Wandering in London, Part 3

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I’ve been busy  . . .

June 15, 2011

Today I was feeling all historical again, so I went to Fleet Street where the history of London peeks from every corner.  Fleet Street was once London’s center for journalism, banking, and a number of pubs, but today its a busy street filled with lawyers, bankers, and tourists.  The highlights for me were the memorial of Temple Bar, Number 1 Fleet Street (Dickens used this bank as the model for Tellsons’s in A Tale of Two Cities), Prince Henry’s room (from the 17th century and its still there!), Hoare’s Bank, and Mitre Tavern.  In addition, it was really interesting to see how Londoners hold onto the past even thought the present keeps pushing towards the future.  Old signs and storefronts remain in place even when something new takes over.  For example, there might be a deli or a salon inhabiting a building but the sign for a newspaper from bygone days remains firmly in place.

Off the main road there was just as much to explore.  On one of those sidetreets, Fetter Lane, I got one of my favorite pictures so far:

During my first trip to London, the tour guide (back when I went with tours instead of on my own) took the group to a church that still bore the damage from the German blitz during WWII. My pictures from that trip did not turn out well and I’ve always wanted another chance.  During my next two trips I searched for this church, but never found it.  This time, however, a little bit of wandering and an extra dose of luck brought me back to St. Clement Danes.  Not only do I have some great pictures to add to my lessons on WWII for my students, but I gained even more respect for a city that wears its wounds with pride and reverence.

Before I left for London I read a blog that outlined the five best places to write in London and she had mentioned the Royal Festival Hall.  I was close enough to that very spot, so I headed towards The Strand and then crossed the Thames at Waterloo Bridge. According to the blog, the fourth floor was a good spot and she was right!  Large windows offered a great view of the river and despite the number of people occupying the other tables it was remarkably quiet.  I started a new short story and simply enjoyed the ambience of creativity.  Just to shake things up I went exploring and found another great spot on the 5th floor, the Balcony Terrace.  Not only do you get a great view of London, but you can also hear the goings on down on the embankment.  More detailed posts on the South Bank are forthcoming.  There are a number of reasons why I keep walking along that side of the river, so stay tuned!

June 16, 2011

With rain threatening and me on my last pair of dry shoes, I opted to stay indoors and do another museum day.  The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square seemed like the perfect way to spend the day . . . and it was!  I visited just about every exhibition hall, but I naturally hovered over my favorite artists.  I sat and admired Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin on the Rocks and then learned all about Britain’s most famous painters including J.M.W. Turner.  From there I bumped into Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Peter Paul Rubens.  My heart, however, belongs to the Impressionists, so the bulk of the day was given to Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, and Pissarro.  Each of their works inspired a number of ideas for characters I hope will populate a story or two in the future.  In particular, Pissarro spoke the loudest with his painting The Boulevard Montmarte at Night.

After the museum, I wandered through the side streets around Trafalgar and eventually ended up at huge bookstore, Waterstones.  I don’t know why, but I always manage to find a bookstore wherever I go.  And no matter how much I try to resist, I always have to go inside!  This is probably the third or fourth Waterstones I’ve been through already, but in this particular store I noticed their catch phrase.  As a burgeoning writer, I found it to be a fantastic source of inspiration . . .  “Feel Every Word.”

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It’s All About the Music

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The London music scene has long fascinated me, so it was only natural to set aside a day to load up on CDs. This Saturday, I decided to head to Portobello Road for a good ol’ day at the market and to visit a couple music stores that were in the same area.  I had a mental list of artists I wanted to find, but I was also open to finding new music and taking a few chances.  Much like the book vibe, the same tingle helps me pick out some good music.   It goes without saying that my record it still very much intact!

Classical Music Exchange on Notting Hill Gate

Think of a used bookstore and replace all the books with used CDs and vintage vinyl records.  Everything is marginally alphabetized and you are invited to take as long as you like to sift through every single item.  It was like rummaging through someone’s basement and I loved it!  Instead of putting out the actual CDs, they only put out the paper inserts, which is awesome because you can read through the lyrics and get a good sense of the artist’s personality.  Here’s what I bought:

  • Doves – The Best Of.  I know and love two songs, so why not try a few more?  After giving it a listen, it was worth every penny.  Very cool music with a nice vibe.
  • Johnny Flynn – Been Listening. This is possibly one of my favorite artists of all time.  I have everything he’s ever done, but its all digital. I’ve always wanted a physical CD and the price was right.  Plus, I got a bonus poster!
  • Fifth House – Stanzas for Sail.  I’ve never heard of the band, but the lyrics were very poetic and it was in the same section and genre as Johnny Flynn.  I figured for the price, it was worth the gamble, (and I got a major vibe hit off this one!).  When I got back to my room, I gave it a listen and it was incredible.  The lead singer has a beautiful voice and the melodies are as brilliant as the lyrics.  Click here to listen to some tracks they have loaded on facebook.
  • The View – Hats Off to the Buskers.  This was another mystery band where I decided to take a chance.  Once again, the bet paid off.  I’m on a roll!  These guys have a very retro vibe and a funky beat.  All in all, a fun collection of songs.
  • Glasvegas.  I had seen this band on iTunes and I knew the album got rave reviews, so I picked it up.  Eh.  It’s okay.  A lot of the songs sound the same, but it’s a nice mood album that will fit nicely into a playlist I have on my iPod.  It’s not a loss, but I like the other albums I got a lot better.  For the record, this does not count against my vibe.  It was a choice based on logic, which if anything is an argument for using the vibe instead.

Street Band, between Pembridge and Portobello Road

On the way to Portobello Road, I stopped to listen to some buskers – The Ryan O’Reilly Band.  They were fantastic, so I pulled one of their CDs out of the guitar case and bought it.  I was even lucky enough to get it autographed, (hey, you never know, these guys could hit it big!).  So far, its my favorite purchase of the day.  These guys are incredibly talented songwriters and musicians!  Click here to give them a listen.

Rough Trade

I’ve known about Rough Trade ever since I became a fan of Johnny Flynn a few years ago.  This store carries all the best music London has to offer and pays particular attention to indie artists and the underground, which is why I knew I absolutely had to get to this place at one point or another.  I’ve been after the latest release from a particular artist for a while now and if anyone would have it in stock, its Rough Trade.  The place is small, but its rammed with vintage music posters, vinyl, new and used CDs, and concert ads.  There’s nothing fancy about it, but it feels like a safe haven for fans who dig music that’s just outside of what’s popular.  It took some persistent searching, but I managed to find the last copy they had of Marcus Foster’s most recent EP.  His last batch of songs never made it to States, so I can’t even begin to state how excited I was to get my hands on this CD.

While it was fun to find Marcus Foster, it was even more fun to surprise the guy at the counter.  He didn’t expect an American to know this obscure artist, nor did he expect me to be so knowledgeable about his past work.  I even threw him a curve ball with knowing Foster’s full-length debut had been delayed.  It’s not often I get to talk about my favorite artists with someone who has actually heard of them, so this was seriously cool.  By the way, I highly recommend visiting Marcus Foster online to listen to some of his songs. He is amazing!

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I could have easily gone to one of the major chain stores like HMV to buy music, but there is something almost holistic about visiting music exchange stores.  Bands and artists that might not otherwise have a chance to be heard, line the shelves on an equal playing field as platinum selling artists.  Slick advertising campaigns and radio have nothing to do with my decisions on what to buy . . . its about the music, just as it should be.

c.b. 2011

What’s Sunday Without a Little Debate?

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It’s Sunday, so get on your soapbox or gather around to listen.  There are opinions for everything, counterpoints to every argument, and a positive for every negative.  These pillars of debate all come together in a glowing monument to freedom of speech at Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner.  The idea behind this weekly event revolves around the act of speaking, regardless of what is said or whether there is agreement between all groups.  New ideas mingle with radical points of view, while neutral parties watch words exchange back and forth like tennis balls at Wimbeldon.  The process is the absolute epitome of humanity at its finest.  We aren’t meant to agree on everything, but we owe it to ourselves and everyone around us to respect the ability to harbor and express an opinion.

As I listen, I sometimes feel my temper burning and my intellect challenged, but I always learn something.  There’s always something to consider and stoke my curiosity to investigate further.   For some it’s about being right or wrong, but for me its about making the effort to think with a more open mind.

c.b. 2011

Wandering in London, Part 2

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June 12, 2011

The rain came back, again and after my previous bad experience I was a little hesitant to run out into it.  I spent the morning reading my latest book purchase and sipping some hot chocolate.

By early afternoon, I decided to brave the water and try again for the Tate Modern Museum.  I’m so glad I did.  The Tate has some of the most amazing exhibits of modern art that display everything from Monet, Picasso, Munch, Rodin, Diane Arbus, and one of my new favorites Dorothea Tanning.  I completely lost track of time as I wandered through amazing interpretations of life and philosophy.  Throughout the afternoon I had to stop several times to write – thank goodness there were benches in the exhibit halls.  Epiphanies abound in the presence of ingenious works of art.

The rain waned to a drizzle so I went for a little walk along the Thames.  To my excitement, the tide was low and there was an open gate leading the to the beach.  The details of my little excursion are in the post “Sand in My Shoes.”   I now have one less thing to do on my bucket list.

June 13, 2011

The day started with a marathon shopping trip to Charring Cross Road which is full of bookshops.  One store after another sells new, old, and antique books.   In a future post, I will give further details, (bookstores in London are an entirely different experience from those in the US).  In one of the used bookstores, I was thrilled to find the final novel I needed to complete my collection of Dennis Potter books (they are out of print and almost impossible to find in the States).  Then, on the advice of a local, I ventured down Cecil Court where there is a string of tiny bookshops that carry everything from centuries old manuscripts to books on all things related to transportation.  I couldn’t afford a single thing, but it was a great experience to see so much history.

Above: A view of Cecil Court, a hidden gem of independent bookshops.

From Charring Cross I made my way towards Trafalgar Square where I sat and enjoyed an ice cream cone.  The fountains sparkled beautifully in the sun, so I sat for a while and simply enjoyed the ambience.

There’s a quick way to get from Trafalgar to St. James Park along The Mall – the main road that leads straight to Buckingham Palace.  The road begins with an enormous archway and is lined with dozens of large Union Jack flags.  The sight of it recalls every sense of tradition and pageantry.  I followed the flags until I found an entry gate into St. James Park, where I sat and watched the world go by.

Above: The Mall – All the way at the end is Buckingham Palace

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Paying it Forward . . .

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Recently, a few bloggers have done me the honor of mentioning my blog and it felt so great, I can’t help but pay it forward. I’m still very new to the blogging arena and the learning curve remains huge, but I’ve met some wonderful writers and personalities along the way.  Every morning I sit down with these blogs and enjoy words of differing perspectives, inspiration, whimsy, and encouragement while I enjoy a cup of coffee.  So here they are in no particular order . . .

TBN Ranch – Everything you ever wanted to know about ranching, horses, and chicken farming.  The writer of this blog has also recently published a book of poetry called “Trail of Trials.”  Click on the link to find out more.

The Everyday Epic – Truly thoughtful posts on the art of writing, the struggles that come with it and the triumphs that make the process worth every step.  And it all comes from a very inspiring and uplifting individual.

Tattered Past – Inspiration for writing, crafts, and nostalgia for the good ol’ days.  Plus, she makes a little critter to help silence the inner critic.  Click to see wonderful scrapbook, art journal, and sewing projects.

Loving Arizona Living – Ever wonder why people brave 100 degree temperatures to live in Arizona?  This blog focuses on everything there is to love about Arizona from tourist landmarks to simple backyard tales.  The desert has a lot to offer and this blog helps you see the beauty of an often barren landscape.

Writer Waitress – Writers are all around us.  They are the cashier that scans your groceries and they are the waitress that serves your food.  This blog is warm, funny, and honest as it explores the life of a waitress who is also a writer, (a darn good writer, too).  What I enjoy most about this blog is how it makes me laugh with every post.

Wings of Wonder – A very inspiring artist posts illustrations and words that always lift my spirits.  Often portrays a very personal and relatable journey of an artist, no matter the medium.

Unbound – Often full of fantastic journal page creations and photography.  Another very invigorating blog full of color, vitality, and inspiration.

Journalization – The blogs that always inspire me the most are those that are incredibly honest.  Every post on this blog conveys a beautiful nugget of truth and most noticeably so on those that involve the Wish Jar.

christywrites – The poetry on this blog is what keeps me clicking every time I see there is a new entry.  The style is unique and the emotion is always very powerful.

Poetry by James R. Dean – Some of the best poetry I’ve read lately is on this blog.  Beautiful odes, ballads, and haikus that call back to a more traditional style of prose.

Lisa Bredmose – Another very honest blog about the inner journey of an artist.  Writing is more than just getting the words out, it’s also about believing in those words.

Roughwaterjohn – Amazing poetry that always has a unique rhythm and evokes wholly original imagery.

There are many more, which means I’ll have to pay it forward again in another post.  My thanks to those above for adding a little something special to each day.  Your thoughts and creativity are very much appreciated and enjoyed.

c.b. 2011