A Famous Pub

Eagle and Child

The menu at The Eagle and Child, with a bottle of Dandelion & Burdock.

Something from my spring UK adventure today! When I visited my friend Lauren in Oxford, we had lunch at The Eagle and Child. It’s a small pub on St Giles’ Street, which belongs to St John’s College. More significantly, it’s famous for being a meeting place for the Inklings’ Group: a writer’s group that included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. They met regularly in a private room at the back. And I can happily say that the food is good! My steak sandwich and chips were very satisfying. It was also where I had my first encounter with Dandelion & Burdock, which is a very old-fashioned soda that I have to say I wasn’t very keen on. It wasn’t bad, but I definitely wouldn’t make a habit of it.

If you find yourself in Oxford, I definitely recommend checking out The Eagle and Child! Tasty food with a touch of history. An excellent combination.

Address: 49 St Giles’, Oxford, OX1 3LU

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London Special 05: Conclusion

King’s Cross Station is awesome.

Tuesday was our last proper day in London, as all we did on Wednesday was go to the airport and hang out until our flight boarded. But Tuesday, like Monday, was pretty chill. We did all of two things until the evening: King’s Cross Station (for Platform 9¾, naturally) and the British Library.

Just for the record, we actually didn’t make a special trip for King’s Cross – the British Library is down the street. But passing through King’s Cross was an added bonus because the three of us are Harry Potter fans of old, so getting to take nerdy pictures was awesome.

You know this had to happen.

After a brief Harry Potter interlude, we headed off to the library. If you’re sitting there wondering why we would want to go to a library on our holiday, the British Library is the home of a room of antique documents from all over the world: Shakespeare folios, Buddhist scrolls from Asia, maps from the sixteenth century, illuminated manuscripts from Europe, and other beautiful things. It also has the Magna Carta, which was a big draw for me. And, as it’s a library, there’s no entry fee, so that’s pretty fantastic.

Nicola, who’s studying library science, was disappointed by how unattractive the British Library building is.

After the library, we ate pizza at a place across the street, then went back to our hotel mid-afternoon. That gave us time to pack, relax a bit (with British game shows), and leisurely get ready for our second night of theatre-going.

Tuesday’s theatre, unlike Monday, was divided. Nicola isn’t a big musical person, so she went to see Woman in Black while Dana and I went to see Les Miserables, which was actually the main reason Dana wanted to go at this time. She’s a big fan of the actors playing the lead characters. I’m just a big fan of the show, so I was in regardless. And our seats were awesome. It was at Queens Theatre, which is pretty small, and we were in the middle of row J, so we could see facial expressions easily. It was so great.

I approve this outing.

And that was the trip! On Wednesday, we checked out of our hotel a little before 11 and headed to Paddington, where we caught the Heathrow Express to, aptly, Heathrow. Which is not, for the record, a very efficient airport. The boarding procedure was a mess, just one big line with no division by section in the plane, so it took forever. And the flight itself, while not the worst ever (that would be my flight back from Japan in 2008 when I’d been up all night vomiting), was packed, and had us sitting in the middle section, so I was very glad to get home. But the trip was wonderful and a few rough patches definitely didn’t ruin it.

With my friend Dana in a pub, back on our first day.

I hope you enjoyed my write-ups! Next up… something from Japan!

London Special 04: History and Theatre

Cabs on a lovely morning.

Our last two days in London were slower and more relaxed than the previous five. We also split up a bit more. On Monday, while Nicola bopped around the shops near our hotel and sent some postcards, Dana and I headed off to Westminster to visit the Churchill War Rooms.

This is one of those destinations that many people, like Nicola, have absolutely no interest in. Dana, however, majored in history and World War II, odd as this might sound, is one of my hobbies. So for us, a museum dedicated to Churchill and the War in Europe was a must-see. And it didn’t disappoint!

Inside the War Rooms.

A bit of background: in 1938, right at the onset of WWII, a series of rooms were constructed beneath the Treasury Building in Whitehall, for use by the Cabinet and armed forces. In 1940, Churchill declared the Cabinet Room the place from which he would win the war and it was massively important to the entire effort. In the ’80s they were reopened by Thatcher as the Imperial War Museum. History lesson over.

The weather report (Fine and Warm).

Currently, there are two parts to the museum: the War Rooms themselves, and a museum dedicated to Winston Churchill. The entry fee is £16 for adults and altogether it took Dana and I a little under two hours. But we read everything, watched most of the videos, and did some of the interactive things, so other people might take less time.

The museum has been restored and maintained with a lot of care. As you walk through, you can look into sleeping quarters (labeled with the name of the occupants), map rooms, the transatlantic telephone room, and other places, such as kitchen areas, that give you a well-preserved glimpse into life underground during the war. You will also find loads of first-hand accounts and things like gas masks, medals, and original rotary phones. There’s also a cafe in the middle, serving period-appropriate food, but Dana and I didn’t eat there. If I ever go back, I’ll have to rectify that because it would have been a fun little addition to the day.

A map room.

At the end of the museum there is, of course, a gift shop, where I bought a magnet with a famous Churchill quote (“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”) and a postcard of a poster encouraging women to sign up for the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service). There’s also a box for monetary donations because museum upkeep is expensive.

I would definitely do the War Rooms again, but if history isn’t your thing, give it a pass. For those with an interest in the Second World War, though, it’s fantastic.

Unfortunately, I was lazy with my camera the rest of the day, so I don’t have any pictures from our evening. Which is particularly sad because Dana, Nicola, and I got dressed up and went for a nice dinner before seeing the musical Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi. I’d seen it before, in Seattle, but the production in London was great and our seats, mid-way up the balcony, weren’t bad. I really enjoyed it. And, for an added bit of awesome, we saw Colin Firth at the theatre!

Historical maps are awesome.

Only one day left in my great UK adventure and then the London Special will be over and we’ll be back to your regularly scheduled Japan-tastic programing. Stay tuned!

London Special 03: Adventures with Lexi and Lauren

Look, it’s Oxford!

Like I said in the previous entry, Friday evening I made my way to Oxford. The first night was very chill, just dinner in a pub with Lauren and two of her three housemates, then back to her house for YouTube videos and sleep so that we’d be rested for Saturday’s wander around Oxford.

Saturday morning we got a good start and headed out for downtown. I’d been to Oxford before and wasn’t really there for anything in particular so much as to spend time with my friend, so we ended up at the Ashmolean to look at dead stuff. Or, more accurately, the pre-history rooms where they have skulls and other fascinating things. That was somewhere I hadn’t been, so it was excellent, but as I’d gone to the British Museum the day before I didn’t feel compelled to go farther.

Pub menu with a bottle of Dandelion and Burdock.

Lauren wanted to take me punting, but the weather was drizzly, so we had to skip it. Another one of those things I’ll just have to make another trip for. Instead, the highlight of the day was the food. Lunch was particularly special because it was at The Eagle and Child, the pub where Tolkien hung out.

I’d never had Dandelion and Burdock before (it’s a very old English soda and exactly what it says on the bottle), so Lauren ordered it and let me have a taste. I’d heard that it’s an acquired taste and it is. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, either. I am glad I had the chance to finally try it, though!

The other food adventure of the day, after popping into an antique bookstore and an Alice in Wonderland shop where I picked up a souvenir for someone, was proper cream tea. It was something else I’d never done before and we found a lovely little place for it, where we each got a pot of tea with milk, two warm scones, and an assortment of jams, butter, and clotted cream. It was glorious. A+ would definitely eat again.

Lauren with our tea.

And that was Oxford! Originally, the idea had been an Oxford weekend, but instead Lauren decided to come back to London with me so we could spend a day together there. We took the bus, which is cheaper than the train and, because the traffic was light, only took about 70 minutes. I really recommend it, actually. Not only will you save money, you’ll get to see a bit of countryside. There are plenty of sheep!

Tourist photos GO!

In London, we decided to walk up Regent’s Street to Piccadilly Circus and basically just pop around the shops. We took pictures, ate Japanese food for lunch at Mitsukoshi (so nostalgic), and ended up wandering into a St. Patrick’s Day parade, which was fun and unusual.

I also did most of my souvenir shopping at a great place called Cool Britannia. It’s in Piccadilly Circus and pretty much fantastic. I was able to get most of my shopping done all in one go. If you’re in London looking for souvenirs to take home, definitely check it out.

Late afternoon, Lauren had to get back on the bus to return to Oxford and I went back to my hotel to reconnect with Dana and Nicola. It was bittersweet – I was sad my time hanging out with her was over, but I still had a lot of stuff to look forward to. And I will be back soon with the next leg of the journey!

They filmed Harry Potter stuff here. We didn’t go in, but it is a beautiful building.

London Special 02: The Plot Thickens

‘sup, British Museum?

Friday was a great day, especially in light of how miserably Thursday ended. We got a decently early start and headed straight for the British Museum. In Britain, the national museums are all free, though they do like donations (the sign above the box asks for £5) and my friend and I love ancient stuff, so this was a must-see. Another one of those places we’d been before, but couldn’t skip.

We only spent maybe an hour and a half there, which got us through the Egyptian, Assyrian, some of the ancient Greek (it wasn’t all open that day), the ancient Roman, and the pre-modern British Isles sections. That left all the eastern art and the like untouched, which I guess just means I’ll have to plan another trip. Seriously, putting aside the ethics question of whether Britain should even be keeping all the stuff they stole (and that’s as far as I’m going with that), the British Museum is amazing.

I will never get over how amazing this stuff is.

I’m only a casual art historian, but as a side note: there are two easy ways to tell if a statue is really Greek, or just a Roman replica. The first is whether or not the figure is free-standing. Sometime between Ancient Greece and Rome, people apparently forgot how to make the figures stand on their own, so the replicas are always leaning on a pillar or something. The second is whether it’s missing multiple limbs. Clearly, the lady to your right is Greek. I could sit here and gush for ages about how breathtaking these statues are (just look at the way they captured motion in marble!), but that’s probably not what you’re here for, so I won’t.

It is weird to try to imagine them painted, though. And not in normal, true-to-life colors, either. Try to picture that statue in bright colors. You can’t do it, can you? Didn’t think so.

Anyway, after the British Museum we ate delicious fish and chips and I eavesdropped on the Japanese tourists behind us, then we moved on to Madam Tussaud’s, which is in a totally different part of London. This one was more for my friends than it was for me. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed it well enough, but I’d never do it again. Not really my thing, you know?

I did dig the historical figures room. Chilling with Sir Francis Drake.

From there we moved on to something that I really did want to see: the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Okay, now this is one that I can’t straight-up recommend to everyone because, if you’re not a big Holmes fan, it won’t be worth the time and entry fee. I really liked it, but I’m exactly the sort of person it’s meant for.

It’s deducing time.

As you might expect, the museum is at 221B Baker Street (which incidentally was not a real address when ACD wrote the stories), down the street from the Baker Street tube station. The people working there are dressed period appropriate, you can take pictures, and it made my in-love-with-Sherlock-Holmes soul happy. I also bought a mug for my extensive collection. It makes my tea feel clever.

And that was where my travel companions and I parted ways for the weekend because I was off to Oxford to visit one of my best friends, Lauren. We met in Matsuyama when I was a JET and she was a foreign student and now that she’s back at university in England, I had to visit. So up next: adventures with Lauren and Lexi. Oh yes.

To Oxford!

London Special 01: It Begins

And we’re back! Last night at about 17:30 my plane landed at Sea-Tac here in dreary Seattle, marking the end of my holiday in London. It was fantastic, and I took 156 pictures, so for the next few weeks  Haecceity will be taking a break from Japan and doing the UK instead. These posts will be a bit photo heavy, so I hope you enjoy!

This is what we left behind.

Anyway, we flew out last Tuesday. The flight was at 19:15 and I met the two friends I was traveling with (Dana and Nicola) at about 16:00. And, as you can see from the photo to the left of your screen, it was snowing in South Seattle, so it was awesome to go somewhere else.

Because of the time difference, despite only being about a nine and a half hour flight, we got to London at 11:30 Wednesday morning and had to stay up for hours. I can’t sleep on planes, so by mid-evening I felt like I could have slept for a year. It all worked out and, despite waking up at 4:00 in the morning (we ate breakfast, then went back to bed till 8:00), we adjusted okay. No severe jet lag.

It was a gorgeous day.

Thursday was our first proper day and it was, for me, the worst of the trip. Like I said, we got up at 8:00, but had to hang around for longer than I liked because there was a problem with the shower in our room (they fixed it). But we finally got out and headed straight for Westminster Abbey. All three of us had been to London before, but Westminster Abbey is one of the most beautiful places in the whole world and worth repeat trips. Despite the price (£15 for adults) you should include it in your itinerary if you go to London. Totally worth it and very much recommended. And the audio guide is narrated by Jeremy Irons! All I can say about it really is that it’s breathtaking and amazing and so culturally important you can feel it in the air. No photos inside, so all I have for you is an exterior shot, but if you ever get the chance you need to go. One of my favorite places in London, no question.

Hazy day, but still wonderful.

After Westminster, we ate at a pub that was okay, but nothing amazing, and then crossed the bridge to go to the London Film Museum. It’s in the County Hall near the London Eye, which we skipped because it’s expensive, takes 30 minutes, and London is rarely clear enough for the view to be worth it, and the location alone is just fun. Right on the bank of the Thames. It was very warm, about 18C (65F), but I had a headache that was getting worse by the minute, so when my friends went into a zombie-themed horror house, I stayed outside and sat in the sun. It was definitely the right decision.

Exterminate!

When they were finished, we headed straight for the museum (£13.50), which I really enjoyed because I love cinema. But your mileage may vary – if you’re not really into it, don’t bother. They had rooms devoted to different studios and themes (props from Harry Potter, costumes from horror films, etc.) and when we were there they were doing a special thing for Charlie Chaplin, too. It even had a mini-theatre with clips of his films. We wandered through at a leisurely pace and it was delightfully quiet. And I had to get a picture with the Daleks in the Doctor Who room, of course. I can’t resist a Doctor Who exhibit.

And that was when it went a bit pear-shaped. The headache that I’d been hoping was just dehydration was actually a migraine and, after sitting on the Piccadilly Line feeling like I was either going to throw up or start crying, I went back to the hotel and collapsed in bed with the duvet over my head. My friends did continue on to Piccadilly Circus, but my first day ended at about 16:00. They kindly got me some pain killers and, fortunately, by Friday morning I was right as rain.

So that was day one! I’ll be back soon with our continued adventures and more photos.

London is amazing.