Yes, Leinani, There is a Kew Gardens
Our friend Leinani, told us more than once to make sure we visited there. Once we figured out it was Kew and not Q gardens, we found it with relative ease and finally fit it into our busy schedules. Kew Gardens is an area of London in which the Royal Botanical Gardens is located. It too, like Windsor is a small quaint little town area with little shops and lovely homes. The garden is a couple of blocks from the tube station.
The Royal Botanical Gardens was included in our pass, so we decided to appease dear Leinani and visit. The gardens are a working laboratory, research, and conservation facility for plants. There are over 40,000 plants in an area of 300 acres. There are three or four huge greenhouses with different temperate zones in each greenhouse. One greenhouse is dedicated to Princess Diana. One has a huge aquarium that was established by Princess Margaret. Our timing was poor, though since few of the indoor plants were in bloom. The outdoor gardens were in between seasons and the ground was plowed up and ready for the next planting. The manicured lawns were delightfully green. The walks cover the entire 300 acres and can take hours to complete. We chose not to do this since once you see tilled soil once the thrill is gone the next time around. Instead, we went to the restaurant for our tea break. The rain had stopped, so we were able to sit outside and watch the birds beg for food like the drug addicts plead for our unused transit passes when we return on the tube. Both the birds and the addicts are left wanting.
Note to self: Don’t forget to take allergy medicine the morning we plan to visit a botanical area!!!
I am not a real plant person. I had artificial plants that have wilted. I have never been able to get a relationship going with something that survived on chlorophyll. Now flowers are a different story. If there had been flowers abounding, I could have spent hours there, but alas, it was not to be. The gift shop had hundreds of seeds and bulbs for sale, but what good would they have done us? I can just see us walking around with two huge suitcases, two carry-ons, a backpack and a flowerpot. “Yes, Customs Officer, this is our little friend to warm our homes on the road. It is only a bit of thing now, but one day it will be ravishing.” Ron is always my barometer for when I am being too, um, share we say unappreciative of a situation. When he was ready to leave, I knew it was time to go. Of course, he wanted to see the compost heap they had on display first. My reaction was “Why did we come to London to see a pile of …”, but I kept quiet and dutifully followed until he took the wrong turn and he was dissuaded from backtracking. Having seen enough earth, grass, and green things, we made up our minds to move on to the Zoo.
We took two tubes to Baker Street station to get to the zoo. I was apprehensive when the sign in the tube station showed a sign that said “Buses to Zoo”, but Mr. Map decided we could walk instead. I have nicknamed Ron Mr. Map, at least mentally until he reads this chapter. He is never content unless he had a map in his hands. As soon as we hit London, he bought a copy of “A to Z London Guide” on the advice of our friend Anne. It was a good investment, however, Ron has to have a map for the tubes, every sight, museum, or place we go to. He even looks for the store directory maps when we enter a store. Now, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. He likes map and I cannot tell East from West in rainy weather or after sunset, so we are a good match. But, Mr. Map is spatially impaired. He has no sense of distance or scale. I should have learned my lesson when we were in Las Vegas and he said “Well the restaurant is only this far away from where we are now according to this map.” He was holding his fingers barely apart. It turned out to be fifteen blocks in 110 degree heat. Now, every time he says it is not far according to the map, I respond with “Las Vegas”. We started off walking to the zoo, Ron with a map in hand.
To get to the zoo from Bakers Street tube, one needs to walk through Queen Mary’s Park. This is a confusing park to stroll through as it has many ins and outs and circles. A small scale map does not do it justice. We hit more than one cul-de-sac dead end and had to back track more than once. When your feet are looking like giant hamburgers, you begin to lose your sense of humor along with your patience. I started asking people directions, but they were as clueless as we were, stating the obvious “This park can be very confusing.” Finally, we found a gardener tilling more flowerless brown earth and he set us on the right path. Three sit stops later, we hit the entrance to the gate. Admission covered by the pass, we enter to be greeted by the signs about Hoof and Mouth disease. God, we forgot about Hoof and Mouth disease. We weren’t at risk, we couldn’t put the animals at risk, but I knew this meant something ominous.
Where are the animals? Is this a zoo or did we make a wrong turn and wind up in the botanical gardens again? Three elephants does not a zoo make. What happened to the pandas that were here in 1983? Is their life expectancy that short? Where are the zebras, the polar bears, and the cotton candy stand? What cruel joke is this anyway? Did we come all this way to see fourteen varieties of Tamarinds no that is a fruit but they were tama somethings? Anyway, all of the animals, the few that were there were additionally blocked off due to the Hoof and Mouth precautions. I have never needed a binocular to see animals in a zoo before. If only they had cardboard cut-outs of the animals, I would have felt better about it. Where have all of the flowers and animals gone…long time passing it, to paraphrase a 70’s song. Not even the snack stands were open. We could not even drown our sorrows having a cotton candy frenzy. Plus once you rule out hoofs and mouths, it doesn’t leave much for the Petting Zoo. We couldn’t even get a tactile fur experience. Time to move on. The positive part of this whole experience was that Ron was convinced to take a bus back to the tube station without me saying a word and we were able to encounter three tube stations and three bus routes that we had not yet ridden on. And on the sixth day, this brought our London Pass days to a brittle end.
The Lion King is playing in the theater here in London. It is booked through February of 2002 for the evening performances and through November for the matinees, thus the half off ticket kiosk doesn’t even tease the public with ticket sales. They refer you to the theater as a sadistic joke. It was a day of broken dreams already, so why not try to bat a thousand. We went to the theater and stood in a queue. I handed Ron my American Express card and said I would meet him around the corner at Starbucks. There was no reason for both of us to be humiliated and I need caffeine more than he.
He, who has an angel sitting on his shoulder, appeared about twenty minutes later, smiling.
Ryan: Did you get tickets?
Ryan: Are they for tonight?
Ryan: Are we sitting in the nosebleed section?
Ron: I don’t remember.
Ryan: Are we sitting together?
Ron: I didn’t look.
Ryan: How much were they?
Ron: Full price.
Ryan’s look: Ready to lunge at his neck for more information. Ready to do this, but the caffeine pacified me and I let it go. Hell, we are going to see one of the hottest shows in five continents, who cares?
We went to The Globe pub before the theater. I could not imagine why the play could be so hot. We saw the movie. It was the first Disney movie I have seen since Bambi. That one traumatized me when his mother got shot and decided I couldn’t take the violence. I am not sure why we saw the movie, but it is another Disney, one parent has to die for happiness to reign, movie.
At the next table was a young woman who had just returned to London. She was an American who lives in New York City. Her apartment was close enough to the WTC that she had to be evacuated. She was just able to go back this last week to inspect for damages. She had made the decision to go alone, though her parents wanted her to bring someone with her. She said that she is not able to move back in yet, they need to check for toxic leaks and toxic pollutants. We were tempted to ask questions, but she was speaking to her British male friend and not to us. The tables in pubs are close together and you cannot help but overhear conversations.
We entered the theater. Ron would not let me see the tickets, but I had my cotton balls ready to catch blood flow in the upper most balconies. In London, they don’t have Orchestra and Balcony sections; they have Stalls and Dress Circle. One would think that a fancy name like Dress Circle would be a grand seat, but it is the balcony. Ron handed the doorman the tickets and we were directed to a door. We had row L. I will save you from counting on your fingers; it is the 12th row back from the stage in the Orchestra section. We had seats three and four from the aisle. FABULOUS seats. Since we had arrived early, I had plenty of time for an interrogation. I asked how he was able to do this? When I walked out for Starbucks, they were announcing that they only had single seats and barely enough of them for everyone in line. Ron said that when it was his turn at the counter, the ticket person was called away to answer a question. When he returned to his computer, the two seats had just popped up on his computer as being available. He told Ron he was VERY lucky, since this never happens.
The play is the same story as the movie. I am not thrilled with the story. What I was thrilled with were the costumes, the acting, the scenery, the voices, the talent, and the fact that a large number of Black actors and actresses are getting wide exposure. I have never in my life seen such creative costumes and set design and I have seen quite a few plays over the years. There were more animals here in the show than there were at the zoo. Can you imagine walking on stilts with your hands and legs and a giraffe neck on your head? They imagined it and created it. The Bird, Warthog, and the Mongoose were my favorites. All three were puppets with humans obviously manipulating them, but the humans were well made-up and were as demonstrative as the puppets they tooled. They were one with the puppet and the audience benefited from both. The African songs, costumes and singing were enchanting and we should be exposed more often to the talents of African tribal music. We are missing a great deal of beauty and innovation. We were enthralled. We were mystified. We were in ecstasy. We finished the evening discussing the merits of the play again over burgers at Burger King. It seemed a likely choice, lion king and burger king. This day was ending as a royal one after all.