When the Tube Doesn’t Run

I was planning on dashing around London today using the subway but there were service problems that prevented that. It was amazing to go down to the tube station and see an announcement that service was "suspended" on the Circle Line, due to a lack of train cars! It’s not quite the same because London has some alternate lines, but imagine the D.C. Metro closing down the Orange Line and the commuter chaos that would occur! Well, let’s just say that getting around London today was a bit harder than other days. The bus system is quite good but was, naturally, over-taxed with all those displaced metro riders.
So I didn’t get to the British Library and instead spent some time knocking around Notting Hill, which is a funky neighborhood with lots of interesting shops. No, I’m reliably informed that Hugh Grant does not live there. I did look into a movie theatre lobby and was shocked to see ticket prices at £9.90 (that’s almost $20, folks)! Notting Hill is to the west of central London, just beyond Hyde Park, is an affluent and fashionable area, and is famous for its Portobello Road Market.
Last night, over fish and chips (£7) and a pint (£2.90) at the pub, I watched the U.S. lose to Samoa, 25-21, in the Rugby World Cup. During the first period, we looked pretty bad: slow, small, and inept, as demonstrated by the early 15-3 lopsided score. Apparently the U.S. team rallied after I left the pub and made it pretty dramatic by the end, despite the loss. I gather we’re still developing our team. Pub dining is also an experience. There is no table service; you order at the bar and even collect your own silverware and condiments; consequently, there is little or no tipping.
I’ve had a few experiences in small restaurants on this trip have given me the food hygiene willies. For example, I was in line for a gyro at a place in Paris when I noticed the cook using a weird, Dremel tool-like rotating power slicer to cut slices from the gyro slab. I also noticed that he just tossed it aside, uncleaned, when he was done and that’s when I decided not to have a gyro, with an extra helping of bacteria. And last night I noticed a nice jar of Tartar Sauce on the condiment table, clearly marked "Refrigerate After Opening" that smelled liked it had been open for days. We do, you know, take a lot of this kind of thing, important food safety practices, more seriously in the U.S. and I’m glad we do.
For those of you who are Starbucks fans: I did have my favorite Chai Tea Latte at the Paddington Station store the other day and made a few notes comparing operations with outlets in the U.S.:
– The $4 Grande-size latte costs $6 here.
– The pastry and sandwich selection is better than I’ve ever seen at home
No Wi-Fi is available, free or otherwise
No self-service clean up; there are no public trash cans or tray returns, so dirty tables can sit that way for a while
– Apparently the Grande – Venti size nomenclature annoys customers here, too.
So, my vacation in Europe is ending for this year and tomorrow morning I’ll be going out to Heathrow one more time to catch my flight home on good old Virgin Atlantic. The hordes of businessmen, students, and other tourists I’ve encountered on this trip have proven that the fall is a busy time to visit Europe. I’ve never seen the hotels so packed and so many people on the go. I think, on the whole, I prefer to come here in the spring. It has been good to revisit my favorite places, art, and architecture and to get out of town for a while. I enjoyed some good food, good wine and interesting foreign cultures. As always, I do look forward to sleeping in my own bed tomorrow night.

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