I have been really sick lately so no new San Francisco adventures to speak of. In lieu of that, I give you: the continuing adventures of my younger self in Europe!
Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom
Sunday 1/4/2007 22:15
Today started off nice enough, with an English breakfast of hot cross buns, which my cousins couldn’t believe we’d never had before. Along with the buns were “Frosties” cereal (like Frosted Flakes at home), and tea, of course. I’m drinking so much tea, and always with lots of milk and sugar. I never used to like tea prepared this way at home, but it is “normal” here. I’m becoming quite accustomed to it. It’s like crack.
Nigel drove us to the train station and dropped us off to take the train into Windsor. We bought the tickets and hopped on. After 2 or 3 stops we realized we were going in the wrong direction. It was my fault really. I saw the train was about to leave and thought it would be a good idea to hop on while it was still there. Jill lectured that we really need to check the destination better next time, which is true, but I don’t see what was so bad about it. All we had to do was get off and back on going the right direction. I was in a very carefree, childlike state of mind. I love trains, and being from Los Angeles haven’t ridden on many. I love staring out the window, watching it all fly by and listening to music. The houses we past were cool. They were all tall and narrow and old and scrunched up to each other. I love how much of a person’s lifestyle and culture you can see just from the back of people’s gardens. Brits love their gardens and parks. Funny since it’s bloody cold here most of the time, although today was sunny and windy.
Once we got into Windsor, we walked around town for a bit, looking for the best deal on a jacket potato (baked potato). I got one with salmon and cream cheese, which sounds odd but was pretty good. Then we trotted up to the castle. It was quite exciting, as Jill is such a medieval buff but had never been to a castle before. She thought Windsor was kind of sissy. Apparently it would be easy to attack. We took the free tour or the grounds, and once inside the castle gave our own tour on Jill’s tape recorder as no photography was allowed. Cool highlights: Charles VII had secret passageways put in so that he could go and visit his mistresses and illegitimate children on the other side of the grounds. A man named Tony has to run up 200 steps to change the flag from the Union Jack to the Queen’s Standard when she is in, and back again when she is out. The order of the Garter is called so because of a real incident with a lady’s garter in the 14th century. And in the Queen’s Closet, amongst other nice Dutch portraits, is a painting from around the 15th century of a Dutch party with a man puking in the corner. Lovely touch, I must say. We walked around a little more, and found this long walkway stretching on and on with grass and trees lining it. Mel and Jill walked on down it, and Sara and I stretched and napped and daydreamed and she made a daisy chain for me.
Another nice train ride back and home to a weird chicken casserole thing for dinner. Tilly turned on the telly and we watched these bad British soap operas, which were kind of funny from an anthropological perspective. In America, the soaps try hard to be glamorous, whereas the British ones try to be normal but most of the people are still too pretty. And they are on in the evening in England, with American sitcoms on during the day. I forgot how much British people like bad television and bad pop music.
We taught Tilly how to play “spoons” and it was fun. She’s addicted now. A nice, quiet Sunday evening.
Monday 2/4/2007 21:47
Today was a truly marvelous day. We tried to wake up early, but naturally that didn’t happen. We took a bus to the nearest tube station and made asses of ourselves when we didn’t realize that the front door doesn’t open to let passengers out, only the back. We bought a travel card, which is brilliant because you can take as many tube or bus rides as you want. I had forgotten how much I love the London tube system (I had already been to London twice before this trip). It is so easy and reliable, and the buses and trains are pretty good too.
But anyhow, today was our first day in London. We took the tube to the Houses of Parliament so we could begin the “Wow, you’re in London” walk in my fabulous Rick Steeves guidebook. That was pretty incredible, walking out of the Underground station to come face-to-face with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It’s such an impressive, detailed, not to mention freakin’ tall, building. The walk then took us to Westminster Abbey. Another crazy old building.
In Parliamentary Square we looked at the statues. The only one I’d heard of was Churchill, though there was a guy whose last name was Smuts. That’s pretty awesome. Smuts. Speaking of funny names, there’s a town named Dorking and a tube station called Tooting Broadway. Apparently it’s a town, as Nigel informed me he was born in Tooting, pronounced “too’-in”.
We traveled up Whitehall, passing 10 Downing Street where the prime minister lives (mondo security there), a bunch of war memorials, and some building having something to do with the cavalry with soldiers on horses. Some weird guys tried to hit on us. There were four of them, and they saw the fours of us and figured they had a chance. They were all “Hi. We’re French”, like the fact that they are French made them instantly more attractive. It didn’t.
We got to Trafalgar Square! It was really busy there. At least with all the other tourists we don’t stick out as much as we do in small town Sutton with my cousins. At the center of Trafalgar Square there’s a famous pedestal with a pillar topped by Admiral Lord Nelson with four bronze lions at the corners. Children and young folk like climbing up the pedestals and sitting on the lions. We had our lunch on the pedestal, a picnic of assorted weird English processed food. Ham sandwiches on white bread with salad cream, watery cranberry-raspberry yogurt, and a Cadbury mini-roll, which is like sponge cake with strawberry jam covered in chocolate. Oh, and the really weird “Dairylea Dunkers”, which were like a strange version of bread sticks with cheese.
After feasting, we went to the National Gallery. What a wonderful art collection! We spent 4 1/2 blissful hours there. Some highlights: dark, beautiful medieval art by Criveli, whose work I’d never seen before, Bottecelli’s Venus and Mars, DaVinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, the famous Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, Dutch paintings by Vermeer and De Hooch, Bacchus and Ariadne by Tiziano, De LaRouche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, and Renoir’s The Umbrellas, as well as another wonderful Renoir with something to do with an opera box. I also got to revisit one of my favorites whose name I can never remember, by John Wright of Derby about an experiment on a bird in a glass bowl thing.
While basking in the glory of the National Gallery I had several artistic revelations. I liked DaVinci’s work because of the faces in his paintings. They are so perfect, so angelic, and yet his use of light and shadows and choice of colors in The Virgin of the Rocks is slightly eerie.
I loved the Dutch paintings because they make you feel as though you have stumbled upon a scene that is already familiar to you. Especially Vermeer’s portraits of women. The warmth and natural light with which he treats the subject and the way she looks at the viewer makes me feel as though the viewer is in love with her and has just stumbled upon her. Art makes me talk crazy.
I also love Renoir. People tend to pick Monet and Degas as their favorite Impressionist, but they just don’t give Renoir enough credit if you ask me. I love the way he uses color. His paintings are so alive with color. I also like the interplay between the figures, like in the one of the girl in the opera box. I like making up stories about what is happening in Renoir’s world.
Once we had left the National Gallery, we decided that we had finally had enough fine art and our feet were too tired to do either the Tate or Natural History museum. We went home, bought supplies for a picnic lunch for tomorrow and spent only 7 pounds on a lunch for 4. Not too shabby! Dinner was bangers and mash. Oh, and they had this sweet juice drink (I think it was called Squash?) that you dilute with water but of course I didn’t know that and drank it straight. It was super sweet and nasty. Made an ass out of myself, as usual. What I seem to do best. I could go into more details of our quiet evening but I think that’s quite enough for the moment!
Good Luck and Happy Travels,
Ps- Sorry for the pictures of food and art that I did not take. I’m working on getting actual photos of this trip up. Bear with me!