Sometimes when you step back and say, “hey, wait a minute,” you notice some traditions are bizarrely avant garde.
I finally got a chance to work through a batch of photos from the London trip and posted them on flickr last night. My walking tour began on Monday. We had been here many years ago, but I did not get a real sense of the layout of the city center. It seemed pretty big and confusing, and hard to grasp. We took the Underground pretty much everywhere, and got good at looking at the tube map and figuring out how to get from hotel to museum, etc. But this means that you start at a point and then disappear underground, and then pop up at another point. So, one does not get a real sense of the connective tissue between. This time was different. I took the tube to get a bit closer in, but then just walked the streets from point to point. This helped to make it clear where things are in relation to each other and made the city intelligible to me as a visitor. I’m not claiming I’ll remember any of this by the next time I get to visit, but that is another story entirely.
As I mentioned in the last post, I took the District Line tube to Westminster and came out of the station right in front of Big Ben.
This was a wonderful site with which to start a day in London. The sky was clear and the gold glinted in the sun. I walked around the corner onto Victoria Embankment to stroll along the Thames for a bit. That’s when I first glimpsed the London Eye, a gigantic ferris wheel 443 ft. high. That’s over 25 stories! It simply dwarfs the large buildings right next to it. Sarah wanted to go for a ride, but I’m not sure how my acrophobia would treat me up in that thing.
Along the way I also saw the Battle of Britain Monument. I thought it was rather an odd monument that was not sure whether it wanted to be a contemporary, abstract work or more of a traditional figurative sculpture.
I walked up Horse Guards Ave, and back down Parliament St, past the Horse Guards Cavalry Museum. Then past Downing St., which is pretty well guarded. It’s a fairly small and short side street, closed off with a large metal fence and gate and many police guards standing around. No surprise, of course.
I didn’t see Mr. Brown, however. He and the finance minister were busy working on a deficit budget to bail out the British economy, which became quite a news story while we there. There is quite a bit of opposition to the amount of borrowing the British government is proposing to do to get through the economic hard times. In contrast, the daily protests by Tamils over Sri Lanka were barely covered in the media I saw while there. A couple citizens I spoke to seemed mystified about what the protesters were demanding the government do about the situation in Sri Lanka.
Coming back down the street toward Parliament, I happened upon the aforementioned Sri Lankan Tamil protest. I’m not sure how I missed it the first time around; perhaps they had not started “protesting” yet and I took them for tourists.
At first, I was quite surprised to come upon the scene and found it rather exciting. There was definitely some action as the huge crowd spilled out of the park at one point and blocked Bridge St. The police were trying to hold them , but got pushed back and eventually fell back to protect the House of Commons, etc. Ultimately, it was all pretty civil, and well behaved on this day. After taking about 100 photos at the protest, I headed back up Parliament St toward the National Gallery. This time the Horse Guards were out and I got a couple shots.
Soon I arrived at Trafalgar Square, and got the standard shots of the Nelson’s Column and National Gallery in the background. I immediately recognized Admiralty Arch from my previous visit to London, but only as a landmark I passed through to get to the ICA.
I spent only about two hours in the National Gallery. Since I was traveling on a budget, I didn’t spring for special exhibits, but immensely enjoyed the fabulous permanent collection in the rest of the museum, which is free.
After the NG, I headed up Strand toward St Paul’s Cathedral. Along the way, I passed Somerset House, a large historic complex which I’d not heard of before, but which appeared to include a wonderful art venue and be worth a special effort to visit in the future. More on that and the rest of Monday in the next post, coming soon.
So, as I mentioned previously, I took the tube to Westminster. I walked out of the station and looked up at good old Big Ben, shining gloriously in the morning sun. That was pretty exciting in itself. I walked along the Thames a bit, marveled at the London Eye (ferris wheel on steroids), and generally walked in circles touching on Horse Guards, Downing St, WWII memorial, and so on.
I came back out onto Parliament St and noticed more activity in a crowd gathered there. This turned out to be another day of protest by Sri Lankans demanding a cease fire between the Tamil Tiger rebels and the Government.
Pretty quickly, the mass had spilled out on to the street, chanting “We want, cease fire!” and the police piled in to push them back. But before long the throng pushed police lines back and it was chaos. The police reformed a line half a block back. But then a commander came and I heard him say, “They must not reach Parliament. It must not be breached!” as he order the line off the street, effectively abandoning the streets to the marchers in order to defend the House of Commons and Parliament.
Before too long reinforcements showed up with wagons and blocked the streets with vehicles. I stayed around too shoot for awhile, but eventually thought it was time to do some more conventional sightseeing.
Sarah and i have arrived in London for the London Book Fair. Well, she’s arrived for that. I have arrived to accompany her while traveling and enjoy the city for three days. The flight was uneventful and as pleasant as nine hours in a confined space can possibly be. We are flying British Air. The food was fine, and we had decent red Bordeaux with dinner.
We rode the underground straight from Heathrow to Earl’s Court station, a stone’s throw from our hotel, the Barkston Gardens Hotel. After dropping off our bags and freshening up, we headed out for a stroll and then to a pub for dinner and ale. Photos and more details coming soon.
London is even more wonderful than I remember it. The first morning after arriving, I got up with Sarah, and we went down to continental breakfast in the hotel. From my perspective, the best thing about this breakfast is the toast. Soon after the server seats you, she brings you several triangles of toast, hot, unbuttered and standing on edge in a cute little rack. For a toast fiend such as myself this is quite a treat. Naturally, there is quite an assortment of condiments. The rest of the continental breakfast is fine but not particularly interesting.
Afterwards, I walked Sarah to Earl’s Court for the London Book Fair, and went on my way for the day’s exploration. I should mention right off that the weather here is just unbelievable right now, sunny and about 68 degrees, perfect for long walks in the city. I took the tube from Earl’s Court to Westminster. I walked out of the tube station and straight into view of Big Ben. I walked about taking some photos and started off in the direction of St James’s Park. But before I got far, something caught my eye. I will go into that, along with other details I’ve skipped, in the next post. Right now, I have to get back out into the city for day 2!