Notes from London: Settling In

by Rachel on September 17, 2009

It is important to note that European washing machines (described in a prior post) are actually slightly more fabulous than European dryers. One fine morning I set our jeans inside the dryer, just a wee bit bigger than my head, turned the heat to high and left to run errands. I returned two hours later to find that the jeans were warm, even hot, but not DRY. This continued to be the case every time I checked them over the next six-hour period. I’m not exaggerating (though I sometimes do). I left those pants in the dryer for six full hours! They were still damp when I finally gave up and took them out. The dryer had a steel front so I could not tell whether the clothes actually moved inside. It was terribly loud, much like the shower and the toilets, and the immediate area around the dryer reached Sub-Saharan temperatures, but I’m not certain that anything was actually happening inside. Perhaps a name change is warranted. It isn’t actually a DRYER, but rather, a clothes WARMER. It is often cold in the UK and leaving for an outing wrapped in warm, albeit damp clothing must be quite nice.

Hyde Park, London

We had a lovely visit to Hyde Park. We began our trip with a brief stop at the department store for supplies. What do American boys want when they first arrive in London for an 11-week stay? Answer: a football and a baseball to toss around the park, to be sure. Why it didn’t occur to me that neither object was going to be available for sale in a thousand mile radius is the real question? How big is the rock I’ve been living under? Not surprisingly our shopping outing was a complete bust. But we Sterns cannot be brought down by a simple lack of recognizable sporting equipment. We rallied, bought a game of Boules (you may know it as Bocce Ball) and made our way to the closest big wide-open non-baseball diamond-like space. It was soon clear that two charming young Australian girls (19 year-olds) were quite entranced with the two elementary school-age boys playing Boules. I asked if they wanted to play. They did. A lovely match ensued between my boys and the Aussie teens. You’d have thought those Stern boys had died and gone to heaven. Give them a pair of lassies to chat up and they are on cloud nine. I was a tad worried that the four of them were going to leave together, off on a date. I know I’m a prude, but I think they must be at least eleven before they start dating 19 year-olds.

Our neighborhood was filled with all sorts of shops, people of every shape, sort and size and lots of greenery. One of the advantages of a constantly damp climate is the possibility of using the word verdant. I find I rarely have the chance to use it in Southern California. Verdant. It has such a nice ring to it. Whilst in London I made a point trying to use it at least once a day. After a number of years of record dry temperatures and our own sad experience with brush fires, I was happy to wallow in Britain’s cool temps and constant threat of showers. Verdant. Ah…

In case you track her, it turns out that Britney Spears was “in the hood.” There was an absolute throng on King’s Road one afternoon, along with photographers with those long lenses that look more like rocket launchers than photographic equipment, a big – illegally parked SUV, and some mean looking bouncer types. I felt so pleased to note that the Brits are as ill behaved around celebrities as us Yanks. I had ceded the “good manners” gold medal to them until I saw their behavior that afternoon. Definitely bronze. Just behind New Yorkers and hungry children.

We put two of the biggie Museums under our belts, The British Museum and the Natural History Museum. My mother and I had lovely memories of both places from prior visits to London (many, many years ago). I had been quite partial to a rabbit warren-like section of the British Museum filled with all sorts of Egyptian curiosities and not much daylight. My mother, who has a serious rock fetish, had loved the slightly dusty Gem Section of the Natural History Museum. Are you sitting down? It’s all gone. No, really. Gone, gone, gone. You see those wily Brits brought in a massive regiment of cutting-edge Museum folks and wiped away every slightly dusty, rabbit warren-like corner and replaced it instead with well lit, fabulously signed, slickly engineered, knock-your-socks off displays. Room after marvelous room with nary a dark corner, nor dust bunny in sight. It was truly amazing.

We could spend a full week at the Natural History Museum and not run out of compelling things to do. The entire Stern contingent gave a massive thumbs-up to the explosive section on Volcanoes, as well as the one devoted to birds. They have a full size mock-up of a Kobe, Japan grocery store that rocks and rolls to simulate the 1995 Earthquake. I absolutely loathed it. I’ve got enough PTSD from the Santa Monica/Northridge quake – no need to relive it on summer holiday in Britain. I was willing to deal with traffic that rivals the 405 and seriously loony housing prices, but I thought I’d at least left the earthquakes behind. Sheesh.

We had a terrific lunch out at Wagamama, an inexpensive and hopping noodle bar in the basement of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. Part of a large chain with locations all over the world (if you end up in Kuwait, put this high on your list), it’s loud, quick, comparatively cheap, and tasty. It is particularly handy if you are traveling with loud children (not my sweet lovelies). It is impossible to differentiate your screeching child from the general din, which I’ve heard from other people who do have loud children, is quite a plus.

Upstairs in the Harvey Nichols Food Court we made a life-changing discovery. My husband chatted up the butcher as he continued our family’s quest to find non-hoofed beast meat products (“What is your quest? I search for the non-hoofed beast breakfast sausage”). It turns out that the nice chaps behind the meat counter at Harvey Nicks make sausage to order. You tell them what you want in your sausage, they grind it up, push it into casings and, for a quite reasonable price, allow you to take it home with you. We ordered two types of chicken sausage (no hooves, tails, or other nasties) and the following Monday morning we went back to pick them up. Not quite as good as Trader Joe’s, but then you can’t have everything.

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