London, Day 1: I heart the U.K.

Traveling to London was fairly uneventful, but somewhat unpleasant as
my husband becomes The Business Traveler when flying and is no fun from
the
moment we arrive at an airport to the minute we arrive. I'd think that
flying all the time would make him more relaxed about it, but he's
massively tense and disagreeable while flying.

We arrived in London on Friday morning just before noon, tired but
excited. I had spent literally hours reading Transport for London's website
all about Oyster cards, their version of Metrocards. It's enormously
complicated because of all the zones and price capping, but basically
if you buy a prepaid card, a single ride in one zone (which is pretty
much most of Central London) will cost £1.50 rather than £3 and at a
certain point, it caps off so if you take many rides in a day, you'll
never pay more than you will for a One Day Travelcard. I can't really
understand why anyone would buy a Travelcard when you pay no more and
you'll pay less if you only ride once or twice a day, but I guess you
get some other benefits if you buy it. Anyhoo, it took ages to buy the
two Oystercards and get on the tube, but it was an easy ride to Holborn
station by our hotel, around an hour. Heathrow Express is only 15
minutes but costs £14.50 and you'd still have to transfer to a tube to
get to your destination.

I had forgotten how, despite how Americanized London is, it's still
European and thus not air conditioned. We were there on the hottest
July on record, with temperatures in the 90s almost every day. The tube
is not at all airconditioned and I feel bad for commuters having to
crush onto a hot train every day. :x  I  almost need a parka on the NYC subways, they are so  air conditioned.

The location of our hotel, the Renaissance Chancery Court (a
Marriott, yes, but free) was perfect: a few minutes walk from Covent
Garden, Soho, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Clerkenwell, the Meatpacking
District of London. We were right on the Central and Picadilly lines,
very handy and a block away from our hotel. Many of the stores are
closed on the weekend, but plenty of pubs and food chains (Krispy Kreme
and Pret a Manger, to name a few) are open every day. The hotel itself
is gorgeous but not too stuffy or intimidating.

We spent our first afternoon wandering around Covent Garden &
Soho,
then along Oxford Street and back to Holborn. Oxford Street is like a
nicer version of NYC's 34th Street, more charming and cleaner, but
probably
just as hateful once the initial thrill is gone of seeing hoardes of
British shoe chain stores. I must have gone into a gazillion stores in
search of flat sandals that were not flip flops and sexy fun patent
leather heels (which are everywhere right now for some reason). 
Also went to the Top Shop flagship store, which was extremely awesome.
Having read many British chick lit books, I was really psyched to go to
Top Shop, the local H&M/Forever 21/fun knock off store. The
flagship store is amazing: 4 floors of men and women's fabulous clothes
and shoes, plus accessories and candy, randomly. We wandered around the
store in a daze but didn't buy anything, the exchange rate is a real
bitch.

Random things I noticed walking around London: 
1.  Their public bathrooms are just amazing.  Every couple
blocks, you come across a public subway (like an underpass, not a
train) with toilets that are clean!  And attended!  And
free!  I was less impressed with the self-cleaning pay toilets,
after a bum advised me to go into a pub instead.
2.  English girls really get tarted up when they go out.  Not
like New York girls, in sample sale designer shoes and $200 jeans, but
really tarted up in short skirts and tight tops.  Husband was v.
pleased.
3. Pubs are just awesome.  I love how you can always get cider,
and Magner's comes poured over ice (why do we not do this with beer,
considering how much Americans love ice?).  Also amazed how big
pubs are, many with large basement rooms, and huge bathrooms, a far cry
from the tiny dirty stalls in most New York bars. And Pimm's is
delicious, I could drink it all day, perhaps alternating with cider.:p
4.  Brits have also surpassed us in the area of potato chips.
Augusten Burroughs has a whole story about crisp flavors in his new
book, they don't stop at BBQ and Sour Cream & Onion, they have
Prawn Flavor, Thai Ginger flavor, and Steak and Bacon! Awesome. I'm
with Augusten that we should have never left this place.

A few pictures that might need some commentary:

This was a gallery/installation we passed coming back from
Soho.  The fairies are apparently some
artists/socialites/secretaries/tarted up girls who some hate and some
love, according to the posters in the gallery. One of the girls can be
seen at right, they appear to just be party girls who wear fairy wings.

My maiden name is Lamb, so naturally, I had to
go to the Lamb pub on Lamb's Conduit Street.  Lovely pub, the
first I went to, actually.  Forgot to mention my name, so no free
pints, sadly.

Because of the heat wave, almost all the grass in London was
dead.  That didn't stop hoardes of people from going to parks
after work and sitting on the grass drinking beer.

Posting before this gets longer…

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