Friday, November 6, 2015

Day 85: Slow Down Day

So, last night everyone was exhausted. Tired from moving out of our Berlin home, from our travels to Britain, and now tired from our tour yesterday (even though we sat on a bus for most of it). Chris and I talked, and we chose to move things around. He is going to work today and the kids and I will take it easy (Chris going to work today might even be classified as "taking it easy" over touring about a new city).

My only job for the day is to ship ONE MORE BOX. Our big bag was too heavy to make it through the States without a penalty cost. And this is before buying any souvenirs from this part of our trip. So, it makes sense to ship more items.

The four of us head a building over for breakfast at a coffee café (Café Nero... we see a lot of these). It's a perfect start to the day with a small bite to eat with Chris before seeing him off.

Another bonus of Chris working today, is that we can pack the two big bags to hold at HotelTonight's office while we take a weekend trip (with only two carry-on sized bags) to Oxford. So, we pack those two bags up with items we don't need over the weekend, and fill a big bag and my backpack with items we do not think we'll need for the duration of our trip. We should have sent them from Berlin, but that's how it goes. This is round B.

We are only a mile from HotelTonight, but this seems too far to wheel two very large bags. It also seems impossible to take them onto the Tube during rush hour (and we haven't even looked at the map to see if that wouldn't still be a lot of walking involved). So, we head out the front of the hotel and catch a taxi. Cool! Now I can say I've been in a Hackney carriage! We were wondering if there was room for luggage... sort of. There is no trunk. Since there are only two of us, we don't use the extra fold-down seats and we pull the luggage in with us. Pretty cool, even for just one mile.

When we arrive at HotelTonight, we have to call up to get into the building. It took us about three calls to get the buzzer to work (and meanwhile, the intercom was breaking in and out) so we could open the door. After walking into the building, we could see there was an elevator. At this point, Chris was confident that he could go on his own (he was worried about carrying the two big bags up stairs, etc. not knowing how far he had to go). So, he went up the elevator to secure our bags and put in a full day's work. Another bonus, two of his coworkers from the SF office are in town this week and today's their last day. With our previous schedule, he would have missed seeing them. This new schedule has him overlapping today, so it's nice to get to see them and work with them before they head out of London.

After leaving Chris at the elevator, I head back... or so I tried. I couldn't get OUT of the building! Sounds crazy, but the door was locked, or stuck. Or, am I incompetent at opening doors? I'm looking at knobs, possible locks, twisty-things... nothing works. There is a woman standing outside, not giving me any attention... maybe this is better than me being fully humiliated, but on the other hand, I was hoping she'd point or mime some kind of hint to me. Just when I was almost in full panic mode, and was about to call Chris saying I can't get out of the damn building, I noticed a button on the wall (about 4 feet from the door, on the right side of the hallway) with a big note saying, "Push, then open door." OMG. I push the button and, miraculously, I am able to leave the building. I laugh out of exasperation, but I'm not sure the woman outside was entertained or irritated by my demise.

At this point, I'm sweaty. But, I will also take this time to point out how warm it is here. It's in the mid 60s, but raining. So, I have to keep my jacket on and hood up if I want to stay dry, but I'm sweating in my new down coat... if only I hadn't forgotten my old raincoat, which was just a shell and would have been perfect in this hot-rainy weather.

I had decided to walk the mile back to the hotel room. This would be some of my exercise for the day, plus, it would give me an opportunity to see where we are living and what's around us. I'm sure I look like a tourist, with my head up, looking everywhere as I walk slowly.

This is the trifecta photo.
Red-double-decker buss (left), Bobbies (middle), Phone booth (right)
and a bonus "LOOK RIGHT" in the forefront

So far, London is overwhelming to me. The crowds are intense. The sidewalks are small. The traffic is fast (and going on the wrong side). Everyone is not only in a hurry, but they seem to be run-walking everywhere. Even at my fast past, people are heading past me in a blur. This feels very different than Berlin where the sidewalks were wide, traffic was fast, but not insane (or maybe in Berlin there was a wider shoulder on the roads, maybe the roads were wider too), and in Berlin, people who were in a hurry, weren't like the people in a hurry here in London. I just feel tense all the time. I know it's a new place and we're figuring things out, but it just feels like a lot of it is due to having to be alert for people wanting to pass, people coming at you, cars, lights, etc. If you just go one street off the main road, it's a world of difference, so when I got get onto one of these streets, I do breathe a little easier.

Something that I find amusing, as I'm walking through the city, is what goes through my mind. In Berlin, I mostly thought about its recent history with WWII and the Nazis. London may have a long history that is interesting as well... but all I can think about is showtunes, SNL skits, and other media references (usually poking fun at the British or seems like it when I retell it in my mind). When I was younger, I was in the musical "The Boyfriend". So, as I walk through Bloomsbury, all I can do is think of the song, "A Room in Bloomsbury" (start at minute 2:40). Now, it's been over 30 years, so I can really only remember one passage and chorus, so that repeats in my head over and over and over and over. The next thing I think about is the "All Things Scottish" SNL skit from back in the day as I pass a Scotch Shop. And finally, I took a photo of a building today, one that had bricks that I liked, to show how they mount their street signs. Anyway, Venice noticed this same building and sign, but for another reason... the street is named Macklin and it makes her think of the character Andy (who pretends to be Bert Macklin from the FBI on the "Parks and Recreation" show.

Bloomsbury (left), Scotch Shop (middle), Macklin street (right)

So, I feel kind of dweeby as I walk through Posh-London and all I'm thinking about is making fun of the British (I'm speaking in an exaggerated British accent in my head all the time...) Is this how we are raised in the U.S.? To mock the British? Must be, because, otherwise, I feel like I'm a good person.

As I was nearing our hotel, I passed by a few Chinese restaurants that looked good. I'm already thinking of lunch with the kids. We had thought we might try a Japanese fusion restaurant for lunch, but it looked fancier. The places I'm passing now seem to be more fit to a quick lunch. So, I'm hoping to get the kids to agree.

Back at the hotel, I relax a little, blog a little, get the kids ready for the day a little. And I do convince them to try this Chinese place I found. There actually are two Chinese restaurants right next to each other (when we found it again). One has a lunch buffet and had a lot of fried dishes available (yumm, looks good). Everyone inside is multicultural (but very few, if any, Asians). Right next door, is another Chinese restaurant and this one has soups, noodles, and other dishes available for sit down lunch (and has very few, if any, non-Asians). It took some group discussion to all get on the same page, and, in the end, we choose the more authentic restaurant (yes, on the first page of the menu is chicken feet... we are in the right restaurant).

The food is SO good. I don't think I've had Chinese food this good since we were in SF. Yum. Our tummies are happy. We made the right choice.

Lunch dish (left), "Watch out! There's a thief about" (mid-left)
Lunch dish (mid-right), "Coin-henge" (right) 

I had brought my large bag and backpack filled with items to ship to lunch. After eating, we head to the post office to ship our stuff. However, when we get there, there are no boxes for sale. Ok, a few, but they look like donut boxes, definitely not strong enough or big enough to hold our stuff. So, off to Mailboxes Etc. for us. Several blocks later, we arrive at MBE and ask about shipping items internationally. Holy crap... it's expensive here. I really should have shipped these items from Berlin. Darn it. But, we're a bit stuck (again). I could buy a box and package it all up and then walk BACK to the post office and wait in their long line... but that sounds horrific at this point (my back is tired form carrying all this stuff back and forth), I just want it over and done. So, I commit. And while we're packaging it all up, a man comes in to ship his stuff... hears the price... and walks out saying he's just going to take it as his third piece on the airplane because that's free and the price quoted was too high... I'm with him and I think that will be what we do next... buy a box and just put it on the plane. Even if we have to pay, it will be half, if not, a third of the price I just paid to ship this box. Sigh.

Feeling loads lighter, we head through town to the Cartoon Museum. This is not something that was on our list of things to do or check out. However, as I was searching for the post office, and other places, I saw "Cartoon Museum" on the map. It sounded fun and kid friendly. It was definitely one of those museums that are on the much smaller-side of things. No worries, the kids are free with my admission. After looking around, we spent a few minutes in the room upstairs where they encourage you to draw your own cartoons. Lots of help (books, posters, etc.) and lots of supplies (paper and pencils).

Cartoon Museum (left), Venice's work (right)

When we left the museum, we were ready to head back to the hotel. BUT, I had promised the kids we could stop at Krispy Kreme first. Something on their "life" bucket -list, so we HAD to do it. A few false starts, but we find the store, buy some donuts, head back to the hotel, and the kids enjoy their treat. Not long after, Chris returns home wondering why we aren't hungry yet!

Yet another bonus of Chris working today is that he got a few suggestions for dinner tonight. We pick Flat Iron, a close walk, and looks good, although we can't find a menu online. Well, it seems that our luck ran out, in terms of timing, we get there and it's a 30 minute wait for dinner. Not too bad, we do put our name in. One of the first things we notice about this restaurant is that the doors are locked to get in. You can get out, you just can't get in unless the host opens the door for you. And he only opens the door for one group at a time. He'll open the door, take your name and information (phone number for texting) and then he shuffles you back out the door where he'll talk to the next group. He was constantly asking people to wait outside and that he'd be with them in a moment. It is a smaller looking restaurant with NO space to wait inside. But it's odd.

We walk around while we wait for our table. We thought we'd go to a park, but it was chained closed (closed at 5:30pm). So, we stop for coffee nearby, for the caffeine, but also so we'd have a place to sit. There were no benches for sitting (they were in the closed park). And the sidewalks are so narrow, there's no where to sit. Anyway, so we buy coffees so we can sit. And remember, it's now 7pm and 63 degrees! It's warm!

Side story: Two people came by asking for a handout. The first one went by asking and I replied, "Oh, nein." Doh! So, when the second went by, I just shook my head (you know, used the universal language).

When our table was ready, we were ready. It was a cozy (and hot) atmosphere. And we realised why we couldn't find the menu online, it is most likely because it is only one thing on the menu, steak. That's it. There were a few sides and salads to add-on, but the only entree was steak. They had two specials that night, another style of steak and a hamburger. But while we were ordering, one of the specials ran out, to be replaced with another. But still, small menu. Xander went with the hamburger and Venice, Chris, and I shared the Ribeye steak... it was 3 pounds! We did a good job on it, but needless to say, there were leftovers.

We loved our cleavers!!!

And now that we have something we could share with the homeless, we don't see any. I would have given them our leftovers, but as it is, they go into our refrigerator with our leftover Chinese lunch.... I know we're going to forget it.

Time for bed. And guess what?! This is when the brass band begins to play, "When the Saints go Marching In" across the street. Did I mention that our hotel windows don't make a good seal? So, we can hear them loud and clear. It's actually fun music... just not at 10pm when you're trying to get kids to sleep. Sigh.

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