Join us for our whirlwind tour of London
July 30-August 1, 1999:
We're starting to get psyched up for the continent. The weather is getting hot. The purse is running low. Then we come to London.
It's a place that demands one's attention, or else you'll get run over by a taxi cab or a speeding moped.
Many people have their London stories, and ours turned out to be somewhat abbreviated due to exhaustion from traffic snarl and acrid diesel smoke made worse by a humid heat wave.
It started out auspiciously enough with a fine evening as guests of Will and Lillian. Henry knows Will from childhood in Richmond. They're now living in Dalston, part of East London.
Did you know that in London, people take out 30 year mortgages to pay for 125 year leases? It's true. Lillian has a smashing condo, but when she's about 150 she'll have to move out and the heir of her slimy 'Freeholder' (read landlord) will get title to her flat. Imagine that. Apparently this arrangement is the standard for London where owning "Freehold" is just too expensive.
That was the last relaxing night we had in London.
We donned our bicycle helmets (which marked us as safety conscious Americans) and pedaled from our parking spot in Dalston to the London City Center. It took us an hour and a half because London has no streets that go straight. They all, sooner or later (and usually sooner), make a right turn to your desired line of travel.
We didn't mean to go there. Really. Somehow we ended up at Harrod's department store.
The immense building is like a mythical department store from forgotten Babylon. Each 'department' inside is bigger and better stocked than most specialty stores in a typical mall stateside.
And the decor and the service are strictly opulent. To the left you see Henry showing off his new dweeb costume in front of the 'Egyptian Escalator,' a £30M extravaganza that's already been registered as a national monument.
Of course Harrod is the father of Dodi who died in the ill fated crash with Diana. Pilgrims from America really do come here to stand before this shrine at the base of the Egyptian escalators.
The Tropicana Men were there, dribbling their precious juices for eager young women who slurped them up greedily in front of everyone.
Those who didn't want some themselves had to stop and watch.
Pedestrian traffic was at a standstill for blocks.
On to more highbrow events. We visited the British Museum and gaped up at giant works of ancient art. Here they erected an entire Greek temple inside the museum.
Because the Brits were rulers of a vast empire at just the right time, in 1802 they were able to pinch Napoleon's carefully excavated artifacts just before they were shipped to France.
That's how all these amazing things got to be housed in London and why the British Museum is one of the best collections of Egyptian art anywhere in the world.
To the right we see Kathleen and her friend Kirsten, who met us at the museum. While they caught up on old times, Henry visited the special exhibit on the Rosetta Stone.
There he learned that the wall they're standing in front of is sort of like a giant communist propaganda poster. It basically says 'King Ahmotep is Great, Believe in King Ahmotep' sixteen different ways until the carvers ran out of stone.
The Brits were not picky about whose ancient artwork they 'appropriated.' Here they have on display the stone work from the Parthenon in Athens.
Athens has the replicas.
Onward we went without rest. We had things to see.
Big Ben ticks atop Westminster, it has got to be one of the most ornate seat of government anywhere in the world.
Friendly but firm, there is no access to 10 Downing street. Turns out it's much too small to allow tours as they do at the White House.
It was boiling hot and this fellow stood rock-still while a throng of tourists jumped up and took their pictures with him. The insensitivity of it made our blood boil in the melting temperature.
Then we got our pictures with him.
Speaking of a modern democracy, here's the current state of interest at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.
The guy standing and the guy listening on the crate are the only locals.
But in Trafalgar Square, life is different.
Here the throngs still gather to boogie on their skates, splash away the heat and get a two week henna tattoo.
Finally we reached our level of total exhaustion. We drove north to the quiet parks of Cambridge and bought the last of the English speaking books we could before heading to France.
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