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TRAVELS > Travelogues > February 2002::UK

A little background about this trip. A long-lost friend (Katy) from high school was getting married in London, and since Lil was her maid of honor, I figured it would be a golden opportunity to go to Britain and travel around since I would have a travel buddy. Katy got wind of my coming and was nice enough to invite me to the wedding itself, and even helped me with the plane tickets and everything. So, I very happily took a two-week vacation and headed for the Land of the Sporadic Sun.

Observation 1: The British are tall, yet their furniture is small.

     I began my journey by boarding a Virgin Atlantic flight to Heathrow. Now, you'd think that a British airline would have cabins designed for British people. I'm shorter than the average person, so when I get on a plane, I usually have space to spare. This time, however, I found myself in a cramped little seat. My legs were all squished. I'm plump, but I usually don't have problems with seat width either, yet my right thigh was uncomfortably touching the left thigh of the passenger next to me (thankfully, I was in an aisle seat, so I didn't have someone to my left). It didn't help that the moron in front of me decided that it was ok to push his seat back all the way down, even when we were eating. I hate it when people do that. It's so inconsiderate. After arriving in London, we went straight to our hotel, where I found myself sharing a room with Joyce, which wasn't too bad. We were the lucky ones. Those of the party who were in single rooms (i.e., Lil and Tone) got much smaller rooms with teeny tiny beds. It doesn't make sense. I mean, I know that the Londoners that I passed by usually towered over me, but is it fair to assume that all visitors are tiny little Asians? Furthermore, those beds didn't even fit me and I'm extra small!
     Back to the the events of the day. The flight to London was uneventful, except for a few comedic moments provided by the cabin crew. One of them yelled, "What the hell does the pilot think he's doing?" when we hit some turbulence during landing, and all of them cheered "Yay!" when we landed safely. In my opinion, you haven't had the complete flying experience unless you have someone who refuses to move their seat back (see above) during the entire flight, a crying baby, and someone who decides to take off their shoes so that the entire cabin can partake of his or her aromatic foot odor. Needless to say, I did have the complete flying experience. On the other hand, I give mad props to Virgin for its marketing/graphics/promotions departments because they give passengers some very cleverly packaged freebies, which I always appreciate.
     It just so happened that the majority of the wedding party was on the same flight, so Katy and Greg met us all at the airport. We boarded the bus and on the way to our hotel, Greg did his best impression of a Chinese tour guide, which was very good. I impressed Joyce with my knowledge of Mandarin when I explained to her that Greg was talking about a ferris wheel (how many of you know what "ferris wheel" is in Mandarin? Let's see a show of hands!). Actually, as I explained to her later, I heard Greg say "London Eye" in English and "wheel" in Mandarin, and since I knew that the London Eye was the gynormous ferris wheel that was built for the millenium celebration, I gave Joyce the false impression that I actually knew what "ferris wheel" was in Mandarin. Alas, illusions are shattered so quickly. After settling in at the hotel, Katy took Joyce, me, and her Australian cousins (Carolina, Lisa, and Katherine) and their mother to a crêperie, where we had very interesting crêpes. They weren't bad, but they weren't anything like the ones I had in Paris (mmm, Nutella and banana...*drool*). After our late night snack, Katy, Joyce and I played cards. We taught Joyce how to play Big 2. I told Joyce about our special name for the Queen of Spades when we play Hearts, and she appreciated it very much.

Wanna see photos corresponding to this trip? Click here!

Observation 2: British's not so good...

     On Day 2, I got up bright and early, ready to pack in a full day of sight-seeing. Unfortunately, everyone else was still asleep. I breakfasted alone, and on Katy's suggestion, had the smoked haddock. It was fishy. REALLY, REALLY fishy. The poached egg that came with it did not yield any better results. I was still willing to give British food a chance, so I told myself that I'd try the traditional English breakfast the next morning. I decided to go buy some deodorant (the one thing I forgot to bring) while everyone else woke up and got ready. I discovered that deodorant is very difficult to find...I don't know what that says about the British. Hmmm. Anyway, the concierge directed me to a little grocery store where I wandered about looking for deodorant, only to find only one fragrance from one brand that was for men. However, the time I spent wandering about in the store led to a serendipitous discovery: McVitie's Caramels (digestives layered with caramel and chocolate; think "Twix"). I had heard about these wondrous biscuits but had been unable to get my hands on any until now.
     By the time Lil and Joyce had gotten ready and had figured out what they were going to do for Katy's bachelorette party, it was 11:30 and a good part of the morning had passed. We then headed off to Leicester Square to get discount tickets for a musical (a top priority for Lil). After waiting in the queue for a good long while, we finally ended up getting tickets for My Fair Lady. We had to choose between £9 uppermost balcony tickets "with a restricted view" (because we would have been in the first row and the safety bar would have been in our line of sight) or £30-some ground floor seats. We decided to splurge and get the ground floor seats (REMEMBER THIS...I'll be referring back to this later). After getting the tickets, we got some Ben & Jerry's ice cream (lunch) and headed off to Piccadilly Circus (another of Lil's must-see spots), which Greg told us was like a "mini Times Square." Of course, having been there before, I knew it was not, but I let Lil and Joyce discover for themselves what a mini Times Square looks like (one building with lots of electric lights and signs).
     Finally, some sight-seeing! We went to the Westminster area and quickly looked at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben (and the London Eye from a distance) and went into Westminster Abbey. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was very happy to poke around Poet's Corner. It seemed to have the opposite effect on Joyce and Lil, who were suffering from jet lag and were very tired. They decided to go back to the hotel and finalize arrangements for Katy's party...and sleep. I, on the other hand, was feeling invigorated after seeing Chaucer's and Churchill's graves and headed off to Buckingham Palace via a stroll through St. James Park, which is very nice. There was no changing of the guard or anything special like that because Princess Margaret recently passed away. I saw a small corner where people had left some flowers for her. I then proceeded towards Pall Mall to see exactly what Bustopher Jones (Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot for you educated lot; Cats the musical for you uneducated louts) was doing there. I tried to find the entrance to St. James Palace, but could not, which was a good thing because apparently that's where Princess Margaret was laid out before her cremation, which wasn't going to happen until several days later. I walked past the palace and several guards were, for lack of a better expression, standing guard and looking very imposing. I made my way past Marlborough House, swarming with news crews and policemen, to Trafalgar Square, where kids were having fun feeding the overly-aggressive pigeons, which is a practice that really messes with the environment and pigeon population (according to my sister, who took Environmental Science in college).
      When I got back to the hotel, I woke Joyce up and shared with her the goodness that is McVitie's Caramels (yes, such goodness must be capitalized). We were supposed to leave at 6:30, but Lil was sleeping like a log in her room and could not be awakened. Joyce called three times to no avail. She also knocked, but nothing happened. It took the combination of Joyce calling Lil's room while I pounded on her door to awaken Sleeping Beauty. It was a wonder that she didn't bake in her room, considering that she turned up the heat until it felt like an oven. By the time Joyce, Lil, Katy (we tricked her and said that the musical was her bachelorette party), and I left, it was 7:00 PM, and we had no time for dinner. We got to the theatre in the nick of time, and the curtains rose as we sat down. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that Jonathan Pryce was playing Henry Higgins (I like him a lot). We were unpleasantly surprised to learn that the roof of the balcony above us blocked our view of the upper portion of the stage. Remember how I told you earlier that we decided to splurge on the ground floor seats because the cheaper seats had a restricted view? Argh, we got ripped off! Grrr. I was not happy. As the musical progressed, I began to remember several things. First, I find Eliza Doolittle to be very annoying. Second, the songs in the musical are very repetitive and long. Third, I hadn't had any food for 7 hours. Thankfully, we got through all of Mr. Doolittle's long, long songs and the musical ended. Katy and Lil left the the theatre singing "Wouldn't It Be Lov-er-ly" as we headed to the Cask & Glass, a bar that has karaoke in the evenings. The rest of the gals in the wedding party (Katy's many cousins and an usher's girlfriend) met us on the way.

C'mon! I know you wanna see the photos! Click here!

If music be the food of love...

     Inside the Cask & Glass, we sat down at a corner table. No one made any move to show us how to order songs, so just sat there like dummies for the first couple of minutes until the impatient person that I am walked up to another table and just grabbed the songbook and forms lying on top. Katy's cousins were the first to perform and gave a stirring rendition of ABBA's "Mamma Mia." As the night progressed, I started to exercise my people-watching skills and amazing powers of observation. Firstly, I learned that mixed drinks are not very popular in this part of the world and that not only did the bartender not know how to make the drinks I named, but he also didn't have the materials needed to make the drinks. Secondly, I learned that food tastes really good when you haven't eaten for 10 hours (we got a pizza delivered to the bar). As for some of the lovely characters we met, here is a sampling:
  • Pink-Sweater Girl (aka Hired Girl): We first saw PSG dancing quite intimately with a guy we assumed was her boyfriend. However, as time lagged on, she never appeared to dance with the same person twice, yet she danced with the same degree of intimacy with each partner. Furthermore, she was nabbing partners quite enthusiastically. This led me to wonder if she was one of those girls that are hired to occupy menfolk at these sorts of places...
  • Crazy/Loud Drunk Gay Guy: The CLDGG burst onto the music scene with a very passionate, ear-shattering rendition of some song I didn't recognize. He was more enthusiastic than he was good, sad to say (I think the only guy who could sing decently was the DJ). CLDGG's exhibitionist nature was further exposed when he decided to give another guy a lap dance, drop his pants, and get into a fight (not necessarily in that order). I wish I could have said that he was crazy/beautiful, but he definitely did not fit that label.
  • Lesbian Drunkard with Wandering Hands: This not-so-young woman came in with another woman, with whom she was obviously very close, if you catch my drift. However, not satisfied with her own playpal, she stopped by our table of 10 girls and said a special hello to each and everyone of us, clinking our glasses, which was very friendly of her, considering the language barrier between us: "I. Know. You. Don't. Un-der-stand. Most. Of. What. I'm. Saying. But. My. Hairdresser. Is. Asian..." The best part was that out of all the hotsie-totsies at our table, she aimed her sights at Lil...that's right, it's not a typo. Horror of horrors...She stroked Lil's cheek once and placed her hand on Lil's. It was at once scary AND amusing.
     I did a solo "Saving All My Love For You" for Katy, showing the world that Whitney Houston and I differ quite a bit in singing styles (she actually hits the high notes, whereas I do not). Lil and Joyce had wanted to end the night with an entire group performance of "Lean on Me" for Katy, but did not take into account that the "Lean on Me" CD was malfunctioning and instead the only alternative was this part-rap version that no one knew. It was like listening to the Poopyheads attempt Footloose ("um...hmm...hmm...I don't know...hmm...oh, wait I know this part...Footloose, footloose, put on your Sunday shoes...uh, wait, how does this part go?"). Not the grand exit we had hoped, but I think fun was had by all.

"The remarkable thing about Shakespeare is that he is really very good - in spite of all the people who say he is very good." (Robert Graves)

     Tone arrived early Tuesday morning, and we planned to go sightseeing today. I was up bright and early, ready to pack in a day of sightseeing (on my agenda, the Globe theatre, St. Paul's cathedral, getting a bite at Convent Garden, and afternoon tea). Afternoon tea was scheduled for today because this was the only day when all five us were free. I had the more traditional English breakfast with the bacon, sausage, eggs, etc. All I can say is I gave English food a second chance, and it failed yet again. This hotel was not living up to my expectations! As you can probably guess, certain people didn't wake up as early as I did, so we left around 11:30 am. Short on time, we hit the Globe theatre, which was interesting. Tone didn't come in with us, so he missed out on the interesting history of the theatre. After listening to the tour guide talk about the theatre, Katy, Joyce, Lil, and I took lots of pictures. Those of you who decide to look at the pictures may notice a big white whale/elephant in many of them. That's my oh-so-fashionable khaki down jacket, which served me faithfully through those long, hard winters at Williams. However, London just happened to be experiencing a warm spell when we got there, so I felt like a major ass (and like a big white whale) walking down the street in my marshmallow jacket, while everyone else was in their nice-looking wool coats. Thankfully, the down jacket did come in handy later on in the trip, so I was compensated in the long run. Noon had come and gone by the time we were done with the exhibition and tour, so we headed straight to Brown's hotel for their famous afternoon tea, which cost a pretty penny. Actually, it cost many, many pretty pennies.

Now do ya wanna see some photos? Click here!

Observation 3: Do not have afternoon tea if you are going to eat a buffet dinner three hours later...

     Brown's was very nice. Tea is served in "The Drawing Room," which is very large and filled with lots of comfy couches and armchairs. The atmosphere is very laidback and mellow, perfect for relaxing. Having skipped lunch (it was around 2:30 pm), we devoured the food that was served. We had finger sandwiches (4 kinds: cucumber, cream cheese, salmon, and ham, if memory serves me correctly, but I could be wrong about the ham...I know there were 4...), egg salad sandwiches (very mayonnaise-y), scones (plain, sundried tomato with herb, chocolate chip, raisin, and more) with clotted cream and preserves, and lots of pastries, which we dissected and shared. It was really, really good. After we had gone through most of what was on the tray, there were also servers walking around with giant slices of cake, to which we also helped ourselves. We did attempt a little restraint, since the prenuptial (rehearsal) dinner was at 6 pm across the street at Chor Bizarre, a well-reviewed Indian restaurant. Let me sit back and remember the food we had. Mmmm. I think I gained 10 pounds just thinking about it. The scones were a lot better than the ones I've had in the States. They were smaller, and when I bit into them, it didn't feel like biting into a large rock.
     After we finished stuffing ourselves at Brown's, we went back to our hotel to change into dressier clothes for the dinner. We had a little time, so I headed down to the hotel's fitness center, which was supposed to be huge, for a 20-minute jog. Supposedly, the swimming pool they had is Olympic-sized. I don't know if it really was; all I know is that I was a bit disappointed...I thought it would be bigger. The weight room was pretty kick-ass, though. They had tons of different machines and weights and for those of us using the treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical trainers, there were three huge flat-panel displays showing three different news and sports channels. They also provided headphones so you could listen to music or the news as you worked out. The gym was the one thing in this "four-star" hotel that did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to check out the jacuzzi and sauna. Oh,well. After changing, we went back to Brown's, walked across the street, and sat down for our buffet dinner.

Observation 4: ...Unless that buffet dinner is skanky Indian food, in which case you should stuff yourself to the max.

     As usual, we arrived at the restaurant fashionably late, and finally met everybody in the wedding party (I know what "wedding party" traditionally means, but this is an unusual "destination wedding," so all further references to "wedding party" means everybody that flew their butts over to London to partake in the festivities). Besides the bride, groom, the parents, the best man and maid of honor, and the ushers and the bridesmaids, there were several uncles and aunts and cousins and friends of the family. Of course, since we are talking about a Taiwanese affair, we naturally had at least one drunk uncle who would deliver loud speeches of a classy nature (you know, like "getting some action" and other fun stuff). Almost everyone was fobby, but not annoyingly so. I met someone I immediately dubbed Mr. I Think I'm Hot Stuff, because he was probably the best looking guy on the groom's side, and he acted like he knew it. The moniker, however, is meant sarcastically and disparagingly, because the next day we would soon be initiated into Mr. Hot Stuff's idea of fashionable attire. Now, I don't know about you, but I have been told by several people on various occasions that weddings are a good place to meet people. Personally, I think they're a good place to hit on single girls because the wedding is one huge reminder of their singlehood. Being a straight girl, that does not help me at all. As for this wedding, the number of single guys was zero, and the number of cute guys were...well, let's just say that they made me very angry (if you didn't get that comment, ask me, and I will explain it to you).
     The food at the restaurant certainly did not meet expectations. I was told earlier that this restaurant "had to be good" because it has only two branches, one in India and one in London. After the meal, I came to the conclusion that there are several possible reasons as to why a restaurant has only two branches, and that some of those reasons might not be good. The food just didn't taste too good and the sauces and spices were just not appetizing. It was Joyce's first time eating Indian food, so the food did not make a good first impression. Joyce said that she wouldn't eat Indian cuisine again, which made me sad because I know there's yummy food out there...just not at this place.
     For dessert, they served mango rice pudding, vanilla ice cream, and cheeseballs. Just kidding about that last's actually milk powder and sugar and other stuff made into small balls that are fried and then soaked in sweet syrup and sprinkled with coconut flakes. But Wendiva always refers to them as cheeseballs because that's what the texture reminds her of. Lil caused some confusion for one of Katy's relatives because she was trying to explain to him what the desserts were. She kept telling Katy's uncle that the vanilla ice cream was "tsau may" (strawberry) ice cream, and he kept asking her, "Really? It doesn't look like it."
     After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and went to bed because we had to get up extra early the next morning for our bus ride to Castle Ashby, where the wedding was to take place.

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