by Dave Schmitt and Ellen Fitzgerald, KankaNation feature columnistsWednesday, March 9 through Tuesday March 15, we traveled to London, England for an exciting vacation. The official purpose of this trip was to visit Dave’s brother Michael, who’s in ND’s London program this semester, and since Dave had never been out of the country, it seemed like a really cool idea. We left for Newark Airport Wednesday night after work, and Ellen’s parents met us there with her luggage, and of course, another carry-on bag full of food.
British Airways was very nice; we were in the fourth of four levels of seating (they didn’t even let us see first class), but it was not a bad trip at all. Neither of us have flown in a major aircraft in quite some time, just the small commuter jets to various Midwest spots so this was a BIG shock to our system. The food was pretty good, there were screens at every seat showing 15 channel movies and tv, and the headrests had foldable parts that you could bend into a pillow. We arrived at London Heathrow around 9am local time, having slept maybe two hours on the overnight flight. Not so good. We got only slightly lost trying to find the ND classroom building to meet Michael and Molly, who’s in the ND London 2nd-Year Law program right now. You may remember Molly from such movies as “Kanka, you never seen me sober, have you?” and “Chasing Dave around Ray’s St. Patrick’s Day Party, Cursing at him because he doesn’t know why Ellen isn’t here yet.”
After lunch, they had class, so we went on our first adventure of the trip, to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum. This is a very cool underground exhibit of the bunker used by Churchill and the British military brass during WWII. It’s all been preserved behind glass, and we walked through it with a very good hand-held audio tour. Dave just finished reading Franklin & Winston, and so he’s really into all this stuff at the moment. After this, we walked around the Big Ben-Westminster area for a while, trying to figure out what to do next. The crappy thing about London is that EVERYTHING closes early. Most touristy places close at 5, most restaurants close by 7, and most pubs close by 11. So you’ve gotta be up early and quit early. We went to the National Gallery and Ellen showed Dave some art things (she’s got a pretty good background in art history,) and then we had dinner at a pretty good English restaurant. This is a story.
So Dave circled this restaurant in a guide book as a possibly dinner spot if we were in the area. As we’re walking towards it, Dave’s looking at the map trying to figure out our next turn. A man comes up to us and says, “are you lost?” We really weren’t lost yet, and he probably would’ve blown him off, IF HE WASN’T DRESSED CRAZY AND CARRYING A TROMBONE! We told him where we were trying to go, and he led us there. Along the way, Dave brought up the trombone. He plays for some show in London, and in typical British fashion, starting babbling on a ridiculous tangent. But it was cool, he was a crazy old man. We found the restaurant, and thanked him for his help. And this is when he whipped it out: “All the best!” complete with the thumbs-up. We shit you not. Our jaws dropped in homage to the British Klondike.
After dinner, we hit the National Portrait Gallery, which has pretty sweet portraits of every important British dude ever. It amused Dave. At this point, we’d had 2 hours sleep since waking up for work on Wednesday around 6am. It is 11pm Thursday night that Molly decides we need to go out and drink until 3am. She manages to find the 2 bars in all of London that are still open, and take us there. Luckily, Dave caught a second wind. Ellen, the girl who falls asleep at the mere sight of a couch, was incredibly being a champion all day long. One of the biggest shocks ever. It was at this first pub that Dave had his first pint of real Guinness. It is truly a treasure. St. Patty’s Day Guinness back in Manhattan just wasn’t the same after a week of God’s Juice. (Now’s a good time to mention that the first bar we went to was shady – only the basement was open, due to the late hour, and we sat in a back cave-like room because there were old women dancing in the front. And it completely decided that the arbitrary closing time of the night would be 1am. Weird.)
Friday was very cool. We started the day at the Tower of London with Michael. We went on a tour and saw where everyone was executed. The Tower also houses the Crown Jewels, which includes the crown (duh,) all the cool scepters, and various diamonds and the coronation robe. And there was a museum with lots of cool armor, which could’ve amused Michael all day, if we had let him stay there. He’s always been really into armor, for whatever reason. Next, we walked through Westminster Abbey. Lots of monarchs were buried there, and the architecture inside is amazing – at every turn, there’s a different monument to a cool person. We capped Friday’s touristy stuff at the Imperial War Museum. This is kinda hidden out of the way, but we’re definitely glad we made the trip. It has a kick-ass D-Day exhibit and lots of neat war stuff like simulations of being in the trenches and the Blitz.
Story #2: for dinner, Michael showed us to this place by him that he likes, a pub called Windsor Castle. We sat a tiny round table and ordered drinks. When we looked at the menu, we gave Michael some awkward looks: “oh yeah, they serve Thai food here, not normal bar food.” You couldn’t IMAGINE a more random thing. It was excellent, however. As we were getting ready to leave, Michael says, “hey, I see my friend Jerry. Come say hi, I want you to meet him.” Jerry’s standing at the bar, and he’s not a college student, but a random middle-aged regular. Nice to see my brother mingling with the locals. Anyway, he was funny as hell, and we noticed that there were some little plaques around the bar with peoples’ names on them. Michael asked Jerry if he has a plaque. Yes, he said, but it was two spots down from where he was standing at the moment. What a guy.
Saturday, we took a day trip out to Bath, a town about an hour and a half outside London by train. It contains preserved Roman Baths (hence the name. . .it’s Roman name was Aquae Sullus and that translates into “the waters of Sullus” which basically means the baths) from when the Romans invaded England in the time of Julius Caesar. The Baths were very cool, as was the town itself. Old English village: tiny streets, tons of shops on top of each other, cobblestone, etc. It was like stepping back into the 18th century. There was even a Cadbury store, where we got Cadbury ice cream since Cadbury is the English equivalent to Hershey. . .all over the place. It might’ve been the greatest thing ever (according to Dave). We also visited the Jane Austen Center (she lived in and wrote about Bath a bit) and the Museum of Costume which was a great museum (according to Ellen definitely not Dave) that showed clothing from Elizabethan times to present. It was awesome seeing perfectly preserved clothes from the 1500s. . We made it back to London around 6pm, and met Michael and Molly for dinner. After dinner, we had a drink at a bar, where we did an intercontinental salute to Charlie Weis. It’s Dave’s new thing: any time he drinks with ND people now, he insists that we give it up for Charlie. We suggest you guys try it, too.
Sunday is Story #3. We went to church with Molly at 12:30 (Michael spent all day at “the church,” which apparently is a pub). We actually tried to do things before 12:30 but nothing in London opens on Sunday before 12 or 1. We killed time in a local food store and bought weird flavor potato chips like “Prawn Cocktail” and “Steak”. Communion was interesting: lines were not formed. Instead, everyone went up to the front at once, and kneeled (as many as could fit at once) on a long kneeler across the entire front of the altar area to receive Communion. After Mass, we embarked on the trip Ellen has been waiting years to make: to the Burberry Factory Store! It was located way the hell out of the way, far from the nearest Tube (subway) stop. We had to walk about 45 minutes north once we got out of the Tube, through a very shady neighborhood, just to get there. Dave can’t imagine how this place gets enough customers. Ellen however KNOWS that true shoppers would do anything for their passion, even risk life and limb! Anyway, inside is Ellen’s dream come true: cheap designer shit. But everything’s still really expensive, because the dollar sucks against the pound. She found some things she liked, but there was no changing room. Weird according to Dave, but it really is typical of places like this (outlets and sample sales).
Anyway, she bought two items, and wanted to use the bathroom before we left. The bathrooms were located in the front, right behind the registers. AND ELLEN WENT INTO THE MEN’S ROOM. Now granted, the men/women signs in England aren’t that clearcut, and there was no urinal in the men’s room (just stalls) to show that it was clearly a men’s room. So she went in, and the security guard started screaming at Dave to get her out. So Dave opened the door and yelled, “Ellen, you’re in the men’s room, you gotta get out!” He then stood by the door and waited for her to come out. A confused Chinese guy got upset with Dave in the meantime, because he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let him in the men’s room. Ok, so that was that. Dave goes to retrieve his backpack from the bag check, and he can’t find the tag. The lady asks me to describe it, and this leads to her going through my bag and announcing all the bizarre snacks I’m carrying around, in case Ellen got hungry (the weird chips we bought while killing time in the food store). Good times, good times. Luckily, we found a light rail station nearby that could take us to a Tube stop. It was scary, also, but we didn’t wanna do anymore walking. Unfortunately, this adventure took up the whole afternoon. For dinner, we met Molly for fish and chips and afterwards went on a walking tour that was recommended to us by Dave’s friend Doug. It was all about Jack the Ripper. . .very very cool! Afterwards Ellen got hungry and like we said earlier, everything in London closes early so we couldn’t even get anything at a McDonald’s! (They had really good Cadbury Cream Egg McFlurrys)
Monday, we traveled by train to Windsor Castle with Michael. It was the coolest thing Dave had ever seen. This part-time royal residence was awesome. Ellen personally liked it better than Versailles. Its chapel was amazing (better than Westminster Abbey, Michael and Dave thought), and the inside parts we were allowed to see were just ridiculous. Since the royals weren’t around, we were allowed to see where they live. Unbelievable. It was a real-live castle! (Of course, upon peeking through the gate the first time, Dave saw green field in the middle, and mentioned what an awesome wiffleball field it would make. But we digress). We had lunch at a local pub where someone was talking to the owner about how things are going to be for the royal wedding next week since it is right across the street, and then returned so Michael could get to class. (They go to class in the London program. Who knew?!) Back in London, we saw really cool Greek and Roman artifacts along with the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, and then walked around in Harrod’s (huge famous department store) for a little bit. After this, we got lucky and were able to go and see Parliament in session. It was highly amusing: they just ramble on about the most random shit, interject whatever they feel like, and generally get nothing done. I mean they were talking about their kids’ birthday parties! No wonder they work all night! It was high comedy. We follow this up with dinner at a random pub. After dinner, we got what we had been craving all week: a Cadbury Cream Egg McFlurry from McDonald’s (talk about random!) It was everything we always thought it would be.
Tuesday, we walked by Buckingham Palace, which was pretty cool. And then it was time to return to land of George W. Bush and March Madness (which is awesome) and bad Guinness (which is not so awesome). Fun trip, we highly recommend it.