Crepers Quarterly: London, Paris & Beyond
It was time once again to make a trip to those cradles of civilization known as London and Paris. This story is intended to be an account of a typical experience in visiting these cities and to provide tips and tricks on where to go when you visit. Don't forget to visit our previous England and France sections for more full crapping venue reviews. While most of our accounts are about public facilities, we have included some details about some hotels too.
The trip started off on an evening "red eye" flight from Miami to London Heathrow. One of the best things you can do to prepare for a trip like this is to crap prior to leaving. The Miami International Airport is ok and even the airplane isn't too bad. Whatever you do, don't wait for the Customs & Immigration Lounge at Heathrow. It will be crowded with an endless line of people waiting for stalls. If you are counting on this as your relief, you will be in big trouble. Since there were about 50 people in the restroom at the time I went in, I didn't take a photo for obvious reasons. Customs & Immigration doesn't take that long but, depending on where your lodging is located, you may have a long ride on some trains.
The first is the Heathrow/London Express. This is a 15 minute express train from the airport to Paddington station in London's famous Tube system. Go ahead and purchase a round trip fare as it will save you a few pounds over the one way fares. This may be important as the fare is about $50 round trip. There are ATM like terminals that let you purchase your tickets with a credit card. Or there is a ticket window for the complete wankers who can't figure out the automated deal. From there you take a subway train to your destination (Tube tickets can be a bit more confusing so it helps to read up a bit on it online at www.thetube.com or www.londontransport.co.uk before you try to purchase amidst the crush of commuters). For me that was Tottenham Court Road in London's West End for a stay at my favorite hotel--the St. Giles.
The St. Giles is a true 3-star businessman's hotel is an excellent place to stay right in the middle of the area containing all of the theaters, Picadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Leicster Square, etc. It is equivalent to what you would expect from a good hotel in the USA. If you book online, you can get some great prices considering how expensive London can be.
The restrooms are new, quite clean and fully equiped. They even have their own built in hair dryer (as do most tourist hotels in Europe). From the photo, you can see that the bathroom is very compact (space is always a premium in Europe). the only unusual thing about this restroom was the 5 foot tall showerhead that required some interesting acrobatics when washing your hair. You can see this just to the left of the wall. I guess now we know why the English aren't good at basketball.
Well, it didn't take long before I was out on the town checking out some local establishments in the area. Some have been covered in the past England section. The first new one for this trip was the famous Borderline.
This is a club that has seen most of the up and coming bands pass through (and go). I was there to see some excellent local bands I had discovered from previous trips. After the concert, which ended quite early (about 11 p.m.), the club turned into a rock/dance type place. They played great 80s type alternative rock and it was a fun and lively crowd. Entry prices and drinks were pretty reasonable by London standards. The crowd seemed to be everything from 18+ to folks in their 40s.
Considering the level of use that this toilet gets, it was better than expected. There were two stalls and the ever present urinal trough. As you can see from the photo, the dividers are solid walls and the toilet actually has a seat. Privacy was reasonably good and it would do in an emergency brought on by too many pints of stout. Handicrapping may be a little tough due to all sorts of narrow spaces. There may be separate facilities but I didn't see them. If anybody else knows, please email us.
The next stop was Covent Garden. There is a famous pub there but there are no toilets in the entire complex of shops that I could find. In the US, there would be plenty of facilities in a place like this. But don't count on any help here if you have an emergency. The best place you could go would be the Essex Serpent Pub (see England)around the corner unless there is a football (soccer) game on the telly which will have the place packed to the gills.
The next day I visited the British Museum which was right around the corner from my hotel. This nice museum is home to the world famous Rosetta Stone and numerous Egyptian artifacts. Housed in one of Britain's architectural landmarks, the collection is one of the finest in existence, spanning two million years of human history. Entry to the collections is free and well worth a visit.
As you can see from the photograph, the Museum's toilets are reasonably clean and private including full walls dividing the stalls and a full wooden door. However, as the toilets are located in the main lobby (called the QEII Great Court), they can be very crowded and the 5-6 stalls can all be occupied.
There are two facilities on either side of the center structure of the Great Court which can be accessed by going down a long flight of stairs which could be challenging in an emergency. The Men's and Women's entrances can be a bit confusing so don't be surprised if you see women poking their heads in looking around for their refuge.
Handicrapping is available via a large single purpose restroom at the top of the stairs. The green paint scheme is a bit institutional which is too bad since the building is an architectural marvel and is very impressive. Overall, this is a good place to go when the need calls and rates a good solid 3 rolls on our 5 roll rating system.
Next on the agenda was Westminster and the home of Big Ben and the British Parliment. I was lucky enought to be around when Parliment was in session and sat in on the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
If you've ever watched CSPAN you may have seen the House of Commons in action. It is a rowdy, rauchous affair full of debate on important international issues as well as sometimes ridiculous local ones. But it is all great entertainment and to watch a bunch of grown men and women bickering with each other in this forum was an amazing experience.
To see democracy in action, you need to get in line early. Say about an hour before they are letting people in. Be prepared for a long wait. You will be required to go through a security check, sign waivers stating that you will not interupt the proceedings and check all cameras. As they only let 10 people in at a time to the House of Commons chamber, you may have a few minutes to wait inside. But don't think this is a good time to go because you may lose you place in line and there are many waiting to take it. So go in emergencies only. Note: If the Prime Minister is speaking, it may take an extra long time to get in to the chamber as most of the visitor spots are taken by VIPs and dignitaries.
As you can see from the photo, the toilets are quite modern and clean. They feature more traditional stall dividers and doors but since they are used so little, privacy is not a real problem. The facilities feature 2-3 stalls and are shared by visitors to both the House of Commons and Lords as they are located in a central rotunda with the entrances to both houses.
Handicrapping might be a little tight and there may be separate facilities available since this is a government facility.
We gave these crappers a lower score on the User Friendliness index because they may require a 1-2 hour wait in line outside before you can gain access to them. Other than that, it would be a good place to go and do your business of state. My advice for visitors of this facility would be to check out the schedules online at www.parliment.uk and get there early. Even better, use the facilities at our next stop before getting in line.
Before going to Parliment, we made a pit stop for some food and pissing at the Red Lion Pub just down from Parliment. (A helpful index of pubs in London can be found at http://www.pubs.com and includes the following description from their site).
As far as location is concerned the Red Lion is hard to beat, midway between the House of Commons and Downing Street. It is the closest and certainly the best pub near No.10. This is a classic turn-of-the- century pub. The long narrow ground floor bar has a counter and fittings of solid polished mahoganny. Glassware includes pretty etched and cut glass screens and mirrors. There are also some beautiful etched and cut mirrors.
Prints with a political theme cover the walls. The tv shows parliamentary broadcasts from the House (thankfully mute) and there's a division bell for those important votes, so MP's needn't miss a thing. This is a popular pub and always busy, particularly at lunchtimes. Finding a spot to eat can be difficult, however there is a dining room upstairs and a cellar bar.
The toilets are located on the second floor behind the dining room. It would be helpful to be a customer but the folks upstairs would never know that you didn't come from the bar area downstairs. Privacy is premium here because there is not much usage from the other patrons. However, there is only one crapper so its a little hit or miss. Cleanliness is quite acceptable (at least during the day) and this is a good place to eat then crap your fish and chips. As with most British pubs in old buildings, there is no handicrapping capability unless you are visiting with a very good friend who is going to carry your ass.
Also notable in this general area is Westminster Abbey. Here are some excerpt from their web site:
An architectural masterpiece of the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, Westminster Abbey also presents a unique pageant of British history - the Confessor’s Shrine, the tombs of Kings and Queens, and countless memorials to the famous and the great. It has been the setting for every Coronation since 1066 and for numerous other Royal occasions. Today it is still a church dedicated to regular worship and to the celebration of great events in the life of the nation. Neither a cathedral nor a parish church, Westminster Abbey is a “royal peculiar” under the jurisdiction of a Dean and Chapter, subject only to the Sovereign.
A very freaky part of the Abbey is the Museum. The centerpiece of the exhibition is the Abbey’s collection of royal and other funeral effigies. More or less, these are wax figures of kings and queens in their own clothes. Creepy.
Well worth a visit but there are no restrooms easily available or obvious. If anybody knows about them, email us.
The next stop was that evening at an amazing exhibit called BodyWorlds. Many of you may have seen this on television as it is very controversial. BODY WORLDS - The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies provides unique insights into the healthy and diseased human body. During your visit you will see individual organs arranged according to a series of different subjects. You will learn more about their functions and typical diseases that affect them. Finally you will have the opportunity to study individual, complex, anatomical structures of whole bodies and cross sections. But this does not even begin to explain the wild forms that the human bodies are shown in. You must check out the web site at www.bodyworlds.com to see more info.
Housed in the Atlantis Art Gallery in the old Truman Brewery, this is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Literally, human bodies exploded so you can see all of the different systems of the body. Included were cross sections of people, many with different diseases or conditions. One of particular interest was the cross section of an extremely constipated woman. They didn't allow photography at all so I apologize for not being able to share. Needless to say, if you want to learn about how we crap, this exhibit will provide some serious visual information.
The toilets were located in a couple different places. The first one is up a considerable staircase to the upper floor where the main exhibit is located. The restroom opens up to a large area that confusingly splits off into male and female sectors. There are a number of stalls available but their condition is a bit suspect. Steel seats and dicey cleanliness are a factor. At night, privacy was good and the stalls have complete floor to ceiling dividers and doors. Then when you leave, there is a communal washing basin with one used bar of soap.
Your better bet is the restroom on the ground floor on the way out. It is smaller, offering only two stalls, but it is normal and is mostly overlooked by visitors on their way out.
Since the exhibit is very popular (i.e. crowded) and there have been reports of 2-hour long lines to get in, the best time to go is at night. Last admission is at 9 p.m. I went at about 8 p.m. on a Monday and there was no line at all. It's a bit pricey at 10 pounds but well worth it for what you will see. Unfortunately, because of the controversial nature of the exhibit, it will be banned from England after February 9th. The web site will tell you more about the exhibit and all of the excitement around it.
To finish off the London part of this story, I'm going to throw in a few more helpful tips about leaving London. If you are leaving from Heathrow, you will take the tube to Paddington station where you can catch the express train back to the airport. Here's the tip: Make sure to check in with your airline at Paddington station. This will take care of your tickets and luggage check up front and, most importantly, it will tell you which terminal your flight will leave from. This is important because the train makes two stops at the airport and there is no indication via signage or announcements which terminal you will need. Screwing this up is not good as it is a long walk from the train to the terminal itself. If you have chosen the wrong one, you will have to hoof it all the way back. No fun, especially if you are in a hurry. Now click to continue on to the Paris part of the adventure.
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