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!