TT vs. England

London I: Triple Threat vs. Old English Stuff

Phase 0:  Pre-trip
When Aaron invited me to go to London with him over Thanksgiving, I put in a good word for Lin-Wei, and she got to go too.  Her one request, her only request, was to go touch some ancient ruins in the countryside.  Whatever else we did was fine, but if we could just do this one thing, that would be great.  We agreed that this would, indeed, be quite lovely and a smashing good time.  But, Lin-Wei just wanted to make sure that that was in the plans, so she asked us 317 more times if that was cool with us, coming up with timetables, charts, weather reports, and the odd bit of astrology to compile a "rough" schedule for the 10 days.  The schedule was voted upon and passed by a majority of the Vacation Board.  And everyone was happy...

Phase I: Arrival/London Part I  (If it ain't streaky, I don't want it)

A valiant, but failed, attempt to secure three discount tickets to London through Motorola (Long may she live) finished with the end result of Lin-Wei and Aaron having paper tickets for themselves, issued in my name, and myself having an electronic ticket issued in a little known but highly complex Tibetan dialect.  These items we brought to the airport, each of us coming from a separate direction:  Me, by way of Nice Guy Tom, from the West;  Lin-Wei, via the Blue Train, from the Far East, and Aaron Gresch via means not known, but surely diabolical, from the North.  I gathered my travel-stuffs about me as I entered the International check-in line, and was surprised to see Aaron one row closer to the velvet gate.  We exchanged pleasantries, but then realized that, oh yes, we were traveling together that day! and proceeded to exchange more pleasantries.  Aaron made it to the gate before Lin-Wei got there.  But it was only minutes later, that I, in disbelief, saw a 5 foot tall Chinese penguin waving to me in greeting!  It was none other than Lin-Wei, all the way from the land of Aon!  Our fellowship was complete.  The vacation could begin!  But only after convincing the woman behind the counter that, yes, I was Allen Bonney, and oops, I did forget my credit card at home, but this is really me, and see I have a drivers license and passport too, and cool, ok, thanks, and will I have problems like this in England too, no, ok, good then.  ok.

I don’t know what set off the metal detector at the security checkpoint (was it the glint of mischief in my eye?), but I got buzzed.  I had to wait in a separate line, then go sit in a chair.  After removing my shoes, I got introduced to the wand while I stood there with my arms held out.  Lin-Wei, I was delighted to see, was also making a new friend.  Aaron had come though clean, though, he told us as we got to the gate.

Assembled at the gate, we waited as we savored the last bit of Americana before we left:  I, with a double cheeseburger, Aaron with a McChicken, and Lin-Wei with a glass of water with ice in it.  Lin-Wei quickly darted to the bathroom before boarding, and then we found our seats.  We joked that the crappy movie in coach would probably be something like Mr. Deeds, and we hoped we'd be able to survive the flight.

A 7 1/2 hour flight in coach ain't what most would call a rip-roarin', rootin'-tootin' good time, but then again, I don't know many folks who say that about anything.  Lin-Wei did kill time, though, by making sure the plane lavatory was in working condition every hour.  We all slept for a lot of the flight.  The movie on the way there was Men In Black II.  The movie scheduled on the trip back?   Mr. Deeds...   We landed at 10am the next morning.

We got through customs and immigration just fine at Heathrow, and found the Underground subway system.  Snagged some pounds from the ATM, and Aaron bought us train tickets (and Lin-Wei learning what a WC was).  We boarded the Piccadilly (purple) line.  I think it was fortunate that we were transferring at Kings Cross, and not going to the end of the line (look at the bottom of the page).  I don't want anything of that sort fostered onto me.

The ride from Heathrow to Elise and Chad's apartment is over an hour and a half long, and the train was packed!  I was unable to get a seat until 5 minutes before we had to transfer.  But, those were, to date, the best 5 minutes of my life.  I was really tired from the flight and standing on the train for an hour and a half.  We made our transfer at Kings Cross, got on the Victoria (blue) line, and exited at Highbury and Islington.  We were there!  Lin-Wei put on her penguin outfit again, and we hoofed it 3 blocks to the home of Elise and Chad.  Chad was kind enough to meet us there on his lunch hour.  Aaron warned us that their apartment was a bit on side.  Holy crap was it cozy!  If the three of us were in the living room, you had to say "Excuse me" if you wanted to get to the bathroom (Elise, don’t read that part about the coziness.  I really liked your apartment, and it was awesome to stay there.  It was just… cozy).  We were allowed only a few minutes of rest at the apartment, a bathroom break, and then we were off to see London!

The first order of business was to get some food, and after some pointless wandering around, we settled on a Chinese/Thai place.  I, going out on a limb, ordered some "Pad Thai" and was somewhat surprised to see that it was completely pink.  The noodles were pink, the chicken was pink, the sprouts were pink.  Dang.  And it tasted a lot like something that was much more pink than you would want it to be.  I supplemented my pink plate with some of Lin-Wei's black bean sauce dish.  We left the restaurant, and it began to rain, and Lin-Wei's umbrella had just broken.  And mine was...well...I didn't have it on me at the time.  A brief, but frantic, search for umbrellas was unsuccessful.  I mean, come on!  This is London!  They should have dudes in carts running around the city selling them.  But, then again, the Londoners probably aren't stupid enough to leave their umbrellas at home, on their beds, right next to where their suitcase used to be.  Pah, those smug English....

So, we took the tube downtown, and went sight sight-seeing and also umbrella sight-seeking.  Aaron was so snug and smug under his nice big working, "I can't believe you forgot yours" umbrella, while Lin-Wei and I huddled under the tattered remains of hers.  The Londoners spit upon us as we passed...   

We saw the Millennium wheel, and some other random stuff, until we needed to make yet another restroom stop at some mall type place.  But, as luck would have it, there was a gift-shop at this mall type place, and they had umbrellas (prollys) on sale for the low, low price of £13.50.  That's $21 folks.  But we was desperate, I tells ya, we was desperate!  And, it's not like it was real money.  It was all funny colors and stuff with a picture of the queen on it.  Therefore it wasn't a big deal to "spend" it.  (I use this same philosophy in Vegas when using the blackjack chips, and it works out great).

Lin-Wei and I, newly armed with our Royal Festival Hall souvenir umbrellas (oops, prollys), scoffed at Aaron and his $5 umbrella.  Pah!  It didn’t pay to spit on him, though, because he was under an umbrella.

Lin-Wei really wanted to cross the London Bridge.  This is not to be confused with the Tower Bridge, mind you.  It was the one that Bridget Jones may have crossed in the book/movie.  There are a fair number of bridges that cross the River Thames, so we walked to the next one, crossed it, and found out from the map that that was the wrong one.  We looked down the river, saw another one, walked for 1/2 hour, and crossed it, only to find out that it wasn't right either.  We looked further down the river, found the one that had to be it, and crossed it, only to find out that it was the Millennium bridge (that was not shown on our map, and we mistook it for London Bridge).  A brief International Leaf-Catching Game broke out while walking down the alley after this bridge, but it didn't last too long.  Then we headed back to the apartment for a bit of rest before meeting Elise and friends for dinner at this pseudo-pizza place.

At this pseudo-pizza place we had these neat French bread pizzas with lots of different toppings (smoked fish, spinach, goat cheese, chicken, etc..), and one with "Streaky Bacon".  No one at the table was really sure what “streaky” bacon was, so we got it, and it appeared to be a slightly pinker version (yeah) of regular bacon.  It was ok.  We and also had some desserts.  They had a "fruits of the forest" dessert pizza.  This fruits of the forest thing had always vexed me, for I imagined unspeakable berries and mutated rhubarbs baked into a hideous mockery of a pie-shell.  But, I was informed by everyone at the table that it is just blackberries and blueberries and sweet, wonderful, innocent fruits such as these.  So, the fruits of the forest was ordered, enjoyed, and I didn't turn into a bloodthirsty werewolf after eating it!  Yay!  Lin-Wei hit the bathroom before we left.

We went back to the flat, Lin-Wei and I took the fold-out bed (after she hit the bathroom again), and Aaron took the kitchen, and we went to bed, with promises of getting up early, so that we didn't waste the day.

The Breakdown:
- Number of Lin-Wei Bathroom breaks today:  I, unfortunately, have to retire this stat immediately.  Too hard to keep track of, but I did a pretty good job the first day.  If bathroom breaks were years, then today Lin-Wei's bladder would be thinking about getting that driver's permit real soon.
- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  3

Alright, we woke up at 10am.  But, you know, we were up for a long time the day before, and we walked a lot, and dammit, we were on vacation!  Quit hounding us about it already!

We woke up at 10, but I don't think we got up until 11.  Lin-Wei prodded Aaron and I into the shower (separately!), and we got ready to go.  Elise and Chad joined us as we checked out an exhibit on the ancient Aztecs.  I learned that it was an honor to die as a sacrifice, and a privilege to wear the skin of the sacrificed around town.  It's funny how fashions really haven't changed that much.

We then got the obligatory photos of Big Ben and Parliament (yes, that scene from European Vacation kept running through my head the entire day), and then for some reason passed the London Bridge entirely and went to the Tower Bridge.  They have a semi-neat tour where you get to go up into the first tower, cross the bridge on the upper platforms, and then see the engine room that powers the draw-bridge.  We made sure to Mind our Heads (Mind our Minds?  Head our Head?), and took a silly picture.

A beer and a sandwich (and bathroom break) were demanded before meeting Elise and Chad for a real dinner, and after only a 1/2 hour of searching, we finaaaaaly found a pub.  Like the umbrellas, there wasn’t a pub to be found when we were parched and starving, and this was no exception.  But we eventually got our beer, and our sandwich, before meeting for real dinner at an Indian place.  I got the Chicken Tikka Masala, and while, in the past, every other Indian dish has betrayed me (either at the time, or three hours later), the Chicken Tikka Masala never had.  And this Chicken Tikka maintained the high standards I was used to.  Hazzah!

After dinner, we got some night pictures of ... "Look kids!  Parliament...Big Ben", and then, as Chad says, we began to document, in photos, every two feet of the walk from Westminster to Trafalgar Square (not pictured).  We were all quite exhausted after that, so we hopped on the tube, and went back to Islington.  Tomorrow we were going to go to Abbey Road and see a Rugby game, so we had to get up earlier.  Aaron slunk off to the kitchen, much less enthused tonight after a questionable amount of sleep the night before ("Did I sleep at all??"), and Lin-Wei and I prepared the fold out bed.  And then we slept.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  1
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 1

It won't be too crowded Sunday morning at Abbey Road we thought, but we would never know.  We woke up again at 10am, Lin-Wei got the showers scheduled, and we finally left at 11:30ish.  We took the tube to St. Johns Wood, and knew we were in the right spot when we saw a Beatles gift shop in the tube station.  The recording studio is about 4 blocks away, and as we rounded the corner to Abbey Road, we saw a host of Japanese kids walking across the street (well, darting across would be more like it.  There is a LOT of traffic on that street, and it is a real pain to get across the crosswalk.   According to the guidebook, the locals are not a little annoyed at all the tourists trying to get pictures of  themselves crossing the street).

So, we waited until they were done, and then it was my turn to wait 5min for traffic to clear up (in a moderate rain/drizzle) before darting across myself.  Even though I resemble Paul McCartney (have to talk to mom about that...), I didn't go barefoot.  But it was pretty weird being there.   The actual studio building just looks like a big house, in a neighborhood of big houses.  A bit unreal, I guess.

Afterwards we went to a pub, eager to get some real "fish and chips".  Aaron and I went up go get beers for ourselves, a coke and a water for Lin-Wei, and we ate our fish and chips (not bad).  Then we got back on the tube to meet Elise and Chad and friends at the tube stop where the rugby game was.  I was pretty psyched to see my first Rugby game.  We stocked up on water and snacks which we snuck into the stadium, and sat in what would be the end-zone in an American Football stadium.  We saw many a scrum, not many "tries", and I felt really bad for all those dudes that had to play in really cold weather, on a really rainy day.

After the game, we walked for what seemed like years, but was probably only months, to get to an alternate train station because this train would be faster getting home.  I can't really be sure about that, as my sore feet took up most of my attention.  When we got home, we watched a little public TV (they can say naughty words on broadcast TV!  heh heh), and then we implemented the standard getting-ready-for-bed drill.  The next morning we HAD HAD HAD to get up early, cause we were going to Bath (the city, silly), and our train leaves at 8:45am.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  0
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 0
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 1

Phase II - Ancient Roman Ruins in the Countryside (Are you happy now?!?)  ("Yes!")

Lin-Wei and I awoke at 3am.  We were awakened by Aaron speaking in tongues.  And it frightened me.  To hear such sounds as these coming from a kitchen... I wouldn't wish that upon my worst enemy, not even Lou Reed himself.  After a few minutes, the torrent stopped, and I feel back asleep.  I was only able to make out two words:  "Triple Threat!"  Later that morning, when we woke up for real at 7am, Lin-Wei and I compared notes.  She too heard him "speaking" and all she made out was "Bath!".  Were Aaron's words a warning about the three of us going to Bath?  Were they a warning to Bath itself about us!?  Aaron had no recollection of saying anything, but we all decided that our group needed a name, and name us he did.  We shall henceforth be called the Triple Threat!  

Our train left from London Paddington station at 8:45am, like I said before (have you forgotten already?  <sigh>  I try to make these logs as concise as possible, but you have to work with me!), but the tube let us down!  We got stuck on the tracks for some time, and didn't get to the station until 9:05.  But, we knew of another train at 9:15.  So Lin-Wei and Aaron got in line to get tickets from the teller, while I was tasked with trying to figure out the automated computer ticket system, in case that was faster.  But the puzzle of the British Rail defied my attempts to solve it, so I just walked out of there, much to the disbelief of Lin-Wei, who looked a bit annoyed as she and Aaron were still stuck in line.  I did take a moment to glace at the Departures board, and noticed that well over 90% of the trains were either cancelled or delayed.  Now, I wouldn't say that normally I'm a slow man, but we were in a new country, my internal clock was still saying that it was 3am, and it wasn't until a few minutes later that it dawned on me that, hey, since all the trains were delayed, that might affect us too!  Yep, our train to Bath was indefinitely delayed, but that afforded Lin-Wei the chance to grab a sandwich for breakfast.  She came back with a baguette from the some sandwich place, and she had a joyous grin on her face because she really really likes baguettes.  Aaron and I got in line at Burger King to get sandwiches as well, and Lin-Wei went off to watch the board.  I waited in line for 5 minutes, and just as I got to the front, I was ripped away from satiation by Lin-Wei, saying that the train was leaving from platform 4, right now!  So we ran to platform 4, along with 200 other Londoners trying to get a seat.  Lin-Wei dashed on board and got us a 4-seater with a table, and waved us in.  I, panting, asked if this was the train to Bath, and she said that she "thought so" as it started to leave the station.  But, never fear, we were indeed on the correct train.

Lin-Wei happily munched on her baguette (she was kind enough to dole out a bite or two to the hungry gentlemen seated across from her), and Aaron and I took the time to enjoy the lovely English countryside....for about 10 minutes.  Then we fell asleep.

We awoke (third time for me today) outside of Bath, and disembarked the train when it arrived in Bath.  Two of us waited while the third used the bathroom (remember, I don't name names anymore), and we got some maps and postcards and stuff.  Then we began our first day trip by hiking to the ruins of an ancient Roman bathhouse (thus the name of the city).  This place was used in between the 1st and 4th centuries by Romans seeking healing from the Gods, and also as a place to just kick back and have a soak.

They had some neato audio tour thingies that you use to learn about history and stuff, which Lin-Wei and I enjoyed very much, but Aaron found monotonous and boring.  But now he is an uninformed sod when it comes to Roman bathhouses.  Neeeeahh.

After spending a couple of hours at the bathhouse we exited, and asked around for a good pub in the area.
"Are there any good pubs in the area?"
<blank look>  "Yes, of course"
"Ok.  Thanks"
We went to the Crystal Palace, and even though that doesn't sound very Englishy or Puby, it pretty much was on the inside.  Aaron and I went to the bar and got two beers, a coke, and a tap water.  [You need to order "tap" water in London if you want a glass of water.  Otherwise you get bottled water, and you have to pay for it with that picture money.  This "tap" water most of the time came without ice, and more often than not was tepid to slightly warm.]  We got a Fish and Chips, a Tortellini, and a Paella.   There was three cheers for the Fish, but the Tortellini would remain a bone of contention throughout the remainder of the trip, and indeed, to this day!  Lin-Wei and I loved it, and Aaron thought it was the worst pasta he had ever eaten.  It made him swear off English pasta for the rest of the trip!  And probably the rest of his life.  But, I'm telling you, the savory blend of cheeses, spinach, spices, noodles, and, I'm sure, other goodness cannot be denied!  Can NOT be denied, I tell you!  Anyway...Lin-Wei and I got to split the Tortellini in half.  Yumyum.

We spent a couple of hours after lunch walking around Bath taking pictures, then stopped in the mall for more postcards.  An interesting postcard with "Sham Castle" on it caught Lin-Wei's eye, and we decided that that would be something neat to check out.  We asked at the camera store for directions, and they directed us to take a right, exit the mall, and it was down the street, about 20 minutes away, right outside of town.  That was cool with us, and we headed out, crossing the Avon river on the Putney bridge.  Just to make sure, we asked again at a convenience for directions, and were told to continue on the road we were on, at the end take a right, and go up the hill.

Up the hill we went for 10ish minutes.  Passing a mother and three children, we asked for Sham Castle, and she said that they were on their way there as well!  So we followed them, and they directed us to Sham Castle lane.  Ah ha!  We were on the right track, but this was just a row of houses.  They family turned off the road and went into their house, and we continued to climb the hill.  And then we reached the end of Sham Castle lane, and it ended at a brick wall, with a narrow alleyway-like opening that looked like someone's walkway to their front door.  Lin-Wei immediately started to go up that way, but Aaron and I were wary.  Just then an older gentleman stopped by and asked, "Making movies?"  [Aaron had been carrying his camera tripod on his backpack the entire day today].  When we inquired about Sham castle, he told us, "Oh yes.  You head right up through here, and you'll go up the hill through a field.  At the top of the hill, there will be a road. Take a right, and then up the hill there will be a golf course.  Go up there, and up through another field, and you will see the castle".
Hmmm... We briefly considered turning back, as we were already pretty far from the city, and it was getting darker, and a pretty heavy fog was rolling in.  But, we were the Triple Threat, and would not be so easily foiled!  We went though the field, and got to the road.  We headed up the road, and Aaron began to lag behind Lin-Wei and I.  He was wearing the backpack with the tripod attached, and we were all a bit sore in the foot by this point.  Climbing the hill on the road was less muddy, but steeper.  We found the turn off for the golf course, but it looked like a regular residential street.  The fog was really thick at this point, and we weren't really sure how close to our goal we were.  Remember, we had started this trip from the middle of a mall, in the middle of a bustling city. And now we were on a hill, on a country lane, surrounded by mist and dark trees, with sore feet and heavy backpacks, and it was even darker.  I don't believe there was a rational reason that we decided to press on, but we did.  We got to the entrance gates to the golf course at twilight, and I, looking up the hill to our right, noticed what looked like ramparts peeking over the hill.  I excitedly pointed it out to the group, and doubting Aaron took a moment before he saw it too.  The way up looked rough, but we snuck into the golf course parking lot and found a better path from there.  And, as we finally crested this "hill", there it was before us:  Sham Castle!  In the travel guide it says that you get a great view of Bath from up here, but we couldn't even see the guys playing golf on the course right behind us (how did they see the ball exactly?)

The "castle" turned out to be just a wall of the castle, but with all the mist and bluish lighting, it looked pretty cool, and we were quit happy to have found it, after all that business (we started this trip in a mall!).  Got lots of pictures, and then took the much easier trip back down the  And took more night pictures.  Our train back to London left at 7:30, and we took bets on when we would get back to the flat.  9:45pm had the even money.  It was 5 now, so we had time for dinner.  But what we didn't know was that every restaurant closed down at 5, and all the pubs served food from noon until 4.  Ack!  So we walked around for the better part of an hour, and finally decided on an Indian place.  I got the Chicken Tikka Masala, partly for the reason that I knew I could update a stat in my travelogue. (Cheater!)  The food was a great treat after all that walking, and they had the most amazing bathroom there.  All shiny and polished and bright, and the toilet was on a raised tile platform, gleaming in the fluorescent light like the throne of King Mierda.  A magical place...

We got to the train station at 7ish, only to find out that our train was cancelled (or maybe just delayed), due to a fatality earlier that evening.  And they didn't know when the trains would start again.  So we went down the street to an internet cafe and I had a hot chocolate while I checked some email and surfed the web.  That was very nice as well, and left quite an impression.  I made a mental note to go to a couple more before I left.

We went back to the train station to wait for the train, but the train wasn’t coming for a while.  At 9pm our train finally arrived.  We were all quite exhausted.  Lin-Wei implored us not to fall asleep, because we had to get up early the next day (6am) for our next day trip.  Under dire threats of out-of-whack sleep schedules and insomnia, Aaron and I fought to stay awake.  Success in this battle would elude us this day, however.  We fell asleep 10 minutes later.  The trip lasted 2 hours for Lin-Wei, and 12 minutes for Aaron and I.

Arriving at Paddington station at 11pm, we still had to take the tube back to Islington.  Hopped on the Circle line going west, only to find out that all stops between here and home on this line were closed...  A final trump card by the public transport system.  So, we had to take a train back to Paddington, start over, and go the roundabout way.  We finally strode into the apartment at midnight, 5 hours after we had started coming home.  Elise and Chad were much surprised to see us that night, figuring that we had either decided to stay overnight in Bath, or that we had joined up with a band of gypsies and were heading for the Czech Republic.  Aaron was probably wishing for the latter, as he would have had a nice, comfy pile of straw in which to sleep, instead of a kitchen.  We all collapsed into bed, and Aaron secretly hoped that he would divulge no more secrets in the wee hours of the night.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  1
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 1
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 1
- Number of Baguettes purchased today: 1

Yeah, you read correctly.  We got up this day at 6am (that's midnight your time.  I'm sure that my body was starting to pass a petition around, and getting ready to revolt.  But I promised Burger King that day, and that was able to quell most of the riots).  Some of us showered the night before, some that day, and some not at all.  This day we are going to Canterbury.  Aaron had been there on his last trip to London, and regaled us with delightful tales of Tales, and churches, and giant Jenga games that were 5 feet high.  I kept picturing Lin-Wei getting buried under a pile of Jenga blocks as her latest move went awry.

We got to the British Rail station a few minutes ahead of time that morning, and I vowed to have my Burger King breakfast.  Lin-Wei of course got her baguette, and I got in line for the BK, while Aaron got in line for tickets.  I actually briefly got in the McDonalds line, but that moved not an inch, so I switched back to BK.  I ordered a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese, and when I asked if this sandwich had the fabled "Streaky" bacon, all I got in return was a blank look...  Not sure how to proceed, I just asked for the sandwich anyway.  I paid, but before I got my food, I saw Aaron and Lin-Wei looking at me impatiently.  Our train was getting ready to leave!  But..but...but... But then the guy delivered the goods, and we were off again.  We got on the train, got our seats, and began to eat.  My sandwich was a great disappointment.  It did have egg, and some sort of cheese, but the bacon was ham, and it was doused in BBQ sauce.  Bleeech.

After 10 minutes, of course, all three of us were asleep, but a nice gentleman woke us up when we got to Canterbury.

Canterbury is a pretty cool city that it surrounded by a medieval wall.  There is also a big mound there.  If there is a mound, the Triple Threat will climb it.  And we will photograph it.  And then we will climb down.  This is our pledge to you.

After climbing down the mound, we wanted to check out the old city castle, but it was closed for renovations, so we had to be content to watch Aaron slink around an old cemetery.  We then headed into the city proper and purchased tickets for the Canterbury Cathedral.  This is where Archbishop Thomas Becket was murder by knights of King Somebody the Something back in some year.  Got a few photos in there including this one (I think the dude on the left is checking out what the dude on the right is doing), and then Aaron decided to stay while Lin-Wei and I checked out this entertaining (and educational) "animatronic" Canterbury Tales exhibit.  I say "animatronic" because I saw one of the puppets move once, on its own, so I think that counts.

The exhibit was fairly interesting, but the idea of lunch was much more so, and as we exited we saw Aaron sitting on a nearby bench, ready to eat as well.  We headed over to the Pub that he recalled having the giant Jenga set, but we saw no towers of rectangular blocks there.  What we did see was two beers, a coke, and a water sitting on our table after Aaron and I got them.  Lin-Wei noticed the Chicken Tikka Masala on the menu at this Old English Pub, but decided against it, as it probably wouldn’t be very good in a pub.  I think we got more fish and chips.  Maybe.

After the pub, we went back to the Cathedral, lost Aaron for a bit, found him, took pictures, pictures, more pictures, and then walked around town.  Then a walk through a park, where we found the fabled Kohlbeck Tree.  

Later, I noticed a museum in the old town gate, so we headed up this cool stone spiral stairway, and checked it out.  In the gift shop, there was a hole in the floor that showed the street below, and I coaxed Aaron and Lin-Wei into going down there so I could get a cool picture.  I felt kinda stupid looking down through the floor, waving my arms wildly and mouthing "Move in Front!  Get.....Aaron.....More Left....More....Ok!  Stop!" while the museum proprietor stood behind the counter watching me.  But we got the shot.  

Next we walked to an old seminary, but they closed at 4.  Aaron was pretty tired lugging that tripod around, so we decided to get a beer or something.  To the coffee shop we went, and after we sat down with our drinks, it started to get weird.

An older gentleman walked by, saw us sitting at our table, and asked us if we were German.  When I answered in the negative, he said, "Not you!  I was talking to the lovely lady!"  Lin-Wei was at a loss for words, and this disturbed all of us greatly.  I, foolishly, asked the man how he was doing, and in England that must mean that I have now given you permission to sit at our table and pester us for the better part of a half hour.  And true to English tradition, this is exactly what he did.  I was lucky enough to have the seat right next to him.  Therefore I was the first to notice that he had only 3 top teeth in his mouth.

Our new friend lit a small cigar, and then offered one to us.  I declined, but he pressed the issue with Lin-Wei, and she was forced to accept.  A few puffs was all she could manage before setting it down in the ash tray.  This would not do for our friend, so he proceeded to smoke both of them, one in each hand.  He began to talk of wars, and of dead brothers...I think.  It was very hard to understand him.  But he was definitely talking about cowboys.  That I'm sure of.  He seemed to think that since we were Yanks, we knew all about cowboys.  I tried very hard to dissuade him from this line of thinking, but he wouldn't have it.  I then (foolishly) mentioned that Billy the Kid's name was Bill Bonney, and my name is Bonney too.  So then I got to hear a mumbled account (I had no idea mumbles could be this loud!) about his friend John Bonney from up north.  I have an Uncle named John Bonney (Hey Uncle Jack), and tried to work this into the conversation, but it was soon apparent that I wasn't necessary for this conversation to continue.  So I talked to Lin-Wei instead.  Aaron had been reading the paper this whole time, and was off the hook, but once the guy noticed my lack of interested, he reeled Aaron in.  Mixed emotions about leaving my friend in the lurch not withstanding, it was a good break.

We asked him what his name was, and I think I heard him say John.  The others heard Sean or Jean.  Eventually, after it was clear that we were talked out, he bid us farewell, but not before inviting us to Sandwich.  He told us to meet him at 10am on Thursday, at the Pub behind the guild house.   We all phoned our secretaries, and unfortunately, we all had to decline as we had a big meeting with the head office that day, and I'm sure he'd understand, etc.. etc...  Before leaving the coffee shop, however, S/J/ean was kind enough to give us his herbal medicine, a lawyers card that said Joseph Bond, and a written invitation.  Very vexing, this puzzle, much like the fruits of the forest, but this puzzle was to remain unsolved.  Even his signature could have been Sean or Jean.  Or was his name Joseph Sean Jean Bonney-HwtryT?

For dinner we wandered over to the Thomas Becket pub (a good tribute to a dead Archbishop, naming a pub after him) for seafood and such.  Drinking our two beers, coke, and water by the fire was very relaxing, and they had a good mix of music there.  The British Rail was very kind to us on the way back, almost as if it was very sorry indeed for the treatment yesterday, and we got back around 10.  Lin-Wei got a baguette for the next day.  At the flat, right into bed we went.  On the way back,  Aaron had suggested taking a break from the day trips, and just kick it in London on Wed.  Sounded good to us.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  0
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 0
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 2
- Number of Baguettes purchased today: 2
- Spiral Staircases: 1

Phase III - London Part II or I'm Dying!  I think I'm going to Die! (good thing they have a crypt here)

After a relaxed morning schedule, we were on the Tube bound for St. Paul's Cathedral.  Very cool building this.  We paid the entrance fee (we paid between £8-£12 for all these different churches/museums), and Aaron asked if we could take photographs.  We were informed that they were not allowed on the main floor, but we could take them (and I'm almost positive she said) "If you can make it up to the Stone Gallery or the Golden Gallery."  If I were making the laws, I would make a law that stated that you need to stress the If in that last statement.  I did not realize the significance of it until much later.  And by then it was too late.  If I had only known...

We checked out the main floor, and Lin-Wei was voting for the crypt to go see the dead bodies, but I noticed on the brochure that we could climb into the dome of the church.  I had always wanted to climb the dome in the WI state capitol building, so this was a chance to realize a dream.  It said 530 steps to the top.  530...didn't seem to bad, so we began.  The first part was these wooden stairs that were just tall enough to be called stairs, but just short enough to be extremely annoying.  I started taking them two at a time, but after a few minutes I had to give that up.  My pace slowed, but I began passing people on the stairs.  I looked up, and saw only stairs rounding the corner.  I looked down, and saw the same behind me.  I began to sink into a daze, where the only reality was the next stair, the rail, the odd window.  I began to see people paused on the stairs, just standing there, staring at the stairs.  Then they would continue.  This I did eventually as well.  And still there were stairs, going up…round and round....round and round....behind me stairs....ahead of me stairs....climb....we must climb...we were born to climb....we will die climbing....this is our life....a life of wood, and rails...of windows....and stairs…the sweet comfort of the stairs…always there for you…and then....

They ended!  Well...  we were at the whispering gallery.  We were not even to a part where you could take pictures yet.  This was 100 feet up.  259 steps.  We had 180 more feel to go, and 271 more steps to go.  And up we continued.

The next set of stairs was a very narrow spiral stone staircase, much like the one in Canterbury.  Very steep, and larger steps.  But we were seasoned veterans by then, and we took the stairs in stride.  118 steps later, and we burst forth onto the Stone Gallery.  This was a ring around the base of the dome, outside, and many pictures were taken.   Then we went back in for round three.  These were either stone or metal stairs, and those with troubles with heights may have trouble with this part.

And then, 152 steps later, we made it to the Golden Gallery.  This was a much smaller ring around top of the dome, on the outside.  The view up here of London was amazing!  After all the toil, I'd say it was worth it.  It was a clear day, and a strong breeze was blowing, and we were at the top.  The Triple Threat were the Toppermost of the Poppermost.  530 steps, 280 feet up.  That's a long way up, Chester.  Believe you me.

Going down was cake, but after a while those 259 wooden steps start to blend together, and it gets a little disorienting.  Once we reached the bottom, we swung through the crypt, and then went to lunch at Blackfriars Pub.  Beers and Cokes and Waters and Tuna Melts and Chicken sandwiches were consumed in a very cool atmosphere, with the rumblings of the Tube below us.

After lunch, Gresch split off on his own to get out the Tate Museum of  Modern Art, and Lin-Wei and I went to the Tower of London.  This is the old stronghold of London, and is where the crown jewels are kept.  There is a castle (Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned here), some ramparts, etc... There are also hundreds of spiral staircases!   To get to the crown jewels,  you queue up (ha!  noticed a little Englishism there??), watch some videos of the queen getting crowned, and then you get on these people movers, like they have at the airport, and are conveyed along the length of the room, passing crowns and swords and scepters and orbs.  We snuck back around on for another flyby.

We then walked by Buckingham palace, saw the changing of the guard, and then went to Cheers (London) for a beer.  We met Aaron at the Piccadilly Circus tube stop, and headed over to Chinatown for some oriental delights.  We also had some dinner there.  Then back to Islington.

Aaron had wanted to get some bread pudding with toffee, and I wanted to hit another internet cafe, so Elise clued us in to an area to check.  We found Aaron's pudding place, marked it and kept walking, but no internet cafes were to be found.  Though, we did find this place.  We got the toffee pudding (so-so), and walked around a little, and then headed back to the flat to plan out our next trip.  This would be a 2-day trip, with an overnight in Oxford.  We briefly thought about going to Stradford-Upon-Avon (home to Big Willy Style himself), but nixed that idea.  It'd be more like a Midwinter's Night Freeze, and probably wouldn't be much fun.  Warwick castle was a better idea, and that would be our Friday.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  1 (the moat!)
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 0
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 1
- Number of Baguettes purchased today: 0!
- Spiral Staircases:  Jeez, I gotta put it somewhere between 8 and 10, with St. Paul's and the Tower.  Let's call it 9.

Phase IV - This time we die by sausage

Every once in a while Chad would get out of bed, and point out some of the amusing differences between England and the States.
"Explain."  I would say.
"Well, it's the little things, " he would go on.  "Like, you know how when you go to a bed and breakfast in the states, and you get a nice American breakfast?"
"Sure, " I'd say, not really knowing.
"Well, you'd better put in that order for a new heart this morning, cause when you get your breakfast tomorrow, you're gonna need it.  Better yet, order two, because the first replacement may not last very long either.  They have sausages, and not the kind you are used to.  You'll see."

Once again we took the tube to Paddington station, this time bound for Oxford.  It was time to kick it Old School!  But we had to get there first, and that means train tickets.  I get in line to buy them, and when I come out of the ticket office, both Aaron and Lin-Wei are carrying baguettes from Upper Crust, and Lin-Wei has a big grin on her face because now her evil influence is spreading, and finally her plans for world domination through small sandwiches is finally starting to bear fruit.

They happily munched away on their sandwiches on the train (I had a bite, yes it is true), while I read about Oxford and Warwick castle.  At the Oxford tourist place, they will book you a room for the night at an area bed and breakfast, so that's what we'll check out first.

After getting off the train, we began walking in the general direction of the tourism office, but we were brought up short by an almost exact copy of the Canterbury mound.  And, as you know, where there is a mound, it shall be clumb by the Triple Threat! (Shakespeare used to make up words, so why not me?)  This mound was surrounded by a fence, so we had to sneak underneath it before climbing up.  However, that fence is there for a reason, as we soon found out when a couple of officers of the law, actually waving their billy-clubs came up the mound to confront us!  It was a bit on the surreal side, seeing something right out of the movies, and I slipped on the wet grasses of the mound.  Grabbing for purchase, I snagged Lin-Wei by accident and we both began to tumble down the mound, but not before seeing one of the cops take a swing at Aaron.  Holy moley!

It would have gotten a lot more interesting from there, too, if Aaron hadn't nudged me then, and asked me why I was staring at the mound.   Oh well, it'll at least look good in the travelogue, I thought...  And we passed by the mound with the fence.

We found the tourist office at 11, just as the rain started again.  We had been pretty lucky this trip, so far, I thought.  Only rain the first couple of days, and today.  We got the tourist lady to help us find a place to stay, but it took something like 30 minutes to finally track down a place.  I talked to Vivian at Heather House, and she said she had rooms for us.  We decided to go on the Oxford Walking Tour at 2pm, so we told her we'd be over between 4 and 5.  She seemed very insistent that we get there before 5, and strongly suggested that I call if I was going to be late.  And that our rooms might have to be let to other parties, you know, so just let me know when you'll be in, yes?  It was all very nice, yet insistent.  Mmm.  The tourism lady told us we could leave our bags at the retirement club across the quad, for a small fee, so we went there next, and rang the buzzer.  A nice old woman greeted us, asked for a pound a piece, and stored our bags in the locked closet.  We each got a number, and some kind of weird feeling being in there, so we skeedaddled.

We walked by a couple of colleges, then went to a pub called Grapes for lunch.  This Pub had the Chicken Tikka on the menu as well, and this time Lin-Wei could not resist.  Aaron and I got the drinks, and we had a nice lunch.

Next to the tourism office was an open-market fair, and we browsed here for a bit, looking for the odd gift for a loved one back home.  But we loved them much more than any of the stuff we got here.  We waited outside the tourism office, and soon Monica the tour guide arrived, with more tourists in tow.  

She was about 50ish, and had a great love for explaining the history of Oxford and its Universities.  I learned a great deal, like how Oxford University is made up of 39 colleges, and the school term is 3 years long, and there are tests.  And students, I think.

I also learned that the "Closed, no tours today" signs outside of each of these colleges are to be ignored.  Each college had one, and many of the buildings we went into also had them.  We busted in on piano practice in one college’s chapel, learning about history with a nice piano concerto in the background.

We also learned that Chelsea Clinton went to this university, and who else was there that day?  Yep, Bubba himself.  We actually missed him by about 30 seconds as we were walking by a downtown hotel.  A bunch of cameramen came out of the lobby, and a black car was driving away as we walked up.  Lin-Wei started to hyper-ventilate, and we had to mention that we "may have seen an Upper Crust up the road" to calm her down.  Big Willy Style part Deux!

The tour ended at 4, and our B&B was about 2.5 miles out of town.  So we hoofed it, after collecting our bags.  Lin-Wei took the 5pm deadline a little more seriously than Aaron and I did, and I'm sure the Oxfordians were amazed to see a raven-topped streak of orange flying down the sidewalks.  Aaron and I kept up as best we could, and somehow we caught up just as we were getting 4:58pm!  Booyah!  USA USA.

Vivian was there to greet us, and mentioned that she had just gotten new carpeting.  We felt bad, so we took off our shoes, and stood there in the hallway, holding our shoes, and giving our breakfast orders for the next day.  The choices were eggs, sausage, and bacon, or the healthy breakfast.  Lin-Wei asked if the bacon was "streaky" bacon, and Vivian gave us the blank look.  And I felt the rage, for some reason, that she should know what the streaky bacon was.  What was going on here?  Lin-Wei described good ol’ American bacon to Vivian, and Vivian agreed that that's what was served.  So I signed up for eggs and bacon, as did Lin-Wei, and Aaron had pity on his innards and chose the healthy option.  But Vivian seemed hurt that no one got sausages, so I stepped up for the team, and said, "Yeah, a sausage would be good."
"One sausage?  Is that all?"
"Ah yes, that's good.  Two sausages, bacon, and eggs.  very good."

The question of the bill came up, and the response of no cash brought up payment in the morning.  We went up the stairs, carrying our shoes, Vivian, I, Aaron, and Lin-Wei.  Just as we were getting to the door to the first room, we heard a great cry from behind us, and turned to see a great orange heap of arms and legs and backpacks sprawled out on the floor at the top of the stairs.  This heap was laughing embarrassingly, and it was helped to its feet, and into the room.

Got cleaned up, and then we went out for dinner.  We couldn't find a place that looked all that appealing, so we settled on Kazbar, which we found out was a Tapas restaurant, and we were very happy..  Aaron sheepishly ordered a couple of lamb dishes (I don't know why I said that...), and at this meal there was wine.  The place had some cool decor, and Aaron liked the lighting.

After dinner, we went to the pub near our B&B, for drinks and conversation.  It was very nice.  Getting back home, we let our selves in, and Vivian opened her door, saw it was us, and bid us goodnight.  She was the last thing we saw that evening, and we collapsed into bed after a long day of sightseeing.   And we dreamed lovely dreams of Oxford....

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  1 (on the way to the B&B.  A big one, that seemed to be over either grass, or a really gross slow-moving hairy river)
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 1
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 1
- Number of Baguettes purchased today: 2
- Spiral Staircases:  0

So it was time for breakfast.  We were to meet at 8:30, and I feared to upset Vivian by being late, so we got there on time.  But she wasn't really around for breakfast.  It was served by a young Polish girl.  We could have a bowl of cereal, and orange juice, and our food would be out.  Aaron's healthy breakfast was yogurt and a fruit.  He had a few choices for the fruit, and when he asked for a banana and orange, he was told that he gets "a" fruit, and ok, he'll just have the banana then.

My sausages, bacon, and eggs come, and this isn't the high quality streaky bacon that I've come to expect.  It is a slice of ham.  So, ok, I'll have a little ham.  But the sausages, yikes.  They look like sausages, but they are filled with, I dunno.  Some sort of meaty marshmallow substance?  And they are thick.  And they don't really taste too bad, but I wonder what it is exactly that I am eating, and I have to stop after a while.  The eggs were pretty gross as well, but the cereal (frosted flakes) saves the day.

After breakfast we pack and come downstairs, holding our shoes, and we pay our bill.  Vivian tells us to take the #4 bus to the train station, and that we do.  At the train station, I gotta believe that Lin-Wei got a sandwich or something, but I can't remember.  I remember trying to use the bathroom there, but I was not able to go through with it, the bathroom being in the state it is in.  So I hold it.

The train ride to Warwick is about an hour, and we doze a little.   After disembarking, we immediately purchased our tickets back to London, so we wouldn't have to worry about that later, and then headed up towards the castle.

On the way, we passed an internet cafe, and I made a note of that, boy-o!  But for now we had old stuff to see, not nekkid girlie girls, so we pressed on.

At the Warwick tourism office, they were as kind as could be.  They recommended that we check out the church up the road, and then go to the castle.  At the castle today they were having a festival, and it would be all lit up at night.   But little did we know that Gresch was also going to be lit up this night.  I looked around for a bathroom, but none was to be found.  But there were bathroom signs on the street that pointed behind the tourism office, and I went to check them out.  I was well into the red zone by this point, so I took what I could get.  On any other day.... well, I have to give it points for presentation, if not for comfort...

Up the road was the church, and in the church was a nice old lady asking for a £1 donation to tour the church.  I asked if we could go up into the bell tower, and she said that that would be just fine.  She'd get the keys for us, and that would be another £0.50 donation.  Nice.

We took a few pictures in the church, and then went with the old lady to the bell tower entrance.  And no one was surprised to see a very steeply inclined stone spiral staircase going up into the murky depths.

At the top we admired the great view of Warwick, got lots of pictures, and thought about some lunch.  So we went back down, Aaron got some pictures of the cemetery, and we headed to the Roebuck Pub.

We noticed a waitress waiting tables, so we waited for a while to see if she would come by and take our orders, but it wasn't happening.  Finally I got up to get the 2 beers, coke, and water, but just then another patron at the table behind us waved her down.  She took their order, and then came over by us.  We, of course, ordered the 2 beers, coke, and water, and she seemed very put out by having to take the drink order.  She paused...and then said that, ok, she'd get the drinks for us.    We glanced at each other uncomfortably as she went to the bar and got each drink individually.

Again the Chicken Tikka was on the menu in this old English pub, and again Lin-Wei could not resist.  After ordering, the waitress brought the sauce basket, and the little red placemats that we had gotten at other pubs.  And we sipped our beers and waited for food.  And we wondered what exactly the brown sauce was…

The Britons at the table behind me got their food first, and Aaron, noticing this, leaned over and whispered, "Hey, those people behind us didn't get these placemats!"  I made the suave glace behind me, and confirmed his observation.  And we remembered all those other times we got these placemats at pubs.  Were these the "foreigner" mats?  Did Americans have a reputation as messy eaters??  We were a little put off by this, but by the end of the meal we had to concede that it was probably for a reason that they gave us the mats...

After lunch, we finally got to go to the castle.  We dropped off our bags at some lockers, bought our tickets (£12/each), and went in.  First we walked around the grounds while we still had light, checking out the water wheel, the boat house, some outside views, and this really cool peacock hedge garden, with real peacocks walking around.

But we had stalled long enough!  It was time for Triple Threat to storm this castle!  No guards would be spared;  no spiral staircases would remain unclimbed; and no Aussies would get the hell out of the way so that we could take a picture of the church from the ramparts!

We rescued damsels in distress, we attempted artsy pictures, and we watched a show being put on below us.

Inside they castle they recreated a 19th century weekend party, complete with wax mannequins from Madame Tussaud's.  In the basement they had medieval scenes, and I was amazed by how the toilets worked!  It is just a hole, with a long stone chute that finally ends in the moat.  I never thought about the moat that way.  Glad I never had to lay siege to a castle...  The bathroom in the tourist area, on the other hand, look like it was straight out of a Mexican restaurant.

It became night, and they lit up the castle, but it wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be.  In the middle of the castle grounds big white tent with vendor booths.  We walked around that for a while, and Aaron was intrigued by a stand run by the Drunken Monk.  He had a number of ales and liquors for sale, a number of which Aaron tried.  When the two of them started to reminisce about their times at the monastery Lin-Wei and I knew it was time to get him out of there.  We got a couple more shots of the castle, and then started walking back to the train station.  I voted for the internet cafe, and we went there.  And here was another sign in England being ignored.  It said "Hours:  8am - 6pm  M-F" and this was Friday!  At 5pm.  How in the hell am I going to find out how the Packers did last weekend?!  Or if Elizabeth Hurley finally answered my email! (Lin-Wei, don't read that part about Liz Hurley).  So we left.  And I pouted. (in a manly way, of course)

One of the Threats lobbied for a snack before the train back, and we had about 10min to spare, so we stopped at a pizza place and ordered some pizza bread.  They told us 5 minutes, so we waited, getting more and more antsy. Finally the pizza arrived, and Lin-Wei shooed us out of there, and to the train station, under the tunnel, and to the platform on the other side of the tracks.  We actually had another 10 minutes before the train, so Aaron and I waited, while Lin-Wei went in search of a bathroom.  Under the tunnel she went, and we saw her pop up on the other side.  Aaron and I munched away on our pizza as we watched her go into the train office...then come out, and look around.  Then go back in.  And come out.   She paused, and went back in, and then came out and headed down the tracks to a door, only to pause, turn around, and walk back.  Then, with a bold look of determination, she finally turned around, walked to the door, opened it tentatively, and turned on the light.  And her face lit up with visions of porcelain, and we saw the door shut as she finally found her goal.  And Aaron and I continued to munch on our pizza.  Dinner and a free show.  What a deal.

They train ride back on the train takes forever, and it is not long before Aaron and I are asleep, much to the ire of Lin-Wei.  When we get back to the station Lin-Wei decides to put the odds of getting a  good breakfast tomorrow in her favor, and makes her last trip to the Upper Crust.  The entire Triple Threat pauses to take in the enormity of this event, and I'd ask you to do the same as well................................  Ok.

Back at Islington, and it’s time to get a proper dinner.  All week long, Aaron had been talking about this Turkish place called Gem.  Going on and on and on about how awesome it was last time he was here, and how the food is great, and how awesome it was, and how great the food is, and on and on and on.  So, we finnnnaly gave in and went there.  We walked in, and they asked if we had a reservation...and the look on Aaron's face was enough to make you feel like all was lost in the world.  But!  I think that the waiter saw that face too, and took pity upon him, and gave us the only table left.  Not 1 minute later, another group came in and was told that there was an hour wait.  Hazzah!  Triple Threat wins again!

The food was actually very good, but it was even better to see the look of bliss on Aaron's face.  Knowing that he could finally go home happy.  These are the things that money can't buy.

We went home, talked to Chad and Elise for a while, and went to bed.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  0
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 1
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 1
- Number of Baguettes purchased today: 2 (I think)
- Spiral Staircases:  Ah jeez, lots and lots again.  The one at the church was really long, and there were lots at Warwick.  Let's say....  8

Phase V - London Part III or I'd Rather not, but...whatever

Today is a shopping day!  Yay!
Aaron:  Boooo!
Al:  Aaron, I'm writing this travelogue.  You stay out of it.
Aaron:  Booo on you.   Grrrr....
Al:  Ok, you asked for it.  <Smack!>
Aaron:  Mommy!

Anyway, this was a shopping day  <glare>...  Lin-Wei wanted to check out Harod's of London, and Elise recommended that we also go to this hippie/punk market area.  So the h/p area was first.  We exited the tube to pandemonium!  Peoples everywhere, and funny tee-shirts as far as the eye can see.  We bought some presents for back home here, got a chocolate crepe, and then took the tube to Harod’s.  Lin-Wei and I went in alone, and Aaron and Elise went somewhere else.

So, take that crowd that was at the market, upgrade their wardrobe 2 levels, and then stuff them into aisles full of pungent perfumes and cute little handbags.  There's your Harod's experience.  It was so amazingly full of people that I was...well...I was amazed!  They give you a map of the store when you walk in, and I asked a guy where we could get a snack.  But he wasn't much help.

Lin-Wei and I had just enough time to check out some $1000 dresses before getting some Thai appetizers (and crazy cokes) on the third floor and then squeezing our way out of the store to meet Aaron and Elise.

Next we tubed it over to the bookstore area, so Lin-Wei could get some history books.  I looked at music, and Aaron passed the time by seeing how severely he could frown.  He also practiced the "if you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all" policy, to great success.  Lin-Wei did find some books, and we could head back to Islington.  On the way home, though, we stopped at Sainsburys (grocery store), so Aaron could get some frozen bread puddings to take home.  However, he took one look at the hordes of people in line, and was about to give up....but those puddings.. so he toughed it out.  Lin-Wei and I left him in line, though, so we could go home and kick back.

Eventually everyone rolled into the flat, and we chilled for a bit.  Then made an 8pm reservation at a Sudanese place for dinner (BYOB).  The Triple Threat never was much of a threat when it comes to getting there on time, but you add a couple of free agents by the names of Chad and Elise, and you have yourself a bit of a delay.  We got lost on the way, had to buy booze, get money, etc…, so we rolled in at 8:50pm.  <wince>  But they had a table out front for us, and after we made some modifications to the table legs it finally was level enough that our drinks no longer spilled.

We had a very cool dinner there, and the food was great.  We must have all been starving, cause we wolfed that food down.  We talked to the owner a bit about his home country and how he moved here.  And then we looked at the clock.  It was 10:30pm!  We were supposed to meet Chad’s friends, halfway across town, at 10pm.  The next thing on the agenda was to go to this hip London party at a fancy hotel for someone who was leaving Chad's company, and we were psyched to check out that aspect of the London scene.
Aaron:  Yeah, we were real excited....
Al:  Aaron!  No time for your interruptions!
Aaron:  Yeah, yeah.  Like this thing isn't 20 pages too long already...

This was one of those dress nice parties, and most of the group was all fancied up, but not all, so we had to quickly brush by the bouncer, even though the one in jeans was the tallest...

The party room was a 2 level room, with a huge stain-glass window, some cool tunes, and a bar.  We chatted for a bit, and Lin-Wei and I checked out the upstairs.  They had these sweet chairs that were covered in what looked like hyena skin, and ended in crazy horns on top.

I offered to get the first round of drinks, and weaved my way over to the bar.  I had to wait quite a while to get served, so I scoped out the room.  I wasn't really sure if the drinks were free or not, and I tried to see if people were paying for them, but I never really got a clear indication.  It certainly didn't look like they were.

So eventually the bartendress took my order, and I got all my drinks.  When she finished pouring the last drink, she handed me the glass, and then looked away.  I waited, not quite sure what was going on, and then I saw her start to pour another drink for someone else.  "Nice!" I thought to myself, and wondered what kind of money it took to throw a party at this swanky hotel (do they say swanky in Britain?), let alone pay for drinks for all these people.

I distributed drinks, and I’m telling the group my fascinating story about the bar and the waiting and the free drinks, when this woman comes up to me and says hello.  She looked very familiar, so I say, "Hey!  How are you doing?"  And she pauses.  And I pause.  And then a light goes off in my head and I say, "Hey, your the bartender!"  And she says, "Right.  You didn't pay for your drinks yet."

So I walked back with her, and even though I was paying for the drinks with this fun cartoon money, there was still a part of me that still felt obliged to do the math....yeah.

We didn't stay at the party for too long, and only the waiter at Gem has seen that same look of relief as was on Aaron's face as we were leaving.  But that look was short-lived, for the final part of our day today was to go clubbing at a real London club!  And I'm watching you Gresch, no more comments!

The thing is, though, that we didn't really tell Aaron that we were going dancing for sure.  We had hinted at it, and the four of us were ready, but we never really felt the need to clue Aaron in.  But we got off at the next tube stop down from the flat, and we walked to this mall area, where a new club had opened.

I'm sure he caught on when we got into the line to get into this club.  This line was quite long, and it wasn't moving.  The reason it wasn't moving, we soon found out, was due to the blood that was on the sidewalk by the end of the line.  Apparently there had been a fight earlier, and you could see the "Oh great" written on Aaron's face.  I told him about the ink on his face, and he wiped it off, but he still had the look.

While in line, a few dudes with shaved heads shoved past us, and Chad got excited that we had had our first experience with "Football hooligans".  Yes, it was very nice.

So we were in line for like 15 minutes, and it was getting near 1, and then the bouncer said that anyone not in the club by 1 had to leave, cause they couldn't let anyone in after that.  It was a “1 out, 1 in policy”.  A few people ahead of us gave up and left, but we toughed it out.  We were eager to debut the Triple Threat Boogie in London, and knew that all the kids would dig it too.  But the clock kept ticking its way closer to 1am as we inched our way forward.  5 minutes left, 10 people in front of us.  5 come out of the club, 5 go in.  3 minutes left, 5 ahead of us.  2 leave the line.  Now it is just 3.  2 come out, 2 go in.  1 minute left.  Chad has his fingers crossed.  Aaron has his fingers crossed, and Lin-Wei wonders where you can get a baguette around here this time of night.  And, the clock strikes 1.  The bouncers clear the line, and we have to go home.
Aaron:  Booyah!
Al:  ya ya

We did get to ride one of those red double-decker buses on the way home from the club, and Lin-Wei and I went up there for about 15 seconds before I started to get car sick (the bus was packed with people, btw).  We got some eggs for breakfast tomorrow, then went home and hung out on the couch for a bit.  Every one was hyper and full of energy, as you can see from this picture.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  0!
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 0!
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 0!
- Number of Baguettes purchased today: 0!
- Spiral Staircases:  0!
Not a very typical day....
Aaron:  Yeah...

Phase VI - Departure

Well, this is the last day, and we begin it by first clearing all our crap off the dining table.  Aaron puts away Big Blue, and we sit down for a nice French toast breakfast cooked up by Chad.  After breakfast we walked down to the Islington tube stop, because there were a bunch of pictures I had to get before we left.  We never got to eat here (I shutter to think of the artwork), or see this show, or this one.  And we never bought any of this coffee.  But they all kept us company on our many tube-trips.

So then we suited up, and took a cab to the airport.  Chad and Elise waved goodbye, and we waved back, and that was the last we saw of the flat.  We were sad to go, with thoughts of work the next day in our heads, but some of us where looking forward to something other than a kitchen for a bed, and others were looking forward to their next meal when they got to the airport.  And still others tried not to be sick as the cab driver flew through the back streets of London.  There is no way I could drive in this town.  The cabbie always took the exact opposite path that I would have taken.  There were some times that I had no idea which way he was gonna turn, or why he went a certain way.

It took an hour to get to the Airport, and we got through security much easier this time.  We got some food at Fridays, and tried to burn the rest of our Pounds.

Heathrow is weird, in that you have to wait in a general area until right before your flight is gonna board.  Then they tell you what gate to go to, and you hustle down there.

Getting on the plane, I went right to the movie guide, and was horrified to see Mr. Deeds still listed.  This was December 1st, so there should have been a new schedule, but no, the flight attendant said, that schedule was good for today.

Fortunately we had our own TV screens at each seat, with a few choices for movies.  I watched The Bourne a row.  I really couldn't tell you why...and I couldn't explain it to Lin-Wei, but there you have it.

Zorba picked us up at the airport when we got in (8 hour flight), and dropped us all off at our homes.  That is one stand-up dude.  Lin-Wei left me with warnings about having to stay up until 10pm, and at 10:02pm I turned out the light, and collapsed into my bed.  And as I drifted off, I thought to myself, "This time I have to take it easy on the travelogue.  This stuff is getting out of hand...."  and I was out.

- Number of Bridges Crossed today:  0, but we did fly over the Atlantic...
- Number of Chicken Tikka Masalas eaten today: 0, but I did try to order chicken on the plane.  They were out, so I got salmon.
- Number of 2-beer 1-coke 1-water meals today: 0.  I had 2 waters and a coke, Lin-Wei had two waters.
- Number of Baguettes purchased today: 0, but it was attempted.
- Spiral Staircases:  0.  Thank god.

The End


So, there were a few things that didn't really fit into any of the narrative above.  First, the firemen (fire brigade) union was on strike the whole time we were there.  While this made us much less likely to smoke in bed, it also forced many tube stations to close down, due to fire concerns. They always posted which stations would be closed, and it really didn't affect us too much (except maybe on the Bath day), but it was something to keep track of.  It was in the paper's everyday, and towards the end Tony Blair was getting involved.

Secondly, remember that picture of the coffee advert with the spoon-headed woman.  There was all kinds of crazy stuff like that in the tube that I never got a picture of.  Dang.

Whenever we'd walk somewhere, we would start out walking with the three of us together, but eventually Aaron would always wind up in front of us, exactly 5 feet ahead.  It's not like he was walking faster, because once he got 5 feet ahead, the distance between us and him never varied.  And there was enough room on the sidewalk...Not sure why, but here is sort of an example.  Picture me next o Lin-Wei.

Lin-Wei was very easy to spot in that orange jacket.  That was the number one way we were able to keep our group together in the tube.  Without that jacket one of us probably would have wound up on the chunnel train to France...

Well, I think that's it.  


If you didn't get quite enough of London, you can see all the pictures I took here:
Part I
Part II

And, if you thought all Lin-Wei could do was eat baguettes, then you were wrong.  She is also a talented impressionist!