Fulham and a Good Rub

September 30, 2012 - 2:05 am No Comments

As we were getting kicked off the train, Doug took the plunge on a sweet hotel on Tower Hill. After a mix-up with hotel rooms and keys, the hotel proved to be sweet indeed, with big fluffy beds, a gym, a hot tub, and saunas. We could do with a bit of luxury to finish off the trip.

Locked Out in London

We headed to Piccadilly to meet up with Victoria, an old friend of mine who lives just outside London. After a sushi dinner, she took us to a few local bars and pubs where we met some interesting locals. Good times.

Drinks at Revolution

Morning came quickly. I was OK, but it was a real struggle getting the others up for a final day of sightseeing in London. In the end, Jerry and Conrad collapsed back into their beds. Doug was the only one who powered up and went with me to see St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

We hopped off our double decker bus to find the golden morning sun gleaming off the top of St. Paul’s. It was glorious. As Doug so eloquently put it, “This is why you get up in the morning.” I beamed proudly at Doug. He gets it.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Inside, St. Paul’s Cathedral is massive. The ceilings are covered with the most exquisite and intricate tile work. They don’t allow photography, but like a lot of other tourists, I was able to sneak a few.

Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral

Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral

We climbed up hundreds of stairs for some views of London from the top.

Southwest View from St. Paul's Cathedral

East View from St. Paul's Cathedral

On the way out, I chatted with one of the attendants, asking her in as friendly a way as possible (trying not to sound like your typical whiny tourist) why they didn’t allow photography, as this was one of many beautiful places around the world that seems to prohibit photography for no particular reason. She said that St. Paul’s is a place of worship, and that snap-happy photographers tend to be a bit intrusive during times of prayer. Understandable. Then she admitted that one reason is that they sell postcards in the gift shop.

Palace of Westminster

Our next stop was Westminster Abbey, perhaps my favorite building in the world. It is a huge and seriously old church, completed at the end of 1065. It has been the site of coronations and royal weddings, and it’s where the most famous English kings, queens, aristocrats, physicists, astronomers, poets, and actors are buried. Some are in above-ground tombs, some are in the floors. To be in the presence of these centuries-old historical figures that we read about in textbooks, people like Geoffrey Chaucer, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, and Laurence Olivier, is a truly magical experience.

A well-organized audio tour by Jeremy Irons directed us through the building. Attendants keep a watchful eye on tourists with cameras. It kills me that they don’t allow photography in there. It’s such a cool place.

North Cloister of Westminster Abbey

Doug and I met up with Jerry and Conrad and headed to Fulham, in southwest London, for our highly anticipated football (soccer) game. By the time we got to Fulham, the train was packed with inebriated fans singing songs, though it seems that Fulham supporters don’t get nearly as drunk and aggressive as Manchester United fans.

Conrad & Jeff on the Tube

We followed the crowd from the station through a little park and to the stadium. Craven Cottage is tucked into a nondescript neighborhood, and even the outside of it looks ordinary and insignificant. This is nothing like the experience of going to a football or baseball game back home, where you can see the stadium from miles away and get screamed at by miserable people selling programs and hats before you walk in.

Fulham Supporters at Craven Cottage

We walked in through the very narrow turnstiles, almost too narrow even for me. Are fat people not allowed in? Before finding our seats, we hit the concessions for some food. For a hot dog, chicken pie, chips, and bottle of water, I paid £9.40 (about $15), when it would have easily been $40 at home. What a pleasure it is to eat fairly priced food at a sporting event. The weird thing is that they opened my water for me and wouldn’t let me have the cap. I confirmed with the cashier that this is to prevent rowdy fans from throwing full bottles onto the field. They also wouldn’t let us go to our seats with our beers, presumably an attempt to reduce drunkenness in the stands. We pounded our drinks and headed to our seats.

The inside of Craven Cottage is just as quaint as the outside. The grounds have been home to the association football team Fulham F.C. since 1896. The structures that make up the stadium were built in the early 1900’s. The stadium features a giant cottage in one corner where a royal hunting lodge once stood. Craven Cottage is a small venue, with a capacity of 26,000 or so.

It was a sunny, crisp afternoon, a perfect day for football. Jerry, who goes to the bathroom a lot, got us some pretty great seats, just a few rows up at one end of the field. My only issue was the shallow angle of the seating. Having to stand up every time the ball got near a goal, and missing the action when you didn’t stand up quickly enough, became annoying. One of the things I found amazing was how the fans all started singing the same song at the same time.

Fulham v. Manchester City

Fulham v. Manchester City

Fulham v. Manchester City

The game itself was pretty good, if not a bit disappointing in the end. Edin Dzeko came off the bench and scored a late goal to give Manchester City the win over Fulham. You can check here or here for the full game report. Fun!

We returned to our fancy hotel and relaxed in the hot tub. I went a step further and treated myself to a massage. A nice way to end the trip, if I do say so myself.

Having sustained ourselves on fish and chips, haggis, and meat pies for a week, we decided end our trip with a steakhouse dinner at a highly rated and strongly recommended restaurant in Piccadilly called Gaucho. It was here where Conrad, Jerry, and I worked up the courage to try black pudding. It came in the form of a sausage, and when you cut into it, it kind of crumbled to pieces, making a product with questionable ingredients a little less appetizing than it already is. I gathered it up on my fork and took a bite. Like haggis, it’s a bit pasty with flavorings from various spices and a hint of mint.

As we digested our strange food and took our last sips of wine, the four of us did some reminiscing and discussed where we might go next. I made a point to tell the guys, especially the newbie travelers Jerry and Conrad, that I was really proud of how everyone pitched in and divided up the booking responsibilities for plane tickets, accommodation, sporting events, and tours. It’s these sorts of annoying formalities that add a certain level of stress to any trip. When everyone helps with the grunt work, it’s a lot more fun for the group.

Tomorrow, we’ll stop by the Tower Bridge and hit the Tower of London before heading to the airport to catch our flight home.

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