A Breakfast By Any Other Name

(fill in the blank) Breakfast

(fill in the blank) Breakfast

While in the UK and Ireland, we’ve stayed in numerous of bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) and guesthouses.  As the second B implies, the room also comes with breakfast in the morning.  More often than not, breakfast isn’t merely yogurt and cereal but a hot, cooked breakfast usually consisting of sausage, bacon, beans, an egg, tomato, and toast.  Sometimes you also get black pudding; sometimes you get hashbrowns or mushrooms.  Sometimes the tomato is missing.

Before arriving in the islands, we’d heard these referred to as “English” breakfasts.  Imagine our surprise when we got to Wales and saw “Welsh breakfast” on the menu.  “Neat!” we thought.  We were interested in trying something different.  The difference?  Absolutely nothing but name.  Sausage, bacon, egg, tomato, mushroom, beans, and black pudding.  As we continued traveling, the same held true for “Scottish” and “Irish” breakfasts.  Well, the latter sometimes included Irish pancakes, but that was the only difference.

That said, we found that the biggest B&B faux pas one could commit is to call that breakfast by any other name.  We saw this in action in Scotland when an unfortunate Englishman asked for a full “English” breakfast in the dining room.  The host paused, laughed, and asked “Scottish breakfast?” while fellow diners looked over and snickered derisively.  The poor guy stammered and giggled and managed a “oh, yes, Scottish breakfast, of course”.

You wouldn’t think the regional name of a breakfast would be a big deal (and perhaps it isn’t), but it seems more of a reflection of regional pride and a need to distinguish one’s area from the former mother country of England.  We have observed and often commented between ourselves about the general attitudes of both British subjects and the Irish.  It’s a broad generalization, but here it is anyway:  the Welsh, Scots, and Irish have a deeply-rooted suspicion and dislike for the English, and the English hold a general disdain for anyone not English.  The latter seems subtle in everyday life, but the former is a matter of pride and usually worn on one’s sleeve.  We heard anti-English comments regularly outside of England.

Before visiting Europe, I never knew that Continental breakfast referred to the kind of breakfast you usually find on the “continent”– pastries, muffins, bread, and tea/coffee.  As we leave the islands tomorrow, I will indeed miss the breakfasts, especially the egg part.  😉  More than that, though, I am going to miss these countries.  They are jam-packed with history and culture, and I have had a great time.  Hope to get back again soon.

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions

Galway Tourist

Quick note: lots of pics in this post, so please forgive us if it loads slowly.

As Charity mentioned, Ireland is the Coach Isle.  As we do not have a rental car to go sightseeing, when we reached Galway, we decided to set up basecamp and use the city as a jumpoff point for tours– something we only did in Salzburg with the Sound of Music tour.  Luckily for us, we found that Galway had a few larger tour companies that would take us to places we’d heard of from Rick Steves.  After just a bit of research, we settled upon the Galway Tour Company because of its very favorable reviews on TripAdvisor.

We went on the Connemara and Cong Tour first.  Between acres of 40 shades of green, we visited an abandoned friary, observed a stone circle and burial cairn from afar, and risked our hides dodging killer sheep to get some spectacular lake valley pics…

Reading nook at the Ross Errily Friary

Reading nook at the Ross Errily Friary

Medieval fish tank in the kitchen-- a constant stream of fresh water flowed through the tank.  Clever!

Medieval fish tank in the kitchen– a constant stream of fresh water flowed through the tank. Clever!

Connor -- hilarious and awesome driver/guide

Connor — hilarious and awesome driver/guide

Lough Nafooey.  Also we're being watched by gangs of killer sheep.

Lough Nafooey. Also we’re being watched by gangs of killer sheep.

Peat bogs: source of heat and former major revenue for Ireland

Peat bogs: source of heat and former major revenue for Ireland

Kylemore Abbey - a 19th century "castle" built by a very rich guy for his beloved wife.  For the last 100 years, it has been an elite boarding school, currently in its last year of instruction.  Transitioning to a tourist attraction.

Kylemore Abbey – a 19th century “castle” built by a very rich guy for his beloved wife. For the last 100 years, it has been an elite boarding school, currently in its last year of instruction. Transitioning to a tourist attraction.

The next day, we went on the Cliffs of Moher and The Burren tour.  The Cliffs have a new visitors center… and lots of walls to keep the tourists from going towards the edge.  Yes, folks, people have actually gone over the edge on accident, and now, there is a park ranger watching for fence jumpers.  For the Potter fans out there, the Cliffs of Moher were used in The Half-Blood Prince.  Besides the incredible Cliffs, the tour included a castle, an archaeological national park, an ancient wedge tomb, and a fairy fort…

Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle - closed to tourists for the season

Dunguaire Castle – closed to tourists for the season

Corcomroe Abbey

Corcomroe Abbey

Cliffs of Moher - facing south

Cliffs of Moher – facing south

Cliffs of Moher - facing north

Cliffs of Moher – facing north

Not walled like the other areas, so a gentle warning

Not walled like the other areas, so a gentle warning

Ballyalban Fairy Fort and our intrepid guide, Decklin

Ballyalban Fairy Fort and our intrepid guide, Decklin

During our many coach rides, Gaelic Storm popped up and really set the mood for our trip.  We’ve been fans ever since they performed at Borders Ward Centre (where we worked) over a decade ago.  An American Celtic band, they rocked the house and probably still do.  I would highly recommend catching them if they are ever in your town.  With that, here’s Hills of Connemara:

http://youtu.be/37OCRq8Sjfg

Update: this was originally an Imeem link, but Imeem shut down in 2009.

Free Derry – no seriously, free Derry already

Before setting off on our Irish adventure, we had identified a few towns and sites that we really wanted to see.  Rick Steves had a show on Northern Ireland and let us know about this little town known as Londonderry.  It had these great murals from an uprising incident sometime in the past and would be an interesting town to visit.  Oh yeah, and the guidebook we picked up mentioned endearingly that it was the only town in Ireland to remain fully-walled with its original safeguards.

Before arriving in Londonderry, we spent a few nights in the town of Portrush and when asked by locals where we were going next, we’d get some interesting responses to “Londonderry”.  One younger woman told me to be careful of going out at night because there are sections of the town that are not safe – and even areas where the police aren’t allowed to enter.  She went further to tell me about the roving gangs of young men playing a game of 7-up in which they select the 7th person they encounter on the street and beat them bloody – two of her friends had this happen to them and lost teeth over it.  But she assured me “it really is a nice city”.  Ummm… Ok…..  Then, when we told our B&B host in Portrush where we were going next, she told us – “it’s a horrible city” and convinced us to stay in Portrush for one more night.  So, we approached the city a bit wary but still interested in learning more about it.

We knew that it was an unsettled city – that it still showed signs of The Troubles – that it was the scene of a clash between London police and civilians in what is known as Bloody Sunday.  We knew that we needed to learn more about all of it to understand the forces that have shaped the city over the years.  Lucky for us, the tourist information center where we booked our B&B placed us right in the center of it all in a neighborhood known as the Bogside and about one street over from where the Bloody Sunday massacre took place in 1972.  We knew we had to check out the area and the Museum of Free Derry.  After visiting and seeing the neighborhood, we’ve never called it Londonderry again.  It is Derry and deserves to be free – free from British rule and a part of the Irish Republic.  Our visit to Derry left an indelible impression on us – we hope that you’re interested enough to learn a little more about it and that you find the images we captured a portal to that understanding.

I know, a bit heavier than our normal post but what can I say?  When you meet the brother of one of the assassinated, it is heavy.

A monument that remains - a testament of the people's will for a Free Derry!  It was once the side of a multi-unit housing development and is now free standing.

A monument that remains - a testament of the people's will for a Free Derry! It was once the side of a multi-unit housing development and is now free standing.

A photo from the Bloody Sunday uprising - this banner is smeared with the blood of an unarmed young man who was shot by the police.

A photo from the Bloody Sunday uprising - this banner is smeared with the blood of an unarmed young man who was shot by the police.

This same banner is on display in the museum - a reminder of the slaughter of 13 innocents that bloody Sunday.

This same banner is on display in the museum - a reminder of the slaughter of 13 innocents that bloody Sunday.

This mural depicts the banner on the ground over the body of one of the boys while another wounded is carried off for treatment with the priest waving the white flag of surrender - he was shot too.

This mural depicts the banner on the ground over the body of one of the boys while another wounded is carried off for treatment with the priest waving the white flag of surrender - he was shot too.

This mural of peace is just over the area where the massacre took place.  The sign next to it calls for the release of people imprisoned without trial indefinitely - a practice that happened to people in the neighborhood since the 1920s.

This mural of peace is just over the area where the massacre took place. The sign next to it calls for the release of people imprisoned without trial indefinitely - a practice that happened to people in the neighborhood since the 1920s.

IMG_9659

In 1998 after years and years of pleading, a report was commissioned on the actions that took place on Bloody Sunday. It was supposed to be released IMG_9659in 2003 and since then has been repeatedly delayed. It is currently scheduled for March 2010 but one seriously wonders if it ever will be - by all accounts, it can only be a damning of the police and soldiers involved showing the blatant slaughter of unarmed civilians.

The Coach Isle

I know, I know — Ireland is supposed to be The Emerald Isle and not the Coach Isle and truly, it is green – very green — there are at least forty different shades of it – just ask Johnny Cash.  But truly, allow me the indulgence of temporarily re-branding the poetic name as is more accurate.

We’ve been on the island of Ireland and Northern Ireland for about two weeks now, arriving first in Belfast in the north and making our way south around the two countries and finally to Dublin.

Before we left Seattle to begin our journey we purchased two Eurorail passes, one universal country that has already been used and the second, a four country pass including Spain, France, Benelux, and Ireland.  What a total waste of money!  There is no real, connecting rail system in Ireland.  We’ve been able to take the trains just twice.  Once from Belfast to Portrush in the north and the second time from Killarney to Dublin – which is where we actually initiated our pass because otherwise it would have cost us nearly 70 euro each for the privilege of the four and a half hour journey.  By bus it would have taken six hours.

Most of the smaller towns in Ireland (and most of them are smaller towns in Ireland) are not even connected by rail whether due to an overall lack of infrastructure or, in Derry’s case, intentional governmental moves to punish them and reward the nearby unionist towns.

We spent a lot of time debating about whether or not to rent a car in Ireland or if we should just bus it.  None of our credit cards would cover car rentals on the island and buying the comprehensive coverage would have doubled the cost of renting.  Ireland has one of the highest per capita number of car accidents and the roads are truly horrendous.  We liked to joke about how they took a one lane road and turned it into two.  When they thought to add a stripe down the middle the road looks just like a bicycle lane.  Seriously.

Watching the tour buses and tourist cars playing chicken was funny – but only when you’re on the tour bus.  Oh yeah and I lost count of how many times the tour bus went around a hair-raising horseshoe turn overlooking a cliff with no guard rails.  To save ourselves the stress of driving and navigating these tiny roads, we opted for public transit and coach tours to see the more remote sites on the island.  Most of the “in-between” rides we had to take took about five hours – yes five hours – on a bus.  Now, I’ve done some bus traveling in my days – about 32 hours between San Antonio, TX and Spartanburg, SC by Greyhound.  But still.  It was a bit crazy and there were times I had to fight back motion sickness but we made it.  We did at least five or six days of straight bus travel with a combination of these five hour journeys on public buses combined with day trips to remote locations that last about eight hours and yes – we paid about the same for all of them – between 23 and 25 euros per person, whether guided or not.

So, I have just a little bit of advice to give.  If you go to Ireland, do not waste your money on a Eurorail pass and think twice or even thrice before renting a car, but be prepared to spend a lot of time on a bus – it is the Coach Isle after all.

Not-So Easyjet – Part 1

We booked our trip to Belfast from London with EasyJet out of Stanstead in an effort to save a few pounds and arrive at a decent time.  With the flight leaving at 11:55 am, we were off to the airport via Underground and then 45-minute train ride from Liverpool Street at 9 am.  We made our connections beautifully and arrived at the airport by 10:30 with plenty of time to get through security and have a cup of coffee before the flight.

When we approached the EasyJet check-in area, we were shocked to see the long, snaking line of people waiting to check-in and then noticed a separate counter open just for our flight that was nearly empty — what a lucky day, we thought!  As all airlines and planes are different, and we are very hesitant to allow our bags to leave our sight (since they carry all of our worldly belongings), we had originally determined that we would save the £5 and take them on-board with us.  However, when we asked the attendant if they would fit on the plane, she suggested they wouldn’t and said we should check them.  Okay, well – we didn’t really want to deal with the hassle of check-in at boarding if they didn’t fit, so we went with it and agreed to check.  Well, at the counter, we were shocked to find the cost had risen to £18 each (vs. the £5 when buying our tickets online) but still went forward to be in compliance with airline requirements.  After a few quick adjustments, the customer service agent informed us that the plane had been delayed by two hours.  We were still okay with that, as we’re really flexible and figured we’d just hang out and read and talk story to pass the time – no biggie.  The attendant offered to provide us with a food voucher for our trouble but was kind of embarrased to tell us it was only for £3 each.  We thought, that’s okay – at least we can pay for coffee.

We went through security without issue and spent some time perusing the shopping options inside the airport.  Since we would be arriving in Belfast much later than planned, we decided to go have some lunch to pass the time.  That’s when we saw that the flight was again delayed by another half-hour.  *sigh*  Oh well – more coffee and reading before the flight.  While enjoying our Starbucks, we saw the flight had been delayed another 15 minutes to 2:35 pm.  We finally boarded at around 2:50 pm and joined the rest of the cattle in the queue for seats next to one another, since they are not assigned.  The flight was without incident – and yes, I did note that our bags would likely have fit in the overhead with no problems – but given the long delay, we were still thankful to have checked them and not to have been burdened with their weight.

When we arrived in Belfast, we were delighted to find the tourist information center open and empty so we could make transport and accommodation arrangements with them while waiting for our bags to arrive on the carousel.  Perfect!  We even high-fived on our way back to the carousel – pleased with our accomplishments and happy to finally be able to leave the airport at about 4:15 pm.

That’s when I began to feel like I was in a bad movie.  As I approached the carousel, I saw that Maylene’s bag was on the floor already – and open – you could see her clothes in it and things were kind of bursting out.  One of the airport attendants was standing next to it and, in a lovely Irish lilt, asked if it was mine.  I nodded, confused, and she said “The baggage attendant said it was stuffed and just burst so he didn’t want to put it on the carousel and have anything fall out of it.  I nodded and called Maylene over to take a look. I bent over and tried to zip up the bag but found that both zippers and the lock that held them together were missing – completely gone.  There was no way to seal the bag shut.  It was absolutely ruined.  The airport attendant asked if we wanted to file a claim for it and since it cost us $99.95 for the bag (the travel-specific Rick Steves’ Covertible Carry-On) plus another $9.95 for the flexi-lock, we thought this might be a good idea.  She told us where to wait for assistance from the baggage claims personnel and we went over there with the promise that someone would be available to help us in ten minutes or so.  Twenty minutes later, we summoned her again and even though she was clearly on her way home, she did tell us where we could find the Easyjet ticket office where we could report the loss.

At about 4:50 pm, we finally had someone to help us complete the claim.  We filled out the required paperwork and asked about the process of refunding the damage done to the bag.  While the sales attendants were very nice and understanding, they seemed to not completely understand the reimbursement process.  However, they were kind enough to explain that we would not only have to complete this documentation but would also be forced to send a copy of our itinerary, baggage tags, and a written complaint to EasyJet before anything further could be done for us.  Ridiculous since they have all of this same information and have everything needed to deal with our request but yet it’s another hoop for us to jump through made more difficult for being in a strange city where not only do we have to find an internet cafe to print and complete the required paperwork, but we now are also stuck in this town until we can find a replacement bag – at an inflated cost with the currency exchange differences.

We jerry-rigged the bag with Maylene’s belt, my scarf, and another bag strap and I walked behind her to the bus and from the bus station to the hotel to ensure nothing fell out of her bag – after taking on as much as I could into my bag, of course.

I can’t help but feel like I got ripped off today — I truly hope that EasyJet will do right by us but have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll never get a cent for our trouble.

The bag, as seen on Rick's website

The bag, as seen on Rick's website

The bag at the start of the trip in July

The bag at the start of the trip in July

The bag, complete with lock, on arrival in London

The bag, complete with lock, on arrival in London

The bag, post-Easyjet

The bag, post-Easyjet

Night at the Thee-Ah-Taaah

Charity and I recently got around to reading Wicked.  I’d heard about the book from friends, and of course, one could not escape the mega-commercial, gratuitous onslaught of the Broadway musical.  First season Ugly Betty fans, you know what I’m talking about.

Since arriving in London, we could not help but notice the ads everywhere for it in the West End.  I remember being a bit remorseful about missing it when it breezed through Seattle, and since we liked the book so much, we decided to go for it.  So we’d been on the lookout for discount tickets at the tkts counter nearly everyday.  No love, no love.  Occasionally, we’d check online, and see a few 15 pound seats available waaaaay up in the nosebleeds, but they were out when we finally broke down and went straight to the box office on Monday.  Going on Tuesday was out because we had an early morning on Wednesday.  We got a lucky break for the Wednesday night show, so we decided to spend our last night in London at the “thee-ah-tah”.

OK, if you’ve never read the book but have seen the musical, you should go ahead and read the book.  It poses some interesting philosophical questions and themes that I enjoyed discussing with Charity.  On the other hand, if you’ve already read the book, I’m not sure you will enjoy the musical.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  Unlike Charity, I am a musical fan.  Might be the dormant Drama Kid in me.  Who knows.  I just like musicals.  Love when TV shows have “the musical” episode (Scrubs, hello?).  That said, Wicked is a musical musical.  Seriously.  Not very much talking not-in-song anywhere in the program.  It was a little irritating at times, especially in the beginning.  It could also be that my irritation increased proportionally to how much they modified the story to fit the format.  Lots of chopping off storylines, characters morphed and merged, and of course, the storybook ending.  Gag.  OK, semi-gag.  I actually kinda liked it after all the tragedy upon tragedy upon “oh just give up on life already” tragedy of the book.  The book read like a Shakespearean tragedy.

Oh, and how could I forget about the Symphony of Sickness all around us.  I didn’t notice anything unusual other than Charity shrinking more and more into her seat as the play progressed.  At “half-time” (I know, I know that’s not what it’s called– I don’t care), Charity turned to me and said, “I feel like I’m in a sick ward.”  Apparently, she was getting coughed on from all directions, save mine (which reminds me:  time for more echinacea).  On my way back from the restroom, I had to run the Coughing Gauntlet– the tight space between the wall, the doors and the queue of women waiting to go.  Coughed all over me.  Good times.

So for the rest of the play, I was distracted with the full-on coughing from behind, the phleghmy, open-mouthed breathing of the guy next to Charity, and the symphony of coughing throughout the theatre.  A couple of times, I was shaking silently because the guy behind us was just obnoxiously coughing.  I wanted to hand him a Ricola and the other guy a tissue.  Probably should have.  Or maybe just wave my magic wand and make them go poof.  Charity kept catching the corner of my eye with her scarf over her face.  You’d think everyone had swine flu or something.  It was starting to make me paranoid.

All in all, it was a “wicked” night at the theatre.

OK, that last bit was Charity’s.  I take no credit.  What have you.

We’re Ready for Our Close-Up

We’ve been in the UK for about three weeks and managed to get hooked on three TV shows:
?    Strictly Come Dancing – the original _Dancing with the Stars_
?    Any random BBC documentary
?    The Wright Stuff

Now, we discovered The Wright Stuff pretty early on in our trip while getting ready for the day in Wells.  Yes, folks, we were watching morning programming and actually liked it.  Horrors!

The Wright Stuff is a national talk show with rotating guest panelists discussing current topics pulled straight from the morning papers with audience participation in the form of e-mails and tweets as well as the more traditional call-ins.  The topics are interesting, the discussion is usually lively and smart, and the host and guests are fun and entertaining.  We didn’t catch the show everyday but would switch on if we happened to be in our room between 9:15 and 10:45.

Thinking about our trip to London, I jokingly mentioned trying to get tickets to the show while in town.  Little did I know that Charity would go through with it and wrote to the show producers.

And goodness gracious, they actually enthusiastically replied!

Fast forward to yesterday, and it is the first really early morning we’ve had in ages.  The studio is in a mall about an hour by subway from our hotel, so we purposely avoided any night activities on Tuesday so that we could drag ourselves from bed before the crack of dawn.  We arrived to the mall at the appointed time and met the audience manager at Starbucks for paperwork and free coffee/tea.

Save for us, all the audience members seemed to be regulars to the show.  And what a motley crew they were– pensioners, oddballs, would-be starlets, celebrity chasers, and one rather tall transgendered woman wearing an interesting ensemble of fabulously long skirt, pantyhose, Keen’s closed-toed sandals, and wilderness survival t-shirt.  Sweet.  Definitely different from the three-hour wait we had when going to The Daily Show.  In fact, they seemed to have trouble with no-shows.

Since this is a live show, on the occasions when they do not have enough callers, e-mails, or tweets about certain topics, they question audience members for their opinions.  Of course, this is setup beforehand as part of the paperwork process.  We were to read the day’s topics and let the audience manager, Eric, know if we had anything to say about it.  Charity made it very clear from her first contact that she had no interest in participating.  So of course, Eric decided he was going to use her for topic #3, Manchester airport’s use of body scanners in the security area.  Hahaha!  He assured her that it would be a last resort sort of thing, but that didn’t stop her from sweating bullets and aiming the same at the back of his head when returning from commercial break to that topic.  I felt really bad for her, but made sure to give her a pep talk beforehand so she wouldn’t break down on the spot.

Luckily for her, opinions are like… well… `okole— everyone’s got one.  They had enough callers and tweets, so Charity was saved the pressure of speaking on British national television.  Whew.

The show was very well done, certainly running like a well-oiled machine.  Watching live was very close to watching on television.  Actually, I think the TV audience gets to see more since they discourage the studio audience from looking at the monitors in case the live shot switches to the handicam guy and everyone gets an awesome view of the boogers up your nose as you gawk up at the monitor.  There are a lot of cutaways to content you don’t see in studio (i.e. photos or videos of the subject matter).

Whenever they post our episode on YouTube, I’ll be sure to put up a clip.

Very, Very British

We were very excited to be in London – the capital of the United Kingdom and the center of it’s vast (or at least formerly vast) empire.   Being the unapologetic nerds that we are, we spent two afternoons at both the British Museum and the National Gallery.  We had a tremendous time and were very impressed with both the diversity of the collections and as well with the way they were presented.

Interior of the British Museum

Interior of the British Museum

The British Museum houses most of the archeological and cultural pieces from the empire and we were really impressed with how well it was all laid out.  Even though we spent two afternoons, we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to and had to cut out whole geographic areas.  One of the most impressive items we saw was the Rosetta stone – the stone that contained heiroglyphics, ancient Egyption script, and Greek writing and which was the key to unlocking and translating heiroglyhics.

IMG_9231

Of course, there were tons of Egyptian artifacts and mummies – makes you wonder what, if anything, is left in Egypt – especially when combined with our visit to New York’s museum.  I wonder if, like Greece, has recently begun to do with remnants from the Parthenon, if Egypt will begin to demand the return of their artifacts as well.

Statues from the Parthenon in Athens

Statues from the Parthenon in Athens

For being the British Museum, there was really not too much on early Britons or their culture, but what they did have was entirely fascinating – showing a rise from hunter/gatherer to farmer to Roman enclave to dominating empire (okay, they didn’t really explain how that happened but it was interesting nonetheless).

Another really great national treasure is the National Gallery where the best of pre-modern art is displayed (of course, no photos).  We quickly ran through the 1250-1500s – the baby Jesus – Jesus on a stick section as that can get old when you’ve seen it over and over and over again.  We did enjoy the works of the great masters and were especially impressed with some of the later pieces from Van Gogh and Picasso.  It’s really nice to see the locals appreciating their artifacts as well and dropping in on the artists sketching the paintings is  great fun!

Without a doubt, these two destinations are must-sees when visiting London, both centrally located and near an underground station and at the same time, free – sponsored by the UK government much like the Smithsonian museums in the US.

Hey, Kids– Big Ben, Parliament…

For those of you not familiar with National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Charity and I have been laughing about the following clip since we arrived in London, especially on yesterday’s Hop-on, Hop-off tour.  Little did we know… well, first the clip…

We had so little sleep yesterday, we decided to take it easy and sleep in today. The big plan for the day was to go to the British Museum and perhaps King’s Cross train station (Harry Potter geeks unite!) to play tourist.  No problem. The subway system here, or “The Tube” as the locals call it, is fast and efficient. With all of the experience we’ve had on other metro systems, this one proved to be quite easy to navigate for the last couple days, so we were confident we knew the best way to the museum when we left at about noon today. We got to the nearby “home” station in a few minutes, deciding to wait to eat breakfast somewhere near the museum.

Our first hint that something was amiss:  instead of seeing the Tower Hill stop, we see Liverpool Street.  A quick glance at the route map on the train wall showed us that we had actually gotten on the wrong train from the start.  Instead of being on the District Line like usual, we had actually jumped on the Hammersmith and City Line.  No problem– we would just ride it in to King’s Cross and do our Platform 9 3/4 thing first.

Well, long story short, that was sort of a bust.  There was some construction at the station from platforms 9 onward, and although they actually filmed between 4 and 5, most of that was coned off for some reason.  Oh well, we took some lame pics and made a beeline for the Tube again.  The museum stop we were aiming for is on the Northern Line which had a stop at King’s Cross, so that was going to work out beautifully.  We hopped on the southbound train and settled in for the ride.

Mistake number two: the Northern Line actually has two separate tracks which run paraellel to each other through different stations, and of course, we realized after two stops that were on the wrong one.  Ha!  No problem again.  We could 1) ride it out for five or six more stops, switch to our familiar District Line, and continue our morning’s original plan which would require one more Line change or 2) get off, go back three stops, and switch to the correct Northern Line track which would take us directly to the museum stop.  We opted for #2 as it seemed the easier route.  Right.

We got to the station where we supposed to change to the parallel Northern track but couldn’t find where to do that.  No problem, right?  We could switch to the Victoria Line, get off at the next stop, and switch back to the Northern again and be back on track.  Except there’s a lot of construction on many of the Lines over the weekend, and unbeknownst to us, that stop is closed for the day.  *sigh*

So by now, you should realize that this carried on for quite a while longer; we had one more Line switch to the Picadilly.  And we still hadn’t had breakfast since the whole trip was supposed to take no longer than 30 minutes.  By the time we finally made it to an alternative museum stop, it was nearly 2pm, and we had taken five different trains and lost our sense of humor somewhere in the Tube.  OK, maybe not completely– we kept laughing about the Griswolds’ “Big Ben, Parliament” moment as King’s Cross was constantly threatening to trap us again and again.

All in all, we had a great day and will likely go back to the British Museum again this week as we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the place (good thing it’s free!).  And I definitely have a new-found respect for the Tube and will not underestimate it anymore.  Also, I’ll be paying attention to which Line we jump on tomorrow morning and make sure it’s the District Line.  For funsies, see if you can find some of the aforementioned lines in the following Tube map.  Also, the stations we visited (there and back– intentionally or not, successfully or not) today were King’s Cross, Bank, Euston, Warren Street, Green Park, Russell Square, Victoria, Embankment, Leicester Square, and Tottenham Court Road.  Our “home” station is Bow Road.  There will be a quiz later.

London Tube Map

London Tube Map

Ummm…I think that was the Changing of the Guard…?!

We arrived in London yesterday afternoon and, after a few snafus courtesy of the National Express bus service, we settled into our hotel just fine and quickly made our way out toward the town proper and more specifically, in search of “the theatre“.  We found it at the tkts booth in Leichester Square where they sell half-price tickets to same-day shows.  We were very excited to see that La Cage Aux Folles was available (the play upon which The Birdcage is based) and we snatched up two tickets — it was absolutely fabulous!!!  What a great way to start our trip to London!

On a cinema near Leichester Square - too funny!

On a cinema near Leichester Square - too funny!

The next day we were off to an early start on a Big Bus hop-on, hop-off tour of London scheduled to end at Buckingham Palace in time to see the changing of the guard.  Our experiences with the tour were very mixed and we barely arrived in time for the big show.  We knew that it would be busy there but OMG!!!  It was crazy – there had to be at least 5,000 tourists there.  Being so short and not incredibly pushy, we couldn’t even get close to the main event though we did catch just a glimpse of the band and retiring guards marching back to their barracks.  Overall, we felt like this “must-see” really isn’t that and the experience could be much better viewed online!!  Coincidentally, when I just searched to find a video online of the changing – all they had was images of the band going by — apparently no one else could get close enough either! 😉

Looking toward Victoria Monument at Buckingham Palace - the guard is going by (I think)

Looking toward Victoria Monument at Buckingham Palace - the guard is going by (I think)

Palace gates with throngs of people

Palace gates with throngs of people

Another "scale of the crowd" picture

Another "scale of the crowd" picture