Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year's Eve and More in London

Before I begin recounting our escapades in London, I need to make some acknowledgements. First, the wonderful Ken, Susan, and Louisa, who housed, fed, and played cards with us. Second, my sister Laura, who gave us lots of great tips on how to make the most of our trip. (As you'll see below, we did a pretty good job of following her advice, at least for the first couple of days.) Finally, my sister Julia, who gave me a Harry Potter shirt to wear to Platform 9 3/4. That's the back of it in the picture. Tyler was too embarrassed by my dorky pose in the picture where the front of the shirt is showing to put it on the blog. I'm not ashamed, though, so that one's on Facebook.


After the mandatory photo op at King's Cross we went to Angel Islington, where Susan had told us we would find a burrito place. And lo, we did find the burrito place, and at the Chilango by Angel Station we did eat our first burritos in six long months of burrito exile. And it came to pass that we went back twice more in the course of our stay, for a total of three times in four days. And it was good. Can I get a hallelujah?

Burrito-induced happy-sad face. This was not for the benefit of the camera, it's what my face naturally did. If it had been a Gordo's burrito, I probably would have cried.
To kill time before we could meet up with Ken and Susan, we took a piece of Laura's advice and hopped on a double-deck bus. The bus took us through the West End and into the fancy Kensington/Chelsea area. It was a great way to see a bit of the city (without having to schlep our bags around)--you can see the facades of buildings a lot better from the top deck than you can from the ground.


Did I mention that the day we arrived in London was New Year's Eve? That night we headed down to the Thames to watch the fireworks from right behind the London Eye. They were actually shot off from the ferris wheel, so we were close enough to get firework detritus in our eyes. It was the best firework show either of us had ever seen. The whole thing was like the finale of a normal show. There was none of this wimpy one-at-a-time business--there were 5, 10, 20 fireworks going off at a time throughout the 15-minute display.


On Sunday, our only plan was to go the the organ concert at St. Paul's. (Touring St. Paul's is ludicrously expensive, but services, including concerts, are free.) But since we were awake by 10:30--early!--we had time to go to the Tate Modern first. In addition to a whole bunch of surrealist paintings, we saw some very cool installations. At first glance, this one looked like a pile of gravel.


It's actually a pile of individually handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds. The artist is Ai Weiwei of China, who was arrested and held by the Chinese government for a couple of months in 2010.

This piece is by Do Ho Suh. There's a video about it here, if you're interested. It's unusual for us to find installations at all appealing, so we felt very cultured.


When I visited London a few years ago I bought a CD of music played on the St. Paul's organ for Tyler. (We were dating at the time.) Tyler loves the organ, and the one at St. Paul's is particularly fantastic. Not that I know anything about organs, except that playing one in an echoey church is kind of like playing the whole church. And St. Paul's is a very big, very echoey church.


Here's Occupy London, greeting us at the entrance to St. Paul's. This wasn't all--we saw a larger encampment somewhere else, too. I'm a little fuzzy on the distinction between the two.


On Sunday night we played Oh Hell (alternately called Mormon Bridge, Shucky Darn, and many other names, I'm sure) with Ken and Susan. I won. Twice.

Monday was surprisingly lovely, weather-wise. We went to Camden Market, which was crazier and cooler than I could have imagined. There are tons of facades like these on the way to the main market area.


The market hall is located right next to this canal. See the funny little boats that look a bit like floating VW buses? On the other side of the bridge this picture was taken from is a little lock for the little boats. Kind of hilarious, but pretty cool.


We were very restrained--all we bought at Camden Market was lunch (Indian for me, Moroccan for Tyler) and some handmade doughnuts. Here are some of the things I wanted to buy: tatted flower earring, antique hats, London-themed piggy banks, a cool skirt with a bird on it, a knitted jacket with a Union Jack pattern. See? Very restrained.

After the market we lumbered through Regent's Park eating our donuts. We were extremely full. Tyler took some nice pictures.


Our path through Regent's Park led right to Baker's Street!


We've been loving the BBC's new Sherlock series. (For the uninitiated, 221B Baker St. is Sherlock Holmes' address. Tyler's brother Jaren recommended the BBC series to us. We watched the first season with him over Christmas, then caught the first episode of the second season when it fortuitously aired while we were in London. Sadly, we must now wait till May to see the rest.)

This is Grosvenor Square, the very fanciest place to stay in London if you're a character in a Regency romance novel by the great Georgette Heyer. It's still a rather fancy place.


After Grosvenor Square we walked even more to get to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where we saw many nice things, but principally snuffboxes. These four beauties belonged to Frederick the Great. Historians, can there be any further doubt that the man was gay? I think not.


Most wonderful piece of jewelry I have ever seen. There were matching earrings, too. Swoon!


As you can see, Monday was an on-foot odyssey. The rest of the trip was rather more slothful. On Tuesday we didn't leave the house until after noon. We left at just the wrong moment, too, getting caught in a downpour on the way to the bus stop that left us drenched. We went to Portobello Road and spent some time in a bakery with hot chocolate warming up. Though there were no stalls open because of the rain, we did see lovely colorful houses and lots of cute shops.

And that's where the pictures run out. We spent the rest of Tuesday walking around Oxford Street, which, as Laura would say, is nice, "but it's no Fifth Avenue." For dinner Ken and Susan took us to an amazing Turkish restaurant, and then we played cards again. (We also played on Monday night. We hadn't been able to play cards for a long, long time!)

On Wednesday we took a nice walk on Stoke Newington Church Street (in the neighborhood where we were staying) and bought some used books, from a bookstore selling exclusively books in English! It was very exciting. Then it was time to get our last burrito of the trip and get on the train. We left quite a few sights unseen and a few burritos uneaten, so we'll have to go back.


  1. The burrito picture! It's so...poignant! I let out an involuntary, "Ohhhhhh..."

    Also, I LOVE "Sherlock." Will it be on itunes in May? Do you know?

    Also, that Camden Market looks awesome!

    Also, I totally agree on the St. Paul's organ. We went to an evensong service because I had remembered it being one of the greatest moments of my life. It did not disappoint.

    I think it's cool that we've finally gone to the same place!

  2. P.S. I'm totally jealous that you had a free place to sleep, by the way. Even 6-bunk hostel prices were kind of steep for us.

  3. Yes, Sherlock comes to American iTunes accounts in May. Tyler tried to come up with a scheme to get it through the UK iTunes sooner, but it came to naught.

    It's funny that we were there so close together, especially because it turned out that another American couple we met in Aachen were there at the same time as we were!

    Yes, the free place to sleep is key. Not that we have very many of those in Europe, but London is a good place to have one.

  4. Is it a pendant?! Very very strange. I don't think I've seen Grosvenor Square in real life . . . Imagine the stairs for the maids in those houses!

  5. Yes, it's a pendant! With matching earrings! I love it!

  6. First Sara - your burrito eating face is one of the most expressive and excellent expressions ever - so much can be said.

    Second - I didn't realize that the second season of Sherlock was already out! I LOVE that show! So good!

  7. jealousyjealousyjealousy. LONDON :(

  8. I got to log in to Facebook to see that famous potter shirt!


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