Tag Archives: UK

The plumbing was a bit dodgy.

15 Apr

London has been – and remains – one of my favorite cities. There’s so much history and charm and character. And – something I really didn’t appreciate until I lived in France for a while – communication is EASY. If anything, the few differences between British English and American English tend to provide small moments of delight.

Who doesn’t enjoy seeing things with these names on a menu: Toad in a Hole, Eton Mess, Jam Roly Poly, Champignons Rumbledethump? Real example: the other night at dinner, the person to my left asked for bashed neaps and tatties, while the one on my right ordered bubble and squeak. It might all be English, but it doesn’t mean I understand it. (And it doesn’t mean I can repeat it – when I tried to remember the name of the one dish, I called it “bashed teats and nappies,” which I think is something entirely different!)

For all the general convenience of London, there are always a few things that remind me I’m in a very OLD country.

One is the plumbing. Whenever I encounter a toilet, I feel it’s a bit of Russian Roulette to determine if it will flush. In my hotel, it seemed to work one out of every three times, generally. At the office, there was no rhyme or reason to when a toilet would flush. People seemed to just close the lid and move on. There were times when I’d head to the bathroom and find ALL the toilets with their lids closed – only to return an hour later and they would all be clear.

Every time I went to the bathroom, if there was another woman in there I would ask about it. “Am I doing something wrong? Do some of these toilets just not flush predictably?”

I would get a shrug in response. “Yeah, they’re a bit dodgy.”

In the States, this would be grounds for outrage. We would be on the phone with the building supervisor, complaining that the restroom needed repairing and threaten to break our lease if it wasn’t resolved quickly. In London, it seemed gently accepted.

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 11.03.11 AMThe other reminder on this trip that we were clearly in another country was the hair dryer provided by the hotel. Look at that thing!

After checking into the hotel and stashing our stuff, my traveling companion reported back, “I don’t think that Flowbie-thing is going to cut it!”

Not only does it look like something you might use to vacuum out your car, it also blows air only a smidge warmer and more forcefully than if you attempted to dry your hair by blowing through a straw.

Finally, I don’t know what it is, but the Brits LOVE their mayonnaise. I’m acutely aware of this because I do NOT love mayonnaise, so I found myself scraping it off EVERYTHING. Even things that rightfully shouldn’t have mayonnaise on them seemed to be slathered in it.

Differences aside, London was kind to us. The people were warm and friendly. The weather was generally sunny (aside from an odd 15 minute stretch where it when from sunny to rainy to hailing then back to sunny). The sites were lovely.

Mission completed, we pulled out of St. Pancras on Friday bound for a few days with our Paris team, where the toilets might work reliably, but our language skills would not.


Walk this way! Or not.

13 May

This photo (St. Paul & The Millenium Bridge, as seen from the Tate) has nothing to do with this post, other than that it's set in London and I took it.

So I’ve posted about some of the walking tours I’ve done this week… Yes, I’m a nerd and — to top it off – I tend to scribble notes when I’m on the tour. Bite me. Moving on…

Let me tell you about the sociology of the Walking Tour. For starters, I’m the YOUNGEST person. On every walk. Nevermind that I’m closer to 50 than the legal drinking age. Every time, I look around and think, “Sweet! I’m on a tour with my PARENTS.”

I always marvel at how fast the guide walks, because I tend to be a fast walker and s/he is usually traveling at my pace. Maybe the strategy is to leave the weak behind and reduce the flock by 50%. (Alan has observed, however, that it’s a specific type of person who takes a walking tour… they tend to be thin and healthy, regardless of age. So maybe there’s not much whittling to be done.)

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My name is Alison, and I am an addict.

12 May

I’m addicted to walking tours. Simply cannot get enough of them. That either means I’m a nerd or a retiree. You do the math.

In any case, there’s a great walking tour company here in London (London Walks) willing to indulge me. Since I’ve been to London before and checked off most of the typical touristy spots in other visits, I’m using these walks to familiarize myself with some of the lesser-explored bits of the city.

King Kong, Elvis and Henry VIII - I like the way they think!

Monday I did the “London’s Secret Village” tour, which had us tromping around in Clerkenwell – in London’s central borough of Islington. Among the highlights:

  • Seeing where William Wallace (you know, the dude from Braveheart?) was beheaded.
  • Visiting a Plague Pit, knowing the soil below me was the resting place for hundreds of bodies from the 1665 plague.
  • Crossing the square where Dickens’ Oliver Twist got nabbed for picking the wrong pocket.
  • Learning that the subterranean River Fleet had so much sewer gas build up that it once exploded.
  • Spotting one of London’s most filmed churches – St. Bartholomew’s Church – known from The Other Boleyn Girl, Sherlock Holmes, Four Weddings & a Funeral, etc. – and learning that Henry VIII is considered the church’s second founder simply for not having it torn down when he was demolishing all things Catholic.

Jesus Hot Tub Time Machine.

Tuesday, Alan joined me for the “Inside the Ancient City” tour, where we weaved around back alleys north of the Tower and St. Paul’s. Among its highlights:

  • Pepys (pronounced “Peeps” like the Easter treat, not some version of Pepsi, which is what I was trying to do) – who wrote an amazing diary during the plague/fire of the 1600s but kept it in code because he was cheating on his wife.
    • Another Pepys reference that made me feel like I knew him: when his place was on the edge of the fire line, he figured he had half a day to save his prized possessions before the place burned. What did he do? Buried cases wine and a wheel of parmesan cheese. (I totally appreciate his priorities.)
  • Leadenhall Market: a cute functioning arcade that served as Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies.
  • The most perfect church in London: the church of St. Stephen Walbrook, which looks like nothing on the outside, but is a breath-taking church on the inside. Courtesy of Sir Christopher Wren (as is almost every other church in this city).
    • Odd note: the interior may be gorgeous, but the priest there in the 1970s decided to have a new, central altar commissioned by Henry Moore. I’m sure in an art museum it would look amazing, but in the midst of a 17th century church, it looks a bit odd. Like a Flintstone hot tub.
  • George & Vulture Pub: where Dickens’ family still meets every Christmas Eve to have dinner and raise a toast in his honor.

The thing that made the joint tour with Alan particularly fun was that we had a guy in the tour group who was VOCALLY EXCITED. By which I mean that he would burst out in a loud affirmation occasionally. I nicknamed him “Blurt Reynolds,” but Alan, being a bit more kind, referred to him as, “Joie de Vivre.”

I think London is having a mellowing effect on Alan.

(I’ve also done the Hampstead and Kensington walks, and will summarize them later for my friends who are armchair travelers.)

The moral(s) of this story: walking tours rock, I’m a nerd, and you might actually learn a bit of British trivia from reading this blog. Please humor me.

I’ll take function over beauty any day. In a bathroom.

10 May

Since I’ve done a crap job explaining why my posts are coming to you live from England this week, let me back up: Alan is working on a case in the UK for at least a month, so I (being ever so spontaneous) decided to hop a flight and join him for a week.

He’s staying in a corporate apartment near Kings Cross, which is handy because it has daily housekeeping and laundry service. Sounds like a great perk, but we’re both kind of weird about housekeeping — we usually only remove the DND sign from the door if we need new towels, preferring privacy to having a stranger make the bed. But this trip, I keep lobbying to let them in because they stock the fridge with fresh milk for our tea.

The apartment itself is quite nice — it was remodeled in the last few months, so it has nice modern finishes and a gorgeous bathroom. BUT (and this is a pretty big but, which is why I capitalized it): a pretty bathroom is not necessarily a practical bathroom. Especially if more than one person is sharing the space.

Exhibit A: The Toilet

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The people around these parts sure are friendly…

9 May

Alan and I found the UK’s version of Atlantic City yesterday: Brighton.

Well, that’s not an entirely fair comparison. The carnival-like atmosphere surrounding Brighton Pier isn’t indicative of the entire town’s vibe. But when you’re down by the beach, let’s just say: you will not be lacking for opportunities to a) win a stuffed animal, b) have your weight guessed, or c) tour a haunted house.

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OK, OK. So that is largely limited to the shenanigans you find on Brighton Pier and the surrounding boardwalk area. Elsewhere, Brighton has a lot to offer to people who AREN’T interested in having their weight guessed by a man with a moustache: there is the North Laine (the old part of town bursting with twisting alleys of restaurants and shops), the Royal Pavilion (a vacation home built for the king in a style of architecture uniquely middle eastern) and the Victorian Gardens (self explanatory).

So all of that explains why Alan and I ventured to Brighton yesterday for a little “beach” exploration while we’re on vacation. What that *doesn’t* explain is our first interaction in the town of Brighton, which took place at a pub called the Camelford Arms.

It was a sweet pub with a friendly bartender, but it wasn’t terribly busy when we arrived. In fact, other than one gentleman who say reading a paper by the fireplace, we had it to ourselves. Braced with a couple pints, we sat at a table off to the side to create a loose plan for the day.

One of our objectives was to find the Brighton Festival, an arts festival running the entire month of May, but we couldn’t find it on our map. “Maybe I should just ask the bartender,” Alan suggested.

As he said that, I glanced up at the bartender. And realized that the place had gotten somewhat busier while we were downing our pints. “I mean, he was exceptionally friendly,” Alan continued.

A lightbulb went off in my mind. “Alan,” I interrupted. “I think this place is Brighton’s equivalent of Stetsons.” I looked at him meaningfully, hoping he would connect the dots leading back to the gay bar on my block back in DC.

“Stetsons?” he asked, clearly NOT getting my subtle reference.

“Stetsons,” I reiterated. Then, becoming a bit impatient, said, “Have you noticed that I am the only woman in here?”

Ahhhh. I could see him processing what I had said, then the dawning realization as all the signs started to blink at him… the uber-friendly bartender, the all-male clientele, the prevalence of man purses, the first semblance of decent fashion we had seen in Brighton.

After we left, he asked what had tipped me off. “Probably the guy whose entire crotch was ripped out of his jeans. I just couldn’t see a straight man getting away with that look.”

Leave it to me… I travel 3,700 miles and manage to land in a neighborhood just like home.