spent enough time shopping that it was time to meet up with Lars by now. We'd arranged to meet at the HMV by Trocadero and "go nuts".... and we kinda did ;) I don't think we've ever before bought so many DVDs in London... on the other hand we've never before been there while they had a £3 sale! :D

Dinner was had at a very delicious Spanish/Mexican (not too sure which) restaurant by Leicester Square called "Chiquito". Lovely food, excellent service, and while a tad more expensive than TGIFridays, not insanely so, so this may be our standard first-evening-restaurant from now on :)

We were all completely exhausted when we came back to the hotel, so didn't spend much time on games, but just had a quick look-see at the things we'd bought that day. We did laugh when Lars showed us what he'd bought though. "London, Baby!" and "I choose the hat!" had been regular comments while planning the trip (Friends references to those not in the know), and Lars had found the hat! We later agreed that while Lars might have chosen the hat, the hat chose me, and Henni's head was just too small ;)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

London - Part 1 of 6

As always, Henni, Lars and I had a wonderful trip to London! And as always, I spent far too much money there ;)

Like my account of our trip to NYC I'm going to split this up into several posts, as I think it'd get too long otherwise. So without further ado - part one!

Part 1: Wednesday - The one with the Arrival, A Case of Mistaken Address and A Case of Mistaken Dessert!
Lars, Henni and I met up at the airport at around 10am. The flight wasn't until noon, but we're all in the camp of 'better safe than sorry'. Besides, it gave us time to grab a quick snack/lunch before boarding the plane. When we arrived to London Heathrow, we quickly found our way to the baggage arrival, and it didn't take long before it started running... only to stop suddenly with a very violent jolt. Cue confusion and a bit of worry, especially when we heard that the belt had broken and the baggage would be delayed until it had been fixed, but fortunately it took no more than 15 minutes, and after that ours were some of the first suitcases out.

As per tradition, we'd booked rooms at a small hotel right by Kings Cross station. Nice and central while not too central. We got to our hotel without problems and here got our first, and thankfully only serious, disappointment of the trip - the hotel was almost fully booked, so we couldn't get two rooms next to each other. Instead Henni was on the third floor and Lars and I on the first. Granted, not a big deal, but still somewhat annoying.

Anyway, we dropped off our luggage and headed out. Lars wanted to go to the souvenir shop at the Transport Museum by Covent Garden, and I'd been told about a Christian book store I wanted to visit that was - according to Lars - close by, so we took the train to Convent Garden together and would split up afterwards... only to discover that Lars was mistaken!!! The address for the Christian bookstore actually put it quite a bit of a walk away from Covent Garden and not right next to it as he'd thought. He'd been so sure that he hadn't checked a map, and he's so often right, that I hadn't considered double-checking either. Ooh, we teased him mercilessly about that! ;)

It wasn't too long a walk though, so Henni and I set out confidently, and found the reason for Lars' mistake when we about half way passed Stable Inn. Henni had mentioned wanting to see that, but as it seemed rather out of the way compared to everything else we wanted to do, we'd put it on the "maybe" list. We both agree that it must have been Lars subconscience that caused him to make that mistake, so we'd get to see it anyway ;)

After having browsed in the bookstore for awhile we did take the tube back to town though ;) No reason to ruin my legs on the very first day! I'd brought my crutch but had actually managed to forget it at the hotel - trust me, it was the only time I made THAT mistake! We took the tube to Tottenham Court Road as we wanted to look around Foyles for a bit. I got thoroughly confused walking out of the station though, as they're renovating so my usual points of reference were all gone! Lars laughed at me when I told him this, until he walked past it the following day and had the exact same reaction! Ha! :) We got our bearings, and made our way down to Foyles where I immediately found 4 books I wanted to buy. However, Foyles is known for being more expensive than Borders or Waterstones, so I just made a note of them and didn't buy anything at all :-D

From Foyles we walked further south through Soho to Leicester Square (and got very confused by a sign towards LS pointing in the opposite direction from what we knew to be right! Good thing we're so familiar with London by now :) ) and on towards HMV and Trocadero where we browsed a bit (still not buying anything other than gifts for others - go us ;) ) until it was time for us to meet up with Lars for dinner. It's pretty much become tradition that we eat at TGIFridays on the first evening, because we know where it is and that it's good food, but I'm thinking that may start to change... We've been in London often enough by now to find other and better places, and we weren't too impressed by the speed of their service. The food's still good though :) Especially their Dessert Minis... even if the waitress did get both of mine wrong! ;) I'd ordered mint chocolate and raspberry, she brought me chocolate and blueberry cheesecake. I sent the chocolate back right away (thinking it was an easy thing to mis-hear), but was about half way through the other before I discovered it was wrong! Ah well, it was still yummy, and I had been wavering between that and the raspberry, so we joked that the waitress had just made up my mind for me.

Because of the speed (or lack of same) of the service, it was rather late at this point, so we took the train back to the hotel, and hung out in our room for a bit playing games and drinking tea. Very cozy :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bøger læst i marts

Abrams, Douglas Carlton: The Lost Diary of Don Juan, 3/5

Golding, Julia: The Gorgon's Gaze, 4.5/5

Lin, Grace: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, 4/5
Lowry, Lois: Gossamer, 4/5
Lowry, Lois: Number the Stars. 4/5

Mac: Professional Shrink, 5/5
Montgomery, Lucy Maud: Anne of the Island, 5/5

Kate, Lauren: Fallen, 3.5/5

Smith, L.J.: The Awakening, 3/5

Thomas, Scarlett: The End of Mr. Y, 4.5/5
Turner, Megan Whalen: The Queen of Attolia, 3.5/5