Tuesday, July 28, 2009

So you say it's your birthday...

It was a good day to turn 29 in London!

Even the weather smiled upon us -- no more rain!

We started the day at Buckingham Palace. Somehow, seeing the changing of the guard was not quite the magical experience I had imagined... I am quite sure that in the poem about Christopher Robin and Alice there was no mention of the absolute clusterf#@% of tourists in which we found ourselves mixed up today.

The poor police officers on duty were futilely trying to get the crowd to move or part or let people through if they were walking the opposite direction. David heard one bobbie tell someone that it was "like herding cats."

If cats were putting their kittens on their shoulders and waving their digital cameras above their heads and speaking at the top of their lungs every language you can imagine and wearing bulking back packs or possibly dragging a rolling suitcase or pushing stroller. Brilliant plan.

Not exactly the view I had imagined.

We finally moved away from the gates and up to Queen Victoria's monument and from there we could actually see the soldiers marching and the horses. They actually played ABBA's "Dancing Queen" which really took me by surprise and I can only assume it was specially dedicated to me for my birthday. Thanks, Queen Bess! (BTW she sends her regards to my aunt Peggy. Or we can all safely assume she does, I am sure.)

OK, that's a little better.

After cajoling a soldier into posing for a picture with me, we hightailed it out of there and strolled through St. James's Park which was green and English gardeny and full of people but they were at least a little more spread out.

David in front of an ostentatious gate we passed on our way to the tube station from the park.

From there we took the tube to Harrod's which was... shiny and perfect and plush and smelled like perfume and leather and thick carpeting and material decadence. We oohed and ahhed over everything. I fell in love with a pair of flats that were black leather with rinestones but somehow felt like I couldn't justify the 450-pounds price tag, even though it was my birthday. (I told David to guess how expensive they were. He started at 80 pounds and went up in increments of 10 and 5 and made it to 110 before I finally just told him.)

The most fun we had was actually in the toy section. The teddy bears, the legos, the trains, the cars, the dolls, and the best part -- the dollhouses. I was smitten by the dollhouses and could have marveled over the furniture all day. The best of them was the Governor's Mansion which had to have been at least 5' tall (it was up on a table, so hard to judge) and was a lovely alabaster white on the outside and beautifully decorated inside.

We are delighted by the Harry Potter figures made out of Legos! Brandon -- I think maybe this Harry Potter does sort of look like you.

Hagrid, you are so very tall.

After Harrod's, we talked about lunch and decided since the weather was so perfect we would do a little picnic. So we popped into a Marks & Spencer grocery store and bought sandwiches and chips and chocolates and wine and then walked a few blocks up to Russell Square where we spread my travel blanket and just lounged in the sunshine. We have so much more to see and do but it was fabulous to just take the afternoon to feel a little bit like "locals" and just hang out and enjoy the scenery without rushing off to the next historical monument or tourist attraction.

Tonight we saw Billy Elliott which felt like the perfect end to a perfect day. It was showing at the Victoria Theater, which was big and old and not very well air conditioned even though it had a sign in front bragging that it was air conditioned (but as Americans who are not stepping up to Europe's standards of reducing our carbon footprint, we wisely kept our complaints to ourselves).
We lurve Billy Elliott!

We had great seats in the lower balcony and we both loved the show. I've never seen the movie, but the musical seemed appropriate to watch while we're here. David was less enthusiastic at first but he ended up really liking it too. The dancing was so much fun and the little boy who played Billy Elliott was absolutely fabulous. I had to laugh at the ticket which says "contains strong language - suitable for ages 8+." I don't know what it takes to get a PG13 rating here, but evidently the f bomb is not enough because the language was definitely strong. The girl sitting in front of us complained to her mom at intermission (in a distinctly American accent) that she couldn't understand everything they were saying. And it's true that I definitely missed a word or two because of their accents but I just felt like that was part of the charm.

We strolled back to the hotel by way of the British museum and I had a "London moment" when the museum was looming at us over its black iron gates, a double decker bus was passing us, and we were approaching a pair of red telephone booths. It was like the perfect storm of Londonness and it was great. So I posed for this picture with a lion at the back entrance of the museum.

Happy Birthday to me! And I'm a Leo!
Love the dramatic lighting even though it sort of makes the lion's head disappear. Please ignore the unattractive arm bandage.
I have to say, though, that even though this was a fabulous and unforgettable birthday, I am a wee mite homesick... or at least confident that when this trip is up, I will be ready to go home. I miss the birthday phone calls and I miss my obnoxious dogs and even though I am seriously glad that we are out of the country without an entourage of high school boys, it feels a little lonely to be in this big city and not know a soul. At the same time it is romantic and wonderful to just share this experience with each other, it also makes me appreciate everyone's birthday greetings and e-mails even more. I think I feel more aware of this precisely because this city is so crowded that we are constantly sharing sidewalks and tube cars and escalators with hundreds and thousands of people without ever really talking to any of them. So I sort of move between a mild existential crisis and a comfortable sense of being a citizen of the world. I imagine that Brandon probably felt something like this in his Asian adventures?

OK. David wants to check his stupid fantasy stuff and I'm too tired to go back and check this for typos so cheerio! More tourism reports to follow... Tower of London tomorrow!

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