Monday, October 03, 2016

London Calling

"...London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained..."
     The Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the first Sherlock Holmes novel

"Just put me back in London.  I need to get to know the place again, breathe it in--feel every quiver of its beating heart."
     BBC Sherlock, The Empty Hearse (Season 3, Episode 1), by Mark Gatiss

I had long wanted to visit London, but I didn't expect to like it much.  I am the slightest bit agoraphobic and apt to get a bit panicky in large crowds.  I like wide open spaces.  I don't care for large cities where the buildings block the sunlight.  I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but I was prepared for something like Houston, I guess, only more of it.  I expected to see wonderful museums and historic churches and upscale neighborhoods, but I also expected dirt and unfriendliness and noise and feeling unsafe while making our way to the points of interest we had identified as "have to see".

But London surprised me.  I am so ready to go back and spend a week or two and see all the places that we thought about visiting but had to trim from the wish list for lack of time.  London is big and it is crowded and there is dirt and noise, but everywhere you look there is something fascinating, something familiar you've seen in countless books, movies and television shows, something incredibly old and steeped in history, and scores of friendly and welcoming residents.

Our flight was an overnight direct one from Austin to Heathrow.  We left Austin at 6PM and arrived in London the next morning at 9:30am (gaining 6 hours along the way).  We knew that we would probably not be able to get in our hotel rooms until later in the afternoon, so we had dressed comfortably enough that we could hopefully get some sleep on the flight and nicely enough that we could keep going once we arrived, getting in a partial day of sight-seeing before settling down for the evening.

By the time we crept our way through the line at customs and figured out how to get to our hotel an hour away from the airport (two bus rides), it was almost noon.  We were pleasantly surprised that our rooms at the Lime Tree Hotel were ready and waiting, so we were able to freshen up a wee bit before embarking on our first adventure in London.   We had decided to keep it simple on our partial day and visit my two "must" London stops, the filming location for 221B in the BBC Sherlock series and The Sherlock Holmes Museum on the real Baker Street, followed by one of David's "musts", the crosswalk in front of Abbey Road Studios.

Our hotel staff helpfully laid out how to get to all of these places by means of the tube, which sounded like Greek to those of us not used to public transportation.  We asked about taxis and the receptionist gave us an estimate of what short trips across London would cost and added that tips were not really expected, so we quickly voted to do most of our scooting around London by means of taxicab.  It wasn't long before we were headed to North Gower Street for my requisite photo opportunity and lunch at the little deli/cafe next door, Speedy's, which has also featured in the series from time to time.

We had to wait a short while before snagging an inside table in the small dining room, and I had some doubts while waiting, but it turned out that the food was very good and once the lunchtime flurry eased off, the staff was a little less abrupt.  I had the Sherlock Wrap (of course) and some very tasty chips (french fries - in England our chips are called crisps).  I had not enjoyed the airplane fare, so it  sure hit the spot.  Once we had refueled, it was photo time.

I was not the only Sherlock fan on site when we arrived.  Speedy's must be very thankful for the business that has come their way from the Sherlock fandom.  There was a bit of a queue to stand on the steps of the tv version of 221B and get your photo taken.  (You don't stand in line in England, you get in queue.  It was the first of many queues we would encounter.  The English are famous for their queues.  Our tour guide said sometimes they see a queue and just get in it, assuming that there is a good reason for queueing up and they would hate to miss out.  I think one theory of the tendency to queue goes back to WWII rationing.)

187 North Gower Street, aka 221B Baker Street
in BBC's Sherlock series

Speedy's Cafe, next door to "The Door".

I got my picture made and took a couple of pictures for the couple in queue behind me and then we hailed a taxicab and made our way to the real 221B Baker Street to visit The Sherlock Holmes Museum.

At the tube stop for Baker Street
Alas, I couldn't get down to the area where
Holmes' profile is in tile (on the platform),
 so that was a photo op missed.  Have to get it next time.

The gift shop and ticket office for
The Sherlock Holmes Museum
Standing at the entrance to the Museum,
with a borrowed deerstalker on my head.
I really had no idea what to expect from the Museum.  I was prepared for a cheesy tourist stop, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find a well set up exhibit covering multiple floors and including the sitting room as described in the original stories plus Holmes' bedroom, Watson's bedroom, Mrs. Hudson's room, a Victorian era bathroom and the storage room at the top of the house.  All of the rooms were filled with period antiques and set up to highlight items that figured prominently in various stories.  (They even had a gasogene, which I was delighted to see, as I need to figure out how to make one in miniature.)  On the upper floors were set up staged vignettes from some of the more well-known tales, "The Scandal in Bohemia", "The Speckled Band", "The Hound of the Baskervilles", "The Red-Headed League" and many others.  I had a great time going from floor to floor and exploring all the details.  Even on a weekday, I had a lot of company.  It's a popular place.  The gift store next door was outstanding and I had a hard time limiting myself.  But it was the first day out, so I kept myself in check.

When I had had my fill of the Museum, we hailed another cab (we were getting quite good at that already), and we headed to Abbey Road.

Once again, we had a lot of company.   Abbey Road Studios is off-limits to visitors, but you can take pictures through the fence and there is a nice gift shop next door.  In between is a long wall of graffiti where Beatles fans have scribbled tributes over the years.    Just in front of the studios is the famous crosswalk where John, Paul, George and Ringo were photographed so many years ago and our goal was to get a picture of David walking across.  This was easier thought than done.  There were dozens of folks trying to get their own photos and it is a busy, busy road with no handy stop light to assist you.  We would all wait for a lull in the traffic and then a cluster of folks would walk briskly across.  Getting a photo of the right person was no easy feat.

Karen trying for the perfect angle to get David captured in the crosswalk.

The wall of graffiti outside Abbey Road Studios

By the time we had run David back and forth across the road a dozen times, trying for the right shot, and visited the gift store, our long day was beginning to take its toll.  But we had one more stop to make while we were in the Abbey Road area.  We took a short walk down to call on Paul McCartney at his London home nearby.  David rang and rang the bell, but nobody was home.  (Not really.  We already knew he was not in residence, being on tour somewhere.)

At Paul's place.

We couldn't think of anything to top that for our first day, so we headed back to the Lime Tree.  As luck would have it, there was a very nice restaurant next door and our first evening meal in London was outstanding.

Lime Tree Hotel, our home in London

The Ebury Restaurant
Day one of our London tour had been a great success and we had barely gotten started.  I was already convinced that London was a place I was going to enjoy.

(Silly me, thinking I could cover London in one or two posts.  Maybe I can get the next two days covered in one shot, but no guarantee.)


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