Monday, February 16, 2009

NYC Girl in London Day 2: The Meaning of Posh, the Queen and Harry Potter

My 2nd day in London can be described with one word: POSH. This is not a word commonly used in the US and according to the Webster dictionary means "typical of or intended for the upper classes". In the UK, upper class means pretty much old money, people with stature in society, titles, history. You are born into it, you cannot buy your way in and the upper class in the UK are not necessarily the wealthiest. Let's just put it this way, Paris Hilton will NEVER be considered upper class in England.

Anyway, the day got off to a great start when I woke up to unseasonably warm and sunny spring like weather. We celebrated this rareity with an early lunch at The Wolseley, which is a London "twin" of NYC's Balthazar but really much more posh. Belly full of gin & tonics and french bistro food, we then strolled from St. James to Buckingham Palace through the very pretty and posh St. James Park.
We passed along a row of beautiful residential and commercial town homes, all looking like miniature versions of Jane Austen countryside mansions. Buckingham Palace itself was grand as expected with its guilded gates and . Apparently there are over 700 rooms in the palace and is mostly used for official royal functions. We missed the changing of the guard ceremony which happens every morning around 11AM but did learn that the Queen was indeed at home since the flag was flying atop the palace and there were 4 guards on duty. I wonder if HRH Prince Harry is there with her nursing his broken heart after breaking up with his girlfriend...

After grabbing some fun touristy gag gifts for friends at the official Buckingham Palace gift shop, my friend MC and I walked along Park Lane to the very posh (that word again) Mayfair neighborhood. Park Lane is a very wide street that reminded me a bit of Park Avenue in NYC. This is definitely a upper class type of neighborhood. The parking lot of The Dorchester hotel, one of the fanciest in town, says it all: Aston Martins, Bentleys, Rolls Royces all lined up next to each other ready to take its guest to posh functions (likely at the palace). We turned off Park Lane to weave and bob through what can only be described as, well, posh. The town homes were immaculately built, impeccably fashionably dressed people strolled about (mostly on the older side), drivers were waiting in Bentleys outside building entrances, beefy guys who looked like bodyguards stood outside homes with scarier stares than the door guys at the hardest to get into NYC velvet rope clubs. This is not your typical, average neighborhood for sure.

We walked by Claridge's (high end hotel), Brown's (high end shoe shop) and managed to find The Punch Bowl which was a pub co-owned by Guy Ritchie, Madonna's ex. The pub was very nice and cozy, with a fireplace dividing the long bar and wooden tables and benches in the front and a more formal dining room in the back. The patrons were young and old, all either very good looking (which made me wonder if they were actually celebrities) or very rich and important looking (mostly older guys in 3 piece suits reading the Financial Times). The price was higher than other places, which we expected given it's location. Oh, and of course there was Sting (yes, THE Sting) who walked past our table after clearly enjoying a pint or two. We followed him out shortly, finding our way to the much less posh Oxford Street chaos and taking the bus, also known as the commoner's Bentley, home to get ready for our evening adventure in Oxford.

The University of Oxford is as many know one of the most famous universities in the world, (no, not made famous by Rob Lowe's 1984 movie Oxford Blues) and is about a hours train ride northwest of London. A college friend SF who I had not seen in at least 10 years, was there attending the Said Business School and promised an evening of posh fun, Oxford style. Afterall, Oxford is synonymous with the upper class. Our evening started with supper at the Christ Church College dining hall. There are 37 other "colleges" and each serve as the focal point for admitting, housing, feeding, entertaining the students. The overall University seem to do very little quite frankly. Anyway, walking up to the dining hall, I recognized the same stone staircase where Harry Potter and friends were told in the first movie they had to be "sorted" into different houses. The dining hall itself is the same one in the Harry Potter movies, except sans candles floating mid air. There were three long tables in the rectangular room, all for students to sit and eat. The teachers sat at a table perpendicular to the student tables, at the end, up on a stage of sorts. Exactly as it looks in Harry Potter. The walls were filled with the portraits of past deans and famous grads of the college, including one of a man whose gaze oddly follows you wherever you walk (seriously). It was quite the grand setting to be dining in and I was glad I dressed up appropriately for it.

We were surrounded by posh (yep, noticing a theme here?) undergrads who were all dolled up: cute young lads with floppy long hair looking Strokes-stylish in skinny pants and ties, long haired girls in mini dresses and sky high heels. The male students, grad or undergrad, must wear their college robes in the dining hall and the way their wear their robes have special meaning (sleeves mean special honors, sleeveless mean, I guess, that you are not as smart or something). Apparently people dress up to dining in the hall every night which is very different from the sweatshirts and jeans set you normally see in university cafeterias in the US. The food was just about the worse food I have ever had but the point wasn't the food, was it? It was the rare experience of dining in this very famous location. Let's just say the food is NOTHING like the feasts and spreads that Harry Potter and his friends enjoyed. Oh, and it's BYOB so we managed to polish off 2 bottles of nice red wine between us.

After dinner, it's off to the infamous "Einstein Room" for a quick gin & tonic. This room is used as the party room for the Christ Church grad student social club. Picture the common room in your college dorm but add a bit of history to it (Einstein stayed in this room when he lectured here in the 1930s) and throw in some extremely intellectual Oxford grad students playing Guitar Hero over some gin & tonics and you have a good picture of what this is like. There's even a piano where the students keep their bottles of booze. One g&t later, we were off to our next destination, a student organized dance party known as a "bop". Bops are essentially school dances held in the a common area or space in the colleges where grads, undergrad mingle and party to cheap booze and bad pop music. There's usually a theme for each bop and the one we went to was the "Dutch Bop" so people dressed up as windmills or just wore orange. Drinks of choice at these bops include beer (usually free), g&t and vodka and lemonade (usually dirt cheap). It actually was loads of juvenile fun, brought me back to my high school cafeteria dance days. We had so much fun we missed our train back to London so had to take the ghetto bus at 2AM with some trampy teenage girls dressed to the nines and drunk drugged out youngsters, no doubt all having had too much vodka lemonade at one of the bops on campus.

All in all a fun-filled day peppered with posh adventures. I wonder what is in store tomorrow...HRH Harry perhaps?

1 comment:

  1. old shipping term! Port outward, starboard home! So the upper classes didn't have to look at the rif-raf upon departure or arrival.

    Hope you have a great time in London. The Wolseley is a great landmark, but there is much better food to be had!