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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Leigh Ann's visit

Wow, this has been a busy week! I had three work-related field trips, including one on Thursday night at the London Zoo. It was a celebration related to our corporate foundation…the zoo is near Regent’s Park, and this outing should have gotten its own entry, but I was busy on Friday because my sister arrived! I decided to take Friday afternoon off work and spend it with her. Leigh Ann was a little peeved upon arrival because she didn’t realize her Verizon BlackBerry would not work over here (Verizon is for some reason totally useless in the UK…AT&T is your friend).

I met her at the flat around 2 p.m., and we walked around Canary Wharf then headed to Marylebone High Street to have tea at Patisserie Valerie. (We walked by Madame Tussaud’s and briefly considered doing it, but I think it would have been like $30 each or something ridiculous.) This was one of my favourite streets so far in London.

It is a pretty high-end neighborhood, plus it was in the middle of the afternoon on Friday, so it was fairly quiet. Tea was actually not that great (it came with two scones – split and toasted, with lots of clotted cream and a choice of honey and preserves). We should have gotten a few of the pastries for a little variety. Anyway, from there we walked down Oxford Street and all the way to Leicester Square, where we were meeting Leigh Ann’s friend Susan, Susan’s husband Jeff, and another girl named Laura for sushi. LA and I stopped at a pub for a pint because we were early, and some ladies from New Zealand took this sub-par photo of us.

We had a really yummy meal at the sushi place (even Leigh Ann, who doesn’t do the “raw fish” kind of sushi, enjoyed it), and Jeff treated, so that was extra nice.

This morning, we were up in order to leave a little before 9 for our 10 o’clock Buckingham Palace tour. The ticket pickup point was a bit of a hike from the palace, which was also a bit of a hike from the Westminster tube station, so we were really hustling and almost missed our ticket time. This would have been a shame!!

(We made a brief stop to take this photo with Big Ben)

Buckingham Palace was honestly not really on my radar, but Leigh Ann read that it’s only open about 2 months a year, during the summer when the queen is away. So, this was one of the very last weeks, but she got us tickets online, and it was completely worthwhile. First of all, just the architecture of the place is interesting, because it went through all of these evolutions.

But the state rooms were really something to see. We also had individual audio guides, which added a lot of commentary. The only thing we couldn’t quite figure out was that the thrones themselves were somewhat shabby…the upholstery was incredibly worn.

(Can't see the worn parts from here, but trust me.)

This is clearly intentional, so I’d be curious to know what the history is.

(That big mirror on the left is a secret door that comes from the queen's private apartments.)

One special thing was that they were having a special exhibit to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, so we got to see her wedding gown, etc.

They had some cool black and white film clips, and the audio tour talked about what a bright spot the wedding was during all of the war rationing, etc. (In fact, they got several “practical” wedding presents, including one that was the ingredients for their wedding cake!)

We were informed that the queen checks the table settings for dinners herself, and all the palace menus are in French, the "language of fine cuisine."

Photos were prohibited inside (naturally, all the ones above are clipped from the Web), so we got this one outside. Several of the state rooms in the back overlook the garden, and the sun was shining in, with a gentle breeze blowing through the open windows, and it was just a lovely morning.

After Buckingham Palace, we made our way to Notting Hill, in order to check out Portobello Market.
This was not one of my better plans, as I should have realized we’d be getting tired and somewhat cranky…the market was of course packed, and we had a specific destination in mind of a restaurant called the Electric Brasseire, which is a “Fodor’s Choice” as as “the best people-watching.” A girl at work had also suggested it. It was full, but after about 10-15 minutes at the bar, we got some smoothies (with a little vodka to take the edge off), and then we got a really great table outside on the sidewalk. I had some really yummy eggs Benedict with salmon and spinach, and LA had scrambled eggs with salmon. The people-watching was indeed fantastic. Revived from our brunch, we hit the market again so I could buy yet another scarf. Then, we spent about an hour walking by Kensington Palace and through Kensington and Hyde Parks. That took us to Harrod’s, where we joined every other American tourist in the “section to buy your things with Harrod’s name on them to take back to your American relatives.”

(Oh, wait, I forgot to mention earlier that it was like being in Spain today...somehow, Portobello Road and Harrod's seem to be THE PLACES for Spanish tourists. Even the fur protestors outside of Harrod's were broadcasting in Spanish. I literally just checked online to see if there was a Spanish holiday this weekend...)

Leigh Ann thought we needed to refresh the lunch bags Mom had gotten us a few years ago, as ours were a little worn out. Then, we sat in the food hall and had something to drink – we were worn out by all of our walking! At that point, we called it a day and headed back to Canary Wharf, where we ate dinner at a yummy Italian restaurant outside. (Not particularly notable food, but it was still enjoyable…I had spaghetti with clams, and Leigh Ann had a salad, and we split some tiramisu.)

Hasta manana!

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