I was very pleasantly surprised by the British Airways flight yesterday. We were running late, so we got upgraded to Business Class. (!) Fancy, fancy, fancy! Big ole bucket seats, some facing forwards, others (like mine) backwards. Individual monitors at each seat. Video games, movies, map of the trip showing all sorts of flight data. Sumptuous meal (I chose the traditional breakfast grille of eggs, Irish bacon, tomato, sausage, and field mushrooms), delicious strawberry preserve to go with the rolls that come with the appetizer of fresh fruit and yoghurt; plus, later a snack -- I chose the tomato and mozarella (with basil) sandwich, plus a delicious chocolate-raspberry dessert. I hardly noticed the six hours go by. Of course, JC had a different experience, typically. ;)
When we got to the airport, we tried to rent mobile phones, but my credit card wasn't going through. We tried calling Providian, but it wasn't working at first. We finally got through, and it turns out they were blocking my card because fraud was suspected when I tried to make a charge in London. This pisses me off. I travel a lot, as my charge record will demonstrate, and it's irritating and potentially embarrassing to have my card declined because of their stupid fraud protection program. But after I told the Providian representative off on the phone, everything got sorted out, and I was able to rent a phone and buy a week's transit psas, good on the tube and buses.
The train was an interesting experience. We were both amused with the scrolling marquee announcing that, "This train is for COCKFOSTERS."
After we checked in at the Strand Palace Hotel, we went in search of food. The pub on the corner was no longer serving. We did find a little Indian restaurant that was still serving until 12 (leaving us 15 minutes). We can certainly do worse than Indian food in London! We ordered quickly: I had the Rogan Josh and the Bhindi Bhaji, with a sweet lassi. All quite tasty. And after dinner, happily exhausted and filled, we returned to our hotel.
The room is small, and we have no way of controlling the climate beyond opening the window. This presents us with the choice of noise or heat. Blech!
Slept in this morning until 10. Then we went downstairs so I could take care of some business on the internet. And then off to explore the city.
Our first stop was the Lamb and Flag, a very old pub, outside of which John Dryden (or was it Donne) was attacked by a bunch of thugs. We ate breakfast. JC had the toad in the hole and I had the spicy Cumberland sausages with chpis and beans. We both had a pint of Ramrod ale. I'd said I was gonna have ale in a British pub, and by golly I did. I don't like it much better on this side of the Atlantic, but at least here it's served at room temperature so I can taste what I'm drinking. Also, we learned why it's called "pulling a pint." The barkeep actually tugs ona lever and pumps the ale into the glass, rather than releasing a spigot or something. He pumps vigorously, letting ale splash down the side of the glass, until the glass is completely full of ale, with no bubbles, and the head being completely above rim.
We chatted up a couple of ladies in the pub. I was hoping to get a sense of what to do in the immediate vicinity when I started talking to them. We had a pleasant conversation. JC insisted he must talk in a British accent. If I, who can't tell the difference, found it grating, imagine what the locals must think! One of the girls mentioned that she was trying to get the other to come to New York. "Oh," says JC, "you should come to Boston instead." And after a list of reasons as for why Boston might be better than New York, I interrupted. "And I guarantee you we don't all talk in bad phony British accents in Boston." This earned me a glare from JC and a good laugh from the girls.
Upon their suggestion, we walked down to the embankment of the Thames. We got a nice view of parts of the city and saw the London Eye a little ways to our right. We decided to walk in that direction and ride the Eye. The cost for a "flight" is quite steep (£11.50), but seeing the city from up so high made it worthwhile. After the Eye, we crossed the river further down and walked past Parliament and Big Ben and explored Westminster Abbey a bit before heading back down the Strand to our hotel.
We rested for a bit and then changed into our suits for our trip to the Symphony.
Getting to the Barbican was easy. The hall is absolutely gorgeous. It's fairly modern with comfortable, spacious seats, and fantastic acoustics. We were seated in a great location as well, essentially first balcony center.
I was a little disappointed with the Ruslan and Ludmilla Overture. The orchestra was smaller than I expected for this work, the trumpet player made one obvious mistake, and I thought the balance between the horns and strings was brass heavy. That was the only negative on the evening, though. Nikolaj Znaider played the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto skillfully, with sensitivity, creating a tender, plaintive sound when called for and a confident, rapturous sound at other times. I was absolutely mesmerized with his playing of the second movement, which is one of my favorite movements in all of music. I had never heard the Shostakovich Eighth Symphony before, but it is quite the tour de force. They filled up the stage with a full orchestra, and Rostropovich got everything out of that orchestra. The work has an emotional range that leaves one emotionally wrung out by the end. I need to get a recording of this! I though the soloists in the symphony, especially the piccolo, English horn, and bassoon, where fantastic.
Afterwards, we went to SoHo for dinner. We found a little (quite uncomfortably little, actually) Indonesion-Singaporean restaurant and decided to check it out. The food was very spicy and delicious. And the clientele was very good looking.
Dinner took a bit long, though. The westbound trains stopped running, so we had to walk back to the Strand. My dress shoes were not meant for walking.
Now I'm going to try to post this. I will post pictures some other time. I need to get on the internet anyway to see about booking a day trip to Edinburgh and to check to see if there is another message from David Pollard. I will be seeing him for the first time Saturday at noon at his home. This nixes any plans for being out late tomorrow night. (I had hoped to go clubbing, but with JC's antiquated ideas on how to interact with other people and all the smoking -- does everyone in London smoke? -- going clubbing is not a good idea, especially since I need to be in my best shape for the voice lesson. I'll just go out Saturday night instead.
Having a blast so far. I may not log on again after tonight, since internet access is so pricey, but I will continue journaling off-line and post a full report (including photos) upon my return.