Down in Albion

Notes from a couple days of rambling in London.

With a flight out of London several days after the wedding and with nothing further to keep me in Scotland, I hopped a 5.5 hour train down the East Coast of Britain, finding myself on the London Underground at peak hour on Friday afternoon. Armed with an address and a station, I headed off to Woolwich Arsenal, way out past Greenwich, and navigated myself to a friend’s apartment, thankful that this would be the last time I would be moving my stuff except to leave the following Monday for the States. I arrived at Tabitha’s (& the absent Juliane’s) apartment without any major difficulty, and settled in to enjoy a beautiful sunset over the city, as well as enjoyably bad TV, a luxury I had been without most of the summer.

Sunset over the Thames from southeast London.

After the eventful days in Scotland, I greatly relished the opportunity to relax a bit–sleeping in and enjoying a lazy morning, well-hosted by Tabitha, who fixed me lovely breakfasts. I didn’t manage to get out of the apartment until very late morning on Saturday, without any real plan for the day, except to wait for a phone call from a friend, whose phone number I had accidentally misplaced through a phone-juggling exercise. So, I took the tube to London Bridge and wandered the fantastic Borough Market while I waited for the rain to clear up and Al to call me.

The market, which I visited largely on the suggestion of the friend whose phone call I was awaiting, was atmospheric, crowded, and generally very pleasant, even with the menacing rain pattering away.

Scenes from the Borough Market.

Al gave me a call as I was wandering, and we agreed to meet up a little less than an hour later at Holborn, in Central London, so I wandered out of the market, braving the rain, and walked across the river and caught a train onwards. Most brilliantly, I headed for the Underground in a slight drizzle, and when I walked out, just 15 minutes later, I was shocked to be greeted not only by Al, armed with suggestions for what to do, but also a glorious blue sky, which characterized the rest of my time in London. We settled on a trip to the Sir John Soane Museum, a small house museum that I’d recommend to anyone with time to do more than the most basic tourism of the city. The museum houses a collection of ancient (and less ancient) sculptures, both original and recreations, and paintings, all arranged with interesting lighting and in a house designed to showcase them and serve as an inspiration to architectural students. Ahh, the joys of a 19th century British eccentric with no useful heirs (he was allegedly disappointed in the qualities of his sons, and thus left the museum to the public)! We wandered through, and then returned to the gorgeous weather for a rambling stroll through central London, crossing the city and taking in a beautiful day, as Al and I talked of our plans and futures and presents, as well as of the delights of London, which are too numerous to count, really.

One wonderful thing about London: as a city that has to reckon with the downside of having been a major city for centuries, the old and the new are left to reconcile with each other, as you see here: an old church which shares a courtyard with a 70s era apartment (?) and even a playground.

London-City is wondrously deserted on Saturdays, so it was a bit surreal to wander through empty, closed shops and quiet streets that would have been bustling with life just 24 hours previously. Before we even realized what we had done, we found ourselves in view of the Tower of London, a pretty impressive feat, considering we had started at Holborn (although way outdone by the next day’s ramblings), and we continued to ramble until I left Al among friends at the Liverpool Street station, and I wandered on homewards.

Scenes from London, including St. Paul's, St. Mary Le Bow's, the Gherkin, and the Liverpool Street Station, going left to right, top to bottom, all with a common thread of the old and new coexisting.

I returned for an evening of chatting with Tabitha, all with the delights of 27 Dresses playing in the background, perhaps an appropriate theme for the fact that my life is slowly becoming a mess of weddings (only one of which I’ve actually been in). The next morning was also gloriously lazy, as I enjoyed a nice breeze, the best internet I’d had in months, and nice company. Having only met Tabitha briefly during one of her visits to the US, I was glad to have a chance to really talk with her. But, it being a gloriously beautiful day, I ultimately succumbed to feelings of guilt and set out for an ambitious ramble through London, starting this time at the Bond Street Station, from where I wandered to Hyde Park and onwards, a walk which would encompass nearly 9 miles by the time I finished, which had certainly not been my plan. But the day was lovely, and a bit of solo wandering is really very good for the soul.

Basking in the sun on a glorious Hyde Park afternoon.

I was obviously not the only one with the idea to be out and about on a beautiful afternoon.

Birds on the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

I continued on, rambling past Buckingham Palace, taking in the flowers in St. James Park (did I mention I love my camera?), and onwards towards Westminster.

From there, it was past the Houses of Parliament towards the Thames.

I swear, one time when I go to London, I will actually make it on the London Eye–weather and company have never combined for an ideal splurge, and this time I certainly was not going to pay a lot of money to be encapsulated with strangers for half-an-hour. Next time, maybe.

Proof, mostly for my parents, that I was, in fact, in London. People are generally not very good at photographs,and even this one had to be cropped to remove the obese woman's back that dominated the right side of the picture, which would have been totally avoidable by a good photographer. Oh well!

After months of post-Sovietia, this one seems ridiculously nice.

And of course, traces of sadder aspects of the city’s history:

A commemoration of the Battle of Britain.

And, much like the previous day, I suddenly found myself much further than I had ever intended on walking.

Reflections not far from St. Paul.

So obviously, I decided to go with it. Hello, St. Paul’s!

Sadly, too late to go inside, though I knew that from the beginning. I continued on towards the river, certain from what I could see that a glorious sunset was awaiting me. And indeed, I was right.

View from the London Bridge.

And we’ll close with further proof that I was, in fact, in London.

St. Paul's is the middle of the three.

I caught the underground the following morning to Heathrow, complete with considerable delays for a regrettable “passenger incident” at Turnham Green. Luckily I had planned plenty of time at Heathrow, so the extra hour meant I was still in no risk of missing a flight (though I did have to be pulled out of line to check in with enough time for security). And with that, with the predictable annoyances that are Heathrow and JFK, I was off. The end of my summer adventures. An excellent summer it had been. Now, back in Columbus and preparing for the next adventure.

And we’ll close for a brief acknowledgement of all my wonderful hosts, this time to Alastair and, most importantly, to Tabitha, for their company and conversation. A lame thank you, I know, but well-deserved, at any rate. It was a wonderful few days!

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