Truthfully I was less interested in the trains than the signs for the trains. All told I think I've got around 70 different station signs from around the greater London area--but I'm getting ahead of myself. I know I said no more travelogues but I've got nothing better to do (now that I've answered all my mail) as I sit in Toronto awaiting the final leg of my journey home--and nobody to edit the content of VFTD except me.
Tuesday morning Ainsley kindly drove me to the train station in Stafford. (I still haven't gotten used to not being the driver sitting in the left hand front seat. It takes great self-control not to try and shift, brake and steer the car but fortunately I'm constantly being distracted by everyone driving on the wrong side of the road and traffic signs an Egyptologist couldn't decipher with the Rosetta Stone. What is it with the crooked white lines that look like they've been in an accident?)
Back to London's Euston Station. I arrived a bit before 1pm. I've planned my route via underground to the station I think is closest to my hotel. The cost is more than half what a day pass would be so I buy a day pass. The weather is chilly and getting colder and the sometime drizzle periodically turns into lazy sprinkles that occasionally work themselves into raindrops. By the time I get to my hotel there won't be a lot of time left for sight-seeing or sights to be seen through the blanket of gray the city is shrouded in. But I want to do something and the day pass has given me an idea. After checking in I'm gonna go ride the tube and take pictures of every station sign I see. (Hey, it seemed like fun at the time.) And it started out brilliantly. I had a station map and organized a rough plan and figured to spend maybe four hours or so and see how many stations I could pass through. First ninety minutes worked out as planned and I've been through maybe 25 or 30 tube stations but in the next half hour the trains went from half full to standing room only packed like sardines in a can. I try switching lines to ones I think might be less heavily traveled for rush hour. I head into the city. I hop off packed trains and wait for later ones and before too long it becomes apparent this unremitting tide of humanity in a hurry isn't going to stop anytime soon. Of course by that time I was one of the sardines being dragged along by the waves of sweaty blank-faced people and by the time I finally reached Paddington Station I'd past through twice as many stops as I'd managed to take pictures of. So maybe it wasn't such a good idea and as it turns out most of the signs look pretty much alike.
But that didn't stop me. The next two days every chance I got I took a picture of underground signs and stations all over the city—in the course of doing other things, hence the 70 or so I've ended up with.
When isn't the first floor the first floor. When you're in a European hotel. I wasn't going to get into this but it's madness I say, madness. My hotel in the Midlands was, once upon a time, the mews of some obscure landed country gentry and they couldn't even keep the first floor on the same floor. (Maybe not but it could have been.) My room, ostensibly 121, was down a short hall and past a fire door (an ordinary swinging door but they were keen to call it a fire door) and then down another short stretch of hall to a door that opened onto a landing. (Another fire door.) Down the stairs, turn right and through another fire door, a short stretch of hall, another fire door and some more hall was stall 17, er, room 121. On the whole however it was a large comfortable room with the exception of limited hot anything including water.
In London the room was about half the size—as was the bed—and the TV was coin operated and had a distinctly institutional feel. (Okay the TV wasn't actually coin-operated but they required a deposit to use a remote control which says something for the sort of clientele they cater to I suppose.) And my room, 226 was also on the first floor but required I take the lift up one floor to get there even though the other rooms on the first floor were in fact on the first floor. (There's a ground floor in there somewhere too but frankly I didn't care. Still don't.)
I also figured out why every room has a prominently displayed hair dryer. It's not because the Euros are obsessed with their coifs it's because those dryers are the only things that generate any heat. And of course they keep them out of the bathrooms to avoid accidental suicides when some pitifully shivering patron drops one into a tepid bathtub.
American hotel rooms may be generic but at least they're big, come with cable TV, wifi, hot & cold running water, air-conditioning and heating depending on the season—although if you want to put on the air-conditioner in the winter then by God you can!--and they change the linens and the towels every damn day instead of pretending to be environmentally sensitive and leaving you to go days with dirty towels and used sheets.
Some of the best European hotels I've stayed--for a reasonable rate of course--are members of a global U.S. chain--as you're far more likely to get something similar to what you're used to. (There's a Best Western affiliate in Florence--I know!--that's just terrific. Brilliant even. Who'da thought?)
Missed the damned canal boats campground, missed the picture opportunity that is, I saw it just fine at about 50 miles an hour and then I blinked but now I want to vacay on a canal boat and just float at my leisure along the canals of England. Of course I'll need wifi. (This won't make any sense at all if you haven't been keeping up both here and on Facebook.)
Unlike Mikey I won't eat anything but I am willing to try the occasional local cuisine sparingly. This time I had an excellent meal of pork belly braised in cider with roasted new potatoes and red cabbage—though the cabbage would have been equally at home on a dinner plate in Bavaria. (More on that in a second.) The first course was a tomato and spinach bisque that was very good and dessert was an almond tart with fresh raspberries and cream but apparently they were out of raspberries and so it came with strawberries instead. Either way the fruit was fine, the tart okay and I'll never understand what the English see in cream. On another evening out with Ainsley and Twizz I had the carvery which was nicely done and again, red cabbage on the side. This time however it was limp and bland so I'm not sure which was the real English cabbage (but at a guess I'd go for the boring one. Sorry.) While in the city I had fish & chips from a hole in the wall joint that seemed authentic to me if that's possible with two Indians and a black guy cooking. Whatever, I liked it. (They wrapped it up in paper and everything.) And I had a steak pie with mash drowned in parsley gravy which I was assured was the way locals prefer it--and have since at least the time of Alfred the Great. It wasn't bad but it was kinda bland and a wee bit thin on the steak part or meat of any sort for that matter. The same applied to the cherries in the cherry pie but it was still pretty good--without any cream.
Would it hurt anyone's feelings if I said I liked Paris better? And the language hardly matters as I can't understand what passes for English from most of the locals the first time around. Might as well be French. Perhaps it's because the city is undergoing such expansive changes and when I was here before it seemed like a city steeped in its own history and traditions and now, with all the massive modern construction--much of it of questionable design and taste--the city seems to be losing it's uniqueness. Or it could just be me. I hate change.