Tuesday, 13 December 0730
I awoke to the sounds of rustling and shuffling in the room. I looked up, groggily, to see what was going on and saw one of my roommates dragging his bag across the floor. Leaving early, I guessed. I rummaged under the bed and found my watch: 7:30. I’d gone to bed only 6 hours before. I stayed in bed a bit, hoping to go back to sleep quickly, but no luck. After getting a shower and clean clothes, I gathered up my stuff and headed out.
I walked around the corner to a small grocery hoping to find a bit to eat. I was looking for Pop Tarts or something similar, but the grocery did me much better than that. As I was wandering around, I noticed the singular smell of fresh baked goods. Following my nose, I found several bins of fresh breads and pastries. I settled on a pain chocolate and a lemon-custard danish. Still warm. I took those and some orange juice to the register, where the counterman said, “You’ve got great timing. They’re still warm.”
We all have these moments of serendipity when we travel. That’s one thing I love about traveling. You turn a corner, not really knowing what you’ll see on the other side, and you’re face-to-face with some famous monument or museum. You meet a person from your home town or school. I love these moments.
The pastries were not just warm; they were so hot I burnt my fingers. Now that’s living.
I walked to the Tube stop and hopped a train for Tower Hill. First stop: the Tower of London. Now, when I was in London in ’93, I didn’t go to the Tower because I didn’t want queue and crowds. But I feel rather silly telling people I’ve been to London but never to the Tower. I picked the right time. 10am on a cold December morning isn’t the most tourist-friendly time to visit. Instead of the long queues you’d expect at the Tower, I was often alone when seeing things. When I entered the vault containing the Crown Jewels, I was the only one there.
They have this people conveyor set up to carry queues past the Jewels. They do this so people don’t linger, clogging up the queues. Makes sense when you’ve a couple thousand lined up to see, but when it’s one person, it’s a bit silly. So the Beefeater standing watch invited me to go back as many times as I wanted. He also answered all my questions and was generally a convivial fellow.
Which I noticed to be generally true of the Beefeaters. The guide who led our tour was a hilarious, friendly man of about 55. He cracked jokes, took the piss, had fun with the kids, and charmed the ladies. A couple large groups of children passed by, on field trips or whatnot, and shouted and hollered all the way. He shouted down at the adult chaperones, “Please! Please! Keep them quiet! I can’t give a tour when my group can’t hear me!” But he said it with humor and grace, which isn’t easy.
I enjoyed the Tower, the history. I remarked to my new friend Tess later than day that I loved that I could see the exact places I’d only read about. Anne Boleyn executed here. Traitor’s Gate there (reminds me of Elvis Costello: “The pretty things of Knightsbridge / Lying for the Minister of State / Are a far cry from the nod and wink / Here at Traitors’ Gate”). But after a while I was happy to go.
I caught the Tube again, made the necessary transfers to get to Covent Garden. I wandered around Covent Garden Market a little and found my way to the London Transport Museum. I like trains and I especially like transport art, as anyone who’s seen my apartment will know. I didn’t buy any posters (mainly because I wasn’t sure how to get them home), but I did buy a couple books of Underground-poster reproductions. I also picked up two appropriate fridge magnets for Ellen.
After leaving the Transport Museum, I went off to Picadilly. I was looking for Wagamama, a noodle bar I’ve heard much about. I had an address and a map, but not much else. After walking about for an hour, I finally found it in Soho. (Funny that both London and New York have Sohos, but the names have completely different origins.) I got a big bowl of ramen in chicken broth, with sliced chicken and vegetables on top. I also bought fresh juice and some grilled dumplings. Very tasty–all of it. Wagamama rightly deserves its reputation.
I headed back to the hostel. After being displaced the previous night, I was nervous that there’s be someone new in my bed again. I went back to the room. It was dark inside, but my bed was empty. A young woman was kneeling in front of a locker fiddling about. I rummaged in my camera bag and pulled out a flashlight. I said something, and she said there was a guy asleep in one bunk. By her accent, I could tell she was North American. We chatted a bit and then she left. I saw her again briefly downstairs in the rec room when I went to check my e-mail.
I took off for the pub. I was supposed to meet members of the Warren Ellis forum, a Delphi forum I frequent. Ellis writes comic books, video games, short fiction, and film scripts and he’s got this forum where his fans meet to discuss his work, music, films, current affairs, and just about anything really. I’ve met up with people from his forum before (in Boston).
We planned to meet at the Bull and Mouth pub, near Bloomsbury, at 6pm. The Bull and Mouth is a regular Thursday gathering place for this crowd. I entered the pub, not knowing how I’d know anyone or be known, although I’d given a brief description of myself on the forum. Although many of us have posted pictures online, I wasn’t sure I’d know anyone that way.
I got a pint from the bar and, because the place was packed out, I stood so I could be seen from the entrance. After a short time, this young man walked in, blinked a few times at me, and walked up, saying, “Are you Michael?” It was Lindsay, as it turns out. Very shortly after, others began to arrive. We eventually had about a dozen people there. Funny enough, two people arrived who looked EXACTLY like their pictures, or close enough that I knew them on sight–Christian Adams and Stuart Nathan.
It was a fun time. Chris Adams and I talked at length about the September 11 situation, world reaction to it, and whether the actions in Afghanistan would bear any fruit for long-term peace. Stuart and Chris and I talked about sites and dance clubs and I got recommendations from them about where I might find a good time clubbing. Andrea urged me to walk Waterloo Bridge at night, which I must do. Stuart again recommended the Jack the Ripper Walk, which I’m doing tonight.
Around nine or so, Chris, Stu, and Andrea were hungry and recommended Wagamama. Because I had mentioned on-forum, before leaving Indiana, that I wanted to go, I couldn’t tell for sure if they were recommending Wagamama for my sake or theirs, so I stayed quiet and didn’t mention that I’d lunched there. But I didn’t really care anyway. I liked the food enough that eating it twice was no problem for me. And we went to the Bloomsbury location anyway this time, and it’s nice to know where more than one is located so I can go back easily. Just as yummy the second time as the first, I think.
I got back to the hostel around 10:30. I was exhausted and ready to wind down a bit. I saw the woman again who I’d seen in the room earlier (in the dark) and sat and started talking to her. Tess is from California and is attending a year of university at a school in Canterbury. She up in London because her term’s ended and she wanted to see some shows here. We chatted a little over an hour and went back to our room around midnight to get some sleep.
Well, that was long, wasn’t it. I’m getting a late start today, so I’m going to either the Globe Theater or the Tate Modern. I wanted to do both, but as it’s noon now, that won’t happen. I’ll catch the other tomorrow or next week.