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Dec 13, 2018   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Well that was a whirlwind! Welcome back blog faithful. I’m here to tell tales of Jolly Old England and too many miles in the air. I think I’m finally close to being somewhat normal after all the jet lag, both going out and coming back. It does take its toll on you.

First off, though, is a quick story about a jacket. Last year, when we went to Edinburgh and London, I saw the weather forecast and decided to take a big heavy overcoat. I was glad I did, especially up in Edinburgh where it was indeed cold but something about the air there always makes it feel colder. This time, I saw the London forecast and it was showing highs in the low 50s, so I figured I’d take a leather jacket instead.

Pretty nice jackets they gave us back in the day! (Click on any image to enlarge)

At one point in time I had three leather jackets in the closet. One didn’t fit very well, and it wasn’t the highest grade of leather, so it was donated to charity during a coat drive for the homeless here in the Twin Cities. I don’t know what happened to the second one, although it’s likely stuffed in a closet here somewhere. There was one in our main hall closet and it fit nicely and felt about right, so it went with me. I remember thinking, “Back in the heyday of the CSK sponsorship, they gave us all leather jackets. I wonder what ever happened to that one?”

When we got on the plane and I had my jacket on my lap, so that the flight attendant could hang it up, I looked down and saw this faint outline on the back of the jacket. It’s alive! You’ll probably need to click on this photo to actually see the Checker, Schuck’s, Kragen logo, which was very subtle. It was stamped onto the leather rather than stitched. I always liked that they did that because it made the coat sort of an any-occasion jacket, rather than strictly a racing jacket. Now I’m wondering where that other leather jacket ended up.

As I reported in the quick blog I did last week, I didn’t sleep at all on the flight going over. That was really frustrating and it set me up for the same struggle I had last year. I was dead tired after we arrived, but managed to stay up past 8:00 London time. I was actually on my laptop in one of the chairs in our room when the tiredness hit me so quickly it surprised me. All I could do was close the laptop and go to bed. Then, of course, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning. I did fall back asleep, and Barbara had to head out at 7:00 for meetings that were scheduled to last until 5:00, but by 8:00 I was tossing and turning . I had no choice but to get up.

Not a bad joint…

My plan was to do as much walking as I could on Friday, and I actually was aiming for a walk all the way around and through Hyde Park, which is directly across Park Lane from our hotel, the JW Marriott Grosvenor House. It’s a nice place. When I got up I opened the curtains and what did my tired eyes see but pouring rain. It was coming down in buckets. I had no desire to go out walking in that slop but I checked the forecast and Accuweather.com assured me that the skies would clear by 2:00. So, I went downstairs and hung out in the lobby for a while, grabbed some snacks and orange juice in the Executive Lounge, and just generally relaxed while keeping an eye on the sky. Sure enough the rain began to dissipate and before long the people walking on the sidewalks below my window began to lower and stow their umbrellas. Within 20 minutes, the sky was blue. Good work Accuweather!

So, I put on my jacket and headed out, walking up to Marble Arch. There’s a Tube station there (it’s the closest one to the hotel) and I knew we’d be riding it later in the weekend, so I almost went in there to buy a prepaid card for whatever Tube riding we’d need to do, but I made a rational decision to not do that. My thought was “If I get that Tube card now, and I’m way out over at the other end of Hyde Park, I might be tempted to use it for a ride back instead of finishing my walk.” I know myself all too well.

Early in the walk I was thinking the leather jacket might not be warm enough. It was about 45 degrees, but the wind was whipping pretty strongly and at first I was a bit chilled. That didn’t last long. I walked nearly to the other end of Hyde Park and then turned left through the gates to enter the park itself. It’s a huge park, and it’s crisscrossed with sidewalks, but fortunately there are map kiosks located all over the place, so I plotted a path back to end of the park that’s across from the hotel. By then, my gloves were off and I was unzipping the jacket. It’s nice leather, but man does it hold in the heat when you’re out walking around burning calories. I was steaming.

From that point forward, I was pretty miserable. It was like a trudge getting back as I got sweatier and sweatier. It’s lovely to feel your shirt totally stuck to your back when it’s just a bit too chilly to take the jacket off. By the time I got back to Grosvenor House, I couldn’t wait to get up to the room to take a shower and dry off. I should’ve taken two jackets. It would’ve been nice to have a lighter one.

Barbara’s colleagues from her company, HB Fuller, asked her if we’d like to join them for dinner at the incredible and historic Wilton’s restaurant. It’s the place that actually invented the meal Dover Sole. That sounded great, but then Barbara called again and said “They couldn’t change the reservation, so we’re on our own.” But then (yes, another “But then”) when one of the gentlemen had a quick change of plans we found out they could, indeed, seat three of us in the bar. That was fine by us, and off we went. Wilton’s was exactly as advertised. Amazing old English ambiance, incredible food, and a pretty good bartender to go along with it. Plus, our conversations were magnificent while we enjoyed it all. And we took taxis each way, so still no need for that Tube card.

We had all of Saturday free, with the highlight of the day being a matinee stage show in the theater district. First, though, after a good night’s sleep and a fine breakfast at the the hotel, we did go up to the Marble Arch Underground station and buy those cards. Then, off on the Central Line to make a connection at Holborn to the Piccadilly Line, then down to Covent Garden.

Hanging out in Covent Garden, with thanks to the kind British woman who took our photo

Covent Garden is a well known area of London that’s full of shops, kiosks, bistros, and stores that sell everything from hand-made jewelry to Premier League soccer scarves, plus everything in-between. It’s also very popular. The Tube cars were packed, too, and the Covent Garden station is one that doesn’t have escalators.  You can either climb 15 flights of stairs to get up to the street, or cram into one of three elevators (lifts). Between the Tube and the lift, it was everything a person with claustrophobia would hate. Fortunately, I rarely feel that stuff but Barb does get pretty stressed when it’s really bad, and the crowded lift was really bad. We were jammed in there with absolutely no space between any of us. It felt good to get out of that box and onto the street.

What was funny was that all those crowded spaces made sense of something I’d seen at the Holborn station, when we disembarked that train to get to the Piccadilly line. Covent Garden is one stop down the Piccadilly from Holborn, but as we exited the Central Line train I saw a sign that read “Walk To Covent Garden – 15 minutes” with an arrow pointing toward the exit. We thought that was odd, at the time. Now it makes sense. That short trip from Holborn to the Covent Garden station, and the sardine-like ride up the lift, was way worse than walking 15 minutes, and it probably took just as long.

And all the stress from the last Tube ride made the crowds throughout Covent Garden much more difficult to deal with. We were both feeling like “Get us out of here” so we strolled through a couple of shops and then got back outside. There was one more thing I was looking for, though, and it was fun to see it still there.

Lance and I shared a few pints up there, many moons ago.

My buddy Lance and I went to England and Scotland back in the mid-80s, and we got to be ace Tube riders who would spend nearly every evening up at Covent Garden because there was a lot of fun nightlife there. We usually started each evening at a place called Punch & Judy, and it had an outdoor patio that overlooked the busy street scene. I had a vague memory of where that might have been, and when we popped out of one end of the shopping area I had a feeling I should turn around and look up. There it was. And it’s still open and still has the same name.

Our matinee was at 2:30, and it was getting to be around the time we needed to head that way. Again, a quick look at a map kiosk got us headed in the direction of the Duchess Theater, a small and cozy venue in neighborhoods full of huge theaters.

We were early, so Barbara offered to show me the Savoy Hotel, which was just a few blocks away. She’s stayed there before, and was making a bee line for it, but I had a hard time keeping up because my head was on a swivel taking in all the sights in that part of the city. I don’t believe I’ve ever been to that area, and it was fascinating.

The Savoy was fascinating too, and we were lucky enough to get a quick table for two in the appropriately named “American Bar” where we could have a sip or two before the show started. The hotel is REALLY historic and the bar was full of incredible photographs of all the great movie stars and stage actors who have stayed there. Barb insists it’s haunted, too, but she added “They’re not bad ghosts. They tend to just walk around the halls at night.”

I made the request that the next time we go to London, we stay at the Savoy. I just loved the vibe in that part of London. Really fabulous and fun.

This is what you call “Having a good time in London.”

When it was time to get to the theater we walked back a few blocks and joined the queue of people waiting to get in. The play is called “The Play That Goes Wrong” and all I knew about it was that it’s a comedy and it gets rave reviews. The short version of the premise is this: It’s a play put on by a small community theater troupe, and from start to finish nothing goes according to plan. Right after we walked in to check our coats, one of the cast members ran into the room shouting “Winston, Winston!” and then he looked at me saying “Have you seen a French Bulldog come through here?”

I quickly played my part by immediately responding, “Why yes! He’s right there…” as I turned and pointed across the small room. “Ah, he’s gone now,” I said. “But he was just there seconds ago” and the cast member said “Did he go that way?” and when I said yes he took off running again. The funniest part is that Winston is supposed to be in the play, but they never find him so every time he’s supposed to be on stage one of the cast just holds a leash with no Winston attached to it.

The whole play is like that, with lots of outstanding acting, physical comedy, and improvised interaction with the audience. I’ve never laughed so hard at a stage performance in my life. Funniest play I’ve ever seen, and it’s not close. If you ever had a chance to see it, get tickets and go. It’s on Broadway in New York and I assume it tours. Go see “The Play That Goes Wrong” and be prepared to laugh out loud for two hours.

After the show it was dark outside, and we decided to walk back to Grosvenor House. I had a general idea which direction it was, and our failsafe was going to be getting on the Tube at Green Park station if the walk was taking too long. We fired up the walking directions on my phone and within a mile it had taken us down not one, but two, dead ends. We never got to the Tube stop and we surely weren’t up for getting too lost trying to get back to the hotel, so a taxi was hailed. There’s a lot to be said for big cities that have enough taxis for you to flag one down on just about any street at any time.

There’s a great restaurant in the hotel, so that’s where we ate on Saturday night and then we capped it all off with a glass of wine in the lounge. All in all, it was a great trip.

A hired car picked us up at 9:00 in the morning and off to Heathrow we went. We were in the front cabin on the Delta flight, and that meant we could use the super-cool Virgin Atlantic concierge lounge at the airport, where you are met at the curb by an attendant who takes your bags and checks them, after which you enter a private security area where there’s never more than a dozen people in line, while the rest of the passengers stand in a maze of lines to get through Passport Control.

In the lounge, they have a great menu and servers come right to your seat to take care of you. A couple of glasses of champagne started our return trip off well. Once on the plane, I actually did sleep for a few hours, because, well sure I could. It’s the return flight. Almost nine hours later we were home, and the boyz met us at the door. I then slept 11 hours Sunday night.

Our friend and loyal cat sitter Erica had been there with them while we were gone and it’s abundantly clear that they are getting very comfortable with her. She posted pics on Facebook of Buster playing with one of his crinkle tubes in the living room. He would absolutely not do that if he was stressed out. We feel so fortunate to have Erica for these trips, because we couldn’t possibly travel this much without her being here. She’ll be coming down here for many of the days and nights when we’re in Hawaii.

And speaking of Hawaii, it’s almost here! We actually leave next Friday! We’re certainly earning our share of Delta miles these day. All in all, this trip was about 8,500 miles. The Hawaii trip is going to be roughly another 8,200 miles and that doesn’t count the three island-hopping flights we’ll take on Hawaiian Airlines.

So that’s it for this week. A wonderful trip to London, a play that still has me laughing, a smooth trip home, and two boyz who were happy to see us.

As always, if you just perused this blog and enjoyed even a tiny part of it, please click on the “Like” button at the top. A million more likes and I get a free Hot Wheels car!

Bob Wilber, at your service with just a wee bit of a new London accent. Ta Ta!




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