And a good morning to you from across the Pond on this sunny Sunday in the Mother Country. Again, I realize I'm flipping the order in which I'm sending you the info, but it was another LONG night, and so I figured you'd appreciate the version where I didn't misspell 49% of the words.
The first stop on the tour was the walk down Oxford St. Oxford St (where both mine and Jenny's Tube stops are for work) is considered the "shopping street" on London, and it is PACKED every single day of the year, rain or shine. In the Christmas season, however, it's so rammed that they have to block off the entire street so that pedestrians can use it. Let's just say that it was quite the spectacle, complete with people in green santa suits, fake snow, and even the Santa Claus jazz band. You'll notice that, on the balloon, it references a date. It actually says "Celebrating 125 years." And honestly, while those boys were good, by the look of the saxophone player, a few of them have been around and playing in every one of those Christmas parades.
Also, check out the girls in this photo. The white stuff you see in the air is fake snow, and several department stores were blasting it out at people.
After getting through the craziest part of Oxford St (which included a little window browsing at Debenham's and Selfridge's), we found a cute little Christmas market, which we ducked into for about 10-15 minutes.
Most of the stalls were the usual trappings - sausages, Swiss potatoes covered in cheese, and mulled wine. However, apparently the UK decided to just import all of this year's Christmas markets straight from Bavaria, because what was every third stall dedicated to? JAGERMEISTER. That's right, nothing put's you in the Christmas spirit like drinking deer's blood flavored with black licorice. I was just waiting to see absinth around any corner.
After that we rolled into Hyde Park, where a nice little protest was brewing at (where else but) Speaker's Corner. Today's campaign of choice was a request to ban all domestic flights worldwide to reduce carbon emissions. Yeah, good luck with that, boys. Tell me how that turns out.
Next up was the "Winter Wonderland," which is basically a mini-city that gets built every Christmas by the Serpentine (the river that runs through the parks). Here we ate like kings - I took down a crepe and a sausage, and I almost went in for some honey almonds before I realized that we still had "lunch plans."
The Wonderland was neat, but it was a CRAZY place, filled with rides and even (get this) - HAUNTED HOUSES. I mean, seriously, there was one dude running around in a skull mask trying to scare people (he got Jenny good). And look at this photo. I don't know about you, but nothing says "Merry Christmas!" to me like a wreath in the shape of a bell besides a rotting corpse. I mean really? REALLY?
After that, we walked over to Harrod's, where we walked the Wizard of Oz windows again before rolling into the Food Halls. Honestly, the prices are good, the food is uber-fresh, and the variety is endless. I ended up going with a prosciutto and goat's cheese pizza, filled with kalamata olive paste instead of tomato sauce. Jenny went with a salmon sandwich that could have fed 5 people, and it was only TWO POUNDS! And whilst we were there, we rode the Egyptian elevators to the top and even found another bear for me to love. I know, I know...but he was really cute.
After that, we rolled over to the Albert Memorial, which was WAY more impressive than I remembered it being. I hadn't been here since March, and there was construction all over it at the time. Now, 11.2 million GBP later, it looks immaculate.
Considered "the greatest monument of the Victorian era," Queen Victoria created it for her late husband, Albert. Apparently it's one of the greatest love stories ever (which I'm a bit skeptical about considering that I'd NEVER heard it until yesterday). Either way, this has become a new "must show" spot for the 2010 Taylor Tour of London (still taking reservations, btw).
After that, it was over to the British Museum, where we were told that we only had 45 minutes to burn through the place. Folks, the Markham's got the POWER TOUR of that place, which I am proud to say has been further refined to include additional items, complete with color commentary throughout (tips always appreciated and accepted).
It was then home to pre-game and get some food (hello pizza and beer, complete with koozies) before rolling over to the biggest meat market in Europe: Sports Cafe United Kingdom. I can't lie - this place SUCKS. However, if you want to watch American sports, it is the ONLY place that will show them. How do I loathe this place? Let me count the ways:
1. There's a 5 pound cover.
2. There is ALWAYS a line to get in.
3. No good beer - we're talking they sell stuff that's a heartbeat away from PBR.
4. There's a bathroom attendant, and all he does is give you TOILET PAPER to dry your hands. Apparently, the recession means you no longer get paper towels.
5. The food is akin to solidified battery acid with some transmission fluid on top.
6. As an American, ou probably get better service in Kabul, Afghanistan or anywhere in Iran than you do at this place.
7. Cash only. Seriously? You have to be THE ONLY PLACE IN THE UK OUTSIDE OF BRICK LANE THAT'S CASH ONLY.
Okay, that vent aside, we had a really good time. The purpose of the visit, of course, was the SEC Championship, pitting the 12-0 Gators vs. the 12-0 Crimson Tide. By now, you know the outcome, and as you can tell from my cousin Steve's shirt - he was none to pleased with the outcome. However, as the photo indicates - no matter what, Gator, Vol, and Tide fans can all get along (usually facilitated by the fact that you are 5,000 miles from the action and are desperate to find other Americans to talk to about "our football").
We got home and went to bed around 2, but the rest of the gang got up at 5:45 AM for a train ride to Paris. I, on the other hand, slept like it was my JOB until 11. SO GOOOOOOD.
And now, the next question is, as a bachelor in London, what do I get into for the next 2 days. Hmmm.....stay tuned.
Family - have a GREAT TIME in Paris!
Rice clan - Tomorrow is D-Day!!! I am gonna try to find you on Skype later today and see if we can't chat before hand. Time for the pre-game pep talk. :-)
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat later today!
Sam and (somewhere in Paris) Jenny