Thames to Seine

June 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Wednesday was brilliant.  We took a royalty-themed walking tour of a small region of London which included Buckingham Palace (and a glimpse of the changing of the guard), Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, and the surrounds.

The changing of the guards. Photo courtesy of L. B.

Although I had seen all of these landmarks before, it was fun to follow our tour guide (a little man named Abbie!) and hear another retelling of all the history of those places. I can’t get enough of English history, really.

The Clock Tower at the Houses of Parliament. Photo courtesy of L. B.

As we were nearing the end of our tour, walking from the Horse Guard Parade to Westminster Abbey, a police escort came roaring by with Prince Charles and Camilla.

The London Eye and the Thames. Photo courtesy of L. B.

After the tour, we continued walking along the south bank of the Thames, one of my favorite spots from last year.  We saw all of my favorite landmarks, including the food truck that sells shots. Per an earlier agreement, L. bought me a drink from said truck, and we sat overlooking the Thames while sipping cheap alcohol. Perhaps one of L.’s favorite things about London is the freedom with which people drink. Outdoors, on the sidewalk outside of pubs, walking along the Thames, and openly swigging from a flasks in public places.

The Globe Theatre from Millennium Bridge.

We ended our tour of the south bank at the Globe Theatre, crossing the Thames on Millenium Bridge and approaching St. Paul’s Cathedral. From there we wandered down Fleet Street and the Strand and eventually made our way back to Westminster.

The Globe Theatre neighborhood is Bankside… can you tell?

From there we headed back to our hotel and stumbled exhaustedly around the corner to a little Indian restaurant. Once we had fortified ourselves with food, we met L.’s friends again for dessert and a drink near Leicester Square. Although the dessert was delicious, the drink appropriately English, and the company pleasant, I was less than comfortable with the setting. As we stood on the sidewalk sipping our pints, I couldn’t help being distracted by the decor on the neighboring buildings: larger-than-life-sized posters of naked women fondling each other. “Ah, yes,” I thought, “how well appreciated and respected I feel.” After the pints, we slogged back to the hotel.

Me and L. and St. Paul’s Cathedral, in an M. C. Escher kind of way.

The following day was great. We went to see Henry V at the Globe Theatre. We had purchased groundling tickets (those were you stand in front of the stage), which I thought would be a great way to authentically view a Shakespeare play. It was, although I seem always to neglect to plan around my intense discomfort with close crowds.  As we stood near the stage before the performance started, I began to feel deeply anxious, although L. found us an excellent spot standing near the stairs to the stage; thus I had an open area to my right which relieved a great deal of my stress. Additionally, it never got that crowded anyway, so all was fine.

The show itself was great. Henry (Jamie Parker) was a dead ringer for Heath Ledger (voice twins), and the production was authentically bawdy, well executed, and fun. I was totally unfamiliar with the play prior to seeing it (aside from the “band of brothers” soliloquy), but it was great. I might just be interested in studying the history plays after all.

Inside the Globe (which is not “inside” at all).

After the play we were both relatively worn out, so we went back to the hotel, gathered our things, and wandered to a nearby cafe with wifi to get a bit of planning done, at which time we discovered that if you wait until the last minute to buy train tickets in Europe, you get royally screwed. So, we bought bus tickets instead. This has been our greatest mistake so far.

After ticket buying, we went back to Leicester Square for dinner, finding a little Japanese restaurant that turned out to be completely un-noteworthy and forgettable. We returned to King’s Cross and had a pint of Strongbow before traipsing off to our hotel for one last night.

Yesterday was perhaps our least awesome day so far. We boarded the bus with great success; it was a double decker-like bus but with seats only on the top level, and we scored the front row seats with nothing but windows in front and beside us. I might have appreciated the view more had I not napped all the way to the English channel, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that I have seen a great deal of the English countryside in the past.

When we arrived at the Channel Tunnel border patrol area, we were placed in a queue and told we had a 45 minute wait.  We wandered into the tourist center for a bit, and headed back to the bus only to find that it wasn’t going anywhere. I feel no need to outline our frustrations in detail, but let me summarize by saying that the upper level of the bus was outrageously hot and the repeated stops and starts and false alarms grew painful quickly. After about three hours, we finally moved on and got into the Chunnel.

It was pretty bizarre. The bus was driven onto a large train, where it was sealed into a single-bus compartment. After a few minutes of loading up the rest of the train, we took off and zipped under the Channel, emerging in France not too much later.  From there the trip was uneventful, the views rainy, and this author sleepy. I napped for most of the rest of the journey, eventually waking up enough for the last hour to do some productive job hunting.

After another trying bout of frustration (this time including the need for a bathroom being foiled by a pay toilet that only accepted Euros, of which we had none), we eventually made it to our very nice hotel. And here I woke up this morning, nestled in a pile of pillows under a fluffy comforter with a hot cup of coffee next to the bed courtesy of one sweet man you may know as L.

And now, as soon as I stop blogging (!) we’ll be off to the Louvre.

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