“Knickers Abroad; a multiple journey”
Rose D. Kaye
For a complete list of chapters in numerical order please go to this page.
‘High Tea and Nuns’
I’m getting used to sleeping in. If this is jetlag, I like it! A beautiful Sunday in London with glittering blue skies and cool weather. We are using our Travelcard to get around instead of driving, but sometimes driving is necessary. The Tube can take you to most areas of interest but on the weekends, many lines are shut for engineering works. Case in point, the Central Line was closed midway so rather than transfer onto a bus into central London, Ann decided to drive us to the north end of the Victoria line. From there we would all ride and then transfer onto the Piccadilly line at Finsbury Park station en route to our ultimate destination of Covent Garden. In its present form, Covent Garden the shopping arcade has only existed since 1980 after the wholesale fruit, vegetable and flower market had been moved out in 1974. The area itself has been a central market since the mid 1600’s when Inigo Jones was commissioned to design a residential square. Even for centuries before that, the area was an important source of crops. Today, the surrounding streets in all directions are filled with shops catering to all levels of customers.
I should point out here that our London Visitors Travelcard should not be confused with the one-day and longer Travelcards or even the Oyster card available throughout London. The Overseas Visitor Travelcard can only be purchased by non-residents of Great Britain and before arriving in London to begin your holiday. The major advantage to this card versus buying daily or longer Travelcards on site is that there are no restrictions on time of travel or any surcharges for rush hour use. If you are limiting yourself to central London then a zone 1-2 card is fine, but if staying in an outlying area a zone 1-6 card for peak travel is a must. In addition to the London Underground, this card covers all bus travel and many suburban National Rail lines within Greater London. The current 7-day unlimited pass sold in 2007 for $95 or roughly £48. The one and three day passes however were only available for the Central London zones. By comparison, buying the single daily off-peak fare, not peak, will add up to approximately the same cost, but the Travelcard is more convenient and saves time waiting in line at the ticket machines during rush hour.
There is also the Oyster card option [which has nothing at all to do with getting frisky] but is a re-loadable prepaid cash card not to exceed £90. The Oyster has nearly eliminated all cash fares throughout the system and it can also be simultaneously loaded with bus passes and/or Travelcards of durations of at least seven days up to a full year. Available overseas as well, it calculates the lowest possible fare for each journey and the daily total will never be higher than a Travelcard single day fare, peak or off-peak. Although similar to a Travelcard, the Oyster is designed primarily for commuters and frequent users, and is not valid on most National Rail services as the pay-as-you-go cash card option, only with a valid Travelcard loaded. Also very important is that unlike a single use or other type of fare card, the Oyster must be validated at the beginning and the end of each individual journey segment on the Underground before transferring; otherwise the highest possible fare will be deducted. Many stations have extra personnel on-duty during peak periods with mobile validation stations. If you are using some other form of payment, then bypass the crowds queuing, if an Oyster Card is your mode, then make sure you touch the yellow button upon every entry and exit of each train journey. The Oyster Card offers overall lower fares than individual cash tickets but prices are higher before 9:30 A.M., so if you are planning to travel early and often from outlying areas, I would recommend the long term Visitor Travelcard for all zones. [Note: If you wait and purchase a seven-day Travelcard in London, it will only be issued on an Oyster Card.]
As Ann drove us to the station, the main roads were busy even though none of the shops on this particular route were open on Sunday morning and, along the way, Ann pointed out the multitude of sights from a lifetime growing up in the area. Nearly every street and neighborhood held nostalgic memories for her and we felt privileged to be shown her corner of the world. Her schools, her various homes and the people walking the sidewalks were all a time capsule passing by. A bit wistful she was. I got the feeling that despite being widely traveled, this part of England was called home. In fact, the area we drove through strongly reminded Brian of Philadelphia, except with fewer trees. Many of the residences along the main routes were similar row houses with businesses on the corners. The streets went up and down the rolling terrain though and followed the contours rather than being mowed flat. Even the major numbered thoroughfares were seldom more than two lanes and most allowed parking on both sides of the road. An interesting contrast in that urban renewal didn’t appear to ever have reached this area. In most cities and towns in America, the streets are laid out in a grid and the main drags have been converted to at least four up to eight lanes wide. In addition, there are many alternate routes and expressways. Of course, the roads in America are clogged with traffic most of the day and night so it’s hard to claim that one is better than another.
Like the streets, the trains were crowded with fascinating passengers. Not only were the stations on both the Victoria and Piccadilly lines more upscale with colorful tiles and pictures, but so too were the people. More affluent and stylish than the more working class patrons we’d seen so far, the women in particular wore colorful scarves and designer footwear in leather heels. Ann pointed out that this whole area was considered upscale and it was hard to separate who lived in what neighborhood. I did sense a difference though to the passengers. Just my opinion and after a quick ride on clean cars we arrived at Covent Garden station to take the lifts to street level.
Upon exit and a right turn, walking down the pedestrian mall revealed numerous street performers surrounded by crowds of cheering tourists. All during the week, the entire area is filled with various market stalls and you can barely move through the aisles for all the people crammed there. I noticed right away that the majority of the stall keepers were Russian girls and most of the stuff being peddled was not worth buying. A lot of the wares were not handmade either (although it was claimed to be on Sundays) but simply items made in bulk and available elsewhere for less. To me handmade means handcrafted and a few stalls were offering legitimate handicrafts, but they were in the minority. It was also much more expensive than Greenwich Market and with the poor exchange rate of two to one with the dollar, even the quality merchandise was out of reach. Many in the crowd were families out in force as the following week was a school holiday in England. Ann noticed that most of the people she heard talking had ‘Northern’ accents. To which Brian replied, ‘Compared to your accent?’
Ann’s tart and swift response of course was to say that she didn’t have an accent, he did. And furthermore when she was in Florida she couldn’t even understand most people’s conversations. Which was funny because living here in Florida, you rarely hear a true southern accent. Most people have moved from somewhere else.
Heard gentle voice
A texture so fine
Soft, silken, kind
Read me a story
Blew away my mind
Told me of truths
A life left behind
I hope to hear more
Fact or fiction
Alone or entwined
Stroked me his voice
And lifted my spirit
Privileged was I
© Ann Raven
Being a crisp, bright day, we enjoyed warming drinks al fresco; coffee for Ann – strangely for an English girl, she doesn’t drink tea – and a cuppa for Diane and himself. As in Greenwich, I noted that although the restaurants were very busy, less than one person in one hundred toted a shopping bag with purchases; most of the crowd was clearly made up of tourists. We did some window-shopping; there was a great store called Octopus that sold amazing household goods. Everything in the two-floor shop was based on modern funky designs. I had a great time looking at the merchandise and listening to the techno soundtrack booming from the speakers. The shop girls were dancing to the beat and caught up in the excitement, I was very tempted to buy a grater with a figure of a woman perched atop, or one of these cool teapot purses shown in the picture, but managed to resist. Ann succumbed though and simply had to buy herself a funky black and white purse covered with red pouting lips. Good thing too, as you’ll discover later. After a little more shopping, including a wonderful teashop which was right up Diane’s alley and lots of people watching, it was getting very close to the time to make our way to The Savoy for high tea. It was obvious we wouldn’t make it there without the obligatory pit stop. The restrooms were next the London Transport Museum and this is one time I’m more than delighted to be in a man’s body. No lines for the Gents!
“That is too funny Rose. Do you ever forget when you are out and head towards the ladies restroom instead?”
“No I haven’t ever done that Dewy and I let Brian take care of business. It’s something we deal with every day and it doesn’t bother either of us. Privacy is hard to come by most times with six people inside. Being a woman inside a man means that I am used to having to handle his plumbing. No sense freaking out about it; it’s part of our life and that’s that.”
“Moving on then Rose, I take it you enjoyed the shopping excursion with the girls?”
“Dewy I loved Covent Garden, both the shops and the stalls. There was so much to see and admire. We had limited time and funds. Oh for an unlimited expense account! I know Diane enjoyed the arcades as well and she loved the teashop. How about you Ann?”
“Oh Rose, I love Covent Garden; it’s one of my ab fab fav haunts. I could have spent all day there and gorged myself on designer fashions. I have to fight temptation too ‘cos I don’t have an expense account either. I had a marvelous time with you, Diane and Brian browsing the stalls and I simply love the store Octopus. I know where I’ll be buying my next kettle and toaster when mine at home conk out.”
“Diane hadn’t you been here before and what did you buy at the teashop that had you so fired up?”
“Brian had reminded me Dewy that we’d visited Covent Garden ten years before. We stayed then at Walton Hall near Coventry, but I remember very little from that trip. I liked window-shopping but the teashop was marvelous a dream come true. I also loved the funky stuff at Octopus, but it was at the teashop where I found my thrills. I bought a teal colored mug…”
“That was no mug Diane! That was a soup tureen!”
“Ann, that’s a small mug for me. I usually take two tea bags per serving, the stronger the better. I had never seen so many teas in one place before and the aroma was marvelous. However, of all the types for sale they didn’t have what I was looking for! No Lady Grey Tea! They had an alternative called Afternoon Tea which I grabbed instead.”
“Speaking of tea ladies, I do believe it is time for the social event of the week to commence. Without further ado, may I present, The Savoy. Rose, take it away.”
High Tea at The Savoy was the social event of the week. Striding through the muted wood paneled foyer at 3:45 P.M., Ann is accosted by friends trying to book a table. Alas, they are unsuccessful and I glide to the podium to give our names to the attractive young lady. She smiles at himself instead, all the ladies do, and he turns on the charm. He makes me laugh with his antics. Diane just rolls her eyes. Ann looks on bemused, or is that amused? No matter, I return and we are introduced to Ann’s friends and then it is time.
As we are shown to our table, I try to look aloof and sophisticated, but I fail and gawking like a rube from the sticks, my head swivels rapidly in all directions. Opened on August 6th, 1889, The Savoy exudes luxury and refinement and several months after our visit, in December 2007, The Savoy closed for major renovations. The current dining room at The Savoy is massive with two story high ceilings. The walls are mirrored in gold frames that reflect the electric rose chandeliers hanging overhead. At regular intervals, stunning gold and tan marble columns thrust to meet the ornate cornices. Despite the numerous patrons and individual servers for each table, the room was surprisingly hushed and conversations from the next table could not be heard. Our table was marvelous. Two armchairs and a plush divan set against the wall surrounded a low table set with a pink striped white linen cloth and napkins.
We began by ordering tea, a pot of Jasmine and a pot of Assam; both with real loose tea and hot water poured through solid silver strainers into bone china cups. Neat solid black uniforms edged with gold buttons gave both the male and female staff a professional and dignified appearance. They were attentive and friendly without being obsequious. The vegetarian High Tea tower arrived loaded with sandwiches and cakes along with smoked salmon for both Ann and Diane. When we had gulped down… err, daintily tasted the initial offerings, our waiter strolled up with a full platter of more sandwiches. We exchanged glances and very, very reluctantly agreed to more food.
As soon as his back was turned, we ripped into… err, we reverently sampled the second round of egg salad, cucumber with cream cheese, ham and cheese and the salmon. They were bite size but generous about a third of a full sandwich. So when he returned a third time, we said yes.
And a fourth time.
And a fifth time.
Each seating lasts for an hour and forty-five minutes and Ann inquired of our tea server if we had to leave promptly at 5:30. She replied in the negative and encouraged us to stay as long as we wished. In the front center of the room there was a white baby grand piano and at four o’clock a gentleman commenced playing an ensemble of modern classics. Included in this selection were numerous turns of ‘Happy Birthday’ followed by cheers and singing from various corners of the room. The ‘smart casual’ dress code yielded an interesting blend of Sunday best. Some were dressed in business or eveningwear but we fell somewhat below that. We were comfortable but not schlocky.
Having our fill of sandwiches, we turned our greedy eyes… err, our adoring gaze to the middle tray laden with rich and decadent desserts. Brian ordered a pot of Peppermint tea, said ‘to soothe the digestion’. We didn’t need it for that! We relaxed in our intimate corner, noshing steadily and reduced the once full tower to crumbs. Certainly an enjoyable two hours that bonded all of us together with a sense of shared joy, but also an expensive two hours and best reserved for very special occasions.
“Sounds like a fantastic place Rose. Were you actually out the entire time or did you and Brian switch off?”
“The plan Dewy was that this was going to be the three girls having tea after a day of shopping, but Brian spent more time up front than I did. This was one of those times, to my surprise, when I got tired. Besides, they were having a rather intense conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“What was the intense conversation about Ann?”
“We were getting to know each other Dewy. This was probably the first real chance we’d had to sit and talk undisturbed. Right Brian?”
“That’s true Ann, the food was good and the entire ritual of the tea had loosened us up and allowed a more personal conversation between the three of us. Diane and I and Ann had a deep probing talk about life and the strange twists it can take. I found for myself that I was enjoying the time more than I thought I would and thus Rose stepped aside to allow us our time together.”
“So Brian you had a great time, what about you Diane?”
“This was a very special event Dewy and it was intimate and relaxing. I loved the food and the endless tea. The conversation flowed freely and we really got to know each other well. I was the one who kept ordering the sandwiches. But they were so scrumptious Ann.”
“This was my first trip to The Savoy so I was fairly dazzled by the surroundings, but the most enjoyable part of the afternoon for me was the delicious company of friends. Tea out is not one of my favorite things but the afternoon was made special because of Brian and Diane and Rose; they were the perfect accompaniment.”