I’m parked at the National Gallery again. I’ve even managed to snag my favourite seat in the Espresso Bar. Its the end seat of the long wooden bar, closest to the restrooms and facing the Rembrandt and Rubens Gallery. FYI…It’s the only one with both the electric and USB plugs working, should you find yourself here in the future. And you should…find yourself here in the near future. London is a remarkable city. I’ve seen a few in my day. Paris, D.C, Chicago, Geneva, L.A., Denver, Miami,Toronto, San Francisco, Baltimore, Rome..and quite a few more. Even lived in NYC for four years(and I love her as well). But London..she is something else. First of all, she is ancient. Over 2000 years old. And there are still old bits around that you can touch (if no one is looking). There is the London wall, from the 2nd/3rd century AD. Parts of it are scattered around the border of the City of London..at The Museum of London and Tower Hill for example. There are quite a few churches that date back as far as the 6th century A.D., and other places such as The Tower of London, which was finished in 1078. Its ok to touch the tower. In fact, my DNA can probably be found all over that thing. There are even bits older than the city itself. in 2010, archeologists conducting a survey on the shore of the Thames near the MI6 building found some timber piles they have dated as far back as 5000 B.C. so, yeah, she is ancient.
Second of all, she is historic. It’s one thing to have a bunch of old buildings…it is quite another to have had all sorts of interesting and historically relevant goings-on in and around them. Kings and Queens, writers, artists, revolutionaries, scientists, mistresses, explorers, adventurers, religious leaders, heroes, villains. And then there were the wars, victories, heresy,attacks, upheaval, persecution, and celebrations. Just think of all the bits of history that you know of that have taken place just in the 1,572km squared (611 square miles) of London.
She has art. Really, really fantastically brilliant art that moves you down to your core and can change your view of yourself and the world…but also really really shitty bits of rubbish that you enjoy the same way you enjoy probing a sore tooth with your tongue. And she supports all of it. Because that is how she stays so alive…by allowing the new and the scary and the brilliant and the weird to all exist together and rub on each other and by allowing ideas to flourish and grow she always stays innovative and vibrant. And for every art form, there is a museum/theatre/festival/street corner/pub where you can dive right in and roll around as much as you want in the experience of it.(And most of the museums are free!) I have to say, all of that makes her incredibly sexy.
She has a pub on damn near every corner. And all sorts of pubs to suit all manner of temperament and taste. You could stand in any spot in the city, and if all of a sudden you fancy a pint, you could have a cold glass of your favourite brew in your hands within minutes. As far as I am concerned…this is the pinnacle of human achievement. Well, this and maybe elevators. But I bet more brilliant ideas have sprung from having a ready brew than have ever come from standing in an elevator.
She has a brilliant transportation system. And lets face it, nothing is more fun then getting the top front seat on a London double decker bus. For 1.50 quid you can get a Queens eye view of the city. Forget paying for one of those expensive open top city tours. Just download Citymapper on your phone and double decker your way around the city. For only 3 quid (two bus charges and two free transfers)you can get from Westminster Abbey, to Trafalgar Square, over to The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and all the other famous bits in the middle. If you are even more adventurous, take the buses all the way to the end and explore the outer zones- Clapham, Hackney, Hampstead Heath, Peckham, Streatham, Brixton, Crouch End and so many others. (But not Croyden. Croyden needs a time out)
She has the South Bank and the National Theatre. The South Bank is my favourite bit of London…with the National Theatre being the centre point. She is where I go when I need to feel a bit of comfort. I guess you could go so far as to say that for me, the National Theatre is like the kangaroo pouch of London and I am a needy joey. The NT has many floors with cozy benches and tables where you can plug in and write…she has cafe’s and restaurants so getting a coffee, wine, beer, snack or five course meal are all options. She has a bookstore fully stocked with all the best sorts of books, plays and British/theatre doodads. And then, as if all that wasn’t enough…she has three theatre stages- the “Olivier”, the “Lyttleton” and the “Dorfman” where in my opinion some of the best shows in London are produced with many of them going on to the West End and Broadway.(The NT also produces “NT Live”…which are live productions filmed and broadcast in movie theatres around the world. I bet your local theatre has hosted some. I myself have seen ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Hamlet’ at the theatre near home.)If you know anything about me at all, you can understand why the NT is my ‘Happy Place’. And lets not forget,right next to the NT is the Waterloo Bridge. If you stand on it and look down the Thames to the east, you can see The Shard, St. Pauls Cathedral, the National Theatre, the Tate Modern and Tower Bridge. Then turn around and face west and you see Parliament, the London Eye, and Big Ben. Sometime I just stand there and stare at the view for a bit, in awe that I have been allowed to spend as much time with her as I have,sadly always aware that a goodbye will eventually happen.
And that goodbye is tomorrow.
Last Saturday evening I met a friend at a pub down by Blackfriars, which is near to London Bridge and Borough Market. I had planned on staying in and watching Doctor Who, but got a message from a friend who wanted to meet for a pint before I headed back to the states. So I changed out of my Doctor Who jammy bottoms, got dressed like a sensible grown up and met my friend for a drink. I didn’t stay very long as I was tired and had a full day of travel happening the next day, so left the pub around 9 ish and headed toward my bus stop. I’m not terribly familiar with the area and got turned around and ended up by London Bridge. I didn’t walk across it, but did take in the view by the Thames for a few minutes before skimming some free wifi from a pub, Googling my bus stop and finding my bearings. I was on the bus on the way when I heard about the attacks happening in the spot where I had been less than an hour before. A buzz started on the bus…an unusual coordinated sort of hum….the hum of those with cell connections hearing about the attack from alerts on their phones, or family and friends calling. Since I did not have wifi I had to ask my seat mate what was happening.
There are many beautiful and extraordinary things about the city of London, but the MOST beautiful and the MOST extraordinary are the people who call it home. Their kindness,tolerance, fortitude and brilliant and unflagging sense of humour are legendary, as are their quirks:
Dear god, make sure you stay to the right on the escalator
Don’t look anyone in the eye on the Tube. Seriously, just don’t
They apologize for everything, even if clearly YOU are the one at fault. You will hear “sorry” at least 20 times a day
They do not really say “cheers” when toasting, but they do say it many times a day meaning “thank you’ or ‘goodbye’.
They really do love talking about the weather. Always a safe topic if you at a loss for words.
They love eccentricity and celebrate it.
They hear every accent in the world in London and they aren’t impressed by yours.
Respect the queue, or be prepared for a chorus of “tutting”…which is the native sound of the annoyed Londoner.
I could go on for pages, but I wont because the gallery is closing soon. As is my time here.
It has been one hell of a year folks. Almost exactly one year in fact. I flew out on this ridiculous adventure on June 16th, 2016. And I am flying back to the states on June 8, 2017. I never, ever thought I would make it this long. I mean, I HOPED to, I WANTED to, but did not expect it.
It’s been one hell of a year, and I thank you for coming along with me. I am going to continue the blog…sharing the different kind of adventure I am going to have trying to re-insert myself back into normalcy and the lives of my family and friends in Orlando. I also plan on traveling again in August as I’m afraid I have caught the “travel bug’ and am not the least bit interested in being cured of it yet.
See you on the other side!!