Tag Archives: London

The Ravens

10 Aug

My favorite part of the Tower of London is definitely the ravens. Finally, some real animals up in this joint instead of ones made out of wire and chained by their ankles with sad, pained looks on their faces. And ravens are total bad-asses, otherwise known as assholes, and if you read my blog, you know I have a long and storied experience with asshole animals. These birds don’t mess around: they eat raw meat, raw eggs, and the occasional “treat” of whole rabbits. Yum. And they are huge. Just look at that guy.

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But don’t misjudge them, there’s a softer side to the ravens, too. They mate for life, and that’s not a paltry commitment as they’re known to live a long time for bird-years. A raven named Jim Crow lived until he was 44 years old at the Tower. They can only be handled by their Yeoman Ravenmaster, who they consider to be another raven; anyone else would get their fingers taken off by their raven-beaks. Yeoman Ravenmaster: How’s that for a cool-as-hell  job title?

“What do you do for work?”

“I’m an accountant, you?”

“Oh, nothing much. Just a Yeoman Ravenmaster at the Tower of London.”

“Oh, um. That’s cool. I mean, if you’re into that kind of thing.”

Bite me.

Bite me.

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Raven house

But why are there ravens at the Tower? Well there’s a pretty cool reason. As the helpful sign pictured below explained to me, the legend is that King Charles ordered that all the ravens who had decided to make the grounds of the Tower their home be destroyed because picky astronomer John Flamsteed complained that they were flying around and messing up his work. Astronomers can be so annoying, am I right? However, before the birds were killed, Charlie got wind that there was a prophecy that his kingdom and the Tower would fall without the protection of the birds. This prophecy is likely linked to the legend of the giant Bran, whose name means “raven.” Bran ordered that his head be cut off while he was dying in battle and it be buried to protect the kingdom. The ravens symbolize the giant’s strength, which is nice, as I’d much rather come and visit ravens then a severed head. Just saying.

Anything that has a legend behind it is automatically awesome.

Anything that has a legend behind it is automatically awesome.

I think the ravens and the legend surrounding them are pretty awesome. Shout out the marketing people at the Tower though: why don’t you sell raven stuffed animals at the gift shop? I would have left with like five of those buddies, and I highly doubt I’m the only one. Get your marketing team on that, stat. As it was, I was left buying my niece a princess wand, which I told her a real princess from a real castle in England gave to me for her. She took it from me very reverently, looked it over, and then promptly asked me why it had a price tag on it if a “real princess” gave it to her. Move over, animals. Little kids can be assholes, too

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The Tower of London

28 Jun

My next stop was the Tower of London, conveniently located within walking distance from my hotel and enabling me to avoid any tricky mass transit. A tourist site, you ask? When you’re well-traveled and fancy and first-class? Yes. Because I was a tourist, and my friends and I could dress it up with fancy champagne and dinners, but come on. I think I proved in my previous post that I, at least, wasn’t fooling anyone to the contrary. And the Tower of London has ravens. Sign me up.

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Older than my apartment building.

Older than my apartment building.

I’m not going to go into a bunch of traditional history on the place, because, well, Wikipedia that shiz. But it’s amazingly interesting and I hope I don’t have to be the one to tell you that. I had been there once before with my family when I was about fourteen and we took a great tour of the place, but this time around my friends and I had a very limited amount of time as we were due to high tea (how Londony can we get?). So we decided to basically speed walk through the place, bowling over small children and foreigners (of which I realize we were as well (foreigners, not small children) in order to see as much as possible in about forty minutes. Being an animal lover, the first thing I noticed was the wire mesh lions they had out front replicating actual lions that used to be prowling  the grounds. I paused to take about fifty pictures of these guys, which mystified my friends considering we were still outside of one of the most famous spots on the planet, but I mean, come on, guys, wire lions. Little did I know, these were the first of the wire animals we’d encounter on our journey.

My three new best friends

My three new best friends

The entrance: I like any decorator who incorporates unicorns in a classy way.

The entrance: I like any decorator who incorporates unicorns in a classy way.

Our attempt at a selfie with the unicorn crest behind us. As you can tell, we missed the crest entirely and we look GORGEOUS. Well done, us.

Our attempt at a selfie with the unicorn crest behind us. As you can tell, we missed the crest entirely and we look GORGEOUS. Well done, us.

Once inside the castle, we raced up tiny stone stairs that twisted up skinny spiral stairwells and looked out thin, rectangular windows. It’s really stunning to stop and realize that you’re touching stone and tile that is so amazingly old. It takes your breath away. So does trying to beat a group of French tourists to the site of King Henry VI’s death, let me tell you. But we managed.

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He became king at nine months old, the youngest person ever to become king of England. Seems like a lot of pressure if you ask me. I know I wasn’t doing much of anything at nine months, and no offense to Kate and Wills, but George doesn’t seem like he’s ready for that kind of commitment, so good on Henry VI.

I’ll pause here to provide you with the beauty shot of Tower Bridge.

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You’re welcome. But I don’t know why you’d want to see that when you can see…

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An elephant! A wire elephant! Now, I need to admit to you, dear reader, that it was about this point in the day where I got a little wacky. There were signs that simply read “Elephant” with arrows leading us down stairs and around paths, and for some reason, I really thought there was going to be a real elephant in the Tower of London. And if you’ve been reading along with the postings about this trip and haven’t yet concluded that I am a real and true moron, now is where you will finally give up and decide that I am mentally deficient. Thank you for your faith and sorry to have disappointed you. I actually argued with my friends, telling them that NO I was sure there was going to be a live elephant at the end of these signs. And when we found the above wire elephant? I had a brain freeze and still thought maybe he was the entrance to where the real elephant was living. I honestly have no excuse for this other than possible alcohol poisoning. It wasn’t until we saw the below sign that my friends read to me very slowly like one would to a child that I finally understood our large wired friend was the only pachyderm I’d be seeing that day.

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It seems that King Louis IX of France made of gift of an elephant, as one does, to King Henry III, in 1255, to which Henry decried “Make a building without delay at the Tower for the King’s elephant, 40 feet long and 20 feet wide.”  Well. I suppose if that was in the year 1255, he’d be one old ass elephant to still be hanging around.

Next up was the Crown Jewels, which we almost left without seeing because the line was as long as the new “in” brunch spot in Soho, but we toughed it out and got to see some of the fanciest glittery-sparklies you’ve ever laid eyes on. This, however:

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Get your mind out of the gutter.

Was the only photo I could take or else I’d end up imprisoned in the Tower myself.

And wait! There’s more! One last wired friend! Sad Bear, who I named because he was a sad looking bear and he made me sad when I looked at him. Deep thoughts, I know. Just look at that ankle chain. Yes, I realize he is made of wire. But he represents a real bear who was once chained by his ankle at the Tower of London. And yes, I realize there are many other, worse atrocities that were committed at the Tower, to humans, but… he’s a bear. With a sad face.

 

Sniff. I can’t go anywhere. This chain is like a foot long. Plus, I’m made of wire.

Sniff. I can’t go anywhere. This chain is like a foot long. Plus, I’m made of wire.

And on that lovely note, we leave the Tower of London, because you have read enough and my friends and I had a tea to get to. What’s that you say? I promised ravens? I did! You are correct. But because I am strange and I love ravens, I am saving the Ravens of the Tower for their very own post. And unlike the elephant and all the other wire animals in this one, the ravens are decidedly alive.

Underground

4 May

The first photo of my trip on my “real” camera and not my phone is of  glasses of champagne, which is definitely suiting. This whole trip was a celebration. Though I’d be working many days while there, I was also going to be seeing some of my best friends in the world, visiting places I had always wanted to see, and watching one of my favorite people ever get married to an awesome man. Champagne was definitely called for.

It started with champagne.

It started with champagne.

London was my first stop. While there, I was staying across town from my friends, as I was in a hotel near my office. This left it up to me to figure out how to navigate mass transit. Living in Manhattan for more than a decade, this wasn’t something I was worried about. Look, they had friendly signs that said “Subway” and clearly marked the stairs to show me where to go.

"Go here, stupid American." Or, don't...

“Go here, stupid American.” Or, don’t…

“But wait,” I thought, “don’t they call their transit system the tube, or the underground, or something properly Britishy?” I dismissed my thoughts and figured they must cater to tourists and call it the subway in some signs. Sure, that made sense. And I proceeded to walk down approximately one million stairs, where I was faced with a tunnel about a block long. I walked through said tunnel, where I was confronted with one million stairs going up. Okay then, London, I’ll do you. I marched up the stairs confidently and found myself back outside. Confused and blinking like a mole in the not-even-that-sunny London sun, I looked around to get my bearings. This looked familiar.

Hm. This looks familiar.

Hm. This looks familiar.

I’m extremely ashamed to admit what happened next. I actually went BACK down the stairs, through the tunnel, UP the other stairs, came back outside again, turned around blinking and confused in the unsunny sun, again, and only then did I finally realize that in London, “subway” meant “underground passageway you walk through under the street so you don’t have to worry about getting hit by cars while crossing the street.” I think it is also British slang for “Americans are morons.” I then acted like I didn’t just cross the street underground twice and walk up and down two flights of stairs four times and swallowed my tourist pride and asked the next person walking by where the tube was, and I was on my way.

The London Underground. A cooler logo and name than NYC’s “subway.”

The London Underground. A cooler logo and name than NYC’s “subway.”

With the help of some abiding locals and my hotel-provided map, I’m happy to say that I did, eventually, find my way to a train, and ultimately, dinner with my friends.

Thank you, tube, for taking me to my friends and food. And more champagne.

Thank you, tube, for taking me to my friends and food. And more champagne.

 

 

First Class: My Trip Begins

25 Mar

After much waiting and planning, the night was here. I was off, ready to laugh euphemisms in the face and mix business with pleasure. I was going to visit and work from my company’s London and Dublin offices, while fitting vacation days in between for sightseeing in both England and Ireland and, perhaps most exciting of all, seeing my friends marry each other in a castle in Scotland. I lugged my over-packed suitcase and bursting carryon bag down my three-flight walk-up with a “Let’s get this started” attitude. And then I panicked, because the car sent by my company to pick me up wasn’t there.

“He says he’s right in front of your apartment, ma’am,” a bored dispatcher squawked into my cell phone.

“Well, I’m right in front of my apartment, and he’s not here,” I said, trying to quell my nerves. I am not good with being late. I don’t do late. Especially for things like international flights.

“He’s on the corner, he says. Black Expedition SUV.”

“Well I don’t live on the corner, and I didn’t order an SUV, I just wanted a regular car” I muttered and began to drag my bags down the street, sweating profusely. There was a black Expedition SUV just like he said, but as I limped my way over to it I saw that a man in jeans was sitting in the passenger seat with the door open, looking at me suspiciously. Not exactly the welcome you expect from a professional driver. I’d already over-committed in my walk towards him, though, and as he awkwardly stared at me I mumbled “Sorry, the car company told me to look for a black Expedition SUV…”

“Ah. Well, I’m not your driver,” he laughed at me as a woman came out of the nearby bodega with sodas and handed one to him. “She wants us to take her to the airport,” he said to her, laughing more.

“I do not! I just…” and then I saw the other Expedition, across the street, a whole block and a half from being in front of my apartment. “Never mind.” I hauled my luggage into oncoming traffic like the New Yorker I am and cursed at cars as if it was their fault they almost hit me and finally made my way. I started to relax, and decided to document that fact.

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The face of someone who was sent a much more expensive car than ordered and is not being charged for it.

When I finally got to JFK, I waited a few minutes in a long line to check my bag before I saw a sign for premium economy check-in. Since it was a long, overnight flight, my company sprang for premium economy. I asked the JFK worker standing nearby, “Should I be over there if I’m flying premium economy?” Sometimes, I like to ask dumb questions.

“Of course!” he smiled and came over, took my suitcase for me, and led me to the quickly moving line. Am I still at JFK? I thought? This guy is carrying my luggage for me? I was immediately whisked through line, and after the usual dance of taking things in and out of pockets and feet in and out of shoes at security, I was on the plane before I knew it. I seated my economy ass in my seat in ‘prem econ,’ which was what I was now calling it in my head like it was some sort of college course all my friends took while I was taking Poetry by Lovers or something else ridiculous. I was handed a tiny mini wee glass of Prosecco and I suddenly felt the urge to hide the Doritos I bought in the airport from my dashing seat-neighbor. For shame.

I watched with limited curiosity as a bumbling couple barely made it onboard before the flight attendants closed the door. They were probably in their late thirties, and they stood in the aisle staring at their tickets, seemingly annoyed at not being seated with each other. Actually, the man looked relieved; the woman looked annoyed… at life. She made a dramatic show of getting her things out of her man’s bag, asking him where her water was and this and that. At least, I thought she was; I could blessedly barely hear her as I already had earplugs in my ears due to a recent double ear infection, and I wasn’t looking forward to feeling what take-off was going to do to me. I’m totally cheap though and bought the pharmacy brand, so I could hear her a bit. And the next thing I knew, what she was saying was “Now I need to find my seat,” and she marched right over to me.

“That’s my seat,” she informed me, as if she made it herself.

“Excuse me?” I said, slowly. I was acting like English was not my first language. I struggled to get my hand out of the Doritos (really? I couldn’t wait until we left the ground?) while simultaneously trying to sit my baby Prosecco glass down and get my earplugs out of my ears. “I have a ticket for this seat,” I said, sounding a lot less positive about that fact than I actually was.

“Well, so do I.” Was she really standing there with her hand on her hips, challenging me? People actually stood like that? Well, game on, lady. You are not getting my Prosecco shot glass.

“Well, I suggest you get a flight attendant then to take care of this, because I am not moving.” You go, me. You sit there with your orange stained fingers. She huffed and puffed and got a flight attendant, who asked me to produce my ticket. I felt like I had won the lottery when I saw that I was indeed in the correct seat (I had completely started doubting myself as soon as I saw the flight attendant headed towards me). And the challenger, little miss You’re In My Seat? Admitted that she was flying standby when she was given the same seat as me. Information that would have been useful five minutes ago when you were trying to scare me out of my comfortable little pre-booked spot, lady.

Flight attendant: “OK, unfortunately, this seat has been double booked. Ms. Prozac, if you’ll just get up and come with me, we’ll get that taken care of for you. Ms. Azzhole (shockingly, not her real name), you can have a seat.”

Me: (Loses it, gets squeaky voice) “ME?! I have to get up? I have a ticket for this seat! Why do I have to get up? I’ve done nothing wronnnnnng!” (Yelling like I’m being dragged to jail for a crime I haven’t committed, seeing my one chance at a nice plane seat being taken from me. They were moving me because of the Doritos, weren’t they?)

Ms. Azzhole: (Smirks hautily.)

Flight attendant: Someone will get your things for you, miss, I promise you will be comfortable.

Defeated, I follow her solemnly… forward. What’s this? Forward. Why are we going to the front of the plane? There’s nothing up front but… I quickly turn to look at Ms. Azzhole settling down in the seat she fought so hard for and say “Are you taking me to FIRST CLASS?” as loudly as possible, and the heavenly flight attendant confirms that yes, in fact, she is, and she’s sorry for the inconvenience. BooYAH, lady. That’s what you get for sucking at life.

I’d like to say that I acted like a normal human being in first class, but instead I admit to committing the following indiscretions:

  •          I giggled with happiness for at least the first half hour
  •          I stared at a grown-ass woman who sucked her thumb the whole flight
  •          I found myself saying things like “crisps” and “loo” even though I hadn’t even made it to the UK yet and I am decidedly not Madonna
  •          When asked what kind of wine I wanted, I asked if they had white. Really? REALLY? Not if they had Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc, but white. I was assured that they did. Many varieties, in fact.
  •          I tried to turn my seat into a bed without help even though it says to ask for help. I needed help.
  •          I took the following photos. I don’t know why they are all purple.

 

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Thumbs-upping myself because I am cool.

Champagne in a glass larger than a shot glass.

Champagne in a glass larger than a shot glass.

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Chips that are not Doritos. Oh. I mean ‘crisps’.


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Dinner and a movie. I wish I stole the mini plane salt and pepper shakers. But stealing is bad.

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Cheese plate dessert.

 

All told, I arrived in London happy, well-fed, and fairly drunk. I filled out the customs form incorrectly, likely due to the amount of alcohol they kept handing me on the plane (it’s their fault!) and had an unintentionally contentious back and forth with the customs agent about my hair color as it was a very different shade on my passport. Apparently “That’s because I’m a spy” isn’t a funny or witty reply, however commenting on how a woman dyes her hair isn’t exactly proper British decorum, either, now is it? Regardless, they let me into their lovely land and the shenanigans continued from there.  Next stop? London.