It's so hard to write about two wonderful weeks in London. It went by so fast. I felt like I did a lot, seeing a good bit of the city again, while at the same time catching up on some much needed rest.
What can you say about a city that really needs no description? I'll not bore you with descriptions of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Themes or St. Paul's. Besides, most of you who know me have heard me go on and on about London anyway.
However, this visit provided a couple extra experiences that Are worthy of highlighting:
1. Sushi. Yeah - I know. London is not necessarily known for its sushi. Fish and chips, Sheppard's pie, and sandwiches with copious amounts of mayo or butter is more their specialty. However, after a frickin awesome sushi dinner at the apartment of a Cerner associate, I will now beg to differ.
Admittedly, I'm not a tremendous fan of sushi. But with a spread like this, how can you not be?
It was absolutely amazing. No less than six different types of sushi with all the fixin's (can you say "fixin's" in reference to sushi?), along with an assortment of beer and wine. I couldn't believe it. Especially for me, the traveler, who hasn't seen a set table like this for quite a while. Nancy and Bill, it was tremendous. Thank you so much for including me.
What made it even more fun was the company. Turns out there were all kinds of Cerner people at the party, including Kristen and Mickey. I also got to catch up with Angel, who I hadn't seen for a long time, as well as Bubalo and his lovely girlfriend (Bubalo, it was great to see you man. Wherever you are, I hope your busted wheel is feeling better, and have a frostie for me). Needless to say, the party went on well into the night, and a good time was had by all.
2. Star Wars. Yeah, that's right, Star Wars. I've been called a lot of things in my time, and "geek" is pretty high on the list. But I'm ok with it. In fact I embrace it. As an illustration, I was in Spain watching the BBC or something when I saw that Lucasfilm was setting up a big Star Wars exhibition in London. Secretly, I was really hoping to be there in time to see it.
Fast forward a few weeks. Justin, Bakie and I are marching across Westminster Bridge toward County Hall. We stop to admire the storm troopers guarding the entrance, then head in. It was a true haven for Star Wars fans of all ages. Full-size models of pod racers and star fighters, life-size puppets, costumes, original art, video, etc.
We walked around like kids in a candy store. Probably the most interesting pieces were the old storyboards from the original movies. Hand-drawings were supplemented with checklists of pieces needed to complete the image. Explosions, star fields, laser blasts, etc. You could then go across the hall to see the 3-D pre-visualization work utilized by the new movies. Cool to see how the process has changed from models, matte paintings, and numerous plates to now terabytes-worth of rendering inside super-powerful computers.
At the end we sat through a performance of "Jedi School" for the kids. A couple of Jedi talked to the crowd, pulling out a few kids for some light saber lessons. It was entertaining to see some bad acting and some happy kids.
All in all, a good time for the inner nerd.
3. Orpington. A good friend of mine in KC put me in touch with some of his in-law's relatives in the London area. It turned out they were wonderful people who offered to put me up in a pinch. Since my wonderful friends in north London came through, I had the accommodation covered, but still ended up meeting up with them for lunch on Sunday afternoon.
I found a train down to Orpington, and Maynard met me at the station. After a quick visit to his church, we went to his house where I was treated to an absolutely wonderful home cooked meal with some great people. We sat around and talked for hours, even going outside to have ice cream in the backyard.
Maynard, thanks much for your hospitality. You have a wonderful family, and a great home. Please stay in touch.
4. Christy's visit. I ended up timing my visit to London to coincide with the visit of Christy, a good friend of mine from KC/LA/Portland/KC. This was Christy's first foray across the pond, and it was a lot of fun to be able to play tour guide. It's not like I've spent that much time here - just a few months, but it was great being able to show it off.
We hit all the highlights - Westminster & Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, The Globe Theater, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Buckingham, St. James' Park, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square... you name it. It was great to see how much the city had changed in the last few years - and how much it had remained the same. Christy seemed to have a great time, and even suffered through some blisters on her feet due to all the walking we did.
We also made time to drop by one of my favorite spots to eat - Bodean's, which is (I kid you not), a BBQ joint with Kansas City roots. Apparently a former cook from Oklahoma Joe's in KC came over here several years ago and started up this place with a partner. It's taken off, likely in no small part to the plethora of Cerner associates now over here. It's a great place to watch American football on Saturdays and Sundays, and provides some pretty damn good BBQ. For those Cerner Marketing and ex-Cerner Marketing associates who are wondering - yes, they have crack fries, but something gets lost in the translation to England. They're good, but not the true, withdrawal-inducing crack fries you'll find in a gas station in Mission.
Christy, I had a great time. I hope you did as well. Hopefully you'll want to go back at some point!
5. Jack the Ripper. Back in 2003, I found a company called London Walks who put together organized walking tours of various parts of the city. They had walks for everyone - fans of James Bond, haunted London, pub crawls, etc. I however, was interested in the darker side - the Jack the Ripper tour. A small group of us went, including Mickey. We enjoyed the hell out of it. As we did it in November, it was dark, cold and moody. And to make it even better, it was led by a virtual master of the genre, a guy named Donald Rumbelow. Ol' Don is the author of two books on the subject, and is considered one of the leading experts when it comes to Ripper lore.
So, when Christy asked what we should do in London, the Ripper tour was at the top of the list. We hit a tour on Sunday night, and were just two of close to 100 people who ended up following Donald around. His legend has grown a lot over the years as well. Other tour guides try to do Ripper tours, but you almost feel bad for them, with their little gatherings of 10 people.
Anyway, Donald did not disappoint. The tour was again creepy and disturbing, even though there was still a little light in the evening sky as we started. We toured parts of East London, visiting places where bodies were found, and where clues were left.
Now I'd certainly recommend this tour to anyone going to London. It's a can't miss for me. The bummer is that when we were talking to Donald after the tour, he said he's probably going to retire in the next few months. This sucks for anyone who hasn't seen him yet. So, if you're thinking about going to London, do it quick, and get on a tour with Donald.
London is an amazing city. I know some don't share my love of it, but it's a place I could live if given the opportunity. Don't get me wrong, it has its problems - it's crowded, touristy and damn expensive (especially if you're on the dollar). But its history and charm will win you over. If you haven't been there yet - go.