It's one of those days: I lost an earring somewhere between the hotel room and the theatre, and I seem to have picked up a bit of an intestinal bug. On the bright side, the play - Seminar with Alan Rickman, Lily Rabe and Jerry O'Connell – was wry and funny and viciously witty, and Alan Rickman of course was extremely sexy, even in a relatively unsexy role. That voice, that voice.

Prior to that, we had breakfast of sorts, a slice of pizza at Famous Original Ray's. We were just too exhausted after last night to get up in time for the breakfast buffet at the hotel. I didn't even have time to do yoga, so I was all sorts of out of sorts by the time we hit the theatre. If it had been a less than stellar production, I would have been devastated, but fortunately it was excellent. I also see that Paul Gross is on Broadway right now, doing Private Lives with Kim Cattrall. We may need to get back here earlier than springtime.

We had dinner at Hill Country Barbecue (I know – who goes to NYC and eats nothing but 'cue?) It's a little different from the average restaurant. You go in and they give you a meal ticket, which you take up to various stations where they serve you your meat or side dishes; drinks are served by an actual waitress. We shared ¾ lb of ribs, which were of Flintstonian proportions. Then we poked through a local gourmet grocer before catching a cab to the McKittrick for the evening. Getting a cab in NYC this visit has been tough! We've had the best luck catching them just as someone else is getting out. Flagging one down on the street is nigh-impossible.

New procedures at Sleep No More that I neglected to mention: the doormen now scan Ids, presumably to make sure they're real, and the entry cards are punched now, presumably so that less-than-ethical types can't reuse them.

Tonight, instead of Maximilian, there was last night's Malcolm, looming in the center of the room, posing, occasionally raising his drink in the direction of the bar. Eventually he got up onstage and invited the aces to make their way to the back of the room in a dreary, almost monotonous voice, very different from Max's cheery patter. Constance de Winter gave us the rules before summoning James the elevator attendant (who doubles as Mr. Bargarran, the taxidermist).

Wherein there is no more sleeping. Macbeth hath murdered sleep. )
Dinner at RUB was good, as usual. Post-show supper at New Venus was made even better by the presence of water and ginger ale. So thirsty. So very, very thirsty.

And now on with the show. Usual warning about spoilers applies. )

I think we are almost reaching saturation on Sleep No More. As we were enjoying our post-show breakfast-at-night, [personal profile] st_darwin suggested that perhaps next time we come to New York, it'll be in the spring, and if Sleep No More is still running, maybe we should only see it once. I, for one, am not ready to forgo it entirely, but I can definitely see how limiting it to one show per visit would enable us to do other things. My feet would definitely appreciate it.
Breakfast was uneventful, but upon returning to our room, all hell broke lose. Our lights (all but the desk light) failed to illuminate when switched on, and I was swamped by the combination of nausea and feeling of something boring through my sinuses that typically heralds a migraine. [personal profile] st_darwin was dispatched for a cola from the bar while I endeavoured to cease extraneous movement. A shot of caffeine and some horizontal time later, the migraine receded into the background but still loomed threateningly, rather than disappearing entirely. And so, the tentative plans we'd had for today – a Thames cruise, followed by 221B Baker Street and Camden Market – crumbled.

The last time I flew with a migraine, it seemed to make the flight stretch on three times its length. The last hour was especially brutal. It felt like I could have flown to Sydney in the time it took to go from Toronto to Vancouver. Obviously, this was not a feeling I wanted to repeat on the flight from London to Boston, so we rested and ventured out very briefly to the local bookstore and a newsagent's shop; I escaped the bookstore with a copy of Judith Flanders' The Invention of Murder. I escaped the newsagents with a cola and an Aero bar. Oh, delicous Aero bars! How I miss you in America!

Our private hire car to the airport was a Mercedes Benz. We arrived in the terminal with plenty of time to check in and enjoy a leisurely pre-flight meal at Gordon Ramsay's Plane Food. [personal profile] st_darwin had the chicken cashew curry with poppadums and rice, while I had the penne with tomatoes, aubergines, mozzarella and pecorino romano. The sauce was delicious, even though I was validated to observe that even Gordon Ramsay's presumably hand-picked and hand-trained staff can't quite get the hang of preparing aubergine so that it's not hopelessly squoodgy. We sat quite a while after our plates had been cleared without anyone asking us if we wanted dessert, coffee/tea, or the bill – which is the sort of thing that does tend to drive Chef Ramsay absolutely apeshit on his telly shows. There is a time and a place for leisurely European-style service; one of the world's busiest airports probably isn't it.

I popped a pre-flight Ativan with dinner and we hied ourselves off to our terminal to await our flight. The in-flight entertainment system was different this time out. Instead of the customizable seat-back system, we had multiple channels with various entertainment tracks that we could mix and match. While it's better than sitting for six hours wishing you had something more interesting to look at than the seat-back in front of you, the customizable system does spoil you, so I'll admit to being disappointed. The offerings were good, though: Midnight in Paris for starters, followed by a documentary on ghosts in the London Underground that I regrettably kept dozing through. For our in-flight meal, we had something that purported to be chicken and leeks, although I mostly just picked out the chicken and ate that because the leeks didn't seem very leeky at all, with a respectable serving of mashed potatoes, a whole wheat roll, and some kind of overly sweetened, overly fluffy dessert that I barely nibbled at. I did, however, get a little bottle of white wine with my meal, which was very civilized, and which combined with the aforementioned Ativan so that when we hit the big turbulence later in the flight – the kind that goes up and down and side-to-side – I was, as Chuck Palahniuk would say, "as calm as a Hindu cow."

You know you're back in the land of the free when you need to be fingerprinted and photographed in order to be allowed to reenter the country, and when you have to provide ID in order to change your foreign currency into the yankee dollar.

I miss Europe already.
We slept in a bit before heading down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. I had my usual bizarre mix of Contenental/English/American style breakfast, with both orange juice and English Breakfast tea while the sound system played something really trippy. It sounded like "still stoned from the night before" music; interesting, but not at all appropriate for a breakfasty setting. We were seated near the toasting machine, which was one of those things where you put the toast in at the top, and it goes through a little conveyer belt underneath the toasting element, and then gets dropped down the back and slides out the front again. Except something was wrong with this toasting machine. Deeply, horrifically wrong. Toast kept getting jammed in the back instead of dropping down to the next level, and because the heating element was still on it, it would inevitably begin to smolder, then smoke, then burst into flames. Copious amounts of smoke would pour from the machine, people would freak out a bit, and one of the attendant servers would come over and poke around a bit with metal tongs. I couldn't quite see if they'd turned the machine off or not, but I was definitely hoping they had, because otherwise it would be entirely a bit too much excitement at breakfast. After using the tongs to shove the now-charred bits of bread out the bottom of the machine, the attendant then would turn the intensity of the burner down, and wander off. Then the next thing you know, one man – after running his toast through five iterations of the toasting cycle – decided to turn up the elements. And the cycle repeated itself: smoke, then flame, then mild panic, then a perfectly calm attendant coming over, fiddling with things and poking with tongs, and resetting the system. We left after the second group of men decided to fiddle with the burner intensity. Two toaster fires was quite enough for one day.

We then headed to Trafalgar Square on the Central line to catch the hop-on/hop-off tour. There were demonstrators massing in Trafalgar Square. Some of them were very clearly left wing, and protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the prisons in Guantanamo and Bagram. Others were considerably more right wing than that, and the police were out in full force. Our bus tour swept through Trafalgar Square a few times, and each time, it seemed like 40 or 50 more police officers had joined the scene. The number of police vans down at the Houses of Parliament was more than a little scary. [personal profile] st_darwin later did some online research and discovered it was the English Defense League, who I'd never heard of before but who are apparently anti-Islamist. Countering them on the left was the Stop the War Coalition, which was a group that had considerably more of my sympathies.

We rode the top deck of the bus for the full circuit, through one change of buses/tour guides, and got a good overview of some London history, and an idea of some things we'd like to see on future visits, such as Buckingham Palace and the England at War Museum. (As a minor Tudor geek, I'd like to see Hampton Court, but the only link that has to anything we saw today involves a brochure. And several anecdotes about Henry VIII). My favourite historical anecdote not involving Henry VIII was the one about how Green Park allegedly got its name; one story states that King Charles II and his wife were walking in the park when she plucked a flower, handed it to him and told him he should give it to the prettiest girl in the park. He gave it to someone else, and in her anger, she ordered all of the flowerbeds torn up. I have no idea if it's true or not, but there are no flowerbeds in Green Park, and it is a great story.

After our tour wrapped, we got off at St. Paul's, and made our way around the cathedral and back to the Central line, which we took back to Shepherd's Bush, and then walked back to our hotel. I caught a quick nap before Gaz called, and we arranged for him to come and pick us up.

He showed up at 4:30, and we had a few beers and dinner at a great Kiwi burger place he'd found, and then hung out afterwards catching up on all the stuff that had happened in the last ten years. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about this, but I will say that it was amazing to see him again. I don't think I'd realized quite how much I'd missed him – even though I think about him a lot and dream about him regularly. It was as if no time had passed, really. It felt like we were hanging out together back in Vancouver again, almost. Comfortable and completely easy. Alas, I did not get to see his wife and daughter, as they had just left town that morning, but I did get to see some pictures of the daughter, and she's adorable. Their house is lovely, and he seems happy doing what he's doing in London, so of course I'm happy for him, even if it does mean I don't get to nip down to the pub for a pint with him on a regular basis. Not that we've done that in well over a decade. We parted resolving to be more constant email correspondents with each other (this is, regrettably, an issue for both of us) and with best wishes for a certain team in tomorrow's big rugby match.

For a variety of reasons - history, theatre, friendship - I need to get back here more often.
There was a mishap with an alarm clock and a time zone shift and we wound up getting up an hour early. This might not have been entirely objectionable, but the "hour early" translated to 5:00 AM. The problem has since been repaired and will not recur.

We hopped in a cab and headed to the meeting point of today's day tour. There was a slight miscommunication with the cab driver, who almost dropped us off at a different location, but we caught it in time and got there okay. The hotel we were meeting at had a restaurant, so we nipped in for the quick breakfast option, which consisted of two croissants and a cup of tea. The croissants were adequate, but seriously – who serves decaf tea at 7:30 AM? Would it have killed them to give us some caf?

We caught the tour bus and headed off toward Stonehenge. I have wanted to see Stonehenge ever since I first read about it as a small child, so this was sort of a dream come true for me. We drove off through the London suburbs and into the farmland, past pigs the size of cows and cows that were on the verge of mating, to Stonehenge. The weather was chilly and I found myself at times wishing I had brought my puffy jacket (with the gloves cunningly tucked into the pockets for future use) but I made do with the windbreaker as I wandered around the site with the little audiophone device clamped up to the side of my ear with my left hand, right hand holding the camera and frantically snapping photos.

At the risk of going completely wifty, the energy at Stonehenge is awesome. There's really no other word for it. It's a serene, purposeful humming.

From there, it was back into the bus and off to the next sight: Glastonbury. The first umleitung of the day ate about 20 minutes off our time, but our driver/guide somehow managed to maneuver our tour bus up near Glastonbury Tor. There's an impressive tower atop a giant hill, surrounded by a whole lot of unimpressed sheep. Back down the hill, we stopped off at the Chalice Well & Gardens. The energy there was lovely as well, very soothing. The water was cold and delicious, the flowers were beautiful and the whole effect was both nurturing and calming. The woman sitting across from us on the tour bus (who turned out to be from Winnipeg, and was going to cheer for the Jets next season – go Jets!) was lighting votive candles at some of the stops in the garden.

Then we drove into downtown Glastonbury, to visit the ruins at Glastonbury Abbey. Apparently back when he was getting persnickety about being recognized as the head of the Church in England, Henry VIII ordered the roof ripped off of the Abbey, and the whole thing has gone to ruin ever since. It's a shame, really, since it must have been quite lovely at one point, and it is the spot where monks allegedly found the bodies of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, which makes it kind of a special location in British history. (Really, between this, and the book I'm reading about Anne Boleyn, one of the prevailing themes of my day has been "Henry VIII was kind of a dick.")

We had lunch at Knight Fish & Chips, which had been recommended by our driver/guide, and rightly so, since it was possibly the best plate of fish and chips I've had in ages. After that, we poked around a few of Glastonbury's stores. The shops here seem to cater mostly to druggies and/or neopagans. There's a grow shop called – I kid you not – Bag End, and several shops that seemed to be geared around neopaganism. There are pentagrams in pretty much every store, as well as athames, incense burners, and all manner of occult books. I was very principled here; I only bought scarves. There was a local bakery called Burns the Bread; apparently the family who runs it is called Burns. I did find myself wondering how many of these stores are legitimate concerns all year round, and how many just sort of hang in there until the Glastonbury Festival, when they make all their money.

Then it was back into the van for the drive out to Avebury. I found myself dozing throughout the trip, but it wasn't long before we were pulling into Avebury. There was a small village post office open, so I took advantage of that to finally getting around to mailing the postcard I'd written my parents last week when we were in London. We then explored the site. Avebury used to be a circle of standing stones, but over time (thanks in part to the Puritans and their hatred of pagan religion and thanks in part to stupid people thinking stones are more important than heritage sites), some have fallen and some have disappeared. Roads bisect the circle in both directions, so the circle essentially consists of four quarters, and two of those quarters have a village parked on them. As a result, it's not quite at its former glory and lacks some of the immediate spectacle/"wow" factor that Stonehenge has. Unlike Stonehenge, however, you can actually walk amongst these stones. And touch them.

Again, at the risk of sounding completely wifty, they buzz pleasantly. The yoni stone in particular has a vivid charge. My hand is still vibrating.

There was another umleitung on the trip back, and a whole lot of stau the closer we got to London, but we eventually made it back to the hotel. I gave Gaz a quick call about getting together tomorrow afternoon/evening, and then [personal profile] st_darwin and I headed out to dinner. We found a place convenient to our hotel, Singapore Chinese, where I had a Malaysian curried chicken and the most delicious noodles I've had in ages.

Tomorrow the plan is to do a hop on/hop off tour in the morning, and get together with Gaz later in the day. Hopefully that will pan out, since I haven't seen him in ages and miss him terribly.
The reading lights on our flight from Stuttgart were strangely subpar. They were more white than the average reading light and seemed to be aimed somewhat strangely. You had to sort of twist your body a little to the side and then hold the book at a rather jaunty arms-length angle to have the light actually hit the page where it should.

I did not see it for myself, but I am told by a reliable source that in the men's room at Stuttgart airport, there are vending machines that sell condoms and artificial vaginas. After I got over the initial shocked horror, I could not help but scan the waiting room, wondering just how many of the men there had recently purchased an artificial vagina for their business trip and/or vacation needs.

No one needs to be thinking that about the men on their flight.
After a leisurely late morning/early afternoon of shopping and sightseeing in downtown Stuttgart, we bade goodbye to BIL, SIL, N1 and N2, and to Germany itself, and got back on Germanwings for the flight to Stansted. We hit turbulence, so we paid the extra fee so I could have a bier in addition to my Happy Picnic, which was a bit less happy this time, partially because of turbulence and partially because the donair I'd had earlier was extremely filling.

Once in Stansted, I was faced with the jarring realization that I no longer needed to mentally translate everything I saw. In particular, the ausgang signs had been replaced with ones that indicated exits, and I had one really weird moment where I was translating from the English to the German and back again.

I don't even speak German, but apparently after a week in Germany – reading street signs, seeing words in context to the point where I don't need to translate them to know what they mean, building a vocabulary and putting words together to make rudimentary sentences – my eyes had acclimated to the language. I swear, if I was dumped in a foreign country for a couple of months, I'd come back with reasonable literacy skills, even if I couldn't actually speak the language for crap. For me, the reading comes first – always has – and my reading comprehension of a language is the very first thing that comes on line.

Now I get to take it off-line. Although that didn't stop me from exclaiming "Oh! Stilleswasser! when I saw the complimentary bottles of water in our hotel room. (I should also point out that the bed in this room is the approximate size of the room in our last hotel room. I exaggerate, but only very slightly.) At least I pulled it together enough to order a packet of crisps on the train back from Stansted.

Maybe it's just because I was tired from a long flight and not in any mood to appreciate it properly, or maybe it's just the way the wind cut through me while I was waiting for a taxi outside Liverpool Street Station, but London has a sinister edge tonight.

I think I kind of like it.
We got off to a bit later of a start today and headed into Triberg, in the Black Forest. We checked out the waterfalls, at least at the lower heights. We could buy peanuts to feed the local squirrels, but there weren't any squirrels to be seen so SIL had to content herself with just tossing peanuts into the woods, where hopefully they'll be found by squirrels at some later point in time.

Then we visited the House of 1,000 Clocks. We made a few Rob Zombie movie jokes going in, and it actually was a little scary. In the entryway, there was an animatronic figure intoning "I am the Black Forest clockmaker" in an unnerving monotone. I'm not sure if there were a thousand clocks, exactly, but there were a great many of them, ranging from plastic cuckoo clocks mostly made in China but assembled in Germany (and thus capable of bearing the words "made in Germany" on the clockface) to more minimalist clocks. From there we went to an actual clockmaker's shop, which in addition to cuckoo clocks had all sorts of carvings: nativity sets, boxes, Christmas ornaments, little carved animals and dwarves, all sorts of things. The clocks were seriously impressive. Alas, with the cats, we are not able to have nice things like cuckoo clocks, even if I do have one that my grandmother left me.

We had lunch at a local pizza place that did an excellent pepperoni pizza, which I had with a Ketterer pils, which was lovely. Then we ambled down the street, poking in and out of shops before arriving at a bakery/tea house. [personal profile] st_darwin and SIL had the strawberry cheesecake, but I figured there was no way I could visit the Black Forest and not have a slice of Black Forest cake, so that's what I had, along with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

We went back to the house, and packed up (we're leaving Germany tomorrow) and then went out for Italian food and gelato. Our flight isn't until the evening, so we'll probably hit downtown Stuttgart for some sightseeing and shopping in the morning/early afternoon.

It's hard to say what my favourite thing about this trip has been. I've had such a great time! My one regret is that we never got to eat at the infamous Chinese restaurant that serves "hot cock." (That's what the English menu says. I've seen photos.)
We saw a great number of castles as we floated down the Rhine the other day, but lacked the time and/or the inclination to actually visit any of them. Today, we ventured up to Schloss Hohenzollern. The guided tour was entirely in German, which meant that I didn't get much beyond the dates when things happened; for some reason, numbers are perfectly intelligible to me while the rest of the language floats merrily above my capacity to understand.

This castle is amazing. It sits high atop a hill and is visible for quite some distance, so even though we had to take a fairly lengthy detour through some picturesque farmland, it was easy enough to navigate to the castle itself. We drove a little ways up a winding road, then parked in a parking lot and rang the bell for the bus that would take us the rest of the way up the hill. A short time later, we paid our entrance fees and walked up the winding ramp onto the bastions where there were several bronze statues of various rulers of Prussia. Then we entered the courtyard, and stopped in the giftshop to kill some time before the tour began. After the tourguide opened the hall, we slipped oversized booties on over our shoes and entered the ancestral hall, where the walls were bedecked with the Hohenzollern family tree. From there, we went into the count's hall, which was used as a banquet hall and ballroom; there were several impressive chandeliers, some very nice marble floorwork, and several polearms on the walls.

From there we went into the library, or biblioteka, which sparked some debate among those of us who don't speak much German, as "biblioteka" is not the name used for lending library; I wondered if it might not be instead a word for "room in the house where the books are," and they just have two words for that. We may never know for sure. The library was lined with paintings depicting events that had happened around the castle in history and legend. One of these was a painting of a beautiful woman dressed in white carrying a basket of food on her head as she walked through what looked like a battlefield; according to legend, this "White Lady" sneaked through enemy lines during one 15th century siege to bring food and medicine to troops who were secure within the castle. From there, we proceeded into the Margrave's Parlor, which contained a number of photographs of the ruling family, as well as various portraits of various kings.

The royal bedchamber was notable for the smallness of the bed; it would barely be a single by today's bed-sizing standards. The so-called "blue parlour" was perhaps the most impressive room. The ceiling was gilded, the wallpaper was gilded, the floors were parquet made out of five different kinds of wood (the only one I understood was mahogany), and the walls were lined with portrait after portrait of members of the royal family, including Queen Louise of Prussia, Empress Victoria (who was the daughter of Queen Victoria, and who unsurprisingly looked very similar to her), and Prince Waldemar (whose portrait was painted by his mother, the aforementioned Empress Victoria – she was quite a gifted portrait artist).

From there we went into the royal treasury, which is much less securely housed than the crown jewels of England. There is a key that unlocks the big door, and a multi-layered vault in which the Royal Prussian crown is kept, but other than that, it's museum cases all around. There were a lot of impressive items in this room, including the christening goblet that Queen Victoria and Prince Albert gave to their daughter, Empress Victoria, in honour of the birth of Prince Waldemar, and an absolutely gorgeous dress and train (pale blue, woven with silver) worn by Queen Louise, apparently when she met with Napoleon.

After our tour, we had lunch in the museum's restaurant – turkey schnitzel with noodles, in a white wine sauce and orange juice, since I'm starting to feel a bit of a cold coming on – and checked out St. Michael's chapel before making our way through the exit and down to where we rang the bell for the bus to come and take us back down the hill to the parking lot.

Apparently you can walk up the hill. SIL, BIL, N1 and N2 did it on their visit, and SIL's description made it sound pretty Grouse Grind-y, so with my mobility challenges, I think we were pretty glad to do things the easy way.

I am slowly but surely building my German vocabulary: umleitung (detour), stau (traffic jam), damensbinden (feminine protection). I do think I may poach stau for use back home.

Dinner was Turkish food. I wasn't expecting much from the food over here, but I've been pleasantly surprised at both the variety and the quality. I haven't had a bad meal yet.

In other news, I fear I am coming down with a cold.
For the first time in days, we had a bit of a sleep-in before packing up and heading to France. Just across the French border, a hawk swooped in front of the car in front of us and was clipped. The impact sent the hawk spiralling upwards, and then back down again, into the median. SIL and I were horrified. Our conversation derailed, and all we could think about was that poor hawk, and that poor driver. If it had been our car, we would have had to pull over to calm down. As it was, we just spent the next several minutes aghast, and hoping like hell that N1 and N2 (who were in the car behind us) didn't see what just happened. Fortunately, they didn't.

A short time later, we arrived in Strasbourg, a lovely town with some impressive edifices. We ate lunch at L'Eden, a Lebanese restaurant just across the street from a cathedral which I believe may have been L'Eglise St. Maurice (it's kind of hard to tell from Googlemaps). I had the brochettes de poulet, which were served with salad and blé rouge, which I believe was a kind of couscous, and a kind of spiced tea that was quite lovely; [personal profile] st_darwin had the brochettes de boeuf, which were also really nice (I tried one). From there, we drove about half an hour into the mountains to visit Le Montaigne des Singes, which was a sanctuary/park for Barbary macaques. The macaques roam free within the enclosure and eat popcorn which is provided to the visitors. This, as you can imagine, was totally awesome, and I took tons of good pictures. At one point, as we were making our way around the trail, there was a frantic burst of activity from the woods as one macaque took off after another, which was running for its life, amidst a burst of furiously angry chittering and squawking. I have no idea what was up with that, but the macaque doing the chasing seemed deadly serious. There were babies, as well, which were very tiny and cute. I saw one mother make definite aggression/warning facial expressions at tourists when they stepped over her line of what was acceptable to do with her baby. One of the signs in the park depicted some of the favourite activities of the macaques; #9 on the list was mating, and yes, there was a picture.

After that, we drove up to check out the castle at Haut-Koenigsburg. We arrived a bit too late in the day to go through the castle, but we did have time to wander around the outside a bit, and have a coke while overlooking the land below, which was mostly farmland dotted with picturesque villages. Then we ventured into one of those picturesque villages, Kintzheim, for dinner. None of the local restaurants served dinner until 6:30, so we had about an hour to wander around the village and take pictures. Seriously, Kintzheim is so cute it's straight out of central casting. The streets are narrow, lane-like and winding, and the buildings, which mostly seem to date from the middle ages, are straight out of a storybook. I must have taken dozens of photos. The area seems to cater mostly to French and German tourists, because the information in English was relatively sparse, and most people spoke both French and German well (as you'd imagine for Alsace, which is the kind of region where bilingual names like "Haut-Koenigsburg" are not at all unusual.). Between my incredibly rusty French and SIL's passable German, we managed reasonably well at ordering treats in a bakery, as well as fondue for dinner at Auberge les Armoiries d'Alsace. The woman in the bakery spoke no English at all (but was quite nice about my appalling French), and the restaurant host spoke German with SIL, French with me, and odd bits of English to communicate ideas when both of us looked completely confused.

Tomorrow brings the promise of a castle. We shall see. But as for the rest of tonight, it'll be beer and bed for me.
Another one of those early, early mornings – which seem to be getting even earlier as we go along. We were up at 4:30 this time, and left the house by 6:00 for a two-hour drive to Mainz, where we caught the MS Loreley for a leisurely cruise down the Rhine. We found a spot on the sundeck (sonnendeck) on the starboard side. It was bright and sunny but painfully chilly until around 11:00, when it began to warm up considerably. At various points, [personal profile] st_darwin and I wandered inside to warm up and attempt to order something breakfasty, since I was planning on drinking beer, and beer without breakfast on a boat is a recipe for disaster. One pfannkuchen later, I was ready to face the rest of the day. We got off the boat at a tiny village called St. Goar, and had lunch at a pizzeria/Italian food joint with the unlikely Spanish name of Corazon. The streets of St. Goar were narrow and cute, pretty much what you expect from a small German village along the Rhine. In the window of one pharmacy (apotheke) was a mannequin decked out in all their various support and orthopedic garments – a rib wrap, patellar-support kneepads, and a surgical face mask; I'm sure they were trying to advertise the array of medical garments on sale but the overall effect was somewhat more fetishy in tone. It was a little jarring. And even in a small German town there was a Birkenstock shop. Between Mainz and St. Goar, we floated past Wiesbaden, Eltville, Rüdesheim, Bingen (former home of Hildegarde), Assmannshausen, Lorch, Bacharach, Kaub and Oberwesel, as well as the legendary Loreley rock, where it is said that the song of a beautiful maiden used to drive sailors to steer their ships onto the rock. Either that or it's a treacherous part of the river and the sailors weren't very good. Which one seems more likely to you?

We caught a different boat (the MS Asbach) on the way back and sat inside.

Random observations from a day on the Rhine: There are a ridiculous number of castles along the banks of the Rhine, in various stages of repair, from fully revamped and being used as a hotel, to crumbling ruin open to the elements. Phil Collins is surprisingly, maybe even disturbingly, popular here; we heard three of his songs today. The Rhine is one amazingly busy river. On the way downriver, we saw dozens of barges laden down with cargo ranging from garbage to coal. Most of these barges have cars aboard them, on the back, presumably so the crew can get off at ports and go on day trips. On the way upriver, we saw many empty barges, floating very high in the water. One of the barges we saw on the way up was a black barge with red contrast, and the name Soprano, in the same font as the show title, complete with the pistol-R; it didn't seem to be flying a flag of origin, and we did wonder what was up with that, but decided it was probably best to mind our business. On the way downriver, we saw a jeep driving/sailing upriver, in the middle of the Rhine; [personal profile] st_darwin got a picture. Along the way there were geese migrating – hundreds of them, it looked like – in separate clusters of flying-Vs that would overlap, birds would cross from one group to the other or change position within their original group. The geese were much quieter than Canada geese.

On the way back, SIL and I drove in the same car, which began to run short on gas, and its little "I have this much gas" meter was flipping out, telling us we had 24, 23, 22, 21, 18, 15, 12, 8, 4, 2, 10, 14, 18, 20 kilometers of gas left, all within a short period of time, starting around the time we had 22 kilometers left to reach a gas station we knew was open. We managed to make it to the gas station before that one, and put 10 Euros in the car. I needed to use the loo but all the toilets are pay here and I had no Eurochange, so I had to beg my SIL for 70 Eurocents so I could go to the bathroom. In exchange for my money, I did get a 50-cent voucher for coffee; I wonder if beverage vouchers are that petrol station's way of ensuring that they'd always have suckers paying to use the toilets.

We made it back home without further ado, but at that point, we'd all been up for 16 hours, so we pretty much tumbled into bed.

No early morning tomorrow, just a leisurely (I hope) trip to France.
We were up dark and early at 4:00AM to prepare for our 5:00 cab trip back to Liverpool Street Station. From there, we purchased round-trip tickets for the express train to Stansted Airport, and boarded the train for a comfortable 45-ish minute ride. Shortly after departure, a conductor came along and asked to see our fares and we got our tickets punched. It was just such a classically English experience.

Stansted itself is a smallish airport, with an efficient security line, which includes a conveyer which pops security bins up and slides them out to the people waiting to put their laptops into something. Past security was a rather impressive mall, with a couple of sitdown restaurants, smaller food kiosks, bookstores, souvenir shops and all the things one expects to find in a modern airport. One thing I didn't expect to find was the vending machine in the ladies room that offered a small toothbrush that fit on the tip of one's finger. We took the tram to our terminal, where there was a small shop. Remembering my experience in Chile with the steak-flavoured potato chips, I decided to buy a bag of crisps in a flavour that seemed somewhat locally exotic. "Roast chicken" was just the thing! It tasted eerily like roast chicken, which was a bit off-putting, but it did quickly grow on me. I'm not sure I'd have it again, but as a chip flavour it was definitely an interesting cultural experience.

Germanwings is the kind of budgety airline that doesn't even give you paper bag tags for the luggage you check at the last minute because your regular checked bags are overweight. The models portraying flight attendants in their onboard menu are all classically beautiful and have a real "coffee, tea or me" vibe about them. Even in the children's promotional material, the redheaded model/flight attendant couldn't quite keep the come-hither down to a dull roar. The actual flight attendants were good-looking but thoroughly businesslike. We turned in our "Happy Picnic" vouchers for a snack-type meal that was not entirely unhappy: in my case a baguette with cheese and a tiny can of real-sugar Coca-Cola. (All the soft drinks are real sugar over here. None of this high-fructose corn syrup nonsense.) I am not partial to cheeses in general, but it seemed better than the meatier option. The cheese itself was not unpleasant, but the bread... the bread was heavenly. Thick and full and chewy. If this is the kind of bread that goes into mediocre budget airline meals, what kind of bread do real bakeries serve? I suspect I'll find out soon enough, but it'll be a miracle if I can get through this without massive weight gain.

Once in Stuttgart, the border agent joked with me about only staying one week. I must have bought into the stereotypes about dour German officials, because I was not expecting jokes. My sister-in-law (hereinafter, SIL) was waiting for us, and we headed off to her place, past the Mercedes Benz plant, on the fringes of the Black Forest. The house itself is cute: narrow, but tall, with a wooden spiral staircase connecting all the levels. It is very slippy. Everyone falls on it. The house rule is: hand on the rail going up, no stocking feet going down. Everyone still falls anyway. Elements of the house are a marvel of German engineering: the windows are capable of opening either vertically or horizontally; the bedroom doors have a lip around the inside to ensure maximum light-tightness; the window blinds are on the outside (but you control them from the inside) and they are capable of letting in as much or as little light as one wishes – and by as little, I mean you can get the kind of perfect darkness that vampires and migraineurs require. The kitchen is either a painfully small American kitchen or a somewhat largish German kitchen, depending on how you want to view it.

We had a lovely lunch at a local Italian place. [personal profile] st_darwin and I split a pizza, and even though he ordered the wrong thing (pizza diavolo), it was still really, really good. The bruschetta was more like an extremely crispy-crust pizza and the tomatoes were spectacularly flavourful. And the beer... so good. So, so good. I am going to be spoiled for beer. After lunch, we dropped by the nephews' school to pick them up. (The nephews will hereinafter be known as N1 and N2.) When we got back home, we were on the verge of collapse, so we both had a nap while the kids did their post-school routines. Next thing I know, my brother-in-law (hereinafter, BIL) was knocking on the door, asking us if we were ready for dinner. We decided on a Greek place, and after a short drive to a small town just adjacent to the one in which they're living (I have sadly forgotten the name, but will go back and fill this in a bit later), and a bit of a struggle finding parking on the narrow and in places quite steep streets, we found it.

They serve a shotglass of ouzo to every adult customer, which is very generous and friendly of them, but as a supertaster, I perceive ouzo as anise-flavoured jet fuel, so very much not my thing. I had a pils instead (more beer – is anyone surprised?), and an utterly delicious lamb fillet with roast potatoes and salad. Then we came back to the house, packed the kids off to bed, and spent the rest of the evening hanging out with BIL and SIL, drinking hefeweizen and watching Modern Family. The beer in this country is so good that I'm finding even the hefeweizen to be a delight to my tastebuds.

Tomorrow: the beer fest. Do you have any idea how much I'm looking forward to this?
I woke at the much more reasonable (although still somewhat less than completely reasonable) hour of 5:20, which is about when I'd be getting up if I actually lived here and had a day job, so I'd have to say that I've made some progress on that count. I was dreadfully stiff, though, through the low back and abdomen, a clear sign that I overdid things a bit with the walking yesterday.

You'd think that would mean I'd do less walking today, wouldn't you? Well, you'd be wrong. By the time all was said and done, I had logged 6.2 miles. That's counting the three hours I spent in a wheelchair at the British Museum. That place is huge. I would not have been able to even think about attempting it without one. Fortunately, they understand this and have a ready supply available at the front door.

But first, it was another morning rush hour on the Tube. We took the Hammersmith and City/Circle line entrance this time and it was bizarre. People were clustered around the front of the station, staring up at the screen, which would tell them where to go. Unfortunately there was no way of telling which train you were on until you got on it; fortunately, there is a lot of overlap between the Hammersmith and City and Circle lines, so you have ample chances to change to the right train if you've gone awry. Fortunately again, we did not go awry. But it was a lengthy (40-ish minutes) stretch of time before we made it to Tower Hill. From there, we made our way to the Tower of London, where we had a tour with a witty and amusing Yeoman Warder, visited the chapel where Anne Boleyn's body rests, breezed through several empty queueing rooms to view the Queen's jewels, saw suits of armor (including several for Henry VIII that clearly chart his increasing portliness and insecurity in his masculinity – giant codpiece, ho!) and replica torture devices, and checked out the medieval palace of Edward I. Busy morning. At one point, we were passing through the gift shop in the White Tower, and the ballroom music from Sleep No More began to play. I'm sure that music has a real name and another context, but for me, the place memory is so strong that all I can think of when I hear it is a crowd of revelers hoisting King Duncan on their shoulders. It's a little ironic, really, when you consider where we were.s

From there, we hied ourselves over to the British Museum, after first fortifying ourselves with lunch and lager at the Museum Tavern. I don't know how else to phrase this because there are no words: the British Museum is awesome. You are awed from the moment you see it, you are doubly awed when you enter the building, and you are trebly awed when you start touring the exhibits and realize that the British Museum contains pretty much one of everything that has ever held cultural, religious or intellectual importance to human civilization. Very often they hold the only one of that thing. Like the Rosetta Stone. Or any one of thousands of other treasures, of which we only got to see a tiny, tiny fraction because we only had three hours, and you could easily spend three days in there and see something different and new each day, and still have room to see new and different things on a fourth day. It is so awesomely awesome that I am still awed, and when I come back here, I will be spending at least a whole day there. The best part? It's free.

From there, we headed back to Tower Hill. We weren't especially hungry, so we grabbed some beer and cheesecake at an otherwise forgettable local pub which had signs everywhere warning of pickpockets and purse thieves. The cheesecake came with maple syrup and while I was skeptical about this combination at first, it did not take long to win me over.

We then headed over to the Tube stop to start the Jack the Ripper walking tour. I had wanted to do one on my first visit to London, but had allowed myself to be talked out of it. This time, I was bloody well going to do it, sore torso notwithstanding. There would simply be no other time on the trip that I could do it. So off we went, through the former slums of the East End, in search of "Gentleman" Jack. Things have changed. There are condos and wine bars, ample lighting and CCTV. With the exception of an underpass beneath a railway bridge and a handful of dark and narrow laneways, it was difficult to imagine what things must have been like there in 1888 beyond dark and depressing. We heard stories of the times, stories of the victims and a few of the theories on the Ripper's identity. I've never been particularly persuaded by the "cases" against Walter Sickert, Montague Druitt or Leather Apron. I found George Hutchinson a more compelling suspect, mainly because he deliberately involved himself in the case by means of an eyewitness description of the Ripper that was a little too detailed for the lighting conditions. There were at least five other walking tours roaming around the same area. Some were on the same subject matter, but I don't believe that all of them were.

After the tour, we made our way to Liverpool Street Station and back onto the Circle Line, toward Hammersmith. By then it was quite late and I was feeling peckish and beginning to worry that we might not find a restaurant open and would have to essentially starve until tomorrow's Germanwings "Happy Picnic." Fortunately, Shimla Mirch was still open, so we made one more visit for their excellent chicken tikka masala and garlic naan. Then we hobbled back to the hotel to rest our feet for a while and then pack for our early, early cab ride to Liverpool Street Station, where we shall take the express train to Stansted.

Germany awaits!
When I went to bed last night, I was optimistic that I'd wake a morning person. How extraordinarily naïve of me! No, my body decided to wake me up at 3:15 local time (10:15 Boston time), and the message it was giving me was this: "Was that supposed to be a nap? Because I have overnapped and now you have a sleep hangover!"

One day I'll get this right. That day, however, is not today. I was joined in my sleeplessness by [personal profile] st_darwin, which is good because otherwise I might have woken him in my fidgetude.

I did what I could to maintain some sense of serenity. I put on my iPod with my narcotic mix. When the second song to come up was from Alan Moore's Highbury Working, I had to consider that perhaps London was trying to send me a message. I decided to roll with it. I did a brief kundalini yoga meditation, and we decided to quietly play computer games until such time as one could reasonably shower and repair downstairs to the breakfast area.

We had the standard English breakfast, which consisted of bacon and/or sausage, toast and sunny-side up fried eggs. I got daring and tried the eggs, and while the taste wasn't bad, the texture was spongy enough to be displeasing. The tea was outstanding. The bacon was surprisingly Canadian. (Do they call it Canadian bacon here? Back bacon? Just bacon?)

We headed off to the Globe at rush hour, which in retrospect was a bit of a mistake, since I couldn't sit on the train, and my ovaries started to throb with every jerk and jostle of the train car. The hotel is about five minutes from the Hammersmith Tube stop, which makes getting around pretty straightforward. We took the Tube to Mansion House and walked across the Southwark Bridge to the Globe. On the north side of the Thames, you could see stairs leading down to a ladder, which led right down to the river. Apparently you can go down there at low tide and find all sorts of artifacts from London's past.

The Globe, in a word, is amazing. It's not on the site of the original Globe – apparently that's where the Southwark bridge is now, but it is in as close to the style as the original Globe as modern reconstructionists have been able to reconstruct. It's all wooden, all oak. There is no metal anywhere; the oak slabs are stuck together using mortise-and-tenon and hand-made wooden pegs. It's open-air. There's a roomy section for the standees ("groundlings" as they're known), and apparently they can get rained on and/or sunburned depending on how London's weather feels like behaving. There are three rows of seats, and the seats mostly consist of wooden benches. The exception is in the gentlemen's boxes, which are situated very close to the stage, so much so that the view from the box is mostly of the actors' backs; one sat there to be seen, rather than to see. They have actual cushioned chairs. The rest of us have to rent seat cushions and backrests, which make an otherwise uncomfortable seating situation marginally less uncomfortable. We did the tour of the theatre, strolled around the exhibition hall (which had some fantastic costumes), and poked around the waterfront.

We had lunch at a Turkish place, TAS Pide, where we split a pide – like a flatbread pizza – with ground chicken, peppers and cilantro. It was delicious. I had a pint of mystery lager, and [personal profile] st_darwin had a tiny bottle of Schweppes Canada Dry ginger ale. We people-watched for a while, took a bunch of pictures, and then entered the theatre for the matinee, which was really cool because in Shakespeare's day, all plays were matinees, so it felt kind of authentic. The play was "Much Ado About Nothing," which is my favourite of Shakespeare's comedies, and it was fantastic. There was a lot of interaction between the actors and the crowd. Eve Best (Beatrice) and Charles Edwards (Benedick) somehow managed to stand out from an impressively awesome cast. There were a few moments when the sun was directly in our eyes and we had need of the silly paper visors that the ushers were handing out, and there were a couple of acts when it was so intolerably hot from the sun being almost directly overhead that I thought I was going to melt, but before long, it had cooled off, the sun had moved behind the building, and everything was perfect.

After the play, we walked across the Millennium Bridge to St Paul's, which is completely impressive, then hooked a right and made our way back to Mansion House. By this time, my body had pretty much hit its limit, and my walk, which started off the day so perky, had slowed to a crawl. I got a seat by asking a nice gentleman if he wouldn't mind giving up his – I was ready to launch into a sob story, but it wasn't necessary – and by the time we arrived back at Hammersmith, I was rested enough to make the slow trudge back. We chilled out for about an hour in our room before heading out in search of the pub we went in search of last night. This time – on the advice of a hunch of mine, after confirmation from Googlemaps – we went left instead of right, and there it was, just past the tennis courts and the natatorium. It was a typical, quiet English pub, with a reasonable selection of mostly non-English beers, and a menu that hit all the high points of British cuisine: fish and chips, pot pies, roast beef dinners on Sunday (reservations recommended). I had the fish and chips, which came with mushy peas. "Mushy" in this case actually meant "totally pureed." The colour was lovely, the taste was delightful but the texture... it really doesn't bear thinking about.

After dinner, we stopped at the local Tescos and had a good prowl up and down the aisle seeing what was available in stores. There were milkshake packets, strange candy bars, a whole bunch of laundry detergent brand names I'd never heard of, and a whole row of cell phones for sale. And something called "long life milk", which apparently uses ultra-high temperature pasteurization. Alas, however, there were no air travel sized shampoos, which was our whole reason for going to Tescos in the first place. We got a smallish bottle of a shampoo I'd never heard of before but which looked promising, and we'll just put it in with the checked bag. (I will admit that I'm really looking forward to having squeaky clean hair again. These last few days have been disastrous for my locks.)

We then made our way back to our room for some quiet time before bedtime. All tolled, I have walked 4.7 miles today.

4.7 miles. I am not even two weeks post-surgery. I officially rock. My energy levels are fine (no energy drain, no sudden crash) but my ovaries want to leap up through my abdominal cavity and throttle me.
Up bright and early – too bright and too early – for our cab to the airport at 6:00 AM. In honour of the last time I was in London (approximately 25 years ago, holy fuck I'm old). We shared a cab to the airport with a man who was originally from London (although his destination was elsewhere), and whose wife was Italian. I decided to take this as an omen.

The security line fed in one steady stream through the cancerscanners. While we were waiting in line, the TSA's promotional video did their best to reassure us that these scanners were completely safe, even for children and pregnant women but the steady stream of static on the video and the fact that they were pretty much lying worked against them. (If these scanners are so safe, why are TSA agents expressly forbidden to wear dosimeters?) Needless to say, I opted out.

In Canada, when I came up as the random lucky winner of the enhanced scanning sweepstakes, the security staff offered me the choice of the body scan or the pat-down. Both were presented as equivalent choices with no particular shame accruing to either. Not so in the US. When I was waved through the machine, I said "I'd rather have the pat-down," which set off a chorus of "Female opt-out!" shouts from various staff members. It felt as if the intention was definitely to single me out – to point out loudly and clearly that here was someone who was not with the program, and to use herd psychology to get me to comply with the scanners. I had to wait a couple of minutes to get a female TSA agent, who gathered up my stuff from the conveyer belt and escorted me over to an area not too far away from the rest of the passengers. Once I explained that I was a rape survivor and had just recently had abdominal surgery, she was pretty great. She did everything in her power to take what was designed to be a humiliating process and make it as humane as she possibly could.

On the plane, we once again walked past some of the most comfortable-looking first class seating in modern air travel, to our seats, which weren't bad, but... damn. The chaise longues in first class! We were fed our choice of breakfast – omelette with mushroom or mixed grill. Being allergic to mushroom, I opted for the mixed grill, which came complete with... mushrooms! [personal profile] st_darwin was kind enough to donate his fruit cup, so my breakfast consisted of three-quarters of a bagel in the airport terminal, a handful of pills and dietary supplements, a tentative spoonful of hashbrowns, two fruit cups, a yogurt, an orange juice, and the best damn cup of tea I've had since leaving the cruise ship. Near the end of the flight, they returned again with a snack – an orange lemon muffin that was somehow magically delicious. They followed that up with a cunning-looking single-serving ginger ale that purported to be both Schweppes and Canada Dry simultaneously. It tasted more like Schweppes.

Entertainment-wise, I watched episodes of 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation. The audio offerings were amazing – Kate Bush, Nick Cave, The Damned, pretty much every band to ever come out of Manchester – but the sound quality was atrocious. Everyone sounded as though they were at the bottom of a very deep, metal well. I soon gave up and Sam and I listened to Alan Moore's spoken word-to-music rants, as a warm-up for what London would be like.

Once in London, we spent entirely too much time in the immigration line before being stamped and sent on our way. Now we're ensconced in the Hotel Orlando, a small bed and breakfast type hotel set in a brownstone in Shepherd's Bush. Our room is cozy, to say the least – most likely a 10x10x10 cube. Just inside the entry door is a shower stall to the left, and a closet-style bathroom to the right. The rest of the room features a wardrobe, a desk, a wall-mounted television, a small dresser and a double bed. Around the way is a place that rents flats by the week – some of them furnished and quite reasonably priced for travelers. Something to think about for the future. or something like that, I think?

We got directions from the desk clerk to a local pub, but either he really sucks at giving direction, we suck at following direction, or the pub isn't where it was alleged to be. We gave up and ate instead at an Indian place that was open and looked good, Shimla Mirch it was called. We shared chicken tikka masala (the national dish of England, and one food crossed off the culinary to-do list), aloo Bombay, some truly delicious garlic naan, basmati rice, and for appetizers papadums with a variety of chutneys and sauces, including this really amazing sweet tamarind sauce. I am an unabashed fan of chicken tikka masala; I'm usually hard-pressed to order anything else at an Indian restaurant. This was some of the best chicken tikka masala I've ever had. It's amazing the way that food sometimes grounds you. Travel can be so unsettling to my psyche – I prefer being somewhere to the process of getting somewhere – so it's nice when I stumble across something that just roots me in a sense of centered homeyness. This meal, tonight, did that. It was perfect. And to make it even more perfect, I also had a giant Kingfisher – my first beer in over a month – and was full, happy and feeling no pain by the time we walked out of there.

I'm not quite ready to phase off the painkillers, but I can see there from here. I'll pop an Aleve before tomorrow's big day of Shakespearean theatre, but after that, I do believe that beer will be my drug of choice. But before we can get to that point, I must absolutely crash. With any luck and my circadian rhythms willing, I'll wake up tomorrow a morning person.
Part of our trip involves a brief flight on a discount airline known as Germanwings. I know nothing about Germanwings, other than that their flights from London to Stuttgart are reasonably priced, and come with snack vouchers.

Only they aren't called snacks. No. Germanwings refers to its inflight snack service vouchers as "happy picnic" vouchers.

I did not add those quotes. Germanwings did.

I am unclear on what they are intending to get across with this, but I am imagining an extraordinarily good-looking, snarky, black-turtleneck-clad German man making scare quotes as he intones the words "happy picnic," with an ever-so-slightly curled lip.

Apparently the "happy picnic" snack comes with "assorted meats." I am at the same time trepidatious and eager to find out what it all means.

I bet there's a word for that in German.
The day began late, and we meandered out in search of food, forgoing the Starbucks breakfast vouchers in favour of some street souvlaki. Then it was off to Avenue Q, which turned out to be just as funny and enjoyable as I had hoped it would be. I was a little disturbed by how easily I could relate to it, some 20 years after that period of my life. In retrospect, I was a bit of a trainwreck in my early 20s. I suspect that most of us are. I blame it on the Bad Idea Bears.

We had a restaurant picked out for dinner following the play, but the hostess claimed they didn't have any tables available until 6:15 – which, given our Sleep No More entry time, was just not going to happen. So we headed back to the hotel to change, and ventured to the hot dog cart across the street for still more street food. Then it was off to the McKittrick for our 14th encounter with Sleep No More.

Blood will have blood. So if you're not into blood and spoilers, clicking is a bad plan. )

We tried a new place for our post-SNM meal. It wasn't bad, but I think I prefer the New Venus. And in spite of trying (ha!) to take it easy, I logged over five miles of walking today. My feet hurt, but my ovarian cyst is making only token protests, so... yay.
In spite of our GPS' best efforts to buffalo-jump us, we made it to New York City with only traffic-induced stress. We then proceeded to check in at the Waldorf Astoria.

I will not lie: it's a lovely hotel. They do not make them like this anymore. There are glorious mosaics on the floors, elegantly wood-paneled elevators and enough architectural details to take the sting out of an egregiously long wait at reception. It is, in most ways, the antithesis of my first New York City hotel, the beloved Chelsea. If the Chelsea is the spiritual home of disreputable writers and rockers, the Waldorf Astoria is the earthly home of travelling supermodels and tennis stars. The bathroom has a scale in it, presumably so the former can decide whether or not they get to eat on any given day; the latter was spotted during the aforementioned egregiously long wait at reception. The US Open is in town, apparently, and the key to spotting the tennis stars is to follow the swivelling of every female head in the room. I do not follow the tennis, so I can't say definitively who he was, but he was dark-haired and hot, so I suspect Roger Federer.

Our room is on the 25th floor. We have a fantastic view of St. Bartholomew's, and other buildings that range from the moderately interesting to the thoroughly mundane. Our room is, in a word, posh. The desk chair is cushy, and unlike the Chelsea all of the furniture matches. If the bathroom were to make a fashion statement, it would probably be something like, "I hope you like marble," because it is marblicious. This place is, to put it bluntly, a little too rich for my blood. As much as I would love to become accustomed to la vida Waldorf Astoria, I fear I am at heart a (Hotel) Chelsea girl.

We ventured forth to Chipotle to get enough food for me to be able to take my painkillers before we headed off for a fun-filled evening of Sleep No More, where I logged 2.61 miles. Yes, I was trying to take it easy.

Details of Sleep No More visit #13. Spoilers ahoy! )

And most importantly, what will I find tomorrow night that's different yet again?
We hopped on the tour bus outside the Dakota. There was no room on the top floor, so we sat on the bottom. Also on the bottom were a couple in their twenties, their toddler-aged son, and an unrelated woman. The mother and son sat on one pair of seats; the father sat one row back.

The toddler was going through a biting phase. His mother, let's call her Rosemary, kept playfully admonishing him, which only encouraged him to giggle and nip. She seemed to be getting sick of it, but she also seemed to not have any clue how to rein it in. At one point, she started making comments about going to see daddy. Daddy moved forward to sit beside Rosemary, and he took the kid briefly. Meanwhile, the kid's happy shrieks got shriekier. The other woman on the bus decided to leave rather abruptly.

Then daddy decided he'd had enough, and abruptly stood up and moved to the front of the bus, about as far away from his family as he could get without either hurling himself out a window or initiating divorce proceedings. The toddler veered back and forth between playful giggles and rambunctious noise-making. I began praying for space to open up on the upper floor so we could get the hell away from this family. And then it hit me. Literally.

And by "it," I mean the toddler's pacifier. The toddler's disgustingly slobbery pacifier.

Yes. The little hellspawn plucked its pacifier from its mouth and winged it at me. I couldn't help myself: my death glare spontaneously activated.

I stood up, and handed the pacifier back to Rosemary, who began apologizing profusely. She was clearly mortified. I thought briefly about saying "It's okay," but I had the sinking feeling that if I opened my mouth, all that would come out would be a scathing indictment of her parenting skills, so I said nothing. But my glare must have been enough because that child got real calm and quiet after that.

We left the bus at the next stop.
Our hotel room has two layers of opaque blinds on the windows, for extra light-tightness. And around the corner there is a late-night airbrush fake-tan salon. To take away that pasty look that comes from being up at all hours and really not at all out much in the daylight, I suppose.

Sleep No More was amazing as usual. They're changing the conceptualization of Mrs. Danvers and the Second Mrs. De Winter, and I'm sure I'll have more to say about that later. I finally got to see Macduff's door dance. And Hecate dragged me into a room, removed my mask, pushed me into a dark room, threw me up against a wall and tasked me to fulfill a quest for her, one which I will sadly be unable to fulfill.


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