Thursday, July 12, 2007

a trip to the Prime Meridian

Greenwich park, originally uploaded by supafly.

Sunday was a sad day of packing and saying goodbye to Marshall as he headed off to India for six weeks, so lets skip to Monday. I decided to check out another Royal Park, Greenwich Park. This is also the home of the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian. Greenwich actually isn't too far from Peckham/Camberwell Green and I was able to take a couple of buses to get there. The parks were beautiful and surrounded on the side I entered by a wall that separated it from the noisy roads bordering it. The park was filled with many parents with strollers and little kids running around. There was a separate, fenced in flower garden in the park as well as a tea pavilion with snacks and a merry-go-round nearby.

There was a large tourist group going into the Royal Observatory when I got there and I actually missed the Prime Meridian line in the crowd. Instead, I headed into a camera obscura room and through the exhibits and actually had to exit and come back in before I saw the Prime Meridian line. It was right at the entrance, but the crowd had obscured it from view!

After leaving Greenwich, I stopped at the National Gallery for a look around the wing of most recent paintings. There were lots of great works of art and it was a relaxing way to end the day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

trip to New Malden

leaving central London, originally uploaded by supafly.

On my last Saturday in London, a parade went down Peckham as we ate lunch. It was a small parade - one truck with a band and a row of people behind dancing, singing about Jesus and waving ribbons. However, it was enough to create quite a traffic jam. Behind the parade were half a dozen buses. We peered into the bus windows to see how many people were pissed about the exceptionally slow bus ride and wondered if any of them knew what was holding them up.

We headed out of zones 1 and 2 of London and took a Southwestern train from Vauxhall to New Malden (just 5 miles past Wimbledon). We were going there because it's supposed to have the largest expatriate community of Koreans in Europe. Marshall was impressed with how close together all the Korean shops were. Within 2 or 3 blocks of the train station were two Korean grocery stores. Both of them had these back stairwells that led to other businesses, like cafes or a golf store. There were also several Korea hair salons and Marshall went to one for a haircut. While I waited for him, I was entertained by a trio of friends who were all there to get their haircut. The two men were laughing about how much more complicated it was for women when they get their haircut but were baffled as to why. Their female friend proved them correct. She was British-Korean and spoke no Korean so her friend had to translate for the hair stylist. In her words, she wanted it "styled more." What does that mean? In the end, they couldn't agree on anything so she let her guy friend get a haircut while she thought about it some more.

After a delicious and spicy Korean meal and a stop to get kimchi and seaweed for the house, we went to see Shrek 3 at our local theatre - the Peckham Multiplex. It smelled a little funny, but it wasn't too expensive (£6) and wasn't crowded at all. Some people I have talked to loved the movie and others didn't, but we thought it was hilarious!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jane Austen, fashion, and okonomiyaki

our finished Okonomiyaki, originally uploaded by supafly.

I started my last full Friday in London by watching a movie about Jane Austen (called Becoming Jane) at the Prince Charles Cinema. It was an interesting movie that expanded on historical accounts of a romance that Jane Austen had. If you're familiar with her books, you will see moments in the movie that could have inspired her novels. It is interesting to wonder why both Jane and her older sister ended up never getting married and what circumstances led to that. (On my way to the movie theatre, I passed an tent in Leicester square set up for poker playing by the World Poker Tournament. I didn't stop to play, but I got a bag of free goodies.)

After the movie, I headed to the Victoria and Albert museum where I walked around their wonderful fashion exhibit. My favorite was a muslin dress from 1819 that had interesting details on the skirt that I think would still look modern today. The gallery was filled with young students taking photographs and making sketches of designs that inspired them. (Apparently, Zac Posen went to fashion school in London and was himself inspired by some of the fashion on display at the V&A. Now his own work is on display here.) There was also a wonderful Chihuly piece hanging in the museum entrance as well as several red lip sofas, which are a part of the special exhibit on Surrealism.

The museum is open late on Fridays, but I decided to go in search of this pub that was recommended in a blog for its sticky toffee pudding. I should've known better since the Abingdon is located in the ritzy Kensington/Chelsea neighborhood. The sticky toffee pudding there was £6.50! I decided I wasn't willing to spend $13 on a dessert, but I did enjoy my walk around the beautiful neighborhood. I found a Waitrose (Seema says its like the Whole Foods of London) where I instead got a sticky toffee pudding to microwave at home for less than £3. (It was delicious, but so sweet that I've had my fill of sticky toffee pudding for awhile.)

I met Marshall for dinner and we walked to Abeno for Okonimyaki only to find out that you need reservations there and they were all booked up so we walked on to their other restaurant Abeno Too where it's first come, first served. It was a lot of fun sitting at the counter (on big boxes that also served as storage for all of your stuff while you ate) and watching them cook your food, but it was also really really hot. By the time we left, we were drenched in sweat and the coolness of the evening was a welcome relief.

science and poetry

sculpture at the Royal Society, originally uploaded by supafly.

As I'm writing this I am being driven crazy by the construction that starts outside around 9:30 every morning. There's always hammering or drilling happening with the occasional swear word thrown in. The worst though is the constant 80's and 90's music that they play. It's all the cheesy stuff too....that's better - I just put on my noise cancelling headphones and am listening to Blossom Dearie instead. (I could also just move to the front room, but why do that?)

On Thursday I went back to the Royal Society for the last day of the Science Exhibition. On the way, I walked by Trafalger square and the Mall. They were setting up bleachers and big screens in Trafalger for the Tour de France opening ceremonies tomorrow and the mall was closed to traffic. It was lined with new trucks and Tour de France vehicles. I walked over to Carlton Terrace and up the stairs of the Royal Society.

The only quiet exhibit room contained information on primate language. You could listen to different chimpanzee sounds and the researcher's explanation for what it means. They also had a machine that showed pitch and loudness of different primate sounds and a microphone so you could try matching their sounds. I tried a few times, but the room was so quiet so it was quite embarrassing to hear myself trying to sound like an orangutan for example.

There was another room that was loud with the sound of airplanes taking off. They are trying to develop technology for quieter aircraft. One of their simplest and most brilliant solutions was to point the engines up instead of down so that most of the sound was above the plane rather than below it. They also gave out cool portable frisbees.

An exhibit about life in the canopy of the rainforest had many arthropod specimens. There were huge beetles and ones so tiny they looked almost like specks of dust. There were also a few live samples, including dung beetles, a millipede, and a centipede.

In the basement of the Royal Society were the last few exhibits. The clothes of some of the first arctic explorers were on display. I couldn't imagine staying warm in such thin layers of cloth - they must have been cooooold! One of the coolest exhibits let you control a mini ROV (Robot Operated Vehicle) that was in a large fish tank. It's similar to playing the game where you try to pick up things with a robotic claw, except you watch what you are doing on a tv screen and it's hard to do something 3-dimensionally from a 2-dimensional image. Kids were once again overwhelming the exhibit so I just watched them bicker with one another about whose turn it was and how so and so was hogging the machine.

After watching all the exhibits, I walked down to Regent street to Habitat, a store with similar goods for sale as Crate and Barrel. The biggest difference was the in-house wurlitzer organ that was being played when I walked in. There were several old people gathered on couches near the organ and I joined them for a little while.

Next, I walked down to Carnaby street. I was going to get some sticky toffee pudding, but decided I better have something more substantial and sat down in a quiet corner of a pub for sausage and mash instead.

After taking some time to read and rest, I took the tube to the Southbank Centre. I walked through their Operation Soapbox maze, where people could leave messages throughout and then went next door for a poetry slam. All the poets were teenagers and many of their works were about the violence they had seen. The two that impressed me the most were only 12-years old and great beatboxers!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Visiting the Tate Modern

entrance to the Tate Modern, originally uploaded by supafly.

Wednesday I made my first visit to one of the big British museums. I decided to start with the Tate Modern. I took bus #343 to Borough High street and walked to the Tate Modern from there. On the way, I passed the Rose and Crown, a pub where we ate Thai food last summer when we visited London.

On the ground floor of the Tate Modern was an interesting exhibit on cities. It focused on London, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Cairo, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Istanbul. They used photography, sculpture, video, and graphics to compare and contrast the speed, size, density, diversity and form of these ten cities.

Besides the cities exhibit, one of my favorite areas in the museum was the gallery with drawings and sketches by artists. There was one drawing by Alighiero Boetti called "Aerei" that I particularly liked. From far away, it looked like it the blue background of the sky had been created by embroidering blue thread, but when you got closer, it was actually rows and rows of parallel ballpoint pen marks. I am always amazed with artists' ability to put so much time into meticulous detail.

After stopping at the cafe for a snack, I took the Millenium footbridge across the Thames and passed St. Paul's cathedral on my way to a jewelry exhibit at Goldsmiths' Hall on Foster Lane. The building is home to one of the old guilds of London and it had one of the nicest bathrooms I've found in the city. There is a lounge connected to the bathroom with couches and make-up mirrors and I sat there for a while resting.

The jewelry exhibit showcased some of the most accomplished young silversmiths and jewellers in England. My favorite artist at the exhibit was Zoe Arnold, whose jewelry was inspired by stories and poems. They were like wearable illustrations to a poem or story and each piece was quite unique and different from the others.

On my way back down Foster Lane and to the St. Paul's tube station, I found a quiet church courtyard. It was welcome to anyone who needed a space for quiet and meditation. Unfortunately, there was road construction going on right outside, but it was a respite from the dust and business of the street. A dove sat on one of the benches sleeping. On my way home, I stopped for dinner at Food for Thought. It was my second meal there and I liked it because it was healthy, delicious, cheap and filling food. Also, the space is small and you share tables with people so I didn't feel so odd eating alone. In fact, I shared a table with two other people that were there alone.

Royal Society Science Exhibition

coral, originally uploaded by supafly.

Tuesday I went to the second day of the Royal Society Science exhibition. It was like a science fair for scientists. There were probably more high school age students visiting than anything else so it was crowded with people grabbing whatever freebies they could. Why is that so often human nature - to take all the flyers and pens and random crap that you can? Often, people got carried away and took anything that wasn't nailed down and some exhibitors were left without some of their presentation materials.

Before I went in to see the exhibits I went to hear the presentation about deep sea discoveries that have been made in the Arctic. 60% of the world hasn't been explored and that includes the deeper parts of the ocean. The scientist who talked to us had just returned from a June expedition to the Arctic where he found coral that lived in deep (350 meters), dark and cold waters. Apparently, corals, like trees, have rings so you can tell how successful each year was for them. He showed us the damage that fishing can do. When they get too close to the coral beds, they end up killing the colony which pretty much destroys the entire ecosystem. I didn't realize it, but 98% of all life is on the seabed.

After the presentation, I headed into the ground floor exhibits. The first exhibit focused on research being done on the bacteria that live in our digestive system. Apparently, we obtain most of the bacteria living in our gut when we are babies. They had a series of beakers kept at different temperatures that were supposed to mimic the different parts of the digestive system. They monitored the pH of each beaker because each section has a slightly different pH. You can take the microbe journey online.

The next exhibit was about a three-wheeled, two passenger vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas. They wanted it to have the small footprint of a motorcycle, the comfort of a car and lower emissions than both. The vehicle was called CLEVER (Compact Low Emission VEhicle for uRban transport) and you could sit inside it to see what it was like.

They had an interesting historical exhibit on blackboards. Apparently, at the University of Oxford, they have kept a blackboard that Einstein used during a lecture there in 1931. They didn't bring that with them, but they asked other notable scientists, writers, and philosophers to recreate writing from their lectures on blackboards. It seems that the value of the smartboards now found in classrooms is that it is even easier to save this kind of writing. Rather than having to cart around a blackboard, it can all be saved electronically and displayed on a computer, on paper, or on a smartboard in a completely different location!

There were several more interesting exhibits. At one, they had body sensors similar to what is found in a Wii that you clip on to your ear. It is able to track your position in space. There was another exhibit where you could practice being a surgeon. They had silicon models of skin with a "lipoma" (benign tumor) embedded in it. You could tape the silicon skin onto a real person and perform surgery on them. They had two operating areas and they even put people in scrubs, masks, and gloves. Of course, the exhibit was inundated with kids so I moved on to an exhibit on listening to trees. It seems you can tell the hardness of a tree by hitting it with a mallet. The deeper the pitch, the harder the wood.

After seeing half of the exhibitions, I was ready for a break and spent some time wandering around Regent street. I headed home early to take photos of the house for Marshall, who was desperately looking for someone to take his room while he is in India for 6 weeks. (It turns out the rent in India is much more expensive than the rent in London!)

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Lions at RIBA

lions on the staircase, originally uploaded by supafly.

I'm almost a week behind on this, but I'll have plenty of time to catch up now that my honey has left for India. I'm going to miss him so much and now it's just me in London - plus a house full of people. Abigail (whose dad is the landlord) broke her wrist and is officially staying in London for the summer instead of going to Thailand. Her best friend from New Jersey is visiting. Plus, there's Martin, from Germany who is here as an insurance writer and also Abigail's boyfriend and her friend's boyfriend who is taking classes at the London School of Economics - oh and Abigail's cat who just moved in from Surrey and roams around looking for an open window to escape from. Funny, the house has more people in it than it ever has, but I feel so alone.

Last Monday was a slow day. I always need time to recover from the weekends so I slept in and took it easy. Eventually, I got up, made toast in the broiler and went to the Royal Institute of British Architects to check out their current exhibit. Gallery two had a series of black and white architectural photographs taken by John Donat. He did a lot of "model photographs" and one was of a proposed Mies van der Rohe building imposed on the London skyline. It was so modern that it looked completely out of place - probably why it was never approved and built.

The exhibit in Florence Hall was a collaboration between architects and schools. The students at grade schools worked with architects to plan and design different types of green spaces for their school. There were models, evaluations, and plans by the students presented in clever ways.

After that, I headed home to have dinner with my housemates. Abigail and her boyfriend made some delicious pasta and a salad and we welcomed our newest roommate Martin to London from Hanover, Germany. Marshall was even able to get home from work in time for it and Kier - a roommate in the process of moving out was there too, so it was a delicious meal with lots of good company.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A weekend of wind and rain

flying kites on Parliament Hill, originally uploaded by supafly.

It has been unusually rainy in England since we've been here. It was a downpour most of Saturday so we spent a good part of the day inside rather than going to the city's Gay Pride festivities in Central London. In the afternoon, we went for a walk through our Peckham neighborhood (we're just in between Peckham and Camberwell Green) and on to Dulwich. Marshall finally got to see the cheap grocery store that I'd found. It's called Lidl and is a German chain. Our new roommate Martin, who is from Hanover, Germany, told us that it is considered nicer than Aldi since it actually sells namebrand products.

We then walked on to Dulwich through a constant drizzle. We stopped at the Sea Cow for some tasty fish and chips (and mushy peas). There was also an argument going on between one of the customers and the guy behind the counter frying fish. I'm not sure what it was about, but there was some yelling and then the guy left.

This is one of at least three fights I've seen in my neighborhood. There seems to be many passionate, hot-headed people here - and you can't blame it on hot weather because it's doesn't usually get above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The first big fight was on a bus headed from London Bridge back to Peckham. We were on the top level of a double decker and all of a sudden two men in the back started choking each other. One man banged the other man's head repeatedly against he window. A woman that was with them just laughed as they fought. Needless to say, everyone was watching and finally one person went down to tell the driver. The bus was stopped and the driver came up, but he didn't do much. It wasn't until everyone else started telling the bus driver to kick them off the bus that they stopped. First, they clutched each other's shirt sleeves and fought over who was going to let go first. "You let go." "No, you let go." It was ridiculous masculine ego. One of them went downstairs for awhile, but eventually came back up and talked on his cell phone as if nothing happened.

The next big fight I only heard. I was again on the top of a double decker, this time headed into the city from Peckham. I heard a lot of yelling below and the bus stopped. Many people yelled that they had to get to work. Eventually, we all got off and boarded the next bus that came by. On the next bus, several people were talking about the fight. It was apparently between a couple and one threw a glass bottle at the other as their kid sat in between them. A lot of the yelling had been other people telling them they shouldn't fight like that in front of their kid.

Back to the weekend...In Dulwich, I found the best charity shop yet. It was packed with Terry Prachett books! (He's a British fantasy writer.) I had the entire Discworld series, but there was a Johnny Maxwell trilogy he had written that I hadn't read so I bought it. After a few hours in the drizzle, we headed home on a bus to where it was warm and dry.

Sunday started out much nicer and we headed to the Brick Lane Sunday market. It reminded me of the Maxwell street market in Chicago but was much larger. They sold absolutely everything there. We were first bombarded by women selling porn and pirated blockbuster DVDs. Then we passed rows and rows of stalls selling hardware, tools, medicine, cosmetics, food, jewelry...come to think of it, the one thing I didn't see were hub caps for sale. We stopped to look at bicycles (probably stolen) that were being sold for £35 to £65. A steal compared to the price at a normal store. Behind some of the stalls were nice, artsy boutiques selling interesting and expensive housewares, jewelry, and clothing. One boutique had motorcycle jackets for sale - I was tempted by a women's jacket that had just come in, but they didn't have my size. There was also a lot of great graffiti. We stopped at Brick Lane Beigel Bake (open 24 hours) for some delicious freshly baked bagels. I got mine with salt beef (like pastrami) and mustard and Marshall got one with salami and one with butter.

Next, we headed to a couple of neighborhoods I thought Marshall would enjoy seeing. First to Camden town. We stopped to watch some boats go through the locks and then walked through the many food and clothing stalls. We went into one store selling raver gear. They had borg pods on the wall and lots of futuristic clothing under black lights. Marshall was impressed by all the food for sale and tried some lamb tagine from a Moroccan stall. I got an apple, lemon, ginger smoothie and a trio of freshly made cinnamon donuts.

Soon we boarded a bus to Hampstead Heath, which is just North of Camden. We found Keat's house (which I had missed by 1/2 a block the last time I was there). It was surprisingly big and plain. It looked too modern to be his home. We took a few photos and walked on. Marshall realized how posh the neighborhood was when he spotted a Maserati on the street. He had to have his picture taken with it, and then we entered the park.

We walked up to Parliament hill and watched the crowd of people that had gathered to fly kites. It was a windy day and there were many successful kite flyers. One woman and her son were having a hard time getting their bulky bi-plane shaped kite aloft and Marshall was getting irritated with their poor kite flying skills. The person next to them had a simple pentagon shaped kite flying the entire time - sometimes the string would drift towards us and I'd have to move it before it beheaded us. He was also trying to fly a stunt kite which was a lot more challenging, since it had two strings instead of one. Besides the kite flyers, we saw two men with metal detectors (searching for buried treasure?), many picnickers, and families strolling through the park.

When we got too cold, we headed down the hill and into the village of Hampstead to the Hollybush, an old Victorian pub, where we had cider (me), guinness (Marshall), and a sausage roll. We rested our feet and read a little as well. (Reading books in pubs is a common thing, unlikes bars in the US). Then, we headed home, satisfied in a full day of (almost dry) sightseeing.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Happy Canada Day!

British Library, originally uploaded by supafly.

Last Friday I made reservations to see the Sacred text exhibit at the British Library. Before going there, I stopped at House, a local cafe, for lunch. It was a great place and doubles as an art gallery. They had couches to lounge in and plenty of magazines to read. Then I walked down towards Camberwell Green and stopped in at the Camberwell library to read Time Out and also check out the display of books that were made from last week's art day. As I boarded the bus, I noticed a dog down below wearing sunglasses - everyone on the bus peered down and laughed.

From the outside, the British Library isn't much to look at, but it has terrific exhibits! Before heading in to see the sacred texts, I stopped in their permanent exhibits and found a manuscript of Jane Eyre, a couple of Jane Austen's notebooks, and a copy of Alice in Wonderland (handwritten with the original illustrations) among other things. They had scanned several of the books so you could actually electronically "flip" through the pages. It was amazing!

The Sacred exhibit had some of the oldest copies of the Koran, Torah, and Bible on display. There was even a fragment of the dead sea scrolls. They also had ceremonial music from all three religions as well as information on religious customs and interviews with people about specific events like Bat Mitzvah and Eid.

In addition to exhibits, it is of course a library, but you need to apply for a reading pass to actually access the books. There were also several desks where many people were using their laptops, meeting, and doing work.

Next, I headed to the Southbank Centre for a dance concert. It started out strangely, as a dance with just two people accompanied by a depressing poem. However, the space was soon filled with dozens of dancers from different companies accompanied by a live band. It was a lot of fund and afterwards they had swing dancing and one of the East End Elvises made an appearance.

I sat outside on the South Bank for awhile and read the free newspapers they pass out here every night (London Paper and London Lite) and watched high school students walk by in formal wear on their way to a party on a boat docked nearby. It started to get colder, so I took the tube and met Marshall for dinner. We were trying to find Abeno Too, an okonomiyaki place, but instead ended up at Tokyo Diner, which was a nice place with large portions. The katsu don wasn't as tasty as Sunshine Cafe's though. (I really miss that place!) Afterwards, we found Abeno Too, which looked like a lot of fun - they cook the okonomiyaki right in front of you.

On the way home, we ran into the Canada Day festival at Trafalger Square. We were just in time for the last band's performance. It was surreal to be in London with all of these people dressed in red, waving Canadian flags, and drinking Canadian beer. The night ended with the singing of their national anthem and then we headed home.

a day of science

cool light sculpture, originally uploaded by supafly.

Last Thursday I went to the Science Museum. I took the tube to South Kensington and was surprised to see daylight when I got off of the train. It wasn't an underground stop! I did head down to the subway (here the name for underground tunnels, not the train system) which connected the station to the many museums in the area. I walked by the Natural History museum exit and a very cool entrance to the Victoria and Albert museum and ended up at the Science museum. Like almost all the museums here it is free - unless you want to check out the IMAX movie, hang out with Bob the Builder, or see their special exhibit on spying.

I headed upstairs, hoping to get away from the crowds of children (when I'm not teaching, I like to get a break from the hordes) to the third floor, which was filled with airplanes and engines. It was quite interesting and I just wished my grandfather, Lolo Pepe, was there too. He's an engineer and would have loved seeing all of these great machines!

Next, I headed upstairs to their displays on the history of medicine and health care. I was surprised to learn they had speculums all the way back in Roman times and snapped pictures of the Gynecological displays for my dad. The scariest object was a rusty chastity belt. I didn't realize they had actually existed. I'm pretty sure the sharp teeth on it would discourage any possible premarital sex.

On the first and second floor, there were some terrific art and science exhibits. One of my favorites was a sculpture made of hundreds of different types of materials. Next to the sculpture, were samples of each material found in it. There was also a huge circular track (pictured above) that would show suggestions visitors had given for reducing our carbon footprint. You could add your own suggestions to it.

After checking out the museum, I met Marshall for dinner. We went to Maroush, well, one of them. There are a chain of these Lebanese restaurants around the city. We had a delicious meal of lamb, rice, bread, and vegetables and then he headed back to work. When he left work at 2am, the police had found the first car bomb on Haymarket street and bus service was suspended in Central London. Of course, Marshall didn't find out until he was waiting at the bus stop for 45 minutes. Then, he had to figure walk further out of the city to find another bus stop. He didn't end up getting home until 5am!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Royal Parks walk

Pelicans flapping, originally uploaded by supafly.

Tuesday I joined a wonderful free walk through the Royal parks. We met at the St. James tube stop at the Queen Anne's gate exit on Petty France street. The first one there was a nice woman from Tasmania and we were soon joined by a family from the San Francisco bay area and their uncle from Sacramento. Our tour guide Steve was soon there and we set off.

Before heading into the park, we walked down Queen Anne's Gate street at the statue of Queen Anne. With the help of the Duke of Marlborough, Queen Anne joined England and Scotland, making her the first ruler of Great Britain. We were informed that the statue supposedly comes to life every August 1st and walks around. The street had wonderful old homes with great faces carved all around the walls. There was even an old candle snuffer by a front door. We were told that when they used to light the lamps at night, the snuffers were used by the lamp lighters to put out their flame.

Next, we entered St. James's park, which was started in 1530 by Henry VIII and used as a deer hunting park. 1616 is when it was first opened to the public. The lake that is found in the park started out as a canal that connected Buckingham and Whitehall (once a palace, now government buildings). In 1826, John Nash (under George IV) laid the park out into the plan that exists today. We stopped to admire the London Plane trees, which are especially resistant to the pollution in the city. The bark is able to peel off, taking the pollution it has absorbed with it. We walked over to admire the pelicans, which were originally brought to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian ambassador.

We soon exited St. James's park and stopped near Buckingham Palace. There were helicopters flying overhead and press trucks parked nearby because Tony Blair was paying his official visit to the Queen to hand her his letter of resignation. Next, we entered Green Park. It is much greener and free of the flowers in the other parks. This is supposedly because Charles II used to like to take his constitutional walks here and was caught by his wife picking flowers to give to another woman. She decided there would no longer be flowers in the park after that. Green park was much quieter than St. James or Hyde park and there were few people there, it was an oasis even though it was right next to Buckingham palace.

We soon got to the Wellington Arch at Hyde Park corners. It was hard to tell, but the Angel of Peace statue at the top of the arch is the largest bronze statue in Europe. Next door to the arch was #1 London, Apsley House where the Duke of Wellington lived. From there, we entered Hyde Park and stopped to look at the dirt road by the entrance, called King's road. In the past it had been illuminated by lamps and provided safe passage between Whitehall and Kensington palace. Near the entrance was a lovely weeping birch tree. We went under the branches, and it was a lovely shaded area where many lovers had carved their name into the bark. It reminded me of the willow tree I used to love sitting under to read as a kid, except the branches were so low here that you really were hidden from the world.

We followed the Serpentine around the park. It is a clay bottom lake that was created by Queen Caroline, George II's wife. Nearby was the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. It's a wonderful oval shaped fountain that is supposed to represent both the happy and tumultuous aspects of Diana's life. It's a great place to soak your feet on hot day (which we did last summer when we were here). Apparently, a lot of people have hurt themselves, walking in the fountain, so that's no longer allowed.

Next, we stopped at the Lido, where there is a bathing area cordoned off in the Serpentine as well as a cafe. We had tea and snacks and rested our fee a bit. Then we left Hyde Park and entered Kensington Gardens. Hyde Park is the people's park, but Kensington gardens was originally only open to the public (by Queen Caroline) on Saturdays and you had to be "dressed smartly" to enter. At the edge of the gardens, is the huge and gleaming Prince Albert Memorial, which was built by Queen Victoria as a memorial to her husband. It definitely shows she missed him and they just recently put a new coat of gold leaf on the statue of Prince Albert so he really shines! It was interesting to find out that the book the statue is holding is a catalogue of the Great Exhibition, which raised a lot of money at the time and was used to fund many of the museums in the area.

In the last stretch of the walk, we stopped at the Peter Pan sculpture, where an adorable little boy had a hard time leaving because he had to keep kissing the bronze rabbits goodbye. Apparently, J.M. Barry, the creator of Peter Pan, used to walk in gardens while he was writing the play. Our walk ended near the Lancaster gate tube stop. It was a long walk, 3 miles and around 2 1/2 hours, but Steve was a terrific and knowledgeable tour guide and it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon!

£5 hair cuts

inside YumChaa teas, originally uploaded by supafly.

I felt a bit better by Tuesday and ventured out to Camden for a hair cut I had scheduled a week and half ago when a woman stopped me on the street the last time I was in Camden and asked if I wanted to be a hair model. I was afraid, my hair was going to be massacred by a student, but instead was pleasantly surprised to find out that an instructor would be cutting my hair in front of a class of students.

It took three hours and involved a lot of neck cramps. I also fell asleep at one point and had my hair handled by several students that smelled like candy. However, for £5, I got a fabulous hair cut! She gave me (in hair stylist speak) a reverse graduated bob, also known as an A-line bob. I loved it! It was beautifully cut. I especially liked the bangs. She spent a long time explaining the proper way to cut bangs - I wish I could've video taped the whole thing to show my next hair stylist. I didn't know there was so much technical knowledge involved in a good haircut.

They also spent a lot of time talking about the new scissors they were using which made a fairly loud "snip snip" sound because of two metal pieces that banged against each other. This was to remind the stylists of what they were doing and keep then in the moment and more mindful of their work. They were also saying their salon was in Camden because it was one of the centers of style in London - and there's certainly a lot of individual expressions of style when you walk down the streets of Camden.

After the haircut, I had a nice cup of Chelsea chai green tea at a tea house nearby. It was nice to just sit, sip, and read. Then, I relaxed some more in Regents park before meeting Marshall for a Kellog Alumni lecture at the Royal College of Physicians on "Why Power Corrupts." I got there early, but was pleasantly surprised to find lot of free food and drinks. Feeling more up to eating, I tried some food and had a glass of cranberry juice. I walked around the room, which was actually a library, and looked at the many books locked up in cages. There were a lot of medical and science books, but amongst them was Paradise Lost.

The lecture was interesting and I met a few nice people and was pleasantly surprised afterwards that they put even more food out to eat. We ate, chatted with people, and then headed home. (We made a pit stop in the bathroom at the Royal College, which is the nicest I've seen so far - much better than the so called luxury bathroom at Harrods which had a scary bathroom attendant that glared at me the entire time.)

West End Live weekend

The London Gay Men's Chorus, originally uploaded by supafly.

We started our second weekend in London cooking pasta carbonara at home. Afterwards, we stopped at Eleph ant and Castle tube stop to check out the all of the stalls surrounding the station, which sold bags, clothes, music, etc... There is also an indoor shopping center that has a Clarke's factory store and Iceland (a cheap grocery store that specializes in frozen foods). It was at this point, as we left Clarke's to go to Iceland, that I realized I had left my trusty marmot rain jacket (which had seen me through a trip to the Amazon and all of last summer's trip through Europe) on the bus. I was totally bummed and have called the bus garage since, but they didn't have it.

Next, we went to see West End Live! in Leicester Square, a free preview of musicals as well as other performances, including the London Gay Men's Chorus which (my favorite) sang Desperado by the Eagles. It was packed with people and we wandered around the different tents surrounding the stage. They all seemed to be geared towards children, but I stopped in the Science museum tent anyway and made a spy decoder as well as a train/robot out of paper that moved. There was another tent where kids could make their own claymation movie, face painting, hair extensions, and henna painting. I didn't want to wait in the long line for henna, but did practice some simple bollywood movies with an instructor. Then we queued to get our picture taken with the rat Remy from Ratatouille. I can't wait to see the movie!

After that, we found a Japanese area in Central London where there were overpriced Japanese groceries for sale as well as many restaurants and a cultural center - all connected to the Japan Airlines office.

We boarded a bus for Islington and walked North on Upper Street to Bierodrome, a Belgian pub and restaurant where we feasted on 1 kilogram of steamed mussels, a bowl of fries, and Belgian mash (really just mashed potatoes with a lot of butter). The pot of mussels seemed never ending, and I'm not sure if it was that, or something else, but I was sick for the next two days.

I lay in bed groaning, watched the first episode of the new season of Top Chef and bought several episodes of My Name is Earl from the iTunes store. I also discovered an entertaining Japanese sitcom called "Attention Please!" It's about a group of young women going to school to become cabin attendants for Japan Airlines. The lead character had been a rock musician, but needed to get a "real job." The show was a great add for JAL, as it made their airline seem super responsible and anal - and who doesn't want that when you're flying?

Marshall was also kind enough to make me Jook (Korean rice porridge). After being able to eat a little, I ventured out on Monday to Harrods. I was amazed at the range of things they sold there. Every kind of food available (including chicken with the head and feet on and Iberican ham) was in the food hall. There was even a Krispy Kreme section where you could sit down and just eat donuts. Upstairs, they had antiques (including chairs from an old space ship) and a pet store (with Chihuahuas and Siamese cats for sale). In the basement they even had a health center and I considered going in, but when I saw that dental floss cost £5, I decided I'd better just go home. I survived the bus ride home and watched more My Name is Earl and Attention Please while lying in bed recovering from something that I ate.

Friday, June 29, 2007

A Day of Art

more book destroying, originally uploaded by supafly.

Friday started out as a day of art. I first went to the "Gorilla in the Roses" event at the Camberwell Library. David and Davina, a pair of artists, led us in an afternoon of destroying books by ripping them up, typing, stenciling, and sewing on them, and making collages. They were inspired by Joe Orton who, in 1967, inserted a picture of a gorilla into a book about roses at the Islington Public Library. The act of destroying books is entirely against my nature, and it was difficulty to begin. After reading a bit of Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery, I reminded myself there were many more copies of that out there and started ripping out favorite lines. I spent most of my time destroying a London guide book which was fitting and also easier because it was out of date. It was a small group, but we enjoyed ourselves and the artists shares their experience with another event they had done for the Camberwell Arts Festival yesterday where they shared stories with people using the laundromat across the street and asked them to share a story about experiences at the Tumble Wash in return.

After working on my book for a few hours, I left to go to another art event going on across the street, Sweet Obscenities. At Seymour Brothers bakery, Lucille powers was collecting people's swear words on a large sheet of paper and was also piping them onto cupcakes. What a great idea - to take insults that you had experienced and eat it up!

Next, I took the bus downtown and went to see Black Snake Moan at the Prince Charles Cinema. The PCC is just off of Leicester Square, where there are several expensive movie houses, and it is a bargain in comparison. I paid £3.50 and thoroughly enjoyed the intensity between Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson.

Afterwards, I walked around Leicester Square, where they were previewing theatre performances by invitation only for West End Live, which started the next day and was open to the public. Then I walked down Regents street and got some bath bombs at Lush. When Marshall got off of work, I met him at the Apple store (which is bigger than the one in Chicago, there's a glass elevator that reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the middle). We walked down to Brewer street in the rain and had falafel sandwiches at Maoz. Afterwards ,we got on a crowded #12 bus and headed home.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Science in London

Royal Society lecture, originally uploaded by supafly.

My feet were killing me by the end of the day on Wednesday, so I took it easy on Thursday. I hung out at the apartment for most of the morning. It's been nice because there aren't any other tenants yet and Abigail is often gone, so I had the place to myself. I made myself a tasty lunch of pasta carbonara and sat in the front room reading. Eventually, I decided to venture out and ended up right across the street at the South London Gallery, which is housed at the Camberwell College of the Arts. I checked out the exhibit, Stay Forever and Ever and Ever, just before it closed. I also sat in their comfy lounge reading the latest edition of Time Out. On the way out I picked up one of their free posters which can be cut up into individual cards to build with - very cool!

After dropping of the poster at home, I walked down to Primark and discovered the only store (so far) that has clothes cheap enough to buy when you take into account the currency conversion. They were also stylish. I picked up a pair of pants for £4, a shirt for £6 and a cute orange coat for £10.

Next, I headed to Central London for a lecture at the Royal Society, an "independent scientific academy dedicated to promoting exellence in science." I got there early, but they hadn't let anyone inside yet, so a queue had formed outside of the building, composed of mostly white-haired science fans. The title of the talk was "The LHC: How the world's largest experiment can investigate matter's smallest constituents." The talk was given by Dr. Tara Shears, and she did an absolutely wonderful job of communicating very complicated information in way that easy to understand and follow. Her powerpoint presentation was also impressive in that it didn't have the words she was saying, but was instead very visual in nature - showing graphics or photos that really enhanced and supported what she was saying. (I took lots of notes on the talk if you're interested.)

After the lecture, there was a lively Q&A and then I met Marshall near Trafalger square. We walked to the seven dials and found Food for Thought, a cheap and delicious vegetarian restaurant, right before they closed. We got their special of the day and sat in Neal's Yard (where Marshall picked up more tasty vegetarian fare) to eat.

Guided Walks day

beautiful Hiroshige wave, originally uploaded by supafly.

Last Wednesday was a day of guided walks. I started the day near Red Lion Square by the Holborn Station tube. The Holborn Street Rangers, a group that provides information about the Holborn neighborhood and patrols the area, led a free tour of the Foundling museum and hospital today. It started at the intersection of Lamb's Conduit street and Guilford Place by the entrance to Coram's Field, which is seven acre playground for children. Unfortunately, I couldn't enter because adults can only enter when accompanied by adults. I couldn't even look in because it is completely covered by a large fence, wall, and shrubs.

We started by taking a brief tour of the Foundling Museum, which tells the history of the Foundling Hospital. This was the first home for abandoned children in London. It was started in 1779 by Thomas Coram, who had been a sea captain in the 1700's. Interestingly, Georg Friedrich Handel helped raise money for the Foundling Hospital by holding benefit concerts where his piece the Messiah was performed.

The original hospital took in over 27,000 children in the 200+ years that it was in operation. Because so many more children needed their help than could be taken in, mothers had to enter a lottery when trying to leave their children there. A white ball meant the child would get a medical exam and would most likely be admitted. A red ball meant that if any of the children with white balls did not get admitted, they would be next in line. A black ball meant they were denied entry. The most interesting part of the museum were the Foundling Hospital tokens that were on display. These were small objects that mothers would leave with their children so they could identify them if they cam back for them. Some were homemade, like a heart sewn out of scraps. Others were just bits of what might otherwise be considered garbage like the label off of a bottle of ale.

After the tour, I walked back down Lamb's Conduit street and checked out the many interesting shops there. There was a charity shop (neighborhood thrift store) which tempted me with books. There was also an adorable bookstore called Persephone books, which publishes forgotten twentieth-century books written mostly by women. The books are beautifully published and every book comes with a bookmark that matches the unique endpaper of the book.

After also stopping in at a bicycle shop, a beautiful little boutique, and an organic food store, I turned on to Theobald's Road and stopped to grab a bite at the Fryer's Delight, which was recommended as a good fish and chips shop. I ordered rock fish - I don't know what that was, but it was too greasy and had a huge vertebrae. The shop was nice though and I rested my feet in a spacious booth that could have seated six.

On the way home, I stopped at St. James' park. It was the most crowded park I had been in yet, but I was still able to find an empy seat on one of the many benches lining the paths. There were some beautiful black swans in the pond there, as well as pelicans and cranes. There was a nice little cafe that had an elevated platform overlooking the pond, as well as big green cushions you could sit on while you enjoyed refreshments. My favorite part of the park was a little cottage off of the pond where the plants were beautifully overgrown.

In the evening, I took my second guided walk of Camberwell (and my second guided walk of the day). This one was on the history of Camberwell, primarily the many Huguenots (French Calvinists) and Germans who moved into the area many years ago. The walk started in Ruskin Park and I hurried up Denmark Hill to get there before it began. Ruskin Park, like Burgess Park, had been made from demolishing homes, many of which had been destroyed during World War II. There was still a remnant left of the house at 170 Denmark Hill . The German composer Felix Mendelssohn had stayed in a neighboring house, which belonged to a relative. While there, he composed a song that he first called "Camberwell Green." He later changed the name to "Spring Song." It's a familiar piece of music that I often used to hear during Looney Tunes cartoons.

Our next stop was a pub called The Fox on the Hill. In 1786, it was the site of the largest entertainment hall in England (at the time). It was called the Denmark Entertainment Hall in honor of the King of Denmark, who was visiting England when it was being built. We walked up Champion Hill to view the Platanes, the only surviving mansion from 1882. There were many other large mansions still up there that had been build at other periods of time. Mr. Herman Kleinwort, the merchant banker who had the Platanes built, moved to Champion hills for the clean air and healthy breezes. From there, he would walk to work in Central London, crossing the London Bridge over the Thames.

Next, we walked through what had once been the mews (and was now dirt road alley) for the grand house and estate of a Huguenot family that had lived in the area. We stopped at what had been the Lettson Estates. Dr. Lettson had been a quaker physician who encouraged people to live in the area because he believe it to be healthy due to the winds and fresh air. He was also a great philanthropist who ended up losing his estate because of his generosity. After passing many more interesting sites (the old dispensary, the minet/cat architecture near Myatt's Field), we ended up at the Sun and Doves (a pub that also displays art, shows films, and has live music), where there was an opening party for the first Camberwell map. They offered us all free food and drinks, a wonderful end to the day! (On the way home I saw a beautiful painting of Hiroshige's wave on the side of a building off of Coldharbour Lane.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Hanging out with Seema

Tuesday I got a chance to hang out with my friend Seema. We both lived in Lower Wallace house in Woodward Court at the University of Chicago. (Our dorm is now torn down and the home of the shiny new GSB building.) After school, I lived with her and her best friend Shani at the Windermere House, a great old building across from the Museum of Science and Industry. It was one of the biggest apartments I ever lived in and had great views. I hadn't seen her in several years. The last time I had seen her I went to visit her in LA and got a wonderful experience during my first visit to the city. Since then, she had been living in London for a year and was now back in LA. She was in London on her way back from a business trip to Naples.

We met on Regents street in front of the Burberrys and walked down to Wardour street on Soho to eat at Satsuma, a Japanese restaurant with ramen, yakisoba, udon, and sushi. (There seems to be many more Japanese restaurants here than in Chicago.) After lunch, we traveled to Seema's old neighborhood in Islington. She climbed onto the roof of her old building to show me how she used to get in when she was locked out. Then, she convinced the new tenant to let us see her old apartment. It was a nice, light-filled flat and had just been newly renovated when Seema lived there.

We walked down towards the Angel tube stop, stopping in St. Mary Magdalene Gardens to admire the roses. We took a pause at a pub for ginger pear cake with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce (for me) and a beer and chips for Seema.

Next, we took the tube to Old Street where Seema wanted to take photographs of some of the graffiti she remembered from there. While were one Hoxton Square, we found Sh!, a women's erotic emporium. It was pink with frosted glass hearts on the windows and a sign that saying that men were only allowed in if accompanied by women. It was the most warm and welcoming sex shop I had ever been in. Almost as soon as I walked in, they offered me tea!

After that, we took the tube to either Charing Cross or Leicester Square and huddled under an overhang waiting for the downpour of rain to stop. When it slowed to a drizzle, we walked to an internet cafe so she could check her messages and then on to Soho where we met her friends in a queue for Busaba Eathai. I was happy to meet them as they enjoyed food as much as me and gave me many suggestions for inexpensive places to eat in London. Marshall met us for a delicious dinner of different curries and plenty of rice.

Walking around Covent Garden

a specialty shop, originally uploaded by supafly.

Monday I found a great website with many different walks to take around London. I copied down the Covent Garden walk and set off. First, I stopped at Red Lion Square near Holborn station. There was supposed to be graffiti painting, but the heavy morning rain slowed down the set up. I walked down the Strand, but went the wrong direction and ended up on Fleet street. Luckily, I found a Barclays there and was able to withdraw some more cash. (It turns out Bank of America has a deal with Barclays so they don't charge your a "foreign fee," which from Citibank amounted to $5, so I deposited money into Marshall's account and have been withdrawing from that instead.)

Finally headed in the right direction, I stopped at a patisserie and got a tasty egg, tomato, and mayo sandwich. When I got to Charing Cross station, I began following the walk (also outlined at my google map - it's a lot more convolute than the last walk, but that's because it covered a small area and went down almost every little street, court, and passageway). St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which had been under construction last summer when we stopped by, was now completely closed to the public so I continued down St. Martin's Lane and found Brydges place, the narrowest passageway I have seen yet. (It is just wide enough for one person to pass down it.) Next, I stopped at a model car store where I found vintage motorcycle postcards to give to Marshall for his birthday. He claims there aren't any English motorcycle brands left other than Triumph, so I found evidence of those that had passed on. Down the street was the famous Freed's of London, where many beautiful satin pointe shoes were for sale.

I turned on to Goodwin's Court, which was a very picturesque passageway, still narrow, but wide enough that a tour group had congregated halfway down. At the end, I found a small Italian restaurant that seemed to be subterranean. From there, I passed the Lamb & Flag pub. (There are so many pubs with unique names and placards everywhere I walk around London.) I walked by another familiar site, a row of scooters and motorcycles, but in the midst of this particular row was one painted like spiderman - how conspicuous would Peter Parker be if he rode that instead of the sad little moped he has in the movie?

Next, I found several wonderful bookstores. There was a terrific travel and map store called Stanfords where I purchased my own copy of London A-Z which has detailed maps of every little street and passage in the city (over half of the book is just an index of all of the street names). I also sat in one of their comfortable chairs and read a few books on London. They also have a little cafe that sells fair trade coffee (which seems more available here than in Chicago). I also happened upon Dover Bookshop, which is a great resource for clip art, graphic, and fine art. Their books come with CDs of the images. They also had a wonderful collection of paper dolls, some of famous movie stars and others of fashions from different decades. I think I had some of these when I was a kid. Of course, the exchange rate made everything a bit pricey, but it was fun to browse.

Eventually, I ended up at Seven Dials, an intersection of four streets, one that ends there, thus the name. On Monmouth street, I spied a bakery window filled with the most decadent looking cupcakes. I'm a sucker for sweets, especially cupcakes, so I stopped in and got a lemon cupcake. It was topped with a yellow licorice piece and was filled with lemon curd. I ate half of it before I felt overdosed on sugar, and kept walking. The next interesting shop that I went into was called Coco de Mer. It was a very posh, high end sex shop that seemed to specialize in beautiful leather bondage gear.

From there, I turned into Neal's Yard and passed a much more innocent looking store with beautiful frosted glass windows covered in flowers called Orla Kiely. Neal's yard was a colorful little courtyard filled with all things needed for an "alternative and healthy life." There was a salad bar, a skate board shop, and a bead store (there were many bead stores in the area), but the most predominant business is Neal's Yard Remedies which sells natural "remedies" (skin potions, etc...) and also had treatment rooms and meeting rooms.

Down the street from Neal's Yard is Neal's Centre, which is an indoor shopping plaza that was a bit more hipster in flavor. It contained a vegetarian eatery called Food for Thought that was later recommended by my friend Seema's foodie mates. There was also a Japanese shop called Superdry that contained California surfer wear. I passed several more interesting shops: one specialized in boating supplies, another had the wonderful name "Coffe, Cake, and Kink." I also found a club of sorts called the Poetry Place where members were free to write and read their works. I also found a pub with a hilarious placard called Hercules Pillars. I stopped at the Freemasons museum, but was too late for the last free tour. I'd have to come another time.

After passing a Korean church, I stopped at the statue of a Ballerina across from the Royal Opera House, which was also closed to the public by the time I got there. (I thought the walk would take an hour or two, but it turned out much longer since I kept finding interesting shops to stop in, so that lengthened my trip.) After resting there and attempting to direct a fellow American tourist (how do you direct someone when there are so many little streets that stop after a block?) I found Covent Garden markets. It felt like a more picturesque Navy Pier and I stopped at a U of benches to watch a performer doing a striptease and scaring female tourists by getting close to them and gyrating suggestively. I stopped in at the London Transport museum shop (the actual museum was closed for renovation) and considered getting Tube magnets. (Marshall loves saying "Mind the Gap.")

Next, I passed St. Paul's Church, which had a beautiful little garden with rows of benches that would be perfect for sitting and reading. Unfortunately, it was closed so I kept on walking. Off of Long Acre, I found Cafe Pacifico, which is supposed to be one of the only decent Mexican restaurants and one that was recommended by Charlotte, our landlord's 17-year-old daughter. It was quite pricey for Mexican food (in comparison to Chicago).

I was at the end of the guided walk so I turned back to Charing Cross Road where there are many antiquarian and used bookstores. I found one where all the books in the basement cost £1 each. I considered getting some Agatha Christie to read, but knew I'd read them all and probably had them at home, so I kept walking.

It was Marshall's birthday, so I met him for dinner and we ate out at Mr. Jerk, a favorite of his co-worker. The food was tasty, but more barbeque than jerked. Afterwards, we walked to Chinatown. We had been there last year, but I had completely forgotten. I recognized it when we got there. It was much more lively than we had last been there and we passed at least five artists sketching the area. Close by was Leicester Square, which has at least three movie theatres ringing the square. On the way home, we stopped at The Castle, a local pub, for a pint. I got Scrumpy Jack, a cider with a great name.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Weekend in London

the festival crowd, originally uploaded by supafly.

Our first weekend in London was a busy one. Well, after sleeping in and waking up around 11am it was. We joined the free guided nature walk that was a part of the Camberwell Arts Festival. It met at the Peckham Library which was just across the street from the cheap grocery store (Lidl) that I found and the fancy Burger King. We got there early so we checked out the modern architecture of the Peckham Library. It had many colored glass panels and was a career center as well as a library.

After finding our tour guide amongst a group of petitioners - Marshall just looked for the person without a clipboard in their hands - we set off down the Canal Road. This was a path that started at the library and had once been a shipping canal, bring lumber to Camberwell Green where it was treated and stored until it was needed elsewhere.

The walk took a couple of hours and we saw many interesting sights along the way. A long line of bicyclists passed near the beginning of our journey. One had a boombox mounted onto a recumbent bicycle with a roof. He blasted music for everyone on the ride. We also passed an old house that now housed a retired work horse as well as some chickens. As we crossed the street into Burgess Park (twice as large as St. James Park) we came upon an outdoor punk rock concert. There were lots of people there and I even recognized one of them - an overweight guy with a fluorescent green mohawk that I had seen yesterday in Camden town.

We stopped to enjoy the lake at Burgess Park. The little girl on our walk would run towards every group of pigeons we saw to get them to fly off. After the lake, we stopped at a beautiful set of walled gardens called Chumleigh Gardens. It was previously "the friendly female asylum for aged persons who have seen better days." What a great description! There was a cafe there so we stopped for snacks and a walk or sit in the garden. It was beautifully overgrown and reminded me of the Secret Garden and all the unkempt gardens that they found hidden away.

After a nice break, we walked to "the bridge to nowhere." This was a bridge that used to provide a way to get across the canal but was now just a bridge over a walking path. It was fun to cross despite it leading nowhere! We exited Burgess park and took some back streets towards Camberwell Green. On the way, we passed an allotment, an open lot that had become a community garden. Apparently, you have to live within a mile of the garden to have a plot and there is a long waiting list to get in. It wass nice to see that people are so eager for some land to grow things in. I wish America had fewer big lawns and more gardens. Our walk ended at the community orchard by Camberwell Green. There were some berries ready to be eaten on one of the bushes (I can't remember what kind) so we all picked some before we left the tour.

After the walk, we went to Southwark Park for the Carnival de Cuba. It was a big festival with row after row of food stalls. Most of them sold jerk chicken. The longest line was for the stall making mojitos. I got a fried plantain as soon as we got there and then we opted for a cuban meal of red beans, rice, chorizo, and hot sauce. I enjoyed their more environmentally conscious eating utensils - sporks and knives made out of wood. I ended up seeing those at a lot of the festivals this weekend.

After listening to some reggaeton and watching salsa dancers (as well as the East End Elvises - these two old guys dressed like Elvis who apparently go to every outdoor music festival), we crossed over to the quieter part of Southwark park and then went to Brick Lane. (After accidentally taking the bus from Canada Water in the wrong direction and finding Surrey Quays - a suburban like area with a movie theatre, bowling, and big chain restaurants.)

I had been to Brick Lane before but had forgotten. It's a bit overwhelming because every Indian restaurant on the street has people in front of it that very aggressively try to get you to eat at their restaurant. They offer you things like free drinks or 15% off of your bill. We went down to Whitechapel trying to find a less intrusive place to eat and found a new restaurant that was quiet and filled with mostly indian people and, most importantly, noone was out front trying to make us eat there.

Sunday we had another leisurely morning. Marshall made a delicious breakfast of fried egg and pepper sandwiches and we ate as an artist put up an art installation across the street. It was a car he had jacked up and had replaced one of the wheels with a resin wheel that played a cello as it spun around.

After breakfast, we went down to Trafalgar Square for the Dano Korean Festival. There they had lots of traditional entertainment like fan and sword dancers and traditional Korean music, but our favorite act were the Korean breakdancers battling with UK b-boys (from Ireland). There was also lots of delicious Korean food and a tent where you could decorate a paper fan (in celebration of summer). The crowd was big and it was the largest concentration of asians I had seen since I'd gotten to London. (I've also seen quite a few language schools where students from Korea go to learn English in London.) We also noticed several Korean girls (from Korea) with English boyfriends and we speculated how many of them were just in the relationship to have someone to practice their English with.

After watching the b-boy battle, we walked down to the South Bank of the Thames for the Coin Festival. This was a festival to honor refugee week and they had many different performers. We listened to African music and watched traditional Indian dancing as well as Serbian dancing. While we sat listening to the music, a group of people next to us passed around a joint. We also saw the East End Elvises again, this time gyrating to African music. I also discovered they have their own flickr group - how hilarious!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Take Courage

Take Courage, originally uploaded by supafly.

Friday I had a leisurely morning and decided to do one of the walks from the Lonely Planet London book. I decided to try the Highgate/Hampstead Heath walk. I took the #343 bus to Borough and the Northern Line train to Archway. From there, I began my walk up Highgate Hill. (I traced the entire walk on my google map - check it out!) At the top of the hill, I saw the pub in the photo with the sign "Take Courage" on it. That is how I'm feeling about my time in London. It's a bit lonely being by myself all day with noone I knew nearby, but I'm trying to do things I enjoy and writing about it here since I have noone to talk to about it during the day (and I'd look kind of nutty talking to myself all of the time).

Across the street from the pub and around the corner from St. Joseph's church was Dartmouth Park Hill and the entrance to a beautiful little park called Waterlow. It was so nice to be in a quiet green space away from the hubbub of the city. The only other people in the park were mothers and fathers with baby strollers. In the park I found a narrow lane shaded over with trees. I assumed this was the "Swain's Lane" I was to find according to Lonely Planet. It wasn't, but it looked like the kind of place a swain would take a girl to woo her.

Next on the walk was to supposed to be a stroll through Highgate Cemetery, but I was too cheap to pay the entrance fee. (Karl Marx and Michael Faraday are buried here among others.) However, it ended up that the real Swain's Lane ran parallel to the cemetery, so I peeked in as I walked. The cemetery was so overgrown that it looked more like a forest that happened to have odd shaped rocks (tombstones) popping out here and there through the green.

After passing many picturesque English cottages, I crossed Highgate Road and entered the larger park called Hampstead Heath. It was truly enormous and it was hard to tell where Parliament Hill was because there were many rolling mounds in front of me. This park was less tree covered and had many more wide open spaces where people were walking their dogs and playing football (soccer to us). There was also a group of guys caring a box of electrical equipment. A police car drove by me as I ambled up and almost by accident found Parliament Hill. The park was so vast that there were many spots where I was completely alone. I found a set of stairs that seemed to lead up to a small hill, but when I got to the top it was THE hill - Parliament Hill - and there were several people up there on the benches scattered across the hilltop enjoying the view. One guy had biked up the hill and was drinking a quart of milk. Another woman was sitting on the bench with the best view (picture on flickr) and talking on her cell phone. I chose a bench and sat for awhile.

The next stop was the mixed bathing pond (there are also separate men's and women's bathing ponds). I didn't swim as it has been quite chilly in London but I could see someone out there enjoying themselves. After exiting the park, I was supposed to stop at the poet John Keat's house, but I couldn't find it. I did find more picturesque homes that all had names instead of house numbers. I should've written some of them down. I'll have to go back again. The least imaginative one was simply "Hampstead Cottage" for the park I had just left. I did find another house recommended by the guidebook which they described as a "unique modern house." I almost missed it because it really wasn't unique (except for being so modern compared to the houses surrounding it). However, there was a sign in front of it offering tours entitled, "unique modern house."

I took a wrong turn somewhere and instead of ending up at the Hampstead tube station where my journey was supposed to end, I missed Keat's house by 1/2 a block and ended on a small square near the Royal Free Hospital. It was well past lunch, so I stopped at the Marks & Spencer Simply Food shop. It was my first time exploring the shop and it had a wonderful food selection. They have potato chip flavors here that you just don't see in the U.S. I notice "sweet thai chili" is a popular one. They also aren't afraid of "bacon" flavored chips. I opted for "leicester and green onion flavor." It was a much subtler version of sour cream and onion without the sour cream. I also got a (ubiquitous here) prepared sandwich (chicken, avocado, and bacon). Everywhere you go has these pre-made sandwiches that are cunningly cut into triangles and then packaged in a triangular case. For the really hungry, they have a variety case that contains three triangular halves in different combinations instead of two. They had a bakery section and I almost got a cherry tart but decided to try their ginger cake instead.

I sat in the square across from M&S eating with the whinos that were gathered there. I'm not sure what the law is about drinking outdoors (although drinking outside of pubs is quite common). However, when a police siren sounded nearby, the whinos near me tucked their beer cans in their pants and walked away.

Rather than backtracking to the missed tube stop, I decided to keep walking. I walked down Haverstock Hill to the Belsize Park stop, but then decided to keep going to Chalk Farm stop because (silly me) I thought there might be an actual farm there as I had read there are a few working farms in London. Instead, I found lots and lots of stalls selling clothes along the road between the Chalk Farm and the Camden Town tube stops. One part of the market felt a bit "Disney Landish" because it was in an enclosed area with a food court. Behind the food court was row after row of stores selling vintage clothing. Closer to the Camden locks were store selling cheap t-shirts, wellies, and fake LeSportSac bags.

On my way to the Camden Town tube stop, a girl stopped me on the street to see if I wanted to get a hair cut. I haven't gotten one in awhile so I decided to go for it. It's one of those places where students are learning so it's really cheap. I have an appointment on Tuesday, I'll let you know how that goes.

After a rest at home, I met Marshall at the Broadgate Centre for a free showing of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. They were showing it on a big screen in a circular plaza that was surrounded by terraces of people drinking. The movie showing made Chicago outdoor films seem so calm and orderly. Half of the people there kept talking and drinking throughout the movie and their speaker system wasn't that great, so we were only able to hear half of the dialogue. (What was the plot of that movie? I had a hard time understanding it.)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sticky Toffee

sticky toffee pudding, originally uploaded by supafly.

The best thing about my second day in London may have been this sticky toffee pudding. I had heard of this dessert, but this was my first time trying it and my was it delicious! I got it while walking down Carnaby Street - a collection of tiny streets closed off to traffic (off of Regent and Oxford streets) that had many little boutiques and cafes.

I started out the day trying a different route to get down to Central London. I went by way of the Elephant and Castle tube stop. The station was surrounded by lots of cheap vendors selling t-shirts and bages for 99pence. I took the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus and checked out the shopping.

My first stop was TopShop and Miss Selfridges. It was similar to shopping in Korea because there was just so much to choose from. There were multiple floors of clothes, shoes, and accessories by lots of different designers. If the prices had been in dollars instead of pounds it would have been comparable to H&M, but because of the exchange rate, I couldn't afford anything.

Next, I stopped by Muji and Uniqlo - two Japanese chains that haven't made their way to Chicago yet. Muji has a lot of great basic items, like toiletry items and office supplies. I bought a new notebook to record maps of all the places I was walking. (I've posted my notes on my custom google map - check it out.) Uniqlo is like the Japanese version of Old Navy. Therefore, it's a lot nicer, but still very basic. They had some cute jackets on sale - but again, the exchange rate kept me from buying anything.

I started to get hungry and made the mistake of buying a cheese and bacon (really ham) pasty at the Cornish Bake House. It wasn't so good and right afterwards I found lots of better alternatives. I mapped a lot of them in my notebook. The most ubiquitous are the sandwich shops "Eat" and "Pret a Manger." They both have lots of tasty sandwich options as well as salads, soups, and dessert. Cheaper but less interesting sandwiches are also available at local groceries (like Tesco and Sainsbury). There were also some Thai, Chinese, and Indian restaurants that had cheap takeaway boxes available. I met Marshall during his lunch break and he found tasty, cheap, and delicious lamb curry for takeaway (what they say instead of "carry out" or "take out").

Marshall confessed he didn't know where to go to get things close to his work (a building called "The Space.") So, after I met his two co-workers, I walked around Mortimer Street and mapped all the places he could eat (cheaper the better). I noticed the cheapest option were "sandwicherias" or "sandwich bars." I also learned that shoe repair shops also cut (copy) keys and got a copy made of our room key. It's one of those old fashioned "skeleton" type keys and was quite expensive to copy - it also took them an hour. While they did that, I discovered many resale or charity shops in the area (like thrift shops but all for some cause like OxFam or Rubella) and went in to look around. All the shops were very hot and stuffy but it was a good place to get used books as well as clothes for really cheap.

In the evening, I walked East on Peckham road and found a really cheap store, comparable to Aldi where I was able to get more groceries for a really cheap price. When I went to get a shopping cart, it took me a while to figure out I had to put down a one pound deposit in order to unlock it - a good way to encourage people to return their carts at the end!