Being British

Trip Start Mar 12, 2005
Trip End Mar 20, 2005

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Visit Klenske, Ink.

It must be great to be British. Not only do you get to live in Europe, have a queen, talk in a nifty accent, you can speak our shared language in oh such a more profound way. Que instead of line. Bill and not check. Trousers for pants and pants instead of underwear. Bloody wankers instead of idiots. Brilliant replaces cool and vacations are holidays. They maintain their ou's in words such as colour and take the tube to the football game instead of a subway to a soccer game. To be British, that would be the life. Being able to have a real pint at mid-day during the workweek and then another on the way home. Their politics involve yelling at your opponent across the parliament floor and their BBC "Apprentice" is Donald Trump Free.

The history that goes along with that word: "British". As our London Eye host correctly pointed out, people often mistakenly compare London with New York City. They are mistaken in such a comparison, however, because unlike New York, London is old. Not 1700 old, but Roman old. In London you walk the paths of Kings, of an Imperial Empire, and the center of literary and musical giants. Being British is like being the older sibling of its backwards little brother, America. Like any civilized elder, the British have their civilized customs and ways of going about things. One of these customs is their noon tea, something we were lucky enough to take part of at none other than the Ritz-Carlton's Palms Court.

We had reservations for noon tea on Monday afternoon. Suit and tie were mandatory and so I ended up dressing up all day, longer than I have ever worn a suit before. We walked into the Palms Court, a lavishly gold-decor room with a piano player and waiters dressed in black tuxedos, and took our seat. Immediately, we felt out of our element.

"What the hell were we suppose to do. We're just a couple of old hicks from the farm'n country of Iowa and here we are in our ol' Sunday bestest clothes looking at a tray of food and a big old pot of some kinda steaming liquid or something. And those white little cubes, looks like miniature salt blocks we give the horses back home." So we didn't really think this...but we were a little unclear as to where to begin...

A little piece of travel advice: the key to surviving out-of-element-situations in foreign places is to blend in, and the key to blending in is to do as others do. So that is exactly what we did. We sat back, twiddled our thumbs, and watched other people come to the tables around us. But then we realized that everyone around us was doing as we were doing, watching, and essentially our tea was getting cold. It seemed everyone was a clueless tourist. So we all just dove in, most likely massacring a historic, civilized British tradition, just as any good younger sibling would do.

When one thinks of having afternoon tea, one thinks of a light snack and, well, tea. But we left tea stuffed. Not only is there a bottomless pot of English Tea, there is a three tiered platter. On the bottom are the finger sandwiches, with no crust of course. And level two are the scones and breads. And at the top, as if indicating that you had just reached heaven, were over a half dozen pastries and desserts. And the tuxedoed waiter was ready to replenish your tower of indulgence at any moment. Civilized or not, we were full.

We book ended our tea with a day of shopping. We began with the trendy clothing shops around our hotel, where Kara found some pants and shirts and I found a great sports coat and a "proper" hat. After tea we spent several hours wandering the robust monolith called Harrods, a classic department store with absurdly high prices, even if the exchange rate had been good. We then returned to the West End, found some famed London Curry for dinner and proceeded to our play. We saw Mama Mia! at the Prince of Wales theater. The play is based on ABBA's greatest hits and takes place on a Greek island. Being in London, it was full of British humor. The entire play was hilarious and entertaining. And of course it left you singing such disco classics as Dancing Queen, Take a Chance, and Waterloo...(all quickly replacing the King Henry song that had been playing in my head for two long days now).

Tuesday, our last day in London, was a museum day. We started off at the British Museum, otherwise known as the Imperial Museum of Pillaged and Plundered Stuff. Essentially, it is a museum full of things that are anything but British. But since the Brits spread their 'love' worldwide, they were able to take things and call them British. And that is how everything ended up in the British Museum. Regardless of the politics (Greece is in an international dispute with Britain now trying to get their stuff back), the museum is fascinating. You enter through The Great Court, recently covered with a glass ceiling. It is here that the world's great intellectuals thought, studied and wrote. The rest of the museum is divided up into various cultures and civilizations. The most fascinating being the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians. Entire walls of the Greek Parthenon are here, along with hundreds of statues and art, including the only remaining part of the Egyptian Ramses II. A stone head of Easter Island sits in one hall while a row of Buddahs from ancient Asia sit in another. Don't have time to travel the world? No problem, just come to the British Museum, take pictures and lie to all of your friends!

After lunch we headed to the other side of the Thames to check out the Saatchi Gallery, a small south bank museum containing Charles Saatchi's private collection of contemporary works. We came to see some of the edgy BritArt that made the gallery famous (like the portrait of Jesus made out of shit and the actual cow submerged in a tank of liquid). But for some unknown reason the exhibit was changed. All though not what we were looking for, it was nonetheless an excellent gallery.

Finally, it was time to move on. To Paris. We struggled with our bags through the narrow turnstiles of the Underground and made our way to Waterloo Station, where we were to catch the EuroStar (our first European train experience). We boarded, stowed our bags, and sat back as our bullet train wizzed us under the English Channel and towards Paris...

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