Aug 23 2013
I rested with a pleasant cappuccino sitting on the Thames riverside at lunch today. Enjoying the sun and breeze as I gazed out at the majestic London Bridge. We walked across and back before buying a ticket into the London Tower.
Inside the walls we toured White Tower the 10th century Norman Palace. The tales of torture and be headings would put the ancient Mayas to shame. There are at least three British queens and two Catholic saints buried in the chapel on the grounds. It is still a royal estate, and is guarded + run by the Beef eaters + British military service, though no royals have lived here in a good many years. The royal jewels are still kept here. The line up for the viewing was a few hours long so we passed it up.
Next to Oxford Street. I gave Janet and my niece Katrina my credit card to go buy her birthday present. She found a nice fall/ spring coat to wear to school this year. We hung out at a pub up in White Chapel while she and a girlfriend went to scout out a bigger rental flat. They were quite excited but won't find out if they got it right away. Both are working women so I'd guess they have a good chance, if not at this one then with another very soon, hopefully before classes resume on Sept 3rd.
It is fitting Katrina begins her first year teaching full time just as I retire. The same thing happened with dad and I making Katrina the third of us to keep on teaching in a row. The whole family is very proud of her and I know dad would be too.
We wrapped up our visit with a superb curry dinner, tons of food, ridiculously cheap. Bid our farewells, then came to the hotel to pack. Tomorrow morning we catch the train to Paris.
Many more photos to come. See slideshow for now ...
Aug. 22 2013
Am living life too fast to write about it now, but am taking notes to catch up later. Some great antique + music shopping along Portobello Street at Notting Hill on Thursday. Found a few excellent music stores there; "Rough Trade" [Rock/ Retro] at the outlet here and "Honest Johns" [R+B/ blues/ Jazz/ Funk/ Reggae]. Easily spent a few hundred pounds. Many wonderful cafes and pubs along the way.
Aug 21 2013
Another very busy day! We started off this morning at the Victorian era Coventry Garden Market. The neighbourhood is very Victorian as well. We sat at an outdoor café in the shade enjoying an espresso and cappuccino. Then met up with another nice English couple we holidayed a few times with in Jibicoa Cuba. They took us on a nice long neighbourhood walk down past Piccadilly Circus again, in the daytime now. Busy as ever if not as magical like after dark.
We stopped in a very unique grocery store, "Fortum and Mason" where Queen Elizabeth used to shop. Not so much anymore. She is getting quite old. There was an incredible variety of English sweets, cookies, cakes, meats, teas, well you name it. Even chocolate covered ants, which I have never seen before. Like the snack sized can of worms. A little bit of everything.
Janet + Liz exchange pleasantries ...
We had lunch in a very typical London pub. Bangers and mash with gravy and a chutney sauce. Cold draught beer. Not all the beverages are cold here. One could sit all day, there was no hurry or rush, everyone quite friendly, just knocking a few back.
Afterwards Richard and Elaine dropped us off at "Harrods" department store. Incredible! 75,000 lbs. pens [1 lb = $168 Cdn now]. Very elaborate, garish, encrusted in jewels. Perfect for signing declarations of war or billion dollar oil deals I suppose. Top line English cloths, groceries, mens furnishings, fabulous objects de art befitting a palace. Even separate Oyster and Caviar bars!
Harrods has an Egyptian theme to it. Indeed there were quite a few swarthy Egyptian men and women, Arabs and various other middle easterners spending LOTS of money. Some in traditional garb, others not. The owner had erected a lavish tribute to Lady Dianne and Dodi Al Fayed, who was his son. It's rather a touchy issue with some Londoners. Had Diane married Dodi as was widely expected at the time, Princes William and Harry could've had a half Egyptian brother. Just what could a good Englishman or woman do? Hence the conspiracy theories about their untimely demise.
One could spend a few days in Harrods alone. It was quite a lavish display of wealth + influence. I found a few good reads in the excellent book department, one of the best and most thoughtfully stocked ones I have ever seen. A Christies of London mens wool beret for back in Canada next winter. Quite frankly very reasonably priced compared to what one would pay back home.
The staff, as at Fortnums were impeccably dressed and gentile. A sales lady came by to find us in a very high end dressing room, I sitting back in the leather chair as Janet browsed at the latest dresses, starting in the 10's of thousands of pounds price range. I told her not to worry, we would leave soon. Just planning our purchases for another lifetime. She just laughed and said that was fine. Lots of folks like to just come browse. Then she turned and left us alone to our fantasy.
Janet wanted to do some souvenir shopping, so we made our way back to Piccadilly Circus. Had supper, then returned to our hotel by the tube after dark to relax. It was an excellent day of shopping, even if we mostly just browsed.
Amazing! I would say the stores out did anything we ever saw in New York. Would make Holt Renfrew in Toronto look like a dollar store. So this is how the other half really live [or quarter? Or tenth? or 2%?] ;-)
Aug 20th 2013
Today was go go go from the get go. It still seems we have only scratched the surface of London. Here's a quick run down of today's itinerary:
We headed out after breakfast to Camden Market. It's a bazaar of vendors selling t-shirts, art, food and so on. There are a few big fashion indie stores. Quite unique. A hybrid post heavy duty hard rocker and punk look seemed to be popular, lots of leather and thick shit kicking boots. Some Clockwork Orange t-shirts, bowler hats and pants. It was quite trendy I suppose, in a post 20th century sense. Either a mad churning backwash from the last century of pop culture or the breakwaters of a new one? I'm not sure, but the times certainly continue to change just as they always have I suppose.
Afterwards we headed to the more upscale stores along Oxford Street. Massive throngs of wall to wall people, every background, race and nationality. Post British Empire London a good half century and more later? Lots of mid easterners, east Europeans, Indians, Asians, Afrikaners, but also more white people than I have seen in any one place in quite some time. Solid fair haired English maidens and horse face London businessmen in pin strip suits mingling with lumpen prole working class blokes pack the local bars, door to door, sometimes together, other times not. I would suspect a lot of the old class divisions have collapsed along with the racial and ethnic ones as well.
We explored the back streets making our way down to Carnaby Street and Soho. Soho is a gay village now. Carnaby Street is no longer Swinging London. The sixties are long gone along with the Marquee Club and other once famous underground landmarks and shops. It has become very gentrified. Think of Yorkville in Toronto.
We met some local Brits outside the Shakespeare Head Bar. They lived here back in the day. They said it has completely changed, but they still like to come here for a walk. Of course its packed with tourists this time of year but its quite lively and all. They were very friendly just everyday folk about Janet and my age. Very pleasant, delightful and interesting to talk too.
Truth be told I also still walk about the old haunts of my hometown Toronto sometimes. Same story, life moves on, though seemingly at an increasingly faster pace as we race headlong into the future vortex of our ever changing life and times.
We made our way to Piccadilly Circus by sunset. Think of Yonge St. at Dundas Square Toronto multiplied by ten on the weekend, or Times Square New York only 5 times bigger and busy. Long processions of red double decker buses. London cabs. Flashing two or three story tall t.v.screens showing commercials. Souvenir shops occupying a whole huge city block. The stately old stone buildings; huge, imposing, quite impressive monuments to the age of empire and wealth. The design no longer reflecting their purpose in the direct sense. Whatever business once conducted there now probably long gone, moved on elsewhere. Leaving a vacuum of sorts, a huge tourist monument to past glories. It was lively, quite a bit of fun, lots to see and do. Now rolling in a new source of wealth as a mecca everyone can now come, see, and mix at the start of the new century.
Liz + I at Piccadilly Circus ...
We arrived back at our hotel late evening to relax. I was somewhat wrong about the subway. The cars on the district line are quite nice. The others narrow, packed and grimy sweat boxes, graffiti here and there. No air conditioning. Still pretty efficient though. I'm not sure how the huge matrix of different lines and transfer points makes sense but have left it up to Janet to be our navigator, having long given up myself. Though I am directionally challenged, can even get lost going to the corner store back home.
The music stores have so far been disappointing. We plan to explore Nottingham Hill tomorrow though, a few other places. I'm pretty sure we will be quite busy all week just checking the obvious places off our list of places to visit, things to do and so on.
Aug 19th 2013
I awoke after about 9 hours sleep, feeling great. Ready to go. I woke Janet up about a hour later. We had a pleasant buffet breakfast at the hotel, then headed out for Winchester Station on the Tube [subway].
The London subway is very clean and efficient. Even the seat cushions are spotless, flush and the floor clean. Apologies are issued over the intercom for a minute delay. Profound apologies for two. It surely puts the Toronto transit to shame.
There was a comic moment on our car when it turned out most everybody was lost. Also from out of town. An ex-Toronto patriot living in London got on at the next stop and explained the transfers we needed to make. Quite funny really. What are the chances of that?
We got off at Winchester Station a few stops later. Walked up into the glare of the sunlight, Big Ben towering above us, the highest of towers among the many tall spirals of the parliament building. The clock bell rang out the hour: 12 noon.
We met my niece Katrina and her boyfriend Rob. Today they showed us around the parliament building, over to Trafalgar Square for lunch. We enjoyed a very nice sandwich and coffee at a patio restaurant looking out from the shade at the various government buildings, embassies and museums surrounding the square. Ominous dark cumulus clouds rolled overhead from time to time all day but it did not rain. It was a near perfect day for a city walk. Not to hot, nor cool, just right.
From there we walked over to the Canada Gate and Buckingham Castle, gawking at the Queens Palace from outside the fence. We circled back through St. James Park. The huge sprawling lush green trees provided shade by a still lake inhabited with fowl from a wide range of Commonwealth countries. There were Canadian Geese. They have been there since the reign of King Charles. We sat on a park bench under a big willow tree to rest awhile and drink in the summery vista.
We eventually ended up back at the parliament buildings. We sat across the river at an outdoor beer garden watching the long late afternoon shadows creep in across the city. Walked about the parliament building admiring and photographing the tall spirals, the intricate masonry; gargoyles, royal crests and the like. Statues of Cromwell, and King Richard. The walls seemed to turn gold with the final rays of the sun. We made our way back to our hotel near Earls Court Station on the tube without incident shortly after dark.
London calling ...
A very touristy day, I suppose, but how could we go to London England for the first time and not see the sites? Tomorrow we are going on a shopping trip to Camden Market. I'm eager to find some music stores as well. It's all very fast paced and exciting, quite a beautiful, regal city.