England: Day 2

Today, we were tourists. We rode the Underground to the Tower of London which, in spite of its name, is really more like a small city itself — an impression reinforced by the fact that it closes up its walls completely at night, cutting itself off from the rest of London. (There’s even a physician on staff in case any of the overnighters is taken ill.) It’s a spectacular place, having grown in various stages over the better part of a thousand years — a startling thing for those of us who have grown up in a country that is itself barely a fifth that span in age.

We enjoyed lunch at Southern Fried Chicken near the Tower, which aside from the inexplicably small beverages and the vague sense of guilt caused by having travelled a fourth of the way around the world to eat fried chicken, was pretty palatable. After getting chased out of the Tower at closing time, we proceeded to ride the top deck of the #15 bus — a worthy adventure, though not the one we had intended, since we chose the bus going the wrong direction and ended up at the end of the line before we quite knew what was going on. We then rode the Underground back to the house, and enjoyed grilled cheese, cereal, and other assorted comestibles for dinner. Notable among these was ginger beer, which has a much stronger ginger taste than does American ginger ale. It reminds me of ginger Altoids; I like it very much. The bets surprise during dinner came when two of our three renegade bags came home to roost, courtesy of the man from the airport.

A few observations about London so far: it’s very entertaining just people-watching here. Since the culture is several steps removed from that of the US, it’s amusing to try to figure out who seems eccentric simply because one isn’t used to the way things are done here, and who actually is eccentric. While the young man who looks like an escapee from a failed 70’s band with a severe soap allergy probably falls into the former category, I’m pretty sure the man on the subway who kept trying to drink from his water bottle through his cheek, rather than the more common mouth-based method, landed squarely in the latter.

London is also, at least to this Texan, surprisingly vertical. The buildings nearly all seem to go up at least three stories, layering apartments above the street level stores to make the most of the meagre square footage the building has been able to eke out. Towering above those are a startling mixture of classical and modern buildings, ranging from delightfully rococo to smooth shimmery glass eggs that dwarf everything around them. Then the Underground extends many stories below ground, and there are innumerable pedestrian underpasses to make traversing busy streets more manageable. Even a passing dump truck seemed like it was compressed, like a movie shown with the wrong aspect ratio, to accommodate the narrow lanes. Speaking of vehicles, it’s an interesting change of pace to be constantly dealing with traffic, but to see no pickup trucks or SUV’s.

Tomorrow we take to the rails again and ride to Exeter to meet up with some of the extended family and start the official pre-wedding merry-making. Hopefully our remaining vagaband suitcase will follow the example of Abigail’s passport and show up in the nick of time.