Monday, January 19, 2009

Part 4 - "London, Baby!"

When the Friend's crew went to London back in 1998 they were too early for the London Eye. That's too bad from them, because it is easily one of the best things to do in a city that has a lot to offer. We made it our first stop after arriving at Waterloo station. The ride takes about half an hour, and by sheer luck the sun came out for that exact period, giving us a stunning view of the city. Despite the low clouds, we were still clearly able to make out the arch of Wembley Stadium. But the real treats are much closer by: Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are right across the river. Buckingham Palace peeks from behind the trees at the end of St James' Park. Every time you turn around a new attraction has appeared as the wheel continues it's steady process. Since we only had a day in London, it was a great way to see as many sights as possible in a short space of time.

The sun stayed out long enough for us to walk across Westminster Bridge and get a closer look at the attractions around Parliament Square. By the time we had made our way into St James' Park, the heavy gray clouds had returned, and after our brief stop at Buckingham Palace, we walked back through the park in a snow shower. For Kristal a big highlight was the collection of rare wild fowl in the pond. They didn't seem to mind the cold, even though they were more often walking on the surface of the pond than swimming in it. The exotic ducks, geese and pelicans looked out of place in the snow, but were impressive all the same.

By the time we reached Trafalgar Square it was time for some lunch, and we ducked into a traditional pub on Whitehall for a bite to eat. As usual, the best thing about the meal was the beer. The food itself was hit (delicious sausage sandwich) or miss (dry, well done burger). At least we we able to warm up. Next we took a trip on the Tube to get to the Oxford St area, so that Kristal could visit Liberty of London, and experience the lavish fabric selection. I have to say, it was quite an experience for me too. I had never been in a department store that had an Oyster and Champagne Bar!

Another quick trip on the Tube brought us to St Paul's Cathedral, but our real destination was right across the river. Crossing the Millennium bridge to the south bank we headed into the cavernous main hall of the Tate Modern art gallery. The building itself is a work of art that trumps a lot of the modern art nonsense in the galleries, but I was exciting to see some really famous pieces "in the flesh". It's always a surprise to find out how big (or small) a painting you've seen in pictures a hundred times is. Matisse's Snail is huge, and so is Sea Roses by Monet. The video installations are as always deeply disturbing, but my favorite artwork was an entire room of silverware, silver plates and other silvery items like trumpets flattened with a steam roller and suspended a few inches above the floor on fishing line. The effect was mesmerizing, as small air currents generated as the crowd shuffled through would make the items swing almost imperceptibly.

Once we seen all the art we could take, we wondered down the South Bank a little ways, past the reconstructed Globe Theatre, hoping to experience Borough Market. It was closed. So, it was time for another ride on the underground. We ended up in Leicester Square, and tried to find somewhere to eat, but we didn't know what we were looking for and only had a little money left. Whilst we enjoyed meandering around the theater district, we had no luck finding a place that looked good for dinner, so we headed back towards Waterloo. However, I happened to know of a little strip behind County Hall that has a bagel shop, a sushi place and a noodle bar, and the thought of noodles captured our appetites.

Then it really was time to get back on the train, and before we knew it, we were back on a plane crossing the ocean and leaving wintry England behind. We had a blast, and will return. Sometime. Soon...ish.

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