My dad used to tell an old joke about a village of people who couldn’t figure out how to use a lever to lift things. It would repeatedly break, fall apart, whatever, until they figured out that the best way to lift something was to use the village’s really big dude called Nate. Thus the statement of the village, “better Nate than lever”. You had to have been there.
Yes, we’ve been home for a while and yes, this is dreadfully overdue. Andrew has a book in which the author describes jetlag as the condition that happens when your body travels faster than your soul and the symptoms of jetlag (the listlessness, the difficulty sleeping during normal night time for your area etc.) are the direct result of your body being present in your time zone without your soul. It’s taken a while for my soul to catch up. Better Nate than lever.
Andrew will post the photos later on today.
Our goal for today was to get out to Whipsnade Wild Animal Park. This is another in my list of Durrell History sites and ever since we went to the San Diego Wild Animal Park I’ve been interested in getting to another one for comparison.
I was impressed, but I’ll have to back up and get there first.
Picadilly Line to King’s Cross/Thameslink rail station. City Link train from London to Bedford doing a whistlestop tour through to Luton, which is where we wanted to get off . We first got off at the Luton Airport Parkway station which is where the Whipsnade website told us to get off. Except that no one at the Luton Airport Parkway station could tell us how to get to Whipsnade from there, there was a bus, they said, direct from Luton to Whipsnade. We could get a taxi from the airport, but it would be much easier to get back on the train then get off in Luton and get the bus.
First of all, Luton is a dump. Dirty graffiti smeared streets, broken windows, boarded up shops. And about 85 degrees with somewhere around 70 percent humidity.
Today Luton was not only a dump, it was a sticky, gritty, sweaty dump.
Secondly, while there are signs at the train station pointing you towards the Tourist Information Center, they point you directly at a mall and when you get to the mall you walk under a pedestrian footbridge only to find that there’s another sign on the other side of the footbridge directing you to the Tourist Information Center in exactly the direction from which you just came. There is a bus depot outside the mall, but all of the bus schedules list where the busses are terminating and don’t bother to list which stops they’ll take in between (reasonable of course, but annoying for the casual tourist). We gave up finally and went into the mall looking for someone we could ask (heaven forefend) about the Tourist Information Center and ended up finding another sign pointing us towards same. We walked in the direction of the sign and found ourselves overlooking a construction zone. Waaaaaaay at the back, underneath the “Luton Public Library” sign, was a sign that said “Tourist Information Center”. Ah.
So we walked around the construction site and into the library where a set of doors proclaimed “Tourist Information Center” but were not only locked, but blocked. RRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!
Further into the library were the actual doors to the Tourist Information Center. The woman there directed us to the bus timetable rack within the library, but it didn’t have the timetable for the bus we wanted. Sigh.
The guard behind the desk said that the timetables were printed on the second floor and so we hiked up there to find no printed timetables, but a reference librarian who was able to help us. Unfortunately the bus we wanted only runs every few hours and we had, of course, missed the most recent one.
Back to the Tourist Information Center.
A totally random local, for some reason visiting his town’s Tourist Center, directed us to a local cab company and we ended up in a cab driven by a tiny (like shorter than me) East Indian guy who drove like he was in the end stages of hallucinatory syphilis. Which isn’t to say we didn’t appreciate his expertise, he just drove like every other Brit we’ve experienced only shorter. Anyone who ever met my Gram Do when she was in her driving days will recall the sight of this little tuft of grey hair and not much else being visible over the dashboard of the gi-NORMOUS vehicles that she drove. This guy was driving the equivalent of a Toyota Celica and he still had the seat so far forward I was amazed his knees weren’t about his ears.
He dropped us off at what turned out to be the coach entrance for Whipsnade at just before noon. This did give us a chance to find the bus stop and make plans for catching the last bus to Luton (sounds like a Monty Python sketch really), but when we got to the gate the woman selling tickets threw a bucket of cold water on that idea. We asked her how reliable the bus service was, she said “Well…..sometimes it’s reliable. It might show up when it says it will, it was half an hour late this morning.”
We decided to get a taxi back to Luton and take our time at the wild animal park.
Whipsnade Zoo was started on the Duke of Bedford’s estate in the early part of the 20th century. The then Duke of Bedford was an early conservationist and somewhat of a revolutionary for his time in his ideas of how to keep zoo animals. Whipsnade was one of the first zoo parks, i.e. a zoo that keeps animals in large paddocks in more natural settings instead of in cages that make it easy for people to look at them. Whipsnade also has the honor of being pretty much the reason that the Pere David deer isn’t extinct since when Pere David (a Jesuit missionary who managed to smuggle himself out of China just in time) smuggled a few breeding pairs out of China after the Boxer Rebellion it was at Whipsnade that they were first kept and bred. Before the Boxer Rebellion the deer weren’t very numerous and what was presumed to be the last vestiges of the species were all kept within the grounds of the emperor’s palace. During the rebellion, the great majority of them were shot and eaten, but Pere David managed to sneak a few. I find this very cool.
Whipsnade was also the first place that Gerald Durrell got actual zoo keeping experience. My focus on zoos during this trip has been primarily because I’m an animal nut, but also because I’ve wanted to pay my respects to a man who is, in large part, responsible for me being in the animal biz as it were. It was the lure of being able to work with wildlife, of being able to make a difference in the outcome of an individual or (what a goal to aim for!) an entire species that initially drew me into medicine. Some days I really think I should go back to school, get a PhD in zoology and start working at a zoo. Then reason, and my love for getting a paycheck on a regular basis, re-assert themselves and I’m absolutely happy with dogs and cats. A lot of my colleagues have taken pilgrimages to Yorkshire to visit James Herriot sites, some day I’d like to do that too. For this trip, Durrell was it though.
All preaching aside, we were at the entrance gates of the zoo smearing ourselves with sunscreen.
A practically empty double decker bus was sitting at a bus stop a bit up the road from us. Whipsnade is a LARGE zoo and we wanted to see the most of it without having to walk the whole of it since it was, as I have mentioned, HOT and STICKY.
Seeing a zoo from the open top storey of a double decker bus is very fine. There was a bit of a breeze, the view was excellent, we were able to see into the paddocks with ease and there were exactly three other people on the top storey with us until we got to the zoo café and the tiger exhibit where we were absolutely run under with school kids. Remember what I was saying about British school kids, their uniforms, and their self control? Yeah, well these wasn’t them. Kids with soda in one hand and ice cream in the other, kids running up and down the aisles falling over each other, kids standing up, jumping and grabbing at passing trees. Now granted these kids were all in civvies, maybe they only feel the need to control themselves when they’re in uniform.
We got off at the next stop.
Wandered through the bird garden and had a lovely discussion with some Military Macaws. Wandered off and watched a flight demonstration in the amphitheater. Wandered past the petting zoo and the “Jumbo Express” train station. Early afternoonish, the temperature was pretty unreasonable unless you were out in the breeze so we tried to stay so. We wandered a lot. Saw deer in paddocks, dromedary in paddocks, wandered into a lovely tableau where a keeper was giving a rhino her afternoon wash and then passing around through the surrounding paddocks with a bucket full of fruit, vegetables, and a large armload of alfalfa hay. For the record one horned rhinoceros eat bananas.
All through the grounds there are deer of various species, wallaby, and something that I can only classify as a Jackalope (we took pictures, you’ll be able to see!) wandering free. Rhinoceros also don’t like wallaby poaching off their alfalfa since one of the rhinos wandering free in the paddock managed to chase a couple off with only a warning snort. Elephants and tigers, and flamingoes, and non-existent hippos (to be strictly truthful, there was a pile of what looked like boneless hippo sleeping in the sun, but it was so amorphous as to make me question the actual identification). We wandered off crossways along a grassy pathway past the zebras and ended up in the lion enclosure meeting, almost face to face, what has to be the most shameless lioness in the entirety of creation.
Okay it was hot. And granted, the poor little buggers have to wear fur all the time, but for heaven’s sake lady, have some (heh) pride in your species.
Male lion collapsed in the shade under a tree. One lioness wumped out on her side in the sun. And then this second lioness flat on her back and turned slightly so that her delicate pink tummy was pressed against the cool glass of the enclosure shedding as much heat as she could. Well, okay, technically her tummy was fur covered and tawny, not delicate and pink, but you get the idea. Head thrown back, forelegs folded coquettishly over and this enormous expanse of tummy against the glass. It was charming.
Wandered from the lions across to the giraffe enclosure. I’ve decided it’s pretty hard to get a bad photograph of a giraffe. From there we caught the tram again, now refreshingly free of enormous numbers of sugar hyped kids, and hitched a ride all the way around back to the zoo entrance. It was just after 5 p.m. I poked around the gift shop while Andrew called a taxi, this time out of Dunstable (a slightly closer town) rather than Luton, and we sat outside the gate and waited for the taxi to show up. And waited. And waited. And started to get concerned about getting back to the train if the taxi didn’t show up. The taxi finally did show, of course, and the driver was, of course, a mad man. Prone to driving with both hands off the wheel while making expansive gestures and raving about the traffic. I kept my eyes closed a lot.
It also turned out that he was the brightest of all the potential direction givers we had gotten all day. We asked him to take us into Luton or to the Luton Airport Parkway train station whichever was closer so after a while of thinking about it he took us straight to the Airport Parkway station (I wasn’t disappointed to have to miss a second glimpse of Luton) which shortened our trip by about 15 minutes. Flash the rail passes, find the first available train to London and we’re back on our way to air conditioning. The windows on the City Link trains do open which makes them better ventilated certainly, but it was still FREAKIN’ HUMID. Steamy humid, but not badly crowded, thank God, tube from King’s Cross back to Glouster Road.
We stopped at the Waitrose (grocery store) next to the tube station, got some water for tomorrow, then got some takeout from the local organic pizza place and a couple of (yes, I’m ashamed of this, but they were cold!) iced coffees from Starbucks. Then we came back and sat in our air conditioned hotel room. Life is good.
Tomorrow’s goal is the Portobello Market.
Now That’s Not Something You Hear Everyday 6/9/06:
“Tamzin, would you like pizza for tea?” The family that was sitting behind us on the top of the zoo tram the second time we got on had three small (all under 7) kidlings, and this was a question to the middle kidling by the mother. Now granted, I know exactly what she meant by it, but it was still a little odd to hear. Give it a try, say it out loud, it sounds weird,
“Tamzin, don’t chew on the bus dear, the bus doesn’t like being chewed on.” Again, the middle kidling (about 3ish), who was intent on chewing on the railing over the seat in front of her. I just loved this statement.
10 June (Saturday)
We have fallen into a pattern in the last few (very hot) days. We get done with whatever touristing we’re going to do for the day then, as we’re leaving the tube station, we drop into the Waitrose right next to the tube station and purchase 4-5 liters of water. We get back to the hotel room, drink some water, take a shower and then go and get dinner. This way we’re sure to have plenty of water to take with us the next morning.
Last night the air conditioning started to punk out on us a little. Not that it was particularly hot in the room, just that it wasn’t as cool as we would have liked. I woke up very early. It still took us a while to get going so that by the time we had finished our croissants, croques, and juice from the Forum Cafe, it was 11:30ish and hotter than stink. And humid. Have I mentioned humid? Saw a headline on the news stands this morning that the London Transit Authority has started to place emergency medical crews at the tube stations because people on the tubes are starting to drop like flies. It’s hot.
Circle Line tube to Notting Hill Gate and then a quick (HOT) walk from the Notting Hill tube station to the Portobello Market. This is a Paddington Bear pilgrimage rather than a Durrell pilgrimage for once. I was thrilled when I figured out we could actually go to Portobello, I looked on it rather as a piece of literary exaggeration, but as it turns out the market is absolutely bigger than life real. Saturday is the day to do it. Once. After that if you want to go to the Portobello market I’d recommend doing it on some other day because Saturday is the day when the antiques dealers are out and it’s more crowded than usual.
The Portobello Market defies (or at least strongly resists) description. If Joan hasn’t been there yet, she really needs to go, but Tony should look upon it as an opportunity to sit somewhere with a good book (a long one) and a (big) cold drink because if Joan does end up there it’s going to take days to get her out. The Portobello road is not closed down because of the market. There are people living in row houses along both sides and traffic is allowed down the streets when the market is active. For the record, people who attempt to drive down the Portobello road when the market is open don’t go very fast or very far, but people can, in fact, drive down there (shudder).
You start with the antiques dealers. Booths and shops lining both sides of the road. Narrow little side alleyways lined on both sides with booths making hot, claustrophobic little aisles absolutely crammed with people a la the worst Hollywood “Middle Eastern Bazaar” images that you can think of. People buying and selling anything. Stamps, silver, books, clothing, collectibles of all sorts, the (very hot) booth selling telescopes, binoculars, and magnifying glasses, antique (and not so antique) coach horns, crystal, china, military collectibles. Blocks and blocks and blocks of antiques dealers and people wandering aimlessly looking at everything.
About a quarter of a mile down, you start in with the food vendors. Booths with produce, meat, fish, spices, Halal meat markets in the buildings. Bakeries, dairies, carts selling ice cream and Italian ices. One enormous booth in the middle of the street (yes, vehicles are still allowed) with barrels and barrels of olives, brined cheeses, and other pickled vegetables that smelled absolutely divine. Small cafes, Starbucks (of course), numerous pubs advertising their big screen TVs and the World Cup. A couple of head shops selling (amongst other things) hemp products, and, enigmatically, a hair dresser (insert your head shop joke here).
We pulled into a cafe to get a snack and something cold to drink. In conversation with the waitress we discovered that the first match of the World Cup was going to be starting as of 1400 and that since England were playing every British person on the street was going to magically evaporate as of the start of the game. We drank juice and ate our gazpacho QUICK to get away from their big screen TV before the game started.
At the tail end of the food vendors (about another quarter mile) you start in with the flea market vendors. Bolts of cloth. Weird clothing, several booths full of scarves, booths with junk jewelry, booths with old, sun faded, dusty, but “new in box” electronics that look like they’ve been sitting on the shelves at Radio Shack for the last 20 years, booths with cosmetics, household goods (dish detergent, shampoo, paper products, toothpaste) that look like they could very easily have “fallen off the truck” or in some other creative way been disappeared from the inventories of legitimate businesses before showing up here. Booths full of car stereos and speakers that I’m sure were hot, booths full of ugly crafts projects, booths with shoes (new and used), booths with luggage, booths with knock off fashion clothing. Basically a mix of every garage sale that Joan has ever been to in her entire life (no, that isn’t exaggeration, the place is huge), a large proportion of those side of the road vendors of any sort of (very likely stolen) products of all types, and a stiff shot of the Tacoma Discount World. For the non-native (or for the native that hasn’t had the questionable pleasure of the Tacoma Discount World) TDW is in an old Costco warehouse and you can purchase all sorts of, absolutely legitimate of course, odd lot products ranging from toothpaste to small appliances. You come out of the place feeling like you need a shower. This end of the Portobello market was much the same up to and including the shower. At least another half mile of flea market vendors. Woof.
To be able to say that we’d done it, we walked the entire length of the market. And then turned around and walked right the hell back again. The return journey was much more direct than the outbound trip since we were able to resist the urge to rubberneck, but we did have to detour to investigate the possibility of a closer tube station. We saw a sign, but didn’t manage to find the tube station so in the end we just walked back through the flea market, the food stalls, and the incredible press of people at the antiques dealers and headed back for the Notting Hill Gate tube station.
We stopped at Starbucks before we got to the tube station. Now I would like to mention that, while we seem to have spent a good deal of time in various Starbucks while we’ve been in London it has primarily been for two things. One: air conditioning, and two: free internet access while we’re away from our hotel. I’m terrified at the idea of someone reading this and thinking that we’ve sought out Starbucks on purpose because of the familiarity, because of our deep seated need to have some island of American culture to cling to. No. We have continually sought out Starbucks because it’s bloody damn hot outside and we get lost so frequently that we have often needed to stop, pull up the map software that Andrew has on the computer and figure out where the hell we are.
We had plans to go from Portobello to a local (okay local-ish) comic and collectibles mega-store in the hopes of finding cool omiyage and just to check it out. It took a bit of tube juggling (Central Line from Notting Hill Gate to Tottenham Court Road) and starting out from the tube station in entirely the wrong direction, but we did eventually find the place. It was stunning. Two floors of weird collectibles (you can purchase a remote control Dalek for instance), action figures, science fiction/fantasy/anime themed Lego sets, and more comics, graphic novels, and books than you can shake a stick at. Now for the record we didn’t actually go downstairs into the book section because the store wasn’t air conditioned and at that point I was so hot and sweaty that being outdoors in the heat and humidity was more appealing than being indoors where it was hotter and moister. We found some really cool toys though, then hopped it back to the tube station. Central Line to Notting Hill Gate, Circle Line back to Glouster Road. Stop at the Waitrose for more water then the inevitable collapse in the hotel room.
Except it wasn’t as cool as we remembered.
We turned the AC down as low as it would go and we both took a cold shower.
Dinner at The Prince Regent around the corner. We’d talked about going to Yailousa, the Greek restaurant that my family and I had patronized extensively on our trip in 1985, but we were both so wiped out from the heat and the humidity that we just couldn’t face the tube again. And since we started out from our hotel relatively late, it was at least a little cooler walking around the corner.
Why is it that restaurants that have non-smoking sections in this town have the non-smoking section in the back? The food was good, but getting to and from the street was a smoke bath. Andrew wanted to check out a place near the South Kennsington tube station that advertised itself as selling “cookies” which he thought was odd for the area (since every other cookie we’ve seen has been called a “biscuit”), but I was tired so I just came back and collapsed.
The hotel room is absolutely not as cool as I remember.
Tomorrow is for the London Zoo.
11 and 12 June (Sunday and Monday)
There is definitely something not right with this air conditioning. Woke up this morning hot. Not overwhelmingly hot, but still too damn warm for a room with the AC set to 15C (no, I don’t know what that is fahrenheit). Tepid shower, minimal clothing and a trip to the Cafe Forum for our morning OJ and croques in some lovely air conditioning. Long discussion about whether we are going to brave the zoo or if we’re going to punk out and find a nice air conditioned museum somewhere. I don’t know about the Victoria and Albert, but I’m convinced that the British Museum would be air conditioned.
The point is moot, we decided on the zoo anyway. The Picadilly Line is closed today (essential engineering works, please pardon my French) so we took the Circle Line to Euston and then got the Northern Line to Camden Town. The week long transit passes have absolutely proved their worth. One sweaty walk from the Camden Town tube station to Regent’s Park which is where the London Zoo is. Once again, the Great British Heritage passes won’t let us in.
By far, the London Zoo is the most commercial of all the zoos we’ve seen this trip. This is absolutely set up to be a tourist draw and is a little disappointing actually. They’ve made huge improvements over what I remember from 1985, there’s a lot less of the “concrete pit with an island in the center surrounded by a moat” type exhibit and a lot more in the way of natural environments, but the exhibits are still primarily designed to show off the animals instead of being comfortable living quarters. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy myself. Our first stop was the reptile house where we were enchanted by the Egyptian tortoises, these cute little wind up toy critters all of about 3 inches across. It was tortoise feeding time and they stick their tongues out when they eat. Really hard to get good photos inside the reptile house, the light just isn’t right. I did end up with a photo (I’m not sure how well it’ll turn out) of the enclosure featured in Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone where Harry first talks to a snake. Absolutely impossible to get a photo of the enclosure without people in front of it, but I’m sure they keep the python amused.
Lovely walk through aviary. Scarlet Ibis sharing space with several Australian species because they’re re-doing their African small animal exhibits and they needed a place to keep the Scarlet Ibis (I guess the Scarlet Ibis count as African small animals in this case).
Really stinkin’ hot.
Drinking LOTS of water. Ooo! Small mammal house! An enormous concrete barn of a place, dim inside with just the noise of a few pigeons and other bird like trills coming out of the doors. No sounds of other humans. Shade!
Actually almost deserted building. Open doors on all four sides, but these lovely thick concrete walls made it very cool inside. And since there weren’t any animals easily visible, there were only three or four other people. Quick rest on the cool concrete benches then a wander about to find that the bird like trills are coming from a display chockablock with a small species of monkey (I don’t remember the type) and another exhibit with Gentle Lemurs. Obviously temporary exhibits, but the critters were the most active of any that we saw all day since they were also the coolest.
Asian lion exhibit (I didn’t know there was an Asian subspecies of lion) where the lions were notable for their lack of activity (to the dismay of the general public) and then another quick bench in the shade stop outside the bug exhibit. No interest whatsoever in going into a building that contained approximately half the current child guests of the zoo (also no indication that the building was air conditioned) so we wandered past the bugs to the butterfly garden exhibit (a lovely garden) and past the British Field Cricket pen. No kidding. Little sign on the fence thanking Volvo for sponsoring that particular section of garden and the British Field Crickets. You think I’m kidding. Go look at the photos then.
Hah! Dude wandering on the trail ahead of us in the butterfly garden noticed me watching him as he was trying to get off the path and pick the ripe seed heads off the poppies. They were standard field poppies i.e. they weren’t opium poppies which is, I am convinced, why he was trying to rip them off. As I said he noticed me watching him, stopped what he was doing abruptly then stepped back onto the path and walked briskly elsewhere shooting one or two glances back over his shoulder at me. I’m POSITIVE he was trying to sneak the seed heads off those poppies in the hopes that they contained raw opium. Did he really think that they’d have planted opium poppies without knowing what they were? There I go again, assuming that most people think on a regular basis.
It was feeding time at the bird house. The Hyacintihine Macaws were making one heck of a ruckus and there was an African Ground Hornbill snorking down on a pile of dead rodents much to the disgust of the little girl that was watching him. I love going to zoos for the animals, I also love watching the responses of my fellow animals to the natural behaviors exhibited by the critters in the exhibits. People can be remarkably amusing (irritating, dumb, and painfully mindless, but amusing nonetheless) sometimes.
The butterfly exhibit is housed in an inflatable caterpillar. We sadly didn’t get any photos of the caterpillar itself, but you walk in the mouth end and walk out the other end. It’s green with black mouth parts, big red eyes, and little spikes around the mouth……. a very passable imitation really. Looked a lot like the caterpillar from the children’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. And signs outside the door noting that it will be hotter and more humid inside. Man, they weren’t kidding. We got some great photos, but it was a challenge keeping the camera lens from fogging up and it was wringing wet in there. On the whole I think Woodland Park puts on a much more impressive butterfly exhibit, there are a lot more species involved at Woodland Park but this one was still pretty neat.
Came out of the butterflies and ended up stopping to change camera lenses in front of the pond where they keep the pelicans. Overwhelming smell of fish and a dozen or more grey herons (plus a couple of cormorants) without leg bands. All the pelicans had leg bands. None of the herons or cormorants did. I absolutely hope that they were opportunists poaching a free meal.
Boneless, aimless walking through the gift shop and into the African exhibit. River otters and a woman banging on the glass just above a sign saying “please don’t rap on the glass it hurts my ears” trying to attract the attention of the otter swimming around in his pond. Meerkats in their desert exhibit and the same ninnyhammer whistling and clapping her hands at one of the meerkats that was taking a nap in the shade by the wall. The next time she takes a nap I hope her phone rings about seventeen times. A beautifully dim and relatively cool exhibit with Aye-aye, one of the most endangered mammals on the planet and this same wonderful specimen of humanity whanging on the glass trying to attract the attention of one of them who was much more interested in an orange than looking at her. I hope the next time she sits down to a quiet dinner the Jehovah’s Witnesses come to her door.
Did I say I occasionally enjoy my fellow humans and their behavior at zoos? It’s only very occasionally. Most of the time I want to kick people in the shins.
But I’m cranky, it’s been hot.
And humid. Did I mention humid?
Wandered out past the zebra and giraffe exhibit. They’ve got a wonderful walkway over the exhibit that has giraffe feeding stations on some of the support poles. Has to be pretty cool to be able to look up from a footbridge and have a giraffe feeding just above you.
Around the bend to the (sleeping in a cool mudhole) warthog exhibit and the complaint that I heard from a pair of tourists with heavy southern (American) accents “Why are they all asleep? Why aren’t they doing anything?” Well really. If you were covered in hair at this temperature and you were given the opportunity to sleep in the cool shade or dance around “doing something?” wouldn’t you take the opportunity to nap in the middle of the afternoon? Honestly.
Really, really humid.
I am my mother’s daughter. For years, until remodeling projects improved the airflow through the upstairs of their house a good deal, when the heat of summer would hit my mother would retire to the basement to wait out the heat in the relatively cool basement and be grouchy. Mom has never gotten along well with extreme heat or humidity, and as I mature I can see a good deal of the wisdom in that position. I was REALLY grouchy at the London Zoo.
The African hunting dogs were also doing a quite remarkable impression of being dead. Big pile of them, all blissfully asleep in a huge gangly tangle of ears and legs, in the corner of their pen that was in the shade. Some really great photos.
Crossed the footbridge over the Prince Albert canal to the flight cage with storks and kites and peacocks (for some odd reason), then along the far side of the zoo past their owl exhibits and a pair of kookaburras that had a sign on them for the staff noting “These birds are known to be aggressive, helmets and eye shields are available.” Looking at the beaks, I would have chosen the helmets and eye shields thank you very much.
Then out the turnstile and to the bus which, I discovered, would take us to the Baker Street tube station which meant that we didn’t have to transfer trains another time and it meant that we didn’t have to walk back to the Camden Town tube station in the heat. Altogether a desirable thing except that when the bus showed up and we got on we discovered that the seats were so close together front to back that Andrew literally couldn’t sit down.
Our last day touristing.
We were grateful to call it a day, but when we got back to the hotel we discovered (shudder) that the room was NOT cool. It wasn’t hot, but it wasn’t cool, and it wasn’t air conditioned. Muggy at best. Humid.
I wasn’t really hungry so I showered, napped, and started to get stuff packed up while Andrew showered, napped, and then went out in search of something to eat. We called the front desk and complained about the air conditioning.
When Andrew got back with his burger and a bottle of milk for me, housekeeping came by and asked if there was anything we needed. Since we hadn’t gotten any response from the front desk about our AC, we complained to him. He said he’d send someone right up.
An hour later we called the front desk again and were told we would talk to someone in maintenance who said he’d be right up.
An hour after that we called the front desk again and finally got some sort of flunky who said he’d send someone right up to fix the AC or he’d put us in another room. This call actually produced a real person who came in and agreed that it wasn’t 15C in our room. When we told him that the front desk had said they’d put us in another room he seemed a bit taken aback, but went to go talk to the night manager while we packed. It was now about 10:15 p.m.
By 11 the flunky was back, we were mostly packed and on our way to a room at the end of a dead end stairwell which, as it turned out, wasn’t any more air conditioned than the room we had just left.
It was a hot night.
A hot, damp night interrupted at 0545 by the television turning itself on with some sort of weird welcome message for us. I was too out of it to call the front desk and complain and I don’t think it would have done any good anyway so we shut it off and went back to sleep.
The plan was to wake up about 0930, finish packing and check out at the required 11 a.m. then go and get breakfast and find somewhere close that was air conditioned to wait for our taxi which was scheduled for 1445. Up. Humid.
Packed. Hot. Too damn many clothes planned for the trip. Strip down the layers, shed the socks and sneakers, trade out for the sandals.
Haul the bags downstairs, complain at length to the desk clerk about the air conditioning. He said that it wasn’t just us, that the whole hotel had been having problems. It seems that their AC system isn’t designed to handle the requirements of 100 plus rooms when it’s 87F outside with 70% humidity.
Note to self: When planning future trips, be sure to plan the time of year quite carefully, but also check on the availability and overall health of the hotel’s air conditioning systems.
We dragged ourselves to the Cafe Forum for breakfast. Andrew got another croque, I couldn’t stand the idea of anything hot so I stuck with croissants and OJ. We discussed where we were going to go to spend almost 4 hours and decided to wander back to the Wildlife Garden at the Natural History Museum. It’s a lovely little section of the grounds that they’ve terraformed into representative regional environments of Great Britain. They have fens, a pond, meadowland, chalk heaths, the works. It’s lovely. It’s shaded, and while there’s a good deal of traffic noise it’s really quite a pleasant place to be. It isn’t air conditioned, but we didn’t feel right about walking into Starbucks and leeching their air conditioning for four hours so we figured that this would be the best alternative.
It was closed. Or, to be more accurate, when we got there, it wasn’t open yet so we colonized a bench in the deep shade of some lovely mature chestnut trees on the grounds of the museum and just sat. Nice shade, nice breeze. So long as we weren’t doing anything particularly active it was very pleasant.
Pigeons to watch, a gardener along the front of the building to pity, and groups of school kids providing entertainment by wandering out into the grounds for their lunch and then discovering that someone had put a sprinkler on the lawn about twenty feet down from our bench. The first batch of kids were very (barely) restrained, only looking longingly at the sprinkler as they walked past. There was a second group sitting on the lawn behind us lunching and a third group wearing uniforms and, for some odd reason, pith helmets, walking past in front of us towards the wildlife garden (which was open by then). It was the kids in the pith helmets that broke everyone down. One kid just skirted the splash zone of the sprinkler, a second ran under it briefly, then it was a free for all. Kids in and out of the sprinkler, kids filling their pith helmets with water, kids sliding on the wet grass and their poor harassed teachers trying to round them all back up and get them to the wildlife garden for some further education. All the while this group of middle eastern-ish (lots of dark complexions, lots of girls in head scarves) looking group behind us sitting on the grass very demurely eating their sandwiches. Until the very last of the pith helmet kids walked past and then it was all over. Splashing, squealing, kids holding other kids in the spray and the comment of one woman walking past us who had been taking her lunch under a tree “I wish I could join them!” Their poor, poor teachers trying to keep all those white shirts from getting mud and grass stains as kids were flying over the sprinkler and making huge squashy bellyflops on the other side.
We packed up a little after 1 p.m. and went to the Starbucks for some air conditioning. Cooled down enough that we were at least comfortable by the time we got back to the hotel for the taxi.
Another lunatic behind the wheel of a (fortunately) mini-van. He said that the company had sent a Mercedes driver for us at 2 p.m. but we weren’t at the hotel so the Mercedes driver had come back and he had been sent out when the hotel called again at 2:30. I can’t imagine why the car company sent someone out at 2 since the concierge that called was very specific that we needed to be picked up at 2:45, but it worked out better anyway since we would have been distinctly uncomfortable in a Mercedes with all our luggage.
Quick zip to the airport, juggle at the check in to be able to upgrade to “World Traveller Plus” tickets and get wider seats on a bulkhead so we had MUCH more leg room. And then we sat. And sat. And sat.
Now for the record, I’m grateful that we sat in the air conditioned airport rather than having the airline stuff us on the plane to sit on the HOT tarmac, but sitting in an airport for 4 hours is one of my least favorite things to do. Turns out that when our plane came out of the hangar it was, for some reason, routed to the maintenance shed instead of the boarding gate. When maintenance figured out that there wasn’t anything to do to that plane they turned it around and started pushing it back to the departure gate. Then the tractor that was pushing the plane overheated and died leaving the plane stranded on the tarmac while they went to look for another tractor. By the time they found another tractor and got the airplane to the gate it was 43C inside the airplane and they couldn’t let us on until it was cooled down.
Two and a half hours.
We got our British Airways meal vouchers, five pounds to be used to purchase “light refreshment” which translated into two baguettes with brie, tomato and basil and two soft drinks for us and only one drink at the pub for the dude in line behind us who missed his connecting flight to Edmonton. Airports are particularly uninteresting places to be when you’ve spent the last three days overheated and you’re trying not to spend any money that will result in you getting any coins in change (the money changers will only purchase bills, not coin).
And for the record, British Airways World Traveller Plus is probably the way to go. Really considerably less cattle car than their coach section and not that much more expensive.
It took checking into a four star hotel for me to get a washcloth. Now granted, this four star hotel had faulty air conditioning, but washcloths there were a’ plenty. On the whole I think I’d rather have had better AC and no washcloths. Perhaps there’s some sort of mathematical formula.
If you bring canned haggis through US customs you will be subjected to agricultural inspection. Really. They were also interested, to the point of confiscation, in Andrew’s bacon pannini which he purchased for the flight but didn’t end up eating.
Sleeping 4 1/2 hours of a nine hour plane trip is one of the best ways I know to make it less painful. I wiped out after they fed us the not entirely inedible chicken casserole and while Andrew swears that he woke me up to drink something every time the stewardess came by with drinks, I only remember him waking me twice. I can’t say it was a great way to sleep, I remember a lot of jerking my feet around looking for someplace that was comfortable to put them, but since, when I woke up, we were less than two hours out from SeaTac I can’t really complain.
Our king size pillow topped mattress with the right number of pillows, the correct number and size of blankets, and a room around it with a window that opens and a ceiling fan, has got to be the most comfortable bed on the planet. It’s good to be home.