September 24, 2004.
Today our London Walks guide was Simon. He is a lot younger than Richard, and showed up a few minutes late. The group today was the largest group so far, with 25 people. We all conglomerated together at Victoria Station and wondered if we were in the wrong place. I recognized another Kiwi from the Bath group that I had met two days before. Her name was Sue, and she was traveling with her daugher and son-in-law who live in London. Simon finally showed up and took our money. Then he advised us to buy a sandwich at the station if we wanted to save time at Leeds castle. We had 10 minutes to get something and meet back. I bought a sandwich and soda at Marks & Spenser, sort of an upscale grocery store, comparable to Larry’s Market back home. Pre-made, pre-packaged sandwiches in triangle shaped plastic containers are quite popular in England. They had almost an entire aisleway full of them.
We were on the train for 1 hour, then on a bus for 1/2 hour. Leeds Castle is described as being “the world’s loveliest castle.” I think I was expecting more “castle” than “lovely.” The castle was definitely lovely, but not as richly decorated as I’d imagined. As a matter of fact, several rooms were quite plain. But it is situated in a lovely piece of countryside, with lakes and rolling green hills dotted with sheep. There is an aviary with a large number of exotic birds. But the gardens were my favorite. There was a full size garden hedge maze which I went through. I was hopelessly lost, but in the center of the maze there was a guy who gives directions to people with no sense of direction. Once you make it through the maze, you go through the underground grotto, which is all rock and decorated with fountains and faces that come out of the walls. It was hard to take pictures, but I found some good postcards in the gift shop for my scrapbook.
After Leeds, we went to Canterbury. The thing I loved most about Canterbury was the cathedral! It is the most beautiful cathedral that I have ever seen! And it has to be the largest. I could have paid 2 pounds for a photo permit, and instead I bought postcards of the interior. I should have got the permit! But it’s something that pictures don’t do justice anyway. It was truly amazing. Although the weather was sunny in Leeds, it was cold and overcast in Canterbury.
We had an hour and a half after the cathedral, but my first priority was getting warm. I went to a Caffe Nero and ordered a mocha. It was the most delicious mocha that I have ever had. Then Sue and her daugther and son-in-law showed up, and they sat by me. We sat there and chatted for awhile. Then we wandered back to the meeting point. I sat next to them on the train ride home, which was good because there was a drunk guy on the train. He kept us amused on the ride back to London. He was sitting across from Simon, across the aisle from us and he kept asking Simon how he was doing and where he was from. Simon was on his cell phone the entire time, or writing things in an organizer. He handled the drunk guy remarkably well. Drunk guy: “Where you from mate?” Simon: “I already told you, I’m from London.” DG: “Oh that’s right mate. You okay man?” S: “I’m fine man.” DG: “That’s good mate. Where you from again?” S: “London.” Those brits are so polite! Finally the drunk guy stumbled off to another car after Simon promised to watch his stuff. When we got to London, Sue gave me her phone number and address in New Zealand and said I had to come by for dinner if I was ever in NZ. Her daughter said to definitely take her up on it since her mom is the best cook. Those Kiwi’s are so hospitable!
That night for dinner, I went (once again) to a place by the hostel. I chose a place selling koner and kabobs and all sorts of interesting-sounding items. A guy was just getting his food as I walked in. It looked like a giant gyro. The guy behind the counter asked me what I wanted. “What did he order,” I asked, indicating the guy before me. He said it was a koner. I said I’d take one of those. Which size did I want, he asked. I asked the customer what size he had ordered and he said a medium. I ordered the same. The customer got his to go, and as he was leaving he said, “I hope you enjoy your food!” He said it so sincerely, as if he would be upset if I ordered something based on what he got, and didn’t like it. I thanked him and he left. I also ordered a beer with it. For some reason a huge bottle of beer sounded very good. He said, “you want to eat here?” There was no one eating there and he sounded surprised that I wanted to. I said yes, I wanted to eat there. Then he asked me where I was from and I said Seattle. And THEN after I sat down and started eating, he asked me if I was traveling alone. I said I was traveling with friends who were back at the hostel. He then proceeded to ask me if I was traveling with a boyfriend. I showed him my ring and said I was married. After that he left me alone. The food was not the best, but there was a lot of it and it filled me up.
That night I debated whether to do a fourth excursion the next day. It sounded absolutely wonderful, a trip to Blenheim Palace and the Peaks District. But if I went, that would only leave me with one full day in London. I decided against going and made up an itinerary for the next day.
September 25, 2004.
That morning I checked online and found out that Romeo and Juliet would be playing at the Globe theater at 2pm. I decided I would go and see that. So that morning, I went to the Tate Britain and spent several hours there. It was Saturday, and family day/field trip day was going on at the museum. Most of the rooms were filled with kids sprawled out on the floors, working in activity books or on projects that involved cutting and pasting and making lots of noise. The museum was amazing, and at first I didn’t mind the noise, but by the time I left I had a headache. As I walked outside, I realized that it was pouring down rain outside. I decided to skip the play because of the weather and decided to go tomorrow if the weather was better. I had fish and chips for lunch, then I went to Buckingham Palace. The lines were long and I had to wait an hour after I bought my ticket. I was in an extremely foul mood by the time I got inside, which might have affected my verdict that it was interesting to see, but not as essential as I’d been told. Then I went to Leicester Square and tried to buy tickets to Les Miz, but it was sold out. Then I spent the rest of the day shopping. There is a Virgin Atlantic record store in Piccadilly Circus that is huge, but CD’s were too expensive because of the exchange rate.
I went back to the hostel and it was only 7:00 pm. No one was in the TV room. I decided to go next door to the mall and see what movies were playing. Wimbledon started at 8:30, so I bought a ticket. At 8-ish I went back and got some snacks at the grocery store. Then I went to the movie. The theatre was fairly crowded. This was the first time I’ve ever been to a movie by myself. It wasn’t nearly as trendy as going to some cool London club, but at least it wasn’t as pathetic as spending the evening in the TV room of the hostel. The next day would be my last, and I was going to try and squeeze in the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, a traditional roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner (only served on Sundays!) and a play at the Globe.
September 26, 2004. Last day in London. [journal ends here].