According to Chemistry…

 

 

I saw this sign outside a pub in London. It made me giggle.

 

After an extended bout of the London Croup, I am now (mostly) recovered and off the wagon! During the worst of it, I abstained from drinking as I didn’t think it would do a dang thang to help. But now that I’m better… Wow! Oh! Alcohol! How I’ve missed thee!

The London Croup

 

 

I can hardly believe it, but the damned London Croup is still hanging around. It seems to have settled in my sinuses and is wreaking havoc with my sanity.

 

I’m able to breathe just fine through my nose (which is a godsend, as I am not a mouth-breather). But there’s still a lot of blockage in other sinus cavities and that blockage is causing my teeth to ache. That’s right – my teeth. And how do I know this isn’t merely a dental issue? Well, when I take a sinus-clearing medicine and my sinuses do actually clear, the pain goes away. As there’s no pain medication in the sinus products, I’ve deduced the problem to be one of sinus blockage. And I’m not happy.

 

If I were a witch I’d cast out the evil London Croup. But I’m not a witch. So I trudge on…

London – Heaven and Earth – A Wrap-Up

 

 

“Some moments that I’ve had,

Some moments of pleasure…”

Kate Bush

Moments of Pleasure“ from The Red Shoes

1993

 

 

I’ve been writing about London all week now. And today’s post shall serve as a wrap-up. But first, our final day in London…

 

 

Just because we’d managed to eat breakfast the day before, we saw no reason to break from the path of deprivation on our final day. So we got up and readied for a trip to Highgate Cemetery. This was another of those places we’d likely never have gone on our own. But thanks to the dude who blogs at The Endless British Pub Crawl, we had traveled to London with this recommendation on our to-tourist list. And boy were we glad we had.

 

 

As one needs a reservation to tour Highgate Cemetery West, and as all reservations (at that time) were booked until October, Mister and I only toured Highgate Cemetery East.

 

 

It is truly beautiful, and I felt so at ease. (Honestly – if they offered a camping / sleepover sort of deal for the living, I’d sign up.) If all we’d done was simply walk through with no knowledge of anyone buried there, we would have enjoyed the morning. But we were given a handy-dandy guide upon entrance, so we were well aware of some of Highgate East’s residents. For instance, I fairly dorked out over Douglas Adams’ gravesite.

 

 

George Eliot is buried here also. For those who don’t know, George Eliot was the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. She wrote Middlemarch and Silas Marner, among other works. Some think she’s buried in Westminster Abbey, but the plaque there is merely a memorial stone in “Poets’ Corner.”

 

 

I was also moved by Malcolm McLaren’s grave. His hands stirred the punk movement soup to a great degree (New York Dolls, Sex Pistols), and he also played a big role in ’80′s music (Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow).

 

 

There were beautiful graves of folks I’ve never heard of, too…

 

 

And then there’s Karl Marx. I don’t know why this one surprised me, but it did. Hey – socialists gotta be buried, too.

 

 

After a few hours in the peaceful cemetery, we decided to head back into London proper. We definitely needed lunch and we had a destination in mind: Newman Arms.

 

 

We’d had this one on our to-eat-at list and were so grateful we fit it in. We each had pie and it was sublime. I would definitely go back to this joint.

 

 

After lunch, we figured we could get one more item ticked off our list: Westminster Abbey.

 

 

We have no photos of the interior, as photography is prohibited. But trust me when I tell you it is an amazing experience, simply to enter this structure. The history! Construction of the present church began in 1245, for cry-eye. And some mighty historical folks are interred here, friends: Elizabeth I, Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, Henry VII, Charles Dickens, George Frederic Handel, Laurence Olivier, Henry Purcell, Alfred-Lord Tennyson, Rudyard Kipling, Mary Queen of Scots – big breath – and about a jillion others.  Coronations have taken place here since the 11th century and include Henry I (my distant relative), Henry VIII and the reigning Queen Elizabeth II. And if you caught any of that there Royal wedding in 2011, you got an eyeful of The Abbey.

 

 

Anyhoo, we walked around and saw as much as we could, then headed back to the hotel to pack up before the next morning’s flight. Once that task was handled, we went out for dinner (yep – 2 meals that day).

 

 

 

We were mostly quiet during dinner. I think we were processing the adventure of London. As vacations go, we’d done quite a lot. It was the first trip in ages where Mister wasn’t working or stressed about work. That made a huge difference in the experience – for both of us. Yes – I fell ill, but it could have been worse. The London Croup wasn’t a cakewalk but it wasn’t debilitating, either. Could we have done more while in London? Sure. (We certainly could have eaten more than one meal per most days, but I’m trying to forget that.) The truth is we had checked off a lot on our to-tourist list, and if we’d managed to slot in a few more activities, I’m afraid certain experiences would have suffered. Besides, now we have the beginnings of a new To-Tourist List – for the next time.

 

 

The next morning, we woke early, dressed and checked out of the hotel. We took the Tube one last time, then boarded Heathrow Express. Within minutes we were at the airport, bags checked and ready. We found ourselves one final Bacon Butty and we proceeded to the designated gate.

 

When I think about it, it would have been far easier if this trip never happened. Let’s face it – it was a big commitment. Time, money, energy – all those things were required in spades. Preserving those precious commodities would have been so much simpler. But that’s not what we chose. No, we opted to check an item off a Bucket List. To be perfectly honest here, I didn’t know I had a Bucket List until I made that middle-of-the-night Kate Bush-concert-ticket purchase. And once I realized the magnitude of what that meant, I was a bit thrown. Bucket Lists are for old folks, right? I mean, am I of the age where I need to start ticking things off lists, as I may not get another chance?

 

The short answer is yes. I am of an age. And thinking about this could attract a rain cloud above my head so fast as to make me dizzy. But as I’ve contemplated my Bucket List and what it means to own that, I’ve realized I’ve always had a Bucket List. I just never called it that. When I was 16 and wanted to skydive – that was a Bucket List item (checked off). When I was 20-something and wanted to experience Italy in all its wonder – that was a Bucket List item (checked off). I could go on and on with items both large and small. Some are checked off, others not. The younger me would simply think ticking off Bucket List entries is cool. Present me – the of an age me – is a bit more grateful. A bit more emotional about the gravity of life’s passing. I suppose that’s why Mister and I chose to take this big trip to London. We knew we may not get another opportunity for such an adventure.

 

 

This trip was amazing and there were multiple moments of pleasure. We got to see Kate Bush. Kate friggin’ Bush! We got to eat at one of the best restaurants in the world. We got to spend 4 1/2 hours touring all things Harry Potter. We walked in and out of history. We had exactly 1 argument (and only 1). For the first time, we felt like we understood The Underground. (We must have appeared confident, as we were constantly being stopped by other tourists with their direction requests.) In short, we loved London. And we loved each other. And while I will take many, many memories from this trip along life’s journey, I hope the memory topping that list is standing side-by-side with Mister, singing the final notes of “Cloudbusting” while Kate Bush directed us from the stage, just before she herself sang “The sun’s coming out. Your son’s coming out.”

 

 

London – The Weekend

 

 

“When I was a child, running in the night

Afraid of what might be.

Hiding in the dark, hiding in the street

And of what was following me…”

Kate Bush

Hounds of Love” from Hounds of Love

1985

 

 

When I woke Saturday morning, I was still floating from the joy of the previous day’s Harry Potter adventure. I was also still dragging from the London Croup. Mister had kept quiet so I could sleep in a bit, and I greatly appreciated that. But I knew it wouldn’t be enough. I was willing to try and muster up the energy to tick a few items off our to-tourist list, so I bucked up and put my big-girl pants on.

 

 

 

As it was post-breakfast and I knew I couldn’t handle one more day of skipping meals, I practically begged Mister to go out with me for a nice Indian lunch. The way I saw it, some hot, spicy curry might help the symptoms of my evolving London Croup. It was worth a shot, right? So we made our way to the Covent Garden area to Dishoom. When we walked in to find nearly half of the customers resembling folks of Indian descent, we knew we were in the right spot. After feasting on a lunch of amazing food, we were incredibly happy with our restaurant choice. If you’re ever in that area, I highly recommend Dishoom.

 

 

 

After lunch we walked and talked, taking our time. There was no place we had to be, so we simply roamed. At some point we decided to refer to our list of things we wanted to do in London.

 

 

Our next agenda item was The Courtald Gallery, located in Somerset House (which has a fairly interesting history in and of itself). This is one of those places we would never have known about, had my art teacher not recommended a visit.

 

 

It’s not as vast a gallery as The National Museum, but it’s still impressive. Now that I think about it, maybe the fact that it’s more manageable in scale is part of its attraction. We saw the whole joint and it was pretty danged cool.

 

 

From there, we walked in the direction of our hotel.

 

 

As we neared the hotel, Mister’s curiosity could wait no longer. You see, each day we would pass a pub called Bag O’ Nails and each day Mister wanted to go in. I wasn’t completely against the idea, I just thought it would probably be a little too touristy, as it was across the street from the Tube. (I do realize we ourselves were tourists.) As we were still fairly full from lunch and would not be ordering food, I said okay. So the Bag O’ Nails it was. Mister ordered a pint and I ordered tea – London Croup and all.

 

By the way, have I mentioned that I had my last drinks after the Harry Potter experience? I tried, thinking a bit of alcohol might serve a medicinal role. That didn’t hold true, however, and I was therefore off the drink. Sad. Sad, I tell you.

 

Back to the Bag O’ Nails. Mister had his pint and I had my tea and by then we’d both had quite enough. It wasn’t a terrible place, but it wasn’t grand, either. It was, however, checked off. And that meant a short walk to the hotel and sleep.

 

 

When Sunday morning arrived, I was more rested. I was also more ill. I mean really, London Croup! What the hell? Anyhoo, against all odds, Mister and I woke during breakfast hours. And we actually had breakfast! Can you imagine?

 

 

We ate and then walked around a bit before heading back to the hotel, via Buckingham Palace. Food had helped, but I was beat. I encouraged Mister to head out on his own, so as not to waste the day, but he’s not that kind of guy. He stayed in with me and we did a bunch of nothing. For reals. Just - nothing. We read a bit. We watched telly. We chilled. And it was awesome. By early evening, I was more rested, but also tired. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s how I felt. And I couldn’t have appreciated Mister’s willingness to let me off the hook any more than I did. Honestly, that day in felt like it saved my life.

 

 

At some point we thought to go out for dinner. It was one day before the official start of Autumn, but London seemed to have already crossed over. The air was crisp and the temperature dropped. We walked around the corner to our “local” – The Phoenix – for one last meal. As it was Sunday, we ordered The Roast (for 2) and dug in. For those of you keeping score, that meant we ate 2 meals that day. A record!

 

 

After dinner, it was still fairly early, so we opted to walk a new-to-us route back to the hotel.  There were some interesting sights along the way.

 

 

Back in our room, we made plans for the next day, knowing it was to be our last in London.

 

 

With full bellies, we settled in…

 

 

To be continued…

London – Harry Potter

 

 

“Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow -

Unbelievable.”

Kate Bush

Wow” from Lionheart

1978

 

 

When I woke, I felt something I did not wish to feel: a tickle in my throat. I had been all over London the past few days, and people were hacking and sneezing in every direction. But I’m a compulsive hand-washer. I’m downright wacky about not touching any part of my face while out in the world. How could I have picked up a germ? I couldn’t give myself an answer, but that didn’t change the fact that I had indeed contracted something. And the tickle was wasting no time in turning into pain. But what could I do? I had places to go and things to see, for cry-eye!

 

It started a few weeks before the trip. Mister and I had talked about taking the short trip outside London to Watford. What is in Watford, you may ask? Leavesden Studios are located in Watford, friends. And that is the home of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. (It is a studio tour, not to be confused with the theme park in Orlando, Florida.) It’s easy enough to procure tickets online, but I wanted to immerse myself so deeply in that tour that my Golden Snitch would pop. So I contacted someone Mister and I know and asked for a favor. I had no expectations, as people are busy and if I didn’t hear back from the guy, well, no worries. I just thought I’d ask. And the most amazing thing happened. Our friend responded. Not only did he respond, he came through. Big time. We were to have our very own personal guide for the tour!

 

 

Anyhoo, back to that fateful Friday morning – the one with the sore throat. Mister and I headed out early, as I’m mortified of being late. First we went to Kings Cross Station, as we’d heard Platform 9 3/4 was there and we wanted to see it. Even though there was a queue of folks waiting for photos, I just couldn’t get into it. Not sure why, but it was kind of a letdown. And that made me sad. So we took the Tube to Euston Station and purchased tickets on the Overground Train to Watford Junction. I kept telling Mister that getting there early would give us an opportunity to have a little something for lunch before our tour. (As we’d missed breakfast – again – this sounded like a grand plan to me.) Taking the train was easy, then we caught the WB shuttle to the Studios. Easy. We were indeed early, and there was a cafe there, and we should have eaten. But we didn’t. Again, this one meal per day business… I don’t know what we were thinking. But I digress…

 

 

We went through the gift shop (which is fabulous, by the way) and took photos of ourselves a la the “Wanted” posters seen in the movies. (Yes, we are supreme dorks.) And it was awesome! Then we walked around the lobby and admired the portraits of the actors taken over the 10-year period of filming the movies. That alone brought giddy smiles and I was so happy! We weren’t even on the tour yet, y’all, and I was about to bust my buttons! So I got a coffee and we sat for a few minutes. When our designated tour time arrived, our designated tour guide appeared. Her name was Michelle and she was immensely likable. She led us to a room where the tour introduction is made and we were off. Note: I’m going to give you an abbreviated telling of our tour experience, because between the two of us, Mister and I took about 3 million-billion-godzillion photos. And y’all – that’s a few too many pics for a blog post.

 

 

After a brief introductory video, we and all the other folks with the same timed entry were led into a small auditorium. Once seated, our collective gaze fell on the doors before us: the entrance to The Great Hall of Hogwarts.

 

 

A brief speech was made by one of the guides and then, unexpectedly, he asked if Mikki and Mister were present. We looked at each other, then timidly raised our hands. We were asked to come forward, so Mister and I did. We were then directed to open the grand doors for all to enter…

 

 

Kids – I know we were standing on a film set. This place isn’t ancient or anything, but its beauty and place in my heart brought tears to my eyes. It is spectacular! And immense. There are so many things to admire and study in this room, one could spend all day there. But the tour was just beginning, so we were all led onward.

 

 

Our tour guide, Michelle, was keen to answer any and all questions and to say she is a font of information is an extreme understatement of the most ridiculous magnitude. Michelle was providing us with so many facts and stories, we could hardly keep up. Here are a few of the sights we encountered, starting with the Gryffindor Common Room…

 

 

The Fat Lady Portrait, showing actress Elizabeth Spriggs. Ms. Spriggs died during the production of the films. Our guide told us that after her passing, the producers were in need of another actress to fill her mighty frame. Apparently, actress/writer/comic Dawn French called up the producers and said something along the lines of, “So I heard you need a fat lady. I’m a fat lady.” The rest, as they say, is history…

 

 

The Weasley Clock…

 

 

Quidditch!…

 

 

Wands of the various characters – each handcrafted and unique…

 

 

At this point, we thought we must surely be near the end of the tour. That’s when Michelle told us we were about halfway through (wha?) and that we could take a short break – outside – and grab ourselves a snack if we so chose. We did chose, but as we had an impressive track-record of skipping meals to the point of weakness, we opted to only indulge in Butterbeer. No food…

 

 

Whereas the first part of the tour involved sets and props, the second part featured mostly technical aspects of the productions, such as various masks from Gringotts Goblins…

 

 

Buckbeak the Hippogriff – When Buckbeak came alive and started moving, it was beautiful…

 

 

If I tell you I love Dobby, I am underselling my emotions…

 

 

 

Then we entered Diagon Alley, which is spectacular…

 

 

Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes made me smile…

 

 

When we reached the small architectural model of Hogwarts, we thought that was it.

 

 

The tour must surely be over, right? Wrong. Michelle had given no indication that once we rounded the final corner, we’d encounter the filmed model of Hogwarts…

 

 

I happen to believe in magic. But if I’d been a non-believer, walking into that room would have converted me. The majestic beauty of Hogwarts gripped my very soul. Joyful tears filled my eyes and I was in awe. Walking all around the model, Mister and I were completely overwhelmed. Hogwarts! It is truly a sight to behold.

 

 

 

After leaving the Hogwarts room, everyone passes through a lovely space dedicated to all the people who worked on the Harry Potter films. Wand Boxes line the walls, top to bottom. Each box is labeled with the name of a person who contributed to production in some way. The big names are there, of course, but so are the names of people most of us will never know. It’s a lovely homage to the efforts of the many. And it was a fitting way to wrap up the tour.

 

 

We took a few parting photos, then it was time to say goodbye to our tour guide. Michelle made that day for us. Yes, we would have loved the tour had we taken it on our own. But we didn’t take it on our own. We had been guided and informed by a spectacular, dedicated, knowledgeable employee. And we loved it. We also adored her! We all hugged each other and said our goodbyes, then Mister and I picked up a few souvenirs at the gift shop. Our tour had lasted four and a half hours! We were happily spent and couldn’t believe everything we’d seen.

 

 

After the train ride back to London, we dropped our souvenirs at the hotel and headed out for a pub crawl. And food. All day without eating had left us weak. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure not eating wasn’t helping to fuel my body’s fight against whatever evil germ was attacking my throat. So we found a pub and had a fab dinner, then moseyed to another pub.

 

 

Y’all, I was trying. I really was. If Mister had said he’d wanted to hit up 10 more pubs, I would have given it my all. But the truth is, I was wavering. The London Croup (Mister’s name for it) was wiping me out and I felt awful. I guess I must’ve looked awful, too, because at some point Mister glanced at me and said he thought I needed to get some rest. We started walking back to the hotel and a sneezing fit grabbed hold of me and shook me silly. That’s when I knew I was defeated. We got to the hotel, I readied for bed and I very nearly passed out. As I was drifting off, I realized I was smiling. Wow – what a day! What a privileged experience! And then I fell asleep, with magical visions of Harry Potter drifting through my mind…

 

 

To be continued…