Wednesday, June 30, 2010

London Town

After a quick hop over the North Sea we landed in London and I struggled down to the underground. For some, as yet undetermined reason, I was not travelling light. In fact, I've always struggled with the concept. Hopefully, this will be an issue of the past. But it was not something I could deal with right then, so I dragged myself and my three heavy bags of various shapes ans sizes onto the subway and collapsed into the seat. After one transfer (with way too many stairways) and a 1km lug, I arrived at Pete and Kim's door. Dinner and a nice bed (and lots of hugs) were waiting. Just what I needed.

My short visit was only 5 days and happened to be from Monday to Friday. With both Pete and Kim working and Alexa at school I had to entertain myself during the day. But this is London, so not too much of a problem there. In fact, the days seemed to whiz by at an amazing rate.

Having been to London on a few occasions already, I feel pretty confident getting myself around and finding my way to where I want to go. So on the first day, I traveled downtown to my favorite place - Covent Garden. An amazing old covered market with shops interspersed throughout. But before I dove into the aisles of antiques, knick-knacks and gizmos I decided to do something I hadn't done before. I went to the Portrait Gallery. Now I know this doesn't necessarily sound like the coolest thing (because that's what I first thought), but once I got in there and explored their various galleries I was impressed. There are the traditional painted portraits, but there are also photographs, sculptures, stamps, videos and so much more. And they're not restricted to the head and shoulders view. All in all, I was impressed and spent far more time in there than I had anticipated. It's a great thing having free entrance to these things, as you tend to try things you may not necessarily normally do. Trolling through the market afterwards was a blast. Old watches, compasses, jewelry of all sorts, books, records and all those things you never knew you needed. I restrained myself (thinking of my already heavy bags) and limited myself to some old watch faces and pearls for crafting. Then it was off for home and dinner out at the favorite italian restaurant.

Tuesday - I went to Harrods. One of the oldest and priciest department stores in London. The first floor is filled with the food halls (and perfume, but really, who finds that interesting) - rooms filled to the brim with glistening, fresh produce, meat, baking, fish and cheese. I can still picture the amazing display in the seafood room - schools of fresh fish swimming across a bed of ice, a giant swordfish leaping above them all, beds of clams, oysters and mussels shining like pearls, obsidians and opals in amongst the sparkling reds and greens and silvers of the fish. In the baking room, placed behind glass stood rows and rows of colourful cupcakes, all jostling for your eye with their bright colours and delicious icing. After very carefully considering my choices, I settled on two balls of mozzerella (di bufala - flown in from Italy that morning) and some fresh cottage cheese (the absolute best I have ever tasted). I decided to check out the rest of the store and took the elevator up to the sixth floor. I wound my way through $200 cat collars and $100 baby sweaters, past $600 hats made of little more than a few feathers and some woven grass, through rooms filled with bedding running at about $200 more than I could afford and in amongst kids toys worth more that our car (not too hard seeing as it's a 1984 Subaru Leone). Finally, worn out from all the gawking I headed back home to make lasagna with Alexa. We were making it from scratch, including the pasta. If you've never made pasta before you should try it (it just literally just eggs and flour). It's really quite easy and it impresses absolutely everyone. So we had fun making sheets of pasta and filling our lasagna the way we wanted, Alexa even cut out some shapes and decorated the dish with some tiny pasta animals. She impressed her mother by then eating the lasagna which was filled with tomatoes, squash, spinach, mushrooms and other things normally out of her dietary regime. Ah the power of making things yourself.

Wednesday, I walked along the Thames, visited the Tate Modern and searched second hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road. It was a lovely day for a walk and I was not alone in my meander. I imagine it's hard to ever feel alone in a city like London, at least physically. The Tate Modern was really neat, I went to one of their visited exhibitions on surveillance and taking pictures of people in public and private places. It was an interesting exhibit that examined voyerism, spying, peeping and the paparazzi. When I emerged back into the daylight I felt the sudden urge to take pictures of people - sneakily. I found I wasn't very good at it. Once I got to Charing Cross Road I switched modes and went into book worm. So many glorious shops filled to the brim with wonderful stories and knowledge. I kept having to remind myself of how far away from home I was and that everything I bought would have to be dragged all the way back around the world. I got one book. Then it was home for dinner.

My last day in London Kim was off. So she took me to Hatfield House an old 15th-century estate where the queen used to live (in the 15th-century) when she was but a princess. We wandered through their early summer gardens filled with foxgloves, poppies, allium, and begonias. We enjoyed our picnic in one of their cultivated 'woods' and watched robins hop amongst the gnarled old oak trees. We explored the amazing house filled with portraits in gilded frames and furniture shipped from the orient on wooden sailing vessels so many hundred years ago. At one point, I glimpsed past an old painted Chinese screen to a pile of tennis rackets, shoes and umbrellas, signs of life, normality, home. It was a curious reminder that this place I saw as a museum someone else saw as home. How easy it is to forget these things when we're visiting places so different from what we know. Once we returned to our home, Kim and I set about packing another picnic for our dinner that night. We were off to Regent's Park for a picnic and a play. After a delicious feast of smoked mackerel, salmon pate, potato salad, garlic tomatoes, baguette, salad and bubbly wine, we sat down and enjoyed The Crucible. Written in 1953 by Arthur Miller, the play uses the Salem witch hunt as allegory for the US McCarthy government and their approach to dealing with communist spies. It was a great performance of a great play.

The next morning, I wished Alexa and Pete goodbye as they headed out the door and was kindly dropped off by Kim at the appropriate tube station to avoid transferring. An hour later I was at Heathrow and soon enough I was starting my long, long, looonnnngggg journey back to the southern hemisphere.

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