European Vacation ’16: Day 11 — London, England

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Day 11: Thursday, October 6

 Ok, you got me, I skipped a day. On Wednesday, we traveled to London via two flights on Austrian Airlines. There isn’t that much to tell, as when we got to London we kept it pretty close to the (VERY NICE) Knightsbridge neighborhood where we are staying, literally a block from Harrod’s Department Store … which is apparently “a thing.” Before this trip, the only Harrod I ever heard of was King Herod, but that’s from the Bible and spelled differently. But this place is a block long, in a fancy, old-architecture style building, has dressed doormen, and apparently a high-end food court. It may be a block away, but we’ve yet to visit. I’m sure we will but really – a department store? This better be Hogwarts inside, or I’ll feel time has been a bit wasted.

Thursday, on our first of only 3 full days in London, we:

  • Visited The Tower of London!

Having watched “The White Queen” (Starz), the Tudors (Showtime), all the movies about Queen Elizabeth I … naturally the Tower of London carries great cache for me. I visited with the hope of being inundated with history about who was kept prisoner there, and what the crown politics of particular periods must have been like. We got some of that, including a descriptive section covering the English Civil War of thet 1660s. And we were treated to some great stories about how each sub-tower within the Tower grounds was built by a particular Royal. But when we finally reached the iconic “White Tower” inside the overall Tower Grounds, I was a bit disappointed to find that it was just an armory. Sure, I got to see Henry VIII’s armor, but the tale of the “Two Princes,” for example, was restricted to a small, barely significant placard to the side of a staircase where the bodies of Edward IV’s children were apparently found (having allegedly been killed by agents of his brother, Richard III).  But … we did get to see several crowns and the crown jewels, which were quite something!!

  • Visited a restaurant with bad service for Lunch!

Immediately following our exhaustive trip of the impressive Tower of London, we dined at the nearby “Slug & Lettuce.” It had great, modern atmospherics and a bar filled with well-dressed business professionals clearly enjoying a beer lunch. As for us, I am usually one QUITE tolerant of, and an advocate for, professional servers of all kinds. But this experience was quite comical. Clearly our waiter was new to England (and perhaps English?), had not waited tables before, and that – combined with the fact that he was clearly the only one working the floor – produced some annoyances that with 24 hours perspective seem now like pure comic gold. Let’s look at the sub-steps of this experience:

  • We walk in about 1:25PM, not exactly lunch hour but not empty, are greeted and encouraged to take any 4 seated table we like (me, Erin, Carrie, Rich). Good sign.
  • About 5 minutes later, our waiter comes to see if we would like something to drink. We request 4 tap waters and a Coke for me. We study the menu and feel we’re ready to order
  • After several minutes, and witnessing our waiter close at least 1 tab and take orders from another table, he returns to ask if we’re ready to order. We ask a couple questions, order, and think we’re on our way. We politely remind him about the waters and Coke.
  • The next 15 minutes were a precious exercise in frustration. One by one, we witnessed our waiter deliver meals to other tables… wait for it…. ONE ITEM AT A TIME. Apparently at “Slug & Lettuce,” the emphasis is on the “slug,” as they have apparently never discovered trays, or a second hand with which to carry a second entre.
  • We catch his attention a second long enough to ask again about our waters and my Coca-Cola (we had just walked the walls and grounds of the Tower of London… we were parched). He says, “Oh, right.” In about 3 minutes, he returns with 1 glass of water, with which he decides to award Carrie (which is fine by me). We ask how the meals are coming along.
  • A few minutes later, he brings 3 meals (ONE AT A TIME), but no 4th meal for Carrie (I guess she got the water though, so she should hardly complain?). We remind him that Carrie ordered the very same thing that Erin did. And could we please get those other 3 waters and a Coke?
  • Carrie says go ahead and start, which we do. About 7-10 minutes later, we ask him if Carrie’s food is on the way. He says, “It’s almost ready” and scoots away before we can ask why it would take any longer than Erin’s exact same dish (clearly, he had not put in our full order or was confused).
  • Finally, he brings Carrie’s order, and without apology, sets it down. We JUST CATCH HIM before he rushes off to ask about our waters and Coke.
  • Then, Carrie notices her meal (a veggie and tofu ramen dish) actually lacks any tofu. Erin, who is halfway done with hers at this point, sort of gives an “Oh, yeah,” as if she hadn’t noticed but is now somewhat disappointed. When we asked the waiter about the tofu, he asks that he be allowed to consult the Kitchen’s Menu. Okaaaaay….
  • When he returns a few minutes later, he declares, “the Menu we have doesn’t say it comes with tofu.” At that point, we had somewhat had it. One of us – can’t even remember who at this point, makes clear to him that it’s the CUSTOMER MENU that counts, as it was the only one available to US. Without missing a beat, he disappears as if he is going to ask more questions.
  • About this time, a woman appears who is tidying tables and looks as if she’s making preparations for something, perhaps the dinner hour later. CLEARLY A MANAGER. She comes within 5 feet of our table, but ignores us (as if she hasn’t been consulted about a thing yet, OR clearly doesn’t care)
  • We finish our meals. We call him over to ask for WATERS AND A COKE, and he finally brings them!!! We take the opportunity to ask him if we can have the check, but pay for the two Veggie Ramen dishes at a “non-Tofu price.” He dances off.
  • When he returns, he says, “I asked my manager, and she says that the next time you return, you can have a DOUBLE helping of tofu!” We inform him we’re tourists, and won’t frequent the restaurant given we live in L.A. (I guess he doesn’t know American accents). So he takes off to the bar, where he is mumbling away with someone.
  • FINALLY, he comes over with the good news of a modest discount, and we leave as swiftly as possible, NEVER to return to “Slug & Lettuce” of London.
  • Took in a nice dinner with great atmosphere and cold-pressed drinks at “Hubbard & Bell!”

This one really does earn the exclamation point. Inside the Hoxton Hotel, one finds the deep, spacious confines of “Hubbard & Bell,” a modern restaurant with a diverse, bistro-esque menu and cold-pressed juices like we were back home in West L.A.!  The floor was deep, spreading the noise of the crowd every so nicely into an even buzz of celebration. Our waitress was an incredibly attentive Polish woman who has been in the U.K. for 12 years. She warned me the Octopus was not her favorite, but I had to try it anyway. She was right – it was a bit bland. Better as a protein ingredient in a salad, which is how I ended up finishing it. The family overall seemed pleased with their meal, and the atmosphere. This CERTAINLY helped make up for lunch

  • Enjoyed a very modern and edgy play!

We walked from dinner to the “John Gielgud Theater” to take in “The Curious Incident with the Dog in the Night-time,” which was a novel turned into a play.  Without giving up too much, it is about a high-functioning Autistic teenager who, upon discovering a murdered dog in the neighborhood, sets out for answers. But the story quickly evolves into much bigger mysteries such as the boy finding out his mother is alive and other family dynamics. The stage craft was absolutely amazing and should be award-winning to be sure. It involves electronics and impressive sound effects that aid in making audience members better understand or appreciate what it might feel like to be Autistic. It was very moving, and the play ends with some uplift but also without complete conclusion. I’m sure it will be a huge hit in the States.

 Walked home to the Tube via Piccadilly Circus!

We walked toward the Tube/London Underground through the famous Piccadilly Circus. It was quite a spectacle, but very “Times Square meets Hollywood Blvd.” I’ve seen both, so wasn’t all that moved or impressed. On Friday – more tourism!

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