Madame Tussaud’s London

I had a voucher for Madame Tussaud’s so I was told to go to a fast track window to exchange the voucher for a real ticket. Madame Tussaud’s really dropped the ball here. They had one person working the counter and she got stuck on a couple of customers, taking ages to process them. There should have been someone else working to do the exchanges for customers without problematic situations. I’d already queued a very long time twice at the Eye and when it took almost 15 minutes for them to process two customers and then a further 10 minutes to let my group into the museum, it was a bit demoralising. I was tired by this point and starting to regret not waiting to go another day. But we were finally let in and the wait was worth it!

I’m not going to share photos of everything I saw, just my favourites and those that turned out well. The first statue I saw was of Morgan Freeman.

IMGP4471

Handsome George. He looks a little less lifelike than other statues, though. His eyes are wrong.

IMGP4472

Aaaaaaah. The most gorgeous man in entertainment.

IMGP4473

Look at those cheekbones! Those eyes! That Cupid’s Bow!

IMGP4476

Okay, I’m a tad obsessed. ūüėÄ

IMGP4478

Sir Sean Connery.

IMGP4480

Sir Patrick Stewart. He looked really lifelike!

IMGP4482

Colin Firth.

IMGP4485

John Wayne.

IMGP4486

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen (that reminds me I need to catch up on the Hunger Games).

IMGP4487

Marilyn Monroe. Men (and I use the term loosely) tried to get a look up her skirt when it would blow up.

IMGP4489

Dame Judi Dench as M.

IMGP4492

Daniel Craig, my favourite Bond.

IMGP4493

Bruce Willis. Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator was next to him, but I could not get a shot as he was too popular.

IMGP4494

Steven Spielberg was the most lifelike. Very eerie!

IMGP4495

IMGP4496

Alfred Hitchcock.

IMGP4497

Henry VIII.

IMGP4498

Princess Diana also looked very lifelike.

IMGP4501

The process for making the statues is very intimate and Madame Tussaud’s has managed three sittings with the Queen over the years!

IMGP4502

Three different statues of the Queen.

IMGP4503

Queen Victoria.

IMGP4504

The Royal family. I could not get a better picture as it was SUPER busy. I imagine they’ll be adding Prince George and Princess Charlotte at some point.

IMGP4505

Vincent Van Gogh.

IMGP4507

Stephen Hawking.

IMGP4508

Albert Einstein was also very lifelike!

IMGP4509

Charles Dickens.

IMGP4510

Pablo Picasso.

IMGP4511

The Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

IMGP4513

Martin Luther King Jr.

IMGP4514

Churchill.

IMGP4515

A very young looking President Obama.

IMGP4517

John F. Kennedy (doesn’t really look like him…) and Benazir Bhutto.

IMGP4518

Desmond Tutu.

IMGP4519

Part of Madame Tussaud’s birth certificate.

IMGP4520

The other half.

IMGP4521

Madame Tussaud.

IMGP4522

It was interesting to learn here how far back these wax likenesses were made, right to the 18th century! Some of Madame Tussaud’s methods are still in use today!

IMGP4523

There was information about how the statues are made. The measurements sound very invasive and speak to how respected Madame Tussaud’s is for people to pose for statues.

Next came a fun ride through London’s history in a black cab. No photos allowed for this. The evolution of the city was striking. I really enjoyed this.

IMGP4524

The last bit was a treat, dedicated to the Marvel superhero movies. Here’s Hawkeye.

IMGP4525

Hulk.

IMGP4527

Wolverine, the first Canadian I saw in the whole museum… *wry grin*

IMGP4528

Captain America.

IMGP4531

The last bit was a 4D movie of Spiderman, Ironman, Hulk, Captain America, and a woman I didn’t recognise saving Buckingham Palace. It was a lot of fun, especially since I like those movies!

There was a Star Wars thing after for an additional ¬£3, but I wasn’t interested in that at all.

I really enjoyed Madame Tussaud’s, but it was incredibly rushed and busy. It would have been more fun to go with someone so we could take pictures of each other with the statues (which you can touch!). A really kind¬†man offered to take a picture of me with Benedict Cumberbatch. Kind of a shame my coat almost matched the background!

IMGP4483

I was peckish when I got out of Madame Tussaud’s, so I went around the corner to see if the sushi place I’d scouted yesterday was still open. Nope. It was getting late on a Sunday night… I turned around to go to the Tube station, figuring that I could just stop at Tesco Express and grab something to nuke at home, when a man thrust a flier into my hands for the new Holmes Grill (so new I can’t find anything on it online). It’s a Lebanese place! It’s at 220 Baker Street, not quite in front of 221. ¬£4 got me the best falafel sandwich I’ve had in far, far too long. It was sooooooooo good. If I ever need to move to London and can afford to do so, I’m moving to the 200 Block of Baker Street since it hosts all my favourite cuisines. ūüėÄ

I was tuckered out by that point, so I jumped back on the Tube and headed home. It’s now 11PM and I’m not even sleepy! I’m not in a rush to get up tomorrow, though, since I don’t want to get on the Tube until past 9:30 (cheaper) and the British Museum doesn’t open till 10:00 anyway. I’ll very likely brunch at Speedy’s restaurant and won’t do anything else all day.

It’s been a very full, but lovely and unhurried, first day in London. I am really loving this city. With it being the least expensive place to fly to from Canada, I suspect I will very likely be back. Funny how I never had any desire to come here and now I’m already planning future trips!

The London Eye

The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that was built to celebrate the new millennium. Like the Eiffel Tower, it was never meant to be a long lasting monument that would become an icon of the city. Not being crazy about heights, I did a lot of research before committing to the expense of riding up to the very top and back down again!

Sunday morning felt like the perfect time to ride the Eye. I just happened to be there, the weather was good, and the crowds weren’t massive.

There are a few different ways to buy tickets for the London Eye, each one more expensive than the last. I did my research and learned two things. 1) The Fast Track tickets are pretty much a rip off as the queue is almost as long and 2) The money saved by buying online ahead of time is not worth it if you end up going on a day with bad weather. I decided to just buy a regular ticket when I got there, then ended up combining with Madame Tussaud’s and the aquarium.

I got in the queue around noon and was off the Eye by 12:40. So even if the crowds seem large, they move quickly. Like with all London attractions I’ve visited thus far, be prepared to open your bag and to be subjected to a wand search before embarking. Unless a rider is disabled or elderly, the Eye does not stop and you step on and off while it is moving, which it does at a snail’s pace.

These pods are going up.

IMGP4376

I splurged (£1!) on a viewing guide. A lot of people in my pod referred to it and expressed regret at not getting it.

IMGP4377

This is it!

IMGP4379

IMGP4380

Looking northwards to Jubilee Bridge.

IMGP4381

M16 headquarters.

IMGP4382

IMGP4384

IMGP4385

Looking west.

IMGP4388

St. Paul’s Cathedral to the northeast.

IMGP4396

I was starting to get a little uncomfortable here.

IMGP4397

The Shard.

IMGP4398

Wow! This is iconic London in one shot! Notice Westminster Abbey behind Big Ben.

IMGP4399

Almost at the top! I was ready to get off by this point, just a general feeling of malaise rather than fear. I distracted myself by walking around the pod and trying to see as far off in the distance as I could.

IMGP4404

This was so worth the price of admission!

IMGP4405

To the northwest.

IMGP4406

Buckingham Palace.

IMGP4408

IMGP4409

Another view of the Shard. One thing I didn’t get to see was the Gherkin.

IMGP4410

IMGP4411

Looking south. The guide barely had anything in this direction even though there is an Eiffel Toweresque structure to the southeast…

IMGP4412

IMGP4413

IMGP4415

The treasury.

IMGP4421

IMGP4422

IMGP4423

These balconies are so precious!

IMGP4424

IMGP4425

Done!

IMGP4426

Riding the London Eye was an unbelievable experience. It is worth the expense and the time spent in the queue. I would love to ride it again at sunset one day. I think that unless you have a debilitating fear of heights, you could manage riding the Eye. It’s easy to distract yourself from how high up you really are.

Dinner and a Concert

I had a lovely last Saturday night in Saskatchewan!

Charles, Caroline, and I drove to town for dinner and then attended at the Shurniak Gallery in Assiniboia a concert by our friends Saskia and Darrel, The Great Plains. I saw them in Willow Bunch last year and had seen them at the gallery in 2013 as well.

It was lovely to catch up with them and they put on a great show as always. I was so touched that the first¬†song in their set was dedicated to¬†me, my favourite of theirs, “My Father’s Land.” They also do a hilarious song called “Cabin Fever” during which I always lose it when they get to the bit about the propane freezing.

A major rain storm hit while the show was on and the puddles were deep on the highway on the way home. I was relieved to get in to a dry bed. So it looks like I do have my roof leak tamed and doing some additional tarping will just give me peace of mind. Charles has me scheduled for Tuesday night to make sure the roof is secure and to do a few other chores around the property.

Well, I’d better get to bed since I called off early today and I have eight hours of typing to do tomorrow and… I’m invited to supper at C&C’s! Caroline is going to experiment and needs a lab rat. ūüėÄ

Exploring M√©rida’s Paseo de Montejo and Centro Hist√≥rico

Today was another getting the lay of the land kind of day, trying to get a feel for the location of Centro Hist√≥rico to further narrow down where I might want to live. Calle 35 is a bit too north, but not bad. I think I’d like to be between 41 and 59, though.

First order of the day was to pop in at the Oxxo a few blocks away to add some pesos to my account since I ran out last night. The internet in the apartment is a bit unreliable, so I added $200 and then bought the $169 “Alto7” plan that gives me 1GB of data with a week to use it up. That’s cheaper than paying the per MB rate, which is what I’ve been doing for a while since I’ve only been using my phone when out and about in Maz and, for some reason, sites like Facebook are free to use. I couldn’t phone or send a text from my phone last night, but I could still post to Facebook. Too funny! My $200 purchase netted me $200 in “salda regalo” ¬†(gift balance)! So that will cover me for calls, texting, and casual data use for several months!

I walked up the Paseo de Montejo from the Oxxo and discovered that one lane is closed to vehicular traffic on Sundays!

IMGP2934

There were a lot of folks on bicycles.

I strolled for a bit, wanting to find the Paseo de Montejo information kiosk. It was marked as being at the intersection of 33A and Paseo de Montejo, but this intersection was not on Google Maps. I walked up the Paseo de Montejo to the intersection where I turned onto it yesterday and saw the kiosk kitty corner from Walmart. Say Walmart is the NE corner, the tiny information kiosk is on the SW corner.

I went in and got a map as well as the free tourist guide book. I had a nice chat with the couple running the kiosk. They were pleased that I’m planning to move to M√©rida and thrilled that I am avoiding the expat Santiago neighbourhood at all cost so that I can get a more authentic M√©rida experience. They think that I picked the right neighbourhood (Paseo de Montejo) and strongly urged me to go check out Santiago and Santa Ana for my peace of mind that I did my research and got it right. We also talked about the weather and they said that if I can handle the weather this week, I could make it through the hottest part of summer as long as I have AC and a pool. I have been thinking of looking for a house with a pool… ūüôā But seriously, I think that too much fuss is made about the heat. People come to Canada to live in areas that frequently hit 40 below or colder and nothing is really thought of that other than to buck up. The culture here is used to the heat and there is siesta. I will be fine. I’m more not looking forward to the rainy season.

From the kiosk, I turned around to go back the way I come to go down to the area of the¬†Zocalo, or M√©rida’s main square, where I could catch a free traditional dance show at 1PM.

The Paseo de Montejo is known for its grand houses:

IMGP2935

IMGP2936

IMGP2938

IMGP2940

This one’s for rent. I wonder how much!

IMGP2941

These are “las sillas de confidentes” and are featured on the cover of the tourist guide.

IMGP2942

This one’s bound to be cheap, right?

IMGP2943

This is the museum of archaeology. I’ll be visiting it for sure!

IMGP2944

IMGP2945

So beautiful. Remembers me of some of the architecture in Southern U.S. cities.

IMGP2946

This tricycle looks like a lot of work.

IMGP2947

Roads were blocked for bikes all the way to the Zocalo.

IMGP2948

This is a smaller plaza. There were lots of vendors selling jewelry and traditional clothing.

IMGP2950

Now, we’re at the Zocalo. See that green umbrella on the left? Little did I know I would be sitting under it some time later!

IMGP2952

Basilica.

IMGP2953

Entering the Zocalo. Lots more vendors.

IMGP2955

Pretty building off the Zocalo.

IMGP2956

I wouldn’t mind living above shops…

IMGP2957

Very useful discovery!

IMGP2958

Artisan market, but it was mostly shut tight.

IMGP2959

This part of Centro is a lot more like Maz, only the drivers aren’t insane.

IMGP2960

Another artisan market, with some vendors open. I had a look at the clothes and am glad I can recognise what things are worth now. Some things (like my dressing gown) are made of¬†very thin fabric with seams that fray on the understand because they are not overlocked. Other things (like my traditional dresses) are made of thicker fabric and better finished. I don’t mind my lesser quality items because I paid a fair price for them. I didn’t like the prices here at all.

IMGP2961

I then went into the central market. It was huge. Some parts were really pleasant to shop through, but the bulk of it, especially where the veggies are sold, was very grotty and was over due for a power washing. I actually don’t know if I could see myself buying produce there!

IMGP2963

IMGP2964

Speaking of produce, I’ve never seen a stem on a pineapple!

IMGP2965

I made my way back to the Zocalo. I was ready for lunch and when I spotted a place with shade and beer, that was good enough for me!

IMGP2966

I ordered a traditional Yucat√°n dish called poc chuc. There was no description on the menu, so talk about taking a leap of faith! It wound up being pork marinated in sour orange. The meat was very gristly and I had to work hard to get good bits of it, but what there was was very tasty, especially dipped in that non-spicy red sauce on the plate (to which I added the spicy sauce you can see in the above picture). I loved the grilled¬†onions and black beans, as well as the slightly charred tortillas to mop up my plate. Lunch was only $140 with the tip and I also got some advice from my server to take an organised tour out of town instead of renting a car…

IMGP2967

By the time I’d picked up a lime sorbet thingamabob in a cone from a cart, toured all the vendors in the Zocalo, and found a place to stand for the dance show, it was 12:40. I was disappointed it had been¬†standing room only by the time I’d arrived back a the square at 11:30¬†¬†since I was pretty fatigued, even with having sat for lunch.

The show was very entertaining, but having to stand for most of it and move around to stay out of the sun and get different views means I didn’t get to really absorb it as much as I would have liked.

IMGP2969

The dancers wore traditional costumes. I love those white dresses with the bright embroidery. Women here wear them all the time! I’ve seen coloured dresses with the same embroidery and which I find tempting, but the cut is not fitted and so wouldn’t suit me well. They are so pretty, though!

There were a lot of different dance numbers. There is a video after the pictures with highlights of my favourite bits.

IMGP2970

IMGP2973

See the yellow flowers in the hair of the dancer closest to me? All the ladies had a different main colour to the embroidered part of their dresses and matching flowers in their hair, as well as, for some numbers, a shawl.

IMGP2974

The music was live, and very loud!

IMGP2976

IMGP2977

Here they are with their shawls. That’s my kind of outfit. ūüôā

IMGP2978

This was a Maypole-type dance number, where they wove the ribbons.

IMGP2979

IMGP2981

Here they are building a “palapa” (their word). I really appreciated all the times the announcer said, “¬°Lista cameras!” (ready your cameras)!

IMGP2983

I’m really glad I stayed till the end because of this amazing number, where they danced balancing trays of glasses on their heads. That’s in the video!

IMGP2984

There was another info kiosk right by the Zocalo, so I popped in to ask about tours. I was given a brochure in English, but got all the information in Spanish, same as at the Paseo de Montejo kiosk. The man understood my desire to do something close by (I’m saving Chichen Itz√° for when I move here!) and proposed what sounded like the perfect tour. It’s well reviewed, so I contacted them to see if they can fit me in this week…

I then schlepped home, tempted as I was to get in a cab, and popped into a a shop to get three cold Tecate Light beers, which were only $32.50, or just under $11 each. I get four for $52 on Isla, or $13 each. I was surprised since beer at a restaurant is so pricy here compared to Maz.

I hadn’t planned to go out again today, but now I’m hungry and trying to decide which will take less energy, walking to a restaurant or making my own dinner. ūüôā

It was a very good day for getting myself grounded in this part of M√©rida. Now, I’m ready to play tourist!

Driving El Espinoza del diablo (Devil’s Backbone) from Durango to Mazatl√°n

I dragged myself out of bed as early as I could Sunday morning since I was planning to drive the libre from Durango back to Mazatl√°n and I’d been warned it could take up to eight hours, twice as long as the cuota had taken! I was going to gain an hour with the time change, though, which helped. I decided that I would keep an eye on my arrival time and if it looked like I was to get to the start of the Isla road later than 3:30 p.m., I would leave the libre and take the cuota. I was worried about the condition of The Road since Maz had a horrible weekend, weather-wise. Poor Contessa and Colin had to evacuate! Contessa had blogged that The Road was in decent condition with no further rain expected, but nevertheless, I approached my day with the mindset that the last hour could be very, very hellish…

I checked out of the hotel at 8:00, with the plan being to drop my stuff off at the truck and then go get breakfast. The hotel clerk stamped my parking ticket, signed it, and put the time of checkout on it.

The parking lot gates were padlocked shut, so I rang the bell. The attendant came out and I asked if I could just drop off my things. No problem. He let me in and then back out again.

I then wandered a bit around and was disappointed to find that almost nothing is open before 9:00 or 10:00 on Sundays! I had to settle for crappy Oxxo coffee (should have just had the hotel coffee!). The one restaurant that was open didn’t want to serve me. I went in and said hello to the ladies behind the counter (diner-style restaurant). They completely ignored me. I took a table and after being ignored another minute, I went back up to the counter and asked for a menu. I was ignored again. So I left. *shrugs* I’ve had this happen a lot NOB, but it’s usually in small towns, where the restaurants don’t like tourists and prefer to only serve their regulars. I ended up buying some pastries from a lady on a street corner! Not quite what I wanted ahead of a long drive, but better than leaving on an empty stomach and I figured that my last banana would balance things out, nutrition-wise!

The parking lot gate was locked again when I returned, but this time I didn’t even have to ring the bell. The man examined my ticket and confirmed that I didn’t have to pay anything, then wished me a good trip. Since he was waiting for me to get out so he could close the gates again, I didn’t dawdle and was glad that I had programmed Isla as ‘home’ on my GPS, so it was very quick to get that set up. But the GPS wasn’t keen to route me on the libre, so I knew that the 11:30 (Sinaloa time) ETA would not be reality!

I had no trouble navigating my way out of Durango until I got to this intersection.

IMG_0851

It was very bewildering, with poor signage. I wasn’t even sure if I was in the correct lane to make a left turn. The longer I sat there, the less certain I was about when it was my turn to turn and there was a surprising amount of traffic for early on a Sunday, too much for me to feel comfortable just taking my chance of not getting into an accident. I was able to make a discreet U-turn and then pulled over to wait for someone else to get to that intersection with the intention of turning left, which took only a few minutes. When this car turned left, I still had no idea of what prompted the driver to decide it was time to do so, but we made it without getting creamed!

I started on the libre at about 9:00 after getting fuel. Almost immediately, there was a scenic lookout!

IMG_0852

IMG_0853

IMG_0854

The road was very twisty. You can see a bit of that here (sorry, the phone takes such horrible pictures, but I’d forgotten my camera charger!):

IMG_0855

IMG_0856

We occasionally would pass or cross the cuota.

IMG_0857

This was around a military checkpoint. There was one on the libre, too, but I was completely ignored and rolled through it. I had one more checkpoint a few hours later where I had to make a brief declaration.

IMG_0858

I found a rest area with a really fancy bathroom entry system: a coin-operated turnstile! I had no idea how much to put in, so I tried $5 and that got me in, then I heard the clang of coins being returned. I got $3 in change. $2 was a bargain for such a clean bathroom with as much paper as I wanted, soap, doors, running water, etc. My previous rest stop had had a toilet with no door (great view to the road!) and no seat, with a bucket of water by it for flushing… Bathrooms in Mexico run the gamut!

IMG_0860

At one point, the libre and cuota run side by side, with a divider between them:

IMG_0862

I could have rejoined the cuota here, but was making okay time:

IMG_0863

The variety of the landscapes I encountered during the day was dizzying. This felt like I was driving through New England!

IMG_0864

IMG_0865

I thought that this was a rather nasty and twisty bit of the road…

IMG_0866

IMG_0868

IMG_0869

IMG_0870

The air here was just so clean and fresh. The sign isn’t important (slow down, your family is waiting for you). I just liked the waterfall behind it. ūüôā

IMG_0871

Welcome to the Sierra Madres!

IMG_0872

IMG_0873

IMG_0874

IMG_0875

IMG_0876

The Espinazo del Diablo/Devil’s Backbone section is just a tiny part of Mex-40. The start of it is well marked!

IMG_0877

IMG_0879

IMG_0880

IMG_0881

IMG_0882

IMG_0883

The road started getting a little twisty…

IMG_0884

Just a tad…

IMG_0885

IMG_0886

IMG_0887

Back in Sinaloa!

IMG_0888

Go home, road, you’re drunk! By this point, I had slowed to a crawl and was coasting in 1st gear to save my brakes. I had a lot of impatient drivers going around me!

IMG_0890

Passing one of the bridges on the cuota:

IMG_0891

IMG_0892

IMG_0893

The road leveled out at a small town called Concordia, just before Villa Union, and then it was super fast going to Mex-15.

I was exhausted by this point. The road really is challenging, especially when “les gens te pousses dans’l cul” (when other cars are riding your bumper). It was very scenic and fun to drive in a standard, though! I’m glad I drove it once, but the $500 in tolls is worth the time and effort saved if going to Durango regularly. I don’t think I’d want to do the libre in an RV, but a lot of RVers I know prefer that route because the RV tolls are insane. RVers¬†break up the day by overnighting partway.

I stopped at an Oxxo just before the turn to get an Electrolit since I was parched, then braved the two lefthand turns in Villa Union to get some snacks at Panam√°’s. It was then just a short drive to the airport turn off.

The first bit of the Road was muddy, but not bad at all and I actually thought, “I’m already at the paved section?!” when I got there! The last unpaved bit was fine. I got through in about 20 minutes! Door-to-door, the trip home had taken six hours, fully two more than the trip to Durango.

I’m really glad that I drove both the cuota and the libre. I can see how the cuota is going to change the life of people living around Durango as it is cutting down on their isolation. But I also feel bad for the folks along the libre who are losing their livelihoods, judging from the number of businesses that have shut down.

But since neither road is great, I’m taking the bus to Durango the next time I go!