Wednesday, June 13, 2018

London Calling: The Trip Begins

I had the money- I had the time.  I wrote about the "why" of the trip HERE.

On May 11, I flew to the UK.  I left for the airport at 2:30, knowing there would be traffic, and I had to go through security, etc.  I dressed in a simple blue dress that I like, wore hose (as one does) and flats.  I( wanted to be comfortable. I parked in "economy" parking, and hopped onto the bus for terminal A.  I arrived at the terminal and checked my heavy luggage.  That's when I realized that I was wearing my sunglasses.  I'd left my regular glasses in the car.

Did I mention it was around 85 degrees and humid?

Across to the arrival terminal.  Back on a bus.  Car.  There's my glasses.  I grabbed them, waited five minutes, back on a bus, back to the terminal.  I waited in line for security, where I took off my shoes and jewelry, then walked to my gate (19).  I was sweating like crazy.

Flight 728 to London was due to leave on time at 8:30.  I had time to kill, so I walked around a bit.  I knew I'd need a voltage converter to charge my phone while in the UK, so I found one of those.

Philadelphia Airport

I hadn't eaten all day.  Near my gate was a Chickie & Pete's.  It was small, but I was able to find a table (which was wet, but oh well.)  Now, I'd been to C&P several times.  It's fun place with good food.  Not so this time.  It was LOUD.  The server was very busy- almost too busy to care that I was there.  The order came out wrong and cold.  I retreated to the bar, downed a couple of ciders, and went back to my gate.  Not a great start.

The plane boarded a little late, then... they had to change a tire.  Then do the paperwork for changing the tire.  Then get the paperwork for changing the tire approved.  Just before takeoff, a family of three boarded.  People were moved from their seats to accommodate them: dad, mom, tween.

We took off around 9:30.   We were over land for a bit, then... nothing.  Dinner was served at 32,426 ft going 606 mph.  Outside temperature was -51 Fahrenheit.  Dinner was chicken and rice.  How's that for niggling, boring details?

Philly by Air

There was GPS on the little screens.  I didn't know that friends back home were monitoring my flight as well.

I slept maybe four hours.  I felt sticky and scummy, having not showered after being all sweaty.  We were maybe thirty minutes from landing when the late arriving tween started vomiting.  Loudly.  Often.  Yay.

We landed at Heathrow at 9:18 AM local time, then it was the long walk to passport control (long lines), then a long walk to baggage claim, then the long walk to the trains.  I took an express train to Paddington.  I was struck by a sign on the way to Passport Control.  "If you wish to declare political asylum, this [passport control] is where you should do it."  I'll remember that if 45 starts carting LGBT people away.

The Tube

First look at London this trip- that woman looks angry

At Paddington, I went to the Tube, which was VERY hot and humid, with many stairs.  Did I mention how heavy my bag was?  By the time I reached the hotel, I was drenched with sweat.  Then it started raining.  And I'd gone to the wrong hotel- the correct hotel was across the street.

I checked into room 1019, where I showered, shaved, did my makeup, and put on fresh clothes.  I felt a whole lot better!  From my hotel, it was half a block to the British Museum (which is why I chose this particular hotel.)

My hotel.  The fanciest place I stayed the whole trip.

The museum was massive- I could've spent a week there alone.  I concentrated on the Egyptian and Greek sections, as I'd heard they were extensive.  And they were.

Ramses II

Athena Bronze

In front of a small temple

I was so very impressed.  As I went along, I kept seeing parts of statues.  And signs about how they looked in situ before being removed and sent to England.  And the more I saw of this, the more I became upset.  The British pillaged others' culture, mostly for the sake of seeing who could have the most impressive collection.

Died 5500 years ago.  Natural mummification

You must choose...

I spent many hours there, touring the various displays.  At around 4, I walked back to the hotel through the rain.  I was getting hungry, as I hadn't eaten all day- since the flight actually.  There were plenty of places from which to choose.

Across from the museum

I stayed close to the hotel at first, and ate at the hotel restaurant: the Steak and Lobster.  The servers were all French (or affected French accents) and the food was good.  While sitting in the restaurant, waiting for my order, I decided to check email, facialbook, etc.  A friend on facialbook mentioned a place in London called Passyunk Avenue, which is a "Philly" themed restaurant.  A quick google search determined that it was a ten minute walk away.  I decided to see how I felt after dinner before embarking on that walk.

Steak and Lobster

After dinner, I was still wide awake.  It was pouring rain, but I had an umbrella.  It took some time, but eventually I arrived.

It was a small place, stuffed with Philadelphia sports memorabilia.  I sat on a bench in the back; in front of a big screen tv showing the previous night's Phillies game.  At the table next to me was a twenty something guy and an older man, I think he was his father.

I ordered wings (more out of curiosity than anything else.)  They didn't have ranch dressing (I hate bleu cheese), but offered Marinara instead.  Ummm...   In any case, the wings were quite good- better than some here at home!

The young guy and I started talking.  He was from Narberth, but was doing a semester abroad in Amsterdam.  He came over to London specifically to come to this place for a cheesesteak, which he said was "damn good."  Eventually, a woman from Conshohocken (I think) came in with a bunch of her coworkers.  We all started talking, and watched the Phillies lose the game they'd played the night before.  I then headed out in the pouring rain.  Eventually a cabbie took pity on me, stopped, and took me back to the hotel.

That was not the end of my night.  Nearby was a pub called "the Crown."  I walked there.  It was VERY small, but elegant.  I ordered a pint, and sat at a table in the empty pub.  I figured I'd have my pint, go back to my room, and sleep.

The Crown

That's when a person swept in from the back (I didn't realize the place had two entrances.)  She was wearing a sequined white gown, white wig, and a tiara.  She wore sneakers which she changed to silver pumps after she selected a seat at the bar.  She was dressed like the Queen, really.  And she was trans.  She made no secret that she was a crossdresser.  The barmaid didn't even blink, as the Queen sat at the bar and started reading horoscopes out loud.  I was fascinated.

But how to talk to her without letting her know I'd "clocked" her?  Hmmm.  I looked up the Transgender flag on my phone, screen grabbed it, and went over to the bar to order another pint.  I was careful to leave the phone screen up with the transgender flag picture on the screen.  The barmaid greeted me, I ordered, and introduced myself to them both.  I don't remember the barmaid's name, but the Queen was Keely-Jasmine.  I googled her and found some of her writing online.  Very thoughtful.

Keeley- Jasmine then asked me my star sign, and I told her.  She then read me my horoscope.  Eventually the discussion turned to American politics ("Don't blame me, I voted for Hillary.")  I finished my second pint, and walked back through the rain to the hotel.  It was now late enough for me to go to bed on UK time.  At that point, I'd been up 18 hours.

The next day, Sunday, I set the alarm for 7.  It went off.  Reset it for 8.  I showered, shaved, put on my face and walked south from the hotel.  I passed through the West End (Theatre district) as I walked to Trafalgar Square.  I watched buskers of various kinds, and walked around Nelson's column.  It seemed very different than the last time I was there (over twenty years ago.)  It seemed like there was more space.

So Many People in front of this Theatre!

This person got to me.  Look closely.  There's a dog sleeping next to her.  I left a ten pound note.

Buskers.  She had a wonderful voice

In front of Nelson's Column

I was waiting for a friend I'd never met.  Paula G. is a Facialbook friend from a London suburb.  She'd heard I was coming, and volunteered to show me around.  She met me at 12:30 in front of the National Gallery.

We walked south, eventually ending up at Parliament Square Garden and Westminster Abbey... which was closed.  A church closed on Sunday.  Whatever.  I saw Big Ben in the distance, but it is undergoing restoration.  It looked like it was wearing a condom.

Big Ben practices safe sex

Paula and I in front of Westminster Abbey

The Jewel Tower dates back to Norman times

So we walked around a bit- past the Jewel Tower, and east to the River Thames.  From there we walked back north past Parliament.  Paula was a wonderful guide with her vast knowledge of British history.  She effortlessly connected all the places we saw, and knew the personalities involved.  She was delightful company!

I hadn't eaten all day, and I was hungry.  Paula suggested a tiny pub called St. Stephen's Tavern.  Apparently, Winston Churchill was fond of this place.  St. Stephens was SERIOUSLY tiny.  It had two rooms that we could see, each holding maybe ten people at the most.  As we waited for a table, we heard a woman come in asking for a table for twenty, and she became very indignant when told they didn't have enough space.

The back bar at St. Stephens

Sausage and Mash

We finally were seated at a very tiny table.  I ordered Sausage and Mash.  I was so hungry that ate it really fast... like an American does.  I think Paula was horrified.  We had a couple of pints, then headed back north.  Paula wanted to show me Banqueting House.

The ceiling is a group of masterpieces by Sir Peter Paul Rubens honoring James I

Charles I stepped through this window to his execution.  His portrait is on the left.

Banqueting House was utterly beautiful.  It's a miracle it survived the Blitz intact.  The history here is palpable- to think, a king who loved this place was executed right outside its window.  I couldn't help but draw parallels to the state of my own country, with the opulence of the uber-rich.

Paula and I then walked around a bit more.  I was exhausted.  We went to a bar for one last pint.  It was one of her haunts, Halfway to Heaven.  I ordered a Strongbow, and immediately knocked it over.  I felt like such a klutz.  I quickly paid for another, and Paula and I enjoyed a quiet pint.  Well, quiet except for the raucous drag show going on in the basement.


Paula and I near a familiar flag

The bartenders.  We almost got them to remove their shirts

After the pint, we parted company.  I walked north back to the hotel, collapsed, and took a nap.  I needed it!  I woke up, touched up my makeup, and went to dinner at the Scoff and Banter across the street.  All through my meal, there was a couple sitting near the door, who kept looking at me a whispering to each other, if not outright staring.  When I finished, I walked toward them, my eyes locked on theirs.  When I got close, I smiled, and walked out the door.

There they are, between looks.

Shepherds Pie.  One of my favorites

Night Look

From there, I walked down the street to the Jack Horner for a last pint.  (I love pubs!) There was a blonde woman with a loud and annoying voice that seemed to be on everyone's nerves.  Most of the crowd seemed college age.  There was a beautiful brunette that made me SO envious.  Why couldn't I have been born a cis-woman?

Jack Horner

This place was HUGE compared to other pubs

To be young and cisgender!  (Annoying voice woman on the far right)

I went back to the hotel, and packed for the morning.  I had an early wake up- 6:30.  I had a train to catch- to Stratford Upon Avon.

Next Stop:  Stratford Upon Avon


  1. very nice trip review. Enjoyed it!!

  2. You just managed to pack so much in, I don't know how you remembered all of it.

  3. Interesting trip. Looking forward to reading more about it. Glad you were able to connect with Paula.

  4. Great post. Haven't been there for 30+ years. Keep up the good writing!