London, England, Part 2
07.04.2008 22 °C
Trafalgar Sqaure, eh. Diplomatic immunity on Canada Day (but still in England!)
Here's a Canada Day to remember that initially we forgot. We were in the famous Hamley's toy store on Regent Street (established 1769) when I saw a bunch of people all decked out in red and white Canada clothing. They even had maple leaf face paint. Now I've heard some people go out of their way to show they're not American tourists, but this was ridiculous! Then it dawned on me - it's July 1st. Canada Day! This year is the 141st anniversary of Canada's Confederation. We're not as old as the Hamley's toy store, but still...it's a special day. Especially when we Canadians have been away from home soil since July of last year.
I got talking with the Canadians and they said the Embassy (sorry, "High Commission") was throwing a party in Trafalgar Square. So the three of us walked down there, and took in the scene. "Welcome - step in to Canada" read the banner. Here's some of the things going on: music (by Canadian performers we'd never heard of), ball hockey, face painting, flags, and booths promoting our various tourist regions. There were also some "typical" Canadian products being sold, like Tim Horton's donuts and Moosehead beer. Or the guys who were selling the Canadian grab bag, which included Kraft Dinner and Dad's Oatmeal cookies. My colleagues used to tease me because I ate those exact cookies every day for years at lunch. Hey, at least they're quintessentially Canadian!
After we'd had our fill of the festivities, we headed over to the Sir John Soane's Museum. It's actually just the house of a famous architect, left to the City of London exactly as it was when he died. He was extremely eccentric. Lots of mirrors and tricks to increase space and light. Lots of objects from all over the world. Soane has Seti I's sarcophagus in his basement having outbid the British Museum for it. The security guard showed Anica how, in the Picture Room, the walls open up like pages of a book to reveal more pictures behind.
What really captivated Anica was Sir John's devotion to his favourite dog, Fanny. This pet has a huge tombstone in a courtyard of the house. There are several oil paintings of Fanny elsewhere in the house. Mrs. Soane isn't quite so well-represented.
By this point in the day, Jenn was pretty sure that her right foot, which had been troubling her for a couple of days, was going to need some serious rest. She's apparently aggravated an old injury to do with the arch of her foot. It's strange, but fortunate in a way, that she's made it through over eleven months of travelling, and this is only flaring up now. She's going to take the day off tomorrow, and suggested that we finish today by going on the London Eye. That's something new in London that we wanted to do.
Keep an Eye on the neighbours
It was a beautiful evening for a ride on British Airways (who built the London Eye). The crowds were huge, but they move 25 people onto one of the 32 ferris wheel cabins every minute. It goes up 135 metres. You can look straight down (because of the shape of the cabin) to the Thames River. For Jenn, her fear of heights and bad foot meant that she enjoyed the ride from a seat on the bench in the middle of the cabin. Still a great view, but no vertigo.
We ate at a McDonald's (pretty sad, I know, but it had a play-area for Anica and allowed us to use free wi-fi for as long as we wanted), then headed back to our flat. The temperature hit 27.8 today - the hottest day of the year in London so far. Happy Canada Day, eh!
Today we went to Hamleys. I bought a panda with a bamboo shoot in his mouth. Also at the store Mum and Dad bought me a fairy coluring book and 24 crayons for coluring on the plane home. We then Hamleys and found out there was a Canada Day party at Traflager so we went there. It was really cool. Then we went to Sir John Soane Museum. I liked seeing Fanny, the sargophagus and painting. We then went to the London Eye. It was really cool and seemed pretty fast but from far away it seems slowwww...! We then went to McD for dinner, went home, introduced Chengdu Xinhha [the new panda] to Quacky Quackers, Baby Young, Nessie Bell, Lizzie Johnson and Pickles Sour [the other stuffed animals]. G.N.! P.S. My nose is snuffley!
Anica and I were missing Jenn today, but she was hoping a day off her foot would help her get through the last three days in London. I took Anica to places that Jenn and I have been before, but wanted Anica to see.
In our opinion, no trip to London would be complete without a visit to the Tower of London. Anica now agrees. She said that the Yeoman Warder (i.e. "Beefeater's") guided tour there was the "best guided tour ever." They are really funny, and they have great stories to tell. We heard about our old friend William the Conqueror again, who built the first tower there after his conquest. And of course we heard about Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Jane Grey, and all the other bloody anecdotes. The Tower of London also houses the Crown Jewels, and a pair of ravens (because one king believed if the ravens ever left, the kingdom would fall).
Don't call me a Beefeater!
Next it was St. Paul's Cathedral, essentially the national church of England. It is beautiful - white, light and glittering with gold. It's the second-largest church we've been in (only St. Peter's in Rome being larger). Westminster Abbey is fascinating as well, but too crowded. Anica read aloud the Rick Steves' guided tour of the cathedral. Clearly, she was in the mood for sightseeing today. Very enthused, full of energy. It's great when she's like this. She even had the energy to go all the way up the 539 steps to the "Golden Gallery," 350 feet above the church floor. There, you can step outside and get a view of London that's actually as good as the London Eye. We had stopped after 250 steps for some time in the "Whispering Gallery," which is half-way up the inside of St. Paul's dome. The acoustics are so good on the rounded wall that you can whisper to someone on the other side of the gallery, and the sound will travel along the wall. It's like the person's right beside you, not a hundred feet away, when it works. Anica and I spent lots of time on that.
From the top of St. Paul's
There's lots to look at in St. Paul's. A Henry Moore sculpture, John Donne's effigy from before the 1666 fire, the American-themed stained glass (in the American Chapel, a WWII tribute), new-in-2005 paintings by a Russian artist, the Wellington, Nelson and Cornwallis monuments. As for Christopher Wren, the architect? The floor under the dome has a Latin inscription, reading "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you." I love that.
Back on the tube, we went to Kings Cross station. Can you guess why? That's right, the ultimate Harry Potter photo-up, platform 9 and 3/4. Anica has read all seven Harry Potter books and seen all five DVDs while on this trip, so this was a must. They now have a sign set up and a trolley that looks like it's gone halfway through the wall, so there really is something to see.
She's no Muggle, then
Unfortunately, by now it was raining. So much for Hyde Park and the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. We took refuge in the British Library, next door to Kings Cross. When Jenn and I were in London in 1999, this was my favourite attraction. It's probably the only library to display a better collection of rare, priceless books than Chester Beatty has in Dublin. The large, dimly-lit (to protect the books room) called "Treasures of the British Library" contains a Shakespeare first folio, a Gutenberg Bible, pages from Leonardo's notebooks, a Wycliffe Bible, handwritten manuscripts by Austen, Hardy, Wilde and others, even rough drafts of Beatles lyrics in Lennon and McCartney's own hands. It is absolutely stunning.
Anica found her own interests there. They have interactive computer screens called "Turning the Pages," where you use your fingers to (virtually) do just that. She mainly looked at those while I stared with wonder down into the glass cases housing the real thing.
Then Anica wanted to see a special display room of the Ramayana. We've seen numerous versions of this Hindu epic on our trip, notably at Angkor Wat and Bangkok's Wat Phra Keo, but also several places in India. This was a much clearer way to learn about the Ramayana because all the panels are explained in English. Anica spent almost an hour reading the gloss and looking at the illustrations. There's hundreds of illustrated panels, once folded into a book, but now individually framed to preserve each one.
By then, despite clearing skies, it was time to get back to Jenn. We went out to a Chinese restaurant near our apartment. Her foot's still hurting, but perhaps the rest helped.
Today (without Mum) we went to the Tower of London. We went on the Yeoman Wader tour. It was hard to understand at first but then it was easy. Even though I don't usually like torture, I sure like the chopping-of-heads, executing killing stories he told!! We then had lunch and went to St. Pauls Cathedral. Its been a cathedral since 604 AD. My 2 favrite things are: modren paintings of the crucificacions and the life of Christ and the Whispering Gallery: you can whisper into the wall and evreybody will hear you. So don't say anything to secret. Then Kings Cross. It was really cool and they'd put half a trolley in the wall for Harry Potter fans to pretend to push. Went home, met Mummy, went out, had dinner, went home, G.N.
We waited for the bus across the street rather than walk to the tube station. This helped Jenn, whose foot is still quite sore. Then we hopped (no pun intended) on another bus at the station, avoiding the stairs to the underground, and took the double-decker to the British Museum. Anica thought this was pretty cool - we got to sit upstairs right at the front - but soon realized it gets pretty hot up there!
Has Elgin lost his marbles? The Grand Court at the British Museum
The British Museum gobbled up several hours, including a lunch break. We admired the Great Court that surrounds the round core of the Reading Room, restored in 2000, then concentrated our attack on the ground floor: Egypt, Assyria and Greece. Hey, you can't do it all. Anica loves Egypt, but is developing a fondness for things Assyrian, which we've also seen at Berlin's Pergamon and at the Louvre. She spent the last of her allowance money for the year on a illustrated kid's book called "500 Things You Should Know about the Ancient World." That's about 490 more than the Ontario curriculum thinks you should know about ancient history!
Feet in the Fountain
Jenn didn't join us for Hyde Park. Too walking intensive for how she's feeling right now. But we'd promised to take Anica to the kids' stuff concerning Diana. First, there's the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, near the Serpentine Bridge in Hyde Park. It's not much to look at, but is a very interesting, varied, oblong course of water. A circular river. Children and adults alike take off their socks and shoes and dip their feet in, sitting on the marble edges. Anica found it cold, but fun to splash around in.
How do pirates spell "aaarrrgggghhhh?" At the Diana Playground
After a long walk through Kensington Gardens, we finally came to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. It's not big, but definitely one-of-a-kind. All the equipment is subtly based on a Peter Pan theme. The centerpiece is a pirate's ship. It has a mast kids can climb (safely), right up to the crow's nest. Anica met and played with a girl from Delhi, India. A thunderstorm
cut the visit a little short, but it was a great time at the park.
Today we went to the British Mueseum. We saw stuff from: Egypt, Assyria and Greece. I have 1-5 favrite things in each one. Egypt fav things: Ramses II face statue - a really cool Egyptian face. Ginger - a poor man that died before the Pyrimids were built. His hair and body are ginger. But the Egyptin dealer had a brother. When Ginger arived the brother dissapered. The Egyptian dealer might of killed his brother and made him look like a 5000 year old Mummy. Assyria: human headed lions - big lion gaurds the doorways to the Assyrian exibithion. Greece: Achilles and Penthisilla pottery - it was really cool. Sent Mum back home, went to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountin. I did a whole lap around before finding out not to by a meany guy. Went to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, met a girl called Nyla, played in a house with bark and leaves, hurt my knee, went home, had dinner. G.N.!
The day's just beginning. It's our last full day in London. The last full day on "Our Big World Trip." Tomorrow we fly home to Toronto.
We're very excited. Just as excited as we were when we left. That's partially the point of travelling so long: the return to so-called "normal life" becomes part of the adventure. We're lucky; we have lots to look forward to at home. We've only lived in our condo for three months, and now we've been gone for over eleven, so it will be like moving into a new home again. While we were there, we had it painted and recarpeted, and had pretty much finished the decorating. My parents and Jenn's have taken turns visiting, living in and lovingly caring for the condo while we were gone. We didn't want to rent it out and risk having our new condominium investment wrecked.
Covent Garden street performer
Slow Train Coming - at the Transport Museum, Covent Garden
For the grand finale today (inshallah, as they say in the Arab countries we've visited), we'll go hang out in Convent Garden, then see a late afternoon matinee of "Spamalot," the Monty Python-inspired musical in London's West End "Palace Theatre." Then we have dinner reservations at "Rules," which purports to be London's oldest restaurant. It's certainly one of the more traditional. A splurge for our last night.
Then we'll be zooming home on Zoom Airlines. Inshallah. We'll continue the blog for a while, deal with the return/letdown/adjustment, etc. So you'll hear from us when we complete the lap.