Home

Inspiration.

What makes a home? We live in a room, in buildings, in cities, but what is it that makes that room/building/city our home? We carve a niche for ourselves in these places and fill it with our material possessions, but what is that ingredient that truly makes it feel like home? Why do we feel the need to create homes for ourselves? Our ancestors were nomads, traveling from one place to the next once resources had been depleted, but we have evolved to the point where, for the most part, we settle into one place which we call home. Yes, people continue to move around for various reasons – jobs, university, family, etc. – but we still entrench ourselves in a new community, a new city, a new house and we make a home for ourselves.

I, like our nomadic ancestors, have moved around a lot and I think it is this that has instilled in me the desire to plant roots, to want to be settled, at least for a little while. I went to three elementary schools by the age of nine, and from that point my family was static until I went to college. It was then that my mother and her husband moved into an apartment and have since moved thrice more. Between living in a dorm for four years, having to move in and out every fall and spring, and never feeling as though I had a space to call my own during the summers, my desire for a home has been firmly established. Dorm life meant all of my belongings were in one room which I shared with another person. Now I live in a studio and all the possessions which my suitcases allowed me to carry are still in one room, but I don’t have to share anymore. It’s my space and I can do with it as I please.
London, as a city, feels more like home to me than any place I’ve lived before, but I have yet to figure out just how to turn my flat into a home. Part of it probably stems from the fact that I currently view my flat as a place to sleep and shower. It should be more than that. It should be a refuge, a comfort, a place to check your troubles at the door and feel a sense of relief. And there’s only one solution to that: more pillows. I am a firm believer that, regardless of their function as pure decoration or as sleep inducing agents, pillows of all sorts are a necessary ingredient in the creation of a home. They add a feeling of comfort. Voila! The answer to my question. Comfort. That’s the key ingredient. The difference between a house and a home. I feel comfortable with London, but I’m still getting accustomed to my flat. I have been trying to fit myself into the flat rather than shape it into a fitting piece of my own personal puzzle. I was afraid of becoming too attached, planting myself too deeply. There is a good chance that come the end of next January, I will have to leave England and return to my land of origin. If that happens, it will be a dark day indeed, but that should not darken my time here. As cliche as it may sound, I will seize the day and make my house into a home one pillow at a time.
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On Settling In

So. For those of you keeping up with my adventures abroad, it’s been some time since I posted. But here we are again. This post might be a bit banal, but such is life at times. The quotidian activities make up the vast majority of life. So read (or don’t) about my mini adventures in London.

Apparently, London has quite the fox population. As I live quite close to a park, I see them occasionally roaming the streets, but yesterday was an exception. In the span of only a few hours, I came within a few feet of several of these night walkers. I was going to visit a friend and, as I was running behind/hadn’t eaten dinner, I slapped together a PB&J and headed out the door. As I was walking past the park, I saw something sitting on the pavement ahead of me. At first glance, I thought it was a dog and looked around for an owner, but upon closer inspection I realised it was one of my bushy tailed friends. I kept walking towards it, as they are usually very skittish and run away before you can get close to them. But this one was just watching me as I drew near. I stopped a few feet from it and we looked at each other for a minute: I with my PB&J and it with its tail wrapped around its legs. My fascination with foxes encouraged me to offer some of my sandwich to this adorable creature. I reached out to it with my sandwich in hand and it slowly walked toward me. Upon obtaining the remainder of my dinner, it quickly scarpered out of sight.

Thinking that would be the only fox I saw this evening and the closest I would ever get to one, I kept walking toward the train station. When I arrived at my friend’s apartment, he was running a bit late as well, so I sat down to wait for him. I was trying to finish The Help that evening (which I did) and I guess I had become quite still, as another fox came trotting down the street. It came so close that, had I reached out my hand, I could have touched it. But I refrained. My fellow night walker went on his merry way and my friend arrived a few minutes later. So that’s my fox story.

And here begins the more mundane adventures… I’ve been searching for a decent barber for a while and I finally found one that wasn’t vastly overpriced and which seemed to leave its patrons satisfied. It’s a tiny little shop in Soho, so I felt confident that I would walk away with a decent haircut. I entered and was greeted by the The Weeknd playing on the stereo and a warm atmosphere. Mirrors lined the walls (as they should) and there were a few customers having their tresses trimmed. A chair was open in the rear of the shop to which I was led by the woman who would be cutting my hair.

It’s been a long time since a woman cut my hair. It might seem a bit sexist, but I had this idea that a man should be cutting men’s hair. Maybe it’s just that most barbers are men. Either way, she certainly proved me wrong. She quickly went to work, shaping my unseemly mop of hair into something reasonable and short. Her hands moved quickly, snipping away at my hair, giving it texture and thinning out the dense mass that it had become. I swear it’s gotten thicker since I moved here… It was strange to feel a woman’s hands in my hair, strong but soft. They weren’t like those of the barbers I’ve been to most of my life. Mike is an avid fisherman and hunter and his hands are rough, calloused. Jorge’s hands were manicured and smooth, but not as small as the woman currently cutting away. It was certainly an interesting feeling and I relished in it.

I love getting my hair cut because the whole experience is very sensual. Feeling clippers buzz away the mane; fingers running through the hair as they measure the appropriate length, shearing the weeks of growth away; the gentle pull of the scissors as they clip though dry hair, adding texture. Auditory, tangible, olfactory, and the final result – visual. Haircuts can leave you with a feeling of confidence and contentment or distaste and disdain, but a decent haircut will do wonders. Being the vain person I am, I love to watch myself in the mirror as my hair transforms from one look to another and I am currently quite content. My head having been unfettered from the manacles of hair restricting it, I now feel as though my thoughts flow more freely. Made it a bit hard to concentrate on Shakespeare, so I decided to write this instead…

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention… I finally received my trial pair of contacts today. I went in for the “teaching appointment” and the kind people at Specsavers walked me through the steps of putting in and taking out contact lenses. No one warns you about the ridiculous faces you will inevitably make upon attempting to place contacts onto your eyeball. Well, at least I made some pretty strange faces. Let me tell you, dear reader, I looked like a crazy person. I swear I can’t open my eyes wide enough to get the lens to stick… It was very frustrating. But I finally accomplished the Herculean task and away I went, contacts intact and my face freed from the contraption of metal and plastic that are glasses. As a friend of mine so eloquently put it, it’s like switching to HDTV. There are no constraints to your field of vision. I assume this is what it is like for people who have perfect vision. I wouldn’t know. But away I go to see more of the world through corrective lenses. (Hmm… Strange. See the world through “corrective” lenses… So many interpretations of such a simple statement… Disregard my philosophical musing.)

On Death, Dying, and Philosophical Musings…

So. This weekend was Open House for a lot of the buildings in London, which means that, if I chose to wait in line, I could get in for free. But we all know that I don’t like to wait, so I went on a cemetery crawl instead. There is a collection of cemeteries in London called The Magnificent Seven and they were built in the 19th century during a population explosion in London. I visited Highgate Cemetery last summer to see the resting place of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, as well as Dante’s wife, muse, and lifelong passion, Elizabeth Siddal. He buried a book of poetry with her body when she died only to later exhume her grave when he encountered hard times. He removed the book and legend has it that a strand of her golden hair accompanied the book. The Magnificent Seven are now kept in a state of managed neglect and they are truly a sight to see.

West Brompton Cemetery was the first on my list to visit. Like the others, it was commissioned by Parliament to relieve the strain on the cemeteries of inner London. West Brompton is noted for being a source of inspiration to Beatrix Potter. Many of the names from her books can be found on the headstones scattered throughout the grounds. There is even a Peter Rabbett interred within the walls of the cemetery. West Brompton can also be seen in several contemporary films, the most recent of which being Guy Ritchie’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.

After wandering around West Brompton, snapping photos, and listening in on passing tour guides, I made my way past the columns of Chelsea fans using the cemetery as a shortcut to the football pitch and once more embraced the Underground. My next stop was the Tower Hamlets Cemetery, a much more wooded and overgrown place than West Brompton. I entered the cemetery and immediately the sound of the nearby motorway was dampened almost to the point of silence. Tower Hamlets was cooler and creepier because of the trees. Almost everything was cast in shadow and most of the headstones were obscured. But I did what I do best: wander. I stepped off the beaten path to see some of the more secluded headstones and stumbled upon a fox. Absolutely adorable! But it ran off quickly and I didn’t get a clear shot. Just the tip of a red, bushy tail whipping out of sight…

Having enough of wandering around a creepy (yet beautiful) cemetery, I made my way home. It was getting to be late in the afternoon and there wasn’t much else I could do for the day. But it left me thinking about the mark that people leave behind. The tombs that are built, either by the deceased or their loved ones, can be incredibly ornate and overly large. What is it about human nature that drives us to build these monuments to our existence? There is an idea in some beliefs that the body has to be preserved for resurrection to occur, but at the same time John Donne wrote in his Devotions that if, in Christianity, an outward display of good works meant one was more inclined toward salvation, then perhaps the sins of the soul were also reflected on the body as sickness and deformity. So is the body and burial still necessary for salvation and resurrection in Christian belief or do we as a Western Civilization bury our dead merely to preserve their memory for our own comfort? People have been buried for millennia. Look at the Giza Pyramids. They have to be the largest tombs ever built. But the Norse traditions ranged from ship burial to funeral pyre. So, again, are burial practices simply a manner in which the living pay their respects to the deceased?

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On Banks and Birthdays

So. Now begins life in London. I’ve been there, done that, seen most of the tourist things. Since my last post, I’ve not been up to much. Just wandering as usual. I did manage to open a bank account, so that’s something at least. My housemate and I walked into HSBC thinking we could open a simple account and I could have if I wanted to pay £8 per month (which I don’t). So I walked next door to see what Barclay’s had to offer. They were more than accommodating. I set up an appointment to meet with a banker the next day. So the morning of my birthday was spent in the bank with a lovely woman named Veronica, chatting away whilst she opened my account. One hour and forty minutes later and I leave the bank as their newest customer.

My birthday treat to myself was to go to the Tate Britain. I went later in the afternoon, thinking that I would see some of my favourite paintings. When I arrived, it was plainly evident that the gallery was undergoing construction/restoration. But I entered anyway. I was quick to realize that the majority of my favourite works had now been collected into an exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites and entrance to the exhibition began at £14 for concessions (students and seniors). But being the impoverished student that I currently am, I chose to wander the remainder of the museum rather than pay the price of admission. The galleries that were not undergoing restoration were dedicated to a collection of paintings by JMW Turner and an exhibition on 20th century art. I like Turner, but modernism isn’t really my cup of tea, so I soon left.

I had to get to the university for registration, but I had some time to kill so I walked. I like walking along the Thames. It gives me a chance to think things through. For some reason, everything is clearer when I’m by the water. It’s as though the current washes over my brain and leaves behind only that which is important. The stones left behind in the river of thought now focus my attention. With my feet on autopilot, I wandered my way back toward central London, consumed by my thoughts. Sooner than I had expected, I have arrived at King’s. I quickly registered and received my ID. Like pulling off a Band-Aid, but less painful. I am now officially a full-time postgraduate student at King’s College London. But that was all I had planned for the day.

I texted Jonathon to tell him the joyous news of my registration and we went for drinks. Too many drinks… I’m still not entirely sure how I made it home last night. I remember getting on the train, but I was beyond the ability to reason. Luckily, the Underground is labelled extremely well. I drunkenly managed to change trains and ended up in Stratford. A short bus ride later and I’m home. This morning, I see that I’ve thrown my clothes all over the room, cleared the bed of everything that lay on it, and crashed. Hard. Some things never change, regardless of locale.

Today, I’ll be working on my CV and recovering. Yay responsibility!

Wandering

So. Last week I received a packet in the mail containing all kinds of papers regarding the next step in opening a bank account. Naturally, I thought I’d just walk on down to the nearest branch and get everything taken care of in one fell swoop. I was quick to learn that such is not case in the UK. Bureaucracy runs rampant here. It’s like a fairy from the isle of Avalon has winged its way through every office of the country leaving a trail of red tape in its wake. And, of course, I’m not the only person who must navigate this torturous web. I say all this because, when I arrived at the bank, there were at least ten people waiting ahead of me to be helped by an attendant and five or more queued up to speak with a teller. I took a quick glance around, said “F*** this,” and walked out.

I know I need to suck it up and wait my turn, but it’s my nature as a United States Citizen to be disinclined to wait. We, as a nation, generally expect to be waited on in certain respects, and the bank is one of them. Customer service is expected to be swiftly administered. I’ll admit that government offices in the US are just as intricately bound in red tape as the UK, but if I wanted to open a bank account, I would simply walk into the bank and be promptly assisted. I know because I’ve done it. And there is rarely a queue for a teller unless it’s close to 5pm. However, I will squash my indignation into a small corner of my mind and politely wait in queue with the rest of the peasants. Hopefully, I can circumnavigate the whole “proof of address” issue. I have mail, but no bills. I don’t pay utilities and my rent is paid electronically. There is no paperwork, no mail. This is the 21st century, isn’t it? This should not be an issue… There’s my mini rant, now on to more adventures.

Upon leaving the bank, I walked over to the library to sign up for a library card. Again, I faced the “proof of address” issue. The librarian did not want to accept that I had received mail from a banking institution and the department processing my National Insurance application (a National Insurance number is the UK equivalent of a Social Security number in the US). But she eventually acquiesced to my puppy dog eyes and handed me the form to fill out. *click clack beep beep boop* and I have a library card. Once I had a card in hand, the librarian became much kinder. Strange… But I began perusing the shelves. This public library was very different from the ones I have encountered in the US. For one, many of the books were paperback. This weirded me out at first, but I moved on. I quickly realized that, like in the US, libraries here are interconnected and I could request books from the other libraries in the borough to be delivered to my local branch, ready and available to be picked up. After looking through the selection available at this library, I came to the conclusion that it’s been so long since I was able to read contemporary fiction that I have no idea what’s current, who’s who, or even where to begin. So I left. I’ll do some research and return…

Being such a nice day, I decided to wander the streets of London. I made my way to the Tube station and hopped a train to London Bridge. Headphones in, I began meandering my way along the Thames. I picked up some chips from Borough Market and just walked, listening to whatever my iPod’s shuffle decided to throw at me. When I reached the Globe Theatre, I thought I’d stop in to see if I could get standing tickets to The Taming of the Shrew for my birthday on Thursday. Alas, had I come 5 minutes earlier, I would have bypassed the three people in front of me who snapped up the last tickets… But I hold no grudge. They’ll have a great time and I can see it later. I’ll find something to do on Thursday. I always do! I’m in London, after all. There’s always something just around the corner. So, I walked onward, following the path of the Thames as it flows through the heart of London. Past St. Paul’s, under numerous bridges, by the Palace of Westminster, I just kept walking (I stopped every now and then to snap a few tourist shots). I’ve walked past Westminster countless times, but its intricacy and the beauty of its architecture always invite me to take one more photograph.

The Palace of Westminster

I eventually made my way all the way down to the Battersea Power Station and Battersea Park, (which in hindsight was probably my initial goal) as I had yet to see either. I had traversed seven or so miles along the riverfront to get here. The power plant’s abandoned glory seemed almost apocalyptic. This incredible structure just left to decay in the centre of London, many of its windows broken and the lot surrounding it bereft of any life. But if one continues walking down the street, Battersea Park comes into view. A lush, green park filled with children playing and pigeons being harassed by various dogs freed from their leashes. I enjoyed the park’s beauty, but even here the smokestacks of the power station tower in the background serving as a reminder of the past. But enough philosophical waffle on my part…

Battersea Power Station

Grey skies in London? Never…

Past towers over present.

Exiting the park, I followed the signs for the nearest train station. The great thing about having a Travelcard is that I can hop on any train within zones 1-3, be it above or below ground, and go anywhere else within zones 1-3. I had no idea where this train terminated, but I was getting on. It was heading south and I thought there has to be an underground station nearby… Within a few minutes, the train arrived at Clapham High Street. I jumped up and off the train. I had been here and I knew there was an Underground station right around the corner. I swiped my Oyster card and headed home having enjoyed my day along the Thames.

Not quite Platform 9 3/4.

Chill(y) Weekend

So. Saturday was my day of blogging. With no alarms to wake me, I snoozed. Hard. When I finally did wake up, I cooked a hearty breakfast of sausage, eggs, toast, and tomatoes. Perfect fuel for a day of writing. With no plans for the day, I set to typing. Lots had happened, as you’ve read, and I needed to catch up on documenting it all. I had Disney movies to keep me company, as I usually do, but this time they were in English. Sometimes one’s native tongue can be an unexpected comfort and I was not up for mentally translating each line of The Aristocats. So with the opening of “Which pet’s address is the finest in Paris?” I typed. And typed. A bit of formatting, insert a pic here, one there, and… voila: one blog post, polished and ready for publication. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sunday was shaping up to be a similar enterprise. I lay in bed all morning watching a gay romance called Shelter. Run of the mill, but still good. And then Jonathon texted me to see what I was doing. He told me it was silly to waste the day and, being that I agreed, we arranged to meet in a few hours. Apparently, there is only one LGBT bookstore in London and this is where our compass was pointing. We set our course for Russell Square and we arrived just in time, as the shop had just opened. I forget that Sundays have late opening times.We perused the selection for a bit, Jonathon sipping on his cheap, burnt coffee. But there’s only so long LGBT books can hold one’s attention. Being the Time Out: London addict that he is, Jonathon had read there was an exhibition on the Titanic being held at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  Ever the museum enthusiast, this sounded promising to me so, we took a moment to chart a new course. Several portions of the Tube were closed for the weekend due to maintenance and upgrades so it took a bit of rerouting to get where we intended to go.

After a few train changes, we arrived in Greenwich. The National Maritime Museum is housed within the campus of the University of Greenwich. The campus wasn’t quite up to the UNC standard of beauty, but then again, what is? All things considered, however, it was pretty nice: great architecture and wide, tree-lined streets. We wandered our way toward the museum and strolled through the exhibits. From a history of navigation to the East India Company, the museum was a wealth of maritime facts and figures. There was even a ship simulator that Jonathon was eager to try (he crashed the ferry into the Dover docks…). After strolling through what we thought was the entirety of the museum, we were on our way out, but we both still wanted to see the Titanic exhibit. After a certain point, I’m all for asking directions, so we turned around and asked the attendant. He pointed us in the direction of a small exhibit hall we had missed. The exhibit was a bit smaller than I had anticipated, given the centennial status of such a momentous tragedy, but it was still good to see.

By this time, Jonathon had mentioned being a bit peckish and I could go for a bite as well, so we left for Greenwich Market making a quick detour via the ATM. I have never carried cash before, but you can’t swipe a card at most markets. So cash it is. We settled on Thai food and were served by a lovely lady (boy) before making our way down the street to sit in the sun while we ate. The weather in the UK is growing cooler by the day, so sun is always welcome. Having finished, we sat and chatted for a bit, watching the families and their children pass by. And then the squirrel appeared. Jonathon tried coaxing the squirrel over with one of the tomatoes I didn’t eat (there was too much coconut milk in the curry sauce…). But the squirrel was having no more to do with the tomato than I did, crawling up the nearest tree. We ended the evening with a new episode of Downton Abbey. A lot of, “Oh, that bitch!” and “Would they do that? They would…” on my part.  Gotta love British drama. Sunday turned out to be much more entertaining than I had anticipated.

Foodie Friends for Life

So. Stephanie and I attacked London once more for her last full day here. Our day began with the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Well, it really began at the barracks… After seeing the guard a few weeks ago with momma, I thought there had to be a better view. So we went over to the barracks to see the source of the new guard. The old guard marches down the Mall while the new guard comes down Birdcage Walk to meet them. Grey skies and clouds had been threatening all morning and we had already felt a few sprinkles, so the accompanying band fittingly played “Don’t Rain on My Parade” prior to the guards marching out. And march they did. At quite a quick pace, I might add. Their weapons were impressive, bayonets and all. As they marched, the crowd followed. One of the great things about London landmarks is the abundance of tour guides. My guide status being as yet unofficial, we sneakily followed one of the louder guides as he led his flock toward the Victoria Memorial. We made our way around the Memorial and waited patiently, enjoying the sight of the clouds scudding across the sky. Our patience paid off. The new guard marched right past us on their way down the Mall. Snapping the obligatory tourist shots, we moved on.

Buckingham Palace

Another of London’s great features is the park culture. They are everywhere! Dotted throughout the city, one can find splashes of green sprouting amidst the concrete of the centuries. It’s as if the hand of a giant has scattered seeds across this great conurbation. It certainly is a welcome relief and St. James’s Park is one of the brighter blossoms the city has to offer. Stephanie and I strolled here for a bit on our way to our next locale. Over forty-two waterfowl call this park home and the landscape is inspiring: a fairy tale park in the centre of an international metropolis. But our stomachs, as ever, drove us onward (becoming cultured cosmopolitans works up quite the appetite, particularly when so much walking is required.

From St. James’s Park, we caught the Tube to London Bridge and followed our noses. Borough Market is open Thursday through Saturday and is a mishmash of gourmet food vendors and farmer’s markets (though, I just call it heaven). Stephanie was instantly in l-o-v-e love. Jeff might have some competition… The smells of fresh cheese and grilled meat pervaded the air, making patrons’ mouths salivate worse than Pavlov’s dogs. We slowly worked our way up and down the aisles, sampling the wares of the savvy vendors. We were easy prey and the vendors could see the hunger in our eyes.

Borough Market

After seeing the whole of the market, I turned to Stephanie to see which direction her foodie heart was leaning. We settled on wild boar sandwiches with grilled onions and rocket. Delicious! The sandwiches were accompanied perfectly by a pint of beer and our appetites were assuaged. I knew that just outside the market is a cheesemonger, Neal’s Dairy, and thought it would be a good addition to our tour. I have never seen a larger wheel of Parmesan in my life. It all looked so delicious, but my sweet tooth was aching. I had been eyeing some Turkish delight for a while, but one of the stalls was displaying enormous meringues piled high and they were calling our names. Stephanie bought a chocolate one and shared it with me as we continued our perusal of the fine food found here. Eventually, we left Paradise to see a few more of the sights London has to offer.

Say “cheese!”

So. Much. Cheese.

We boarded the Tube once more, thinking our mutual status as literature nerds needed to be acknowledged. Off to King’s Cross we went! After wandering around the station in search of Platform 9 ¾, during which I quoted lines of Harry Potter at Stephanie, we finally asked an attendant for directions. He answered before I even finished the question… *Click click* and our tourist duty was complete. We exited the station walked a few blocks to the British Library, home of some of mankind’s greatest gifts to knowledge. The history contained within the building is priceless. From illuminated manuscripts to the Magna Carta, the British Library is incredible and will always be one of my favourite places in London. But enough of my nerd crush.

St. Pancras

We took a moment to regroup and figure out what still needed to be seen before heading out. Somehow we had overlooked the momentous Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Again with the Tube. It’s the lifeblood, the veins and arteries of London. I continued to spout my catalogue of often useless information, which Stephanie graciously tolerated. Built in eight years, contest for the design, architect died before completion, etc. We began to walk across the bridge and were quickly halted by the raising of the bascules. This was quite a treat. Any time the bridge needs to be raised, it must be scheduled at least twenty-four hours in advance and I had yet to see it happen. We eventually made our way across and continued our adventure.

Raising the bascules.

I had one last place I wanted Stephanie to see before she left for Dublin. Bunhill Fields is a cemetery in the centre of London. It was long used as a cemetery for Nonconformists, for those who practised Christianity outside the Church of England. Among those interred here are William Blake, Daniel Defoe, and John Bunyan, each having contributed immensely to the development of literature. Bunyan and Blake were also notable for their views on religion. Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progressserved as a second bible to many Protestants and Blake held controversial views on organised religion. I liked Blake’s poem “The Tyger” so much that I have the last two lines tattooed on my arm, for those who were unaware. Stephanie and I stopped in the park to rest our weary feet and eat some of the strawberries Stephanie had picked up at the market. Several dogs and their walkers were wandering in the park providing us with some cute and friendly entertainment. But our time was running short and the weather was growing cooler. As the sun set, we walked back to the station and said our goodbyes with the potential of meeting again at Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany! Safe travels, Stephanie!

Where we hope to meet again!

Costumes and Culture

So. After our incredibly English day, Stephanie and I ventured once more into the urban jungle of London. We met in Trafalgar Square in the shadow of Nelson’s Column and the giant lions guarding its base. We made our way up the stairs and into the artistic halls of the National Gallery. Touring an art museum is so much more enjoyable when you have a partner in crime. We laughed our way through the hideously drawn faces of the Renaissance art, the multitudes of Jesus and Mary depictions, to the incredible landscapes of J.M.W. Turner and the pointillism of Monet. Seriously, though. One would think some of the artists had never seen a woman’s face before. The twisted visages ranged from foreheads the size of billboards to just plain grotesque creatures. Oh, and the babies? Demonic or disfigured. But I digress.

After we regained our composure, we grabbed some sandwiches from Pret A Manger and sat on the edge of the fountains in Trafalgar munching away. Pret can be a bit overpriced for what it is, but the sandwiches are good, natural, and made fresh every day. At the end of each day, the sandwiches that aren’t sold are donated to shelters. What’s not to like about an all-around feel good sandwich? After lunch, we wandered down to Westminster, seeing the major sights along the way: Downing St, Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower, Parliament/Palace of Westminster, and Westminster Abbey. Stephanie snapped a few tourist shots and we pressed on.

Three trips to the UK and I still can’t resist taking a pic of Big Ben.

The Victoria and Albert Museum was our next destination. The V&A is an eclectic collection including artwork, sculpture, and culture from around the world, spanning the centuries. We walked through Roman archways, passed through galleries on Japanese culture, and finally grabbed a map to give a sense of order to our exploration. My favourite part of the museum is that it chronicles life and how people lived throughout the centuries. From dishes and flatware to a replica bed from a Scottish estate, life has been preserved within the walls of the museum.

Did I mention the museum is interactive? No? Well, let me tell you… We went around to all the interactive spots we could find. Stephanie and I had a blast trying on hoop skirts and cravats respectively (I thought about putting the skirt on… but thought better of it), and Stephanie designed her own monogram (my station was malfunctioning). Best of all, we tried on costumes that theatre companies had donated to the museum. Magician, china man, Mr Toad, fire bird… Stephanie was ecstatic over the fire bird, flapping her wings in front of the mirror. We had an awesome time!

Two hours in the V&A and we had barely scratched the surface, but London has so much more to offer. We walked to Hyde Park and rested our weary feet while reading the Evening Standard. It’s a free newspaper that is printed and distributed across London every evening. It’s so easy to stay abreast of current events here, even if the Duchess of Cambridge has dominated the front page for the past few days. I wanted Stephanie to see the park, so we strolled around the Serpentine – a lake in the centre of the park – parting the sea of ducks, geese, and pigeons. However, I was unaware of the damage done to the grounds by the Olympics. The northern portion of the park looks like a wasteland… But we walked onward, heading for Oxford Street so Stephanie could procure some leggings to accompany her outfit for the next day.

We embraced the madness and the horde of people shopping their way up and down the street, trying to locate a decent pair of leggings on a budget. Thus, we arrive at Primark. Far from a high end department store, Primark is good for the essentials. We dove into the crowd, hunting for the illusive leggings as Luna Lovegood hunted for the Crumple Horned Snorkack. Leggings in hand, our rumbly tumblies sent us in search of food. Continuing my duties as culinary London tour guide, we headed to a pub for a platter of fish and chips, another British staple. Our stomachs full and our palates quenched with a pint, Stephanie and I walked down Carnaby Street to Shaftesbury Avenue. This is where Hermione apparated in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 1. In the books, it’s Tottenham Court Rd, but that’s a minor detail. We wandered around M&M’s World for a bit and then walked down to Piccadilly Circus to see it all lit up. Piccadilly is London’s answer to Times Square. Bright, busy, and lots of people. Taking the photos required of all tourists and having successfully navigated our way through another culture packed day in London, Stephanie and I returned to our respective domiciles.

Pub

Pub food and pints.

Carnaby Street

Union Jack

God save the Queen.

To eat, or not to eat: that is the question

So. I’ve had a friendly face visiting me in London for the past few days! Stephanie is cooking her way across Europe, but she deigned to visit London for a few days and I acted as her unofficial tour guide. We met up on the South Bank and walked over to the reconstructed Globe Theatre. Our hope was that we would be able to score a pair of cheap tickets for Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It. When we arrived, however, we were informed that standing tickets had been sold out and the only tickets left were seated and out of our price range. After asking if there was a possibility of tickets being returned, we left with the slim chance that tickets would be available upon our return.

Part of my mission as tour guide over the few days she was in London was to show Stephanie that the reputation of British cuisine was unwarranted. Of course, the meat pie being a British staple, we meandered our way toward a small shop on the South Bank called Pieminister. Tucked into the corner of a small courtyard, Pieminister serves a great pie at a great price. I snagged a Deerstalker with creamy mashed potatoes, smothered in red wine beef gravy. The hearty combination of venison, onions, and lentils was just what the cool, cloudy day was calling for.

After filling our empty stomachs, we headed back to the Globe. Our hopes were temporarily dashed when the attendant informed us that there were still no tickets available. However, a student group had two extra tickets as some of their students had not shown up. The seats were a restricted view, but for £10 each we snapped them up. As there was still a bit of time before doors, we got some hot chocolate and wandered through the souvenir shop, chatting away about our recent escapades.

We were finally let in to the theatre and proceeded to climb to the top of the East Tower. Our seats were “restricted,” but we thoroughly enjoyed our view looking down upon the groundlings. The procession from chaos to order that is a Shakespearean comedy (complete with cross-dressing and phallic jokes) had us grinning and laughing from start to finish. Our side view provided us the opportunity to see both cast and crew prepare for the next scenes and, having worked for Memorial Hall and the Union, it was a nostalgic view that emphasized how much I appreciate all aspects of performance.

We topped off the afternoon with a few pints at a local pub, continuing our earlier chat about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. What else would you talk about over pints? But our stomachs were beckoning us onward and we wandered back along South Bank, looking for a place to grab a bite to eat. Along one of the many side streets/alleys that comprise the area, we found a Gourmet Burger Kitchen and our mutual love for a good burger drove us inward. GBK never fails to impress and we thoroughly enjoyed a Bacon Cheddar Burger each with a shared order of chips. Being the foodies that we are, we attempted to determine the ingredients of the delicious barbecue sauce that accompanied the burger. But our evening was drawing to a close. But what quintessentially English day would be complete without a bit of rain? As I walked Stephanie back to her hostel, a light drizzle began which turned into a downpour shortly after she walked inside. So I splashed my way to the nearest station and headed home. We had parted for the night, having marinated all day in good food and better company, with the promise to meet again on the morrow.

Running, Waiting, Wishing

So. In the past few days, I have been doing a lot of waiting. There are miles of red tape to cut through. And of course, the key to all of this is “proof of address.” But not just any old mail will do. They are very particular… Basically, it’s a vicious cycle which I’m fighting to break with each well-mannered phone call. I’ve applied for a bank account, a student oyster card, and an appointment for a national insurance number. Now, I wait. Wait for important mail to arrive. Wait for applications to be approved. Wait for my existence in London to be recognized by the powers that be.

In the meantime, I’m waging a daily war on the Forbidden Forest. At some point, one of the prior tenants built raised beds with what I can only assume are railroad ties. This must have been some time ago, as the ties have now rotted. I dug up one of the beds and chopped up the rotten ties to use as mulch. Now the ivy, on the other hand, has proven a bit trickier to destroy. Imagine Devil’s Snare minus the strangling. It does not want to be plucked… So I chopped, and hacked, and pulled. I’ve made some headway, but the Forest is resisting my attempts to tame it. When I’m not waging war, I’ve taken up running in the park. I might be overdoing it a bit, but what else do I have to do? No National Insurance number? No work. And classes don’t begin until October 3. So I run. And keep fighting.

Run, Forrest, run!

The Forbidden Forest