Friday, May 14, 2010

Covent Garden & 39 Steps

Becky and I decided to meet for lunch at Covent Garden. I have rushed through it a few times but I thought it would be fun to spend some time there. We walked around until we found a little pub that looked perfect called "The Globe". They had lunch specials that sounded tasty so we went in. It was probably my favorite of all the pubs so far - it was smaller than most but had a quaint and cozy atmosphere. It seemed like the hangout for older British men which I think is a sign of a good pub. The food was delicious - I had Steak & Ale Pie and Becky had the lasagna. We explored the Julilee market and I picked up a pub sign to take home. When we had thoroughly scoured the market, we headed over to the Seven Dials area. It's a fun little area just north of Covent Garden with a variety of shops. We looked around there for a while and then headed towards Leicester Square to meet Shaunda and the boys.

We had a "booking" (a.k.a. reservations) at TigerTiger just off Piccadilly for dinner. Shaunda and David have a "tasteLondon" card that gets them 50% off all food at a variety of restaurants. it's a great deal! I had a sirloin steak for 7.50 pounds. Even at an exchange of 1 pound to $1.50, it's a good deal for a steak. Everyone seemed to enjoy their meal - despite the fact that David's giant prawns came complete with eyeballs!

After dinner we headed around the corner to the Criterion Theatre to see the play "39 Steps." It was first a book and then made three times into a movie - the most famous by Alfred Hitchcock. Four actors play 139 roles and it was hilarious! I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. The boys hit their stopping point by the time it was over so David took them home via a different tube stop so they could catch a cab and Shaunda and I walked home from the Wanstead station. We tried to take pictures of the various show posters on the wall along the escalator but it was really hard to get a decent picture. Oh well - I guess I'll just have to live with my memories. I can't believe my time in London is almost over. Two days left and so much to do...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fat Tire River Thames Bike Tour


I had to get moving a little earlier than normal today so I decided to treat myself to a traditional English breakfast out. Shaunda directed me to a little Caffe (Pronounced "Kaf") on the main street and it was yummy. I was waiting in the tube by 9:30 and as soon as the clock switched to off-peak, I jumped aboard! I'm trying to be as frugal as possible! I took the tube to Waterloo station where I met the Fat Tire tour guide. It was Matt - same guide as the last tour. Yay! I picked Margaret Thatcher to ride today. We started our tour at the London Eye - previously called the Millenium Eye - and then worked our way east along the Southbank. What a cool area!! I'm going to have to come back and walk so I can stop and see all the things we were biking past. We stopped for lunch at the Burrough market where I had a sausage roll. We met up at the pub and had a cider before we got back on the bikes.

The view of the Tower Bridge from the southbank is absolutely beautiful - especially near the Haymarket area. I was thankful for an opportunity to get a group shot. We had a fun group - a pair from St. Louis, a mother/daughter pair from Australia, a married couple from just outside Oxford who had received the tour as a gift from their daughter, and another man.

I think biking across the Tower Bridge might be the most awesome thing I have ever done! We rode in formation taking up the entire lane because it was too narrow for cars to pass - so we just didn't let them. Matt said we weren't doing something right if we didn't get honked at at least once. Unfortunately, we busted tail to get across and I didn't hear a single honk. It was AMAZING! At the Tower of London we caught the clipper (boat) which took us up river to the Embankment Pier. We had to wait about 15 minutes so I had enough time to call Jo and wish her a happy birthday. It made my day to talk to my sister!!

We biked through Covent Garden and the West End and then headed across the Westminster Bridge where we had a fabulous view of Big Ben and Parliament. We stopped plenty of times along the way for Matt to share pieces of information. I learned a lot - though I doubt I remember much of it.

Shaunda called not long after the tour ended to let me know that the Central line was "suspended due to a person under the train." Ick! I decided I might as well explore the southbank now so I walked from the Eye to the Tower Bridge taking photos of all the elephants and enjoying the various shops. The best part is just people watching.

The light was just perfect at this time of day (about 6pm) for the Tower Bridge. The blues seemed to stand out even more than usual. I decided to walk across the bridge again and even though it wasn't quite as exhilarating as biking, it was still pretty spectacular. I checked at the tube station at Tower Hill and it seemed the Central line was running again. How do they clean that up so fast? I stopped in Wanstead and picked up some fish & chips to take home. I was absolutely exhausted but I was afraid I was going to end up leaving London without ever having fish & chips and that would just be wrong! We had an enjoyable dinner with the family and then David helped me look for cars again on the internet. It was another successful day in London!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Changing of the Guard and Jersey Boys

I couldn't leave London without seeing the Changing of the Guard! One of my favorite experiences when we were in London in 2006 was the walking tour of the Changing of the Guard. I caught the tube to St. James Park and came out on Mall just as the band was starting their march down the street towards the Palace. It was awesome! I couldn't get as close as I would have liked but it was fun to watch none the less.

I met a really nice group from Henderson State University in Arkansas. I enjoyed watching the processionals even if I couldn't see the actual changing of the guard.

I enjoyed the walk from Buckingham Palace over to Piccadilly Circus and then down Regents Street. I stopped in Hamleys just to check out the world's largest toy store - and I was NOT disappointed!! Upon entering the store, they give you the biggest shopping bag I've ever seen! I know I couldn't fill it but I did manage to find some gifts for some of my favorite friends - both young and old.

I stopped by Desigual to pick out a birthday present for my sister. I found a dress that I really thought she would like! I enjoyed walking down Oxford Street again and watching all the people. When I got to Covent Garden the British Red Cross folks were out talking to people and I enjoyed visiting with one young lady. We decided we should do a house swap like in the movie "Holiday." What fun!

I met Shaunda at Leicester Square and we had a wonderful dinner at Ruby Blue. I had a salmon steak - probably the healthiest meal I've had in London so far. We had tickets to Jersey Boys that evening and it was fabulous! It is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We walked out of there dancing - I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I didn't have anything specific planned for the day so I headed over to Baker Street with the intention of hanging out in Regents Park. I decided to try to travel by bus today and it took me about an hour and a half to get to Baker Street. By the time I got there, it was significantly chillier so I decided to check out the Sherlock Holmes museum instead. The line was HUGE so I went to a pub on the corner (The Volunteer) and had lunch first. I had the best Bangers & Mash that I have had in this city. The best part was they only had two bangers left and they usually serve three so I got 2 pounds off my meal. I didn't need more than two anyway!

The museum was very cool!! I got a chance to sit and visit with Dr. Watson. I heard him speak at least three languages while I was there so there is no telling how many he actually knows. I felt like I had stepped back in time and it made me want to go read some of the stories that I missed! The only one I really remember is the Hound of the Baskervilles.
I walked down Baker Street to Oxford Street and then over to Marble Arch where I worked my way through Hyde Park. I absolutely LOVE Hyde Park! It is one of the most peaceful, beautiful places that I have ever been. When I lived in London in college I used to run every morning in Hyde Park and we could run for 45 minutes and never hit the same sidewalk twice. There is no place like it in the world!
I met Shaunda & David and the boys, along with their friend, Rich, and my friend, Becky, at the Chicago Rib House for dinner. We thought we'd see how well they do ribs in London. I must say it was better than I expected. The atmosphere was great and the good was quite good. It may not be quite as good as KC BBQ but who can, really? It didn't hurt that we got 50% off with a TasteLondon card. Yay!
After dinner, David headed home with the boys (via tube) and Shaunda and I walked through the city before trying to figure out how to get home by bus. We walked along the park to Buckingham Palace and then down The Mall to Trafalgar Square. London is absolutely beautiful at night. Most places are lit up and the traffic is lighter. It was a perfect night for a walk.
By the time we reached Trafalgar we were ready to sit down for a while. Unfortunately, the buses were packed so there was no sitting for this ride home. We had to take three different buses and it took us almost two hours to get home. Definitely not the most efficient way to travel but it was an adventure and we all like a good adventure.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I spent the entire morning trying to catch up on my journal/blog. It was taxing to my brain but I felt very accomplished when it was finally finished. By about 1pm, I was ready to hit the city. I took the tube over to Embankment and walked along the river towards Westminster Abbey. It was a semi-sunny day with a cool breeze. There were tons of people out so people watching was at a high. Something was happening around Parliament because people with very large cameras were starting to gather but I chose not to stick around.
Somehow I found myself back at House of Fraser on Victoria street so I decided to stop in and have an afternoon tea. They do make a fabulous sultana scone! I enjoyed my tea and scones while I chatted with my mom on my phone with free wifi. That palm pre has come in pretty handy during this trip - even more than I imagined it would. I caved and bought a tiny telescope (or a one eyed binocular, as I like to call it) to take to the theatre - and to just carry in my purse. It's made my Muji and it was 10 pounds (a.k.a. $15.30). I was on my way to meet Shaunda at the Chicago Rib House when she called and had just gotten out of a meeting. We decided to eat somewhere closer to the theatre so I stopped in at the Duke of York across from the Victoria Station to have a cider while I waited for her to arrive. I saw two men sitting at a table, obviously not together, so I asked one of them if I could share their table. He had headphones on so I figured it was a safe bet but he immediately took them off and started to converse with me. We had an enjoyable conversation for the next 30 minutes about everything under the sun - politics, the world, language, etc. It was fabulous! He is a computer programmer who travels the world and he had just found out that his father had passed away so he stopped in for a beer. As we said our farewells, he said I was meant to come and talk to him. That made me feel really good. I met Shaunda outside and we had a quick dinner at the Pizza Express. It was better than I expected considering it was thin pizza. I had pizza with goat cheese and carmelized onions and spinach. Oh my!

Our seats in the theatre were the very top row in the left corner. It made me laugh but I was very glad to have my telescope! The show was absolutely amazing! It was my 5th time to see Wicked and I loved it just as much - if not more - than the first time. The first time was in that very theatre in 2006 with my mom, dad, Jo & Scott. After the show, Shaunda and I walked over to The Albert for a drink. It's a cool looking pub with four floors. The first floor is the bar, the second floor is the dining room and the top two floors are rooms for employees. It's amazing to me that everything shuts down at 11pm. London is definitely not the city that never sleeps - but it is definitely my favorite city in the entire world!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's day and my belated birthday

We're having a party!! Though it had been postponed a couple of times - thanks to the volcano - the time had finally come to celebrate my birthday! It happened to fall on the American Mother's Day which was also an appropriate time to celebrate (for Shaunda!). We spent the morning cleaning the house and preparing the food. Shaunda had quite the spread layed out by the time people arrived.
Our first guests were Lucy and Julian and their three children - Mia, Cameron and Freddie. I don't think I have ever been quite so smitten by three children in my entire life! Freddie (age 4) has eyes and a smile that can melt your heart. Cameron (age 6) is a little on the shy side but a very polite and helpful young man. Mia (age 10) was quick to jump in to the activity and she and Zane immediately hit it off. She was an intelligent young lady and a great conversationalist.
The kids played Rock Band while the adults visited. It was great to see Lucy again! Shaunda and I first met Lucy when we were students in London in 1988. Lucy lived in our "dorm/hostel" and was always the life of the party! She came to Kansas City a few years later and we took her to Chicago and stayed with my sister. What fun to see her again - and meet her family!

The day ended with a beautiful sunset which I tried to capture from my bedroom window. It was the perfect day for a birthday - even if it was postponed!

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The best laid plans...

This morning was the first morning we have all been in the house at the same time. It was fun to hang out and watch cartoons and play on the computer - just like a family might do on a Saturday morning in London. :)

Our first Saturday chore was a trip to the grocery store. Shaunda, Gray and I headed over to the Tesco (by bus). I thought we just needed to pick up a few things (they get a grocery delivery on Tuesdays) but we ended up filling a cart. The easiest way to get home from the grocery store is to take a cab - and since we had so many bags, that is what we did. It was nice to be dropped off right at the front door! Once we had unloaded, it was time to head in to London.

On our way to the tube station, we passed a park where they were playing Cricket. I have heard of Cricket for many years but had no idea how the game was played. It was fun to watch - though we never really did figure out how the game was played.

Shaunda and David had an official event to attend on the Tattershall Castle ( which is a bar/boat that is moored on the Thames. The organization that brought them to London was having a get-together for all their American social workers at either 3pm or 7pm. Shaunda was in charge of paying for drinks at the 3pm gathering.

Unfortunately, even though it was promoted as a family event, the children were only allowed on the top deck and it was quite chilly. Thankfully, nobody else showed up so we didn't have to stay very long. It was a fabulous view, however, of the London Eye and Big Ben.

We decided to just walk and see where we ended up and it didn't take us long to end up on Trafalgar Square.

London has been invaded by elephants! There are over 250 model elephants throughout the city in a huge public art exhibition to raise money for elephants around the world. They are each decorated uniquely - similar to the cows that invaded Kansas City a few years ago.
Of course, my favorite one is orange! I know that's a shocker! The boys got tickets to see Ironman 2 at the Odeon on Leicester Square and since we had a little time to spare, we stopped at the Mexican restaurant next door for an appetizer. Unfortunately, it took them an hour to bring the food so Shaunda and I had to eat it all by ourselves. The hardship.
We had to walk off our snack for five so we took a tour through Piccadilly Circus and then to Carnaby Street. I had never been to Carnaby Street and it was very cool! They have lots of cool shops and restaurants - and no cars. I recommend it! We met the boys back at Trafalgar Square and Shaunda and David headed back to the boat for their second gathering while Gray, Zane and I headed home - by way of Burger King to get the boys some supper!

Friday, May 07, 2010

A scone with clotted cream and jam

I was on a mission today! I remembered my family enjoying tea & scones in a little cafe inside a department store in 2006 and I was determined to find it. I thought it was near Kensington but after walking miles and miles and miles, I discovered that it was Victoria Street. I took the tube to the South Kensington tube station and walked along Kensington Street - past Harrods and Harvey Nichols. I knew when I reached Hyde Park Corner that I had made a mistake. I walked down Grosvenor to Victoria Station and headed towards Westminster Abbey. Just as things started to look familiar, my friend Becky called and we decided to meet for tea as soon as I found my destination. It didn't take long to locate the House of Fraser. Cafe Zest is on the 2nd floor (which I would call the 3rd floor but they don't count the ground level as a floor in London.)

I ordered my tea and scones and hooked up my laptop to play until Becky arrived. After our late-morning tea, we walked back to Kensington, through Belgravia. It's a neat area of London. They say London has more green space than any city in the world - and I believe it. We passed several little parks or "squares" with walking paths for people to enjoy. Some are private and some are public.

We stopped for a late lunch at the Goat Pub just down the street from the Whole Foods Market. Becky was on a mission to find a similar sausage to American sausage which Shaunda said she would use to make biscuits and gravy. I had no idea how difficult it would be to explain biscuits and gravy to a Londoner. For them, biscuits are cookies. They don't have a clue what a biscuit is. I suppose a scone would be the closest thing but they are much sweeter. Thankfully, the guy that waited on us was from Texas and he was very helpful. We picked up three different kinds for Shaunda to try. I had to stop at the Boots to buy moleskin for my boots. How ironic! Becky needed to get some work done so I caught the tube from there and headed home. It was the most packed tube that I have ever ridden on and I was so relieved when we finally got far enough out that I wasn't touching people. Rush hour on the tube is definitely something to avoid!

Thursday, May 06, 2010


The Roadhouse Restaurant sits smack dab in the middle of Covent Garden. It is considered an "american restaurant" which provided a nice variety from the pubs I've been frequenting. They had a variety on the menu - mexican, steaks, pasta, etc. I had the quesadillas and Shaunda had the fajitas. Both were quite good but definitely smaller portions that you'd see in the USA. If everything is bigger in Texas, then everything is smaller in London! At least food portions. However, they are actually a more normal serving than we get in the US. Most restaurants don't even have any type of take-away container (don't even bother asking for a doggie bag. A what?) Dining is an experience in London - not something rushed but something to be enjoyed. You almost always have to ask for your check when you are ready to leave.

Covent Garden is also the heart of the theatre district. About 80% of the theatres in London are within walking distance.

We were going to see Dirty Dancing which was at the Aldwych Theatre on Drury Lane. Shaunda and I attended Drury College together so we thought that was appropriate.

The show was really good - almost identical to the movie with a little more thrown in. The acting started out a little weak but the powerful dancing at the end made it all worth it. If we had had the energy, we would have gone back to the Roadhouse because they have dancing until 3am!

We opted for a cider in a pub instead. We stopped at one of the pubs in Covent Garden which happens to be the only pub in London to carry Westons. It was quite good! The bells rang at 11 to let you know that they were closing so we finished up and made our way to the tube station for the long ride home. I love this city!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo

It may not be much of a holiday in the U.K. but I decided we should celebrate Cinco de Mayo! I also received word that Dakota's energy is up and he seems to be stable for the time being. Praise the Lord!! Despite the fact that I also got word that my car is not worth fixing so a new car is in my immediate future, I was on cloud nine!
They have a very cool bridge that goes over the main road in Wanstead. You get a good view of the Irwin's neighborhood from the top of the bridge.
I made a trip to the grocery store in Leytonstone and managed to figure out the bus all by myself. I don't really have many pictures from today so I thought I'd share a couple of my favorite signs on the London public buses. I love that they fine people for throwing their gum on the street. That is one of my pet peeves! I also like the concept of a sin bin - for gum or otherwise! I was in the middle of shopping when my friend, Becky, called and decided to join me. She met me at the grocery store just as I finished and we caught the bus back to the house. We had stuff to make hard tacos, soft tacos and margaritas. It was a challenge finding stuff to make margaritas and I ended up having to compromise the frozen limeade with a "lemon squash" that was concentrated. I had no idea how they would taste but it was the best I could do. No worries - they were delicious! We had a wonderful Mexican fiesta - a right proper Cinco de Mayo, London style!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

We don't need no stinkin' sleep!

Monday night Julia and I were watching tv and it was about 10:30 when we ran out of CSI episodes on her DVR (or whatever they call it over here.) We weren't quite ready to call it a night so she suggested we check out a series she had recorded called "Trueblood." I had never heard of it so why not? The first episode was very good and it left us with a big cliff hanger - so we had to watch another one! She had the entire first season recorded (12 episodes) and every single episode had a big cliff hanger. SO - we just kept watching. I still can't believe that two 'old" women could manage to stay up all night watching tv but we did. At 10:30 am on Tuesday morning we finished the final episode. We were SOOO relieved that they actually managed to wrap up the mystery by the last episode. Now we have to figure out how to get our hands on season two!
Julia took me to the Elephant Bar for a coffee and sandwich before I had to catch my train. The Elephant Bar is where J.K. Rowling first penned Harry Potter.
Apparently, she sat there writing on napkins! Never underestimate the ideas that come to you in a coffee shop!
We still had a little time left so we walked around a little bit of the Grassmarket area of Edinburgh. It is such a wonderful city! It has a small town feel but with plenty to see and do. Julia dropped me off at the train station and I had no trouble finding my platform. I thought I would sleep the entire way home but I couldn't get comfortable enough to really sleep. I ended up watching The Princess Bride on my phone (handy little gadgit) and before I knew it, we were back at King's Cross Station. I caught the tube back to Wanstead just in time to have dinner with the family. It's good to be "home." :)

Monday, May 03, 2010

Inchcolm Island

We headed to Queensferry to catch the Maid of the Forth over to Inchcolm Island. The island is on the Firth of Forth off the coast of Fife. It was a chilly but beautiful day. The temperature was in the low 50's but on the boat, it felt like the 20's. We took Anna and Asher with us and they were quite the little hikers. We hiked to the top of the island and enjoyed the amazing view! You can see Edinburgh Castle across the forth. The seagulls were insane!! I felt like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." They were EVERYWHERE! We even passed a couple of nests with two eggs each. There is an old abbey on the island which we had fun exploring. A couple lives on the island as caretakers for the abbey and the grounds.

On the way home we stopped by McDonalds to pick up a hot cup of coffee to warm our chilly bones and then headed to the Abercorn Church. Part of the building was built in the 1100's! It was very cool! The church is open 24 hours a day for anyone that needs a place to come in.

We stopped by the fish & chips stand to try one more fried candy bar - just to make sure they were as yummy as I thought they were. I went with the fried Cadbury Caramel and ate it in the car on the way home. I seriously think it might be the best thing I ever put in my mouth. Yum! We came home and ate our leftovers for supper. We managed to get caught up in an HBO series called "Trueblood." Each episode ended with such a cliff hanger that we just kept watching - until...