Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Let me start by saying that the symbol £ is the devil. No more is it 666, but it is £. This is to be the weekend for London. I’m taking discount air (Ryanair) there and back, and Anna and Michelle as traveling partners. Anna spent this summer in London, so I don’t expect to do much in the way of planning or thinking, it’s gonna be her show. Unfortunately, I was very stupid and forgot my camera. As a result, all I have are pictures from Anna and Michelle’s cameras. They don’t take as many pictures as I do, nor do they take the same kind of pictures, so when I get those, I’ll put a couple up, but don’t expect the usual cornucopia of wannabe artsy garbage I normally take.

Day 1 – Friday, November 11

As we got out of English, the first problem hit; Anna and I were present, but we couldn’t find Michelle. That could be a problem, so eventually Anna went home to find her, and I went to the city to find food. After food and chatting up the various MUDECers in the train station for a while, it was time to meet up with Anna. We found each other, and Michelle, and we headed for the bus stop that would take us to Frankfurt/Hahn airport. Unfortunately, we were at the wrong Quai 7. Luxembourg Gare Central has two bus places, and we were in the wrong one. We missed the bus, and the next one would have no chance of getting us there on time. We then tried to take a cab to Wasserbillig to get it at the next stop, but that proved impossible. We ended up taking the cab the whole way. Despite Anna trying to insist on paying for the whole ride, I sneakily put a €50 bill in her purse. I guess having a conscience is an expensive proposition. We were still only about a half hour before the flight, and we rushed through security and ran to our gate. Boarding was already starting when we got there. We got split up since discount airlines are all seat yourself, first come first serve. We had to go out on the tarmac to get on the plane; no jetways for RyanAir. That’s just fine; we paid something like €50 round trip.

When we landed, Michelle and I found that Anna had made a friend on the trip, an attractive young Egyptian woman named Hanya, who spoke excellent English, and was headed to London to meet friends for a week or so. It was strange, but when we got to customs, we were in the same line as Hanya; both Egypt and the US are under “Other Countries”. We stuck together to get to the Stansted Express (as is normal, RyanAir doesn’t fly into Heathrow.) to get into the center of the city. On the train, Michelle and I met and chatted with a Norwegian girl who was in London on some sort of school related thing. When we arrived in Liverpool station, we bid Hanya goodbye, and got on the underground to get to our hotel. When we arrived at our hotel, Michelle and I were stunned. We knew that Anna had used hotel points to book a nice hotel, but the Lane Park Sheraton is ridiculously high class. We dumped our stuff and went to go get food.

We went to Pizza Express, which is a real nice pizza place, but a (relatively) cheap chain. Nice and cheap, in other words. After this we headed to Waxy O’Connor’s, a nice pub. From the outside it looks tiny, but the inside never seemed to end. We hung out there for a while, and then headed out. We first tried to get into Um Baba, a club that Anna’s friend was at. The bouncer said the guest list was closed, so we couldn’t get in despite knowing what fake names to give for the guest list. We tried to get in a different club, but they wouldn’t let me in because I was wearing “trainers”, as they call sneakers in Britain. That was another failure.

We eventually went to Zoo Bar, where they weren’t stuck-up assholes, and they let us in. We had a beer and found a place to sit. Anna made it her job to get us drunk. The final tally was two rounds of beer, a round of shots, a pitcher of rum and coke, a pitcher of long island, and a pitcher of red bull and vodka, just at Zoo Bar. I think. This was followed by Anna and Michelle on the dance floor, surrounded by like 20 guys, all trying to dance on/with them. They were quite the hit of the place. Imagine a bar that’s like 5 to 1 guys to girls, and there are two girls who are both attractive and willing to dance. They were quite popular. We eventually left, and on the way home, Anna really had to go to the bathroom and eventually just gave up and pissed her pants. Which were actually Michelle’s pants. She then jumped into the shower with all of her clothes on. And we slept.

Day 2 – Saturday, November 12:

We awoke late, for obvious reasons, all had wonderful showers in the very nice bathroom in our very nice hotel, and headed out to see the sights. The first thing we did was hit Starbucks, once again for obvious reasons, which are about as common in London as they are in Chicago. There was at least one per block, it seemed. Then we had brunch at this restaurant that had like some strange Japanese vibe with a bunch of different noodle dishes. I had one that was like fancy chicken noodle soup, and it had less flavor than a can of Campbell’s. Anna wasn’t joking when she said English food is really bland. Anna then led the way to Harrods, the gigantic and famous department store. I saw it and left to go see the British museum, since they would be shopping for a while.

The British museum is both free and huge, and I probably could have spent a week there. As it was, I spent about 2 or 3 hours there. I paid two quid for a map, so I would be able to see what I really wanted to, and headed in. The first thing I saw was the Parthenon sculptures. The British had an extensive collection of sculptures taken from the Parthenon in Athens (the Greeks will say stolen and held illegally or something along those lines, it’s a bit of a sore spot) and they were very cool. My favorites were a long collection of wall sculptures of a centaur fighting a man, who is described as a Lapith, though I do not know what that means. The sculptures were all very well done and depicted the action quite well. Almost all of the heads seemed to be missing, however. Many of them were taken before the British took the sculptures and were now in other collections all over the world, though some were also just lost. Overall, the Hellenistic sculptures were very cool.

The next thing I saw was the main reason I had wanted to come to the British Museum in the first place. It was the Rosetta Stone. I had long been fascinated by this piece of history and how useful it had been to historians, far out of proportion with how important it was in its actual purpose. I looked at the stone for a while and read the exhibit, which was very nicely done. It was obviously a high traffic exhibit as there were many people around it the whole time. I continued through and saw the Egyptian mummies, which were quite cool. They were not unwrapped like the one in the Roman Museum, but they were still interesting. They had x-rays of them, which was cool to look at as well. They had an exhibit on money from the beginning of time until now that was also very interesting. It showed the evolution from weighing chunks of metal all the way to credit cards. It was interesting to note that there were counterfeiters long long ago; that it’s not a recent phenomenon. Back then, there weren’t as many security measures to stop it, however there was less technology for the counterfeiters to use. Also, at times people counterfeited merely because the amount of currency in circulation was too small. If the coin had the correct metal in it, it was the same as having an official coin. I wandered around some more, but I was really tired, so I headed back to the hotel for a nap before I met up with Anna and Michelle.

They came back loaded down with bags as I had expected. The good part was that one of the bags held food. We all feasted on bagels, baguette, meat and cheese. They showed some of what they had bought, including a pair of jeans that Anna bought for £150. They probably dropped a combined 1000 quid on that shopping spree. Anna, true to female form, bought 3 pairs of shoes. We were planning to head out and try to meet up with Anna’s friend at a club again, and the women took forever to get ready, which is to be expected, but no less exasperating.

The first thing we hit was Waxy O’Connor’s again, and this time we met some sailors from an Irish navy boat, in London on leave. They were quite amusing, although one of them said, in response to the fact that I was traveling with two lovelies and not dating either one, “Well, you must be gay, then, am I right?” One of the Irish girls I met there said that one of her friends (male) was going home with a South African girl and that her other companion (female) was going home with a South African guy. I thought that was rather amusing. Anna was sporting a semi-ridiculous looking outfit with like a tutu over jeans, and one of the sailors kept lifting the skirt up as a joke, which I thought was funny. We eventually left, and went to the club Tantra, where we were supposed to be on the guest list and be let in. That failed again, and her friend never came out to try to get us in, so that was no good. I was actually semi-relieved, as clubs just are not my scene.

We headed back to our hotel, where Anna got a text from her friend Bobby J, who was sort of her teacher over the summer when she lived in London. He was absolutely hilarious. He had an American-style background: French mother, British father, lived in America and Mexico and now London. He spoke American accented English with British English slang, which was somewhat amusing. He’s a film production person, currently doing freelance work for…Playboy TV. That led to some hilarious stories. Anna ordered two £20 bottles of wine from the hotel, and we sat around drinking wine and talking. Bobby J had a fun story about fucked up Japanese porn called Helicopter Man. His signature move is the helicopter, which seems like it should be impossible, but Bobby J had a clip on his phone, and Helicopter Man seemed able to do it. Also, another funny line from Bobby J was, “She was a cunt. Yes, we use that word here.”

Day 3 – November 13:

We awoke and breakfasted on room service, which was Anna’s treat, ordered while she was really drunk the night before. The waffles were incredible. We then checked out and headed to Hyde Park. This is Anna’s favorite place, and we wandered through there. It was quite beautiful, and we climbed this very peculiar looking tree, which had a nice view from the top. We walked past the memorial to Princess Diana, which is not all that impressive, and especially not when inoperable for cleaning purposes as it was when we saw it. We then hopped on the tube to get to Westminster. We saw the buildings of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Buckingham Palace. Big Ben was…big, I will give it that. The Parliament and Westminster were very interesting, done in a Gothic style. There was a parade for Veteran’s day that we watched for a while. People were waiting for the Prince to return outside the Palace, but as the bobbie (bobette? She was female) said, he would merely drive by quickly, so we passed on waiting. We headed to Starbucks again for refreshment and to plan out the afternoon. Michelle and Anna were done sightseeing, so they decided to go see Pride and Prejudice. I don’t like that story, nor did I want to spend my time in London in a movie theater, so I headed off to sightsee some more.

The first thing I hit was St. Pauls Cathedral, which was big and very ornate, but most of it wasn’t open to the public at the time, so I didn’t get to see much. Also, I didn’t know how to get to the top of the dome, or if I could. Regardless, I didn’t have a camera, and it was something like £6. I headed off to find the Tower of London. I got there, and paid the £11 to get in. On the way in I saw a stand that had good, cheap food and made a mental note to hit that on the way out so I wouldn’t starve. I went inside and saw the tower where they used to torture people, which was cool.

I then hit the Jewel Museum, where the crown jewels are kept. Let me just say that they are ridiculous. If Britain ever wanted to pay down the national debt of the US, they could just sell off the crown jewels. One piece, not even a crown but a ceremonial scepter, had a 530 karat diamond on it. The thing was as big as a fist. There was so much gold and jewels that it’s impossible to describe. It isn’t just one crown and one scepter. It is like one for each monarch, sometimes one for the coronation and one for the rest of the rule. And they all have more gold and diamonds than I have ever seen. When I went into the making of the crown jewels exhibit, they talked about a diamond found in 1905 that was 3,106 karats. It was called the Cullinan diamond, and it was eventually cut into 9 major pieces along with shards and fragments. The largest, Cullinan 1, is the 530k stone I mentioned earlier. Another exhibit had the coronation crown of George IV with all of the diamonds taken out. There was then a pile of all 12,314 diamonds that it would take to make the crown whole again. Like I said, the wealth in those rooms is amazing. When you walk in or out you pass through a security door thicker than most vault doors I have seen.

When I was done there, I saw the ravens of the tower. One king was said to have been told that if the ravens left the tower, the monarchy would fall. Ever since then, they have kept ravens in the tower. I walked along the outer walls of the fortress, which had a nice view of the Tower Bridge, among other things. I also went into the Museum of the Fusiliers, the elite British regiment. It had mementos from all the conflicts they had fought in as well as the specifics of where they fought. It was very interesting, despite the steep fee of £.50 I had to pay to get in. The tower was about to close, so I headed out and went to go get a view of the Tower Bridge. It is very impressive. It is not common for a bridge to be that ornate, since it seems beside the point, but it looks very cool. On my way out I passed the food stand and it was of course closed. My luck. On my way to the tube station, I passed through a monument to the soldiers who had died in WWII on ships, but whose bodies were never recovered. I spoke to a drunk veteran who was standing vigil at the memorial for a while, and headed to the tube.

I got back to the hotel where I was supposed to meet Anna and Michelle right on time. Unfortunately, they were quite late. When they finally got here, we got our bags and grabbed a taxi to get to Liverpool station. There we remembered that the express train that we took into the city doesn’t run, but is replaced by buses. This wouldn’t be so bad, but we were running a bit late, and the bus would take longer to get there. We got to Stansted at 19.35, and our flight left at 20.00. RyanAir had already given out our seats and closed check-in. The next RyanAir flight to Frankfurt was the next morning. I spotted a flight to Köln/Bonn at 21.00, and we headed to find where we could get on that flight. It was by GermanWings, an airline I didn’t know existed, but it flew in the right direction, and I knew there was a train station connected to the airport. We bought tickets for £65, and headed to the terminal. The flight was a half hour late but otherwise uneventful. My attempt at using German when asking for hot chocolate from the flight attendant failed when I pronounced kakao incorrectly. I was disappointed with myself. We got into Köln/Bonn and headed for the train station. We took a quick train to Köln hauptbanhoff and had to wait there for a train to Koblenz. I caved for the first time since coming to Luxembourg and ate Burger King since it was cheap and open late. At one point on this journey Michelle just stopped in her tracks and exclaimed “I want my mom!” We eventually caught a train to Koblenz, from there to Trier, and from Trier to Luxembourg, arriving in Differdange about 9.25. The trip home from hell.