London

Posted February 2, 2007 in Uganda

MONDAY

  • Most of today I spent without a map or even the Tube. I just... walked. And it was awesome. I started by crossing London Bridge (which, thankfully, wasn't falling down). Before I knew it, I was at The Monument, and there were signs pointing to London Tower. I went on the beefeater tour (which was awesome), stared at the insane crown jewels, and explored the White Tower.
  • Then I meandered over to St. Paul's Cathedral. All I can say is, wow. At risk of sounding like a hippie: that place has an amazing energy. (It makes me really keen to see the Sistene Chapel, to tell the truth....) The Whispering Dome thing was very cool; I found the sheer size and detail of the construction far more impressive than the fact that you can whisper to someone on the other side. I went up to the top, which was very cool... but the dome was the coolest part. After, I went down to the ground floor and listened to a choir practice (while staring up at the awesomeness of the dome some more). I meandered through the crypt, as well, but I didn't pay attention.
  • Then I walked across the Millenium Bridge and proceeded down the south side of the Thames all the way to Westminster bridge (which I crossed). The bridge itself is undergoing renovations, which removed some of the view of Parliament, but I saw plenty from the south side of the Thames.

TUESDAY

  • St. James Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens: while waiting for the Changing of the Guards, I went a-walkin'. It was very pretty. There's a gimmick statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, which made me feel tourist-y. I was impressed, though, with how closely the real Kensington Gardens matched the picture I imagined while reading the original Peter Pan.
  • Changing of the Guard: I am a tourist. Crammed in with other tourists. A bunch of people in fluffy (and Canadian!) hats play five Andrew Lloyd Weber songs, Abba, and a few more bouncy tunes. All rather silly, ceremonial, and fun.
  • Westminster Abbey: beautiful! I particularly loved Poets' Corner. While exploring, a priest noticed the flag on my backpack and pointed out to me a plaque commemorating John A. Macdonald. How cool! I'm glad I have a flag of Canada on my backpack! (Yes, that is a thank-you to those responsible.)
  • Science Museum: this place is truly awesome. There was a special exhibit on the history of the steam engine (of which the English were pretty much the sole contributors). There was also a long, wide passage which let you "walk through time": starting at around 1700, and walking forward into the present: every few feet, a few new items. Also, there was a complete Difference Engine! (The Difference Engine was a gargantuan predecessor to the modern concept of a computer. It was never completed, but the people at the Science Museum used Babbage's original design schematics, overcame hurdles, and built the entire thing. About 100 years after the fact. It's huge, and it works!)
  • Leicester Square (or, as I had written on my to-visit list, "Lester Square"): Very cool. I particularly love how the movie theatres are fashioned after real theatres: each theatre only displays one movie, the outside plastered with critics' acclaim. Of course, the sheer quantity of real theatre in the area makes it rather undesireable to watch a movie.
  • History Boys: A beautiful play. I got tickets last-minute and thoroughly enjoyed it. On three sides, I was surrounded by a flock of Californian students who were studying for a semester in London. They were all studying theatre. They were most impressed with how watching the play goes so much faster than reading the script. Personally, I was more interested in the theme of differing approaches to taboo subjects (illustrated most clearly by the Holocaust discussion, with several allusions scattered throughout the rest of the play). But hey, whatever floats your boat. (And to think: in an alternate reality I'd have moved to California by now. Sheesh.)

WEDNESDAY

  • British Museum: Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Egypt, big pieces of Parthenon, and the Rosetta Stone. And so much more. I spent all day in here.
  • Covent Garden: After the British Museum, I wandered through Covent Garden. I was particularly entertained by some street musicians who were following pedestrians while playing Canon in D on their violins.
  • Trafalgar Square: a beautiful place. They have a Uganda House there. And a Canada House. They aren't embassies... I don't quite know what they are.
  • Antony and Cleopatra: I wandered down Strand and came across a theatre which was home to a performance of Antony and Cleopatra. So I got a rush ticket. It just happened to be in the front row. I could see the sweat on Patrick Stewart's forehead! His performance was spectacular. And he was almost overshadowed by the absolutely perfect performance of Cleopatra (I don't know the actress). It was, I think, the best Shakespeare performance I've ever seen.

THURSDAY

  • Natural History Museum: I had wanted to visit this after the Science Museum on Tuesday, but I hadn't had the time. On Thursday I didn't quite have the time either, but I made a hasty tour through the dinosaurs and mammals. I missed Darwin's collections.
  • Regent's Park: Big park. BIG park. Very pretty. I only spent about 10 minutes here.
  • (meet Nancy and Stuart here)
  • Pub for lunch! With a pint! Whee!
  • National Gallery: a hasty perusal while Stuart was on the phone. At this point, I begin to get the feeling I could stay in London forever and never see all the art.
  • St. Martin in the Fields: a beautiful church. Somebody was practising Vivaldi on violin while we visited.
  • The Man of Mode: a National Theatre comedy: a recreation of a 17th-century comedy about a very promiscuous ladies' man. Amazing how well it translates to today. (And of course, that's sort of the whole point of the production....)

FRIDAY

  • The Tate Modern collection: we spent a couple of hours in the Tate Modern, which is a converted power plant. The surrealist exhibit we saw was very impressive. My favourite piece was a set of five photographs with various people in London holding up signs bearing "what they want to say, not what we want them to say" (e.g., a businessman holding up a sign saying "I'm depressed"). Apparently the subjects picked the words and posed with them voluntarily.
  • Greenwich Village: we took the boat down to Greenwich Village. It's a bit tourist-y, but this was offset by the relative lack of tourists (it being winter).
  • Royal Observatory: I now have a picture of myself straddling the prime meridian. All of Harrison's important clocks are here, too. I loved it all.
  • Painted Hall: it's a hall with paintings on the ceiling and walls. Very pretty.
  • Picadilly Circus: ooh, fun. Big and shiny.
  • The 39 Steps: a hilarious comedy with four actors. A great way to end the day.

Tomorrow I'll have enough time to visit The Globe, hopefully meander a bit, and then catch my plane to an entirely different world.