London, the last leg

We decided to spend two nights in London before jumping on a plane for 11 hours. It was a good decision. We landed at City airport and sailed through customs–mainly because there was no one there to check us. I anxiously scanned all the hand-lettered signs, looking for the driver who was supposed to meet us and take us to the hotel. Our driver had Gordon M Johnson proudly displayed on his tablet–no improvised typing paper for us. I felt so uptown. He loaded our luggage and drove us through London to St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster. It was evening so the London Eye was spectacular in the dark. I had my little pug nose pressed against the glass. leaving smudges, taking everything in. We checked into St Ermin’s and I was bowled over by the lobby. It’s a phantasmagoria of plaster swirls. The concierge told us they call it the Wedding Cake; I can see why. I asked if it was Victorian or Edwardian and he said the hotel was started at the end of Victoria’s reign and ended when Edward took the throne so I guess it’s both. Anyway, nothing succeeds like excess. We wedged our luggage into the elevator that had obviously been installed after the building was completed (see the following picture of Gordon in the elevator; it was NARROW). We unloaded, cleaned up, and left for dinner at the pub the concierge said had the best fish & chips in the area, called The Sanctuary House. It was also a Friday night pick-up spot but we got a table in the back so we weren’t bothered by the kiddies. The fish & chips were very good, I had one last pint, and Gordon had iced tea (we were surprised they had ice; we’d heard London didn’t use it) and a burger. We were both a little tired of lamb. We were tired so we went home early and learned about the hotel.

St Ermin’s was built in 1899–which explains it’s antiquated fixtures–and was the center of British spydom. Churchchill started the Special Operations Executive whose purpose was espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance during WWII. The organization took over the entire first floor. Guy Burgess, the traitor, met his Russian handler in the Caxton Bar. Lots of spy stuff went on. I thought that was pretty cool.

The next morning we had breakfast in front of the TV in the bar; the BBC was leading with all embarrassing American stuff. And, of course, our election. I was a little surprised. I commented to the American woman next to me that it was a little strange that the Beeb focused so much on the US. She said that she’d just come from Australia and a cab driver told her that the US had such an impact on the world he felt that everybody should get to vote on our leadership. We both smiled at that but I commented that the cab driver had a point.

After breakfast we walked two blocks to Westminster Abbey (I had no idea we were in middle of everything; I loved our hotel). We listened to our hand-held devices (Jeremy Irons did the VO) on the self-directed tour. We saw Elizabeth the First’s tomb; her sister Mary is buried right under her which amused me; probably not Mary so much. We saw the markers for Britten, Elgar, and Handal. We saw the tombs of all the kings and heard the history. But I was most impressed by Poets’ Corner. I said ‘hi’ to Chuck Dickens (I’ve read his books so many times I feel I can call him Chuck) and Dylan Thomas. Chaucer was there. The most recent addition was Ted Hughes; I guess only the US hates him (not me). I was surprised to see Lawrence Olivier with the writers. I didn’t see any other actors (Gordon said he did but can’t remember who). I really enjoyed Westminster Abbey but we had to go–we didn’t have much time in London.

We took a Thames river tour to save our feet and learned that the Thames is dirty because silt is always being churned up. The guide said if you took a glass of Thames water and let it settle, it was safe to drink. That’s impressive if true. We saw the Traitor’s Gate at the Tower of London and passed under London Bridge and Tower Bridge. We rode to Greenwich, waited while the boat turned around, got off a St. Katherine’s Pier, and walked over to the Tower of London. We didn’t spend much time there because our feet hurt. Then we walked over to St Paul’s Cathedral. We didn’t take that tour either but I sat on the steps and I hummed a few bars of “Feed the Birds”. We wanted to ride the Underground so we walked over to Blackfriar’s Station–it had a direct line to St. James Place which was half a block from St. Ermin’s. We had no trouble in Vienna buying subway tickets but London has a system all its own–and it was nuts. Even residents had trouble with the machine and Gordon and I screeched at each other a bit trying to buy the damn tickets. We finally got our tickets and got seats to St. James Place. It was a clean, effortless ride and I got a nap–I really needed one. I get testy when I’m tired. So does Gordon, I’ve discovered. We slept and went to Caxton Grill in the hotel for dinner. We got dressed up one last time for our last night in London. The meal was good but nowhere near as spectacular as our first meal at Dromoland Castle. We decided to take a walk after dinner to work off our steaks and wandered over to Buckingham Palace. It’s an impressive pile and the first thought that occurred to my plebian soul was, “What must it cost to heat and cool that place?” But it’s a house of state so it’s supposed to be awesome. It was starting to rain so we went back to the hotel–and so to bed. Come to think of if, I didn’t see a Pepys marker in the Abbey. I wonder if he was there.

We got up, packed, had breakfast, and took one last walk the next morning. We went back to Buckingham Palace to get a picture. They were obviously filming something; a helicopter with a camera attachment was flying overhead. An officious little twerp told us we couldn’t walk on the grounds, they were filming. I just smiled at him condescendingly and said, “I know. I’m from LA. What are they filming?” Well! I was from the Big Town and his attitude changed. He told me they were shooting a new Transformer film. Gordon got a picture off to the side of the Palace and we went back to the hotel to catch our ride to Heathrow.

We were early to the airport which was okay. They left time in case of heavy traffic or security problems. I’d rather sit around the airport than worry about missing my flight. We had some pounds left over so I went to the bookstore to get rid of them. I had two ten pound notes and some change. The clerk picked the money out of my hand because I obviously didn’t know what I had. She took one ten-pound not and two fat dimes that turned out to be one-pound coins. She gave me back a two-pence coin that looked like a half dollar. I looked at her and said, “Seriously, this is worth less than the dollar?” She just shrugged. Whoever designed the subway ticket machines probably designed the coinage. Didn’t make any sense. But I had something to read on the way home.

Our 11 hour flight was uneventful, we got through Customs (although the Customs agents were assholes; manners don’t hurt you know), got our car out of hock, and drove home. George was glad to see us and we rescued Gracie from the neighbor lady who took her in. The neighbor lady meant well, but Gracie doesn’t like being locked in anywhere. I don’t think she’s been back to that building since.

It was a wonderful trip. Ireland is as green and lovely as everybody says it is. I liked all the hotels and our connections were as effortless as possible. And Gordon booked the trip through Costco! Who knew! I think we need to spend more time in London and Dublin but this was an over-view. I’ll have to go back to see what we missed.

Me in front of Buckingham Palace

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Gordon in front of Westminster Abbey

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Gordon in St Ermin’s Elevator

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Gordon in front of St Ermin’s

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About Barbara Schnell

I've dedicated my life to full-time employment avoidance. I've been an actress, renovated a 1921 California Bungalow, set a cash-winning record on $25,000 Pyramid, and came in last on Jeopardy. I live in Los Angeles with my patient husband and two cats.
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