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!

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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!

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.