London - Sunday, September 3, 1995

Last day in London. So what did I do with this day? Where did I go, what did I see? Funny you should ask, I was just going to tell you…

As I was smelling funny, I first visited the local laundromat and was surprised to see that my white shirts came out of the wash as a nice shade of baby blue. I have nothing against the colour, it's just that they are SUPPOSED to be white, I hope I can bleach them…

Yesterday, having talked with the Paris tour guide, he suggested I take one of the tour buses in London that run on a set route and allow you to get on and off as you please with one set price. So, I did this (as if that would be a surprise to you). I stayed on the bus for one route, or at least until it got nearly to the end and hopped off for the first stop at the Tower of London. Did I mention that I picked up the bus at Piccadilly Circus? No? Oh, I did. Quite a lively place, a lot like some places in Toronto (the only other big city I can compare it to, at least, that I have first-hand knowledge of) I have been to.

The Tower of London was quite interesting if not a bit bloody, the guard we had went into a lot of detail, for example, about how a be-heading did not quite go so well and after 5 chops with the axe, the executioner had to get out a hunting knife to finish the job. Yikes. That is not a pretty picture. I did manage to catch a tour just as I got to the Tower and listened in for a bit, I must admit that my English history ranks right up there with Icelandic politics in terms of my knowledge so everything was fairly new to me. Walking around some of the walls (on top actually) I was quite taken aback by the popularity of the place, about 50-50 foreigners and natives, which is quite different than I am used to. The inner courtyard is quite quiet and the ravens are something else (albeit, you really don't want to 'mess' with them unless you absolutely have to), there are always 6 of them in residence with their wings clipped so they do not take off. Evidently, they are quite protective of their various territories around the inner castle.

The crowd jewels really take your breath away. I was quite impressed that they were not as gaudy as you might think, actually, most are fairly simple in complexity but more than make up for it in jewel arrangement (size, notably, have you ever seen a diamond verging on the size of a golf ball?) and in sheer magnificence. The security around them is very low key, which strikes me as the way it should be, these treasures are to be seen and experienced, not hidden away in some vault somewhere (though I am sure some of the pieces have not seen daylight for sometime packed away in some corner).

After a couple of hours just trying to get a feel of the place, I picked up the bus once again and stopped the next time at Piccadilly Circus and had a look around inside Tower Records. I was really impressed with their selection, I was specifically looking for my favourite composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber and I was not disappointed and I did manage to pick up a copy of a CD that we can only get at a HUGE cost in Canada (as an import). I was also seriously tempted to pick up another CD that I did not even know existed (a soundtrack to a musical as well) but that would have put me into the “serious money” bracket and I was already worried about customs on the way back tomorrow, so I held off. I am pleased to see they have an overseas service so I will be able to get it sent to me (maybe I will order tomorrow from the airport and save me some long distance charges, hum, what a thought…). I found the store to be a lot like our Sam's store in Toronto (except, of COURSE, Tower was SMALLER).

Next I caught the tour bus to St. Paul's but as it was Sunday, access to the cathedral was very restricted and I only got into the main atrium and did not get up to the altar area or have a chance to climb up to the top of the dome. The cathedral is very impressive, though much as I expected, yes, it is big and very immediate seeing it that close but not completely surprising. I wonder what prepared me for that, the CN Tower? Office buildings? I don't know.

Then, I proceeded (perhaps stupidly) to Hard Rock Café to do my usual shopping for Karin. There was actually I line for the souvenirs so I had to wait about 20 minutes, I hope she appreciates what I do for her…(that is a joke, laugh, ha-ha). I think it is kind of fun to keep doing this, popping into a store to pick up a trinket whenever I get to a new, large, city is easy and she seems to enjoy what I pick up. This was my last use of the tour buses, next I took the Underground to an interesting area of the city…

Yesterday, when talking to the couple from Austin they suggested a restaurant that is supposed to be the talk of London, VERY popular and VERY, VERY good. Ok, so what kind of restaurant? They told me, but I would best describe it to you as I experienced it…I got off the train in, basically, not exactly a good neighbourhood, it being about 7:00 at night on a Sunday did not help matters, I wondered around the area I knew the restaurant to be in and eventually saw the lights and walked in to discover that there was a line almost out the door, as I stood there in line, it DID go out the door and onto the street a bit. The line moved quickly and they had a waitress walking around taking drink orders and punching them into her portable computer-pad (or whatever you call it). As she entered the order, the bar downstairs got it and readied the drinks so that when she went down periodically, they were waiting. As we got to the basement, where the restaurant is, I started to see the layout. There are a series of what can best be described as long picnic-type tables (of course, nice long tables with comfortable seating) that were jammed with people. There were about 5-6 tables with about 40 people on each. As people finished eating, they were replaced by people in line quickly. They call it a “JAPANESE noodle bar”, this is new to me, I did not know that the Japanese have a penchant for noodles but this bar was modelled after similar type restaurants in Japan that have existed for hundreds of years. News to me. Anyway, I was seated and proceeded to have the most wonderful meal I have had here.

Maybe I should explain, I am a GREAT lover of authentic ethnic cuisine. Particularly, Japanese and Chinese, and, no, “Chicken Balls” are NOT authentic anything, except, perhaps american fast food authentic (that is North American, not US, by the way, I will not leave Canada out of the guilty party). I don't know why this is, but I suppose it is due to a friend in University who was from Hong Kong. He took me out fairly often to various places around Winnipeg and exposed me to a completely different way of eating (and thinking, to a certain extent) which I have not forgotten. I think I am able to basically eat anything just to experience it. How do you know you will like/not like something until you have tried it? You can't. How do you KNOW what snails taste like until you tried it. I am of the sort that squeamishness, though not gone, has been diminished so little bothers me any more. Now I KNOW what I do not like so I do not order it, it is not that I do not like the idea of the contents, it's just that I do not like the taste. Two VERY different things.

So, this restaurant was heaven to me, a whole new aspect of the Japanese cuisine culture (if you can call it that) that I was not previously aware of.

And the food.

Beyond words, I could tell you what I had but that would be no good either, you MUST experience it to believe it. Oh, have the natural vegetable drink they have, I saw them make it with a lot of veggies and a blender. VERY real food. I will say that I had a deep-fried (with a special batter) shrimp and a seafood noodle dish that sent me into seventh heaven, actually, the waiter noticed that I was scraping the bottom of my bowl with my spoon, leaving NOTHING to waste.

The really neat thing (other than the INCREDIBLE food) is the atmosphere. It had a real personal sense about the whole place. A community. What a way to end a holiday. Oh, the name of the place? Wagamama (neat eh?) at 4 Streatham Street in London (duh…), UK (even more duh…).

Well, after pleasantly filling myself I dreamily made my way back to my hotel and proceeded to depress myself by organizing my receipts for customs and preparing for the trip. It is still fairly early but I am tired and I want to go to bed (can you hear the music?) so I won't be so bad on the plane. I am still debating as to whether I will be going to work on Tuesday or not, I think I might not (though they might scream at that, but what the heck…).

⇒ Continue to Home? - Tuesday, September 5, 1995