Tuesday, May 4, 2010

late nights and early parades, still photos and noisy arcades

The next morning, I woke a bit later than I had meant to, but since I had been up late the night before I wasn’t too concerned. Then I had to try to figure out the Stonehenge tour, which was giving me trouble because the number that it gave me didn’t work. I called Jack and he tried to make it work but it didn’t work for him either. Fortunately, I searched the web for the company and found a different number, and that worked without any problems and I got all signed up for the tour, and arranged to be picked up at the pick-up place that was closest to Buckingham Palace. And then I set off to go see the changing of the guard.

I had a rather difficult time getting on the correct bus, because it was one that ended at Paddington so I was first trying to get on from the wrong side of the road where you couldn’t get on because the bus wasn’t going any farther, but eventually I got it figured out.

The result of all the morning’s muddling was that I didn’t have a very good view of the changing of the guard. But I got to see them ride in and out of the gate, so that was all right.

another handsome British man in uniform who's photo doesn't do him justice:

Afterward I walked around the front of the palace and admired it and recited more A.A. Milne poetry.

And then I walked to the hotel where the bus was – after having to stop for directions because I couldn’t find it. I asked the man if I had time to go into the hotel to buy a snack and he said that we’d be going to Victoria Station to pick up more people next and that I’d have time there. So I took a seat and waited.

He was true to his word, and I got a pasty at the station and ate it while we drove. I was so sleepy that I twice fell asleep for a solid half-hour with my chin fallen on my chest as though I were three.

The weather for Stonehenge was my idea of completely ideal Stonehenge weather. It was just chilly enough that I almost needed a jacket but not quite, with an ever-changing wind. The sky was full of high, fleecy clouds that made a constant alteration between sunshine and shade. We had over an hour there, which meant I could first walk once around listening to the audio tour, and then again on my own.

Toward the end, I was just sitting on the ground on the path looking at the stones, when I heard a man wondering where it was that the sunrise came in on Midsummer day. I knew, from listening to the audio tour, so I got up and told him about it. I felt like a proper wandering denizen of Stonehenge.

I got back to the bus just in time. For this ride I turned myself with my back to the window and my feet up on the other seat, so I could sleep without giving myself a neck ache.

On the way back, I also pulled out my maps and lists of things I wanted to do, so I could figure out what I wanted to do that evening. My original plan had been to do the London Eye that night, but since my camera had run out of batteries, I thought I had better save that for a different time. It wouldn’t really be worth the money if I couldn’t take pictures.

So I looked through my lists and booklets, to find what I could do that would still be open and didn’t demand having a working camera. I concluded that I would walk to Liberty, a department store known for beautiful wood architecture and selling artsy stuff. So I got off at the closest place the bus was stopping, and, after using my map to give a woman directions to Harrod’s (a famous department store), I set off.

This is Harrods.

It wasn’t long before I found myself in a ridiculously posh shopping district. Everyone everywhere was dressed in fancy clothes. I was glad that I was dressed in the nicest of my London outfits – my black Alice in Wonderland shirt, black tights, jean skirt – but really, I didn’t mind not fitting in. It was so fun to look at the shop window displays, because lots of them were very pretty.

There was a restaurant in a little lane that had a walkway over it, and I stepped into the lane to both see if the restaurant had any food that didn’t cost an arm and a leg because I was really hungry, and to look at my map and make sure that I was still going in the right direction.

A man came up to me and asked where I needed to get to.

“Oh, I’m going to Liberty, but I’m just weaving through the streets in that general direction,” I explained.

Liberty? You’re not in the right place,” he said, pointing to my map. “It’s here and you’re here.”

“Oh, I know,” I said cheerfully. “This is where I started from,” indicating Hyde Park Corner. “I’m just cutting through the side streets, and I wanted to make sure I was still going the right way.”

“Oh, I see, so you know where you’re going. Okay.”

“Thanks!” And he walked off, leaving me feeling rather pleased with my tendency to confuse other people by walking places.

I was still going in the right direction, and the restaurant was expensive, so I continued on. I found a pretty park, and walked through it.

One interesting thing was that I walked past a short doorway between buildings through which I could see the next street – and did a double-take, because it was actually a mirror! I don’t know if I have ever seen a mirror so clear and perfect – certainly not a mirror that size and outside. The illusion of it being an opening was almost perfect. It was so strange to stand there and see another girl, looking just like me. It is strange, but I liked her, that other girl, and I was sorry to walk away.

As I walked on, I suddenly stopped short, and just stared in wonder. It was a shop that was absolutely full of the most rich goldenness, richness like you imagine in an enchanted palace – none of the ugly modern expensiveness, or even of the pretty colorful modern expensiveness, but the old kind of wealth – exquisite wood and an abundance of gold.

I eventually made it to Liberty. I was quite hungry, but the café was closed, so I just wandered around the store, as though it were a museum. There were lots and lots of lovely things, all ridiculously expensive.

When I was walking through the upholstery fabrics section, the lady asked if I was looking for anything particular.

“No,” I said, smiling. “It’s like a museum to me. I couldn’t afford most of what’s here in a million years. But I love to look at all the pretty things.”

She smiled and seemed to understand, and wasn’t at all patronizing. She told me a bit about the fabrics and things, and then I went on.

Eventually I went on down and out into the street. I wanted to get something to eat, but everywhere around there was expensive. It would have been convenient if I could have gotten on the bus, rode it until I saw someplace I wanted to eat, got off at the next stop, and then gotten back on after eating and continued to the hotel, but that would mean paying two bus fares instead of one. So I decided to just get off near my hotel and walk around there to find food.

Having got off, I was at first excited when I found a very classic-seeming pub with reasonable prices. Unfortunately, there was clearly some kind of important football game going on, because the entire place was so packed that you could hardly walk through it. So after trying to find the additional upstairs seating, and finding it reserved for an event, I managed to worm my way back out into the street.

Happily, just down the road I found a Garfunkle’s, which was a restaurant that I had seen before and wanted to try. So I went in, and ordered soup and bread. I did wish that I had a book to read, but I got out my London booklet and made plans for the next day instead.

Then it was back to the hotel, and sleep. The next day would be Thursday, the day that I would meet up with Jan and Jack.


Shan said...

Kate wants to know how big that gate was up close. And, you should have seen how big her eyes got when she found out an actual QUEEN lived in the palace. LOL

lois said...

I am so glad you liked that other girl. I am quite certain she liked you, too. I am also glad you have an amazing memory, so that you can quote A.A. Milne poems in appropriate places.

Joe said...

Well, you have now visited one of the places that is on my dream list of places to see, stonehenge.