Saturday, March 31, 2012

First day in London

For months, I had been obsessively planning out family trip to England and France. I read novels and memoirs, watched movies in my slavish preparations. I am sure that some of my detailed planning was an avoidance of the every day, but escapism is good for the soul. At last the day arrived.
We landed in London today. Leaving the airport, customs, and negotiating the tube proved to be smooth transactions. Our hotel, St. Ermine's, near Westminster Abbey was a good choice.
The room is beautiful. We have two beds and a day bed, which Jonah claimed. We also have two bathrooms which is a great perk with two teenagers. As luck would have it, our room was available at noon. We unloaded and went right back out into the world.
Our first stop was Borough Market for some food. I had already scoped out good food choices online. Had I not done that, we all would have been overwhelmed by our choices. First we went to Neal's Yard Dairy to taste and buy cheeses. The place had that dank smell of mystery, animals, grass, and dark caves. Choosing two cheeses to buy was an adventure, especially since it was our first time using British money. Exactly how good a deal is £42/kg? And how many grams should I ask for? I managed to get two kinds of cheese that I thought would be universally enjoyed by all family members. As I came out though, Mark told me to try a bleu cheese. He thought it was particularly good. I love bleu cheese, but I had refrained from even thinking about it because of him. I must be rubbing off on him.
Next, the men stood in line for spicy chorizo sausage sandwich-- one for Jonah and one for Mark and me to split. Meanwhile, Maren and I went off in search of fish and chips. Cod for her and haddock--once again for Mark and me to split. Both were delicious- which may have had something to do with having only a small pastry and OJ on the plane as breakfast. The market itself was a carnival of sights, smells, sounds, and people. We loved hearing all the different British accents as well as the foreign speech. I was most in awe of the pans of paella as big as truck tires. Other curries were also made in huge pans like this. If I had to do over, I might add paella in the lunch menu, but I don't know what I would have eliminated. The sausage sandwich came on this great crusty homemade bread with roasted red peppers and arugula. Even Jonah ate the vegetables-- though he did say it wasn't the best sausage sandwich he ever eaten.
We all took lots of pictures. Jonah has command over the Canon Rebel. Maren operates the small red pocket Canon, while Mark and I use our phone cameras. The problem is that all of us are taking the same pictures. I am going to have all our pictures times 4 to sort through when we return. But there were great pictures to be had. It is just amazing the ways people do things in foreign countries. There is a whole different aesthetic.

From Borough Market, we tried to locate London Bridge to start the South Bank audio tour I downloaded. I don't know what was wrong with Mark and me. Our phone app maps were misleading, and we were both navigationally impaired in this instance. We walked at least a mile out of our way until we finally located the Thames River. How hard can it be to find a river?? We were all fatigued by the time we started the walking tour, but everyone was a trooper. Nobody complained. We saw Southwark Cathedral and were treated to information on pubs, boat racing, a replica of the Golden Hind --Sir Francis's Drake's boat on which he circumnavigated the earth, castle ruins and prisons.
Then we got to the site of the original Globe theater. All of us are Shakespeare buffs, so this was fun. Around the corner was the actual theater-- along with the Rose Theater. We didn't tour the Globe; it is a reproduction that was only completed in the 1990's. But we did stop to look at the gift shop and have a bathroom break. In the courtyard of the Globe, we saw two Big Green Egg grills. We thought that was funny. Who would have thought to combine our love of grilling with Shakespeare? Also interesting was the wedding reception that was going on there.
Next door to the theater is the Tate Modern which is housed in an old electrical plant. The museum is free so we went inside and explored one floor--the third. I was not impressed with the artwork nor the way it was displayed. I found a few pieces I liked, and took pictures. Interestingly enough, the pieces I liked were done by women (Dorothea Tanning, Joan Mitchell and Germaine Richier. ) You don't see enough artwork done by women in museums, so I took down their names for further investigation. On this floor was a room of reclining nudes done in painting and sculpture. You know it is time to move on when you see this subject and all you can think about is a nap. We did stop for a quick look in the gift shop. I wish I would have bought the Tate Modern timeline, which was a small accordion folded card that detailed the modern art movements to present. I've often wanted to take another college art history class on Modern Art, since the last class I had was in 1988. My knowledge no longer feels
"modern". Perhaps I need to look for an online class to take. As we left, we noticed lots of people sleeping on the leather couches that lined the stairwells. It almost seemed like an art installation in an of itself.
The rest of our tour took us past many buildings that had to do with the arts, including television and film. We passed the National Theater which is an ugly modern building. The audio guide used the phrase Brutal Period of architecture, which I had never heard before. The day was cold, windy, and grey. As we walked toward the London Eye, we saw all kinds of street performers: many human statues, a unicyclist, and a man who arranged children into poses and then posed himself to create a scene. I wondered where these performers came from. We took pictures of the London Eye, but did not go up. Visibility was low, and we had already decided to forgo the experience. We gratefully walked across the Westminster bridge, past Parliament and Westminster Abbey to our hotel which we reached about 5pm.
We were all tired. One by one we each plopped on our beds with a groan. But we couldn't stay there, at risk of inertia, so we got ourselves moving again.
We decided to take the tube to Harrod's Department Store. The Tube was packed. Sardines. We threw ourselves in the door and hoped it would close with us on the inside. We are becoming quite expert at using the tube and our Oyster passes.
At Harrod's we quickly figured that we were not the target consumer. Very posh, but fun to browse. What they did have that we could enjoy is a huge food court with all kinds of goodies. Think high end farmer's market. Like the old Achenbach stand at Watt & Shand only on a larger scale and with more venders. We bought two kinds of sliced salami (one was wild boar), one large and very delicious pear, and a demi baguette to go with the specialty goat and cheddar cheeses I bought at Borough Market. They had a specialty wine shop. We bought a French wine for dinner. Knowing we also had an early day tomorrow, we also bought pastries (variations on the croissant) for our breakfast.
We took it all back to our hotel room, where I set up a buffet. We had brought along plastic travel cutlery and an airplane allowable corkscrew. We had no plates but used the wax paper that the meats and cheeses came in as plates. A very delicious meal.
Though we were all exhausted, we took showers and hand washed our clothes. We brought minimal wardrobes so we wouldn't have to check luggage. One funny thing: Jonah was supposed to bring the small vials of laundry soap. But he didn't have them in his allowed quart size plastic bag. I had packed all the liquids and had distributed them among the 4 of us. Jonah, however, had packed the one he used for Florida. Upon further investigation, we discovered that Jonah had packed two quart-size bags of liquids. The airport security hadn't caught it. So we were able to wash our clothes and hang them on the travel lines we brought with us. Kids fell immediately to sleep. Mark followed quickly. I stayed up about an hour more to journal. I went to bed at ten.

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