Friday, September 2, 2011

Someone turned me loose on London. How foolish of them.

It was about seven in the morning.  The sky was cloudy, but that was nothing unusual.  I knew I had to do something.  The building was brick--five stories tall and brick.  I sat out in front, leaning on the iron fence, and pulled a map out of my pocket.  Despite its rough trip from the airport, it retained a fresh appearance.  More than I could say for myself.  I had the sweat of a long plane ride on me, and my hair had begun to escape from its braid in a manner that might be called frizzy.  But I was far from done in.

Anyway, as I was saying, I went to the center and no one answered, so I decided to do something else.  And I happened to notice a few places on my tube map that I thought sounded...interesting... Anyway, I decided to see if I could find a phone or one or two of the other things I needed first.  So I trotted off down Queensway, about three blocks down, and found a lot of stores but none that really had what I wanted.  Oh, and before that, as I was walking up the block, a little old lady named Olga asked me to help her get to Cafe Diana.  She said it was 5 minutes away--it wasn't.  But not in a "she horribly underestimated" way; more of a "I turned the corner and we were almost there already" kind of way.  She was very kind, but I declined her offer of coffee all the same.  I guess I should have stayed and talked, but I didn't think of that at the time.  

Anyway, after exploring Queensway, I strolled into the Bayswater Underground station.  (Swiping my Oyster pass makes me feel very...less like a tourist?)  And headed...Oh, come on.  Where do you think I went?  On my own to explore London, can go anywhere I want, what is the first thing you expect me to find?  Of course the first place I went was 221b Baker Street!  I'd noticed a "Baker Street" tube stop and decided to stop by and see what I could find.  There were a few others I wanted to explore.  Including Tottenham Court Road, but I didn't make it there this day.  Well, as it happens, there was a quite lovely Sherlock Holmes museum in the townhouse at 221b Baker Street.  And if anyone ever happens to think it's just a flat, let me just say something--there were 5 floors of the place.  And the things they'd put there were quite impressive.  I mean, of course they had the hat and the violin, but there were things like his letters organized in Holmes' favorite method--sitting on the fireplace mantel with a knife through them.  And the more you knew of the Sherlock Holmes stories, the more you found to chuckle/be astonished at.  It was put together by someone who'd studied, that's for sure.  The top floor had some wax figures in life-size dioramas from some of the stories.  Red-headed league, Hound of the Baskervilles, so on and so forth.  I might have to find my way back to that museum before long.

Next place I went?  Westminster!  There was a man playing on the steel drums on my way out.  In fact, there are street performers everywhere.  So far, I've seen lots of people playing instruments, lots of the moving statues (some better than others--there was an impressive guy in all gold the other day who really freaked out a girl walking by), a Freddy Kreuger (creeeepy), a guy in a Queen Elizabeth mask (creeeepy), some hip-hop dancers/comedians, and so forth.  As I left the tube stop at Westminster, there was a guy playing Captain Jack.  Which was fun, but then I noticed he was standing directly below the statue of Boudicca.  Given the two, I think Boudicca would win in a fair fight.  Or an unfair one.  I then walked past the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben--really impressive stuff.  The stonework is incredible!  Wandered down past and on to Westminster Abbey, around the little park past the Houses of Parliament--they have the Burghers of Calais!  Not the original ones, but copies of.  I like Rodin's work.  Even a paper on his sculptures for an art history class didn't stop my approval thereof.  Blown away by the history here, I must say.  Everywhere, old historic houses, statues, stories reaching back to before America was a glimmer in anyone's eye.  But I began to grow weary--I mean, really, I'd gotten a few hours of sleep (if that), had been walking all morning, lugging a hiking backpack with all my clothes in it and another smaller bag that also had a pretty decent heft to it (see also: contained laptop), not to mention I'm not sure I remembered breakfast.  So I headed back to the center to see if anyone was there yet.

Got there (it's about halfway between Bayswater and Notting Hill Gate on the Circle Line track, which happens to be the same track Baker Street and Westminster are on) and it was probably in the whereabouts of 2 pm or so.  Rang the bell, waited a sec, turned to leave, and lo and behold, Professor Bennion was there! Well, he was there along with his wife and his son, Chris, who happens to be the only guy in our program.  (Poor, poor guy.)  They were about to head out to the Notting Hill Carnival.  Oh, did I mention?  I kept seeing signs for the Carnival on the tube, one in the airport, and some in various other places.  Turns out I got here just in time for Europe's biggest festival.  I think it was John/Professor Bennion who said it was the world's biggest after Rio.  I know little about it (for more info,, but I did see some of the parade.  How shall I say... It was fun, given a certain value of fun.  Lots of energy, certainly.  (Amusing side note--after the riots, the police/government wanted to say that yes, they were there and they were paying attention, so there was a police every few yards...sorry, metres, along the route.  Also, apparently all the major government leaders, around the time of the riots, happened to be out of town.  So lawlessness=not good, apparently.)  I will say this, though.  If you like people wearing decent amounts of clothing, have a problem with some...moderately suggestive dancing (more than Latin Ballroom), or don't like your entire body bouncing with each beat of loud music and the bass taking great care to realign your spine, the carnival is probably not for you.  If, however, you either like one or all of the above or can ignore it for the sake of the crowd, the energy, or the fantastic costumes, you'd probably like it.  From what I saw.  Let's just say there were several times when people with huge gauzy creations set me thinking of how you could make a fully-functional peacock costume.  We also got some jerk chicken.  Decently good.  Probably not quite worth the 7 pounds, even though it came with rice and chicken, because although it was, as stated, decently good, I've had better chicken, the rice was cold, and salad is...kinda difficult to eat outdoors.  Don't get me wrong, I had fun, and I am glad I participated, but I think I won't need to go to another.

Got back, tried to stay awake until, oh, 7, but there may have been a time or two I didn't quite make it.  The nice thing about being the first is I got to pick my bunk first and get familiar with the center before everyone showed up.

I shall work on getting another update on what I've been up to lately...but there's been a lot.  So we'll see.  (Hey, I've got all weekend!  Which'm only up late because tomorrow's Saturday?)

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