I am happy to announce that my latest book Travels in Time Across Europe is now available for purchase on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats! You can purchase yours today by clicking on the book cover at the top of this article or by clicking here.
What follows is an excerpt from my upcoming travelogue, whose working title is The Great American Basset Hound. No basset hounds were harmed, or have even at this point been involved in the writing of this excerpt, or indeed any other part of the upcoming volume. Enjoy!
Friday 8 April 2016 came about two hours later than the previous day, as my alarm was set for the much more leisurely hour of eight rather than its far more rushed predecessor of six. I breakfasted with Kristiina in the empty hotel dining room, as the majority of our group had already left for their first meeting of the day at the International Crisis Group. Kristiina had chosen to not attend that particular talk, as she wanted to get some rest and get the most out of the main event of the day, a visit to the European Parliament. We had a quiet breakfast of waffles, frankfurters, and croissants, passing the time with small talk, the very nature of which seemed to be our way of avoiding thinking about our respective journeys that day: hers to London in the afternoon and mine to Annecy just before eleven.
I had everything well planned, and at the chosen time was ready to leave our hotel at Place de Sainte-Catherine for the journey across Brussels to Zuidstation/Gare du Midi. At around 09:45 I said goodbye to Kristiina, turned in my room key, and headed out the door, pulling my suitcase with briefcase mounted atop behind me, as the cobblestones did not work well with all four wheels. I felt a sense of excitement, a sense of anticipatory joy at seeing my parents again for the first time in four months. This was the longest stretch of time that I had been away from them in my life, the longest since we had hugged, or sat together, or ate together. Yet also I felt a pang in my heart, a longing for my friends who would be returning to London that afternoon. Perhaps the perfect possibility would have been if both my parents and my friends could be together, but at least in this instance that was not to be.
I walked through Place de Sainte-Catherine towards De Brouckère metro station, where I descended down the steps quite clumsily with my suitcase, briefcase, and umbrella in hand. At first I tried to use the fancy larger ticket gates, which are intended for those who have luggage and the handicapped, but I could not figure out how to make them work. Instead, I turned to the normal gates, and passed through fairly easily into the station proper. I was quite surprised to not see any soldiers in De Brouckère station that day, as there had always been at least two or three on patrol there every other time I had gone through that particular station. Soon though I was faced with a problem, as I had forgotten which metro line was the one to take to Zuidstation/Gare du Midi. Remembering that I had taken a direct train going to De Brouckère the day prior, I knew that I would find the proper train eventually, but still I was faced with a bit of an odd conundrum. Eventually though I came upon a bit of luck, and was soon on the T3 prémetro tram heading southbound.
To digress briefly, the public transport system in Brussels is a good model for what my city, Kansas City, could do. A system made up in part of trams (streetcars in American English), but equally reliant on buses and commuter rail could do wonders for Kansas City, bringing more people and business into the city itself, and quite possibly reducing the need for parking in places like downtown. The prémetro idea, namely having the trams move underground for part of their route and operate as a part of the metro alongside the subway lines is a smart way to better connect one’s varying modes of public transport, while saving money by allowing the local transport authority to avoid having to pay for heavy rail services like a subway. This will also reduce the need for private cars along the tram routes, equally leading to both more pedestrians and lower rates of road congestion within the city.
I quickly descended on the escalator, and went down a further set of stairs onto the platform, where the Tram 3 arrived about three minutes later. Boarding, I soon found myself hoping beyond hope that no one else would board and try to sit around me, as my bags were so big that I feared they would only cause trouble between my fellow passengers and I. Thankfully for me, that did not happen, and in large part due to the recent terror attacks in Brussels, the three stations (Bourse, Anneessens, and Lemonnier) between De Brouckère and Gare du Midi were closed. As a result, the journey only took a mere eight minutes, and as we passed along the single track between the darkened platforms at Lemonnier, I began to prepare myself mentally and physically for the journey up from the metro and into Gare du Midi. Then a sudden lurch came as the tram suddenly, and forcefully stopped in its tracks in the tunnel, whose darkness penetrated the hearts of all on-board, leaving everyone still, fearful of what was to come to pass. After a minute we started on our way again, with no reason given to what I assumed must have been some sort of animal moving across the tracks in front of the tram’s headlights, startling the driver into his sudden cessation of travel and apparent use of the emergency brake.
About two minutes later we arrived at Gare du Midi. I stood as the tram entered the station, taking my suitcase, briefcase, and umbrella firmly in hand, nearly falling over in the process as we came to a halt and the doors opened. I passed the people on the platform waiting to get on-board and walked up a short flight of stairs towards an escalator which took me into the shopping centre attached to Gare du Midi. I was surprised to find the ticket gates open, and anticipating that this crevice might merely be temporary, I slipped through, removing myself from the Brussels Metro into, as P.T. Barnum put it “The Land of Egress.” Having egressed into the mainline railway station, I began searching for a signboard which would tell me which platform I needed to go to to catch my first train, a Thalys train to Paris Gare du Nord, which was due to depart in about thirty minutes at 10:43.
Soon I found a screen hanging just above a large doorway leading onto the main concourse, which showed my train as departing from Platform 5B. Looking around, I found another sign, which pointed towards the international ticket office and Eurostar security lines as the site of the otherwise elusive Platform 5B. I walked down another long, dark corridor, which seemed to have been built with an antagonistic spirit towards the Sun above, yet hidden by the thick concrete of the platforms above. As I walked along my way I saw one final police checkpoint with two armed officers standing guard on the platforms above. My mind began to plan ahead, considering that it was entirely possible they would ask for my papers, thus I reminded myself where my passport and ticket were. In front of me was a man carrying two oversized suitcases, which attracted the attention, though only slightly, of the guards. However after a couple words they let the man pass, and it was my turn to step forward. To my surprise they completely ignored me, and I walked swiftly and smoothly through the checkpoint, heading up the ramp to the platform above.
The architecture of Brussels-Midi is quite interesting, different from some of the grand old railway stations in London and Paris, but truly a hub of activity for the railways of Belgium, the Netherlands, northwestern Germany, and northeastern France. Rather than have a grand long arched glass roof that is suspended between the two side walls of the platforms, the glass roof at this particular station is more like that at Kansas City’s Union Station, one which is made up of many smaller arches, thus giving the station ceiling more of a wave-like feel. The station itself does not necessarily have the charm of Paddington or Gare de Lyon, but it does have the practicality and methodical feel of much of post-war Brussels. At 10:23 on the dot my train arrived, its deep red paint matching the equally luxurious opera red interiors. I was surprised to see the train already filled with passengers, having not realised that Brussels was not the first stop on its route. Rather, this particular train had started in Cologne, then travelled through Aachen and Liège before arriving in the Belgian capital.
Initially I was scheduled to fly from Brussels to Geneva, meeting my parents in at the Swiss airport only two hours after their own flight from London had arrived at that lakeshore alpine city. However on Holy Tuesday, the 22nd of March, I awoke to some of the worst news one can ever wake up to. Two nail bombs had gone off at Brussels Airport in the departures hall, while a third bomb was detonated in Maelbeek metro station in the European Quarter of the city. In total, thirty-two people were killed by the ruthless barbarity of these extremists. As I readied myself for that day’s class, I kept a close eye on my TV, watching as more and more information arrived in London from the Belgian capital. Immediately, I began to reconsider my route from Brussels to Annecy, knowing that if the airport itself was bombed then the odds were pretty high that I would not be able to fly through that same airport two weeks later.
As it turned out, my intended flight did go out of Brussels, however I was not on it, and my ticket was cancelled. I did not want to step foot in that same hall where a mere two weeks prior such violence and sorrow was wrought. I did not want to walk amongst those ghosts of people who by right should still be warm to the touch, still laughing and smiling, playing and singing. I did not want to stand there and take in the macabre spectacle. I chose a different road to France, one with less sadness, with less pain.
After allowing for those passengers getting off in Brussels to do so, I boarded the train and took my place: Car 26, Seat 76. The seats on Thalys are perhaps the most comfortable seats on any train that I have yet travelled on, and I was in second class. At 10:43 on the dot our train began to move out of Brussels, heading south at high speed towards Paris. I spent the hour and twenty-two minutes that it took for us to arrive at Paris Gare du Nord writing the second half of my account of my previous two days in the Belgian capital, finishing the majority of the work in about an hour and ten minutes, thus giving me ample time to be ready to jump off the train and run to the metro station beneath Gare du Nord.
While I greatly appreciate the excellent service provided by SNCF, the French national railway company, I spent the better part of the next hour in a panicked rush. I had a mere forty-five minutes to transfer between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon. While this would not have been much of an issue had I been using one of the normal metro lines to get from A to B, I had to take the RER D line, a double-decker suburban line that only runs through Gare du Nord about once every twenty minutes. In short, I made it to my train on Platform 7 at Gare de Lyon with two minutes to spare, having just barely gotten on board the train before they closed the doors.
I had requested a seat on the upper level of the train, wanting to have a good view of the French countryside as I traversed that country from the plains around Paris in the north to the Alps in the south. I soon found my seat, No. 105 in Car 7, and soon met the gentleman sitting in No. 104. I figured he had a reservation for that seat, and forgetting my French, I somehow convinced him to get up and move to another seat about two rows back; though I have a feeling he simply wanted a row to himself. I quickly set my briefcase down on the seat next to mine, took out my iPad, portable keyboard, and headphones, and ticket, before removing my overcoat and placing it, my umbrella, and briefcase in the racks above my seat. As I sat down I realised my huge mistake, as I had originally intended to drop off my suitcase in the luggage racks at the end of the car, then drop off my briefcase, overcoat, and umbrella above my seat, then without taking anything out of my briefcase walk up to the café car and get lunch. However, with my iPad, keyboard, and headphones out in the open I figured I had might as well just bring them with.
I first walked towards the front of the train, but soon found myself at a dead end. Turning around, I walked through Cars 6, 5, and 4 before coming upon the Café in Car 3. By this point we were ten minutes out of Paris, and the line in the Café were at least ten people long with only one person working behind the counter. I took my place at the back of the line and waited for a good thirty minutes before ordering a Croque Monsieur and a bottle of Vittel water. Now walking back towards the front of the train, my sandwich on its plate balanced atop my electronics, the bottle and plastic cup in my right hand, whose fingers also had the highly important job of opening all of the doors between my seat and the café, I was stopped by a conductor who asked to see my ticket. “Il est à ma place,” I said, still slightly shaky on remembering my French.
“Comment?” he replied.
“Parlez-vous anglais?” I asked, accepting linguistic defeat. He nodded. “My ticket?” He nodded again. “It’s at my seat. voiture sept, place cent-cinq,” I said, switching back to French for the bit that I knew for certain how to say in that moment of intense hunger and mindlessness caused by the anxiety of my fast transfer.
“Ah, d’accord,” he said nodding and moving onto the next person. I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on through the three cars that were between my seat and I, at last returning to that place I sought out most of all at that point in time: my seat, where I enjoyed a delicious sandwich and watched three hours of a new BBC documentary on the House of Stuart’s time on the thrones of the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland in the Seventeenth Century. It was at this point that I suddenly remembered that it was Friday, a day when I usually decline to eat meat, partially out of religious observance, partially out of consideration of my usually meat-filled diet and an attempt at improving my health. By this point I had had a frankfurter at breakfast, and a Croque Monsieur, which includes ham, for lunch. In that minute of realisation I thought of a new interpretation of the argument which I had used the Friday prior, that because it was the Liturgical Season of Easter, I could rejoice the Resurrection by eating meat on a Friday. Recognising the fact that this was quite a stretch of reasoning, I moved on and spent the next three hours moving my eyes back and forth between the documentary on my iPad and the fields, hills, and mountains that the TGV flew by at 300 kph (186 mph).
At 16:29 I at long last arrived in Annecy, a city, which to me appeared to still be in the Waterloo of its winter. I left my seat ten minutes prior to our arrival, and was down at the train door, ready and waiting our arrival at the platform when we at long last came to a halt and the door opened. I jumped out of the train, letting my suitcase and briefcase go ahead of me. Then rushing along the platform with the crowd, I soon saw my Mom’s red hair and my Dad’s old Cubs hat in the distance, standing behind a pillar out of the wind. I rushed up to them with a huge, broad smile on my face, and at long last was able to give them that much needed hug, that long sought-after embrace. Our Alpine Reunion had come. I was with my parents again.
Kansas City – Well, the time at last has come. I spent the last night of my stay in the Alexander Fleming Halls of Residence in Hoxton up reading, and doing some minor research on local history. My thought was that it would help me to sleep on the plane if I didn’t sleep at all the night prior to. Hitherto, my abilities of sleeping whilst flying have been almost non-existent, but I thought I’d give this most extreme tactic a try.
At about 4.32 BST, I noticed some light creeping into my West facing window. Looking out, I beheld the last British sunrise that I’ll see for a while. It was a nice, soft sunrise, quite different from those out in the Midwest. At 5.00, I went out and walked about the neighbourhood, hoping to find a café that might be open where I could get a cup of tea to help cure my allergies, and possibly inhibit the oncoming cold. Sadly, all the local cafés were closed, as it was Saturday. Even Starbuck’s hadn’t yet opened. So, it was back upstairs to my room to sort out the last minute packing that I might have missed the day prior. Thankfully, there was nothing to have missed, so it was onto another hour and a half of waiting until anything would be open.
I spent that period of time sitting on the benches outside the hall, bidding farewell to my friends as they went on their ways in ones and twos. At 7.30 BST, I too left Fleming with a pair of friends, Cara and
Mike, and headed for Old Street tube, to catch a train to King’s Cross St Pancras and then onto Heathrow.
As noted in my last post, the hardest thing I have had to do in the past few weeks was to say goodbye to all these friends that made up what we’ve called the Old Street Gang. It really did seem like we were all together for a good year, when in fact it was a mere three weeks.
Luckily, I ran into two Old Street-ers, Kendall and Allison, in the entrance to security at Heathrow. We later ran into another member of the Gang, Kelsea, in the duty free area just past security. The four of us spent our last moments together in London, attempting to avoid thinking about the inevitable, but at the same time unable to avoid the reality that we faced. I was the first to leave, as my 12.30 flight to Minneapolis was due to begin boarding at 11.35.
I walked down the path to the plane, looking out the windows, capturing the sights for the last time for now. Mentally preparing myself for my return to the US, and future return to the UK, I boarded the
plane, and took my aisle seat. The flight back was mostly uneventful. I slept a good deal of the way, with the aid of a couple films like The Hobbit and Life of Pi, the audio of which helped put me to sleep. I was surprised at Delta’s hospitality, considering that they had 3 meals for us. Still, I’m switching to British Airways/American Airlines after this trip.
After a good 8 and a half hours in the air, we passed over the UP and began to descend into Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport. The process of going through Customs wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it could be. The biggest difference between the British and American Customs agencies is that HM Customs wasn’t understaffed. There were only 4 open desks at MSP, processing hundreds of people. After heading through Customs, I had my first experience of culture shock, when I went on the wrong moving walkway in the airport, realising that things in the States are on the right, not left. It just so happened that I was on the phone with my parents at this point, informing them of my arrival back in the Americas.
After a good three and a half hours sitting about in Minnesota, I boarded my flight to Kansas City. It was a short 58 minute flight between the homes of the Twins and Royals, but at long last we landed in Kansas City. It was great seeing my parents again, I missed them very much. It was just as good to see my dog, Noel, once more when we returned home.
I’ll really miss London, and all my friends. Since we’ve returned to our homes in the States, the group has been staying in touch, writing fervently about a reunion of sorts at some point in the near future. When and where that’ll be, we shall have to see.
Now, I may have started this blog as a way to record my study abroad experiences in London, but I intentionally named it so as to allow for it to continue after my return home. There’ll be more blog posts coming in the future, about such topics as my film work, return to Rockhurst, and other upcoming travels. For now, and to all of you who have been reading since I started this blog about a month ago, go raibh míle mhaith agaibh, thanks so much for reading and following my adventures. Until next time, tá!
Shoreditch, London – Well, the time has come. Just a wee bit less than a week ago I wrote about it being the dawn of the third week of my 2013 residency here in London, and the odd thing is that that little ferret called time just keeps slipping away. It’s like Tom and Jerry, no matter how far I chase after it, the mouse just slips from between my fingers.
Still, there are worse things in life, I mean it could really be the Eschaton, and then we’d all be in for it. But instead, it’s just the end of my time here in London with all these amazing new friends. And in some ways, it just doesn’t seem too terribly fair, more cruel in a way. To stick us all together for three weeks and then say, “Well, time’s up. Hope you all had a good time, and safe home.” It’s about as fair as the American education system is functional for setting up the next generation for a bright future (I’m looking at you, House Republicans…)
Of all the things that we have to go through in life, it’s the leave taking that’s the hardest for me. Perhaps that’s why I love history so much, and why I feel like my default grammatical tense is the past tense (yes, I’m a hopeless academic). Like one of my favourite fictional characters, the Doctor, I’m not very good at goodbyes. Still, sometimes they have to happen.
So, tonight is a farewell to all these new friends. True, we may have a reunion of sorts at some point, but at least for now it does seem quite terminal. Though at least we’re going out with a bang.
At 10.00, my friend Abby and I went to the British Library, which is near King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. There not only did we see the Magna Carta, but also handwritten notes of many great people, from Newton to John Lennon. There are some amazing works there, even an 11th Century copy (the oldest extant) of Beowulf, which thanks to a bit of study of Old English, I actually could read. One of the oldest manuscripts there was a Koine Greek codex edition of the Bible, which again thanks to Dr Stramara’s Intro to New Testament Greek, was also readable to my eye. However, sadly we couldn’t find the Babylonian cuineform copy of the Code of Hammurabi, which the Library does have in its collection, but wasn’t on display. To right this, both Abby and I got our very own British Library cards, but didn’t have enough time to use them. I was due at the British Museum, and she had business elsewhere to attend to as well.
I took the tube from King’s Cross to Holborn, and walked first to the O2 shop on High Holborn to sort out my mobile. It turns out that I actually bought the phone and the sim card, so they are now mine to keep. So, I guess I’ll just have two mobile numbers, one with a +1 and another with a +44 country codes.
After stopping off with my British telephone provider, don’t worry Dad I’m sticking with AT&T when in the States, I made the short walk through Bloomsbury, where someday I’d love to live, to the British Museum. My ticket for the Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum was timed for 13.50, so seeing as it was 12.00, I had some time to kill, in a truly Tom and Jerry fashion. This was done by strolling through the Ancient Near East, Classical, Egyptian, and Japanese galleries before making my way down the stairway along the outside of the Reading Room (where the Pompeii exhibit is currently housed), when a rather loud bell started to ring all around me. I began to wonder just what was happening, at first thinking it was an alert for the people going into Pompeii at 13.30, but when I saw the security guards rushing to and fro with whistles blowing in their mouths, waving people towards the main entrance, I knew that something was rather amiss. I evacuated the museum calmly, figuring that if there was a bomb and it was to go off at anytime I’d rather be quite close to it or quite far from it, only stopping once I was at the far side of the North Colonnade standing in the shade with a few other people. For a while there was no news of what was happening, until the Fire Brigade showed up and began to search the massive building. After about 20 minutes we were all free to return to our favourite mummies and statues of long dead Greeks.
I made it as quickly as possible to the Pompeii entrance, considering that it was now 13.55, and my ticket was for 13.50. Thankfully, they let me through and into the exhibit. For the sake of the exhibit, and to help the British Museum with sales, all I will say about Pompeii is this: it was quite well done, and quite thorough. I left that exhibit at around 14.40, and ran to the tube station to once again meet Abby outside our hall.
We had a planned excursion from Central London to the world of green leafy suburbs. Our first stop was a nice house, 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead. The house hadn’t changed all that much since its most famous owner and occupant had died in September 1939. That occupant, who died in the front room, where I did have a rather odd feeling, was a refugee from then Nazi controlled Austria. He and his family escaped to London via Paris, where they resettled, and where many of their descendants remain to this day. This fellow was none other than Dr Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. The house was quite nice, and it did feel like Abby and I were house guests, personal visitors of the Freud family. Though there was a good deal of humour in the air (they sold Freud ducks in the gift shop).
After leaving the Freud’s to their peace, we walked back to Finchley Road tube and headed two stops south to St John’s Wood, where many a music lover journeys to on pilgrimage. This stop was none other than the beginning of a walk that led to the most famous zebra crossing in music history. It’s a bane for drivers, but a bloody good time for Beatles fans to get their photo taken crossing the zebra crosswalk at Abbey Road Studios, but oddly enough it’s still a public street! Abby and I didn’t actually get our photo on the crosswalk, but we did go and sign the fence outside the studio.
We then got back onto the tube, and found our way down to Earl’s Court, where a police box was standing just outside the station. It took us a few times passing it to actually see it though. But a quite nice German couple took our photo with it. For those of you who think I’m mad at wanting my photo with a police box, just watch Doctor Who on the BBC, PBS, or Netflix.
After a long tube journey, we at last made it back home. A sort of farewell dinner began soon there after, comprising of pizzas from the nearby Pakistani owned Great American Pizza restaurant, and a lot of good conversation. So now, it’s to bid you all ado, as I have much still to do if I’m going to be ready to be out by 7.30 tomorrow morning for the hour plus tube journey to Heathrow.
I’ve really enjoyed London, and will be back in two years. Yes, I’m looking at, and with prior advice from a CLC-mate, will be going to graduate school here in London.
Shoreditch, London – The first two business days of Week Three have been quite adventurous. It all began with a bucket, a workman, and a lightbulb. I had been dreaming about driving down K-7 just north of Leavenworth when there was a great clamour outside my room. Realising it was rather too light outside considering that my alarm was set for 8.20, I grabbed my watch from the nightstand where it sleeps to discover with my immense horror that it was in fact 11.45! Jumping out of bed (with kangaroo agility), I headed for my desk, finding my phone/alarm clock in its daytime home of a trouser pocket. Then, I ran out of my room, and after a quick wash up and dressing, rushed out the door to the tube station.
Despite my hurry, the journey was one of bemusement and horror. After transferring to the Piccadilly Line at King’s Cross (class was meeting at the Victoria & Albert), I was joined by a couple from Philadelphia who had just gotten off the train from Paris. The husband kept making a basic American tourist mistake, asking “How do I get to Lie-chester Square?” After 5 Londoners corrected his butchering of “Leicester” I gave it a shot, saying the name of the centre of the West End in my best Chicagoan accent. His response was not, “O, thanks!” but “You’re American!” “Yeah, I’m from Chicago.” I replied. “Ya know, as in the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions? Game 6, Overtime Patrick Kane goal in Philly?” -Luckily he and his wife got off at Leicester Square and didn’t have the time to respond, but the Londoners were rather bemused.
Then there were the Italians. A whole family of them. As the doors began to shut at Leicester Square, a late 20s Italian lady ran onto the train, getting stuck in the door. It opened, and she boarded, only to whirl about and let out a horrid scream, as her two sons were still standing on the platform. Her sister, who had boarded at the centre of the carriage (I prefer to stand at the ends by the open window) jumped off and hurriedly threw, yes threw, the two boys onto the train. They had to be about 8 and 6. They stayed on after I got off at South Kensington.
The run from the Tube station to the Natural History Museum, where my professor had said they would be was quite breathtaking, and bothering to my then still sore ankle. As I walked into the museum, I got a text from the good professor saying they were in the Science Museum. So, around the corner and into their third museum of the day, my first. Luckily I made it to class at 12.40, so I got to hear 20 minutes of his lecture. I at least got to see the world’s first steam engines and computer.
Asking what I could do to make up my tardiness, I was advised to go to the V&A and stroll about the galleries. So, that I did. I love the exquisite arts of South Asia and the Islamic World! On top of that, there were also some amazing Medieval European galleries, which I’d recommend to any historian interested in that period. However, I had to leave the V&A, as I had a much anticipated meeting and tour planned for the afternoon.
After another 30 minutes on the tube, I was at my meeting place, Caffè Nero at Westminster Tube Station. They have amazing blueberry muffins! That was my breakfast, at 14.00 BST. I met with my friend Abby to go and tour Westminster Abbey officially, as we had attended the organ recital there the evening prior. The Abbey was originally founded by St Edward the Confessor, the penultimate crowned Anglo-Saxon King of England (d. 1066). The Abbey has been the place of coronation since Harold Godwinson in 1066, and most recently hosted a coronation in 1953.
After the Abbey there was an hour and a half break before heading to Leicester Square for dinner before a group of friends headed to see Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishman. After a brief problem of finding people, the group made it to the theatre, and I headed off down Charing Cross Road to my evening’s entertainment: Canada Day!
I was quite happy to find that there were very few Canucks sweaters in the crowd, mostly Maple Leafs, and a few Senators, Flames, and Oilers, though not many Canadiens oddly
enough. The day marks the Canadian Confederation, in which the three colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada united into a single country. The party was held in Trafalgar Square, which sits in front of Canada House, home to the Canadian High Commission. Sadly though, the main reason why I went, the street hockey, had already concluded, and was replaced by a big rock concert, which was not to my taste. Though I did donate 20p to the Calgary flood relief efforts, which got me the little Canadian flag you see in the photo with Lord Nelson.
So, I headed back up Charing Cross Road, going to a pair of places that I had seen on the
way down. First was a local branch of Pâtisserie Valérie, for a sumptous double Belgian chocloate gateau, as a little treat for making it to at least 20 minutes of class that day, and then onto a local bookshop to browse their Classics collection. They didn’t have much of what I was looking for, mostly Lucreitus and Ovid, so I ended up getting the Oxford History of England volume on Roman
Britain (1982 edition) for £6. Then I headed back home to do some reading and work on amending my paper. With that done, and a bit of listening to Radio 4, I retired once again to that springy azure mattress that I’m calling a bed.
Morning came with a start. Having A More Human Mikado never did in Japan exist! stuck in my head, I made my way to class at the National Portrait Gallery on Charing Cross Road with some annoyance at myself for not being able to do the same the day prior. However, I must say this day’s touring was enjoyable nonetheless. In the middle of class, we were given an hour break to look through the remainder of the gallery (having gone through the Tudors to
the Georgians) and get some lunch at one of the local cafés. Rather than take a whole 2 hours and dine at the National Café, a friend and I settled on the National Gallery Café next
door, where I had a good selection of banana nut cake, chocolate, and other pastries and desserts. There wasn’t much in terms of food, per se.
We then returned to the touring, meeting back up with our class in the National Gallery, which prior to today I had thought was in fact that National Portrait Gallery. Anyhoo, we finished by observing a few Hogarths, and then splitting ways, I heading back to the University of Westminster at New Cavendish Street. There I met up with a friend, Ke’aria, who was planning on going to the Freud Museum in the Finchley Road area in North London. We made our way up there, by way of a couple stops, only to find the museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. But no matter, we had a quick stop by the Abbey Road Studios to pay homage to the place where Howard Shore recorded the music for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. O, and the Beatles did some stuff there too.
The evening was spent in two main places: Regent Street, and at the London Eye. We dined first at a rather unique restaurant just off Regent Street called Tidbits. I wasn’t a very big fan of the menu, which was vegetarian. My vegetarianism doesn’t really extend beyond a love of beef, lamb, fish, pork, chicken, squid, shrimp, and all forms of water fowl humour. I ended up eating a fine dinner of onion rings and chips with a couple plastic cups of tap water and a little thing of vanilla ice cream.
This was surpassed in greatness by what was to come. We made our way to the South Bank, where the visionaries of London gather to look through a big wheel at Westminster and attempt to figure out what the government is doing. The London Eye is a large circular viewing platform. Our group of 10 took flight for a good half hour over the Thames, taking many fantastic photos of the sights below and about us. Unfortunately, my camera died soon after taking off, so I don’t have any of my own photos, only one that I borrowed from a friend.
The evening was certainly sky-high. If you are ever in London, do take the chance to go up into the Eye. It’s well worth the £16.50 fee.
Shoreditch, London – Well that time has come. I could either look at it with terminality, or continuity. So, rather than be a moody banker who isn’t too keen on charity (thus why there aren’t too many beggars around the Bank of England), I’ll call this week the third week of my trip. Tempus fugit certainly isn’t an understatement either, as I could swear I saw a copy of Time magazine levitate with the breeze borne by a passing bus on Tottenham Court Road last week. All mockery of linguistic punnery aside, this is a time of reflection and discernment, aka Sunday.
So, what did I do when my 7.30 alarm went off? Rather than get up and prepare for 9.00 Mass, I fell on my face, mostly because I gave my right ankle a good bother yesterday whilst walking to the tube station. Rather than go to Mass, I decided to postpone my ecclesiastical attendance for a few hours and make my appearance at the local laundromat. After a good hour and a good £8.00, I ran out of there, not out of fear, but chasing after the time that was fast slipping away. I had a 12.00 lunch appointment in Zone 5. It was 11.30.
Arriving at my local tube station, I found myself amazed by the great mass of people who either don’t have lives or just are rather spiritual, as there wasn’t a centimetre of room on the train heading towards King’s Cross. How a Sunday train could be so crowded beats me. Must have something to do with line closures elsewhere in London.
After a brief game of phone tag with a cousin, we agreed to meet at Baker Street and lunch in the area. A nice lunch it was. However that was just the beginning of the day for me.
I made my way back home after lunch, spending the free hour spreading out my still wet laundry that it could air dry, and watching an old episode of Have I Got News For You, Brian Blessed presenting. Then it was back out on my feet again.
The thing about a city like London is that there is always something going on. Whether its a Gay Pride Parade, a police stakeout in the Leicester Square tube station at rush hour, Boris Johnson, or the odd concert/recital, you’re bound to find something to do every hour of the day if you’d like. So, at 17.00, a friend and I left the flat for arguably the greatest destination imaginable for an organ recital: Westminster Abbey.
We got there at 17.36, just in time to get inside and find seats on the Mary aisle of the Abbey for the recital. The music was amazing, as is expected of first: the organ, and second, the performer Ian le Grice, formerly Assistant Organist for Temple Church, London. The performance of Handel, Bach, Franck, and Reubke was fantastic. Westminster Abbey is a perfect place for an organ recital. The first record of an organ in the Abbey dates from 1304 “referring to ‘a pair of organs'” (Courtesy of Westminster Abbey). The current Harrison and Harrison organ dates from the Coronation of King George VI in 1937. It is best described by one word: magnificent.
After the recital, we made our way down Whitehall towards a little Italian restaurant that I had found a few weeks prior during a similar walk towards Charing Cross. The restaurant in question, SPQR by name, was quite good, and quite Italian. I had the calamari dinner and a glass of tap water (I’m not paying for a bottle of water). Oddly enough, despite my going to many an Italian restaurant in the States, I can’t say I’ve ever been to one where the waiters, all Italian immigrants, spoke very little English. Still, that fact, along with the 2 foot tall menus that could be mistaken for a Tolstoy novel, made for a charming experience.
So, with the third week upon me, time is as wobbly as a certain friend on a good day, (cheers to you by the way if you read this.) Still, there’s still one week to see as much as I can, and learn as much as possible. Preparing for the future. That’s the word for my guidance: preparation.
O, and one last thing. Good on you, British Government on flying the Gay flags on the ministries. Washington, your move.
Its carriages lined in the Station,
‘tis the 11.15 to Cardiff Central.
I walk along the platform,
Waiting for my carriage.
First I come upon the First Class carriages
Awaiting some well-to-do traveller.
Then down the platform I go,
Walking out of Paddington
And into the rain.
At last I find good Carriage B
And bid farewell to friends.
Seat No. 2, well there’s a sight
‘tis just in front of the luggage room.
We leave on time and pick up speed
Flying across England
Westward, onward to Wales.
But I don’t mind, for my seat is comfy.
We pass over the fields of yellow, orange, and green
Onto worlds and places yet unseen.
Through Reading, Didcot, and Swindon,
We fly! Fly across the countryside.
The whistle blows,
The signal to all,
Our train is leaving.
Onward towards Cardiff Central.
The clouds are lighter and happier here,
Less threatening than before.
The railwaymen do their work
As families laugh and play.
I sit and watch the warehouses
And villages pass on by.
Next onto Bristol and then Newport
Before reaching the city of Wales.
The journey may be short,
But beauty does not suffer.
Next pas a fine horse farm
Where a mare rolls in joy
And her friends laugh and say to her,
“You are one silly horse.”
The fields are giving way to hills,
The yellow to green and brown.
The crops do change
The cattle mangé
The trees become fuller.
A fine gentleman sits in front
A peer in Carriage G,
A gentle maid in Carriage A,
And I in carriage B.
The gentleman’s banana smells quite potently,
I should have brought a book to read
For this train journey!
And then the terror approaches,
A tunnel draws near.
My ears they feel the full force of our speed.
They shriek in horrid pain.
This seat is not my preference!
O horror, o horror!
Another tunnel! This one is longer than the last.
I’ll put a word into Heaven, when we reach Cardiff,
For another pair of ears.
We must be in the hills approaching Bristol.
The tempestuous clouds darken,
The flora is verdant in this country,
Power lines speckle the landscape.
We pass a viaduct over a town.
We must be close to the coast,
Nearing our destination.
More trees and hills,
I fear another damned tunnel.
No, wait, we’re slowing, Bristol approaches.
The motorway is jammed below us,
The station draws near.
We pass through a far longer tunnel,
Sailing deep underground into Wales.
The carriage does creak upon the rails.
I see a platform pass on by, and feel the train turn
We fly past medieval churches and under motorways.
The art of train travel is in the British deck,
Americans like I are amazed at it.
No seat belts, nor airline fees are needed here.
I bought my ticket for £19.50 for this train.
The way to Cardiff may be long,
But we have done it neatly.
Just over two hours it took
To travel cross-country.
Great forests now joing the fields
In this gwald.
The hen wald fy nadhau approaches now.
Excitement builds in my heart
As we come upon our terminus.
Cardiff approaches at last,
The station PA siarad Cymraeg
The sinage does as well.
The green and red of Wales
Now you may rest,
For this lay is rest,
I’ll sing no more of the train,
Lest we be blest.