Two days in London

Trip Start Jun 01, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Regent Palace Hotel

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Time in London.

Well, with all the trouble I had in Germany with hotels and reservations, when I found a place online that would guarantee a room for pre payment, I took it. Well, once I got to London and took the tube over and found the hotel, I was a bit sorry. But it was pre paid. I'm staying right on Piccadilly Circus in a huge hotel with a wonderful name (The Regent Palace). Sadly, it is run down, dirty, loud, crammed with kids- the shared bath is disgusting- all in all, I was better off in Bucharest; and that's saying something! But, it's a room, and I'm travel hardened so I unpacked and since I felt a sore throat coming on, got some meds and spent the first night in bed reading a book. The throat still nags, but I know I am better for resting up.

Yesterday, after going through hell in the shared shower (no handle on the cold water, so jumping in and out of scalding water, trying not to slip on the mold on the floor or cut feet on the broken tile) I stepped out, rather late. It was a gray and cloudy day and within minutes I had a new umbrella to replace the one that was lost in Cologne. I had no real plan and simply wandered Piccadilly for a bit and found myself at Trafalgar and decided to go into the National Art Museum- what better on a rainy London day?

I spent hours wandering about (and swearing to myself over and over again, "I will NOT body slam the next Japanese Tourist who knocks into me, I will NOT body slam the next Japanese tourist who knocks into me"). No art epiphanies, just lazy walking from gallery to gallery. What I like about this museum is that the audio guide actually has something to say about every single work of art. The numbers run up into the thousands but this way, instead of learning about only those pictures the museum thinks are important, you can learn about any picture- which makes sense to me, why did the museum put it there in the first place if it wasn't important in some way?

I went out into a real downpour and from there crossed over one of my favorite churches- St. Martin's in the Fields. Architecturally its is nothing, very simple, but I love the music associated with it and the fact that it is so plain, simple, and calm. I then went up to most likely my most favorite museum in the world: The British National Portrait Gallery. There is something about this place that never fails to get to me. Nothing but portraits, in chronological order, of royals, authors, scientists, politicians. Starting with the Tudors you work your way through history and being an Anglophile it never fails to enthrall me. Each portrait has a story attached, an event in history, a mark on society (I stared at Lawrence Sterne a long time- a great favorite of mine, who smirks knowingly). Just as I collect Biographies, the portraits are all mini biographies, with faces and personalities. I spent hours and probably was the happiest I have been in a long time. I even bought the latest biography of the late Queen Mum. By the time I hit the Victorians, however, my feet was a achin so I headed back in the rain towards the hotel.

I stopped by the Duke of Wellington (I think) for a glass of water and to escape the rain. I really was minding my own business. I swear. Somehow I got pulled into conversation with Hugh and Sam (see pics). Both Scots from Glasgow, they were really outgoing and after I did the usual "Im sorry about my government in America" apologies (de rigeur I find) we started having quite a lot of fun. Sam (dark haired one) was very outgoing and chatty and soon had pulled in Yolanda and her sister (in pics). Hugh was a riot, really quite informed and smart (but you'll note in the pics you never see his mouth- the worlds worst teeth), Sam the talker (mostly about music and how 'brilliant' Madonna is). Yolonda and I discussed hair. Her sister and I discussed love (she is only 23 and sure that she understands love completely). Somehow, we formed a group. And somehow we embarked on what I know now was a 'pub crawl'.

I hadn't had dinner. I stuck to white wine. Hugh was drinking double Vodka's with Red Bull. Sam and the girls were downing pints. I soon earned the sobriquet 'pansy' for sipping my wine slowly. I didn't care- I have enough experience now and was glad to be the pansy rather than the vomiter. On to another pub (this was bombed just a few years ago, several people killed, I was a bit apprehensive). From there we went out for 'chips' (my first food of the evening). Then a dance club. Then another dance club. These people had absolutely no limits on how long they were going to party, how much they were going to drink and how wild they were going to get. It got wild.

At some point in a dance club, I picked up my backpack and slipped out through the enormous crowd- even while carefully sipping my wine, I had had too much and was done. I am only sorry I didn't trade contact information with anyone as it was a blast, and I would be up for more if better prepared (ie; had dinner).

Today, up and into the moldy shower that now has a slow drain (it is full of something slimey) but the hotel staff doesn't care. The hotel is being closed forever next month and all the staff has been given notice: and the amount of pride in their work is commesurate. Ah well.

Today I decided was a shopping day! Tube to Harrods. I had been in London years ago (a decade or more I guess, how time flies!) for New Years one year (at Trafalgar Square) and went to Harrods then- this is why there is no real compunction to do a lot of sightseeing, I have seen the Tower of London already, I doubt it has changed much in the past ten years. But Harrods has. It was really kind of sad. Garish and Casino-like are good words. They have huge screen tv's everywhere advertising bonus point cards for shopping there (just like a casino) and the interior escalators are in mock Egyptian- it simply has lost its feel as a great department store. I did, however, still love the food halls. Truly spectacular- if you have never been, a huge area is set aside for food- the very best that Britain has to offer I suppose- gleaming counters stocked with every imaginable thing to eat. Twenty kinds of freshly made pates, meats, cheeses, vegetables. All sold by clerks in 1900's garb, including straw hats. And expensive as hell. It lacked the outdoor beauty and simplicity of Aix but what abundance! Gorgeous.

While shopping, it hit me. I am in London. My favorite shirt maker is based in London! I began a quest. I set off to find the Thomas Pink store. You have to know my passion for Thomas Pink shirts to understand how excited I was. First I went down Sloane street- a high end bastion of super fashion far beyond my means. I found their Pink store, but it was a branch, the flagship store is on Jermyn street. I told the salesman I simply couldn't buy anywhere but at the flagship store, so got directions and set off.

Jermyn street is behind the Ritz- and that should say it all. An old street, it is home to the very oldest and greatest men's stores in London. Suddenly I was in hog heaven. I found the shirtmaker to his royal highness the Prince of Wales. I found the Thomas Pink store. But I was suddenly not in the mood for shirts, I also found a whole row of stores that specialize in what we call 'vests' for formal wear (they call them 'waistcoats' here). Unlike the US where you can get a formal vest in either black, red or maybe one other color, here there are waistcoats in all cuts, fabrics, colors. I went from store to store and finally settled on an exotic one that I fell in love with. The cost? More than I should ever pay, much more than a few Pink shirts, and most likely I'll never wear it. However, I picked the fabric, they took my measurements, and it is being made for me right now and to be picked up on Saturday before I leave. My splurge. The saleslady and I bemoaned how the US no longer 'dresses' and she said the only people from the US who care about clothes anymore are lawyers! She has a lawyer from Harrisburg PA who comes twice a year just to buy waistcoats (he gets usually 12-14 each time)- knowing the prices of these things, he must be a verrry good lawyer. I love my waistcoat, I even took a picture (ok, I'm a tourist!).

I meandered back along to the hotel, window shopping (as I am now way beyond budget) but quite happy.

Not sure about tonight, but am in a great mood, and the sun is out in London!

I've been asked how much is too much for a waistcoat. Thomas Pink shirts start at $150 each. For the cheap ones. I could have bought several Thomas Pink shirts. BUT- its a bespoke waistcoat, one of a kind being handsewn for me (i nearly had frogged buttons put on as well, but thats gilding the lilly i think)and honestly, why not? Life is short, brutish and nasty (so the author says, but i would like to disagree, it can be long, swank and posh, if you play your cards right) and a splurge now and then is something we all should do. I cant wait to try it on...its a muted gold chinese sile, and all the design is raised needle work with burgandy velvet buttons. I nearly got the cream colored shantung silk with blue and ivor bugle beads in a flower pattern (yup, people really wear these here, the shop was busy the intire time i was there-- and there for about 6 of these shops doing nothing but waistcoats), howver, i am not a bugle bead kinda guy and also worried about how it would hold up over time...

I should mention i went to Winston Churchills tailor and was mesmerized by the silk and velvet smoking jackets, the mens 'dressing gowns', the array of canes, walking sticks, umbrellas and so on. Oh, i should have been born a Peer of the Realm! I was goggling a pair of bespoke shoes, $700, two toned gods.
HRH's chocolatier, HRH's shaving supply shop also got my interest, but the pockets is empty.........
So, whaddya think of the waistcoat? Over the top? Let me know.
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