Monday, March 16, 2015

London

Twenty-two hours in London: how to spend them? Sleep: they must include sleep. But of course, there is the issue of adjusting to the time change, though not so much as is typically the case on trips to Europe: the UK runs an hour behind the rest of the continent and, too, daylight savings time comes here in two weeks, so I'm actually just five hours ahead of home (as opposed to the usual European seven).

Twenty-two hours. In a city like Paris, the night seamlessly blends into the day: it's really true that that city never sleeps. London is different. Especially now, in March and on a Sunday. It hasn't the pulse of a night city -- at least not here, not in Marylebone -- my neighborhood this time around. (And if you think you know how to pronounce that, well then, let me tell you, you're one better than me, because I have heard a million different versions, though the most enduring is some very quick rendition of Mar-lee-bone. The name comes from the days when the aristocracy spoke French and so it's actually a French name of "St Mary a le bourne" -- St. Mary being a local church, and le bourne being French for a stream that once ran through here.)

Twenty-two hours on March 15, 2015. That's Mothering Day in the U.K.: it falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent and has been, over time conflated with what we would call Mother's Day. A nice bit of history on this British holiday is provided in the Independent here, where you can also see the Google doodle honoring this day. (A funnier one minute clip depicting a parody on how Prince Charles celebrates his mother-the-queen's day can be viewed in the Daily Mirror here -- burnt toast and all. The British have a unique sense of humor.)

Let me run through my London twenty-two hours. You've read about my arrival at the hotel. Let's take it from there.

I do leave my room. It's warm, it's snug, but I have this itch, you see, the one that has made me endure the hours of travel to be here, far from home: it's the itch to explore.

I am very close to Oxford Street -- which is sort of like taking one of our great big malls and spilling it out onto a street (and it is, as a result, under high alert right now, since it has been threatened, but you wouldn't know it for the crowds here on this cold day). If I'm to buy an extra thick sweater, this would be a good place to search for it. I have a light sweater, I have a fleece jacket, but it's not enough for a damp mid 45F. People are wearing their winter coats and I can't blame them.

I go into one of the stores and I look at racks of discarded winter sweaters and I then I just turn my back on all of it. I can't do it: I have maybe a day more of cold weather. I can't give in to a season that I consider over and done with. I tell myself to walk briskly to ward off the cold. And I do. For three hours, I walk very briskly.

But where to?

So much traffic! Because London is under a "lorry control scheme" (basically no trucks are allowed on weekends), you'd think there would be less of a traffic issue here, but no. London also imposes a congestion charge on cars in the city, but only on weekdays. In effect, cars here have free reign on weekends and of course, there are plenty of buses and cabs. To my eye, there are far more buses and cabs moving around here than just about in any other European city.


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So I take to the park. Hyde Park. (And I walk briskly!)

It's quieter here and of course, there are fewer people on a day like this. I enjoy that for a few minutes and I especially appreciate the daffodils.


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Yes, makes you recall the poem by William Wordsworth, doesn't it?

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils...

Recalling these flowers later, warmed the soul of Wordsworth, but it doesn't warm the flesh and bone, I can assure you. Still, they are lovely flowers and since they come on the cooler days of spring, I always think of them as being unusually resilient.

At Piccadilly Street, I leave the park. I want to be tempted by a cafe. I haven't eaten anything since the half a yogurt I downed on the plane (I never like the inflight breakfasts -- they are an insult to my images of this exalted meal). But London isn't Paris and every street does not boast a cafe. I go in toward Shepherd Market -- a set of blocks that has a higher number of eateries. I peer inside the one obvious cafe with a very local looking clientele...


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I go inside. I am accosted by the waitress. What would you like? Are you wanting something to eat? Oh, I recognize that accent. Polish, I'm sure of it. She follows me as if I required supervision and as I appear to hesitate, she continues the questions -- what..? what...? I finally ask about the heavy looking cakes -- do you make these yourselves? She seems visibly put off by the question and I know that no matter what the answer, I don't want to be here.

Rejecting that cafe, I think I should look for another. I walk further down Piccadilly. Nothing tempts me. But as I pass the Royal Academy of Arts, I notice the banners for the current exhibit:  Rubens and his Legacy. Maybe I should poke in?


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I ask -- how much is the entrance fee?
Thirty pounds.
That's a lot! 
Are you a senior?
What do you call a senior?
Over 60.

Yes!
Then it's twenty five. Less if you just want the Rubens.


It's not that I wouldn't spend that money on an exhibit that I would enjoy, but I don't even especially like Rubens and the other exhibit is of an American artist (Richard Diebenkorn) and that just seems so wrong for my one afternoon in London!

But they surely have a cafe...

Well no, it's a cafeteria. And though it has a bit of a British cast to it...


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...the whole large cafeteria space seems lonely in its crowdedness. I know, I'm fussy today! I leave.

Up Piccadilly once more, all the way to Piccadilly Circus which I remember as being such a disappointment the first time I saw it -- I expected dazzling lights. I expected a vast space. I don't know -- I expected more than a congested roundabout, with one statue of what is thought to be Eros in the center. Or rather centre. These days I just smile at these old expectations. London is what it is. Enjoying it requires discarding expectations.


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And I walk on, turning right onto Regent, all the way down to the Mall, which borders St James Park and is known to many of us as the wide boulevard that leads all processions to Buckingham Palace. If you're a royal wedding watcher, you would have seen it many a time on TV. The street is blissfully free of cars. I don't know why. Maybe to give strollers some peace from the noise of traffic. Maybe for security reasons. I exhale. And I really love St James! Yes, those daffodils, for one thing...


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They're really beautiful here! For a minute, I forget about everything else -- the hunger, noise, cold -- all of it. The British know how to do flowers well, even in these first days of spring!


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(I'll throw in a quick look at a London favorite -- Big Ben.)


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And in spots, there are other emerging flowers too. The English daisy is already visible. Here's a rather impressionistic rendition of a clump of this so English a flower!


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And, too, I see the English primrose is up and running. The primrose here is a near evergreen and it grows wild in forests. This one is a variation on the traditionally yellow flower.


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And there's another thing that the British really appreciate: birds. As I approach the pond, two gentlemen with huge cameras are eying this guy:


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What is it? I ask. It looks like our heron, but it's all hunched into itself.
It's a gray heron, but a young one. 
Oh, it's quite pretty!
It's aggressive in the pond! 
Well, it looks gentle now!

The two chaps help me identify another funny looking guy: a coot, with feet that look like they should be webbed, only they're not.


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(You can read about these two birds at site of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: here's the coot and the gray heron.)

The park has squirrels too and I watch as a couple feeds one. (Two things to note: the squirrel seems to be across between the Polish orange one and the American gray. And secondly, in the background, you see Buckingham Palace.)


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Alright. I'm out of the park...


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...and turning toward my hotel neighborhood. I give up on the cafe. Or at least on a breakfast-lunch-predinner snack. It's actually time for me to go for my evening meal.


Marlybone  (my neighborhood) is getting to be a bit trendy. I can tell, not only because the New York Times once said so, but also because walking along Marylebone High Street...


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... I come across all the standard French left bank upscale shops and boutiques. But it also has a relaxed and quiet demeanor. It's not stuffy like, say, Knightsbridge (from what I remember of it). 

I've booked a dinner at Fischer's on the High Street itself-- a cafe-restaurant that serves what can be described as Mittel-European food. It's not that I'm in love with central European fare, but the description of this place appealed to me: informal, a cross between a cafe and a restaurant, open all day. The menu looked good and it would not exhaust my budget for the trip.

The crowd is lively -- possibly there are mother types being celebrated with big glasses of hot chocolate with whipped cream, like at this table...


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Most people, like me, are eating a full meal now. And I enjoy mine tremendously! (Hunger will do that to you.)

I'll just post my appetizer -- three thin slices of rye, one with chopped sardine and beetroot, one with smoked salmon and goat curd (their terminology; it seemed like regular goat cheese to me and I'm from Wisconsin, home of the curd!), and one with artichoke.


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The meal is entirely successful, though it doesn't do what I had hoped it might -- it does not warm me up after a day of chilling myself inside and out.

Only one thing can do that: back at the hotel, I pour myself a nice steamy tub of water and I do what I have never done in my life: I climb in and turn on the TV, which amazingly in this hotel room is placed right inside the bath-shower combo and I watch BBC news.

Honestly, I nearly fell asleep in that hot tub.

A warm quilt, a cozy, quiet room -- perfect conditions for a good night's sleep? Well, almost perfect. I do the usual first night in Europe thing: I sleep some, then wake up in the middle of the night and there's nothing to be done but accept the fact that sleep wont come back quickly or easily. So I take out my computer and write this post.

8 comments:

  1. I'm shivering along with you from the damp cold. But a great walk along so many familiar streets that I remember from my years of work travel to London. And so many beautiful spring flowers. Well done.

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  2. Your insomnia is our gain. Today's post was so varied and interesting that I was late leaving for school - or at least not as early as I like to be.

    Of course you didn't stay in and stay warm! - even I, the Queen of Cozy, wouldn't do that.
    And of course you didn't buy new winter gear. Nor would I. I have already sent my iwinter coats to the cleaners, because I don't want to SEE them again for about 8 months. I know I will get caught in a wintry spell yet, but I'll jst have to layer up and tough it out, like you did.

    We have a shopping area here that's very much a faux-Marylebone High Street. Ours is also on High Street, near my husband's office, so we often meet there for happy hour. Not likely to get to England, so it will do for us.

    I like that you rejected this place and that one because you weren't feeling the right vibe to suit your mood. You must have enjoyed your dinner at Fischer's all the more. And that's so my kind of appetizer assortment. I could eat them for breakfast!

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  3. Loving your London pics, Nina! Can't wait until I get to experience it myself, hopefully next year! Or 2017 at the latest.

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  4. Perfection! I love traveling with you!

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  5. Brrr; how brave of you to have kept going in the cold with no cafe and no tea or coffee to warm you up! Funny about mothering/mothers' day: T. called from Israel to wish me a happy mothers' day yesterday. I was surprised and told her it was not mothers' day yet (but of course, every day can be mothers' day). It seems a friend from London on her program told her it was mothers' day, prompting T to call. Of course the friend is Jewish, so the celebration has clearly spread from its early "mother church" days.

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  6. As is so often the case during travel, I have less time to respond to all your lovely comments individually (though I will try harder this time!). But they make me smile and smile! Joy, I did break down today (you'll see in the most recent post) and added a layer to the sum total. You don't face the Celtic Sea with one thin layer of fleece!

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  7. So thrown off by your posting schedule. I nearly missed this post! I remember watching TV in a bathtub too in a hotel in CA on a three-week 'out-west' road trip when I was in my early teens. Funny to remember that. I guess it's memorable to pair those two activities. That last picture-- yummm!

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  8. Flowers, birds, and appetizers... what could be better! Snowdrop is going to have the most amazing taste by the time she's three!

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I welcome comments, but I will not publish submissions that insult or demean, or that are posted anonymously. I am sorry to lose commenting Ocean friends who are not registered, but I want to encourage readers to submit remarks only if they feel they can stand behind their words. I do not seek a free-for-all here. I like camaraderie far more than conflict.