I’m Going Underground (London, Day 6)

“Some people might say my life is in a rut, but I’m quite happy with what I got”– “Going Underground,” The Jam

After a day on the bus, it was time to embrace the efficiency of the tube once again. It was our last day, and we wanted to savor every possible minute.

We checked in for our flight using Kristen’s iPod touch, grabbing a couple seats by the windows, one in front of the other, in the hopes that we’d have empty seats next to us.

Then we went for our usual breakfast at Caffe Nero. We meant to get a full English breakfast at some point during the trip, but it never felt right to us first thing in the morning– we wanted to start with something light, then move on to heavier fare later in the day, when most establishments had stopped serving breakfast. The woman behind the counter at Caffe Nero recognized us and asked if we wanted our “usual.” It was nice to have a home away from home for a week.

We took the tube to Earl’s Court and transferred to Kensington High Street, just one stop away.

We looked around the outside of Kensington Palace but decided against the full tour.

Kensington Palace

We got on the tube again at Queensway, which is now my least favorite tube station. To get to the platform, you had to descend a seemingly neverending spiral staircase which wreaked havoc with my depth perception and with Kristen’s back.

After taking the train to Green Park, we walked through the park to Buckingham Palace and the monument to Victoria. We had a leisurely sit/stroll around the monument and took lots of pictures.

Victoria Statue near Buckingham Palace 4

Me and Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace Gates 3

We were starting to get hungry, so we walked in the direction of Fortnum & Mason. Either we didn’t find the main food hall, or their food hall was no comparison to Harrod’s. We didn’t find any food we could afford or a convenient place to sit and eat, so we consulted Kristen’s map and found ourselves in the Three Crowns.

We discovered quickly from looking at the menus that it was another Spirit Group establishment, but we were both famished so we didn’t care. We were initially going to try to visit as many independent pubs as possible, but they’re extremely hard to find, and we found some excellent service and conversations and experiences along the way.

Kristen ordered the pork sausage sandwich, fries, and a Guinness. I figured it was my last chance to try fish and chips, so I ordered that along with a Spitfire ale.

Our table was next to two pensioners (although they preferred to be called “retired gentlemen”) named Brian and Eddie. Eddie was the more talkative of the two. He was originally from Cyprus. He lived in New York for eight years and worked selling vacuums door to door, then insurance for New York Life.

We told them that we’d be heading back to Heathrow tomorrow and Eddie told us that his son might be driving our train on the Piccadilly line.

Brian didn’t say too much, although we started talking about pets (he lives with his wife and two cats), and he recalled a documentary he’d seen about sled dogs. The owner was attacked by a bear, and the lead sled dog he’d raised from a pup kept the bear at bay for hours until his person was rescued. The owner was recounting the tale years later, after the dog had passed away after sixteen years of companionship. We all got a little misty-eyed.

The two kind gentlemen bought us each a pint and a half of Greene King IPA, which was outstanding.

While Eddie was buying the beers, Brian explained that Eddie had lost his wife a year ago, and they had planted a tree in her memory in Yorkshire, where they had often gone on holiday.

As the beer flowed, Eddie was trying to persuade Kristen to stay in the country longer, and was even holding her hand to see if it would fit his. It was both funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I honestly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Yet, sitting with the two men and talking in the pub is one of my fondest memories of the trip. We talked about other things like politics (only briefly), and the mortgage crisis (which Kristen explained efficiently and with a different angle than I’d heard before), and chain pubs (even though this was a chain, it was still their local, and it was more about the staff and feeling like home than the ownership).

We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the charming gentlemen and walked back to Fortnum & Mason, where Kristen purchased one of the items she’d been coveting from one of the window displays. It was a salt holder, but the proper name for it was a salt pig.

Fortnum & Mason window display

There was a small market just off the street (Piccadilly Market at St. James). Although they only had about twenty vendors, the selection of items was amazing. One man was selling framed photographs of London landmarks. Another was selling paintings of various sizes. There was a display of vegetable ivory jewelry, which was gorgeous but a bit out of my price range. And then there was the Venetian glass. They had necklaces and rings and earrings of various colors and sizes, and they were all beautiful. I bought two necklaces and a pair of earrings to match both. They were the perfect souvenir– something unique that I’ll be able to keep and wear for a long time.

As we were walking on Piccadilly, we noticed a lot of protesters gathered along the street. They weren’t obstructing pedestrian traffic or otherwise, and I didn’t feel in danger, but they definitely made their presence felt. They were chanting “Sri Lanka, end the violence.” I found out later that the Sri Lankan cricket team’s bus had been fired upon during a visit to Pakistan, so I’m pretty sure it was in response to that. At the very least, it made me want to find out what was going on.

We split off briefly to do some sightseeing on our own. I braved the tube crowds at rush hour just to get a desktop background for my husband.

Baker Street

I then went to Oxford Street because it was the closest shopping area, and bought some magnets and tea tins– inexpensive, but things that I could look at every day that would remind me of the trip.

We had planned to meet at the Charlie Chaplin statue in Leicester Square, but when I got there, the entire square had been blocked off. I stood near the statue, watching the people passing by, and suddenly Kristen appeared.

We were starving (again) so we walked down a nearby street that had plenty of restaurants, and we dined at Hamburger +, because they offered a ready selection of meat. I had a burger with barbecue sauce and striped bacon, along with a coffee milkshake. The milkshake wasn’t thick, but it was tasty, as was the burger.

We had plans to meet my friend Simon at the Empire Casino at 8, and he was there waiting with his friend Nathan.

Empire Cinema and Casino

Simon gave us a tour of the casino, pointing out that there were only 20 slot machines allowed by law. I immediately understood why Vegas was so popular despite the long flight.

The casino was nice and modern, with new carpet and chandeliers and neutral decor (lots of beige and chocolate brown). We walked through the slot area and down some lighted stairs near the table games. The four of us sat by the bar and had Pimm’s and chatted and had a great time. I wished we had more time to spend, with them and with the city itself.

The casino reminded us all of Bally’s except with a more modern twist, mostly due to the chandeliers and lack of theme. Simon pointed out the chipless roulette (single zero) and the 3:2 blackjack, so at least the table games had good odds.

As we walked back through the casino, we noticed laminated signs on the slot machines, reserving them for 5 minutes while players were away. So no matter if you lurked, someone could be on a machine for hours.

We took the tube back to Hammersmith and finished packing. As I drifted off to sleep, I had the following thoughts:

  • The trip went much too fast.
  • 5:00 a.m. was going to come far too soon.
  • I had a lot of fun hanging out with the locals today.
  • Are English girls as obsessed with Hannah Montana as American girls? Because she’s everywhere on both sides of the ocean. Is she planning a takeover of the world?
  • Jeremy Kyle is the British equivalent of Maury Povitch. Every show, every day? Paternity tests.

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One Response to “I’m Going Underground (London, Day 6)”

  1. dslifton Says:

    The title makes up for the Spice Girls reference. And the Baker Street thing is just beautiful.

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