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London, England – Birgitta Walsh
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Birgitta Walsh

London, England

After a flight on Icelandair and a stop in Iceland I arrived in London. My purpose was to revisit places Birgitta and I had been together. You will see how magnificent it was in the accounting of our visit in 1995. I revisited the places we went, saw a couple of shows, toured the town, and nearly wore out a pair of shoes trying to recapture the magic but it just was not there. A 10-day effort just turned out to be nothing special. London has changed maybe for the better due to the recent influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe who I think add a great deal to the diversity. Here is an e-mail I sent to my girls:

Today I went to Covent Garden to the Apple store to get my phone to work. They sent me to another place O2 which is a sim and phone supplier. They changed the card and you all got the new number.

After I went to Leicester Square. (Less Ter). There is the place they have all the half price theater tickets. There used to be only one now there are dozens. The shows at half price are still pretty expensive. Leicester Square is the place noted for people watching and Mom and I went there sometimes to eat and she watched. I had an urge for meat and stupidly went to Angus Steakhouse. I got a seat at the window with a great view. Hundreds of people passing. What I saw: Every third person has a cell phone in their hand or some other electronic device maybe used as a map. 70% of men are in Jeans, 40% of women. Some facts: Population 8.2 million, 60% of Londoners are white, 18% Asian, 13% black, 5 % mixed race, 4% other???. Six in 10 Brits call themselves Christian, Half Anglican but in any given week more Londoners visit a mosque than an Anglican Church. Today the average Londoner is 40 years old, has 1.7 children and will live to be 80. He/She will drink 75,000 cups of tea in a lifetime and consume less Alcohol that the average Britt. Every year he spends 276 hours riding the tube. London is the most expensive of major capitals. My travel guide Rick Steves says you can get by for $130 per day, $25 for dinner,15$ for lunch, $70 for hotel. I wonder where he stays and eats. I am close to doubling his estimate. The place is still beautiful and has become much more modern. There are lots of new Buildings. I stood on the South bank of the Thames and counted 19 very large cranes building new buildings. England like the US says they are in recovery from recession. I certainly didn’t see that in the places I visited. I don’t understand how they can pay the high prices for everything.

Contrast that to the 1995 entry:

In 1995 we rented a house  for the Month of May in Chelsea just off Kings Road, in the midst of shopping and tourist activity. It was a Muse House meaning it was built in the area between two buildings where the horses and Carriages passed or were stored. It was about 16 feet wide. It was two stories  high with a bath on the staircase between.  The kitchen was smaller than the one on Vasa II. The bedroom was about  14 x 16. Now we know how Gulliver must have felt in Lilliput Land. BUT, the location made up for it all. It turned out to be a fabulous month. We purchased a travel pass which worked on all buses and the Tube for travel anywhere in London. Hop on Hop off: Anywhere , anytime. We made daily pilgrimages to the half price theater ticket booth in Leicester Square and with Birgitta’s careful planning we saw almost every show playing at the time. Phantom of the Opera. Chess, Miss Saigon, The Mousetrap, Cats, The 39 steps,  and so many others. Those mentioned are still running today, nineteen years later. We saw every Museum. Dinner in the best of restaurants. We had a little money in those days so nothing was off limits. The highlight of the month was the Chelsea Flower Show which we was sold out and impossible to get . But as you may have guessed Birgitta found a way.  This city has to be  one of the most interesting places we have ever visited. I can’t remember ever having such an exhausting vacation. Next we were off to spend a week at Cambridge University, lived in one of the Graduate  Halls. We could honestly brag we had attended Cambridge. But that’s another story soon to follow.

Another example of what a success this 1995 visit was the story about “the White Lady” and our quest for the holy grail. Mom’s favorite drink in 1995 was the White Lady cocktail. Every afternoon after whatever we had been doing that day between 4 and 5 pm we went to one of the best hotels in search of the perfect White Lady. Mom would explain to the bartender what we were doing. They would give it their best effort. I kept track and on Day 10 we were at the Sheraton Hotel and she hit pay dirt. So for most of the next 20 days we had left you could find us at the Sheraton. John became mom’s favorite bartender of all time. He shared his secret. “The glass has to be in the freezer for 4 hours. The cocktail mix is the same as everyone’s. But, the secret ingredient was a slice of frozen lemon. Frozen solid so it did not melt quickly.” NO watered down drinks here. But you had to drink fast. Not a problem! Several years later we were stranded at the Baltimore airport. Flights cancelled for weather. We were at a Holiday Inn the airline was paying. Next door was the Sheraton so of course we set off to find if the White Lady was as good. Mom again explained what she wanted. This bartender said in his English accent. “Mrs I used to work at that London Sheraton. Every English Bartender learns in Bartender School. It is one of the best 10 drinks in the world. But here we have no frozen glasses. No frozen Lemon but if you come back tomorrow I will have one waiting for you.” Mom drank his and pronounced it the second best she had ever had. He glowed! Made her another on the house. Me, I think I remember paying $16 for my “Grand Duke’ de Alba” brandy.

We were in search of the perfect white lady and today out target hotel was “The Ritz” which THEY think is the best hotel in London. It is as they would say very “posh”. As we entered we were stopped at the entrance to the bar by a short official in uniform who informed us that Jeans were not allowed in the Ritz. Mom was wearing jeans. Designer jeans were at the height of fashion at the time. About the time he told us this there was a commotion at the entrance and in waltzed Jane Fonda with her entourage and two cameramen. Mom immediately noted “she was wearing jeans”. The man talking to us noted this also. Mom knew he would never be allowed to “correct” Mrs. Fonda. She turned to him and said in an irritated voice “what now little man”. Undeterred he said I will allow you into the bar but do not attempt to enter the restaurant. As we walked away Mom said, “Don’t you just hate these little Napoleons, they are all the same”. He surely heard her. We proceeded to the bar where the white lady did not live up to expectations. This was before our Sheraton discovery. Birgitta was still stewing about the jeans. (Years later she still became irritated thinking of it.) After the drink on the way out Mom noted that Jane Fonda was in the restaurant with her crew. She turned to me and said “I want a salad.” OK! I know when to be quiet. In we went and both had just a salad. The little man saw us but chose to ignore it. This was so unlike her I was very surprised. She hated anything she considered unjust or maybe just plain stupid.

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