Swirl Tumble Dry Sheets

When we visited London back in 2012, there was a laundromat and a mom-and-pop supermarket across the street from it very close to the hotel. JC bought laundry detergent and these dryer sheets (note how they’re called “tumble dry sheets”) at that market. I had no idea that we had brought them back even after I used them for laundry the other day. Thanks to JC for reminding me and bringing back our laundry memories from Adventure 2012. We really did do our own laundry a lot at many of the places we visited that year.

Swirl Tumble Dry Sheets

Swirl Tumble Dry Sheets

Swirl Tumble Dry Sheets

Swirl Tumble Dry Sheets

Swirl Tumble Dry Sheets

Swirl Tumble Dry Sheets

Goodbye London, Goodbye Europe

October 22-23, 2012 (Monday and Tuesday)

Our last full day in London was spent resting up and charging our sleep accounts in preparation for the long-haul flight back to the United States. Although I slept very well on the Caledonian Sleeper from Aberdeen to London, JC did not and quickly resumed her slumber once we checked back into our hotel. I stayed up for a little while, stopping by Sainsbury’s to buy some food and catching up on our finances, but eventually I succumbed as well. It was that kind of a day, actually our first foggy day in London:

London Fog

London fog

Eating ramen had become a sort of ritual for us during Adventure 2012, having enjoyed bowls in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Paris. Of course, we couldn’t leave London without trying the local ramen. That evening, we tried Tonkotsu Ramen in Soho:

Ramen at Tonkotsu, London

Ramen at Tonkotsu, London

The ramen was good, but the thing to write home about was the cod katsu (sorry, scarfed it down before even thinking about taking a photo), a flaky white fish in a light, crisp batter. I salivate just thinking about it. I also got a chance to enjoy a Yamazaki 12-yo single malt.

The evening was spent packing and enjoying one last Coke from the tap; I had had one that night in Aberdeen and it was one of the best Cokes I ever had, and this one was just as good. Must be something about UK draught Cokes.

A Pint of Coke

That Coke…

The next morning, we had a nice room-service lunch before taking the Underground one last time to Paddington, where we took the Heathrow Express to the airport. Everything went smoothly, and I even splurged on another magazine at the airport.

After 3 weeks in Europe and 2 months away, we were finally heading back to America. I’d never been to New York City before, but I was looking forward to being back in my home country, being around American culture again. It’s just nice to be able to say something freely without having to think too hard beforehand, knowing that people will understand you, and you them. At the same time, we were glad to have finally experienced Europe, to see and smell and feel for ourselves what we had previously only read in books or seen in movies. It was a priceless experience that we will treasure for the rest of our lives.

Next: New York City, Arrival and First Day

London, Day 13 – Packing, Buckingham Palace

October 18, 2012 (Thursday) – effectively, this was our last day touring around London, but even then we spent most of the day staying in and packing. After hearing news of my cousin’s death the night before, we stayed up very late and were awakened early due to both the phone and TV making noise; the former was a wrong number, and the latter was a message informing us that the water would be turned off. Go figure.

After spending the early afternoon packing at a leisurely pace (previously, we had taken advantage of and registered for free late checkout, so we had until 4 PM to pack and vacate the room), we left our suitcases with the concierge and headed out to take the 73 to Buckingham Palace.

The 73 travels through Oxford Street so we got a chance to do a bus tour of this busy shopping street. Although it was October, Christmas lights and decorations were already going up. Like the day in Paris when I photographed random people going about their day, I did the same thing of Londoners from my vantage point on the upper deck of the bus.

We got off the bus at Buckingham Palace Road and made our way towards the palace, passing by the Royal Mews. Not long after, we were there.

Being at the palace, I tried to imagine what life might be like for a member of the royal family. When I read about a 15th-century monarch, to me it’s just another bit of history. To the royals, that person is actually an ancestor, a great-great-great grandfather or something. So many centuries of heritage and tradition. I wonder what they think about when they look out the window and see regular people outside.

It was another cold day so we didn’t stay too long at Buckingham. Instead, we headed over to Chinatown for a warm, family-style dinner, something we hadn’t had in a while. After that, we headed back to the hotel and hung out in the lobby (thank goodness for free wifi) until it was time to take the train to Scotland.

Next: To Aberdeen, Scotland

London, Day 12 – Football, Michael Jackson, Bad News

October 17, 2012 – Wednesday

After walking around Crystal Palace Park the day before, we were quite tired on this day. I woke up around 10:00 and tried to stay up, but I quickly fell back asleep and didn’t wake up until 1:00. We had planned to visit the Natural History Museum, but decided to stay in instead since we had Cirque du Soleil lined up later in the evening.

We got the laundry started at the neighborhood laundromat, then went to the pub for a late lunch. As luck would have it, the rescheduled England vs. Poland World Cup qualifier was on, so I got to experience beer and football in a London pub. Ace!

It was almost time for the show so after the game we took the Bank branch of the Northern line and then transferred to the Jubilee line to get to the O2 Arena. I thought it was interesting that one line could have multiple branches and still be considered one line. Also, I noticed that the 1996 stock of the Jubilee line had a distinctive sound when stopping that was different from the other trains we had ridden up until that point. Ah, the joys of being an ADD transport buff.

The O2 Arena

The O2 Arena

The next few hours were spent at the O2 watching Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. I had wanted to watch a West End show in London and didn’t pay attention when I ordered the tickets, assuming that this Michael Jackson show must have been the only one in town (I had seen some advertisements for an MJ show). Turns out that the advertisements I saw were for the other Michael Jackson show that was a West End one. Argh.

The show was entertaining and it was nice hearing the songs, but the volume was really loud (reading reviews afterwards confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who thought so) and I actually had to cover my ears at one point. The thing I’ll remember the most about the show, though, is missing the finale because the two people in front of us decided to stand up and start dancing around. There were specific sections for people who wanted to stand, but ours was not one of them. When the people next to us asked them politely to sit down, they flat out refused. Boy was it awkward seeing the only standing people in our section try to, after getting told off, pretend like they were having a good time while continuing to passive-aggressively block the people behind them.

The guy next to us tapped them again and gave them an emphatic WTF expression, and this time they finally sat down, but the climax of the show had already passed. You just have to love people sometimes.

After we went home, I checked my email and learned that my cousin had passed away earlier in the afternoon. Although we knew he was in the final stages of cancer, it was still a shock. I stayed up until 4 AM that night, unable to sleep, drinking Scotch, thinking about all the good times I had with my cousin.

Next: London, Day 13 – Packing, Buckingham Palace

London, Day 11 – Crystal Palace Park

Iguanodon Sculpture, Crystal Palace Park

October 16, 2012 – Tuesday

On this day we visited Crystal Palace Park in South London. The day before, we had been in the London Transport Museum where I saw a poster of a dinosaur sculpture at the park and realized that I had a chance to personally see something out of a childhood picture book. It was a chance I couldn’t pass up.

We started off the day with lunch at Euston Station. I had a pasty for the first time, a traditional handheld pie filled with beef, potatoes, and onions and served piping hot. I really enjoy pies, and alternating bites of flaky crust and tender beef with sips of smooth, hot, coffee was an especially delicious and satisfyingly warming way to fuel up on this cold autumn day.

London Euston

London Euston

After lunch we went inside the station to use the facilities (this was the day that I bought the magazine) and scope out where we would be boarding the Caledonian Sleeper for Scotland in a couple of days’ time. Then, we took the Victoria line all the way to the end, to Brixton.

Brixton Station

Brixton Station

At Brixton, we stopped by a department store called Morleys before getting on the 3 bus for Crystal Palace Park. We rode through some residential and less (or non) touristy areas of London, a nice change of pace compared with some of the places we had recently been, with a lot more open space. Some sights of note include a big-box store (a Currys PC World, similar to Best Buy back in the States), Victorian homes, and what I jokingly called the Eiffel Tower of London, the Crystal Palace transmitting station.

Currys PC World on Effra Road

Currys PC World on Effra Road

Victorian Homes on Morval Road

Victorian Homes on Morval Road

Crystal Palace Transmitting Station

Crystal Palace Transmitting Station

Croxted Road at Guernsey Grove

Nice residential neighborhood

The bus ride gave me a pretty good feel for what it might be like to live in suburban London, that it might not be so different from suburban America, or suburbs anywhere else. Up until this point, it hadn’t really occurred to me that London was not just the London that we see on TV, the touristy sites, the big city. There is a quiet side to London, too. The Currys especially reminded me of this, reminded me of living in a place like Fremont, of driving to a big-box store like Fry’s, parking in the huge lot outside, and looking at aisles and aisles of electronics. As we rode further away from Brixton station, the surroundings became more residential, and even the people walking on the street seemed to be walking slower than the ones we saw at Brixton. We saw signs indicating that some schools were nearby. It was about that time to get off school, and I thought back to a time when I, too, lived and schooled in a quiet neighborhood and couldn’t wait to rush home to while the afternoon away. Looking at the photo above, I can almost see myself walking home with the warm sun shining on my face.

It was here that I started realizing that despite language, cultural, and geographical differences, at the most basic level people everywhere are the same. We go to school, we work, we eat, we play. Really, seriously, that simple.

Crystal Palace Park West Entrance

Crystal Palace Park, west entrance

We got off the bus and entered the park from the west end. From there, we made our way down to the Italian Terraces, where the remains of various statues have been standing since the Crystal Palace burned down in 1936. The statues were supposed to represent different countries of the British Empire. The sphinxes are copies of an actual sphinx that’s housed in the Louvre, and were probably just used for decorative purposes. The Crystal Palace must have been a sight to behold in its heyday.

Crystal Palace Sphinx

Crystal Palace sphinx…

Crystal Palace Sphinx Trash

…now a repository for trash

Crystal Palace Headless Statue

The head is gone

Crystal Palace Intact Statue

The last complete statue reminds of the Empire that once was

We continued on through the park, passing by some tennis courts and a sports center. There was a huge bust of the Crystal Palace’s creator. Since it was after school, a lot of parents were taking their kids to various activities. Again, it was the same as any other place where parents drop off their children for after-school activities.

Soon, we made it to the lakes at the southeastern end of the park. I was giddy with excitement and anticipation. It was probably around 25 years ago that I first saw a picture of the Iguanodon at Crystal Palace, and now I was about to see it for the first time. I know it’s been a recurring theme, but I suppose that’s what an adventure is all about, seeing things with your own eyes, experiencing them for yourself. The first sign that we were getting close was the herd of Anoplotherium, an early mammal:

Crystal Palace Park Anoplotherium Herd

Anoplotherium herd

Next, the behind of a reptilian creature. Was this Iguanodon?

Crystal Palace Park Iguanodon Behind

Iguanodon?

YES!

Crystal Palace Park Iguanodons

Iguanodons!

We finally made it. The poses of the Iguanodons were unmistakable, these were the ones that started it all over one hundred and fifty years ago. I was and continue to be in awe of these and other historical creations, perhaps because despite time travel being impossible and the creators having been long dead, I can still stand there and enjoy them just as so many have throughout the decades and the centuries. I can almost feel the presence of all those who came before me, and I feel some comfort knowing that there will be others after me.

We stayed at the Iguanodons for a long time, making sure that I was completely satisfied before moving on. We then continued to the rest of the dinosaurs and the rest of the park.

Park Cafe Mural

The cute mural at the Park Cafe

Crystal Palace Park Signpost

Which way?

Crystal Palace Park

Winding down the day…

Crystal Palace Park Bus Terminus

Bus 3 terminus

Dusk was approaching and it was getting colder, so we headed back to the west entrance and waited for the 3 at the bus terminal. Once we were on our way, I searched around on my phone to see where we might have dinner and found a well-reviewed Indian place that was on the bus line. We had just passed it so we quickly rang the bell and got off at the next stop. As you can see from the photos, it was well worth it:

Khan's of Brixton Accompaniments

Chutneys and Kachumber

Maachi Pakwan Kebab at Khan's of Brixton

Maachi Pakwan Kebab

Mango Lassi at Khan's of Brixton

Mango lassi

Khan's of Brixton Hot Plate

Lamb Kandhari Balti, Murgh Handi Laziz, Baingan Aloo, and steamed rice

We were so full and warm from the meal that we decided to walk back to Brixton instead of jumping back on the 3. Once we were at Brixton, we once again took the 59 all the way back to the hotel. I spent some time in the hotel gym before calling it a night.

59, Streatham Hill, Telford Avenue

Going home on the 59

This has probably been the longest post on London 2012, and that’s because looking back, it was my favorite day in London, even better than when we went to the British Museum. There was something very pleasant and comfortable about the afternoon bus ride, seeing people just living their normal lives, seeing the historic sites and then having a lovely meal, and having it all topped off with one final bus ride back to the hotel. It was a complete day.

Next: London, Day 12 – Football, Michael Jackson, Bad News

London, Day 10 – Transport Museum

Covent Garden Market, NE

Covent Garden Market near the London Transport Museum

October 15, 2012

We started off this Monday at a leisurely pace, eating breakfast in our room and researching NYC on the computer. I had a coupon for a free newspaper from Starbucks, so I went downstairs and got me a drip coffee (as opposed to white ;)). One thing I noticed about Starbucks in the UK is that half-and-half is not offered. Actually, I don’t think half-and-half even exists in the UK. It seems odd that Starbucks has already introduced the British to American-style black coffee but doesn’t try to introduce half-and-half. Well, perhaps they have and there’s simply no demand for it. Anyhow, we left for the London Transport Museum at around 2:00 in the afternoon.

The British Library

British Library while waiting for the elevator

Previously, we had been in the area of Covent Garden but did not actually go there. This time, there was no missing it since the museum is located inside.

Covent Garden Market

Covent Garden Market

Although we were only passing through, I enjoyed the atmosphere and openness of Covent Garden. Similar places would be San Francisco’s Ferry Building and Vancouver’s Granville Island. I don’t quite know how to put into words the exact feeling I get when I’m in these locations. Eagerness and excitement are a couple of words that come to mind.

Soon, we were at our destination:

London Transport Museum

London Transport Museum

I was eager to enter the museum, but we first visited the gift shop and cafe, because we were starting to get hungry and we figured that by the time we finished we might not get a chance to visit the gift shop. The gift shop was pretty awesome. They had books, posters, maps, and other transport-related paraphernalia. I probably would have been happy just looking at all the bus books.

Finally, we were ready to go inside. The cashier informed us that our tickets were good for a whole year (still have over a month to use them!). The first area was the “World city walk”, a long walkway with a map of a fictional railway system containing destinations from some of the world’s most famous railways. I was very excited that I was able to recognize stations from Tokyo and Paris, two places that we had just visited. Looking at the photos now, I see that I also recognize stations from New York’s railway systems. We covered them all in those few months.

London Transport Museum Entry

The World city walk

Model of London Underground's Construction

Model of London Underground’s construction

1970s Underground Ads

1970s Underground ads

London Telephone Girl Recruitment Ad

I wonder if this ad is still up…

Visit London Ad

Yes, I will go to the Crystal Palace

As a history and transport buff, I really enjoyed the museum. I’ve included photos of some of the highlights above. The first is a model of a work site from the construction of the Underground. These men were the first in the world to do it, and they did it without modern machinery or safety equipment, or safety regulations, for that matter. The true definition of men. It is true, that without financiers and engineers, a project like this would never succeed, but at the same time, labourers and menial workers also play an important role in getting the job done. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Sadly, society gives far too little credit to blue-collar workers. I’ve never understood why.

The second and third photos are ads from the 1970s displayed on the Underground trains of the period. I actually got to step inside one and get an idea of what it was like to ride the Underground during my parents’ time. There was a lot more wood and a lot less metal on the trains. As a baby of the late 70s, I’ve always wondered what life was like back then, and the style, design, and wording of the ads provides glimpses into the past. For example, the third photo is a recruitment ad for “telephone girls”, which I would guess were telephone operators. It’s interesting to think that at one point in human history, recruitment for telephone operators was actually required. Back then, letters were probably the primary (economical) method of trans-ocean communication between common people, and when a long-distance call was made, it had to be done through an operator. Now, we have instantaneous email, Skype, and Google Hangouts.

Another item of note regarding the ad is that it includes a number to call to listen to a personal message from Jimmy Savile, a British DJ and TV presenter who was, when we were in London, all over the news due to sexual abuse allegations. In the 1970s, Mr. Savile was probably seen in a different light, as the celebrity endorsement in the ad suggests. Just as it is with long-distance calls, time changes everything.

The last photo is from a display of posters that have been displayed in Underground stations. It is possible that due to the London Underground, we now have posters in subway stations all over the world. The significance of the Crystal Palace poster is that it shows a picture from childhood: a sculpture of what 19th-century people thought the dinosaur Iguanodon looked like. It immediately brought back memories of hours spent reading dinosaur books. I had seen pictures of the sculpture dozens of times, and it never occurred to me that the real thing was nearby. I snapped this photo as a reminder to research Crystal Palace as a possible place to visit.

It was also at the museum that I finally realized why some of the Underground trains we had been on had tapered ceilings. I had thought it odd that an average-height man of Chinese descent would hit his head if he stood near the doors. Clearly things would be worse for the taller, English people that the trains were designed to serve. When I viewed the exhibits on the origins of the Tube, I realized it was the tunnels themselves that limited the height of the trains. These were the first subway tunnels ever bored in the entire world, and I guess for either financial or technological reasons they were never re-bored, and each generation of trains has been designed to accommodate the tunnels.

We stayed at the museum until closing time. Before leaving, I went to the gift shop and bought the book that I had been eyeing earlier, a physically tiny pocket-sized one that wouldn’t be a burden to carry around, a great way to commemorate our visit to the museum.

Covent Garden Market Interior

Walking through Covent Garden Market

Street Performance, St. Paul's Church

The half-naked man

On the way out, we walked through Covent Garden Market and saw a half-naked man on the other side. It was pretty cold, so props to the man for being half-naked. We continued walking all the way back to Charing Cross Road so that I could exchange the NYC book that I had bought the day before (I accidentally bought the full version instead of the pocket version, which IMHO is better). Then, we took the bus back to the hotel for a short break before having a hotpot dinner at a neighborhood Chinese restaurant nearby.

Luxury Hotpot Buffet

What a way to end the day

The weather had definitely gotten colder and the hotpot dinner was a great way to warm up. We both really enjoyed that meal, and then had a nice chat with the restaurant owner. A very fulfilling way to end the day.

Next: London, Day 11 – Crystal Palace Park

London, Day 9 – Too Smart for the Lift

October 14, 2012 – Sunday

Having booked passage to New York City the day before, the first order of business on this day was to go to Foyles to buy a Lonely Planet guidebook. We had the Tokyo one when we were there and it was indispensable. Since I knew nothing about New York other than the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, I definitely needed it. A quick check of the Foyles website showed that it was in stock.

By this time we were veterans of Charing Cross Road so we made our way over there quickly and easily. Because we had a late start and hadn’t eaten yet, we didn’t stay to look at the famous bookstore. We bought the book and then went to look for a place to eat.

Previously, we had walked by a place just down the street that looked like a casino to me. I think I saw a gaming machine out in the front, but maybe I was mistaken because it was actually a pub, and because today was a Sunday, there was a sign out front advertising some tasty-looking meals. We decided to give this casino-looking pub a try.

Sunday Club Sauces

Sauce festival

The roasted items on the left side of the menu above sound pretty good, don’t they? The actual product varied just a little bit. I’ll just say that I enjoyed being at the pub and being with JC.

After lunch, I wanted to go check out M&S for their food deals. I had seen an ad in the paper where you could get a complete dinner for two with wine for £10 and was curious. The deal must have been too good, however, because once we got there most of the selections were sold out, and the ones that were available required heating in the oven. I was hoping that they would have some preheated options, but I suppose it was a moot point at that juncture. Still, if I ever live in London (or maybe stay at a place with an oven), I’d love to try out one of these deals.

As it was with Waterloo station, the trip wasn’t a total loss. The M&S was on Long Acre (near Covent Garden), along with a bunch of clothing stores like H&M, Gap, etc. Having frozen our butts off the night before, we went in search of some warmer clothing and found some touchscreen compatible gloves and a wool sweater at Muji. Nice. Now, we could be warm while using our smartphones at the same time!

We were a bit tired now so it was time to head back. Covent Garden Tube station was just across the street, so we went over there to take the Tube home. When we went inside, there were long lines waiting to get into the lifts (elevators). I scratched my head a little bit and scoffed at all the lazy people not wanting to take the stairs. “We’ll be smart and take the stairs and be faster than everyone else”, I thought. We headed down the spiral staircase and saw some people coming up in the other direction. They all had peculiar expressions on their face. As we walked, continuing to expect to see the platform soon but still not, I realized why the people looked the way they did. They had been walking up the stairs that we started walking down many minutes ago.

As we got closer to the bottom, I tried not to say anything to the people who had just started the climb. I mean, what can you do? Tell them to go back down? I had no idea how much more to go there was. It was like a no-man’s land, damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Finally, when we got to the bottom, we saw signs warning people not to take the stairs. Dang. Were there signs at the top warning people not to go down the stairs? I didn’t see any, but even if I did, I probably would have been too smart to heed them anyway. Sigh, the burdens of possessing a superior intellect.

Sunset in London

Sunset from our room

We took a quick rest at the hotel before taking the 205 to the City. From there, we walked over to the Tower of London and crossed Tower Bridge. We bought some hot candied peanuts from a street vendor. We walked along the southern bank of the Thames (and saw a guy below digging for artifacts) before crossing back to the other side via London Bridge. I was really glad that I had bought the sweater and gloves earlier in the day.

Tower of London and Tower Bridge

Tower of London and Tower Bridge

Now, we were smack in the middle of the City. We kept walking and reached the Monument to the Great Fire of London. It just boggles my mind that there are so many old things in London, that so many events have occurred and have been recorded there. For me, everything stops once I trace back to my grandparents. I have no proud heritage that goes back hundreds or thousands of years. Maybe that’s why I want to write all this shit down, so that there will be a record for my descendants (if I ever decide to have any).

From Monument, we entered the Tube station and walked over to Bank so we could take the Central line. You gotta love the British for their one-word place names. Monument. Bank. Embankment. Central. Admiralty. My favorite one is Bank. Imagine someone asking, “Where are you?”, and another responding (grunting) “Bank”. There’s a caveman-simple efficiency to it.

Once we got on the Tube I continued looking at my guidebook, and something didn’t seem right. We were trying to get to the Pho Mile, but were heading in the opposite direction. There was no wireless data in the Tube and I couldn’t go online to check. We got off at Chancery Lane and checked Google Maps and found out that we could have taken the 242 from Bank. Fortunately, there was a 242 stop right where we were, and soon we were on the bus on our way to Shoreditch.

We got off at Kingsland Road, home of the Pho Mile, and had a so-so meal at one of the Vietnamese restaurants there. Although the place was recommended by the guidebook, it wasn’t a type of place that JC and I enjoy; we like down-to-earth, genuine, authentic food. This place was more of a hipster, pretentious, go-there-to-look-cool-food-is-secondary type place. After so many times of being disappointed with Vietnamese restaurants outside of the Bay Area, you’d think we’d learned our lesson.

After we finished our meal, we walked the rest of the Pho Mile and saw some restaurants that did look authentic, and lamented why we didn’t do the rounds before going to the place in the book. Well, it was almost 10:00 PM and we were pretty hungry, plus we wouldn’t have known unless we had tried it, anyway. So, it wasn’t too bad. We walked back the way we came, then decided to keep on walking instead of taking the bus. We walked through an area behind Old Street (possibly Hoxton) that had some bars and pubs, and then through a residential area, eventually making it all the way down to the Old Street Roundabout (via Brunswick Place and East Road). There, we took the 205 back the way we came, ending the night with a nice, quiet whisky in our room.

Next: London, Day 10 – Transport Museum

London, Day 8 – Rest and Relaxation

October 13, 2012 – Saturday

I woke up early this morning and took a walk around the hotel’s neighborhood. I went down Euston, around the British Library, along Camden High Street, and eventually made it all the way to Camden Town tube station before turning around. On the way back, I looped around Euston railway station and wondered if it might be a better option than King’s Cross for taking the Tube. Later on we gave it a try, and for the rest of our time in London, we used Euston as our go-to Tube station. It seemed to be less crowded and a better walk to and from the hotel.

Statue of Richard Cobden

Statue of Richard Cobden

At the beginning of Camden High Street I saw a statue of a man named Richard Cobden. Although I had no idea who Mr. Cobden was, I was still awestruck by the age of the statue, 144 years old at the time I saw it. The street itself was a pleasant walk and reminded me of Mission Street in my own neighborhood in SF, with all sorts of shops and eateries bunched up together. There was a vibe in the air, sort of like how it is when you’re at a show and everyone’s waiting for it to start. I think I got a feel of what it might be like to be a Londoner starting off my Saturday morning.

Back at the hotel, JC was now up so we enjoyed a breakfast of supermarket food purchased the night before. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a microwave in our room and I ate the Scotch egg cold. I liked it, but it probably would have been even better if it was warm.

The rest of the afternoon was spent resting and relaxing. After being on our feet so much the past few days, we needed it. I used the time to research and reserve a rental car for Scotland, as well as airfare to New York City, our destination after the UK.

In the evening, we had a relatively fancy dinner with steak, wine, and dessert at the hotel restaurant before making our way to Westminster again so that we could see nighttime versions of the famous sites. It was freezing cold but we couldn’t pass up on taking a few photos:

The Cenotaph

The Cenotaph, looks just like the one in HK

The London Eye

The Eye, viewed from Whitehall

The London Eye

The Eye, viewed from Westminster Bridge

Big Ben at Night

Big Ben at night

We crossed Westminster Bridge and headed for Waterloo station to check out this Bourne Ultimatum filming location for ourselves. Maybe it was at night and not as crowded, but I couldn’t recognize anything. We did use the 30p toilet and I bought a computer magazine from WHSmith, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Across the street from Waterloo station was another Sainsbury’s (our new favorite supermarket?). After having paid so much for alcohol from the hotel bar, I figured I’d save some money and buy an entire bottle instead. They had Laphroaig 10 for 33 pounds, so that’s what I got. One curiosity I noticed is that the “regular” size of Scotch in the UK is 70cl, or 700ml. In the US, the regular size is 750ml. I guess what they say about everything being bigger in America applies to Scotch, too.

We took the 59 back to the hotel and I spent the rest of the evening reading my new magazine and sipping my new Scotch, a nice way to end a regular day in London.

Next: London, Day 9 – Too Smart for the Lift

London, Day 7 – British Museum

British Museum Front Entrance

October 12, 2012 – Friday

This was a special day for me. After 15 years, I finally visited the British Museum.

I first wanted to go after I read Peter Hopkirk’s Foreign Devils on the Silk Road for Asian Studies class in college. I was fascinated by the stories of ancient towns along the Silk Road and the race to uncover and excavate them, and over the years the book has become one of my favorites of all time. There were many references to the British Museum in the book, and I knew that someday I had to go there to see for myself the artifacts that were uncovered during those expeditions.

As I wrote earlier, we ended Day 6 researching and reserving for Scotland. We started off Day 7 going to King’s Cross railway station to pick up the tickets. It was a beautiful day, and knowing that we were going to the museum, there was no way I was leaving my camera this time.

In the same immediate vicinity, there are three distinct railway stations: St. Pancras International, King’s Cross railway station, and King’s Cross St. Pancras tube station. It can get confusing, but of course clear and useful signs instruct you on which way to go. To get to King’s Cross, we walked past the magnificent St. Pancras International (the leftmost photo is of the hotel which sits atop the station where we took the Eurostar). A tunnel connects the two stations, but it was too nice of a day for that.

St. Pancras International

A beautiful day at St. Pancras

St. Pancras International

Old and new

London King's Cross

The crowded train station

London Underground 1973 Stock

London Underground 1973 Stock

Once we got to the station and were in line for the ticket dispenser, I saw a woman drop her wallet as she walked away from the machine. Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to point out to someone that they had dropped something, but in this instance I noticed that someone else had also seen it happen, and for a second I hesitated while I waited for the other person to say something. The woman walked out into the crowd and someone else picked up the wallet and went after her. I couldn’t see if he caught up with her or not, I hope he did. I told myself that I was a tourist in a foreign country and that it was probably for the best that I minded my own business, but in a similar situation in the future I think I would probably feel better if I acted.

Anyhow, we now had our tickets to Scotland. We made our way to the Tube station to once again take the Piccadilly line to Chinatown. With my camera ready and able this time, I snapped a photo of the 1973 Metro Cammell stock running on this line. Nice!

Since Piccadilly Circus was just one station away from Leicester Square and Chinatown, we decided to take the Tube one additional stop so that we could see the famous landmark.

Piccadilly Circus Signs

Looks just like Gran Turismo 5!

We made our way up Shaftesbury Avenue and saw a huge 18-wheeler try to squeeze itself out of a tiny alley. I’m not sure whether the truck was supposed to be in that alley (Denman Street). It actually brushed up against the traffic pole!

Squeezing Truck

A tight squeeze

The rest of the walk was uneventful, and soon we were back in Chinatown. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but perhaps travel fatigue really did get to us and we needed comfort food, because that was the third day in a row that we had Chinese food for lunch.

Fully Licensed Vietnamese Restaurant

“Fully licensed”

London Chinatown Gate

Smile for the camera!

London Chinatown Hot Buffet

Eat as much as you like

We noticed that in London, the equivalent of the American “all you can eat” is “eat as much as you like”. I got a kick out of that. Similarly, we noticed a lot of “off-licence” signs outside of liquor stores. When I first saw these signs, I imagined that the liquor store must have violated some alcohol-related law and so had their license revoked. Looking it up reveals that it’s actually the complete opposite: if a store has this license, it means they’re allowed to sell alcohol to people to consume off the premises. For the Vietnamese Restaurant above, “fully licensed” means they’re allowed to serve all kinds of alcohol as opposed to just wine and beer. Fascinating.

With our bellies full, we resumed walking on Shaftesbury Avenue towards the British Museum. We passed by the Palace Theatre, and also saw a prototype Routemaster:

Palace Theatre

What a glorious feeling

Prototype Routemaster

Prototype Routemaster

Finally, we made it to Great Russell Street, and there it was: the British Museum. I want to get all melodramatic and say it’s like a dream come true to be able to travel halfway across the world to visit a place that I’ve only read about in a book, yet in another respect, after having done it, it doesn’t seem so difficult, either monetarily or temporally. Anyone can go if they really wanted to. Maybe sometimes we limit ourselves more than we realize.

British Museum Main Entrance

We made it

Once inside, I headed straight for the China, South Asia, and Southeast Asia gallery. I decided to take it slow and start from the end of the hall and make my way back towards the center. There were so many things to see that after a couple of hours, I had barely progressed past Imperial China. One of my favorites was a poem written by Su Shi displayed with the “Wine from porcelain cups” exhibit, pictured below:

Wine from porcelain cups

Looks like my forefathers had it all figured out

Many a time I have asked myself the same questions. Many a post on this site have been written while under the intoxicating potion. It is comforting and reassuring to know that some of the things I contemplate about life have been contemplated for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before I ever existed. How many more in the future will do the same?

At this time JC had made her way to where I was and we decided to take a coffee break at one of the cafes in the Great Court. We enjoyed some much-needed beverages and snacks before heading our separate ways again, with me of course heading back to Room 33.

The Great Hall

View from our seat in the Great Hall

I picked up where I left off and soon after, found what I had come for. Exhibits from the Silk Road, brought back to England by Sir Aurel Stein, one of the main characters in the book. I was giddy. I wanted to grab the person nearest to me and tell them how excited I was, tell them how long I had wanted to be where I was now. So many events had to take place in order for me to be in that moment. It was unbelievable (you’ll forgive me if I’m a bit melodramatic now).

First Reference to Sir Aurel Stein

The first reference to Aurel Stein that I saw

After I viewed all of the Silk Road exhibits, I sat down on a bench beside them and opened up Foreign Devils on the Silk Road on my smartphone and re-read chapter 5, “Aurel Stein – Treasure-Seeker Extraordinary” (yes, I know, would have been even better if I had my original book with me). To read this chapter with the stuff described in it right next to me was so freakin’ cool! It is an experience that I will remember for a long, long time.

We chose Friday to go to the British Museum because Friday is the only day that it is open late, so I still had time to see the other exhibits on my wishlist: the history of money, Lindow man, the Rosetta Stone, and the Mummy of Katebet. Seeing Lindow man, I tried to imagine (with difficulty) what it must have been like to be killed in such a manner. What could compel one human being to cause such physical harm to another? What thoughts run through one’s mind as one is being killed? Our minds are capable of such darkness.

You might notice that I don’t really have any photos of the exhibits – I didn’t take any because I didn’t want to take away from actually experiencing and viewing the exhibits with my own eyes. I have found that sometimes I can get carried away with taking pictures, so concerned with cataloging everything that I end up seeing everything through a viewfinder and forgetting to just enjoy the moment. Well, I didn’t allow that to happen here.

We stayed at the British Museum until closing. Afterwards, we walked back to Tottenham Court Road to take the bus home, but not before stopping by Sainsbury’s to buy some dinner. You know what they say, never go to a grocery store when you’re hungry. Well, we did and we bought a whole bunch of stuff, but fortunately since it was the supermarket it was relatively inexpensive, all under 30 pounds. I bought something called a Scotch egg. As we walked to the bus stop, we walked past a new sushi restaurant that was doing a 2-for-1 promotion. We figured we could take advantage of this offer and eat the food that we had just bought later. We ended up getting two really delicious sushi boxes and free miso soup for under 10 pounds. Wow!

British Museum at Closing

Night at the museum?!

Our Wonderful Dinner

Our wonderful (and cheap) dinner

We ended the night eating our delicious dinner while watching a couple of our favorite TV shows on my laptop connected to the hotel TV. If there is such a thing as a perfect day, then this day was close to being it.

Next: London, Day 8 – Rest and Relaxation

London, Day 6 – Aquarium

October 11, 2012 – Thursday

We were definitely settling into London – on this day, we woke up around noon after a night of Macallans and martinis. After seeing the aquariums in Tokyo and Paris, I wanted to check out the aquarium in London, so I went online and booked some tickets. Then, we tried to decide where to eat. That night when we went walking after Pizza Express, we walked past a Chinese restaurant called Chop Chop Noodle Bar that looked interesting. After checking online to make sure it wasn’t completely shitty, we decided to go and give it a try.

Chop Chop Noodle Bar - Curry Chicken w/ Fried Rice

British-style Chinese: Curry Chicken w/ Fried Rice

I’m used to Americanized Chinese food, but this was anglicized Chinese food, and it was pretty good, IMO (JC would beg to differ). It’s great eating greasy Chinese food after a night of drinking. After the meal, we made our way back to Euston Road and waited to take the 59 again to get to County Hall and the aquarium.

Turns out that this was a pretty good aquarium in its own right. My favorite exhibit had to be the Ray Lagoon, an open pool where various rays (and some complementary fish) swam up to you in search of food. I stayed at this exhibit for quite some time, watching the fish and majestic rays swim about.

There were also a few freshwater displays, but I was disappointed that some of them used artificial plants. The main message was one of environmental conservation, so maybe the use of such plants was appropriate.

Conveniently, right across the exit to the aquarium was a McDonald’s. After being on our feet for a few hours, we stopped here for a quick rest and a bite to eat. There was some banter going on between the cashier and her coworker, and then she turned to me and asked me in a really strong British accent if I agreed; I had no idea what she was saying, so I just smiled and nodded.

We walked across Westminster Bridge and took obligatory photos of the London Eye, Big Ben, and the Palace of Westminster. When we got to Westminster Abbey it started pouring, but we were prepared with an umbrella and continued all the way to Victoria station before taking the Tube back to Euston.

After a long day of doing touristy stuff, we winded down with a nice, quiet dinner at a sushi restaurant in a residential area near our hotel. That night, I researched and booked everything for our next stop, Scotland.

Next: London, Day 7 – British Museum