June 5, 2011
We got a late start, but managed to arrive at Hyde Park just in time for Speaker’s Corner. We attended this weekly event last time we were in London and had such a great time, it was all but required to return. Every Sunday speakers and listeners crowd a small corner of Hyde Park, near Marble Arch. Everything from religion, politics, history, culture, and a slew of other controversial topics are discussed. Usually someone gets up on their soapbox and starts giving an opinion and before long a crowd gathers and the debates begin. It’s a fascinating thing to watch people passionately argue different points of view without coming to blows.
When it began to drizzle, we headed over to Covent Garden to watch the street performers and visit the Jubilee Market. Once the rain started coming down, it was lucky to have at least a bit of roof over our heads. We warmed up in a coffee shop and waited for the rain to abate.
The rain kept falling, but we decided to head out in it anyway armed with an umbrella. We headed towards the embankment and crossed Waterloo Bridge where the rain filled sky made for some amazing views of the city and Parliament. We walked along the Thames until hitting Westminster Bridge where we stopped to take in yet another gorgeous view of Big Ben.
We circled around Lambeth Bridge and got soaked on the way back to Westminster. The rain was fun, but my cold, wet feet were not. I think I know why Europeans hem their jeans so much shorter than Americans – their pants were dry while mine were wet halfway up to my knees.
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June 6, 2011
In the morning, we decided to go to the British Library where some of the most treasured documents in history are housed. I’m still in awe over viewing a journal Jane Austen kept as a young girl. Austen has always been among my favorite writers and seeing her handwriting was a remarkable experience. Being one who constantly scratches things out and edits as she writes, it was beyond incredible to see Austen did the same thing in her journal. The other highlight for me was seeing the original handwritten manuscript for Jane Eyre. Charlotte Bronte is another literary hero of mine, so of course I sat for a few moments and read my favorite book as it was written in her own hand – there are no words for how amazing it was to follow her script. In addition to literature, I stood with a gaping mouth in front of handwritten Beatle lyrics, pages from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, and original sheet music by Mozart. The only thing I didn’t like was the coffee at the in-house café – it was all kinds of awful.
It wasn’t too far of a walk to the British Museum so we worked our way through a maze towards Great Russell Street. Along the way, we ran into a used bookstore that I had to peruse. No matter where I am, I can’t refuse the allure of a second hand bookstore – they always have the best stuff! I walked out with The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins for the bargain price of £3, (so far it’s a great read).
As always, the British Museum is an extraordinary place to go. We visited everything from the Ancient Greece, Rome, Assyrian, and Egyptian exhibits to European artifacts dating from prehistoric times to the modern era. And it was nice see my old friend Ramses II again – I’ve seen his colossal statue three times before, but its never boring. The museum houses so much knowledge and history, its impossible to take it all in, but well worth the effort to try.
We then wandered into Leicester Square to get a bite to eat and check out Chinatown. Sadly, a large portion of the square is under construction in preparation for the Olympic games next summer. With no park to sit in, we decided to weave down a corner street and make our way into Trafalgar Square. The fountains, street performers, and of course Nelson’s column made for a fantastic evening rest stop.
To close out the day, we walked down Whitehall Street and spotted the prime minister’s residence. Big Ben chimed in the seven o’clock hour just as we went underground to the Westminster Tube Station.
June 7, 2011
Fourth time’s a charm, right? Maybe not, but this trip I finally got to Abbey Road and the zebra crossing made famous by the Beatles. I crossed the road and signed the wall of graffiti that flanks the sidewalk. This was more for my aunt than for me, but I’m glad I did it.
Next, we went to Baker Street and did some sleuthing to find 221 B, the residence of Sherlock Holmes. I must note that the tube station walls for Baker Street are covered in tile decorated with the silhouette of Holmes smoking his pipe. We visited the Sherlock Holmes gift shop (not the museum) until I got my fill of the literary detective.
Near Baker Street is Regents Park, a brilliant little park full of flower gardens, bridges, and waterways. A later post will delve into further details of rose gardens unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
The rain and falling temperatures pushed us into another coffee house, which was just fine. I craved coffee and my husband wanted to draw having been inspired by recent park and sightseeing activities. I worked on a couple lines of poetry and tinkered with a short story while he drew. Even with a good writing session, I managed to squeeze in some people watching as the sidewalks flowed with a stream of pedestrians. Ah, so many characters and so little time to “catch” them.
Seeing as it was my husband’s last day, we headed back out to the South Embankment so he could sketch and take pictures of structures he wanted to draw once back at home. The day remained chilly, but the rain stayed away long enough for him to be artistic, while I went to a used book market under Waterloo Bridge. Ironically, I bought The Woman in Black by Susan Hall. It’s the perfect companion to my previous book purchase, don’t you think?
Book sales and sketching aside, we crossed Tower Bridge and walked along the opposite side of the river until we hit London Bridge. Tired of traveling underground, we picked up Bus 43 and took it all the way back to Muswell Hill. We sat on the upper deck and enjoyed a unique tour of London for the price of a bus fare.
My husband has since gone home, which leaves me with more time to slow down and write for longer periods of time. My journals are already packed with ideas and I can’t wait to explore them further and see where they go. Who knows what the next week will bring!