Monday, November 9, 2015

Day 88: Return to London

Today we return to London. First, we pack. Then we walk down the street to eat at Patisserie Victoria. Side note: Yesterday, after I had posted something to Instagram/FB, an old friend from high school messaged me to say he was now living in Oxford with his family and that I should message him to see if we could meet up. I sent him our itinerary, but he ended up with "baby duties" and wasn't able to get out of the house. Then this morning, we tried again, but it wasn't meant to happen. So, I said the next time I was in Oxford or the next time he was in Oregon. Ah well. That's the way it goes.

We check out of the hotel, take a taxi to the station, and realise that we didn't really get any souvenirs from Oxford. We are early for our train, so the kids walk around with me to look for a store, just in case there's something we'd like to get. But, there is nothing here. At the train station, there are only a few food stores and counters. Outside and down the street there are a lot of restaurants (mostly Asian) and a few industrial shops. Oh, and another barber. Why wouldn't you put a lot of touristy things right near the train station? Seems like an easy money maker. Duh! That's ok. We really didn't need anything anyway.

No souvenir shops, but a lot of bicycles, some personal and some for rent.

The train arrives and this time we have reserved seats. Not surprisingly, someone is in our seat, but Chris shows them our reservation and they move. We are not all together at a table, but in a line. Xander and Chris sit at one table and Venice and I at the other. All the seats eventually fill up. This is a very busy train (some even end up standing for a portion of the trip).

The biggest bummer is the seat size seems to be smaller here in second class (or is it the British trains versus the ICE of Germany?) Whatever the reason, or illusion, we are crammed in there. Venice has no where to put her feet, because the woman across from her has her purse on the floor and her feet over her "line" into Venice's foot space. Same goes for me. I'm carefully angling my right foot to go between the man's feet across from me and my left foot is in the aisle. How can you stay made at them when they talk with such a nice accent? Anyway, the man across from me sleeps the entire way, so it's ok when I bump his foot with mine once in a while. The woman across from Venice is reading her paper, so she's in her own world as well. Again, thankfully it's only a one hour train ride.

We arrive at Paddington Station and decide to use the restrooms and grab a coffee. Here at the train station, it's 30 pence to use the bathroom (it's a turnstile adventure, put in 30 pence and you can pass through the turnstile).

Venice on the train (top-left), Paddington Train Station (top-middle), Paddington Tube Station (top two right)
A bunch of crazy wiring at one of the Tube stations.

We walk from Paddington Train station to the Paddington Tube station. Transfer Tubes. Then walk a bit to our hotel. At this point, it's so very hot. Ugh. I think it's about 10 degrees warmer than what we were used to in Berlin and the humidity is definitely higher. Just ugh. I guess it could be raining. So, I'll keep my mouth shut.

Our new hotel is in a bit of a weird location. It's right at one side of a bridge. We came walking under the bridge. Google was telling us to go left, but there was no left, only a wall, since we were under the bridge. We finally figured it out and walked all around until we were up over the bridge and found out hotel. Later, we saw that there was a staircase within the bridge (not marked with any signs). This would have gotten us from below to above quickly.

And to be exact, we are not in a normal hotel. We are in an "Aparthotel". It's an apartment/hotel. Our unit has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, dining area, and small kitchen. AND, there's a washer/dryer (combo again) here! Yay!!!! I will not have to go hunting for a Laundromat! It's a nice, small apartment, but we rent it like a hotel. We're only expecting cleaning services once while we are here.

I have to say. I felt major relief (of stress I didn't even know I was carrying) when we walked in. It's clean. It's modern. It's very nice. I think having a home base like this will help us feel more settled. It's been hard living out of a suitcase for the last few weeks (first in southeastern Germany, then London a few days, then Oxford). This will be the first place we'll stay for a longer time in about two weeks. I'm feeling very happy to have a nice place to settle into. Of course, as I write this, I think of the refugees and how crappy it must feel to live out of what you can carry and to not have a place to settle into or call home. I'm now feeling very fortunate, too.

After a small respite, we head down the street to eat at a restaurant that's located right next door to HotelTonight. When we've had lunch, we'll go to HotelTonight to pick up our bags that we left there last week. Chris suggested this Asian restaurant (he had foo from here last week) and when we sit down, Xander is the only one without chopsticks. "It's as if they knew I was coming," he said, as he would rather use a fork than chopsticks.

The owner came to talk with us. Have we been here before? Would we like to hear some suggestions? When he learns that Chris works next door and we're here for a short time, he runs off and jots down a few places we MUST visit while here. Everything comes with a name and a Tube station so we know how to get there. He's very helpful with our meal choices (and it was extremely tasty) and with making us feel welcome.

We head right next door to pick up our bags. Chris introduces us to a few HotelTonight employees. Some come over and give us more ideas on things to do here and in Edinburgh. Everyone is friendly, the space is bright, it's another fun visit with HotelTonight.

Can you see our giant bags hiding at the back of the middle photo?

Side note: I took a photo of Xander pushing the button to open the doors to the street (remember how I almost got locked in because I couldn't figure it out?) When I looked at the photo later, I noticed the owner of todays' lunch restaurant is walking by in the door! Funny coincidence.

The view from the stairwell (left), Xander pushing the button to open the door (middle)
View from in front of the offices of HotelTonight (right)

Also next door to HotelTonight is a small market. Here, we pick up some laundry detergent (yippee!) and a few items for breakfast (OMG, we have also been eating out EVERY SINGLE MEAL since leaving Berlin and it's become cumbersome, not to mention I've probably gained back any weight I've lost due to eating out!)

Venice on her way
to the aparthotel.
Before dinner, we want to go see something in town. We head out to the Tube and get ourselves to Harrods. Our tour guide for Stonehenge joked about how one should go to Harrods, buy a 10£ bag that says Harrods on it, then go to the other department store (I'm forgetting the name of it) and fill it with affordable items. Then, one can walk down the street with a Harrods bag bulging and appear as wealthy as can be. Ok, I get what he's saying. Harrods is definitely for the wealthy (and currently, a lot of wealthy people are from the Oil Industry). So, if you're into caviar, oysters, and top of the line clothing, then this place is for you.

We gawk a bit and then circle back to find a map. The hosts at the directory station are very nice in chatting with us as we say we're just looking around. They tell us where the toys and the souvenirs are. Perfect. We probably spend an hour playing with all the toys and looking at electronics. And, we didn't buy a thing. Awesome!

Harrods (and surrounding street lights) - top
Different rooms in Harrods, with the Egyptian room on the right - bottom

Part of a ceiling inside Harrods (top)
Look at the Candy Store in the background... and Venice chose to play piano instead! She's in heaven.
A line of taxis waiting to take you and your purchases wherever you want to go (bottom)

Chris leads us to Kingly Court for dinner. Now, there was quite a miscommunication regarding this dinner. We all heard the word court and that there are multiple places to eat there. So, a few of us made the assumption that it was a "food court" and we were excited to eat what we wanted. But, when we arrived, it became clear that, while there is a lot of food there, it's all regular restaurants. We will need to agree upon a single place to eat. And the easy ones are out. Venice wanted a smoothie (easy to swallow with her sore throat), but it's closed. Pizza is a crowd pleaser, but it's closed. So, we must walk around the three story court to find one that suits us all.

We settle on Shoryu, a ramen house. It's a 30 minute wait, but we have little other choice. So we wait. It was well worth the wait. It is 2 for 1 bun Monday! So Xander gets 4 "pork buns" (two were shrimp) for the price of 2. Venice, Chris, and I get ramen (all three different flavours... I like mine the best... spicy curry!)

We plan to head home right after dinner, but when we walk out into the streets, we are faced with an amazing display of lights. I'm sure it's for the holidays. There are twinkly lights on several streets. And when we get to Oxford street, WOW! The lights are spectacular.

Piccadilly Circus (top)
Surrounding streets (bottom)

Surrounding streets (left and middle), Oxford Street (right)

More photos from the lights on Oxford Street.
John Lewis had its entire building sides covered in string lights (right)

Now, sufficiently tired from a vey long day of travel and exploration, we are ready to head home for some good sleep. Time to fully unpack and get ready for the next day's adventures.

Venice finds "herself" and Xander finds a new "Amplemann".

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