Europe 2019 Part 6: London Underground

I hadn’t really experienced the apartment we were staying in until arriving back from Russia, as I had only been there briefly that first night. But it seemed like a bad choice from the moment we got there. When we first arrived, we encountered a make-shift shrine against a tree just down from the entrance to our building. We assumed it had been for a car accident victim that had died there. Then, when we took the elevator up to the floor the sign said our apartment (Unit 13…joy!) was on, there were all kinds of linens and cleaning supplies up against the door. What the heck? As we stood there confused, a housekeeper emerged from the elevator behind us and told us our door was on the 2nd floor. It was, but as soon as you walk in, there is a staircase to go up. Although it didn’t seem like much, the issues with the apartment kept making themselves known to my friends while I was away.

Erich and Ricki had to call the rental manager several times — and not all of those calls were returned or handled. There was a problem with Ricki’s shower. They could not figure out how to work the oven. Erich always had all sorts of noisy people below his window for a good chunk of the night. The shower Erich and I used was raised about a foot and a half off of the floor, which made it difficult (and dangerous) to get in and out of. There was also a long mirror affixed to the wall of the shower (Who puts a mirror in the shower?) that constantly had to be wiped down. In photos it looked nice. In reality, it wasn’t.

That morning, I was up and ready to go by 9. I had hoped to visit yet another wax museum. This time, it was going to be one of the best of wax museums; Madame Tussaud’s on Baker Street. I had been before, but it had been years and years ago. The place didn’t open until 10. It was going to have to be a super quick visit as I found out that Ricki had purchased me a ticket to visit the underground Churchill War Rooms at 11. I couldn’t go later in the day because we had a pretty full agenda that afternoon. I had to go now or never.

As I was leaving, I noticed a gross, stained corner in our building. Just outside the door, there were two empty wine bottles laying on the ground. Classy. Not.

I walked to the tube station and took my trains to Baker Street. I had had to change trains and the connection took awhile to arrive. So I arrived at Baker Street later than I planned. It was about 10:10. There was a line to get into Madame Tussaud’s and I realized it was futile to even try to go. I’d have to leave for the Winston Churchill thing by 10:30. There just was not going to be enough time. I decided to give up and just head to the War Rooms. I did, at least, get a shot of the Sherlock Holmes statue that sits on Baker Street (which is where Holmes supposedly lived).

I took the underground to Westminster Station. I remembered from when I had been in London before that when you came out of the station, there was Big Ben right in front of you and the Houses of Parliament. I was looking forward to seeing the famous landmark again as I made my way up the stairs from the train platform and headed for the front doors. I emerged from the station and there it was, Big Ben…completely engulfed in scaffolding and totally unrecognizable. Swell. The Palace of Westminster (the home of the Houses of Parliament) was also getting a face lift, as a large part of it was under scaffolding as well.  Across the street, Westminster Abbey also had scaffolding on it. Jeepers. I just knew it was going to be one of those trips, where everything I want to see will have some sort of construction or repair going on, marring our tourists photo ops.

Thanks to the use of Google Maps, I was able to track down the Churchill War Rooms. On the way there, I was happily surprised to see that the classic red phone booths were still existent.

The entrance to the Churchill War Rooms was next to a stairway, under a large building. Arriving before Erich and Ricki, I thought back to the recent Oscar nominated movie about Chruchill, THE DARKEST HOUR. The true story was riveting, but war history isn’t my thing. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to go on extensive explorations of a bunch of rooms in a basement. Yes, they were historical…but in a basement? Hmm.

It’s a good thing Ricki pre-ordered tickets. As 11:00 approached, there was clearly a huge demand to visit the War Rooms. NOT.

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We were given headsets that filled our ears with way too much detail about the various rooms we got to peek into along a maze of narrow (and crowded) hallways.

After the first display or so, I ripped the headset off and just looked around at things on my own. Yep, I was BORED! After walking through all of the beautiful palaces that had become museums while in Russia, this place was a dingy dump. Rooms with desks, rooms with cots and rooms with tables. If you were lucky, there would be a mannequin or two in them. The one thing that did intrigue me was this narrow staircase leading down into some further underground area. What was down there? I had no idea and was not about to slip the headsets on to find out.

As I continued on, there they were; rooms with desks, rooms with cots (and more desks) and rooms with tables. Wow! Fascinating. Zzzzz..

There was this one big room. I don’t recall what it had originally been (or even if its purpose had been identified) that had been transformed into a Winston Churchill museum. There were clothes, awards, souvenirs and other items from throughout Churchill’s life. Most of it focused on the war years, but not all of it. They even had the door to #10 Downing Street where he lived (when not in the War Rooms) as Prime Minister.

After the museum, it was more rooms with cots and desks. Mrs. Churchill’s room even had a bonus dresser and chair. Wow! I was so glad I had to miss Madame Tussaud’s for this. NOT! Oh well, Ricki meant well. Thank you, Ricki.

Just when I thought rooms with beds and desks and tables was going to be the extent of the rest of the basement bunker’s offerings, lo and behold there was a kitchen area and some tricky doors here and there.

I spent a good deal of time in a snack bar, waiting for Ricki and Erich to walk through all of the recorded tour and make their way to me. Once they had, it was back into the corridor –and more rooms! UGH! Erich and Ricki resumed their recorded tour. I breezed through–taking pictures, of course–at my own pace. The rooms with cots and tables disappeared. Instead I had room after room of desks, desks, and more desks!

Eventually I made my way outside. Ahhh… Sunlight and fresh air. Nice. I hadn’t even bothered with the gift shop. I didn’t even try to buy any postcards. Ricki scored some souvenir loot, though.

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We had a luncheon date with another friend of mine. It was within walking distance and off we went. We had to pass through the Admiralty Arch (also having work done) and go around Trafalgar Square.

We were meeting my dear, delightful friend Rosa at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church. There is a “hidden, underground” cafe in the crypt (Really!), and that is where Rosa chose for us to do the lunch thang. She said to meet “by the stairs”. Okay. Which stairs? Was it the steps up to the church, the stairs that led down to the crypt from inside the church? The stairs that went to an upper level in the church? I had no idea. While we were waiting for Rosa to appear, we explored the church a bit. We discovered there were two entrances in the front and two sets of stairs going up as well as down. Hmm.

The more we waited for Rosa, the more we moved about looking for the best vantage point to spot her…and then I noticed this round, glass structure on the other side of the church. It was the main entrance to Crypt and the stairs we were sure she had been talking about.

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Not long after discovering Crypt, Rosa appeared at the front of the church. Oh my stars! At long last–Rosa, live and in person.

I met Rosa several years ago on a vintage movie poster collectors’ forum called allposterforum.com (APF). Rosa had been a member long before I discovered the site and was one of the first people to welcome me aboard. Rosa is the only serious female movie poster collector I have ever known. She always had nice things to say about my quirky, strange collection when I’d post new things. She left APF several years back, but she and I kept in touch. Rosa is a sweetheart and I was so thrilled to finally meet her in person.

As she led us down into Crypt, we were all in awe. It was a very cool place. The food is served cafeteria style. You have several choices and pick what you want.

And the restaurant really is a crypt. There are headstones in the floor, beneath people’s feet—beneath the tables and chairs. Rosa led us to a small back room she knew about. It was much quieter there and we had the place almost all too ourselves.

Knowing Rosa collects vintage movie posters as I do, I wanted to gift her with something on our meeting. However, I’m not really sure what Rosa’s collection consists of. I know she likes Rudolph Valentino and I remembered her once trying for some GONE WITH THE WIND pieces at one very important auction. Finding anything Valentino was impossible–or extremely cost prohibitive. I came across a poster for GONE WITH THE WIND. It had some irregular fold issues and was only a 1961 re-release poster, but I hoped she would like it. As she opened it, I was thrilled to see her expression. She seemed utterly ecstatic about it…and it turned out to be her very first GONE WITH THE WIND piece. Hooray!

After lunch and some delightful conversation with Rosa, she was running late for a meeting…but insisted on taking us somewhere. She led the four of us back down Whitehall Road to the Houses of Parliament.

The street was filled with protesters. The Friday before was supposed to have been the date of Brexit, Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU). That had not happened. Here it was the Monday after and people were upset–on both sides of the issue.

Where was Rosa taking us? It was her intention to take us inside of the Houses of Parliament. Parliament is where British laws are forged and set into action. The House of Commons and the House of Lords are similar to the Senate and the House of Representatives here in the US. With angry protesters right outside the walls, you could imagine that Parliament was on high alert. And Rosa wanted to get us in there? Ha! You GO, Rosa!

I was never really sure what Rosa did for a living (and I’m still not sure exactly), but it has something to do with international trade agreements. With the whole Brexit issue going on, you can imagine that it must have been a very stressful time for her and her colleagues. Was the U.K. it’s own country again…or still part of the EU? Any trade agreement would have to reflect language and rules for either situation. But because she has to deal in diplomatic circles to some extent, she has some sort of credential that gets her into places most people could only dream of going. And there she was, telling this guard and that official who she was and how she must get the four of us inside.

We got through the first gate and had to walk down this long path to the next checkpoint.

At the next stop, we had to wait to go through security checks and x-rays. It may have been April 1st, but wearing that “Visitor has been screened” sticker on my shirt was no April Fool’s Day joke. Rosa bluffed her way to get us inside.

Before we knew it, the four of us were beyond the security check points and walking up to the door of the Houses of Parliament! Zowie! Such an amazing and unexpected surprise!

There were no photos allowed inside—and this was such a huge thing to do I didn’t dare risk getting us kicked out by trying to sneak a photo or two–so I am using photos from the internet to illustrate what we saw. We first walked into the huge Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament. The hall dates back to 1097 and has witnessed some amazing events and notable people through the centuries.

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After traversing Westminster Hall, we turned to the left and went down the stunning St. Stephens Hall.

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From St. Stephens Hall, we emerged in Central Hall or Central Lobby. As we were entering, we got to see a traditional procession into the House of Commons occur. There were a lot of people crowded into this octagonal room. Erich, Ricki and I were wide-eyed with wonderment. We couldn’t believe we were in the Houses of Parliament. And Rosa dared to push on. She got us all just inside the door to the House of Lords when someone stopped us and sent us away. Oh well. It was just incredible and so unexpected to have been there.

House of Lords & House of Commons Lobby. The Parliament. London. UK

On the way out, Rosa insisted on stopping by the gift shop and getting me some souvenirs of our brief visit. I dared take a photo here. Ha! I love my gifts. Thank you so much, Rosa.

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Back outside, the protests were still going on. Big Ben was also still under scaffolding. Erich and Ricki left us there. They wanted to see Westminster Abbey across the street. I wanted to walk Rosa back to work, talk to her longer (even though I knew she was dreadfully late for a meeting) –and then find a post office somewhere.

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Rosa was extremely late (by a few hours) to a meeting. I felt horrible about it all, but also touched as she had delayed herself to take us through Parliament. As I left her at the side door to her place of employment, she had one last surprise up her sleeve…

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Her office is in the site of the first Scotland Yard! As I walked away, I wondered what other secrets the amazing Rosa possessed. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was best buddies with the Queen.

As we had walked from Crypt to Parliament, Rosa and I had stopped to pose for a photo together. To me, this was the photo of that day. I was ever so delighted to meet Rosa. She was far more charming and wonderful than I had ever expected her to be. Thank you again, Rosa. For everything.

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After leaving Rosa, I pulled out my phone and brought up Google Maps again. “Post offices near me,” I typed in. The closest one seemed to be a short ways away—on the other side of the Churchill War Rooms. Off I went.

The post office had a nice set up. You enter what sort of need you had into a machine (Buy postage, passports, etc.) and took a number. There was a lounge area, but also a lot of office/business-like retail and a copy center. Wow! Why can’t our post offices be more like this? As I was leaving, I noticed the “Government House” for the Falkland Islands across the street.

I don’t recall if I saw Erich and Ricki when I got back to the apartment or not. When I called them as I was heading for the subway, they were sitting in a bar. When I got home, I was only there briefly. Soon, I was off on the tube alone again, heading for Portobello Road.

I had first heard of Portobello Road as a child. In the Disney musical flick BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, there is a whole song about it. I had the soundtrack album as a kid and listened to it over and over. The road sounded like a fantastic place to find trash and treasures. The booths in the street were packing it up for the night and a lot of the stores were already closed. I did stumble on Britain’s answer to the Dollar Store with a place called PoundLand, but didn’t venture inside.

The below the street bathrooms were already locked up for the night.

I was thrilled to finally be walking down Prtobello Road. I would have loved to have been able to poke around in the shops and see what wondrous surprises I could find. But that was not to be and not why I was there.

What was I doing there? Looking for a tiki bar, of course. HELLO?

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London has several tiki bars. I had visited Trader Vic’s London the night before, but there were several others I needed to hit. I knew I would not make it to all of them, but I could still hit one or two of them. Right? Trailer Happiness seemed like the obvious choice after Trader Vic’s. It just sounded like campy fun.

The outside display window was pretty tiki fabulous. I was surprised when I opened the front door and there was a stairway leading down to a subterranean level beneath the building.

After a groovy island vibe in the display window, I was disappointed when I descended into the actual bar.  It was decidedly tiki-light. But I was willing to give the place the benefit of the doubt.

The bar was well stocked and there were little tiki touches here and there, such as the flowers, the tiki mug straw and swizzle stick holders and the cocktail menu.

I decided to start off with the bar’s namesake drink, Trailer Grog. While the bartender, Tom (wearing a vintage Hawaiian shirt–nice touch) was concocting my drink, I asked him what his favorite cocktail was. He said that the most popular drink on the menu, the one that was practically their signature drink, is Hell In The Pacific. I told him that would be my next drink.

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The Trailer Grog was okay. There was a bit too much ice and I’m not wild about bitters, but whatever. It was tiki time.

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There were not many customers that Monday night. There was someone at the bar who left soon after I arrived and there was a couple getting all cozy in a booth. The place had a modern vibe to it.

After the Grog was done and Tom was mixing my Hell In The Pacific, I checked the place out more thoroughly…and took pictures.

When I returned to my seat, Hell In The Pacific was waiting for me.  Mmm. Delicious!

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Tom and I were chatting about all things tiki. He thought that since I was such a tiki fan that I must also be a rum enthusiast. He pulled down his favorite bottle and gave me a little taste. Mmm. Very smooth.

While talking tiki and rum, we somehow started talking about the Hurricane, the classic tiki drink that was created at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans—and the absolutely horrible version that Pat O’Brien’s serves now. Tom had already heard the stories, so I guess the word is out across the globe about the nasty, cut-rate version at Pat O’Brien’s. Since we were chatting about Hurricanes, I ordered one from Tom. The wind-blown reversed umbrella was a nice touch.

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Tom’s new bar partner, Ollie, also created his version of the Hurricane. I was allowed to sample Ollie’s version, too. Both were wildly different from each other. Tom’s was tart and tasty. Ollie’s was super sweet-a-go-go. It was also tasty and if I hadn’t been sipping on Tom’s tart version, I’d have also enjoyed Ollie’s concoction. Both guys were friendly and just all around swell. I had the BEST tiki time with them that evening. While Trader Vic’s the night before had been a rather magical evening for me, the guys made my time at Trailer Happiness a truly happy experience. Thank you Tom and Ollie!

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While I would have loved to spend more time with Tom and Ollie, I still had one other bar I needed to get to and try that evening, The Beachcomber. I caught an Uber to the place. While I certainly did not need any more to drink (The samples of rum were an unplanned surprise and the third cocktail was purely to hang out longer…but my intention had been 2 drinks maximum.), if I hadn’t checked the place out—when would I get to?

As I got out of the Uber driver’s car and walked up to the bar, I was hoping they served food. Food was mentioned on Trailer Happiness’ website but I saw no evidence of it while there. (Perhaps it is a weekends only thing?). I had not had any dinner yet and was kind of hungry.

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The entrance was a staircase leading to yet another underground venue. How many times had I been underground that day? Subways, the War Rooms, the Crypt, Trailer Happiness and now The Beachcomber.  Jeepers! I was beginning to feel like a groundhog or something. The entrance was reminiscent of Undertow, a tiki bar I’d visited in Phoenix the previous fall (which you can read about HERE).

Inside it was total Polynesian pop; completely tiki-fied from end to end.

The place was nicely done, but the lighting made it hard to photograph. I was seated at a lowly table for one. Although I couldn’t see the bar, my seat was actually a good spot to see most of the interior from.

From the cocktail menu, I THINK I ordered the Nocholada. The Beachcomber also mercifully had a small listing of pupus on the menu. I ordered some Jamaican jerk chicken wings. The cocktail came rather quickly, but I’d have to wait for the food a bit longer.

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Before tackling the cocktail, I decided to head to the bathroom. It was an excuse to see the back end of the bar as well as to get rid of my three previous tiki drinks (Tiki wee wee? Ha!). I got some shots of the rear decor.

The bathroom had an interesting (and kind of creepy) feature. Above the urinal (and that is a yellow mat in there–not pee) there was this mysterious slot. Tags above the slot read “soap,” “water,” “dryer.” Hmm. Cautiously I stuck my hands in under the soap sign. Eek! What  would happen? Soap dispensed into my hands from some unknown source. I slid my hands down to the “water” space and water magically started to rain down on my hands. Under the “dryer” space, warm air started to dry may hands. Weird but effective.

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My chicken wings had arrived by the time I returned to my seat. They were spicy but not very filling. They may look huge in the photo, but they were only chicken wings served on a small platter.

Except for one couple, the bar was pretty empty. There were three employees there–a doorman, a bartender, and a waiter. They just stood around talking. I get it. It was a slow Monday evening…but I felt invisible. I was ignored for the most part. The place may have looked like a swanky tiki bar, but it lacked the warmth and friendly vibe created by Tom and Ollie at Trailer Happiness.

As I got up from the table to leave, I grabbed my coat and…knocked my glass over. In slow motion, I saw it hit the table, roll off and shatter all over the ground. Oops! I was so embarrassed but they said not to worry about it, as the waiter came over and cleaned it up.

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I called an Uber and got home. Ricki was asleep already. Erich was still up packing. We’d be heading to Italy the next day and it would be an early morning. I went to my room and repacked my bags as well. I may not have hit all of the tiki bars in London, but I was pretty tiki toasted. Tomorrow was going to be a long day. But it was also going to be the start of a whole new adventure.

Stay tuned.

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