A day in London

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The ambient brightness of the sun blazing through my northwest facing open window, hurts my waking eyes. Yet this yields no immediate clue to the time of morning or where I am at. the sensation of waking up in a hotel room has always given me this effect of temporary disorientation. This morning is no different, the effect is minuscule, perhaps a couple seconds, this being my third night in the same room. I reach for my cell phone, it’s Friday morning at seven-thirty a.m. Now that I recognize my temporary home, I am in London and my vacation is coming rapidly to a close.

The breeze wafting through the window has made the room very chilly, I climb from my warm blankets and cross the short distance with the purpose of closing out the chill but instead I take a moment to look out over the narrow street fronted with Brownstone styled homes. They are red or tan brick structures with white sashed windows with front stoops leading out to the city sidewalk. Each building is similar to its neighbor, it being a flat landscape the windows all line up at the second story, two on each floor, three floors high, except for a small accent to the crown molding, cornices or doors. The uniformity shouts British order. I rub my sleepy eyes to encourage them to focus and accept the brightness, the cool air hastens the effect as I stare at the stoic, yet, marvelously picturesque urban vista from my forth floor window. I have nicknamed my top floor room, the London Tower Room, it takes sixty-two stair steps to reach it, my thighs burn with each ascension. In my contemplations I just soak it in, trying to hold the images in my memory for recall someday in the distant future.

The street stretches out for a length of three normal city blocks. The traffic travels one-way toward Victoria Station, Victoria is the hub for the cities trains, and subways. Each day I walk this avenue to hop the ‘tube’, the tag for their subway system. I have come to realize that this Ebury Street is also home to some of the widest variety of luxury and exotic automobiles that I have ever seen in a single running block. From inquires I have made from cabbies and other locals, this is a very well-to-do neighborhood, one can not argue. I force myself to get my morning chores started. Today is the day I have chosen to go to Windsor Castle and I have plenty to do before I can start my days adventures.

After my toilet chores are complete, I dress, organize my leather satchel, confirm my camera is fully charged then organize my money. I will take £100 and conceal it, some in my lanyard wallet around my neck, the rest in my money belt along with the one credit card and my drivers license. It is like dressing for battle to maintain your dignity and financial security, the pick-pockets are everywhere in Europe. I sling the strap of the heavy bag over my head and set off down the sixty-two steps to join my fellow tour companions, counting each step as I go.

They say counting things like steps, windows or cracks in the sidewalk are signs of obsessive compulsive disorder – O.C.D., but the disorder in my life must expel this diagnosis. The stairs are short flights and spiral at the bends cutting back and forth seven times, there I go again, counting.

The Brownstone building housing my hotel – they call it a bed and breakfast, I guess that is a more accurate nomenclature since they serve us a full British styled breakfast with table service. They even have and utilize a dumb-waiter. The dinning room is truly an old family dinning room and it is as homey as you could ask for. White table clothes with fine china flat-wear, silver service and cloth napkins complete the elegant Victorian atmosphere.

I greet the few tour companions scattered around the small room who have already assembled there in various states of their breakfast. I join Robert’s small table, he is a retired gentleman and is accompanying his teenage granddaughter with his wife on the same theater tour as I am. Robert sits alone drinking the remains of his countless cups of coffee. He is a early riser like me but he has had an hour jump on me this morning. We discuss what each has planned for the days activities, I tell him I am going to Windsor palace, I need to buy a train ticket to make the journey. He asked if I am going with anyone, I tell him confidentially that I prefer to go by myself. He laughs and tells me he has noticed my propensity for solitude, he confesses he is jealous of my liberty to go it alone. I finish my meal, bid him a good day and collect my leather satchel to stop by the front desk to ask for any advice on where and how would be the best practice for purchasing my train ticket.

The process was a simple task and with ticket in hand, I find my conveince and climb into the train car that seems more of a subway carriage. It is very empty and roomy, I sling my bag into the seat next to the window, always seeking security for my belongings from habitual reflex. I dig in for my journal to write about the past evening’s activities at the theater, my seat has a table, it is very conveniently placed for my needs. The play we went to last night was Agatha Christy’s Mouse Trap. It is the only play we have attended, every other night it has been a musical, so it was a nice change. The seats were not sold out and plays always have a more subdued atmosphere than the musicals, musicals are like a rock concert with a story line, full of energy and enthusiastic emotions. I write all the details I can remember, trying to capture the story to recall them someday when I want to remember it all with vivid images buried deep in my mind.

As I write, I stop to watch the scenery flash by my large window soaking up the solitude, I try to feel the images before me. On the other side of the rail ditch is a thick growth of small saplings, bushes and large trees that break occasionally to expose the farther landscape. It is lush, green open pastures of grass with grazing black angus cattle, sometimes a few horses or sheep dot the fields. Homes and barnes scatter this sparsely populated void between the city and small villages along this train route. It seems so familiar to me as I see my own country’s rural lay of the land is not much different than this. The world really seems so much smaller when you look at it with eyes willing to accept the commonalities we share. You imagine living thousands of miles away from your home in a foreign land would look and feel different, yet here you are speeding through a countryside that makes you feel homesick. I find it difficult to write about this on the train due to the zig-zagging carriage and bumping of the tracks, so I put my journal away for the time being.

I arrive at my destination at around 10:15 a.m. It is getting cloudy here and threatening to rain as I step off the carriage and follow the flow of the few commuters that joined me along the way. I exit the station and find myself in an unassuming yet busy street of the village of Windsor. It is a small town, not what I was expecting at all. To be honest I hadn’t thought much about what it would be like here. I guess I have been in the city so much over the past two weeks I didn’t consider that it would be any different. It is a quaint and romantic looking place. I consult my cellular phone to see where I am on my gps map, I see that if I walk up the hill and around the large stretch of a curve I will be at the castle, so I start walking.

It takes me ten minutes to be confronted with the huge walled building with a gated entrance and a very daunting line of tourist that curls outside and around the gate going down the hill and out of sight behind the facing buildings. I dread the waiting, I should have gotten up earlier. My shoulders drop at the prospect but I take it reluctantly in stride. I dig into my bag for my London Pass book to have something to read while I stand in the “cue”.

The cue is a British vernacular that starts to ‘stick’ the more you hear it and it soon becomes part of your own verbiage, like “good gads” and “bloody hell”.

I start foreword to follow the line down the sloping street that guides the mass of obnoxious tourist, I walk, more like a trudge than a walk. At about two-hundred yards I start to squeeze between a tour bus and the thick crowd making up the cue. At that point, I am holding my bag close to my front under my arm for security, holding my Pass book up in my right hand to avoid it getting caught up in the crowd and possibly dropping it. The a voice with a commanding but gentlemanly British tone, caught my attention.

“Sir, Sir, pardon me Sir.”

At the first moment I was wondering who he was trying to capture the attention of. So I glanced my head around to see.

I turned and seen the man in the Beefeater uniform, so famous around the world, he was three feet from me and looking directly at me. I thought I had done something terrible wrong and I didn’t understand what. He continued after catching my eye.

“Sir, you have a London Pass book, you can go directly into the castle”.

I was stunned at first, “I can?” I said, the disbelief must have been obvious.

“Yes Sir, you don’t need to wait in the cue with a London Pass, just walk up to the gate, they will let you right in”.

“Oh, okay… great… Thank you”

I was bewildered but I turned and walked back up the hill, my shoulders now were carried a great deal higher than on the previous declining trip. My spirits raised as well, I wanted to thank the tour guide for his wise decision to purchase the Pass books, I felt like I had a ‘key the the Gate’.

The kind gentleman was right, they had a line for those few who had the wise fore-thought to purchase a London Pass book. This new que was very short and it took fifteen minutes to get through the security scanners and metal detectors. I exited the security building and stepped right back into history.

The whole of the complex was vast, ancient and magnificent, I paid £4 for the self guided tour box that you can plug your ear buds into and I set off to explore the historic castle. It was a tour to remember, I took several hundred pictures with my compact camera, some for a record of the place I had visited and some for the artistic value of the composition. I spent four hours experiencing gilded, expansive rooms filled with priceless furniture, fixtures and art that I would have never imagined to see with my own eyes. Although the castle was a crowded mess of tourist, pushing and full of selfish rudeness, I was so glad I took the time to visit the wonderful “home” of the Royal Family.

When you exit the ‘apartments’ as the section of the castle was named, you are let out into the courtyard, I never imagined it being so lush and green. The landscaping was immaculate, even though the day was overcast and threatened rain at every moment. The effect was overwhelming, just as the Royals planed it.

I meandered down the sloping lane and was taking pictures of everything, I couldn’t help becoming an obnoxious tourist. The architecture, the colors and the composition was like a playground for a child. I just let go of my reservations and became an unabashed shutterbug. I did everything but push people out of my way!

This wondering led me to the side of St. George’s Chapel, I was just focused on the great images I was capturing for posterity sake and maybe painting someday. That’s when I decided to look at what I was taking pictures of, it was a chapel and a grand structure it was. Europe has so many imposingly cathedrals, you can lose sense of the scale of them, they are all so large. But the largest are usually Cathedrals or Basilicas, Chapels are usually small like in the Americas. This ‘Chapel’ was anything but quaint, it was magnificent.

There was a tour sign out in front of the Chapel’s side door, I entered with a sense of wonderment, was it as impressive and beautiful inside as it was outside?

My breath was taken away, I physically gasp. It was one of the most beautiful building I have ever seen. It was airy, light, and visually it seemed to be open to the outside, it was so bright inside. The naïve was held high, supported with ribbed columns that stretched for the ceiling in thin ribbed branching fingers finished in graceful arches apexing to points marking the middle of the structure. It was sublime, graceful and awe inspiring. This truly is Gods house, spirituality was not hard to find in a house like this, it was natural. The urge to sit in a pew and bend my head in a quiet prayer was as normal here as no where else on earth that I have been so far. So I did just that and I preyed.

The tour was well worth all my efforts and I was so captured with the whole of the visit that time slipped away without recognition. I really ‘lost track of time’.

Outside the castle walls I found myself to be very hungry but it was mid-afternoon and at the least, I needed to get a snack and a cup of coffee. I walked up the Main Street to seek out a coffee shop, I found one just a short distance from the main square. It is named Esquires coffee houses Windsor. I ordered a large dark roast coffee and a fruit scone, it was the largest cup of coffee in all of Europe so far this trip! It came with condiments of strawberry preserves and clotted cheese spread, I have never heard of this spread before. It was deep yellow and crusty on top but when you cut through the crystallized crust it was creamy soft, the consistency of warm cream cheese but the salty sweet taste of real butter. I took some time to journal and check my Facebook feed while I enjoyed the relaxing time before heading back to the train station and “home”.

It was around 3:15 when I left the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead station. The trains leave about every ten or fifteen minutes and with the exception of having to disembark from the train I started on- due to mechanical issues, I arrived at the bed and breakfast at 4:30. I freshened up in my room and organized my belonging once again before heading out to find my way to Trafalgar Square by way of the tube. Tonight I will see the Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesties Theater, it is just a few blocks from the square and I want to find a nice place to eat dinner before joining the tour group outside the venue at around 7:15.

I took a turn through the Trafalgar neighborhood once, I was in search of an acceptable location to dine at but nothing really captured my attention. I didn’t need to bust the bank eating out tonight but the only place that did catch my eye was a very upscale Italian place just on the corner and one hundred twenty feet away from the front of the theater. I resigned to it because I was running out of time before the theater started at 7:30, it’s named Assaggetti Restaurante’. It was so fancy that even the staff seemed to have a stick up their butts. I am never intimidated by these places and I abhor snobbish people but I went in anyway.

The entry way has about four or five steps leading up and into the reception area, this being blockaded by a stern opulent wooden podium with a very attractive hostess keeping guard at her post next to it. She could have been a fashion runway model, she even stood as though waiting for her next series of camera clicks to capture her enduring beauty. All of her slim frame was maybe all of five foot-six, long black hair, parted in the middle, draping like silk over her back and shoulders and she wore a red spaghetti strapped dress that clung to every edge of her firm alluring figure. her face would have stopped a riot if it were not for her stoic stare of complacent boredom which made her now, seem ugly. A frown came over her face when she lowered her eyes upon me as I climbed the stairs entering into her domain. She had sized me up and had found me lacking in style, I was dressed very casually, comfortable cloths for traveling, not hobnobbing attire.

I smiled at her in the hopes she would smile back and I could change the way I felt about her. She didn’t smile. I wasn’t surprised.

“Do you wish to dine tonight?” Her voice sounding as bored with me as she appeared. She had an Italian hint to her accent, was it natural or faked?

“Yes.” I said in as authoritative voice as I could muster.

“For how many?”

“Just me.” I smiled at this, I thought it was wildly obvious, there wasn’t anyone near me at all.

“Very good Sir.” She bent slightly to collect the menu and wine list from under the podium. “This way please”, turning as gracefully as a ballerina, she strode away as if leading a funeral procession.

She looked as perfect from behind as she did from the front, I looked away scanning the whole of the room hoping no one caught me checking her out from my trailing vantage point. I think to myself, had I been younger and much better looking, you know, like Chris Hemsworth, she would have been in trouble.

“Here you are.” She waved her hand in a vague motion to the cushioned high top bench along the wall. It was maybe twelve feet long and shared the length of the wall to the street window with three high top bar tables. The tables were maybe twenty four inches in diameter and had one tall bar chair facing the table and bench. I was placed at the end next to the hall that lead to the kitchen, probably the worst seat in the house. She had now earned the full-out bitch status, I truly disliked this women as she obviously disdained me.

“Your server will be along” she said as she was turning away not encouraging or waiting a response from me.

I was getting a bit miffed at this whole short experience and contemplated just standing back up and walking out. But the poor seating arrangement had now wrestled my attention away from her, my feet didn’t touch the foot-board at the bottom of the couch seat. They were swinging freely, as a child would do, I am not but five feet-six inches tall. I realized that in about five minutes my feet with be numb with lack of circulation. This added to my consternation, I noticed out of the corner of my eye, that a waiter was coming down the hall from the kitchen. I caught him as he was blowing by me.

“Excuse me, I need to move to another table, my feet can’t touch the floor.” I was pointing down at my swinging feet.

“Um, yes Sir, Let me see what I can do.” His British accent, thick with aggravation and a hint of condemnation. He stopped at the podium and gesturing towards me with a nod of his head, passed the message to the hostess. She glared at me as she quietly said something under her breath. She approached me in her sauntering slow gait with no compassion in her dark eyes under those scowling brows and stoic consternation.

“Is there something wrong with your table Sir?” Still not an inkling of a smile.

“Yes, my feet will go to sleep if I continue sitting here…” pointing to me feet, “I can’t touch the foot board.” I was starting to stand up, I was going to move and I was determined I was going to eat my dinner at this stuffy establishment regardless or in spite of their treatment of me.

“Very well, come this way.” She lead me past the podium and over to the other wall to a small two-top square table perhaps thirty inches square. It was located on the other side of the street corner next to the large window face out over the city street.

“How will this do Sir?”

“Much better, thank you.” And I smiled a very warm smile; still no return smile from this stone face… Creature.

I settle into my new surroundings opening my leather satchel, retrieving my journal and pen. My fountain pen was eager to reek havoc on this injustice and the wounding of my pride. I had gathered up the menu and was engaged in perusing the possibilities when… “Good evening Sir, may I bring you something to drink?” The waiter spoke in his most proper British accent.

“I need a few more minutes, I will be drinking wine but I haven’t decided what I will be eating just yet.” I glanced up from my menu and I smiled my most polite smile. This smile, it took some effort.

“As you wish Sir, I shall return.” he moved on to another table.

As I had some time on my hands and I was in no rush, now that I had a better table, I studied my surroundings. It hit me that while I have my journal out, I should give the staff the appearance of critiquing their establishment and… so I did. It was time to put on a show.

I started to study the room and then turn to my journal and write, I repeated this and I actually did just that. I started to note the décor, the colors, the fixtures and table arrangements. I enjoyed it so much I now do this at most new places I eat, it’s a great exercise in writing. I recorded the items I wished to order for my meal and the wine I would drink. I was now having a great time, I had turned a bad situation to my advantage and was enjoying every moment.

My actions soon captured a few of the staffs attention, I was getting stared at and when I noticed them, they shamelessly glanced away. It was working, I had them wondering “who is that American and why is he writing and what?’. So I kept it up with obvious dramatic flare, scowling or nodding as I wrote.

I noticed that the nervous trend was going up the chain of command, the manager or so he appeared to be, was now catching side-glances at me. Like I was stealing candy from a grocers shelves, I had their attention. I was now having the time of my life, welcome to my world… snobs.

Now I might sound like an uncultured person after these last few passages but I have traveled the world and made it a study to be socially well practiced. I can talk and ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to taste, culture and politics. I know which fork to use and when, I am an avid wine connoisseur and food is my passion. Pairing them is an art in its self, I take great pride in this and tonight I was going to shine.

So when the waiter came back to inquire if I was ready to order I had decided to order a half carafe of Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Angelo 2015 this wines appellation is of the Abuzzi region of Italy. I continued my order with a bread basket ‘mixed bread’ as it was listed on the menu.

He responded with an enthusiastic “Very fine choice Sir. The Montepulciano is a wonderful wine. I shall return soon with your carafe. ” He flashed a genuine broad smile as he spun away to arrange for my selected viticultural experience.

I returned to my Journal. I continued to cheat glances at the staff as I scanned the room, jotting down the notes I found vital to my assessments. It really was a very nice place to dine, the surroundings made me feel relaxed and kinda hip now, now that I owned these little people. Inside I am laughing to myself because I am not that conceited but who doesn’t want to feel like they can ‘think’ this way if only occasionally. Even if it is a little bit wrong, it’s comical to turn the tables in life, on people who deserve the table to be spun.

Another waiter came by my table to fill my water glass and smiled as he said. “Is everything to your liking so far sir?”.

“Yes, I am doing just fine.” I didn’t want to overstate it too soon, that would ruin my status quo.

This charade continued throughout the evening, I was on my ‘A’ game.

The wine came and the presentation was marvelously opulent, delivered on a silver platter with a polishing cloth for practicalities and effect. Placing the carafe on the table followed by the glass and cloth. He tucked the platter under his elbow for a convenient place out of the way. Picking up the cloth and glass he ceremoniously eliminated the unseen spots and placed it next to the carafe. Then using the cloth to cradle the lip of the carafe as he poured a sample for me to taste for my approval.

I sipped a small amount, then swished it from one side of my mouth to the other letting the crisp liquid wash over my tongue then sucking air between my lips aerating it on the tip of my tongue. I held it in my mouth for a second for taste and a pause ‘effect’, then swallowed it. I held the glass up to the light swirling it to study the color. It was ruby red and had started to age already due to a slight tinge of brown around the edges. A sure sign of a bottle with a short life span, but I was very satisfied, the price was not too insulting with all aspects considered. I looked up to the waiting server.

“It has a short life in the bottle but not quit there yet, but a very acceptable table wine.”

I gave a nod of my head toward my glass and set it down for him to continue the full pour.

As he poured he acknowledged my assessment with. “I believe you are correct, another year, maybe two but it is a fine wine with dinner. Have you decided on your choice for dinner tonight Sir?”

“Yes I will have the Speggellino Bolongnese, for desert, I would like the crème’ brûlée accompanied with a snifter of the twenty-year Grahma’s Vintage port 2011.”

At this he raised an approving eyebrow. “A very nice choice of accompaniment Sir, I shall return shortly with your entrée.” He again smile broadly turned and marched away from the table.

I now noticed the Hostess was catching my eye and blessing me with long lingering smiles, almost flirtatious. She too, was now all in on the spit and polish team. My chore was now complete, I was satisfied with my rouse and had felt I had turned a bad experience into a memorable and pleasant one. Their show of respect for me, though it may have been a rouse on my part, allowed me to attain the treatment I should have received in the first place. I had no guilty conscience and gained something from the sour start we initiated at the beginning.

I finished my meal and wine, the journal had a grand entry, freshly inked into history. I stood up after paying my tab, I left an enormous tip, something they frown on but won’t turn away. I headed for the door with well wishes and grandiose blessing upon my departure from five or six of the staff including the Hostess as I left their Resturant.

The Phantom of the Opera was a splendid event also but without the pretentiousness experienced at the restaurant.

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