March 27, 2003

See, this is how brain dead I am.

On the last episode of London, I said that we went back to the hotel to sleep, 'cause my memory was foggy. Alecia was kind enough to correct me. Now I remember the gut-wrenching debate: Go to sleep, or go out and wander aimlessly after dark. To the best of my recollection (which has already proven itself incredibly unreliable) Matt and Jack opted for sleep, and me, Alecia, Ashley and Tim asked how often are we young and in London, and after several seconds of silent contemplation, came up with the answer, "not often enough to waste a whole evening on shuteye."

So we hit the pavement.

Long story short: We took a bus and didn't pay, tried to get into a club but couldn't, and walked back home. Had this taken place in Tukee, it would've been a painfully lame evening. But this was London, and as a result, public transportation and bouncer rejection were a tremendous adventure. Like everything that happens thousands of miles from home.

Good morning, London, deserted at 8:30 Sunday morning as we walked to the nearest store to get milk.

Good morning, Astor Court Hotel.

Good morning, inferior breakfast pastries that greeted us upon our return that I still had three of because hey, it's vacation.

We converged in the lobby at nine to board a bus to the town of Windsor, containing the conveniently named Windsor Castle. Rob took a backseat as tour guide for this part. This leg of the journey was presided over by an older woman who's name I don't remember. What I do remember, though, is that she had a wealth of knowledge around the scenery whizzing past the windows, and how that knowledge related to the patent inferiority of America and its people.

We past some boarded-up rowhouses lining the highway. "In such-and-such a year," she said, replacing, of course, the such-and-such with an actual year, "the British government decided to halt the expansion of London and widen the roadways, so people were moved out of houses like those and they were condemned. Then a new government came in and decided to put a stop to that program, and now we're going to spend that money on a war, then, aren't we?"

Obvioulsy someone is not a Blair booster.

Later on the road to Windsor, when things were getting more and more rural, we past some cows. "Those are cows," she said, because we were paying her lots of money for just that sort of insight. "Here in England we drink creamy whole milk, not that watery skimmy stuff like you bloody Yanks." Okay, she didn't addend it with "You bloody Yanks." But I read between the lines. Thanks to this woman's incisive political commentary, I promised myself that as soon as I return home to the states I'd make it my mission to reverse our imperialist foreign policy that so hampers British road construction and perhaps more importantly, our pansy-ass dairy consumption habits.

Other than that, she was really good.

Then it was like, hey, look, a castle.

A castle not built by chewing-gum millionaires or theme park magnates, but a real-life castle, built so many years ago by people who actually needed the things a real-life castle provides. Like slits in the stone walls where your archers can loose their arrows and be protected from enemy fire, and vaulted ceilings encrusted with gold, and throne rooms. Actual fucking throne rooms, with thrones.

Monarchy: what a concept!

There's a thing I think she said was called the Long Walk, a path that stretches up to the castle door that cars aren't allowed on. And rightfully so, I think. The way it is now, you can still imagine a lone, ragged knight riding up the path, carrying a message, his coming heralded by, well, heralds, with trumpet fanfares and everything.

The thing about London is, you can be a nerd like me and imagine this stuff, and chances are something a lot like it actually happened. History has to be their number one export.

Monarchy was in the air, in the water, and in the waterfoul.

Good morning, Queen's official Royal Swans, tampering with whom will get your hand cut off and fed to the remaining swans, or so I understood.

We value our hands a lot, so we just fed the Royal Swans the finest bread we had available and used "Sir" or "Madam" when addressing them, speaking only when honked at.

I stayed behind near the river to get a few more pictures (story of the trip) while everyone else made their way towards the castle via a footbridge. When I finally got up there, everyone was pointing and staring amazedly. Apparently, Martha Stewart had just passed by. Tim's mom said "Hi" to her and she gave a very friendly "Hello" back. I rewarded Martha for her compsure by chasing after her to get a picture.

Good morning, embattled media icon, homemaker tycoon, and accused stock market swindler Martha Stewart.

I have to say, for the first celebrity photo cameo here on HFT, I was less than impressed by Martha's showing. A little kid and a old guy with a lame scarf who resembles the "I lost my marbles" guy in Hook: what a lame posse you roll with, Martha. I couldn't even tell which one was her hype man.

Windsor Castle is surrounded by shops. Restaurants, souvenir stores, mostly tourist type stuff, and I found myself wondering whether the marauding enemy troops hid out in Burger King or McDonald's before storming the gates. Made me wonder at what point my imperial military strongholds will become nothing more than tourist attractions. Our guide took us around the entire thing, and left us at the entrance, telling us where to meet her and when, and what exit would take us there the quickest. Then she disappeared to wherever it is frumpy tourguides go when they're not begrudgingly leading around groups of rowdy Colonials, and left us alone with the Queen's sometime residence.

Did this mean she was in? I didn't have the heart to ask. I tried to cut down on the swearing and smoking once inside the walls, you know, just in case.

I heard one or two Alaska kids say how much it looked like Hogwarts, and while I have to admit the resemblance occured to me I was glad they were the ones to say it, so I could continue looking down my nose at them. "They're our forty-ninth state," I wanted to assure the UK citizenry. "You can see why we waited so long."

I thought my job sucked. These guys march into place, stand perfectly still for four hours, then march back inside. Either they are the most Zen, one-with-the-universe people in existence or no one in England has a richer sexual fantasy life. I'm going to go with a little of both.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the castle, suffice to say there was a lot more of that imagining history unfolding all around you stuff. Vaulted ceilings. Coats of arms. Suits of armor. A wall full of dueling muskets, making me wonder how many guys in buckled shoes and powdered wigs each one had claimed in scuffles over honor and dames.

Matt said it was too nice to be real, he felt like he was at Universal Studios. I agreed.

Tim said it would be fun to play paintball in. I wondered how many British teenagers fantasize about playing soccer on the South Lawn of the White House. Then I agreed.

Then we were outside, walking towards where the tour guide told us to exit. It was at the bottom of a steep cobblestone incline. I forgot to mention how many things there are to trip on in England. America is one nice big flat walking surface compared to the bumpy jutting terrain the UK seems to be composed entirely of. I almost tripped every other step.

We got to the bottom of the hill, to the gate. It was fenced off and full of cops. They scolded a couple who tried to go in ahead of us. It looked like we'd have to take the long way.

I only mention this because on the way back up, Jack offered to give Katie a piggy-back ride, since we were all whining about the walk. Must have been all the old past-expiration-date chivalry in the air. Well, she hopped on, this girl weighing...well, I won't say, because I'll guesstimate wrong and word will get back to her and she'll think I think she's a cow. She weighs about the same as a medium-sized kitten. Maybe a kitten and a half. So she hops on, and before he even takes a step, Jack groans and folds like a shitty house of shitty cards. They tumble. Hilarious.

Resulted in some of my favorite pictures of the trip. Tell me you wouldn't carry this girl on your back wherever she wanted to go.

We ate lunch at a place called Little Italy across from the Palace. It was here we uncovered the two truths of Dining Out in England, which are as follows:

One: The drinks are tiny, and completely lacking in ice

and Two: The wait staff barely speaks English, and if they do, they still don't have much of an interest in satisfactory customer service

This is one point where I'm going to be completely culturally insensitive, discard multicultural relativity, and plant Old Glory in this motherfucker: When it comes to service, America is just plain superior. The price is lower. The portions are bigger. Unlike British food (I'm not just talking traditional British fare, I'm talking everything over there on a plate) the food doesn't taste like it just had the soul bludgeoned out of it at Flavor Re-education Camp. The Italian restaurants don't serve you a stupid little upturned Don Quijote helmet of spaghetti unfit even for Chef Boyardee and charge you seven pounds (mostly 'cause they don't use pounds.) Call me an imperialist unilateral cowboy if you must, but I would've taken the Olive Garden any day.

"So, is this a family-owned restaurant?" said Tim to our waitress, trying to make conversation. She gave him the foot-stuck-in-the-tracks-oncoming-train look, gestured strangely, and said, "Ehhh." Fair enough, ESL waitress. Fair enough.

Needless to say, we stopped at the Windsor Burger King on the way back to the bus for a little liquid reminder of home.

From the the the oceans...white with foam...

Good afternoon, hat I found on the ground on the way back to the bus and promptly discarded.

Good afternoon, field where, from what I gathered, the Magna Carta was signed. Like I said, history everywhere. Here's the place where a lot of people agreed that human freedom was important enough to put down on paper, and then have everybody agree to abide by it, and then keep that agreement. The noise they made here echos in the Constitution. When the tour guide pointed out this field, there were a couple of boys out in it, kicking a soccer ball around, and playing with their dog. A high watermark for government by the people, for the people. Now the people play soccer on it. That made me smile.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on the bus, looking at the historical sights we wouldn't have time to see individually.

There were, as you might imagine, a few.

And that night, we hit the town.

We followed Rob's bald spot all over the place.

All the way to Tandoori Nights.

There, I was reviewing my pictures, and the waiter crept up behind me just as I was on this one:

"'No War,'" he said. "That is right. Your Bush is mad." Let it be said that you can say pretty much whatever you want about my country and my president, so long as you keep bringing me delicious Indian food. And he was. So criticize away, Sanjay old boy.

There was still no ice in the drinks, but some things we just have to forgive.

I forgive you, Sanjay. You're alright.

Alecia didn't eat her Indian food. But she did spend twelve pounds. The legal drinking age is 18. I'll let you guess the rest.

Goodnight, London, which at this point I really never wanted to leave.

Posted by DC at March 27, 2003 07:23 PM

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