"Look at this! Yes! Combination _____ and coffee maker, also makes Julienne fries. Will not break! (taps it on table) Will not... (it falls apart) It broke! "
What does he say after "combination" and before "and coffee maker?" I have to admit that I've never really known. But my trip to London finally solved the mystery of the missing Aladdin word... it's Hookah! I'll explain.
My first night in London, my friend Sokphal took me to quite the international party--she has a Spanish friend who teaches her Spanish in return for teaching him English. He hosted a little party at his house out in Zone 3 (a little ways outside of downtown London) so we went and I met lots of great international people. Represented were the following countries: Czech Republic, Poland, Spain, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, Germany, and the USA. Most of them are in London working or studying, and are learning English through their associations with each other and the Brits. So, the hookah: on a table in the back of the room sat a large water pipe... now I know what a water pipe is (an Eastern smoking pipe designed with a long tube passing through an urn of water that cools the smoke as it is drawn through), but didn't realize that it's other name was hookah. Mystery solved--Combination hookah and coffee maker! You're welcome. And don't worry, there was no smoking of the hookah for me.
The rest of my London excursion was incredible/fast paced. I tried to cram in as much as I could, starting with a walk through Hyde Park and Kensington Garden on Sunday after the Hyde Park Stake Conference that morning.
That night I saw the London tower and the Tower Bridge, and walked through a winding photographic exhibition along the Thames that featured large-scale photographs of natural landscapes (http://www.earthfromtheair.com/). On Monday I got an early start and visited Palace Court, where my sister took up residence for 4 months last year. Lucky dog. Then another walk through Kensington Gardens, where I saw the Peter Pan statue...and went to the Serpentine Gallery. Their main exhibit was a 'project' done by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, contemporary Russian artists who are famous for their conceptual and installation art. This one was called "the house of dreams," where they "transform the Gallery by creating a series of distinct meditative spaces, and encourage visitors to enter into a world of fantasy and daydreams. The installation is a place for rest and quiet contemplation." If you want to know more about them, go to http://www.ilya-emilia-kabakov.com/. Very thought-provoking stuff.
Then it was on to Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards (if you've seen one, you've seen them all) but the backdrop was was incredible. There were about 17,000 tourists (give or take) there, so the next time you're in London and you want to see the COTG, I recommend getting their early to get a good seat.
I then made my way to the Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronations and burials of English monarchs since the beginning of time (well, since 1065, when the actual Abbey was constructed by Edward the Confessor). It is the burial place/memorial sight of many a great author/poet as well, in what is known as the Poet's Corner. It's times like these that I wish I would have been a History major in college. It was incredible to feel the immense historicalness of all that had taken place there.
Westminster Abbey with Big Ben in the background
A not-well-known fact: Big Ben is the informal name of the Great Bell of Westminster, the largest bell in the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster. We (I) always called the whole tower/clock Big Ben, but apparently that's a bit of a misnomer. Don't worry--I'll keep calling it Big Ben.
After Westminster I met Sokphal and we went to the Tate Modern museum, opened in 2000 to celebrate the millennium. I have to admit that I don't have the greatest appreciation of Modern Art, and the Tate did little to improve that, but I got to see my first original Andy Warhol and tried a bit harder to understand angry clowns on imaginary pogo sticks. Next time I'm in London, I would like to go to the Tate Britain. The museum did have a beautiful view of the Thames and sitting/reading rooms to ponder over the mystery that is modern art.
Sokphal and I in front of the Tower Bridge
We then wandered over to Harrods (colossal department store) and then I went by myself to see Harry Potter: the Goblet of Fire at Leicester Square (where it premiered). I couldn't resist the temptation, and I thought it was the best of the Harry Potter series to date.
On Tuesday, my last day in London, I visited the Imperial War Museum where they have exhibits about every major war in which Britain has taken part, plus other special exhibits about the Holocaust, Lawrence of Arabia, and Kids in wartime, etc. The displays were incredible and I thought their treatment of the Holocaust and especially the history leading up to it so thorough. I wish I could have spent several more hours their.
I also went to a class on international war crimes with Sokphal... she is studying at City University in London. It rounded out the day. After class we went to see the Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre. Don't get mad at me, but I didn't know the full story line (what happens at the end) so it was great to have it revealed to me live in London. The costumes, scenery, and music were all superb, I guess as could be expected. Next time I'm in London (or New York, for that matter) I'm going to have to see Les Miserables.
Well, that's my London trip in a nutshell. I had a wonderful time and publicly thank Sokphal for being such an awesome and gracious host. Next time anyone is in London, look her up!