Friday, July 06, 2007

Catching Up / London / June 15 - 16 / London Info

A series of posts and pictures from my trip ... skip if you're not interested.

Friday Evening, June 15

"I had the most extraordinary experience at synagogue on Friday evening.

"Shabbat started at 9:15 pm or so. Rachel elected to stay home, and I was given directions to a synagogue that was rather a long walk away. It took 25 minutes of hard walking to get there. When I got there at 9:00, I went in to the synagogue and found that they only had 8 other people. In other words, I was the ninth. Apparently, two of their usual members were away.

"Everyone except the Rabbi was anxious that they wouldn't get a minyan, when suddenly this old man burst in to the synagogue and said that he could daven with us only if we hurried. So we began davening quickly.

"Even though we davened quickly, the man sang all the prayers. His voice was beautiful, heartstopping, like an angel. The davening was an uplifting and holy experience.

"Just before we got to the last prayer, Aleynu, the man suddenly called out 'Stop!' and ran up the bimah, pushing the shaliah tzibur aside.

"He stood there for a few moment and then burst into tears! His tears began falling onto the bimah. He cried so much that it began to get soaked.

"Abruptly he cried out, 'Enough! Enough!' and he jumped onto the soaking wet bimah. And the most amazing thing happened. The entire bimah burst into flames!

"The man was not perturbed in the least. He just kept crying 'Enough!' and then he began to lift up into the air! He only got a few feet off the bimah before he stopped, seemingly held in place by an invisible hand.

"The moment the hand appeared to touch him, he collapsed, but he didn't fall back down. It looked like the invisible hand, now rather than blocking him from ascending, was underneath him, holding him from falling. Gently, he was lowered back down to the ground. The flames went out, and I could see that the bimah was completely unharmed.

"A few moments later the man got up and walked out of the synagogue. It was only after the door closed behind him that the spell over the congregation was broken. I ran to the door, reaching it only seconds after the man had left, but when I looked outside, the man had seemingly vanished into thin air.

"We finished the last prayer without him and then I came home."

So I told Rachel and friends when I returned from shul. It took Rachel until the man burst into tears before she began to say "Oh please! I don't believe you!" Actually, I was surprised that it took her that long; anyone familiar with Jewish mythical narrative should have recognized the pattern from the moment the tenth man burst into the shul and said that he couldn't stay long.

The truth is, is that the shul was closed when I got there, the congregation having davened earlier at 7:30. As a result, I had a long walk, a half hour wait to see if anyone as coming, and then another long walk back. And we didn't begin eating until 10:00 pm.

Saturday morning returning from shul was the first time I'd gone out without my poncho.

We returned at around 1:30 pm soaked to the bone. I guess it was romantic walking in the London rain, and a real English experience. But without an eruv, I had to wear my tallit. It dried by the next day, but it still smells like wet wool.

I spent a good deal of time sleeping and eating, and not much else. Shabbat went out at 10:26 (or 10:21, depending on who you believed). Either way, way too late.

Everyone in England is very polite. However, in London at least, this politeness is something of a facade. Strangers that you ask for help promise to help, but when you're no longer in view, they hope that you will have forgotten this promise. Or so was my experience with the strangers that I met.

A beggar I passed on shabbat asked me for some change (which I don't carry on shabbat), and when I expressed my regret, he apologized sincerely and politely for having asked me. Same thing happened two weeks later in York.

Tips for London
  • London and England are outrageously expensive. Many places don't take credit cards, so you will need cash. And a lot of places charge you for entry, including some public toilets. A great way to spoil a country.

  • Don't forget your PIN number (like I did).

  • Unless you're in the mood for English history or old architecture, there really isn't much to see in London, or Yorkshire for that matter. Just go straight to Scotland if you want beauty and old villages. Avoid almost every tourist place if you can, and you will save a lot of money and hassle. And it's never as nice as simply wandering the streets and countryside, anyway.

  • You will need rain gear. Strangely enough, English people don't wear rain gear. They prefer to get caught in the rain and wait in the doorsteps of various shops until the rain subsides.

  • Inexpensive things in England: Phone calls if you get a calling card. Public phones are outrageously expensive, even with a calling card. Find any way to avoid it. If your mobile phone is unlocked (you can do this for 10 Pounds), you can also buy throwaway SIM cards. Israeli phones are locked, of course.

  • Ponchos are as little as 99 pence at tourist information. Most towns and villages have them. We bought some nice ones with Shakespeare quotes at the globe theater for 3.50 Pounds.

  • Plan all events well on the Internet, other than music in pubs. Buy all tickets in advance on the internet and you will save as much as three times the prices. We bought tickets to Stomp for 20 Pounds on the Internet, instead of 40 Pounds at the door. This includes all bus and train tickets.

  • If you have a car and will be traveling in rural areas, you can probably find bed and breakfasts on the fly outside of high season. But to ensure you find nice ones, book them in advance and follow comments and quality ratings. Or you'll end up with less than nice places.

  • Other inexpensive things in England: bread, soda, and other items at large supermarkets are cheap. Restaurants are incredibly expensive. Almost nothing has kosher symbols, even though many items are kosher, but many have vegetarian or vegan symbols.

  • Batteries are expensive, unless you buy them in bulk. Bring them. Heathrow airport charges for Internet access. You can usually find free wireless access at various restaurants and pubs, and most libraries, especially outside the cities. Internet cafes charge 1 Pound for 1/2 an hour or an hour.

  • There is essentially no nightlife for under 18 year olds. Under 18 year olds are not allowed into pubs, even if they don't drink.

  • Some locally made goods are inexpensive and high quality, especially in the upper England areas. Buy Scotch in supermarkets or at a discount store, NOT at the airport. Same goes for fancy chocolates. York has a "1 Pound" store where you can get a 200 gram Tolberone for 1 Pound, as opposed to 4 Pounds at the airport.

  • Portobello market in London is very inexpensive for veggies and fruits.

  • England has no root beer, but they do have ginger beer, which is distinctly different from ginger ale. It's nice.

  • From Heathrow to London and back, you can take the Piccadilly line subway for much less than the so called Heathrow express, but it does take an extra half hour or so.

  • Key phrases in London: "Mind the Gap". "Way out" isn't Hippy language, it means "this way to the exit". "No smoking" as of July 1 in any enclosed area.

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Another shop on Portobello Road

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If you're a miniature fan, check out this guy's stand on Portobello Road

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More from my favorite series of food products

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Even more. That's Green Crocodile Curry and Scorpion Vodka. I'll spare you the rest.

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London and England have more security cameras in any area than any other country. Here are some on the tube.

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And here are some ruining the facade of a pretty building

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Speaking of the tube, this is why they call it that

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Trafalgar Square. National Gallery in the back (free, and recommended). Statues are the main attraction in London.

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Lamp post on the Thames

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Imitating a statue on the banks of the Thames

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The London Eye ferris wheel