On Wednesday, we had a plan: a visit to Marks and Spencer. I don’t know what the North American equivalent to M&S is, but they used to be in Canada and both Heather and I fondly remember visits to the store when we were but wee. There’s a store at Covent Garden (which is NOT Covenent Garden no matter how many times I called it that), so it was our first stop of the day. We didn’t know that Covent Garden was a big shopping area, but we certainly weren’t put out by the idea at all.
M&S is even better than we remember it, as Canada never had the vast expanse of delicious food options available like the UK does. Everyone purchased gifts for themselves and family, and Renee convinced me that tights might be a good idea (especially after spending the previous two days showing all of London my underwear slash frosty box). It was windy and bloody cold (but brilliantly sunny), so I reluctantly agreed that I would cover my vagina and legs but would not wear pants: tights it was. I bought several kinds and hoped for the best, muttering all the way.
Wandering followed, with more shopping. Unfortunately for Heather and Renee, I found a Doc Martens store and tried on everything in sight. Ultimately though, I decided against buying boots – the only pair I really liked I know are available online, so I’ll just get them from Amazon via Suttles Postal Services if I decide I want them. I did, however, check something off my “want from London” list – I bought a gorgeous black Doc Martens/Cambridge Satchel Company bag. Squeeee! I’d wanted to get a proper English satchel, and this was two birds one stone blah blah blah. Hooray! Well starved at this point, we went in search of food and decided upon a highly rated Indian place just up the street. It wasn’t exactly a takeaway curry place, but we did curry it up (and we had to share, because it was dreadfully expensive). Since we were in shopping land, we did more of that after lunch: Forbidden Planet (nerd goodies) and Cath Kidston (sorry Heather). Shopping done, it was time to get our culture on so we went to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
We had to walk through the Occupy London protest to get to the Cathedral, and it was a damn good thing we decided to go on Wednesday – the protest caused the cathedral to actually close on Friday; something that hadn’t been done in 400 some odd years. Heather would have been devastated if we didn’t get to see SPC. Luckily, we were able to get in and we spent almost three hours gaping at history in awe. Heather and Renee braved the first set of 171 stairs to get to the Whisper Gallery, where you can whisper to each other along the curved walls of the dome. I stayed on the ground and guarded the bags, because I could barely walk at that point – but I got to people watch and submerge myself in old, old, old things. The Cathedral was stunning – photography wasn’t allowed, but we managed to sneak a few pictures. I was actually planning on being all respectful and junk and not taking any pictures at all, but I saw Heather do it from way up high in the Gallery so I decided I would misbehave with her. I took a few shots with my iPhone, but nothing obtrusive – I just needed some additional memories.
The three of us walked downstairs and explored the crypt, slightly startled that the cathedral staff appeared to be locking the doors behind us everywhere we went. A service was starting at 5, so they were trying to round up the tourists and get them out in a timely manner. I understand it, but being locked in a crypt is fucking creepy no matter the circumstance. I don’t recommend it.
We had just enough time to get ourselves back to Wandsworth for our evening plans. Heather has been a part of an online community for over ten years, and took advantage of our being in London to meet up with some people she’s e-known for ages. Wandsworth has a pub called the Spread Eagle, and being the classy dames we are, we decided we HAD to go there for drinks. Unfortunately, when we got there we realized that it was a pub in the truest nature of the word – they didn’t serve food (and we were starving). Our pleading looks and obvious touristness must have worked, because the barkeep took pity on us and fired up the panini press to squash some sandwiches together for Heather and Renee. I admit I was fully grumped the fuck out at this point, and didn’t WANT a sandwich or a stupid stinky pub that had no food and had decided that I would stick around to say hello to Heather’s friends, then bow a graceful exit to get myself some food. Seemed like a good plan, so I steeled myself for some hungry pleasantries before I could make my escape.
We were meeting three people at the pub: two of Heather’s friends, and a wife of one of them. The couple arrived just after seven, and introductions were made: Heather’s friend Macsen and his wife Naomi, who .. wait a second ..
I KNEW HER. Just as I used to be PMS-DeeAy, she used to be PMS-Naomi/Jade: we were both in (the original) Clan PMS, the first all-female Quake 1 team that started in Victoria. Heather’s friend, who lives and works in Europe and she knows from the internet, just HAPPENED to marry a girl from Anacortes Washington – a girl I used to hang out with online in game and IRC, and at the occasional party. Of all the weird small world coincidences – we travel 7500 km from home, and I see someone I knew a lifetime ago in Victoria. Holy shit! Iiiiiiiit’s a small world aaaaafter all, it’s a smalllll smallllll world.
Clearly I didn’t want to leave the bar for food at this point, so I hung out for the evening and enjoyed catching up with Naomi and meeting her husband and Rudy, Heather’s other friend. It turned out to be an awesome evening – I’m so glad I decided to stick around. Plus, new friends! Hooray! We had to call it a night far too early, though – we had a train to catch the next morning, to PARIS!
The cab came at a ridiculous hour, and we were whisked away to the international train station at St. Pancras. We boarded the Eurostar, kicking some people out of our assigned seats (we booked well in advance and snagged a table for four; some random tourists thought they were awfully clever for getting such great seats because they didn’t realize it was assigned seating). We did have a guest in our happy quad: a French business man who promptly fell asleep and stomped on my feet many times. I too crashed out briefly, with leaves over my eyes to simulate darkness. It’s probably for the best that I slept on the train ride; I got panicky if I thought too hard about all the water above us as we rode under the English Channel. The train ride was just over two hours long, and we lost an hour as we arrived in Paris. At last! Gay Paree! The City of Love! Insanely Crowded Pollution Town! Yay!
I found myself a lot more intimidated in Paris than I was in London – probably the language, as I felt the same in Havana. It’s one thing to explore a city where most people will understand you if you need help; quite another to be in a place where you’re basically illiterate. My grade school Quebec French would be of no use here unless I needed to find the bathroom ham in the library; I had to rely on a map and wits alone.
Our first stop was to get some Euros from an ATM, because we really had to pee and the bathroom cost money. It was our first experience with a pay toilet, and as it was an enormous pain in the ass to come up with 70 Euro cents, we made sure to pee for all we were worth. From there, it was time to find our Bus Tour. Paris!
Paris was .. interesting. I don’t know if it’s because we were having SUCH a good time in London, but we collectively found Paris kind of underwhelming. It was impossibly crowded with no open spaces, and really dirty. Everyone smokes, the cars and scooters constantly belch exhaust, and there was litter everywhere. Landing in the center of Paris meant we spent most of the bus tour stuck in traffic and finding it hard to breathe. We decided take the tour right to the Eiffel Tower, as we had tickets for 2pm. Along the way, we saw so much history! My favourite hands down was the opera house; the Palais Garnier (at least, the side that wasn’t covered in huge ads for luxury goods). Still, our first sights of the Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower were breathtaking (though that might have been the exhaust) and it was maddening to pass within spitting distance of the Louvre and know that we wouldn’t be able to do it justice with the few hours we had.
Getting to the Eiffel Tower took a really long time, and we were crazy hungry when we finally arrived. We only had twenty minutes to spare before our tickets up to the tower, so we dodged the multiple 3-card Monty stands to queue up at a kiosk selling food. We ordered French Fries because it was the easiest to eat, and waited for our turn to climb the tower.