LONDON TRAVELOGUE - Leicester Square
click each picture to view full-sized

TGIF
After Harrods, we took a ride over to Leicester Square to find something to eat. We took a long walk through Chinatown, a couple of blocks over, but the girlfriend (aka wife) is not big on Chinese food, so we wound up over here at TGIF. We're suckers for the Jack Daniels steak and chicken.

When we paid the check, we saw something we'd never seen before...rather than taking our card, they brought a tiny little machine to our table and swiped our card right in front of us. This is good, our card didn't leave our sight.

Speaking of credit cards. Usually I'm not a big fan of debit cards, but in London we used a debit card exclusively, because it had the lowest currency exchange fee (1%). I looked through our credit cards before we left to find the one with the best exchange rate, but apparently in the past couple of years our friends the credit card companies have introduced yet annother innovative fee, a 3% currency exchange rate fee. This means every time you make a purchase, 3% of the charge gets added on and goes straight to Visa.

Consider yourself warned. Our debit card through our credit union had only a 1% fee, so it got all our business.

And that reminds me of this. WiFi spots and ATMs are completely updside-down and backwards in the UK compared to the US...here, if you use most ATMs, you get slapped with a $2 or $3 or $4 fee just for the privilege of using it, and then later when you get your bank statement your bank may have added a few fees of their own, so it could easily cost you $5 to withdraw $10. Well in London, we couldn't give our money away to an ATM. Everywhere we went, ATMs very politely offered to give us our money for free! Without even an international surcharge. Oh, I bet the US is all over additional surcharges for international visitors using ATMs...if not they will be now that I've written this.

So this was nice! But it was more than cancelled out by the following. Here in the US it's hard to walk three feet without entering a new WiFi hotspot, a place where you can hook up your computer via a WiFi signal to the internet absolutely free. Libraries, coffee shops, shopping malls, tire dealers, methadone clinics...all offer wireless internet access absolutely free, just for your being you.

NO SUCH THING in London. Oh, you could connect wirelessly all right...in the few places I tried I connected immediately--to a screen which told me how I could pay for internet access via credit card at a rate of $12 an hour, or $80 for 24 hours. OH NO I THINK NOT.

For internet access, your best bet in London is the Internet Cafes which are every few blocks. For around £1 per hour, you can sit at a small computer terminal and check your email or send instant messages amongst all the 10-14-year-old boys and girls whose mothers can't be bothered to keep track of them who are complaining loudly and regularly that they are "so bored" while pretending they are 18 on their instant messengers and having cybersex, no doubt with other 10-14-year-old boys and girls who are pretending they are 18.



Hard Rock Casino
Here we stopped in at the Hard Rock Casino...we saw a few casinos in London, but according to our handy London guide, you can't enter a casino unless you are a member. But it said that we could apply with a passport or driver's license, and that once we applied we could play at the casino within 48 hours. So we went and filled out an application, intending to come back later in the week.

But once we filled out the forms, they waved us right in. It was a fairly small casino, with about 30 tables of blackjack, roulette, craps, and poker downstairs in the smoking area and 10 more tables in an upstairs non-smoking balcony.

For those of you interested in blackjack, there weren't very good conditions here...6-deck games only, mostly £10 minimum tables with one crowded £5 minimum table open. Each table had a Shufflemaster machine which continuously shuffles used cards and makes counting cards impossible. Except upstairs, interestingly, where they had one £10 table with a dealer who actually shuffled the cards herself. If I'd had a few hundred pounds to lose and a few days to kill, I might have played a while, but even with real live shuffling the odds weren't great, so I didn't feel like I missed out on anything by not playing.


The Odeon
Down the Square from the Casino and TGIF is the famous Odeon Theater, a movie theater which is very very expensive. Our two tickets were £25, so basically we paid $50 to see the great opus called Night at the Museum. Are we tourists or what?

Here's a major difference between the Odeon and US theaters....you pick your seats when you buy your tickets, as if you're at a box office at an amphitheater buying concert tickets for Trace Adkins.  (By the way, I have no idea who Trace Adkins is, or if he's even a thing.  Did he invent the diet?  Cz I don't really want to go to a concert put on by a guy who just invented a diet, that would suck.) They show you this huge navigational grid of seats, which to me looked like about 70,000 tiny squares grouped in no particular logical order, and ask where you'd like to sit.  And I couldn't tell where the screen was supposed to be, I'm not used to reading theater seating charts.  Is the screen understood to be north?  We were so unprepared for this that we ended up near the back on the bottom level...by "choice".  Basically we went, "I dunno...those two."

But the theater is sufficiently nice, very big with a big clear screen and good sound. My favorite theater of all time, however, is Graumann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, with much more reasonable prices and the biggest hugest largest most humongous giant screen I've ever seen.

And maybe we're not out $50 after all...all our charges showed up on my bank statement EXCEPT the Odeon tickets, so heh heh, that's us 1, Odeon 0. Heh heh heh. I would pop back over and tell them, but only if they cover my plane fare.


Tight fit


I managed to get a picture of a train in the tube at King's Cross speeding past. Look! No driver! Isn't that scary?*







*the answer, of course, is that the train is heading away from us. If you figured this out, ten points.


Hmmmmm
An advertisement for a Rodin exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts.

"Oh boy!" my girlfriend exclaimed.

"Oh boy," I groaned. (Not big on art you see. "But aren't you an art major?" Shut up.)

But being the Good Sport that I am, we went to this a few days later and I didn't complain once. We saw a version of The Kiss and The Thinker. And I think the reason we all connect so much with the works of Rodin is, he never finished anything he started.


on to page 6