Brian & Ann's European Experience

Thursday, May 19, 2005

London Trip

Ann and I took the Eurostar high-speed train to London last weekend. Sadly, there were no more seats available in coach, so we had to go first class. I have to say, it was pretty damn cool. On the way there we had breakfast, which I slept through, but which Ann tells me was great. All I can contribute is that the seats are comfy.

Ann and I lived in London for a grand total of four months, from November 2000 to February 2001. We were part of the aborted European expansion of Xlibris. We both loved London and were really bummed to leave. Besides the fact that we had the worst four months of weather ever, London is such a great town that it’s impossible not to have a good time there.

Unfortunately, the weather report for our weekend started off “grey/cloudy” and deteriorated to “going to rain the whole damn time” as we got closer to our departure date. It turned out alright though...

Here are a few highlights:

Saturday

I planned this whole itinerary on the train, down to the hour. It involved a lot of traveling around London by tube and seeing old places. We started off at the hotel (tube stop: High Street Kensington), then went to have lunch at the shoarma place we used to eat lunch at where I worked in Mayfair (tube stop: Marble Arch).

We got out of the subway and it was like nothing had changed. Oxford street when you come out. The big arch to your right, at the corner of Hyde Park. Park Lane ahead of you, one of the ritziest streets in London. Oh, and I don’t know what crack the weather guys were smoking, but it was sunny with puffy white clouds and in the high sixties.

I used to cross the street and pass by the Aston Martin and Jaguar dealerships before taking a left onto Grosvenor street. Our office was a single large room in an old stone mansion that used to be an embassy. We rented the dining room. It had fantastic floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto the garden.

Damn I had a good time back then.

But the best thing about our office was lunch. Two to three times a week we’d walk a few blocks up Edgeware road to this Lebanese shoarma place. They made the most fantastic shoarmas. The chicken and lamb are the best quality, roasted on this spit with lemons, limes, bell peppers and tomatos dripping juices down the side of them as they cook. The tastiest lamb I’ve ever had, no contest.

After lunch we walked down Oxford street a little. It’s one of the most famous shopping streets in London and home of some of the largest departments stores. Ann and I bought a bottle of vanilla flavored liqueur at Selfridges because we’re suckers for jars full of pretty colors.

We went then went to Chiswick (pronounced Chiz-ick, tube stop: Turnham Green) to see our old apartment. 37 Esmond Gardens. We had the best apartment of all the Xlibrians I must say. We walked around the High Street, shopped a little in the Waterstones (the British equivalent of Barnes and Nobles) since the books were cheaper in London than the Netherlands (weird).

By this time my feet hurt and the schedule was shot to hell. We went back to High Street Ken (oh, to speak like the locals speak) did a little shopping (Ann pouted because I bought a suit jacket and she hates being outspent by her husband).

We had dinner at an Indian place called Utsav right on High Street Kensington. Great food. We had this appetizer shaped like a little pot of thin crispy bread. It had this spicy chickpea paste inside, but the coolest thing about it was that it had a hole in the top and you filled it with a cold soup, put the whole thing in your mouth, and when you bit down it exploded like a juicy bomb in your mouth. I love food you play with.

We had a talkative Pakistani waiter who said he would want George Bush as his President. Since I was on vacation I held back from saying, “Take him, please! He’s all yours.”

Sunday

All the people we knew who lived in London are all gone. But I called up a guy I know from work, Skip, to see if he wanted to get together. Skip actually works for a company that provides email services to my company, but we’ve gotten really close in the six months that it’s taken my company to figure out they want to renew their contract.

Skip did something really nice: on one day’s notice he agreed to make time for Ann and I to have breakfast with him and his wife on Sunday. I called him and he said: “My wife, who is very proactive, booked us a table for breakfast at a hotel called the Dorchester.”

Sounded great. It was just right across the park. It was another beautiful sunny, cool day, and Ann and I walked all the way across Hyde Park to work up an appetite. The parking lot of the Dorchester, which is on Park Lane, was filled with a Ferrari, a Porsche, a stretch Mercedes limo, and a Bentley.

Okaaay. So the Dorchester ain’t a dump.

The inside was appointed in a style that can only be called ‘palatial’. A waiter in a waistcoat with tails offered to take my coat. Skip and his wife Christie (who was seven months pregnant) moved to London on a temporary assignment. That was four and a half years ago. Skip and Christie were both great. They were even greater for picking up the check. I didn’t look, but I think the bill was about thirty pounds a head. With the exchange rate being almost two dollars to a pound, that’s $240. For breakfast. Without tip.

I can safely say, that was the most expensive breakfast of my life.

Skip said he would expense it, and I truly thank him for that. I sure wouldn’t want to explain a $240 breakfast to my accounting department. But without Skip’s graciousness, I never would have had a $32 bagel with lox.

But it didn’t stop there. We mentioned that we were going to visit Windsor castle after breakfast and Skip said, “Oh, we live right in the next town, we’ll drive you!” Now THAT’S service. I asked this old guy with advanced Parkinsons to take this picture of us. Then his wife offered to take another, and after checking around numerous times for the imaginary tree branches and strands of hair that were in the way, we eventually did get this nice shot. Thanks again Skip and Christie.

So it’s simply a beautiful day. We’re walking around this quaint little English town, and right smack in the middle of it, overlooking the Thames river, on top of a little hill, is a huge freaking castle!

See, that’s why I love Europe. Castles. You just don’t get that in the States.

We took the whole castle tour, passing through the appropriately luxurious rooms of the “oldest continuously inhabited castle in the world.” Forty-two consecutive sovereigns have lived in Windsor Castle. Don’t you feel sorry royalty. Always so limited in their career and housing options.

Then we saw the Queen. She was there for the weekend, as is her habit, and she came outside to inspect some horses that were there for the yearly Windsor horse show. I’m sure it’s a big to-do, but Ann and I had more important things to do. Like inspect old suits of armor and swords.



Ann made me walk all the way across the river to Eton to check out the famous college. Another quaint little town whose main street has shops right out of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley. There were tailors providing school uniforms, antique book and map shops, Qwik-E-Marts, all of whom had been in business for longer than America has been in existence. Just reminds you that you’re in a different world.

When we finally got there they wanted us to pay six pounds for admission. Eton has got to be the most exclusive and expensive private school in all of the United Kingdom. What the hell do they need my six pounds for!?

No way was I going to give money to the richest kids in the land. Little brats.

So, guess what we had for dinner Sunday. If you guessed “Indian food”, you get the magic prize. Ironically, London has been colonized by the Indians and the Pakistanis, and as a result has the best Indian food in the world.

Okay, I have to admit, I made one terrible mistake on this trip. I convinced myself that there might be a chance in hell that Ann would like the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Well, the penalty for denying reality is that it smacks you in the face every now and then. Ann was a trooper, but if there’s any type of movie she hates, it’s one where weird fantastical stuff happens. And I took her to a movie where it started off weird and just kept getting weirder and weirder. Smart move.

The really funny thing is, that was the second movie we saw that weekend. The night before we went to see Sahara (which was actually really good). And BOTH times, in DIFFERENT theaters in Leicester Square, who should come and sit in the seats DIRECTLY behind us?

Dutch people.

Weird.

Monday

Monday we went to the British Museum, which, as I describe in another post, is my favorite museum in the world. It doesn’t have the Mona Lisa, but it has items of even greater historical significance and beauty. The Rosetta Stone. The Elgin Marbles. The Reading Room. It’s an amazing place.

Finally, after some last minute shopping at Marks and Spencer, it was time to board the Eurostar back home. Three hours to Brussels. A three course dinner with champagne. The best chocolate truffles (which the steward gave us a bag of). In the words of Adam Sandler, not too shabby.

And then it was back to life, back to reality. Dordrecht and the tall, cheese-eating Dutch awaited us. Ann asked the cab driver on the way back to the apartment how the weather was over the weekend.

“Terrible. Cold and rainy all weekend.”

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