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[Okay, let's get this finished off, finally. Time for the last day...]

Our flight on Tuesday was late afternoon; Kate and Peter were both nervous about how much margin we needed to leave for the joys of Heathrow, but it was clear that we had a few hours to start with.

So we wandered back to Walthamstow Market (last seen, closed and quiet, on Sunday) again.Pictures and the rest of the text, as usual, below the cut )
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[Only two days left in the Europe travelogue, so let's get back to this.]

On Monday, Kate had to work -- she couldn't really afford the full trip as vacation time, so she agreed to spend the day at her company's office in Watford. (Technically on the Tube, but out in Zone 9. I hadn't even realized there was a Zone 9.) So I had the day to myself, and she encouraged me to spend it playing tourist, since she knew that, while London was kind of old hat to her (since her entire family is British and she goes there frequently), it was all new and shiny to me. So I slept in, and then spent essentially the entire day wandering around the West End. Many pictures and details below the cut )

Finally it got to be evening -- and a bit too dark to take photographs. Kate and I rendezvoused after work at the Cork and Bottle Wine Bar -- quite a lovely place, serving a zillion wines by the glass so that she could have her usual dry white while I tried out a nice Shiraz. Then we met up with Peter and Miko so we could take them out to dinner (least we could do, after all they'd done for us) at the Tokyo Diner, a nice little susherie nearby. The main surprise there was the notion of "Curry Udon" -- a combination that I'm not sure I've encountered before, but very London and rather tasty.

Thence back to their place, where we sat around and schmoozed. Peter had just set up his new TV, hooked up to his enormous DVR, and wanted to show us something -- after some conversation, he decided that we needed to watch the premiere episode of The Misfits. This is kind of like the gritty British version of Heroes: a bunch of young ne'er-do-wells stuck in a community service program suddenly gain super-powers, and horror ensues. Really a pretty excellent start: the story is grim, profane, funny and fascinating, and is one of those rare explorations of just how unpleasant unasked-for superpowers might be. Based on that first episode, The Misfits is to superheroes what John Constantine is to wizards. We may need to pick it up in our copious spare time at some point.

Tomorrow: Home again, home again, jiggety jig
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[Okay, nothing to do with programming this time. Back to the travelogue, with a quiet day.]

When last we left our intrepid heroes, they had spent Saturday touristing around Granada. Sunday's main focus was returning to London, which proved most uncontroversial.

We set the alarm for 7am, since I had failed to reckon with just how early that is in Spain and booked a morning flight. The earlyness makes more sense if you look at a time zone map. Granada is considerably to the west of London -- but it is in the Central European Time Zone, the same as, say, Germany. So it is *way* the heck off to the western end of that time zone. Which means that, at 7am? Not even starting to be dawn yet. Yawn.

We got a taxi to the airport. This was notable mostly in that the driver was having way too much fun with the fact that, at 8:15 in the morning in Granada, there is *nothing* on the roads. I politely played dumb American and ignored the fact that, while kilometers per hour are much smaller than miles per hour, I am pretty sure that 135 KPH wasn't the speed limit.

So we got to the airport early, had the Canos de Chocolate that we had cleverly bought the night before (mmm -- Canos de Chocolate), and took the plane back. The ride from Granada to Madrid was pleasantly mellow and not too crowded. The one from Madrid to London was packed in like sardines, but fortunately wasn't too long.

The rest of the day was quiet. We took the opportunity to wander around Waltham market a bit -- it turns out that, just a few blocks from Peter and Miko's place, there is a long street that's been converted to a pedestrian mall, full of a riot of odd little shops. It being Sunday evening, pretty much everything was closed, but it was still a nice walk.

Thence a lovely dinner of pasta and red sauce from Miko, and bed.

Tomorrow: Kate goes to work, so I Do London
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This was our officially-unscheduled day. (The only one of the whole vacation.) So we slept in, and then wandered out for a lazy walk around Granada. Today's account is replete with photos, so it is mostly behind the cut tag )

We stopped for a late lunch of pizza, getting small separate ones once it became clear that I wanted the one covered with little eels. Thence back to the hotel for siesta.

For dinner, back to Khu Bar again, since I was feeling curious about the Meat on a Rock entrees. We were slightly disconcerted to find that pretty much nobody seems to even start serving dinner until 8pm -- consistently enough to make us wonder whether there was some sort of local ordinance that you can't start dinner until then, so that everybody has a chance to get home from church and changed.

Anyway, she ordered the Beef, and I had the Pork. The latter occasioned much discussion of how long it needed to be left on the rock to cook, but the end result was excellent: the sort of tender, juicy pork one doesn't get often. The sauces were a bit unremarkable, and the service was fairly terrible (I kept feeling like both we and the waiter were trying to do acrobatics over the communication barrier), but overall a pleasant enough meal.

Thence Yet More Dark Chocolate Gelato, and off to bed.

Tomorrow: Back to England.
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So once we'd woken up (despite the incredibly dark wooden shutters), we made our way over to the bus to the Alhambra. The bus ride was slightly harrowing -- Granada is a maze of twisting little one-way streets, and the bus was almost the width of many of them -- but less so since I wasn't driving or responsible for the thing. And we were glad for the bus: while the Alhambra isn't precisely far, it's up pretty steep hills the whole way, so it probably wouldn't have been a great walk for us. We wound up chatting with a nice Italian lady who desperately wanted to know what Real Americans think about visiting Europe.

We wandered in about 11:30, more or less on schedule. It turns out that going to the Alhambra requires a bit of pre-planning: you really want to buy your tickets to the Palaces in advance (since they sell out, especially for the best times), and while you can enter the general Alhambra whenever you like, you have to enter the Palaces within a specific half-hour window.

Truth to tell, there isn't much for me to say that hasn't been said many times -- there are some good websites on the subject -- but it does give more of a sense of being surrounded by unadulterated history than most historical sites. There aren't as many informative signs covering everything, and it hasn't gotten as messed-up by later generations as most. It's a fascinating mix of periods, but the later ones tended to build new buildings instead of knocking down the old ones. And the reconstruction work has been meticulous and tasteful.

We were there for about five hours, which was about as much as we could cope with. If you visit, make sure to wear comfortable shoes -- "not handicap accessible" doesn't even begin to cover the amount of walking and stairs involved, and you can easily wander several miles within the Alhambra's nooks and crannies.

Of course, I took pictures )

We took the bus back down into town in the late afternoon -- having failed to find an appealing-looking place for tapas up on the hill, we sat down in what I believe was called The New Plaza for wine and a nice scallopy-cheesy thing served in a big scallop shell. The main entertainment as we sat was watching what appeared to be competing companies (what I thought of as "the guys in red" and "the girls in yellow") trying to talk tourists into Segway tours.

Following a bit of afternoon siesta, we mosied back to our usual plaza for dinner. This time, we split a paella mixta, because I was determined to see what an actual Spanish paella comes out like. It was tasty, but only semi-successful -- we'd done the mixta so that she could focus on the Meat while I mostly did the shellfish, but there was a *lot* of shellfish for her to work around. And I was slightly confounded by the large and very intact prawns in the mix, unsure of how to eat them. I mean, these things were practically little lobsters, complete with heads, legs and lots of shell, and I realized that I have no idea how to eat one with none of the special forks and stuff I'm used to for lobster. I got a fair amount of the meat, but wound up feeling like there has to be a better way to do this.

(And I was disappointed by the lack of crispy bits. The first time I ever had paella, in southern CA, one of the treats for me was the crispy bits from the bottom of the pan. But it appears that Spanish restaurants, like American, don't actually serve those to the customers. Humph.)

Then another round of yummy dark-chocolate gelato, and off to bed.

Tomorrow: Touristing our way around Granada
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So, before I get into the Alhambra, it's worth a brief digression on the surprises of the hotels. This was particularly the case in Granada, although the two major items were the same at Juries in Bristol as well.

Minor Item 1: the bidet. Seriously, you'd think that a place catering to foreign business travelers would have an explanation for how to *use* the damned thing. (I mostly ignored it.)

Minor Item 2: turning on the shower. Okay, this one may not be a general European thing, it may just be that the AC Palacio (like the Conrad a few months ago) is too high-end for its own good, fond of elements that are pretty, fancy, and impractical. In this case, the big button-like knob to turn the water from "tub" to "shower". We spent about five minutes trying to get it to do *something*; I finally had to call down to the front desk and get an engineer to show me, feeling like a right idiot. Turns out that it pulls up like normal, but it is so *stiff* that I have to grasp it hard and pull so hard I worried I was going to damage the spigot; with Kate's wrist issues, she couldn't get it to work at all. Fine example of form utterly crushing function.

Really Weird 1: the shower door. The shower looks like this:Read more... )

Really Weird 2: your card key controls the lights. When you enter the room, you *must* do this with your key:Read more... )
On the plus side, the last weird thing about our room is that, instead of blinds, it had thick wooden shutters. These were remarkably effective, keeping the room pretty close to black until we opened them. Very useful for sleeping that first night.

Next: up to the Alhambra
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Background: the original plan had been that I was going to get 100 Euros in cash here in the States, just for peace of mind. But when I got to the Travelex in the Mall, I discovered that, between the spread and the fee, the price was going to be close to 10% -- awfully steep, so I decided not. Plan B was that we were going to get Ann's spare Euros (about 60) when we saw her in Bristol; however, we just plain forgot. This will become relevant shortly.

So -- we got an early start, because we had to Tube all the way back to Heathrow, and Peter and Kate had both impressed on me what a horror Heathrow tends to be. It utterly failed to live up to its billing: we got checked in and through security quickly. (Possibly quicker because we had no checked baggage. The advantage of having a "home base" in London is that we left the big suitcase there, and just took the small carry-on suitcase and backpacks during all our excursions.)

Heathrow looked like any other big airport. The only surprises of note were (a) the fact that I was able to get a surprisingly decent bagel with lox at the aptly-named EAT. and (b) a momentary sense of feeling like I'm in a Paranoia game: )
Our trip connected through Madrid (Granada doesn't appear to be international beyond the Schengen Area, which Britain isn't in), so we had a two-hour layover there. The theory was that we would buy some Euros there, but the Information booth informed us that there was nowhere to do so without exiting Security -- a poor idea, given that we didn't know how much effort it would be to get back in. So we made do for lunch at McDonald's, which would take my (non-PIN) credit card.

The flight to Granada itself was uncontroversial, although I was surprised at the size: it was a full-sized jet, and we were packed in like sardines. Popular place.

Granada airport was, as I expected, best described as "dinky" -- the sort of local airport that claims to have four "gates", but they're really just doors leading onto the tarmac, and you need stairs from the airplane. There was, as we feared, no travel exchange desk, and the Tourist Information desk's attendee appeared to be off on an extra-long siesta. But there was a bank machine, and she had her bank card with her (I hadn't thought to bring mine, since I was living mainly on Visa). So she put it in, entered her PIN, told it to give her 200 Euros -- and it replied "Card Withheld. Please contact your bank."


At this point, we both got a little tense. Me because we were in a foreign country with (nearly) no cash, her because the last time this happened to her father in a foreign country, someone stole the card and ran up bills on it. All we had was a 10-Euro bill that Kate had left over from a previous trip.

We confirmed that that wasn't going to be enough to get us into Granada center, and that no, the taxis wouldn't take my credit card. Fortunately, she noticed (on a little flyer from the Tourist desk) that there was a *bus* into town that only cost 3 Euros. Tight, but it was enough to get us on. And fortunately, the bus driver took pity on the poor confused Yanks and dropped us right in front of our hotel.

Things got easier from there. I'd splurged on one of the nicest hotels in town, the AC Palacio de Santa Paula, a one-time convent that had been converted into, as we discovered, a fairly serious business hotel. I felt a tad out of place in my t-shirt, since we were mostly surrounded by men in sober dark suits, but it did mean that the girl at the desk spoke excellent English. We checked in, and she directed us to a money-exchange shop maybe a half-mile away -- as it turned out, there were two of them almost side-by-side, one of which apparently only dealt with Visa and one with Amex. So I pulled out a hundred Euros for walking-around money, and let my shoulders begin to unclench. Then we headed back to the hotel, she got on the phone with BofA to cancel the eaten card, and also started to relax a bit.

Granada turns out to be a Maze of Twisty Little Passages, All Different: Like This )
These little streets connect a great number of Plazas -- open spaces surrounded by buildings, each a bit different. We wound up rather focused on the Plaza Bibirrambla, one of the larger ones, a big open space lined with restaurant tables. The actual restaurants were in the surrounding buildings, but the vast majority of the seating was under awnings in the Plaza, each restaurant with its own big awning.

For tapas, we started out at Khu Bar, the restaurant associated with the Khu Hotel, mostly because it looked interesting. We sort of struggled to express what we were looking for in wine (Kate specifically favors dry whites), but it transpired that the regional wine fit the bill decently -- a bit floral and simple, but a reasonable dry white.

Khu Bar was labeled (if I transcribed this correctly), "Especialudad carnes a la piedra". I had no idea what that meant, mostly because I got misled by my dance experience -- anything involving "pied" means "feet" to me, which seemed unlikely. This was the start of a general theme for these days, of me feeling unusually like a fish out of water, because this was the first time I've ever traveled somewhere that I *really* didn't speak the language. (I've been to Quebec and Paris, but I do have a *bit* of French, and Jane majored in it.) It is surprisingly difficult to resist the Dumb American stereotype of saying English louder and slower when confronted by communication difficulties.

Anyway, our tapas came out, and I realized that "piedra" must be related to the name "Peter", because the label clearly translated as something like, "Specializing in Meat on a Rock". Which is exactly what the tapas was: raw marinated beef, brought out sizzling on a big hot stone set in a plate. At which point, the menu (which consisted mainly of a list of meats) suddenly made a lot more sense. They provide you with raw meat and a Big Hot Rock, and you cook it to your tastes on-table. (The general effect reminded me a little of Bi Bim Bap.)

So we nibbled our beef, and ordered an appetizer of assorted antipasti: a collection of local ham, sausage and cheese, sliced thin. Then we pulled out our Kindles, nibbled, sipped, leaned on each other and read, providing a much-needed dose of normality.

(This is, in fact, what Kate and I mean by "Date Night". Going out to dinner isn't really Date Night for us, because it's almost too frequent. Instead, our preferred Friday tradition is to curl up on the couch with finger food and a bottle of champagne, and just read together. It's delightfully relaxing.)

Now a bit more relaxed, we wander across the plaza for our main dish. We wound up at an Italian-oriented restaurant that turned out to be one of our favorites, and split a plate of Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Pesto. This was quite good: though odd-sounding, the salmon meshed well with the cheese-heavy Pesto.

We finished with Gelato, which is displayed with the most interesting mnemonics )
This was a reminder of what gelato is *supposed* to be like: modest-sized servings of ice cream that is not only rich but *intense*. We both agree that the Chocolate Negro (Dark Chocolate) hit it out of the park: one of the best chocolate ice creams I've ever had, powerfully flavored, just sweet enough to avoid being bitter. We returned to this shop each evening, and while we varied what we mixed it with, we always returned to the dark chocolate.

Tomorrow: Up the mountain and into history
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We had a good night at the Bristol Hotel (which the family knows as Juries, despite the fact that I don't think the hotel has had that name in decades); the only complaint was the bizarre shower door, which we'll cover later when we get to Granada and "European Hotels Are Weird".

Quick visit with Eric, then over to the pub for lunch. Somehow, I don't expect a British pub to make a great Eggplant Lasagna, but this was a winner: layers of eggplant, broccoli, spinach and just enough pasta to provide structural integrity, held together with bechamel, with a thick layer of melted cheese on top, all baked golden-brown in a crock. It even went well with the ale -- yum.

Thence back to Vera's so that Kate and Ann (Kate's mother) could have some quiet time with her, while Peter and I were shooed away. He took me on an hour-long driving tour of Bristol (where he and Anne had gone to college), showing off the riverways and gorges. It was a slightly forced bonding experience for both of us, but it's a pretty town and made for a pleasant diversion.

Back on the train to London, and I finally got to meet [livejournal.com profile] pir, back from a trip to Brazil. We geeked a bunch as he set up his new TV, and he showed me the insane flashlight that he got as swag when he was working at Google. It was powered by some sort of high-powered batteries, and even on the lowest setting was crazy-bright, with LEDs running so hot you could feel them. (On the highest setting, I suspect you could direct air traffic.) This was all given mainly as a demo of how powerful the batteries were, and why he was repurposing them to build a portable charger for his Mac. This was also when I discovered that he knows [livejournal.com profile] keshwyn and a bunch of my other friends from his time working at Tufts.

A pleasant dinner of Indian delivery food (quite good, as promised), and to bed.

Next: Off to Spain
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[Which might have been titled, "We See Dead People", but that seemed inappropriate given that we also saw grandparents.]

The Bath House apparently doesn't have a central dining room, so breakfast is delivered to your room -- you order it the night before by checking the time and food on a card, similar to many hotels. I rarely do this, since it is often stupidly expensive, but breakfast before clothes (and not having to do it myself) really is kinda decadent.

I went for the traditional English Breakfast, to compare with the American version. The sausages were good -- pepper-spicy but less salty than the usual American breakfast fare. The bacon, OTOH, was OMG salty and very tasty, and a bit meatier than most American bacon. The highlight of the meal for me, though, was the crumpets, and realizing that these must be what Thomas' English Muffins are trying to imitate: springy, flavorful, replete with nooks and crannies for butter to flow into. Mmm, crumpets. (Now I'm wondering if there anyone makes a decent version of them here.)

We had a couple of hours before we needed to hit the train (especially since we knew that Kate's folks, driving from London, were running slightly late due to coffee delays and draconian traffic laws), so we wandered over to Bath Abbey:
Pics from the Abbey )
Back to the train for the quick (< 30 min) trip over to Bristol Temple Mews. Cab to the hotel, where we met up with parents. Wandered down to the pub for cider, beer, and disturbing potato chips. British crisps are just like American potato chips, except that they are a *lot* more creative with the flavors. The steak and onion was definitely the winner for "strange, but tasty".

We wandered over to the assisted-living facility where Eric (Kate's grandfather) is living, rendezvoused with Aunt Linda and Chris (Kate's brother), and introduced me to Eric. On the one hand, he turns out to be not much taller than me; OTOH, that's because he is 92 and *quite* stooped by now. He clearly would have towered over me, probably even just a few years ago.

Then we packed up the whole family to the home where Vera (Kate's grandmother) resides. It's a lovely place (frankly, much nicer than most nursing homes I've visited), and introductions were made again. Kate, knowing exactly how this was going to go, sat down next to Vera and was told, "Ring", which she duly showed off.

Since the occasion (and the point of the trip) was the celebration of Vera's 90th birthday (actually the previous month, during the Olympics, but we weren't dumb enough to travel to London in that), the home provided us with High Tea -- really, a preposterous amount of food given that there were only eight of us. Delicious sausage rolls (pigs in blankets, but better); strawberry tarts; pate sandwiches; birthday cake; etc, etc. Fortunately, it was explained that the leftovers would be the afternoon snack for the home, else I would have felt guilty at how much was left.

Then wandering around the neighborhood, first with Peter (Kate's father) and then the whole family, and thence back into town, where I sprang for dinner at Severn Shed (which it appears, based on the website, is in the process of being acquired by a chain). Good food, but the mixed apps that I got were a bad choice: all of it was hard on my stomach. And the first attempt to serve me was a failure -- it was clear that "bring my apps with everyone else's mains" turned out to be "make the apps in advance and leave them sitting on the counter while everything else cooks", since they were almost stone cold when they arrived. (And cold fried calamari is *nasty*.) It had to be scrapped and redone, although it was good on the second go-round. Not a failure of a meal (and better than Lunn House), but mixed.

Next: more family time
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[NB: this is the day that I finally twigged to, "Hey, I have a camera in my pocket!". So a lot more of the travelogue will be behind cut-tags from here on out. And for those who missed the first entry, which several folks apparently did, this is all retrospective -- we've been home for over a week now.]

After Sunday's monumental dinner, we let ourselves oversleep a bit on Monday, then dashed off to Paddington Station to catch the train. After an extensive conversation with the lady behind the counter, to figure out the least expensive way to deal with the rather open-legged trip (Paddington -> Bath -> Bristol -> return from the *other* Bristol station -> Paddington), we got on board. The trip itself was lovely and calm, and we got to watch the scenery zoom by at high speed while I read more of The Economist. (This being the secret agenda for the trip. We brought five Economists with us, so I finished the trip within striking distance of actually caught-up. We'll see how long that lasts.)

The real purpose of the trip was to visit Kate's grandparents in Bristol, but along the way she declared that I simply must see Bath while I had the chance. We spent the night at The Bath House, an upscale-ish B&B within easy walking distance of all the major attractions. This page appears to be a picture of Room 6, which we stayed in -- very pretty, although we decided that the canopy bed was rather too large for the space. (Yes, the canopy is bumping into the chandelier.)

After dropping off our bags, we wandered into the main district of Bath, which turns out to be pretty much All Tourism, All The Time. Pretty, but with a distinct sense of not having much *except* tourism at this point.

Our first stop was a critical priority: Cream Tea. Kate has been telling me for ages that I simply had to have a proper Cream Tea while I was there, since real clotted cream is near-impossible to obtain in the States. I will admit to skepticism: the term "clotted cream" has always sounded rather nasty. But the reality was quite tasty: a high-quality scone with fruit dotted throughout, spread with a substance that turned out to be sort of like the platonic ideal of sweet butter, and fruit jam over top. The only downside is that it's going to make it even harder to cope with the dry bricks that usually pass for scones in the US.

And then, on to The Baths )
As you'd expect, we were pretty much chased out of the Baths by the folks trying to close for the day. So we took the opportunity to wander around historic Bath and take in the sights )
We found a flyer for the *new* baths -- apparently, someone has tapped the secondary spring, and is now running mineral baths from it. Very tempting to do their twilight bath (bathrobe and a course from the restaurant included), but the timing didn't work this time. Maybe the next time we're in town.

For dinner, we put in some effort to find the Sally Lunn House, which Kate had gone to herself some years ago and wanted to show me as an illustration of classic British cooking:Read more... )
Sadly, the dinner was a disappointment end-to-end; Kate got concerned early on, and voiced the idea of going elsewhere, but I was a bit too curious. The service was problematic, although that seemed to mostly be due to a brand-new waitress who was under-trained and overwhelmed. (We realized just *how* under-trained when she served Kate a glass of white wine that was not only room-temperature to begin with, but was then poured into a hot glass right out of the dishwasher.)

The food was okay, but no better. To be fair, the famous Sally Lunn Bath Buns were quite tasty (even if the garlic butter spread on top was surely inauthentic). But I had been intrigued to try the mains, which were supposedly served on trenchers. The reality was nothing of the sort: they actually appeared to be supported by the same buns, just toasted, which was almost but not quite completely unlike my understanding of a period trencher. (Reasonably tasty, mind, likely moreso than a real trencher -- I had just been hoping for something more authentic.)

The real disappointment was dessert. Kate has been telling me, for about as long as we've been together, that American chocolate cake just isn't as good as a genuine English Fudge Cake: moist, chocolatey, rich in chocolate icing. What we actually got amounted to the same generic chocolate cake you can find anywhere in the States: dry and insufficiently iced. The one saving grace was that it *also* came with clotted cream, this time a gooier variation well-suited to cake, which helped moisten things a bit. It appears that proper Fudge Cake has fallen out of fashion across much of Britain, which is sad. We're going to have to hunt for a decent alternative, or possibly I need to learn enough to make one.

All that said, it was a fine day overall -- just a reminder that the tourism trade can be cruel, and a lot of places can't cope long-term with the rigors of being excessively popular. It looks like the Lunn House has gotten so distracted by being a museum that they've lost track of making good food.

Tomorrow, off to Bristol to meet the grandparents...
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Sunday started off still waiting (tap, tap, tap of finger on table) for our small suitcase; fortunately, the airline called in the morning to say that the suitcase was in London, and would be delivered in the early afternoon. Miko, bless her, offered to stick around the house for a few hours for the delivery, and we naively believed that that was that.

After a bit of quick shopping for some warmer clothes (to replace the jackets in the suitcase), brunch was at a Viennese restaurant, mainly because we needed to eat at 11am and pretty much everything else around the Strand was closed at that hour. Despite the nine different types of sausages on offer (including American hot dogs and three different things I'd never heard of before), I went for the surprisingly decent pancakes. More importantly, I finally got to meet Kate's Aunt Linda (probably the closest relative that I hadn't yet met), who turns out to be delightfully down-to-earth and fun.

Then off to The Globe to see Richard III:
The Globe )
Linda, knowing the lay of the land, got us a few of the actually good seats. I'd been aware that half the people present would be SRO groundlings; what I hadn't realized was that even most of the seats have no backs. So she got us seats way in the back -- which, mind, still isn't very far, since it's a fairly small theater -- so we'd have the wall to lean against.

The production was a delight. I've seen Richard III a couple of times before, but I've never seen it quite so darkly funny before. Richard was portrayed as surprisingly mild-mannered (if often exasperated and sometimes bowled over by what he was getting away with), which underlined the horror of the story with a lot of laughs. I knew that parts of the play could be funny -- [livejournal.com profile] alexx_kay introduced me to A Bloody Deed many years ago -- but this production did a great job of keeping the dark and light well-mixed. Somewhere in the middle, I decided that this must have been one of the inspirations for Blackadder.

Sadly, though, we only got to see the first half of the play. By 3pm, the airline still hadn't come by with the suitcases, and Miko had things to do, so we headed back to the house. Of course, as soon as we got there, the airline called to say, "So you know how we said we'd get it to you within a couple of hours of noon? Well, that is now looking more like 7-10pm." We made it clear that no, there wasn't going to be anybody at the house at that hour -- we had plans -- and no, you're not dropping off the suitcase with a random neighbor. So we ordered them to reroute it her her parent's hotel at the Strand. We were now officially honked off at the airline (and one of today's projects is submitting the paperwork to get them to pay for the new clothes).

Anyway, in the late afternoon we headed down to the Strand to meet family for cocktails, and get changed for dinner; the suitcase did actually arrive spot-on 7pm. And then, we were off to The Ledbury for dinner.

OMG, the dinner. Kate's mother officially decided that this one was our engagement dinner, so we'd do it up right at the best restaurant in London. My app was a char grilled mackerel, juicy and moist under the flavorful char. We went through umpteen bottles and glasses of wine, the highlight being a Chateuneuf du Pape that was probably the most expensive thing I've ever drunk, bursting with intense flavors. My main was one of the winners of the evening, a "pressed pork" that is best described as Creme Brulee of Meat: a shatteringly crisp covering over melty fat over fork-tender pork, served with paper-thin truffles, stir-fried shiitake and a balsamic reduction. Dessert was the most uneven course, and Kate didn't love her rather high-concept dish (a sort of pudding of flowers), but my Pave of Chocolate was excellent -- a half-inch thick rectangle of very dark chocolate mousse with a crunchy chocolate bottom, cacao nibs on top, and a lovage ice cream on the side to go with. (Accompanied by a madeira recommended by the sommelier, who turned out to be a friend of a friend of Aunt Linda.)

Per-person, that may have been the most expensive dinner I've ever had, but it was absolutely great. If you're in London for a special occasion, The Ledbury is definitely worth checking out.

Back to the Strand with the family, and then a tube ride to drag the suitcase back to the house, and thus ended the first leg of our journey. Next, on to Bath...
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Saturday dawned through the cabin windows; we finally roused ourselves fairly late in the flight, maybe an hour before landing. On arriving at the airport, Kate made a beeline for the luggage-problems desk while I collected the big suitcase. The policy is apparently that they can't start to reroute your bag until you have landed at your destination. So my little suitcase got to sit in Austin for six hours while we were in flight. Once she talked to them, it was immediately shipped north to Chicago, and thence to London. (More on that tomorrow.)

Our "home base" for the trip was the house of Kate's friend [livejournal.com profile] pir (who I gather knows several assorted other friends of mine) and his lady Miko. Their place is in Walthamstow, pretty much on the other side of London from Heathrow, so we got used to a long Tube ride. That said, it was nicely easy (important given that we were pretty sleep-dep'ped), save for one oddity: for about six stops, there was this random skinhead sitting across and a few seats down from us and glaring at me. It wasn't worth getting into it, and he got off at King's Cross, but it was puzzling. Adding to the puzzlement, when we got to our stop -- Blackhorse Road, between Tottenham Hale and Walthamstow -- there was an enormous police presence: several dozen cops, cars, a dozen motorcycles, all in bright yellow. Nothing happening, but we could tell that somebody was trying to send a message.

Anyway, we arrived at the house, Miko showed us to our room, and we crashed for a few hours. Once we woke up, I started to piece together what was going on: apparently the #EDL (one of the big British right-wing organizations) had declared that they were going to march on Walthamstow today. The lead-up had caused a kerfluffle the day before -- they had declared that they would rendezvous at King's Cross, and the staff there (largely Pakastani) had declared a strike in protest -- but there was nothing on the BBC or other television stations, due to an apparent news blackout.

(Which was somewhat understandable in context: this was the general area that kicked off the big British riots last year, and the authorities were presumably going to do whatever they needed in order to keep it from spreading again.)

So I spent a fair chunk of the afternoon listening to the police helicopter (which hovered more or less over our house for something like six hours), and piecing the story together via Twitter. The EDL march had been met by a counter-protest, #WeAreWathamForest, which was vastly larger -- far as I could tell, a few dozen EDL members were met by several hundred folks, who simply blocked the road and refused to let them pass. The Twitter stream faded as we got towards evening, with a bunch of triumphant tweets from the locals, along the lines of, "Got bottled up by the police, but it was *so* worth it".

Finished with a quiet evening (save for the helicopter) -- Miko made us a delightful Indian dinner, and I was introduced to possibly the most important foodstuff in Britain:Millionaire Shortbread )
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The trip started on Friday, August 31st: we planned to do the overnight flight to London, leaving Friday evening and arriving Saturday morning.

We had decided to splurge and do this direction in Business Class -- frighteningly expensive, but gave us a prayer of getting a few hours' sleep on the flight. This made Airport Life *much* cushier: we got separate lines all over the place, and generally got treated much better than the Cattle Class that I'm used to. So we got to go right up to the baggage check, and spent several minutes chatting with the lady behind the counter as she dealt with our luggage. It was all quite friendly and relaxing, and that was the problem: we weren't paying quite enough attention.

The thing is, while they have a number of counters, and a whole bunch of checkin kiosks, they have far fewer printers -- these things all share a few printers. So the lady at the counter printed out our luggage tags, went over to the printer, grabbed the top two tags, put them on our suitcases, and sent us on our way.

You can see where this is going.

As we got to Security, I happened to look at our boarding pass envelope, with the bag-claim tickets attached to it. There was the one with Kate's name, going to LHR. And there was one with the name of some dude I didn't recognize (who, we hypothesized, had checked in at one of the kiosks at the same moment), going to AUS.


We ran back to the counter, only to find that the lady who had helped us was nowhere to be found. The rest of the staff spent half an hour looking for her, but it eventually transpired that she caught the mistake even before we did. Problem is, the suitcase was already heading down to the airplane by then. So she had dashed down to the tarmac and spent half an hour digging around in the plane to Austin, TX, trying to find my suitcase. (She was quite rumpled by the time she got back to the counter.) This was not made any easier by the fact that it was a new suitcase, with no name tag on it. Sadly, she didn't manage to find it, and the plane departed for Texas with my bag still aboard, but she got points for trying. So I described it -- fortunately, I had picked up a habit from my late mother-in-law, and wrapped five brightly-colored Velcro cable ties around the handle, making it easy to recognize if you know what you're looking for. She filed a report in gory detail, told us to go to the baggage claim as soon as we landed in Heathrow, and that was that.

That mild crisis aside, the flight itself was lovely. Business Class was fairly decadent. The food was surprisingly decent -- I had a Shrimp and Scallop Curry for dinner, plus a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, and a glass of port. (The prospect of no driving for 10 days did have its perks.) I spent an hour or so playing Bejeweled 2 on the screen in front of me; I thought about watching a movie, but Kate prevailed on me to try to sleep. I largely failed in that, but at least got to doze on the lie-nearly-flat seat. (The seat itself was a glorious toy with its own control panel: five preset positions plus manual controls for virtually every aspect of it.)

And so Friday ended, somewhere over the Atlantic ocean, bleeding rather quickly into Saturday...
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I didn't announce it widely, on the "don't tell the world that you're away from your house" theory, but Kate and I have been planning a trip to Europe for a good six months now. That's done now -- we headed out on August 31st and returned on Sept 11th -- and it was a fine and fascinating time.

There are going to be a whole bunch of LJ entries coming, chronicling the trip. For once, I actually took a fair number of photos, so those will be heavily cut-tagged. I'm starting to assemble that now, but for anyone who is curious, a fair chunk of the story of the trip can be found (in reverse chronological order) in this Picasa album of cryptic pictures.

Anyway -- that's why I was semi-incommunicado for a couple of weeks, and why I've been heavily distracted for the past month. And the travelogue starts next...


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