Day 18 (May 8, 2011)
Itinerary: Stop being a tourist for a day.
Now that we're in the 3rd week of this trip and after a busy few days in Dublin, its time to take a break from being a tourist for a while. There is just too much to do in London, so we already know we're not going to be able to see everything and we're tired of fighting the tourist crowds for a bit.
After sleeping in a bit and researching a few things we'll want to do later in London we head out on the town in search of lunch and internet. Mark really likes having internet on his phone so we searched out a Pay-As-You-Go SIM from the 3 store. For only £10 Mark was able to purchase a SIM and feed his internet addiction a bit longer. It's nice to have a phone with a constant internet connection for maps and the random questions that come up every day. I'm still sad that my iPhone is too old for a sim card.
On the way to the 3 store we found brunch at a lovely outdoor cafe in Chelsea. The weather was cooperating and it was a beautiful and warm sunny day outside. The wind picked up a bit near the end of the meal and a nearby tree started raining down pollen and little seed pods everywhere. The air was a bit thick with pollen and we were both sneezing at the end. The food was great up until then between some eggs Benedict and a tuna melt, but the pollen dusting put our noses into overdrive, and it was time to make a quick exit. Next we hit the grocery near our hotel to pick up some breakfast supplies and stock up on food for Mark to take back to Algeria. This recent trip has reminded Mark of all the good beer that *isn't* being served in Algeria so we picked up a case of Guinness and a 4-pack of Duvel. Without a car there's definitely some limits on what you can buy at the grocery, between the beer, sugary snacks, Oreos and breakfast food it looked like a lot in the cart, but it actually packaged up rather nicely into just 5 plastic bags. Our walk back to the hotel loaded down with groceries was rather easy actually. Our hotel room is already rather cramped as there's no dresser or closet so the groceries are stacked in a few corners until we can figure out a container to pack them in for the airline.
Satisfied we had enough to keep Mark going for another 8 weeks it was time for a night on the town. Using Rick Steve's guidebook for London we found Westminster Abbey had a free 30min organ recital on Sunday evenings so we headed into Westminster to stand in line. The line was longer than we would have guessed and the seating area was full with still some people standing in the back by the time the recital started. While it was only a quick 25min concert the organ music was beautiful in the large hall of Westminster. The high ceilings and hard walls gave the organ a large chamber to reverberate around in and the larger organ pipes filled the space with sound. Using the opportunity for a free look around the Abbey we found a stained glass wall dedicated to engineers on the north side of the Abbey. In particular across from our seating area was a window dedicated to Civil Engineer Sir Benjamin Burke who designed the first Aswan dam and the Forth bridge. Mark used his new cellular internet access to look up Benjamin Burke on Wikipedia, and was later warned by the priests to please put away his mobile phone. During the whole ceremony they were prowling the aisles looking for people using the cell phones or recording the performance. It felt like school again with proctors scanning the students for cheaters during a test. We were then quickly ushered out for the prayer service starting shortly afterward. A free organ recital is a definitely a cool way to experience Westminster Abbey for the first time.
Moving back into modern times we walked to a nearby cinema and just barely made it in time to see the movie Source Code. The A/C wasn't working in the theater so it was a bit warm, but just short of being uncomfortably so. No free drinks from the theater in compensation for the warm theater. Boo! London can't quite accommodate the sprawling mega-plexes we have back in Houston, so they solved their problem by stacking the seven movie theaters vertically. Our particular heated theater was up on the 4th floor.
After the movie we visited the Texas Embassy in London. This restaurant tried to bring the Tex-Mex experience to London, and they actually did a pretty good job. Mark had fajitas and Joanna the sour cream enchiladas. The rice and beans were a bit off, but overall it was decent Tex-Mex food. They hit the decor of an old Mexican building spot-on so the atmosphere was right too. The waiter speaking in a French accent broke the spell though. 🙂 So if you're missing out on your Tex-Mex food while you're in London, like Mark was, the Texas Embassy does an excellent job of filling that need. We finished off the night with a trip to Ben & Jerry's for some ice cream and people watching on a fountain near Piccadilly Circus.
It felt good to do some non-touristy stuff and just live in the city for a day. We're looking forward to seeing the Dr. Who exhibition tomorrow.