Tag Archives: harold and irma

England: Day 1.5 (ish)

Grab some tea with milk and sugar, and get comfy:  it’s finally time to talk about England.

(It really did take me a long time to “digest” this trip.  We saw so much, and I loved it so much, that I feel like I can’t possibly encompass it all in a few blog posts.  I’m going to try my best, and I think all this will do is make me want to go back.  To spare you total vacation-photo overload, I think I’ll break it down to one post per day, m’kay?)

But first I have to tell you:  this trip was the culmination, for me, of *many* years’ wishes.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to go to England.  England was where everything charming and beautiful comes from.  England was understated and awesome and fantastic.  Or at least, that’s how it seemed in pictures and stories.

Guess what?  Pictures and stories didn’t lie:  England was all of that.  And more.  England was my favorite.  I can’t wait to go back (Jeff can I please go back?).

So….

I took a half-day of work that Thursday, and we did all sorts of fancy juggling with the dog and suitcases (the dog threw up and the suitcases smashed my toe.) and then…we left.

(Right about now you wonder if the entire story is going to be so slow-paced.  No, it won’t.  It will be worse.  Hang on.)

We flew from STL to O’Hare (where our plane was late, and we very nearly missed our connecting red-eye to Heathrow).  The longer flight was notable only in that it was my first transatlantic flight, and first red-eye all in one.  And my first dose of a horrifying full Airplane Meal.

Look! I made you a picture!

::gag::  That was their idea of vegetarian ravioli.  I wasn’t really expecting better, though, so I wasn’t disappointed.  I mainly just chewed on the inside of my cheek and thought about scones.

Behold Jeff’s look of ecstasy as he noms an airplane breakfast artfully called “yogurt + spork”:

Beautiful, huh?

We landed in England at about 9am, and spent an appropriate amount of time attempting to gather luggage* and buying Oyster cards and getting our bearings.  We were pretty confident about getting around via Underground, since we’re both already really comfortable with public transit and the whole system is so ginormous and efficient.  It was ridiculously easy to get from Heathrow to our hotel in Russell Square.  I even knitted on the way.  AND NO ONE SAID ANYTHING.

(England transit was much shorter on “hurr hurr”-type people than I’ve encountered in DC or even in Chicago.  MYOB seems to be the standard mode of operation, and it was nice.  Don’t get me wrong: there were plenty of Harolds and Irmas (mostly Americans, of course).  But on the train, I was largely left alone.)

We dropped our luggage at the hotel and found lunch + caffeine just down the street in Russell Square (just sandwiches from some local shop) before heading over to the Tower vicinity.  I also had my first Costa latte:

There were almost as many Costas as there were Starbucks, but because I was being a world traveler and being adventurous and being daring, I didn’t get a single Sbux the whole time.  You can have that whenever, right?  Throughout the trip, Jeff and I usually carried Diet Coke/Coke Zero in his backpack at all times (I am SO FREAKING GLAD that Coke products were all over the place there. I’d have died going 8 days without Diet Coke), and then supplemented with either Costa or tea from random cafes whenever the mood struck.  I tried tea with milk and sugar.  I fell in love with tea with milk and sugar.  It changed my life.

So anyway.  Suitcases + lunch + caffeine + Underground.  Now to the Tower!

I took this super impressive photo right outside the train stop for the Tower:

Really effin’ impressive, huh?  Just bear in mind that our sense of time was royally fucked up at this point, and we’d effectively pulled an all-nighter just prior.  Sort of.  And were juggling lattes.  And were confused.

…actually, bear that in mind for all the trip photos, m’kay?

Here’s Jeff’s “exhausted and filthy and in a foreign country” face:

And here’s mine:

Charming.

Here’s LONDON VACATION MAP PHOTO #1:

We’re gonna keep a tally, OK?  Because y’all know: if there’s one thing Jeff likes, it’s maps.

Eventually we started heading toward the actual Tower, which was somehow exactly like – and very different – than we’d expected:

The one thing I just couldn’t get past – and this is for all of London, not just the Tower area – is the combination of old and new, of modern and ancient.  It just tickled us silly to see the Gherkin peeping up behind a church from the 1500s, or the Shard dominating the skyline, or this thing as a backdrop to the Tower:

(That’s City Hall.  Weirdest-shaped City Hall I’ve ever seen…)
There’s really nothing like it at home, and I absolutely adored it.  It also made me think about the Great Fire, and how London might be different today had the fire not been so destructive:  would old buildings have been demolished and supplanted with new, perhaps at an accelerated rate?  Or would the old city center have been preserved, resulting in waves of new construction surrounding?  Either way, I’m sure that it wouldn’t look the same.  I’m not *glad* of the fire and destruction and loss of so much history, but I do love how the city looks today.

This sign made me giggle:

Because it’s a white image.  Of the White Tower.  And …and… maybe I’d best just let that one go.

Inside, we saw how the whole area is a series of concentric areas:  this was called Mint Street, and it’s where a bunch of fun stuff happened in the 17th century.  Coins were minted.  Coins were spent.  Love was made.  (Sometimes the latter two in the same transaction).

Our tour was led by a real-life Beefeater:

He was very funny and sincere and British.  And clearly, Mr. Palm Pilot Holster over there approved.

LONDON VACATION MAP PHOTO #2:

I’m not sure why Jeff needed a map for this bit, since we were being led on the tour, but whatever.  Jeff also appears confused.  Or maybe just jetlagged and exhausted.

I fell in love with all the architectural details, like the decorative brickwork and ginormous painted iron lamps, and cobblestones that made my be-Fluevogged feet unsteady:

New desktop background:

Here’s our first stop at Traitor’s Gate:

The tour guide briefly talked about what had happened there, and the legions of tourists snapped photos and shuffled on, and I followed along because I didn’t want to get lost.  But I knew I needed to go back, and tell Jeff all about Elizabeth’s speech on the steps, and the driving rain, and the heads on spikes.  There was too much history – too many absolutely fascinating things – for me to just take a picture and limp on.  Traitor’s Gate was my favorite.

LOVE.  But also sad.  But LOVE.

Our first time where you could really see the White Tower:

Gorgeous.

The lawn around was so gorgeous!

I’ll spare you the full list of who-all has been held there – either voluntarily or by force – over the past 600 years, but I will say that Guy Fawkes was interrogated in that room with the big bump-out window at the top right.  Which was awesome.  And also:  FUZZY HAT GUARD!!!!!!!!!

Look! He’s doing the funny guard walk and everything!

I am easily entertained.

Speaking of guards doing awesome things, I convinced another Beefeater (not our tour guide) to hold my sock:

Somehow I highly doubt anyone else asked him to do that on that day.  I also doubt that he was terribly amused by my request.

(That’s the second Minerva’s Tower sock, BTW.  I had put my Crumpets and Crazycakes in the luggage I’d checked, which was at that point still hanging out somewhere between Chicago and London.  ALWAYS BRING BACKUP YARN, my friends.  Always.)

Here’s one of the ravens which were all over the place:

Those fuckers are a lot bigger than you’d think.  Like, chicken sized.  They’re ginormous and stolid: they just walked about on the lawn posing for photos and being huge bad-ass birds.  (There’s some sort of legend associated with ravens at the Tower: if the ravens ever leave, the White Tower will fall down and England will all go to shit.  I’m paraphrasing, here.)

Here’s where the ravens are kept and trained:

And here’s what I call “time out for bad ravens”:

Nobody likes ravenjail.

The White Tower is what everybody comes to see (that and the Crown Jewels, in a separate building):

The weaponry/armor exhibit inside the White Tower was pretty much the coolest bit of the whole experience (almost.  Either that or the room where the princes were kept.  That was pretty cool, too.)

The exhibit seemed to just about fill the Tower, spanning multiple levels.  Whoever designed it was really mindful of the flow of people, and they also took pains to create a scene/atmosphere.  There was this awesome music/sound-effect thing – the closest parallel I can draw is to say “it’s like the walk-through ‘rides’ at Disney World” – but it was really so much cooler than that.  It really made the whole experience (and sort of helped justify the 20GBP/person admittance fee :-D)

Some of Henry VIII’s armor from his “burly and athletic” phase:

And here’s some from his “old and no longer athletic but not yet grossly obese and gout-ridden” phase:

Notice anything on that armor, though?

HOLY SHIT, HARRY OLD BOY.  You’re not foolin’ anyone there.

And look! There was tiny armor, too!

I don’t remember who that belonged to.  Charles II, maybe? (don’t quote me on that.)

You’ve no idea how badly I want a helmet with a tiny dragon on it.  I would wear it at work, just ’cause I can.

This set of child’s armor was amazing because OMG look at the detail!

No, really.  Look!

Each panel represents a scene from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander.  Actually, maybe this one belonged to Chuckles II?  Hell if I remember.

Everybody enjoys great size discrepancies, right?  I get such a kick out of tiny things next to giant things.  (like laserdiscs next to those tiny CDs, or espresso cups next to big mugs. I’m easily amused.)

The large suit was for a knight who stood about 6’10”; the small is the dragon armor I pictured above (for a 3-year-old child).

And just think, the little guy totally kicked the big guy’s ass, then stole his wife and his finest horse.***

(I made that up.  History is so much more fun when you’re not hung up on facts).

You haven’t lived ’till you’ve seen an authentic castle WC:

And tested it out…

(Imma print that out, like, 18×24, and hang it on the wall in our living room.)

After the armor and the toilets and such, we wandered through the exhibit to the (yay?) guns ‘n swords ‘n stuff.  Here is where I started to zone out.  But Jeff made me take pictures of a steampunk-y gun:

Dude, that was steampunk like 300 years before there WAS steampunk.

And then there were a bunch of swords that were like 20 feet long, and daggers and even a mace or two, but if you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all, y’know?

I had NOT seen anything like this before:

I love how it’s in a historical armory thing but wouldn’t it look equally at home in some rap video or something?

Enough guns.  Now for pretty things!

Alas, Jeff steadfastly refused to create a distraction so I could pry that gorgeous window out of the setting and take it home.  Jeff is mean.

Also, that window *may* have been in the building’s chapel, where we later learned no photography is allowed.  Oops.  Oh well.

One thing that we got *really* used to over the course of the trip was the whole idea of “exit through the gift shop”.  And you really can’t leave unless you wind through the whole thing.   They weren’t kidding: that shit’s *everywhere*.

See?

But I really didn’t mind too much, because how else would I find a giant-penis-holding-armor oven mitt?

Answer: I WOULDN’T.  (I sort of regret not getting that.)

Have I ever told you about my thing for squished pennies?  I LOOOOOOOVE squished pennies.  Anywhere there’s a squished penny machine, I’m on it.  So everywhere I found a squished penny machine in England, I made one.

SQUISHPENNY!!!

That’s not a fake smile.  I’m really that happy.  I LOVE SQUISHED PENNIES.

Back outside…

I call this one, “Jeff + giant cannon”:

I’ve no idea WTH is happening here:

But I’m gonna go ahead and guess that the guard didn’t find it terribly entertaining.

“Mum said I should’ve gone to trade school. Mum was right.”

We also saw the crown jewels (which was really awkward: you wait in line for a long time watching looped clips of coronations, and then you get one one of those human conveyor belt thingies like at the airport, and you’re not allowed to walk forward or backward and it just whizzes you right past the jewels and then you’re done.  No photography allowed either, obv.), and one of the possible rooms that Lizzie the First got to hang out in (mean older Catholic half-sisters are a real bich, amirite?), and the space where the Princes lived and died and were hidden.  Which was all very fascinating and rather heartbreaking, and also obscenely crowded (which was heartbreaking in its own right, in that I took an elbow to the sternum from some obese septuagenarian snapping a photo of his trophy wife).

We escaped all that soon enough, though, and took in some sights outside the tower area proper.  Like Tower Bridge!

(Jeff took that picture)

If you’re ignorant and confused as I was, you may think that that was London Bridge.  You would be wrong.  That is, in fact, *not* London Bridge.  (I know better now, and I’m making it my mission to gently correct everyone else who suffers the same misunderstanding, as well).  It is Tower Bridge.  Not London Bridge.  London Bridge is flat and boring and ugly and we’ll see it later.

Exhausted, tired feet, sore shoulders, and happy:

::sigh::

By that point it was about 5:00 and our bodies had no idea what the hell time it was anyway, so we determined that we needed food.  Preferably from a pub, and preferably of the greasy and plentiful variety.  So we wandered around until we found this place:

Which was under a bridge.

(No, really.)

And there were lots of office workers in there having an after-work drink, and fish and chips and beers were obtained post-haste, and we were happy.

(Best. Photo. Ever.)

And then we left, and saw our first-ever red double-decker bus:

And then we went back to the hotel and tried really hard to stay awake as late as we could, but seeing as how we’d been up for over 36 hours and were full of dark beer and greasy fish, it wasn’t easy.  We were asleep before 9pm.

To be continued…

~~~
*We had one carryon suitcase, one checked suitcase, Jeff’s backpack and my pursebag, for the whole 8-day trip.  The checked bag missed getting on our connecting flight, so it arrived in London later that evening (and Delta delivered it to our hotel at about 8:00pm).  Luckily, I’m a suitcase-packing goddess and was equipped for any contingency.  Rather than having “Jeff’s suitcase” and “my suitcase”, I put half of our clothes in each suitcase: so even if the checked bag got lost altogether, neither of us would be left without the necessities.  I also put bare essential toiletries in Jeff’s backpack (but we checked things like hairspray and makeup), and a change of undergarments and t-shirts.  That way, we could change clothes in the airport if need be.  It was actually quite helpful, after we landed, so we could freshen up before that first exhausting day of sightseeing.  It’s a wonder the difference that clean underwear can make.**

**I’m going to embroider that on a tea towel.

***She was ugly as sin, but she could ride for miles and miles without rest…

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DC Saga: Saturday

Saturday morning we decided to do the tourist-y thing together (so much more fun than doing the tourist-y thing alone):  Smithsonian stuff, the national mall, and a boat ride.

So we had to have a POWERBREAKFAST! at Founding Farmers:

(Nothing says “hardcore” like egg whites, fresh veggies and whole grain toast.  Amirite?)

Jeff also let me sample his buttermilk pancakes with cinnamon-infused maple syrup:

Seriously delicious.  And look at that little syrup distribution system!  So cute.

 

And since we’re on the MAGICAL INTERNET and you don’t have to watch our 10-minute walk and train ride…

 

Ta-da!  Look!  We’re at the Mall!

Here’s my first artistic portrait series, inspired by the works of art at the Smithsonian.  I call it, Annoying one’s husband as you walk down the Mall.

“1:  Studiously ignoring the wife.”

“2:  About to sneeze.”

“3:  Post-sneeze nose rub.”

I AM AN ARTISTE!

I don’t even know.  He’s gonna yell at me for putting this up:

Can anyone tell me why I took this picture?

Ooh but this was the most exciting of all.  Behold:  a tract in the bathroom at the Washington Memorial!

I tried to dry my hands on it but the pages were too slippery and non-absorbent.

(Has anyone cornered the market on towel tracts yet?)

Here’s Series 2, entitled Annoying one’s husband while he waits for you to finish taking pictures of tracts in public restrooms.

“1:  Observing from a distance.”

(And look at that guy in the blue!  I’m so good, I’m even annoying *other people’s husbands*!)

“2:  About to make the kill.”

[“3:  Here Jeff, have a soggy tract.” has been temporarily removed for cleaning and restoration.  Our apologies for the inconvenience.]

And now, a quiz:  Am I standing at the base of the Washington Monument, or in front of a nondescript office building?

Answer:  YOU’LL NEVER KNOW.

We walked over to the White House next:

Though I can understand the reasoning, I don’t really like that they keep the public so far from the building.  Makes me pine for those days ’round 1902 when the T. Roosevelt children and I would play and tumble about on the lawn, and have secret picnics in a copse of trees.

Y’know.  Those days.

This isn’t just an empty signifier of abstract philosophy.  It’s me saying “fuck war” as politely as I can.  I told Jeff that I almost wish there was a draft on, and that women were eligible, just so I could register as a conscientious objector.  I don’t think he believed me.

This is what got me so pissed off at pointless fucking wars started to line greedy bastards’ pockets:

Not to get too political (hahahaha who am I kidding?) but I mean, did we – as a country – learn NOTHING from Vietnam?  Ugh.

(I hope we do move to DC, just so I can take part in any number of protests.)

(I tried protesting here in St. Louis once, but Jeff said that ranting at him in the living room isn’t the same thing as protesting.  Especially when he already agrees with me.)

If there was ONE THING I wanted to do in DC:  hug Jeff.  If there was ANOTHER THING I wanted to do in DC:  see the reflecting pool.  So, of course, they drained the stupid pool:

Very impressive, huh?   I’d worn my swimsuit and eb’rything.

My favorite stop on the Mall was (big surprise) the Lincoln Memorial:

Fantastic:

I tried to read the whole Emancipation Proclamation and Second Inaugural Address as carved on the monument’s side walls, but there were just too many people jostling around and hitting my ankles with strollers (seriously, who carries a stroller up those steps?!) and brushing me with their sticky Banana-Boat-scented shoulders.

Though I guess that’s what you should expect at a tourist destination on a Saturday in June.

(Digression #2 – see that guy off at the left, with the striped shirt and backpack?  That’s a “Harold”:  the quintessential obnoxious, clueless tourist.  By the time I left DC, I was SO FUCKING SICK of the Harolds, and their female counterparts – the Irmas.  Everywhere you go, Harold and Irma are standing – rather than walking – up the left side of escalators, or asking for directions, or gawking at street corners.  Goddamn.  Sweaty, overweight Harolds and Irmas fanning themselves with brochures, or blocking the sidewalk to take family photos, or trying to parallel park their Dodge Grand Caravan.  Fucking tourists.

“Harold and Irma” is a designation Jeff and I came up with several years ago in St. Louis, for the idiot suburbanites who would ride the Metrolink once a year to attend a Rams game, who would jostle about on the train and giggle helplessly and get their purses caught in the doors.  The term translates nicely to all tourists, everywhere, who happen to be in my way when I’m just trying to fucking go someplace.  I can’t stand Harolds and Irmas.)

We escaped the crowd inside the Lincoln Memorial after just a few minutes, and retreated to the back portico where we could sit and swing our legs and watch traffic and drink Diet Fanta.  It was my favorite.

It was getting pretty warm and crazy sunny, so I busted out my parasol (if by ‘parasol’ you mean ‘umbrella purchased at CVS *after* the Thursday night rainstorm’) as we walked toward the Smithsonian buildings:

Contrary to Jeff’s initial statements, I was *not* the only white girl doing this on Saturday – I saw at least two others.  (and about 40 old Asian women tourists, but that’s beside the point)

We decided to see the museums piecemeal rather than try to catch everything in one go, so we just hit up a few exhibits each in the Natural History museum and in the American History museum.

This was my favorite:

Clearly.

Yes, that’s THE Stephen Colbert portrait.  Err…one of them.

Lol.  “Portrait.”

(See what I mean about thorough placards?)

And here’s its prestigious location in the American History museum:

Right by the staff offices and restrooms.  Only the best for Mr. Colbert.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen the famous ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz:

When I was a kid – 11 or 12, maybe – Mom and Dad took us to a traveling Smithsonian exhibit when it stopped in Kansas City.  I remember going, but I even more distinctly remember being way too cool to look at anything, choosing instead to stand off to the side and look aloof and awesome.

God I wish I could go smack my preteen self.

The hat that Lincoln was wearing the night he was assassinated:

Have I mentioned my little Lincoln obsession?  No?

Oh!  But THIS.  This was the best:

JULIA-FUCKING-CHILD, guys.

This is about as close as I’ve ever come to a religious experience.

You can’t actually go in (duh), but you they did set it up with plexi-glass “bubbles” that you can step into so you can see the kitchen from all sides.

It was amazing.  And I would’ve been able to appreciate it even more if Irma and Harold’s 20,000 obnoxious grandkids weren’t screaming and running around the whole time.

But still.  Damn.

From there we went to the Natural History museum, where we sat outside and I ate the best damn soft pretzel of my entire life.

And then we went in and looked at dinosaurs:

I wanna know what this giant sloth and sabre-tooth cat were talking about:

“Hey man, my breath stink?”
“Does your breath stink? Seriously?  It’s so bad my nose just fucking fell off!  You smell like a dead animal.”

I decided to perform a little social experiment.  I stood next to the fish tank for two minutes, and counted the number of times some Harold came by with his stupid kid and said “Hurr hurr!  Look Aiden!  Nemo and Dory!”

8 times, y’all.  8 times in 2 minutes.

When I couldn’t handle the Harold-ing anymore, we decided to leave and go someplace that we could be Harold and Irma.  Jeff had bought a Groupon for a 2-hour cruise thingy on the Potomac, so we did that:

And that’s the only evidence.  It was fun, though.  Even if I did spend the whole time thinking we were traveling east, while it turns out we were really going south (Fucking maps.  How does it work?!)

Good thing they didn’t let me drive the boat.

After that, we went home and… (guess?)…watched IT Crowd, ate reduced-fat Oreos, and fell asleep by 10pm.