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.