Saturday, 24 January 2015

Visions of the Future, Sunshine, and TREES!: A quick recap of my short trip to London

I found my future in London. Now, I don't mean that I found some amazing job opportunity, or came to some spiritual epiphany. No, I mean I saw my future in the form of my accommodations and realized my jokes about being a crazy cat lady would not result in the charming and witty description of what life as a cat lady would be like. I saw that future first hand, and I gotta tell you, my goals have quickly changed!

Before I get into this in any further detail, perhaps I should first tell you that I just returned from a quick three-day stint in London. My final attempt to relax and collect myself before classes start up again on Monday. For this trip I decided to use a recommended site called airbnb. Some of you may have heard of this and/or used it's services. Actually, I know this to be true, because several of you suggested that this would be a cheaper way to travel. Well, let's just say I learned a good lesson in not believing everything you see, read, and/or hear on the 'ol internet. The description of the room I stayed in sounded pretty basic. The host had detailed ground rules, which slightly worried me that I might not get along with her, but because she was so stringent on her expectations, it would be a clean and safe place to rest my head for a few hours each night. Well, folks...she had seven cats. SEVEN! Many of you will know I do not have my mother's housekeeping skills - I'm pretty relaxed in this area, BUT I have limits. I tend to draw the line at cat ...matter found sporadically on the floor and mould growing in places that made me worry about the health and safety of not only myself, but the host and future guests! If I was cringing, then it had to be bad. I know I said my accommodations in Venice were made of "the stuff of nightmares" but this was far worse! Luckily, this resulted in giving me more motivation to get out and see as much of the city as I could!

I don't know if any of you picked up on my need to be amongst trees. In my last post about my time in Venice, I mentioned missing the always present proximity to water as one of the things I miss about Nova Scotia. Another aspect, is forests. I didn't mention in my Venice post that there were quite a number of small parks which I found myself in amidst getting lost. So, it may or may not come as a surprise to you that my first targeted stop in London was a park. Hyde Park to be exact. And guess what, I got lost-ish on my way there! In doing so, I stumbled on an homage to DaVinci, which seemed like the perfect link between these two adventure. And, before I knew it I was walking happily in the sunshine within the grounds of one of many of London's parks!

Now, before I actually made my way into Hyde Park, I took a few minutes to checkout another park across the street - Wellington! Here there were many monuments that paid respect to those lost in the wars. One section of one of the monuments captured my attention - a depiction of a fallen soldier. As I walked throughout this small, but impactful area I thought about my grandfather who served in WWII and the many characters I met during my time volunteering at Camp Hill Veteran's Memorial Hospital. I felt unexpectantly overwhelmed.

Wellington Arch
One of the memorial sites
Another memorial.
This is the piece that really hit me.
An alternative view of that same piece.
When I finally entered Hyde Park, I wandered around taking in the views. I came upon various birds and the most gigantic squirrels I have ever seen! A few of these beasts (because of their size, not their being squirrels!) tried to climb up my leg, which made me laugh in a way that reminded me of my Mom's laugh. I think she sent them to get me! I watched as many of the others taking advantage of this space fed the various wildlife. I struggled with this concept. Am I wrong for thinking that we shouldn't be feeding these animals? I mean, squirrels shouldn't be so interactive with humans...their generally, well, squirrely! Anyway, I enjoyed walking around, and spending some time sitting along the Serpentine River watching the various birds come and go.

They actually pose for's weird...but delightful!

The philosophical seagull...

When I started getting a bit cold, I decide to move my adventure else where and ended up in Green Park. This was nice, but it was getting too cold to sit and really enjoy what it had to offer. So, I just kept walking, and the next thing I know I'm standing in front of a pretty impressive building surrounded my a fairly good sized crowd snapping pictures. I thought, wow! this is a neat spot, but why is everyone so excited about it? Well, my friends, it turns out that this "neat spot" was/is Buckingham Palace. (Sorry all my royal fans - SC - I have failed you all!) I snapped some shots and watched the crowds of people who were all excited to be there taking in this experience. It's really interesting to see how people react to things they feel they have a connection with. For me, as not such a fan of the royal family as a celebrity type role in particular, found this to be really strange. When I think of the royal family, I think about the stories my Gramma used to share about growing up in London. I miss her. This little trip, I quickly realized, was about reconnecting with her. Something about losing your mom a week after your grandmother kind of takes away from that.

You know, for being the Royal Family, you'd think they'd have better water...

Anyway, when I tired of the Palace, I decided to head back and search for some food. On the walk back a snapped a few photos of Victoria Station (where I arrived) and then ended up in front of Westminister Cathedral (not to be confused with Westminister Abbey!). A pretty decent first day in London!

Notice the construction... 
Westminister Cathedral

Day two was jam packed! I decided to make another quick stop at the Cathedral, this time with daylight (I think the nighttime shots are way better!), before starting my planned adventure of the day.

Now, this is where I don't want to sound like a brag-o-saurus, but I spent the better part of my morning with the one and only Jeremy Irons - you know of Lion King fame! Yes, I toured the many halls, nooks and crannies of Westminister Abbey! The included audio tour is narrated by Irons, which made it slightly strange to be walking around this spectacular church guided by Scar! But I will say, it was one of the best and well organized tours I've done - simple, to the point, and easy to use! They don't allow you to take pictures inside, except in the gardens, but sometimes not being able to do so is a good thing. I really enjoyed just taking in the tremendous everything that is inside this place!

Westminister Abbey
A view from inside looking out in one of the few areas you are allowed to take pictures!
Different view from the same area.
One final shot from the inside! What a gorgeous day!
The entrance. 
Next was Big Ben and Parliament. There were a lot of police around with big, scary guns, so I limited my time here!

I then made my way across Westminister Bridge and found myself inside a very red, very Coke-sponsored building. I was waiting in line for tickets for the London Eye (yes, this time it is actually THE Eye!), while having a half panic attack, half ethical dilemma over whether or not I could actually subject myself to supporting Coca-Cola. I decided to set my thesis aside, and go for it. When I purchased my tickets (I figured since I was putting one foot in the waters of hell, I might as well go all in, and also opted for the river cruise!), I commented on how much of the world is now owned by Coke. The lady serving me laughed, agreed and then informed me that this sponsorship had started that morning! I had to go to Hyde Park yesterday...

The River Cruise was a wise investment! The 45-minute tour pointed out various landmarks and views of significance. Plus, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and I was the first one onboard, so I go to sit at the front. I felt only slightly bad that the 8 million children also on this cruise had less impressive seats than I did!

The London Eye and County Hall
Parliament and Big Ben
The Wellington...this is a medic ship from WWII
Views of London, including Saint Paul's
Tower Bridge, not to be confused with the London Bridge!
The London Tower...which used to be a zoo at one point.
Once the cruise was over, I entered the lineup for the Eye. I assume because it is January that the line wasn't so big. I'm not sure how long I waited, but it couldn't have been any more than 15 minutes. I was really surprised! I was even more surprised by the fact that there were only about 8 or so of us in each capsule! And, of course, the views were spectacular!

A good view of the Thames and London
Parliament, Big Ben, and the Abbey
Another view of London, once again including St. Paul's.
Next on my list was to cross the Thames on the nearby footbridge and make my way towards Trafalgar Square. Here I found some real gems...a blue rooster, Canada house, and one really impressive find - a random girl drawing various flags with sidewalk chalk, just outside the National Galleries! I spent quite a bit of time taking in the sights, snapping pictures and observing people. There's a lot happening in that space! I even ventured into the Galleries, where I once again reinforced by lack of appreciation for art. I even opted for the audio tour, thinking it would guide me along, in the same way the Abbey tour did...but it didn't. You basically have to press the number in to your little handheld thingy that corresponds to a painting and it tells you every detail about it. Part of my lack of enthusiasm for this type of thing is possibly because I just can't sit and concentrate on something for that amount of time. Ohhh...I really want to love art!

Admiralty Arch
Trafalgar Square, with the National Galleries in the background.
Trafalgar Square from the balcony of the National Galleries
The National Galleries
The blue rooster...
Canada Hoose!
The chalk work! So amazing!
My one picture from within the Galleries.
Might this be what Mom was attempting to paint? (Oops...still sorry, Mom...)
After leaving the Galleries, I exited through Admiralty Arch (but not before witnessing a spectacular cab!) enroute to St. James' Park. It was getting dark at this point, but it didn't stop me from spending some time here. There were lots of people around, so I felt safe enough to wander for a little while. While walking through I was able to catch some neat views of the Eye in the distance all lit up, and Buckingham Palace once again! And this concluded day number two!

Candy Crush Cab...Michael...girl-Kelly...Come on!
From St. James' Park - the London Eye illuminated in the background
ICE! This was maybe a little too exciting for me. Now I really want to go skating on a pond!
Buckingham Palace from St. James' Park
Day three started early. I packed my water bottle, and a book, grabbed my camera and made a b-line for coffee and another visit to Hyde Park. I once again sat along the water and just relaxed, taking in all the sights around me. I enjoyed the fact that this space is so widely used, no matter the time of day. On my first day, the park was filled with many families walking around with their small children.  This time, the park was alive with runners of all ages, shapes and sizes. This all makes me happy. Spaces such as these are so important! Manchester needs more of them!

Beautiful last morning/visit to Hyde Park! 

This little guy gave me a chuckle!

After enjoying a really good cup of coffee (yes, I said it - I found a really good cup of coffee in England...finally!), I made my way along the river and into Kensington Gardens. Then I headed towards the Science Museum...which I did not go to because the lineup to get in 15 minutes or so before opening was insane! So, I went to my intended second stop - the Museum of Natural History where I had heard rumour of a Stegosaurus being present! The lineup for this was nothing compared to the Science Museum, which I still can't figure out, because DINOSAURS!

The Science Museum...and only a tiny view of the lineup!
I snapped pictures of the Stegosaurus, and a few of a diplodocus and then started wishing for someone to make Jurassic Park happen for real! I also found my eco-alter ego, the big C-Dar! Then I proceeded to the earthquake section of the Museum. As I walked around this exhibit, I found some of it strikingly familiar to what you'd find in Halifax's own Museum of Natural History. Although, I've heard whispers that most of what I loved about that museum as a child is no longer there. So, I enjoyed the nostalgic aspect of what I was walking through, and then snottily thought to myself, well, London, if your museum is so impressive, maybe you should actually show me what it would be like to be in an earthquake instead of just making me read about it! ...And then I turned my head slightly to the right and read the following magical words: Earthquake Simulator. In the words of a one Chris Murray - Sell my clothes, I'm going to heaven! This place is where I want to live the rest of my days. Okay, well not really, but I accomplished two life goals (as odd as they may sometimes be): chillin' with a Stegosaurus and experiencing an earthquake!


My main man, and eco-alter ego Charles Darwin!
It's like he's looking at me in disapproval for referring to him as C-Dar!
Not a bad way to end not only a mini-trip to London, but the conclusion of Christmas (yes that's right, I'm still on Christmas holidays until Monday!) break! Unfortunately for me, this means I have to but a hold on vacations and large-scale adventuring and refocus on my studies. Here's hoping for a successful second term!

-the Orange Canadian

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