Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Tale of Two Cities, Part 4: Far From the Madding Crowd

     With more than halfway through our trip, we decided to cram a little less into our schedule. We hailed cabs more frequently, chose a few interesting sites we wanted to see instead of everything, and splurged a bit. Overall, we focused more on quantity over quality and leaned more away from breaking our backs trying to see everything.
     After deciding our schedule for the day, my mom and I took the tube over to Westminster Abby. We emerged from the Underground to a light drizzle of rain, and whipped out our new overpriced umbrellas. Actually, I had an umbrella, she had a poncho.
     We passed the Houses of Parliament, another stop on my list I had gathered from 1000 Places to See Before You Die. We could only peer through the iron gates to look at the houses, so I fib a little when I say that I saw the Houses of Parliament. One doesn't always saw they saw the entirety of the White House, after all. So my mom and I moved onward to Westminster Abby. We had these "London Passes" with us, which were basically these fast passes that allowed us to skip lines of some of London's state-owned landmarks.
Westminster Abby
     Once inside the building, we weren't allowed to take photographs, but the interior was breathtakingly beautiful. Inside, the gothic style walls stretched to infinity, harboring lovely stain-glassed windows and even paintings on the ceiling. The favorite part for my mom and I was the Poet's Corner, where the graves of famous poets, writers, and actors were laid. I was pointing out left and right the names that I knew, from Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and William Shakespeare, who's statue was looking down at the grave of Lawrence Olivier. Another site that I really liked was a plaque that told a story of an unnamed soldier who died in battle. Flowers lined the grave, surrounded by a small pool. It was very touching.
     After we left Westminster Abby, we wandered in and out of the streets, looking for a place that had brunch. There was nobody around, and even fewer available restaurants. So my mom and I settled for a universal shop: Starbucks. As I have mentioned before, we don't drink coffee because my mom and I are Mormons, but, also mentioned before, Starbucks has really great hot chocolate, especially during the holiday season (See 'Tis the Season for a Peppermint Post). I grabbed a hot chocolate and split a cranberry scone. Then we hopped on the Tube once we had masterfully navigated our route, and rode to the British Museum.
     We did not realize that on Easter Sunday there would be a terribly long line just to get into the museum. Thankfully, we started a conversation with a Canadian woman (why can't I find a British person in England?) who was very nice. Once in the museum, I found it quite similar to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My mom and I picked the sections that we most wanted to see, including the Rosetta Stone and Greek art. I very literally had to push and shove my way through a wad of tourists to get a picture of this piece of history, which I proudly showcase in my blurry photograph.
     We took a quick detour through some Syrian sculptures, though what we really wanted to see was the Greek art. Among the art were pieces of the Parthenon. Now, there is a lot of controversy over what should be done with the Parthenon. It is a centuries-old building that has been attacked, bombed, stolen from, and partially in ruins. The Greeks want the entire building to remain safe in Greece, where it originally came from and still stands, but the Romans and British want pieces for themselves. A lot of Greek sculptures, limbs and faces are missing because they were taken as spoils of war throughout the ages. This was all summarized on a plaque on the nearest wall, along with a quick argument as to why the Brits are right. I also included a less-blurry photograph of the pieces of the Parthenon.
      After a quick stop in the restroom and gift shop--whereupon I bought a keychain, which I broke just recently--we walked along the boardwalk and window-shopped for a while. We're girls, we're allowed to indulge in these things. At a certain point, my mom and I looked at each other with the same thought: "Let's just take a cab."
     In London, the cabs are a lot different than the great orange beasts in New York. All cabbies have to take a certain geography test of the city, so they all know exactly how to get you to where you need to go. My mom and I felt ecstatic as we climbed into our seats and said, simultaneously, "221 Baker Street, please." Seeing Sherlock Holmes' house, as depicted in the writings of Sir Author Conan Doyle, and in the actings of Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch, was on the top of our list for things to do in London. Standing outside the house was a man dressed in cape and cap, who was directing people into the house or the gift shop the accompanied it. My mom and I played in the gift shop for a few minutes, toying with books, keychains, a telephone, and a series of Sherlockian head attire. Eventually we collected our tickets and a Sherlock Holmes business card and entered the house of this fictitious character.
     The house was fairly small, but it was built upward with at least three different rooms. Everything that was ever mentioned in Sir Doyle's works was included thoroughly in the museum. The house was filled with everything that would have been included in Sherlock's life, including pipes, the violin and chemistry set, even bullet holes on the wall and a barometer. On one floor was a series of wax figures depicting various scenes from the books, which were laid in glass cases. Although I didn't want to pose with a pipe in my mouth, I enjoyed the museum very much, and my mom did, too.
     Little did I know that the best was still to come. My mom uses OpenTable.com to reserve seats at restaurants. I've come to enjoy this website, because you can search for the restaurant you want to go to, or just browse for ones in your area. It's a free service, but the more you reserve restaurants, the more points you get. When my mom saves up enough points from OpenTable, she can use them for discounts when paying for the restaurant. I didn't know until she reserved for us a spot at Claridge's, which is a really, really fancy tea restaurant. Usually I know how to dress when I attend a fancy restaurant, but I felt incredibly underdressed in my makeshift skirt, oversized shirt, and sneakers. I was uncomfortable for the first few minutes as my mom and I were seated, but our waiters were very kind and did not give me the evil eye. I was very, very grateful for the service, but I still would recommend a suit and tie.
     Before I describe how amazing the food was, I have to say that I had some of the best food that I have every eaten in my life. Claridge's is famous for its tea, so my mom and I ordered some herbal teas. I got passion fruit and orange tea; my mom ordered elderflower tea. Our waiters first served several finger sandwiches, which were salmon and horseradish on whole wheat bread, egg salad on raisin, cucumber and watercress on white, ham on rustic onion bread. Next, we were given scones with marco polo jelly and clotted cream. Finally, the desserts came: a chocolate mousse layer cake, a rose hip macaroon with raspberries, a lime curd parfait, and a fresh fruit tart. All I can say is that all the food was absolutely fantastic, and the waiters weren't hesitant about bringing us more sandwiches, tea, and scones. Maybe they could have given us more dessert if we asked, but we were too full to ask. They were really nice about taking a picture for us. They gave us two cans of English Breakfast tea to take home, but we couldn't drink it, so I gave them away. I left feeling very satisfied, and completely eager to come back.
     That night at our hotel, our food had finally set in our stomachs, and we prepared to head out again to see One Man, Two Guvnors, a play that is currently being performed on Broadway. I really liked the first act, but I didn't really enjoy the second as much. Still, it was a fantastic play, so if you're ever in New York or London, I recommend One Man, Two Guvnors!

Here's to some of my new favorite things in London,
Yours, Kate

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