OK, I'm actually back in the US, listening to the last of my laundry rumbling in the dryer and wiping toaster strudel crumbs on my t-shirt but I'm still going to post my last two UK-filled days so let's all pretend that I'm still fumbling with my Oyster card (not a euphemism) and wandering through SW7...
On Wednesday I was up early, padding around my frigid hotel room and huddling naked beside the towel warmer long enough to make it uncomfortable. Despite the cold, I wanted to get out early, fill up memory cards for my head and my camera and walk around the parts of the city I hadn't stomped through in a couple of years. It was right at 7 when I was downing a pair of Tesco donuts, sending 'em into my stomach by twos like it's a trans-fat friendly Ark. I scrambled off the tube at Westminster, stopping in the sidewalk to flash my TOURIST badge by snapping shots of Big Ben and the London Eye.
I strolled past Westminster Abbey before hoofing it all the way down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, stopping for a cup of Starbucks solely to use as a venti-sized handwarmer. I had the square essentially to myself that morning which was half cool and half meant that I stood in front of the lions clumsily setting up my tripod so I would actually pop up in a couple of self-timed snapshots, completing my transition to Sad Solo Traveler. From there I took The Strand to Fleet Street, singing Sweeney Todd lyrics to myself despite the fact that the lower half of my face was frozen.
The first official stop of the day was the Tate Britain which I thought was more enjoyable than the Modern. There I could actually revel in the works themselves, rather than spending two hours wandering from room to room with a confused expression last seen when the Waltons learned about toilets that flush. The T-Brit opens with several obligatory rooms decorated with oil-scented portraits of Lord and Lady Stuffybottom but after that, I got lost in the JMW Turner collection and really dug William Blake vs. Cecil Collins room, the creeptacular Francis Bacon and--my personal fave--David Hockney. I swung through the gift shop and picked up a few postcard sized reproductions that I'll frame and hang, transforming my home from 'ordinary apartment' to 'ordinary apartment with postcards on the wall'.
After Tate-ing, it was on to the Imperial War Museum. Here's when I started to hate my feet, cursing every leather-encased step, a situation made worse because on several occasions it seemed like the Time Out guidebook writers hadn't ever tested the Tube stops they recommended. I winced my way through Elephant and Castle, a place that sadly doesn't feature either one of those items.*
The museum was another must-see if you--like me--consider watching the History channel to be foreplay, getting fluffed just by scrolling through their schedule. Obviously the focus was on England's participation in world conflicts, so don't expect any Civil War nonsense but there's plenty of stuff about, like, Turkey. The highlights were the WWI Trench Experience which led you through a recreation of, um, a trench which is perfect if you've ever wondered what the Great War smelled like. The WW2 floor put you into a shelter during the Blitz before you walked through a streetscape ablaze as pseudo-bombs landed around you. Putting my snark on a shelf for a sec, the Blitz is fascinating to me, if only because of what Londoners endured for almost two months straight, night after night of knowing they might wake up surrounded by still-smouldering scraps of their lives, watching their world blow helplessly down charred streets.
The other two floors involved the atrocities of war, which I won't cheapen by writing about but suffice it to say that you'll feel a bit unsteady as you descend the stairs to the lobby.
And now back to me being an ass.
I grabbed a bite in the Imperial War Cafeteria, stuffing my face with a cheese and chutney sandwich beneath a vintage poster for food rationing. Here's where my day reached a crossroads. My feet were killin' me--aching at a level I didn't think I'd reach until my skin was decorated with liver spots or I had a purse full of coupons for Poise pads. My choice was to go alllll the way back to the hotel, change into my running shoes, and head back out for more good times. Instead, I spotted Lillywhites Sports where the windows were wearing giant SALE banners and bought a pair of clearance Karrimors, dropping £12 (about $18) to keep taking it to the streets Pointer Sister style. At this point the sun had clocked out for the day and--of course--it was raining but was too thrilled about liberating my feet that it didn't matter.
From there, I clicked my heels all the way down Charing Cross to St. Martin in the Fields church. I'm only moderately religious, clutching a St. Christopher's medal with both hands any time I'm within eyesight of an airplane but my devotion stops somewhere between there and owning a Jesus Jones album. That said, London churches fascinate me, probably because of a well-blended combo of their history, architecture, or their resilience. So I attended the 5:30 prayer service and earned enough God credits to theoretically skip out on Ash Wednesday.
My spirit renewed--save for the parts of it that nodded off--I walked 100 yards to the National Gallery which was not my thing, not at all. Other than my Renaissance-era relative, most of the paintings housed there just didn't grab my attention. They didn't even make eye contact with my attention or accidentally bump into my attention as it tried to find a bathroom. I stuck it out long enough to barrel through the numbered galleries, quickly crossing each one off the map, like a scavenger hunt where at the end you'll find boredom and bitterness.
Wednesday's dinner came courtesy of The Golden Hind where I inhaled a plate overflowing with the best fish n' chips I'd ever had. The place was stacked to the rafters with locals but despite the crowd, the manager--an insanely friendly Greek guy--took the time to chat about where I was from, to ask why I was in town and to talk about his cousins in South Carolina.** Between courses, I sat at the table writing out postcards shaped like Prince Harry's head and wondering if I could order Spotted Dick for dessert without snickering. I could not.
After fourteen hours out-n-about, I crashed early, sound asleep before the woman signing the soap operas could finish waving out her first sentence.
* I had the same disappointment upon rolling into Cockfosters. The Tube map is littered with fantastic names including a stop on the DLR called Mudchute, which is how I'll be referring to my own, um, back gate from now on.
** I talked to at least three people who had relatives in South Carolina, including a Brazilian guy at the Robyn Hitchcock concert. Maybe it's the close proximity of outlet malls.
Looky! Pictures! Because this post isn't long enough!
Not pictured: The squirming humiliation of setting the timer on your tripod-ed camera and racing to the front of the statue where you'll stand awkward and alone for at least another eight seconds before the shutter clicks.
The London Eye, also known as "The Reason I Stopped in the Middle of The Sidewalk, Angering Several People With Day Jobs Who Had to Walk Around Me While I Insisted on Turning My Camera The Other Way".
These is my guns. Also, I swear I didn't wear the same thing every day. Well, except for the jacket and messenger bag combo. But UNDER that was a totally clean-and-unique-to-the-trip shirt.
This plaque was stapled out front just for me because as soon as I rounded the corner and the guns came into view, my first thought was "I wonder if I could climb on those before the self-timer goes off".