Today started out GREAT! It was our last day in London, and there were still some things we hadn’t seen yet. We’re still feeling the sting of the cost of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, and not super anxious to pay for everything that you can, and there’s plenty to pay for in London, but there are also plenty of free museums and exhibits to see.
The plan was to see the things The Trio hadn’t seen yet, including The London Tower (whatever that is… there are towers all around), Buckingham Palace (they didn’t really get to see that yesterday… there’s got to be something cool there, right?), and I guess whatever else we happened upon.
First, though, was food and a little bit of business: we have post cards to send, and we have had a hard time sending them. Each day we’ve walked past the post office, which looks like this quiet little thing with no activity, but when we’ve passed by it’s been closed. Today it was priority Numero Uno (in English: Number One) to get these post cards in the mail.
We get there and go in and… um… it’s like a very small DMV. That is, you go to a kiosk and get a number, then wait (and wait and wait) until your number is called and shown on a screen over a cashier. No problem… I get my number (155), notice they are on 60-something, but also notice they are calling numbers in the two hundreds and seven hundreds… no problem, it’s a random number, and I’ll soon go up. After all, there aren’t sixty-plus people here, are there?
Apparently there were. The two hundreds was for passport/visa stuff, the seven hundreds was for business (high priority), and the zero to two hundred were the peons (in English: peons). Holy cow… what I thought would take ten minutes at most was at least a 45 minute wait… maybe an hour or more (no phone, so I couldn’t check the time). All the while, The Trio decided to sit on a cement ledge outside so as not to be in the crowded post office.
Finally… finally! It was my turn, “155 to counter G”. You had to go fast because some cashiers would push the button for the next person if they didn’t see you get up, and I didn’t want to lose my spot! I go up, ask for postcard stamps, and she says “Oh, I’m zorry… I have run out of postcard stamps… you have to go over zere and stand in zee line, but it’s really fast. Zere is really no wait. That man will help you over there,” at the self service kiosks. And with that, adieu!
I didn’t go to the self-service kiosks earlier because they weren’t moving, and the line was long. And now, the line was still long, and they weren’t moving. UUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH! I am not a fan of standing in line. But these post cards need to get in the mail! I am so close…
So I get in line. The super slow line that is not as gratifying as the bubblewrap ice cream line from yesterday, and various nationalities are there not understanding the kiosks, and asking the one guy for help, and there’s a lady really nervous about everything, asking “where’s my change going to come out? WHERE’S MY CHANGE GOING TO COME OUT??” Finally it was my turn, after about a half an hour (this is not how I planned to spend my time in London!), and I went to the kiosk, tapped the right buttons to get nine post card stamps, and put in my card.
Put in my business card (I hardly ever do that)… declined.
Put in my other, and last card. DECLINED.
In total frustration I leave, without stamps, vowing to not pay the Queen my postage money, rather to send them from Paris. Hopefully I can buy some meager stamps in Paris! Bleh, this day is not staring off right… although I will admit, I wanted the whole Europe experience, and standing in line for stamps for a couple of hours was part of it.
To my surprise The Trio was still patiently waiting outside the post office… for some reason I thought they might have gone on to see one (or seven) sites of London. They had enough time. We set out, no in search for what should have been breakfast, then became brunch, and was shortly going to be a late lunch.
What to eat? So many options… but for some reason we chose a chinese buffet. Seemed like the right choice at the time… it was satisfying, but nothing special. No more chinese buffets for me on this trip… seriously.
Then we walked by the pelicans (a gift from some king to the king of England in the 1600’s), and tons of ducks and duck-like birds at what I think is Duck Island in St. James Park (across from the Churchill War Rooms). Unfortunately you can just walk by and gawk… it’s closed to visitors 🙁
From there we walked around the corner and went to Buckingham Palace, which is big, and majestic, but nothing was there… no guards, not even tourists. So we kept going around, turned right, through some kind of majestic gates that must have been about four stories tall, and started to head to The Shake Shack. But first, through the plaza area, in front of the free museum. There was a protest from Nigerians saying to uncolonize it, and let the country split back into two. there must have been a hundred people there for that. There was another guy from Sierra Leon who was making these bracelets… cool right? But when he finished, tre cool! Look at this neat British design… he made one for Sam out of scratch, and then pulled one already done for Ellie. We told him we didn’t have any cash so he said to just keep them.
Wait… didn’t we already eat? Yes. Was Shake Shack really that good? Yes, apparently (William said he had a burger with a big mushroom in it… the patty and mushroom were deep fried and so good)! But we weren’t going there to eat… we were going there because Ellie paid for dinner there yesterday and then noticed that they double charged her! Almost $50. Okay, that was worth enough to walk there (1.9 miles, it is right by the Queen’s Theatre)… and of course, the Trio wanted to get the Bubblewrapped ice cream.
I, now, was frustrated that all three of my cards were declined, and was concerned about the next three weeks with card problems. So I borrowed Ellie’s phone to look up my bank phone number… but the internet was so painfully slow (like, not working at all) that it wasn’t going to happen (for while).
We go to Shake Shack, where they had free ice water in a pitcher (THANK YOU SHACKERS), and the manager was super duper kind and said he’d take care of it right now, and that she’d see it resolved on her card in about three days. Great… mission accomplished! Now, the next most important thing was bubble icecream! It was literally right around the corner and interestingly, the line there was bigger than the line the night before (with more tourists). These must have been the introvert tourists, who didn’t want to do it in front of large crowds, but got up early (okay, noon isn’t early) to get their bubble on. They have a weird system, apparently, where you go in, pay, then get in line to get your grub. Looked like we’d be there for a while. This only cost 6 pounds each… here’s what they got:
I borrowed Ellie’s phone again and went down the street to a hotel with free wifi to get the number of my bank. Called them, they said to do Option A or B, to let them know that I was out of the country. Rookie move, I know, to not do that before I left, but I had a gazillion other things to do before I got on the plane from SLC, and I figured I could take care of that from the road. No… I had to have my wife go in to the branch and put a “travel note” on my card so that when I went to buy stamps, or pay a taxi, or whatever, I could. Thankfully she was able to do that pretty quickly.
I also called my credit card company and that was a nightmare. Hard to understand English, and the guy was nice “I’m sorry, we’ll get this resolved today,” blah blah blah. Mind you, I’m standing outside of this hotel on a busy London street with gobs of tourists, but I found a pocket of quiet where I could divulge my password, social security number, credit card number, secret three digits on the back of the card, and anything else that an identity thief would want… if you think that’s easy to say outloud in London you probably haven’t been here.
Again, I found my quiet private place and had the conversation. “We have to text your phone to give you a code, so we know you are you.” “But my phone is in a uber car… it’s really stolen.” (at this point that’s my story, since Uber is not responding, and we are leaving London soon) “Oh, well then answer this question and that one, and then we’ll call you back.” “What number will you call me back at, since you won’t call Ellie’s phone? My phone is stolen.” “I can’t tell you that, but we’ll call you back… ” “I’m in the middle of London, my card isn’t working… and you say you’ll call me back on my stolen phone that I don’t have??” “We’ll call you back or we’ll send you a letter…” “A LETTER? I’M IN LONDON!!”
The rest of conversation was short, and not worth repeating. Plus, it wasn’t family friendly. My heavens, I get the fraud and theft thing, but send me a letter while I’m out of the country? (deep breaths, deep breaths)
Okay, Plan D is, I guess, use Ellie’s card for the next three weeks. Not interested in that.
By this time it seemed like more than half the day was gone… and it was. Let’s head out to the London Tower, get some pics, and who knows after that. Go with the flow.
Instead of walking a couple of miles we opted to spoil ourselves and get a taxi. Couldn’t be that bad… it’s only a couple of miles. The taxi driver was an awful lot like the actor for the innkeeper from Les Mis the night before… tall, very tall. The car looked like it was from the fifties (it was apparently only 15 years old), and the two miles turned into at least thirty minutes. “I’m sorry it’s so slow… they took a lane away from us (the drivers) and gave it to the bikes… so now this whole area is very slow.” That’s progress for you.
We finally got there and the lane was blocked by tourist buses… the driver wasn’t sure where to park so he pulled in behind the buses and blocked at least one lane of very busy rush hour commuters. Long story short, everyone was honking at him, waiving at him, he was yelling “something wankers!!! What do you expect me to do??” It was all very entertaining although I have to confess I was glad that the semi didn’t hit our little tin can of a car.
He let us off and we walked a couple hundred yards to The Famous Bridge… which really was quite beautiful and majestic. We were also at the London Tower, which isn’t a tower at all! It is a medival castle, a palace, it was a prison for a few hundred years, and had all kinds of amazing, rich history.
Of all my regrets in London, it’s that we didn’t spend a full day there! It was huge and awesome, but we got there at five and the very nice lady who worked there (from Florida) said “I really don’t recommend it now, you’ll only have 30 minutes before we close.” DARN!!! This is what we should have done first thing today!!
That’s okay… go with the flow. But I’m not missing another chance like this on the rest of this trip… we’ll have to be smarter, and plan better.
So we walk to and across the bridge… here’s proof:
Here’s proof we were there (not photoshopped, promise!):
From there decide to look for Shakespeare’s Globe… or the replica of The Globe (the original burned down, then a few years later the rebuild was demolished, and the replica was moved to the water). We walked through the wharf vendors area, which was a lot of crooked streets with fish salesmen… the smell was stenchful. Not sure how else to put it. There were lots of little pub-like things with people drinking, and vendors where tearing down their shops… we walked through and finally got to I think the financial district… found a Waitrose store and went on the hunt for bottled water (still, not sparkling).
We found Waitrose brand water bottles for 17 pence. SEVENTEEN? Is that a type-o? Does anything in this expensive town cost just 17 pence (pennies)? Not a type-o. We got two and hit the road… on the way to The Globe!
We finally found it and the girls saw that Romeo and Juliette was on at 7:30… and yes, of course we were up for a Shakespeare play in THE PLACE that it should be shown. But… they were sold out, and the standby line was (of course) too long. So we opted for an uber (only $8 to get home) and waited. Where we were waiting was a poster that showed info about the play… they did it gothic style. Would have been interesting, I’m sure, but gothic isn’t my thing.
The uber driver pulls up in his nice Mercedes and off we go, headed for home. We hit the beds (there is literally no room to be anywhere else in the hotel) and rest a bit. I catch up on my blogging and the kids decided to start a contest on Instagram… tag two friends and we’ll send you a postcard from London!
Oh yeah, I got up the nerve to call my credit card company again. I really didn’t want to have the same frustrating conversation with them… I took a good twenty or so minutes to call them. Fortunately, I talked to Lyn, and she treated me the way you should… within a short period of time she had me all taken care of! Balance restored!
At about 8:15 I say “we have to go eat! They are going to shut down soon!” So, we jump up and head out, with no direction, just walking around the area of our hotel… surely there is a good restaurant here somewhere. Of course, we passed by a half dozen that didn’t grab our attention (we’re not eating Italian until we get to Italy), and finally find a pub that had dinners for $7 or $8 each. Hey, last night in London, might as well go traditional, right?
Turned out to be one of the best meals we had in this town. William had Shepard’s Pie (and was disappointed when it really was Sheppard’s Pie, and not Pie of the Day) which was lamb stew with mashed potatoes on the top, Sam had chicken curry (green – it was meh okay) and I had prawn curry (red – it was awesome!) and Ellie had Mac & Cheese.
Let me tell you something about Ellie. She LOVES Mac & Cheese. She’s on a quest to find the best in the world. This isn’t the first time she ordered it. She shared a bit with me last night and wowzers, English Mac & Cheese is GOOOOOD. It was the best I have ever had.
Our waitresses were really cool… one was from Italy, near Venice, and the other was from Spain. We had fun chatting with them, and we had one of the best discussions at our table about England colonizing most of the world, and the impact it had, from language to culture, and the cost of colonizing (on the locals), etc. It was deep and fun.
We walked home, again enjoying a beautiful walk in London at night. The Trio did their dance (once in each country, remember), and it was comical. They did it twice… first time there was a couple walking during the dance, and then stopped and practically faced the wall. I said “I’m doing a social study, and wondering why you didn’t watch them?” The Trio cracked up and the validity of my study was ruined :/ The second dance was right outside our hotel, and there was this older English lady that kept walking, and finally realized she was (a) about to be in a dance, and (b) in a video. It was hilarious to watch her maneuver around the Trio while they danced.
We got got home around 11 or so (I think), well-fed, after the nice walk, and were ready to call it a day! I updated the blog for the two days before today, and called it good.
Tomorrow is travel day – ugh. This is not my favorite thing to do… but it’s part of the journey. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong!
Here’s a random picture of what William looks like in London:
Here’s a picture of our London hotel room from my bed. This place didn’t win any awards from the Trio, but it was only $80 a night, which is a lot better than $270/night. This room was tiny… last night we figured out that the Chicken Coop I almost finished before leaving was bigger than this room! LOL.
Clockwise, notice the light switch (this is how they all were in London), the bathroom that you had to step a foot up to get into (not easy for me to get out of :p), notice the walkway… very small. The internet was spotty, and we had the window open all night which meant breathing a lot of second hand smoke, and the floors creaked like nothing I’d ever experienced. We were on the third floor… no elevator, and the steps were narrow… getting luggage in and out was a feat. In fact, getting me in and out was a feat :p But, the price was RIGHT, and we spent very little on Uber or taxis because we were withing walking distance… score!
Have you thought about getting some country specific guidebooks? They not only have the special sites to see, but how to get along in the country – like travel and buying stamps.
In Italy, and I think France, you buy stamps at tabachios – cigarette/tobacco stores, as well as post offices. Remember that a lot of places close down for long lunches.