London Glimpses, Part 1

About ten years ago, I went to London for a single day on a language school trip with my good friend Karin and the other three members of the “Brighton Crew”, Ju, Anna and Sid. One day was absolutely not enough and I have always wanted to come back “some day” to see more. That day was the Thursday after Easter, I took Ders and and I saw a whole lot more.
London was impressive and beautiful and diverse… and honestly: far too expensive. But let me walk you through the experience.

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We arrived at Stansted at 7pm and took a bus to King’s Cross. Our AirBnB was on Tottenham Rd in Dalston (not to be confused with Tottenham Court Rd).

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It was cute, clean and we had a great time there and made ample use of the kitchen to make breakfast and sandwiches for lunch, because there is simply no way to figure in “outside the home food” in London on a student budget. Tesco’s has a beautiful selection of hummus(es?), cheddars and some dirt cheap veggies so we made it work.

On Friday we went to see Hyde Park in the morning.

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Oh, hey Prince Albert. Nice Royal Hall you got there.

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Then we moved on to Harrods, where I haven’t been before and in order to be a proper London tourist you simply have to go, stagger at the astounding prices for everything (a jar of lemon curd at 9 £ is considered a bargain), and leave with the knowledge that you simply don’t need to have everything.

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There is plenty of overpriced food, fashion and jewelry, but the coolest overpriced useless item ever is hidden in the basement, with the wines and the whiskeys. It is a champagne sabering sword for the absolute bargain of 20.000 pounds.

This is a quote from the company website:

“Hand forged in England out of stainless Damascus steel, the Henry Tuke champagne sabre is precision crafted for perfect balance and has been designed solely for sabering champagne bottles.”

When I asked one of the exquisitely friendly and horribly polite clerks about the proper technique, he referred me to this video:

I guess you have to see the sabre in action to fully appreciate the decadence.

After this culture shock caused by the tastes of the elite, we walked over to Buckingham Palace, where we took a compensatory nap on one of the park benches. The walk was nice, after all, this is the richest part of London.

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Buckingham palace looks like it is supposed to look like. I totally forgot to check if her majesty was in (apparently you have to look for the flag).

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So no “Queen selfie”, because I was busy looking for a trash bin. Apparently there is none on the entire square. You do not trow away your stuff where the queen could see.

Of course we also had to see Big Ben.

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This is my “told ya so” face when Ders remarked that it wasn’t actually that big.

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So we already checked a few of the “important” items off the list on day one.

On Saturday we went to see the street performers In Covent Garden. The high brow “inside” entertainment was provided by an opera singer ans a string quartet.

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The entertainers “outside”, in front of St. Paul’s Church (NOT the cathedral), are supposed to be a bit more low brow. Requirements include: gender non-conforming scant clothing, a sense of humor that insults all tourist nationalities equally, something sharp and dangerous (knives, nails,…), and about 10 minutes of talk for every minute of action.

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We also spent a lot of time taste testing some of Whittard of Chelsea’s finest teas and (white) hot chocolates (Limited edition Cherry Bakewell) . Of course we bought some.

In the afternoon we took a tour of the Tower of London sponsored by Ders’ lovely mother (Vielen herzlichen Dank nochmal!) who absolutely insisted we must go. And she was right, it was really interesting. Not so much for the details of torture, maiming and killing, but for the historical figures who had to endure it (3 Queens among others) and were then buried on the grounds.

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And there are also the crown jewels, a polished, splendid, glittery array of symbols of monarchy. I have rarely been that speechless. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, I think it is mostly useless, uncomfortable and ethically questionable. “Powerful symbols of royal authority” is what they call the collection and of course they have a cultural significance, as symbols of imperialist power. All the things they have… so much gold, so many diamonds and rubies… it just seems like a spectacular, spectacular waste. There is even a coronation spoon (!). And they insist it is a “working” collection, meaning every now and then one of the pieces is packed up in its very own very special container and used or worn in a ceremony. Let’s just say, I was entertained, but not amused.

Later that day, we walked by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater on our way to Tate Modern Gallery. The modern art exhibitions were a bit of a divisive point, I liked and enjoyed them, Ders not so much, apparently.

In my opinion, the “Empty Lot” installation in the turbine hall was pretty cool. So was this “Fountain” by Marcel Duchamp. What I like about it, is that is challenges you with the age old question “What is art?” and forces you to question your attitudes and opinions on the matter 🙂 I was having a lot of fun with it, but I guess some people prefer not to think of this specific piece as something that should even be in a museum, except the museum of plumbing and toilet culture. Maybe.

Sunday was spent at the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, conveniently located next to each other.

At the science museum, the “Ministry of Nutrition” had a booth offering some very interesting food.

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The arancini were my favorite, as I love all things garlic. The jellyfish tasted like a delicious seaweed salad and the brownies were just excellent moist and sweet brownies.

Otherwise I was a little disappointed, there are only very few pieces that are not rebuilt models or games for kids.

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These notebooks by Guy Stewart Callendar were pretty cool. He was one of the scientists who developed the theory of anthropogenic climate change and I wrote about him in a term paper last semester.

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The coolest attraction was sitting outside, though, happily playing a burning tuba.

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The V&A Museum was very impressive. First, it is even bigger than I thought it would be, and second, it has sooo much more stuff than I could ever have imagined. Sadly, we had to rush trough it and couldn’t see everything.

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Just look at these huge spaces!

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If I ever get back to London, I will come back to see the rest. The glass collection alone could take a day or so. It’s crazy. And free of charge!

You can see Monday’s Harry Potter tour here. And the rest will follow in part 2!

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