16 July 2006, London

Sunday, it was back to Café on the Square, but because they were running on a skeleton weekend staff, we got the continental breakfast we would have sought elsewhere. Shortly thereafter, we took a taxi to the station and caught the train to London Waterloo.

London pubLondon aleWe took a taxi to the hotel—the Thistle Bloomsbury—where the clerk did not bat an eye when we gave our name but could find no reservation under it. Drat. We dug out the paperwork only to discover that our reservations were for the Thistle Bloomsbury Park, six blocks away. I left a note for our friend Cecile Reynaud (in London for three weeks teaching at the FSU London Center), since I had just e-mailed her that we would be at the Thistle Bloomsbury and the clerk said she'd already been by once looking for us, and we set out on foot for the other hotel. We found it all right, and only then went through the predictable "Who's on first?" routine—"Yes, sir, this is the Thistle hotel, but what name is the reservation under?" They did have a reservation for us, but the room wasn't ready, so we went off to visit the Wallace Collection, a favorite museum of ours. On the way, we walked the length of Great Russell Street, watching for the "FSU Study Center" sign I'd seen a photo of on the website, but we never spotted it. After fish and chips (and a relaxing pint of real ale for David) at the Black Horse (where many famous philosophers and authors had been customers, including Karl Marx), we took the Underground the rest of the way, only to discover (a) that London subway stations are really small compared to French ones—much smaller than I had remembered—and (b) that the Underground is expensive. The taxi ride for two, with luggage, from Waterloo Station across the river to the Thistle Bloomsbury cost 10 pounds, but a round-trip for two on the London Underground costs 12 pounds! Taxis seem to be the way to go in London. The trend we had noticed on a previous trip away from the classic "London cabs" with amazingly well-trained and knowledgeable drivers and toward "anybody-with-a-car" taxis has been completely reversed. The streets teem with real London cabs—I'd say that they outnumber private cars 2 to 1—they know where everything is, even the most obscure streets, and unless your trip is really long, they're cheaper than the subway! The Wallace Collection was marvelous, as usual, and still free, so we didn't have to feel guilty about going in the full knowledge that we wouldn't have time to see all of it.

Back at the hotel, our deluxe room on the fifth floor was ready, and they sincerely hoped to have the elevator working by tomorrow. Drat again. While we scratched out heads over that one, Cecile called, asking for us—she had showed up at the Thistle Bloomsbury again, just moments after we left, and got my message redirecting her to the right hotel. While I talked to Cecile and made arrangements to meet her that evening, David negotiated with reception for a much less deluxe, but first-floor, room. Just as well, since the elevator still didn't work when we left on Wednesday morning.

Cecile showed up as promised at 6: 30 p.m., and showed us around the neighborhood. Highlights were the British Museum (of course); the Neal's Yard Diary (unfortunately closed on Sunday), which only sells British farmhouse cheeses; and the FSU London Study Center, whose sign, it transpired, has fallen off. Not much was open at the study center at that time of a Sunday, but we got to see the faculty office area, reception, and the grand staircase, currently under repair. The center is a block from the British Museum and about four blocks from our hotel.

London CecileFor dinner, we settled on Cecile's recommendation of Punjab (that's where this shot of Cecile was taken), where we shared a terrific dinner of chicken kurma, tandoori prawns, lamb biryani, and naan. In the course of the meal, we heard one of the all-time great cartoon-style sustained crashes. A waiter with a towering tray of dishes headed for the stairs down to the kitchen—I think somebody even said "Hope he makes it" or some such—and two seconds later the cascade started: clattery-clattery-clattery-CRASH, pause, clumpity-clumpity-clattery-clattery, BANG, bang, thud. Apparently no one was hurt, but the mess at the bottom of the stair must have been impressive!

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