9 days in london. too much to cover easily. will be terse.
nov 4: day 1
long flight, but not too bad. video screen doesn’t work, and they only show one movie. “eat drink man woman”; bleeaah. i tear into life of pi. they feed us breakfast, and table syrup says “dickinson family maple”. aroo? it’s too much for my pressurized mind. i see fireworks during the landing. isn’t guy fawkes day tomorrow?
meet tim & swmnbn at the airport. london. england. the uk. home of my soverign, the old bat. sitting in the bed in tim’s spare room, trying to finish the book after watching some bizarro brit tv. left-lane driving, pump toilets, “tyres” instead of tires, “take lift to car park”…little things make big trips fun.
i miss nellie. not miss because we’ve been separated, just that i wish she were here to do this with me. oh well, she has weddings to attend and drunk relatives to roll eyes at. can’t wait to go to scotland with her. i miss tigger too. in life of pi we met a little girl holding a dopey orange cat, dangling him in a strange way from her arms. it made me think of tig. one more friend gone. a good one too.
anyway, should quit reading (too hard with only an overhead light anyway) and try to sleep now. stay on tim’s schedule. london time. london time. it’s london time.
nov 5: day 2
up this morning with tim to meet swmnbn and her friend adam for coffee. dal outnumbers smu at the table 3:1.
get my tube pass and head down to wesminster station with tim. he points out the biggies (big ben, parliament, westminster abbey, the eye, the thames). we walk to trafalgar square, then leicester square. hit a pub called the salisbury for lunch (where i encounter a material called “mushy peas”). walk to the british museum. the reading room is enormous. cool. amazing. so typical of what the british would build and so unlike the north american trend. saw cleopatra’s mummy and the rosetta stone. museum’s impressive but, in the end, a museum and so i tire quickly of it. 90% of the things in any museum are unremarkable when compared to the really big draws, so i have no problem whizzing by most of it. got my money’s worth, though. god bless the free london museums.
take the tube back to west hampstead and take a seat at the gallery. have an $8 dollar beer. promise myself to stop doing the conversion. it’s depressing. home. hook up tim’s dvd & vcr to his bitchin’ new tv (“tim has a really big…tv”), then watch conan the barbarian and eat some nando’s.
guy fawkes day is really on now. flashes and loud bangs every minute or so, and the whole skyline looks like it’s bubbling and fizzing with coloured light. these britons love their drink and fireworks.
nov 6: day 3
couldn’t sleep last night. finished life of pi and finally nodded off around 3am, waking up 7 hours later. tim and i leave the flat shortly before noon and take in the bodyworlds exhibit. whoa. exhibits of actual dead bodies and body parts, plasticized and put on display in various poses. informative, but kinda disturbing at times, especially the aneurysms and malformed fetuses.
from that, believe it or not, we strike off in search of lunch. since we’re on brick lane, we had indian. chicken tikka to start, chicken curry, lots of papadum with chutneys and mango sauces…soooooooo good. we could hardly move for being so full. i glad we did that exhibit, it got us to a world-famous curry neighbourhood. i have to admit, though, that i found it fascinating and a mite creepy being in whitechapel where jack the ripper walked 114 years ago.
back on the tube and up to st. paul’s cathedral. my god. i mean…well, yeah. i’ve never seen anything like this building, certainly not a church. the huge hall, the carvings, the ceiling, the artwork, the people in the crypts (including john a. macdonald!). most impressive is the view from the top of the dome. a great vantage point, as good as from the top of the london eye (so tim says) and a 360 degree view from 280 feet up. the stairs (all 550) were nasty, but worth it. also very cool: the whispering gallery, about 1/3 the way up. tim and i could hear a kid talking 150 fet away as if he were right next to us.
legs recovering from stairs. youch. cross the milennium (aka, wibbly-wobbly) bridge to the tate modern, a very impressive building (old power plant). giant red horn greets us. big red harbinger. too many cool and freaky exhibits to list, but my favourites included the mark rothko seagram collection, the anarchy piano and one of the pollocks that i saw.
finally scoot home after a long day. leave from waterloo station at rush hour. funny to see the sheep gawping at the train departure boards. relax on the couch and watch a movie. fireworks continue. get pizza with tim (it has…get this…corn on it) and fight for sleep.
nov 7: day 4
get up late. make aborted attempt to see westminster abbey; some enormous service was happening for rememberance day, so i walk past scotland yard and over to buckingham palace. no desire to go inside (can’t anyway; off-season), just look at it and see the victoria memorial. walk up the mall to trafalgar square and check out the national gallery. best moment: in a section of religious paintings, large class of little girls comes streaming in. the room’s deadly silent except for one little girl who, so wonderfully english, says “is that jesus there?” well…you had to be there.
the collection of impressionist is as good as the art institute of chicago. favourites include:
- “time orders old age to destroy beauty” (batoni)
- “a sporting contest on the river tiber at rome” (vernet)
- “a shepherd with his flock in a woody landscape” (rubens)
- “the battle of sam romano” (uccello)
- “portrait of a young man” (botticelli)
- “the introduction of the cult of cybele to rome” (mantegna)
- “fantastic ruins with saint augustine and the child” (de nome)
- “landscape with ruined castle and church” (van ruisdael)
- “anna and the blind tobit” (rembrandt)
drinks at the gallery and some great thai for dinner. london’s too smoky, i’ve decided. more fireworks. i’ll save you some trouble: the fireworks went on right up until the 11th, a full week after i arrived.
sidetrack: london, as historic and massive as it is, now seems smaller than it did before i arrived. as tim said, the magical becomes mundane quickly; trafalgar square is smaller than you’d think, and leicester square is the size of my apartment. so what it really comes down to is that the world is smaller than i pictured. cleopatra is here, as are countless artifacts from around the world. london isn’t smaller, i guess, not in relation to all else. it’s the world that’s shrunk in my perception, not london’s place in it. ze world is smaller now. of course, a trip to india or argentina or eritrea would probably reverse that thinking…
nov 8: day 5
the science museum is lousy with kids. seen an enigma machine, babbich’s difference machines, v1 and v2 rockets, all forms of aircraft (even an me-163), nuclear reactor models, steam engines, farm equipment (dad would be feverish in here). the bond exhibit is kind of disappointing.
i give upon the victoria and albert. i got up too late to do all 3 museums, so i just cover the major parts of the natural history museum. great architecture, almost cathedral-like inside. much the same as the inside of any museum i’ve seen, save the to-scale model of the blue whale.
gather at the lock tavern in camden with tim & swmnbn, swmnbn’s friend, the aussie, the scotsman, my cousin and her husband. i haven’t seen my cousin in 5 or 6 years, and i think the scotsman and i may be distantly related, so it’s like discovering two long-lost relatives in one night. why do bars close at 11:00 here? i keep asking the waitress in the grey shirt, but i may well be making caveman noises. we ride home in a proper london black cab after the scotsman gets his arse out.
nov 9: day 6
roll out of bed at 10:00 and have a proper english fry-up with tim & swmnbn. get good and full before muscling through the crowds at camden lock market. buy some gifts for nellie and stroll through the kafka-esque gallery known as “cyberdog”. quit the market and tootle about hampstead for a while, buying another (!) present for nellie. traipse through an old church graveyard (complete with rats), stop in his old neighbourhood pub for a glance at the england/new zealand rugby match and go for a ramble in the heath. lots of dogs and a great view of the city.
home where swmnbn and her new boots make us a kick-ass green curry. go to see michael moore in his spanking-new one-man show at the roundhouse in camden. not quite what i was hoping for, but good nonetheless. the self-professed dumbest brit in the audience was pretty friggin’ dumb, i must say.
nov 10: day 7
rancho relaxo. so very lazy a sunday. bagels, the maltese falcon, meat pie, blade 2 and the pixies (listening to “i bleed” as i write this). prithee, my dear, why are we here? well, we just feel like taking a day off, free of shower and shave, consuming digestive cookies and action films while it rains outside our windows. tim’s working while i try to get somewhere with a story.
go see 28 days later with tim, a zombie movie from danny boyle. seeing london in a movie makes much more sense now that i know where things are. grab a chicken tikka kebab on the way home, my first kabab ever. luckily, i get it from a place called “kahari master”, so you know it’s good.
nov 11: day 8
quote found on the wall of a pub: “i never comment on referees and i’m not going to break the habit of a lifetime for a prat.” -ron atkinson
up early and on the tube. down to westminster abbey. full of dumb american tourists yawping aloud. not as stunning as st. paul’s, but contains more impressive stuff: tombs of kings & queens, poets corner (shakespeare, chaucer, olivier, browning, dozens more), churchill and other prime ministers, darwin, general wolfe, more. the tomb of unknown soldier is covered in floating poppies after yesterday’s visit by the queen. only minutes now before the remembrance day ceremonies start, so i flee the scene.
tim and i make a quick stop at the monument (actually a monument to the london fire) before strolling across the tower bridge. we check out the crazy spiral staircases in london city hall and then jump a double-decker bus to the imperial war museum. i’m fascinated by the artillery and aircraft, and it’s good to see all these things while jim’s books about wwi and wwii are still in my head. holocaust exhibit is haunting and extremely well done, as is the “anthem for doomed youth” exhibit about wwi poets.
on to what is probably the coolest half-hour of the trip, the ritblat gallery of the british library. the magna carta, hand-written works by shakespeare, the final letter from lord nelson, original sheet music of handel’s “messiah”, beowulf, the gutenburg bible, the codex sinaiticus, ancient qu’rans, the canterbury tales, da vinci’s notebook, the original alice in wonderland, hand-written beatles lyrics by paul mccartney, tons more. not one thing in there i didn’t find impressive, and we saw it all in no time at all. coolest single room in london.
bar-hop backin west hampstead for a bit before heading over to hampstead. get some incredible moroccan food (and an equally amazing belly dancer). a banana & chocolate crepe for the trip home. so bloody good. home to watch “shooting stars” on tv, the weirdest british show (calling british tv weird is both redundant and an understatement) i’ve seen yet. a busy day. sleep comes.
nov 12: day 9
not much doing today, just packing and so forth. commute to the airport is no more fun in london than in toronto. board and endure the flight without incident (apart from my first delightful meeting with authentic welsh clotted cream) and arrive in toronto on time. nellie meets me at the airport with a chocolate glazed donut. my brain and stomach file this under “reasons why we love her” and i groggily head home. i think my body has adjusted to the time difference in london just as i was turning around to go home, dammit. i wake up at 6:30 and can’t get back to sleep.
nov 13: toronto +1
what can i say? i saw everything i really wanted to see and more, including some stuff i never expected (the dead bodies, for example). all that, and i got to spend a week with tim and swmnbn, which in itself is more fun than you can shake a kebab stick at. as samuel johnson once said, “…when a man is tired of london, he is tired of life; for there is in london all that life can afford.”
one more plate of chicken tikka and i may just agree with him.