I’m currently sitting in Regents Park, eating a “supercharge” salad dinner, and watching kids who don’t speak English successfully feed squirrels from their hands, which if you ask me is like feeding demon creatures because squirrels are freaking scary, while Simon is off working his bartender magic. (When I say “bartender magic,” I mean magic. It’s like watching an artist create a masterpiece. There’s a multitude of pouring pretty colored liquors and cutting up limes and cucumbers and lemons and swirling them with a twisted, metal spoon-like device; and then there’s ice, and more ice, and shaking, straining, and garnishing.)
I’ve one more day left in England and time has flown by. I arrived on Monday morning after catching a Red Eye, always a fun experience. I managed to adjust well enough given that I never sleep anyway and my timetable is perpetually messed up. My good friend Simon, whom I met in New Zealand, picked me up at the airport, which was one of those “Thank God” moments because had he not been there where I was looking, I would have sat there all day in a panic.
Simon is great. I will try not to be gushy, but I am truly blessed to know him. The first gift he gave me—upon arrival—was an Oyster card. (In the words of my 10th grade history teacher, Mr. Fancher, “No, no, no. Don’t thank me.”) An Oyster Card is an invaluable device because it’s good for all public transportation in London—just swipe the card at the gate and you’re in—and by golly, do people use public transportation here. There’s “the tube,” an underground network of subways, and there are trains and buses, oh my. And for as much as I am public transportation retarded, I must say it’s user friendly. I haven’t gotten lost once! (Though, to be fair, I’ve been with Simon the whole time, and the two times I went running by myself, I took wrong turns and had to backtrack.)
My second gift from Simon was tickets to see Rock of Ages, a musical, on the West End of London. We spent the day walking around seeing some of the big sites:
Shocking news: it rained. It was on and off all day, so high five to my Gortex-lined Northface rain jacket, which was sufficient protection from the weather and prevented me from having to buy an I ❤ London umbrella to then carry around the rest of Europe. [“Hi, Ireland. Remember your good friends, the English? I heart them proudly in the rain.”] We arrived to Leicester Square, a place that provided another pronunciation lesson from Simon. It is not “Lice-ester,” or “Lichester” or even “Lee-cester.” It is “Lester.” Where’s the missing syllable, people?? It’s like Worcester, Massachusetts: it makes no sense.
“Lester” Square is really cool because it is the heart of cinema. There are theatres everywhere, and it’s close to Piccadilly Circus and China Town. I’ve never been to an American China Town, so I did the touristy thing and took a picture of roasted ducks hanging in the window. (To be honest, it was only because of the headless one on the left. I found it amusing.)
And tell me there’s no such thing as fate: directly across from where we’d be seeing Rock of Ages, there was a gelato shop (!) So, after happy hour for Simon, there was gelato hour for Jenny.
I got too excitable around the gelato to take a picture of it before I ate it, so it now lives only as a memory, but Simon and I had the best flavor, “Cherry Yogurt.” It easily makes my top five list, possibly right after New Zealand’s “Hokey Pokey.” In fact, it was so good, we talked about getting another scoop after the show, but thankfully we came down from the sugar-high and realized it was probably a bad idea.
The musical was “brilliant.” I could spend an entire blog writing solely about the show, so I’m going to have to ignore it altogether, but short story: it was funny, the singers were beyond talented, the music was great, the dancing was impressive—I had the best time. I thought it was interesting that there were people in the aisles selling food and drink throughout the entire production, but I was pumped that at intermission, they wheeled out a Haagen Dazs freezer and served pints of ice cream. It really brought everything together, I thought.
Simon’s third gift to me was to take me to the country, where his parents live. This was the one thing I knew I wanted to do because I’ve never seen the English countryside before. It was, as the Brits would say, absolutely stunning. I was able to go for a run on Thursday morning, despite the gale-force winds and occasional sprinkles, and it was one of my most favorite experiences. The roads are super narrow, and I feared a car would approach as I was running, and I don’t think we could have both made it through, but fear not! I only encountered a horse-drawn carriage! When the road widened, there was a moment when there were two horses (with riders), a car, and myself trying to pass each other, but we managed. On either side of the road the foliage grew up and kindly blocked the wind, and there was one area where a canopy of trees and flowers crossed overhead. After that cleared, there were fields of long grasses and flowers and then I ran through villages—actual “villages”—and it was so cute! I passed the Simon’s parents’ house on accident, and I also made a pre-mature left turn that took me into someone else’s driveway, but it all worked out okay and I made it back before noon.
During the day, we saw the Abby at Battle and did the walking tour, and one of the highlights for us was the hobbit hole. I like it because it looks exactly like the hobbit hole one of my students made on their 3D map project, but Simon liked it for a legitimate reason: it was one of the first refrigerators. It faced north so as not to get sunlight, and it was used to store ice in the warm months. I learned how William of Normandy overthrew Harold of England as king, and it was quite a bloody story.
I worked up an appetite that day, which was good because by special request, Simon’s mother prepared Boxing Day dinner. It wasn’t until I was in New Zealand that I’d ever heard of Boxing Day, which happens to be the day after Christmas, and Simon was the one who educated me. It only made sense that he would be the one to introduce me to the meal. There was ham, which I ate with English mustard against warning (it was fantastic, but it was like eating wasabi flavored mustard), baked potatoes and cheddar cheese dip (similar to crack dip), salad, crackers and assorted cheeses and relish (“pickle dip”), and fluffy bread. It was positively delightful.
I used to be negative about London, claiming it was New York City on steroids, and I do not belong in either NYC or London. But, I’m having second thoughts. After having walked, tubed, trained, and bussed all around, I’ve discovered it’s pretty cool. There are churches here that are older than the United States, and paths along the River Thames (which is pronounced “Temmes”), and patisserie shops and coffee shops and Pizza Expresses—complete with gluten free options—at every corner. And despite how “propah” all these English folk are compared to, say, me (who, today, shoved a chilly-chessesteak in my mouth and it got all over my hands, face, and pants), I’ve managed to survive and not abhor everyone.
Shockingly, least of all Simon. The only thing that abhors him is when I don’t say “please.”
So, my one tip to Americans visiting overseas: when you order food or drink or purchase any other product whilst overseas, don’t forget your manners and say the word, “Please.” (Please.) It’ll be much appreciated.
And of course, don’t forget thank you!
So this blog’s for you, dear Simon. A multitude of thanks.