The image of London, the landscape of its countryside, and the mood of its people has been painted from various British novels, BBC classic shows, and daydreams of what could be the land of Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Cold, gray, yet spurts of sunlight would stream through the heavy clouds. Moments like those are to be cherished because they don’t last long. People would know better how to cherish those moments, take things for granted less.
These fanciful thoughts are all that I was armed with heading to the airport (minus the usual luggage of clothes and necessity to vacate abroad for a week). Unlike Lizzie Bennet, I highly doubt she feared the idea of being patted down. That would just be highly inappropriate. Thankfully, the whole being patted down and “raped” by a scanner wasn’t in my fortune the days of traveling.
At this time of the year, London is gray, dreadfully cold, and the sun sinks way too early. Is that why its people look so much sturdier? Unlike New York City, it seems there are an equal amount of men and women. The ratio is equal. The fashion is trendy without the usual urban look. Well turned out collars and crisp pants and skirts. It makes New Yorker appear lazy and uncouth in appearance. But after a week of trying to keep up with looks, I am quite glad to be home in my PJ’s and not trotting about worried that my eye make-up has smudged.
Ah, but the accents. The first day was such a novelty. I had to admit, I could not understand most of the conversation. Though it was an English speaking language, I felt like I was in a foreign country. Technically, yes, but at least it wasn’t France! In the midst of my trying to build my self confidence, being in a country where I didn’t quite know its system made me weary and meek. I fell a few steps in that recovery process. It’s hard being sure and certain when you’re not really so. You wonder, “did I take the correct train?” or “Is this the correct street?” “Why isn’t my bloody phone working!? Bloody un-free wi-fi!” But by the end of the week, I was quite comfortable with the tube. Much better functioning transportation than the MTA (which is below average (way below!)).
The week in England seems much of a blur. The first day, I had taken traveling pills for the plane ride but only slept 3 hours out of the 7 hour flight. I was quite drugged once I landed but forced myself to stay up. Akhila, my wonderful hostess, waited for me at her apartment in Earl’s Court, which is quite a prominent tube stop. She took me to the office where I checked emails and made sure I printed out the map for locations I needed to photograph. But even maps won’t help. She lent her blackberry, which I have to thank god for or else I’d be completely lost trying to find these obscure location. The next couple of days were mainly hunting down areas to photograph.
Locations included: Kensington High Street, Covent Garden, Savoy, South Bank, Hammersmith, South Kensington, Hyde Park, Oxford Circus, Hampstead, Tower Hill, the Queens Walk along the Thames River, St. James, and Lambeth.
I walked so much when I was there. Because the currency (damn you pound!!) was killing me, I tried avoiding going to places that required admission fee. Fortunately, London is full of history. Many of its amazing sites are actually the outside facade that the inside is just fluff. Every few buildings had these purple plaques and if you squint just hard enough, it’ll tell you what famous person lived there once before. I saw houses of painters, philosophers, writers, aristocrats, even soap makers! I even found myself staring at a house off a small street in Kensington where Shaka Zula once resided! Famous churches with cemeteries of famous people. Sculptures littering famous parks and squares. One of my favorite was Albert Memorial in Hyde Park overlooking the Albert Music Hall. I found it on my ramble through Kensington Garden towards Hyde Park. It’s so romantic how Queen Victoria commissioned a memorial for her husband. You’d be lucky if a woman these days commemorate anything of a man after making her suffer through 10 pregnancies and then leaving her a widow at her prime of only 40 years. How utterly barbaric.
Hampstead Heath was my absolute favorite spot in London. It sits on the border of zone 2, just making it so I didn’t have to pay extra on my Oyster card. And from the stop, I walked through the wilderness of the heath. Oh, it was just so beautiful. The entire wooded area was drenched in orange and red leaves, the ground wet and littered with fallen tree limbs ready for some romantic maid to spin her daydreaming hours upon. Small lakes, willow trees, and random benches for two…it was the sort of place for poets to be inspired. I can see why John Keats was said to have loved Hampstead Heath.
Since it was the start of the holiday season, holiday shops and booths were all around in various locations. Ice skating rinks amidst museums, parks, and historical locations like Tower Castle even! What an interesting backdrop indeed. And the shops, what a theatrical set up! Mulled wine and cider, hot chocolate, tea, and beer as one browsed shops after shops, carousel rides, ferris wheels, and talking head moose and talking trees. They really know how to throw a festivity.