Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Rocked Down to Electric Avenue

I hadn't been to a museum yet and I was starting to feel the itch. I chose the Imperial War Museum. Who doesn't like a good war museum now and then?

The museum is housed in the old building of the infamous Bethlem Royal Hospital. It was the definition of a madhouse, and the short version of its name, bedlam, came to mean mass panic and confusion.

The museum was great, but it was also very large. I probably made a mistake trying to see everything in chronological order, because I was more interested in the museum's treatment of modern wars but I was pretty beat by the time I finished WWII.

Funny little carrier pigeon delivery system.

There was a cool Trench Experience where visitors can maneuver around through some dark trenches and listen to British mannequins talk about the war. Spooky stuff.

View brixton in a larger map
From the museum I headed over to Brixton. I was especially interested in the market there.

Brixton is the unofficial capital of the British African-Caribbean community. My guidebook pointed out a couple of song references to Brixton that I found interesting. One was "The Guns of Brixton" by The Clash.

The song is a response to the heavy handed force used by police in the area. It was released about a year and a half before the first Brixton Riot. I thought this was really cool, because I've been listening to the Clash for years, and especially liked this song, but I had no idea what its lyrics meant.

The other song mentioned was "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant. The actual Electric Avenue was called such because it was the first street in the UK to be lit with electricity.

I could post the music video, but where's the fun in that? Here's the opening scene to Pineapple Express.

The markets were really cool, though I didn't feel the need to buy anything. Lots of Caribbean accents floated through the stalls selling fresh produce and meats.

Here's a shot of Mike's apartment.

This is probably my favorite place in his neighborhood. Everywhere there are kebabs, food advertised as Halal, and foreign tongues and dress. No one told the owners of this old school pub, though.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Afternoon Tea in London

Afternoon tea was an Englishy thing that I wanted to do so we hit that early. Mike wasn't incredibly excited about it, but he was nice enough to make a reservation at a nice looking hotel near a work meeting he had that day. I had some time to kill before our 4pm tea time, so I headed over to the Buckingham Palace area to battle the tourist hoards. I really walked all over town.

The day's travels began as they usually do, with a trip on the underground. Right off the plane I was smart enough to buy an oyster card, which is a rechargeable way to pay for train and bus fare. Not only is it convenient, but a significant discount is given over those who buy a ticket every time with cash. To top it off, the card keeps track of how many trips I take and caps the amount I spend at a certain point, making any additional rides free. I have hit that limit more than one time already.

Some tourists poking their cameras through the gates of Buckingham Palace. I just walked around the outside, as standard adult admission to this place converts to almost 30 dollars. The queen really needs to have a roller-coaster or something in there to command that sort of cash.

Victoria Memorial

The Mall is the big ceremonial road that stretches between the palace and Admiralty Arch.

Admiralty Arch

The Canada Gate

I popped in to the Burlington Arcade for just a second. The stores were way too high end for me, but one cool thing about this little place are the beadles patrolling the area. The beadle boys keep order in top hats and tails.

I wandered around in the National Gallery a little, but by this time I was pretty beat, and it was about time to go meet Mike for tea, which of course required some more undergrounding.

The place we chose was the Hotel Russel, which is located practically next door to Russel Square station. The two lifts that were available had a ton of people waiting on them. I noticed a set of stairs and figured I'd just hop on those to escape to the outside world. The stairs were winding, and going up meant that I was relegated to the thin part of the spiral staircase. While trudging along a recorded voice began speaking on the intercom and it went something like this: "There are 950 stairs on this staircase which equals about 15 stories. Use these stairs in an emergency only." I probably flubbed the numbers, but I thought it was funny to listen to over and over while I was huffing and puffing my way up the stairs. By the end I really wanted to show that discouraging voice who was boss. I didn't realize the tube was that far underground. No wonder they were used as bomb shelters.

The Hotel Russel looked really cool from the outside.

We split a tea, and it was still difficult for the two of us to finish all of the food that came with it. Here was the spread:

"High Tea £19.50
Finger Sandwiches, fine pastries, scones with clotted cream and jam
Smoked salmon, cream cheese and tomato, roast beef and horseradish, glazed ham and mustard, cucumber, prawn Marie rose, egg and mustard cress. (four fillings of your choice)"
I'm not really sure which of these sandwiches we received, but they were all really good. The number of dishes necessary for tea was impressive, and the table was soon crowded with food and drink. The pastries and sandwiches came on this tri-level tray all neatly arranged. The clotted cream is a bit difficult to describe, it's like butter but a bit creamier maybe? It's made by boiling fresh milk.

We picked this place because it looked nice but was on the cheaper side. The place to really splurge on tea in London seems to be The Ritz. It runs £40 a person, plus a jacket and tie are required for the gentlemen. Tea at the Russel was nice, but one thing we noticed was that they didn't give us a choice of teas, which is sort of standard in my understanding.

I take my tea with milk and a spoon of sugar.

A quick trip to check out Harrods filled out the day.

The place was full of really gaudy Egyptian statues and other decor. It brought to mind the Luxor in Las Vegas.

I've been all over the place lately and have hardly had any time to post anything. It's a good problem to have!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Oh, Mr. Milito, Your Money's No Good Here

I've been in London about a day now. The majority of that time was spent getting to Mike and Clarence's place and taking a jetlagged nap on their couch. I know both of these guys from teaching English in Japan, and I imagine there's about a hundred pictures of each of them throughout this blog already. I'm about to go to afternoon tea with Mike at a fancy looking hotel, so I will be brief.

After getting off the plane I had the pleasure of standing in the immigration line for a long time. The whole thing is really silly to me. I realize they have a job to do, but the questions they ask remind me of interrogating Japanese students during "conversation tests" in my teaching days.

"What's your job?" "Student"
"What are you studying?" "Marketing"
"Where are you staying?" "My friend's house"
"What's the purpose of your visit?" "Sightseeing"
"What sights do you want to see?" "All of them."

His story checks out.

Mike's place is in Islington, and I took the underground as it was the cheapest option.

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So I'm sitting on the tube, the ride must have been an hour, when the train stops, and everyone gets off, and it doesn't start up again. Great. A train worker pokes his head in the door and says that the Picadilly Line is now closed in both directions because a train is "smoldering" on the tracks. I don't know if this was riot related or not (I doubt it) but it was unsettling regardless. Luckily I was able to take another line the rest of the way and Clarence was kind enough to meet me at Finsbury Park station.

Clarence was hungry, and I was still pretty groggy and couldn't say if I was hungry or not, so we went to a cafe after dropping off my luggage.

I'm pretty much obsessed with doing local things, so I had the full English breakfast. It was giant. Highlights included a slice of black pudding and a giant pile of beans. It was enough food for like four people.

I finished my meal, paid for the food, and even put a pound in the tip dish even though Clarence said it was unnecessary. What a great guy I am. We are about a block away when the cafe's cashier catches up with us, holding the damn £20 note I'd just given him. He said he couldn't accept it because it was too old. What!? I handed him a different one. Nope that was too old too. So we walked all the way back and had a chat with the manager(we really should have just said tough crumpets and walked away; sometimes I think I'm too polite for my own good). Back at the cafe they were all really rude about it. I finally found a note in my pile that was to their liking. Another customer in line was also getting huffy, explaining that on new bills the watermark of the queen faces the picture of the queen. Really, do I look or sound like I care what you are talking about, when I have a pile of money that is evidently not suitable to buy things? How old the damn things could have even been when they had holograms on them is still confusing. At this point I'm a bit worried that I am holding a pile of fake money, bringing to mind my Peruvian counterfeit run-in. There was a bank across the street that luckily was willing to exchange these totally unacceptable notes for slightly differently shaded notes that all the looked the same to me. Crisis averted, day is saved. Mike told me not to embarrass him by saying "the queen faces the queen" at opportune moments all day. I won't be stopped.

Mike and I went to Camden market after he got off of work. Thing is, there were riots all over the place yesterday, so now all of the shops are closed, the streets are sparsely populated save for the packs of police patrolling the streets, and sirens were frequent. It seemed to me that the action in London was mostly over, but I've read that there have been riots in other cities as well. I'm not a huge shopper, so honestly I thought the area was cooler in its current state anyway.

I picked a pub that I thought sounded cool out of my guide book, and Mike was kind enough to accompany me there. At one point we sat in the front row on top of a double decker bus, which was a pretty darn cool view.

The pub I picked was The Spaniards Inn, which sounded cool because it had a lot of history. It dates to around 1585. They mentioned several cool people who liked to hang out there, but I got the hint some of it was advertisingly convenient "legend". Dick Turpin the highwayman lurked here, Dickens visited and mentioned the place in Pickwick Papers.

It was mentioned in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The place was definitely cool, but I wouldn't say you could sense its ridiculous age by looking inside. We got a couple pints and chatted, but the food was too expensive so that was the extent of it. We had some awesome Indian food then went home. Mission Accomplished.

Calhoun County

It's August 8, 11:30pm real people time. There was a 3 hour delay to our flight due to some issue with the cockpit window. I thought I would stay ahead of the game and just sleep the whole way, but going to bed at 8 is a lot harder than anticipated. I'm going to be dragging serious ass all day when we land, but until then that's just more time for adventure scribin'!

I visited my friend Brittany in Calhoun this weekend. Now, when she first told me she lived in Calhoun, I of course looked it up on Google Maps because I hadn't heard of it. I had a hard time finding it because Calhoun isn't the name of a town, its the name of the whole county. I think its kinda cool that the place is so sparsely populated that they don't bother to be more specific.

View Larger Map

Calhoun is nestled between where the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers meet, creating a little peninsula. Which brings me to what is possibly both the coolest and most annoying aspect of the place: the ferry. There are several ferries that connect Calhoun to the outside world. Its a classy way to get around, but it makes Calhoun ridiculously sensitive to rainfall. A big rain shuts various ferries down until the river subsides, making getting in and out a big pain. This scenario really reminds me of racing to the dock in Jurassic Park only to get lost and eaten by various monsters. I take the Golden Eagle Ferry because its the most convenient, and it's a $15 round trip. A couple of the others are run by the state and are free. If you'd like to hear a country love song written about the Winfield Ferry in particular (and who doesn't?) you can jam out here.

Another thing that sets this place apart from the Illinois that I am familiar with is the shape of the land. It's really really hilly. Its an uncommon sight driving on a road cut through hills with corn growing on them. The Calhoun area apparently escaped being scraped flat by glaciers like the rest of the state. Being in the country in Illinois usually gives me a bad case of the yawns, but this place is different. There's a romantic quality to the hills and the rivers. Both times I've been I've seen large groups of cyclists and motorcycle gangs roaming around enjoying the scenery.

I always need help getting around in Calhoun. The roads are hilly and there's so much tall corn that its exceedingly easy to get lost. This latest time I was following a car, it was super foggy, and the road was really curvy. I ended up nailing a raccoon. That may be the first animal I've ever killed with my car.

Brittany works at the Cedar Hill Resort right on the Mississippi. It has its own dock so people playing in their boats on the river can stop by for refreshment. The food is pretty killer. I especially like the egg rolls and crab rangoon.

The kebabs are excellent as well.

Most of these pictures were taken through my moving car window, so forgive their crappiness. I'll write a little something about London in a bit. Boom.