Wednesday, October 23, 2013

London: Day 8

Oct 20 - Got to sleep late-ish but slept solidly.  I keep trying to write, but nothing really comes. Been doing lots of quick sketches, working my way into real drawing.  We'll see. Been so rusty.

Got up as usual and ate, washed hair and cleaned the room before venturing out into the light Sunday crowds. Went to the British Museum and they were open. I spent pretty much the whole day there.

Old old stuff, and lots of it. I did like how much of the museum was arranged by time or subject and some of it by country.

There was a great exhibition of clocks and watches, one of money/currency, one of statuettes of gods from all over the world. And one of nothing but ceramics from China. This place was so huge, I don't think I saw half of it. Saw mummies, the Rosetta Stone, ancient Mexican art, and an exhibit of American Indians, which felt odd.

I went into one paid exhibition of Japanese erotic art from 1600 - 1900 called "shunga" or "spring pictures" and it was amazing.  I spent a good two hours there reading all the stories behind the art.  At first, it was a bit uncomfortable, but ayer a while, I got so engrossed, I forgot there were other people there.

The sex acts depicted weren't anything violent or unusual. They were almost all loving and tender (though some of the love affairs were illicit), but the sex organs (men and women) were almost always depicted as huge, mostly to put the focus on this, but often as satire or parody. A lot of playfulness and joy in most of the pictures. And beautiful as art in its own right.

Came back in the rain (yay umbrella!) and stopped at the Blackbird for a pint and fish and chips. Went to Sainsbury's and got unscented laundry detergent and noted they had Jaffa Cakes for Tanner.

Came back for an hour long nap before sitting at the computer and nibbling on cheese and bread and a glass of wine.

London: Day 7

Oct 19 - Slept a solid 6 1/2 hours and got up refreshed.  It was dreary, but warm, so I walked to the tube station and decided I'd head to Westminster. Since I hopped on the wrong train, I got off at Notting Hill and decided, since it was Saturday, that I'd check out Portobello Road Market.

Holy smokes! So much stuff! There was an over-abundance of people selling silver (utensils, candelabras, Tea sets, etc.) but I broke down and bought a pewter flask.

After the preponderance of silver and antiques, the stalls started moving towards scarves and cheap trinkets and souvenirs. Then to music - vinyl, CDs, cassettes - then on to produce and prepared food.  Such smells!  Fish, crepes, cakes, curry, falafel, pastries, ice cream, huge stir fries, fried veggies, deep fried potatoes and battered everything.  Then there was clothing, mostly used, sometimes vintage and some great new stuff.  I bought two belts and looked for a skirt, but couldn't find one I liked or that fit. I bought a zip pencil case, some cheap shoes, a couple cute dresses, and listened to street musicians.

On the way out, I stopped by the Gap store and found a perfect houndstooth skirt and a pair of socks. I feel my clothing is more suited to the weather now.

After rushing back to drop off all my stuff at the hotel room, I went back and got on the correct train to Westminster.  I wandered around the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. I crossed to the South Bank and had a great lunch at the All Bar One near the London Eye. Had a brief conversation with an artist from Washington DC about the Tate Modern, then wolfed down a burger with camembert and caramelized onions. Also had a lovely cider.

I walked along the south bank back towards Southwark and found I was really tired, so I went back to Kensington and my neighborhood.  Had a pint at the Blackbird, which was full of loud men cheering on… some football team.

Back to the room for a rest.  Having hot chocolate, yoghurt and a banana.

London: Day 6

Oct 18- So tired today. I thought the British Museum would be a good idea, so I took the tube there and walked around until I finally found the entrance (BIG place!) and it turned out they had power problems and weren't open until, at the earliest, 1:00PM. I decided to head back to Kensington and try the V & A (Victoria and Albert) Museum. I bought tickets to the three paid exhibitions.

The first exhibition was Memory Palace. Cool concept by writer Hari Kunzru. It's a post-Apocalyptic piece of fiction he created with installations by 20 artists, so it was a walk-in book of sorts. Very cool and engaging.

The second exhibition was Club to Catwalk, which was a look at 80's fashion in Britain. Cool avant-garde stuff a la Boy George, Adam Ant, Goth, Bowie, etc.

The third exhibition
was Pearls. It was a cool look at pearls from pearl-diving through ancient jewelry, royal jewels, to cultured pearls and new jewelry art.

I ate a great sandwich and salads and a pot of tea at the museum cafe and decided the free exhibitions could wait until another day. It's a huge place!

I walked around Kensington until I stumbled upon Harrod's department store.  Holy cow! So posh, I could feel my bank account draining as I wandered around.

I escaped after I could take no more avant-garde fashion, gaudy crystal chandeliers, and high-priced chocolates.

Walked back to the underground and came back to my room.  Went for a pint at the Blackbird, then decided to call it a night.

By the way, the Lambic and the cheeses were excellent!

London: Day 5

Oct 17 - Tried the little washing/drying machine last night.  I dislike the scent of the detergent, but choices here aren't like the US.  And the dryer is iffy.  But it's nice to have it here.

Took the tube to the Tower.  I got confused because I was reading tourist stuff and the wrong station stuck in my head. Heh.  But two changes later, I was on the right tube.

The Tower tour was fun! The weather was bright and sunny and the Beefeater who guided the tour (Chris) was funny and informative. Saw the Crown jewels (ostentatious!!) and wandered the grounds. Did you know there are wire sculptures of monkeys on the Tower grounds? The only answer I got about them was that they were in tribute to the menageries that royalty used to keep on the grounds.

I walked to the Tower bridge and took that tour, too.  Interesting, but dry.

After wandering streets and a sandwich at a nice italian coffee shop, I went to the Design Museum.  Small, but really cool.  One of the exhibits had a lady actually working, making stuff with a 3-D printer and other cool gadgets. Bought cool gifts.

After the museum, I sat by the Thames and watched boats for a long while. Then I walked around that area of London, getting pleasantly lost and caught in a downpour. Of course I forgot my umbrella, but I sat it out under construction scaffolding in a narrow residential area and then made my way to the Borough Market.  Wow. A foodie paradise!

I got Bill some Assam tea. Had a cup of fresh Darjeeling Tea (First Flush) and bought exotic cheeses. SO many cheeses!! I got truffled Sussex Brie, Mayfield (a sweet, nutty cheese) and an Italian Ubriasco (?) de Prosecco that they let me try first - so damn good! So creamy and amazing…

I also bought a cherry Lambic from a beer stall. The guy selling it assured me that it was great. I'll let you know.

After topping off my tea water (the delightful Indian guy selling it said to keep using the leaves), I walked back to the tube and took it back to my hotel.

It was early and the weather pleasant, so I took my phone and took a walk to see if I could find the Adelphi Hotel for Mary.  Supposedly close by.

I walked a lot, but couldn't find it, so I walked back and had a pint at the Blackbird (I'm thinking of it as my local pub). There I chatted with much difficulty with a Finnish man who was having a pint.  His English was really poor, but he was so nice. Most of his traveling companions, including his wife, had come down with food poisoning.  Poor guy.

I am now back at the room and ready to tackle that amazing cheese and Lambic.

Tired and happy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

London: Day 4

Oct 16 - Slept well until about 2:00 am, then read and played solitaire until 4:00 am. Damn jet lag.  Waking at 7:00 was difficult, but I had breakfast and dozed again until 9:00.

Well-rested, I took the tube to Waterloo Station and walked around in the light rain.  I made it all the way down to the Globe by 11:00 and took the tour.  Much better than expected. The tour guide had a light Scottish brogue and was really funny.  The other tours weren't roaring with laughter the way we were. Interesting things I learned: The soliloquies were originally addressed directly to the audience because back then, they could see the audience.  Also, the reason the plays had 5 acts was that when they performed indoors (not in open daylight), they had to put in new candles.  The candles didn't last long.

After wandering the museum, I walked (a long walk!) to the Old Vic Theatre where I saw Much Ado About Nothing with James Earl Jones as Benedick! Vanessa Redgrave was supposed to play Beatrice, but she was ill and her understudy performed quite well.  Great play set in WWII Britain.  Claudio, Conrad, Borrachio, Don John, and, of course, Benedick were members of the Tuskegee Airmen and were all black men played with American accents.  It worked great with that play and having Benedick and Beatrice played as much older worked better than I'd thought going in.  Good stuff!

The walk to the Old Vic was super rainy, so I broke down and bought an umbrella.  I think my phone suffered, as now it's sitting in rice and healing.  I hope.  The buttons work fine, but the screen doesn't respond to touch.  Bleah.  Hope it heals.

I'm back in the hotel with another bottle of Pinot Noir and some fruit and yogurt.  A fresh baguette (still warm) and more cheese to top it off.

Considering a tourist-y tour tomorrow, as it's supposed to be the only sunny day this week.

London: Day 3

Oct 15 - arose at 5:00 am and washed my hair and face.  Listened to BBC radio until breakfast was delivered.

After breakfast, I walked to the tube station and went to the Tate Modern Museum. Such a cool building - an old power station of sorts. There's a HUGE room they do amazing installations in, but there's construction there now, so no installation. Bummer.

Spent 5-1/2 hours looking at amazing modern art, including exhibits by Mira Schendel and Saloua Raouda Choucair. Wow.  Just wow.  Might have to go back there next week and take it all in again. Whole hours spent on surrealists, minimalists, impressionists...

Had a light lunch at the museum and shopped for a sketchbook and a great book on modern art entitled "Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That."

After the Tate, I walked to the Globe just in time for the museum closing.  I'll go back there tomorrow.

I sat by the Thames and watched boats and watched the street performers by the Millennium Bridge. There was a gypsy-ish band playing La Vie En Rose and The Saints Go Marching In.  Seems those were the only songs they knew. There was a Mickey Mouse guy doing evidently nothing but waving.  There was a hippie in dreads making huge bubbles.

I walked far down the south bank and looked at the shops by the National Theatre. By then I was exhausted and my hips hurt, so I went to the huge tube station at Waterloo and took the tube back to Earl's Court.

There's a huge controversy regarding the World Cup Playoffs in that they upped the number of seats sold to the Polish national team (the away team), so they could sell more tickets.  The tube was full of Polish fans in red and white and chanting things in Polish and just being loud and boisterous.  The police looked nervous and rushed to shush any fan getting too rowdy, but all in all, it was amusing.  Made the ride home entertaining.

I stopped by the Blackbird Pie and Ale Pub just down the street from my hotel and had a pint of red ale as well as a Blackbird House Pie.  Yum.  Soft flaky crust with chunks of steak, mushrooms and onions and stilton in a white wine gravy.  Served with cabbage and mash.

In bed early again.  Exhausted.

London: Day 2

Happy Birthday to me.  First birthday of my life where no one sang "the song" to me. I could get used to the anonymity. Though the passport guy did wish me a happy birthday.

Oct 14 - Woke early - 5:00 or so - and showered and dressed.  After breakfast in my room, I took the tube to Leicester Square and walked to get my London Pass.  After picking that up, I wandered to Leicester Square, where there's a statue of Shakespeare.  Kind of random how they scatter statues about this city. The square is surrounded by cinemas and, of all things, casinos.

I stopped by a little coffee shop for strong coffee and a bagel.  The owners spoke with heavy italian accents and were roasting up a shwarma.  Kinda like a gyro, but spiced differently, by the smell.

I walked to the National Gallery and got an audio guide.  Spent 5 hours wandering around looking at 13th-century through early 20th-century works of art.  Lots and lots of virgin and child, Greek myth themes, and TONS of saints.  I now know more about how saints died than I care to know.

The Gallery was teeming with groups of art students and primary school kids in uniforms.  It was great hearing parts of lectures and gangs of kids excited about art.

After the gallery, I grabbed a cup of tea and went out to Trafalgar Square and sat and watched tourists and wondered about the giant blue cock sculpture.

After a walk back through the rain to the tube station, I came back to the hotel for more salad and a gruyere fondue and some more wine. My feet hurt, so I took a hot bath and sat and checked Facebook.  Lots of birthday wishes.

Another early night.  Asleep by 9:00.

My trip to London. Day 1-ish, Oct 13

Okay. I've kept a sort of small diary of this trip. I read through some of my stuff and decided to post it here, too.

I know no one really reads my blog, but here it is. It's out there now. Heh.

Oct 13 - Landed in London at around 1:00 pm London time.  The immigration line was long, but it went fast. The man who checked my passport grilled me about what I'd be doing in London for two weeks.  Since I didn't quite know myself, I nervously explained my tourist intentions. He was kind, but stern. Asked me for names of anyone I'd be meeting. Yikes.

The shuttle ride to the hotel was interesting.  After a short traffic jam, the shuttle driver joked with all of us about trying to find my hotel and saying I could sleep on his couch if he couldn't find it.  The hotel is in Kensington and set amidst the residential houses of Barkston Gardens.  It looks like a house, but it is, indeed a hotel of sorts. Presidential Apartments are advertised as "serviced apartments" and they are, kinda.  My room has a tiny dishwasher, washer/dryer combo, cooker (oven), stove, microwave, and fridge. The bathroom is small, but the tub is huge. It has a comfy bed and a flat-screen TV.  I get breakfast delivered every morning at 7:00.

I walked the neighborhood and found I'm less than a block from a Marks and Spencer food store, and a block from the Earl's Court Underground station.  Easy access to everything!

Went and bought a salad with greens and beets, a chunk of Port Salut cheese, a small baguette, and a bottle of french pinot noir.  Yum.

Went to bed at 9-ish and slept on and off through the night.  Jet lag sucks.