It took far longer than the advertised 10 minutes to get to our hotel; it turned out that we were directed the long way around by the station personnel. When we got there to drop off the bags the very nice person checking us in (whom we later discovered was Nick, the hotel's owner) checked and discovered our room was ready, so let us in several hours before the technical check-in time. The room was wonderful, with a queen-sized bed, a loveseat and coffee table, and a writing desk. In the bathroom they had the deepest tub I've ever seen -- I almost wish I was more of a bath person.
After we took a few minutes to gawk and freshen up, we headed back out. Nick showed us the quick way which, at our walking pace, took more like five minutes than the ten they advertise. Well, it would have taken five, except we noticed this Thai restaurant which had at least one entree safe for me, and were happily waylaid for some really good lunch. We did eventually get to Victoria Station, though, and immediately began what would be a bargain day on our day-long tube pass.
Our first destination was the Leather Market (Don't say it; don't even thing it... too late), which is a group of artisans all in close proximity. The group includes some glassmakers. I'm not sure what Andy had been expecting, but I was expecting to watch them make something, then buy a paperweight or two if they made them, then leave. It almost went according to script. Watching the woman work on a vase was really neat, especially looking at a finished copy while seeing what she was doing to get it there. They were about to do an exhibition that week, so a lot of the shop was packed up, but they did have some very pretty paperweights. I could easily have brought three of them home, but there was one which especially caught my eye, so it ended up being our only purchase.
As Andy chatted with the receptionist I decided to ask if I was allowed to take pictures, because on the wall was a rapier made entirely from glass. She said it was fine, and just for kicks I asked how much it would cost. She said she didn't know, but just then the artist who created it walked in. We had a very long chat with him. It turned out he made the sword because a friend had dared him to. It took over eight months to do, and he's since made some Japanese-style swords as commissions. The rapier is extremely fragile (Quote: "It'll break if you look at it hard") and would probably cost in the thousands if he tried to figure out cost.
Anthony was really enthusiastic, and even offered to send us pictures of other swords he'd made -- he now has Andy's e-mail address, so we may be able to taunt snark (a MUSH friend) mercilessly. It was just incredibly cool talking to someone so into what he does and so happy to discuss it. When I asked to take a picture of him with the sword he agreed and they even turned the backlights (which I hadn't noticed before) on. They were blue, and the lights did beautiful things with the bubbles in the pommel. I also learned how glass artists make the little teensy bubbles I like so much in paperweights -- baking soda. Andy impressed him by reeling off various chemical chains which make it work. So far this trip Andy has been pegged as an actor (The origami people) and a chemist, at the very least.
The receptionist gave us information on a gallery in the US which sells some of their stuff (They have several artists in residence; they work for the owner but get to use the forge in their spare time for their own projects), and also directions on how to get to our other two major destinations. It's hard to believe we were actually walking along the river Thames and looking at the real London Bridge. We had a very nice stroll along the river, and luckily both of the things we wanted to see were on the same side. The first we got to was the Globe Theatre, which was heavily under construction. We decided not to take the tour since we'd spent far more time than planned in the glass studio, but we did get pictures of the theatre itself and also were good tourists and raided the gift shop.
Our next stop was the world's largest Ferris Wheel. The thing's cars seat some 20-25 people, and are glass capsules with railings to lean on if you'd rather stand. The cars are cradled in such a way that the ride is completely smooth, and it goes slowly enough that taking pictures is easy. We have some really nice photos of Big Ben and Parliament, and another passenger was nice enough to take one of us together. I had been dubious about the thing due to all the derision heaped upon it when it was built (for the wrong Millennium year), but if we go back to England I want to ride on it again. It was definitely worth doing.
After retracing our steps along the Thames we hopped a tube down to St Pancras/King's Cross and went back to Paper Chase, which is linked to in callicrates' journal. That place is almost as dangerous for me as it is for Andy. We stayed there until they began kicking people out so they could close the store for the evening. By then we'd earned an appetite, and one of the guidebooks we bought claimed to have just the fish and chips restaurant for us to try.
I've had fish and chips before. I adored Arthur Treacher's as I was growing up, and mourn the closure of the last store in my mom's area. We had wonderful fish and chips at England's pub at Epcot, and on one of the nights Kirsti introduced us to a Chinese place whose fish and chips were better than their beef with broccoli. I also had fish and chips for lunch on Sunday while Andy and Kirsti were at the origami convention, and advise against ever doing frozen fish and chips. But the place we walked to on Monday blew every other place we've ever been out of the water. We both deeply regretted not having ordered a jumbo piece of fish, and very seriously considered buying an order to take back to the hotel. If anyone plans on going to London and wants to try one of England's signature foods, Andy and I have a recommendation for you.
After dinner we headed over to King's Cross on a pilgrimage for Harry Potter photos. It turns out that they've actually put up a sign saying "Platform 9 3/4" on one of the pillars. We also got a picture of the bridge where Hagrid gives Harry his ticket, and saw platforms 9 and 10. They fudged a bit in the filming, just at they did in the second. It's not King's Cross they park in front of but St Pancras, which looks far more imposing. Anyway, after being tourists we took our last tube ride in England to get back to Victoria Station and our hotel
On Tuesday morning we managed to fit everything into the bags we'd brought, had breakfast, and headed out. After the whisper-smooth rides to and from Nottingham and the relatively smooth tube rides, we considered the very swaying ride to Gatwick to be quite an adventure. At Gatwick we were told our flowers wouldn't be allowed into the US, so we managed to distribute all of them among flight crew (several of whom remembered us from the trip out), gate agents, and the check-in people. Our trip home was again in envoy class. The train ride had apparently set the mood for the day, and we ran into a lot of turbulence, though not enough to preclude my working on my AD&D character to get her finally set up pending GM approval. Just before landing we discovered that one of the flight attendants lives literally minutes away from us when she's not traveling. Immigrations and customs were easier than I expected.
Since we had no flowers for the leg from PHL to RDU, we instead folded cranes for the flight crew. Andy's were, unsurprisingly, much better than mine, but those who got mine seemed happy as well. The flight home was smooth and quiet, and our luggage showed up fairly quickly. We had a good dinner at Firebirds, then came home to two happy kitties. Thena only seemed happy when one of us were touching her, and Gail was dashing back and forth between us to get in her cuddle quotient. Neither of us had any trouble getting to sleep.
I need to update my paper journal with yesterday's travel information, then, if this is anything like my Italy trip, I'll write down some general observations. Once I've done that I may post them here in a separate entry. The trip was over way too quickly and we already miss Kirsti, but it's also good to be home. I definitely want to go back to England someday.