Monday, April 29, 2013

Lots of things to see in London

When you walk through London, you have to keep your wits about you.  1)  there are a lot of opportunities to fall and go boom around here.  I have been careful so far, but I find myself stopping to look down before I start out walking again after taking a photo or inspecting something else that I've found interesting.  2)  there are a lot of foreigners around here... Eastern European, Japanese, Italians and French stand out more than anything else.  They travel in packs making it hard for those that are trying to share the sidewalk with them.  I saw a group of about 20-25 Japanese tourists go running across Cromwell Road in the middle of the block during rush hour.  This is a 4 lane road.  They made it across the first two lanes before they succeeded in totally stopping the traffic in the other direction.  3)  It's very easy to pass what I'm looking for as I'm distracted by everything around me and there's a lot to see.  Like the detail on these chimneys.

Today was my first day at the museum.  I started with one of the free museum tours they offer.  This one focused on the Medieval and Renaissance periods.  While I waited for the tour to start, I shot down to the ticket desk to get a ticket to one of the exhibitions, "Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and Russian Tzars".  After the tour I went through the Sculpture section and then to the Exhibition, "Photography not allowed".  I saw one of Thomas a Becket's reliquaries and a fascinating wood inlay "portrait" of which I hope you can see the amazing detail in my photo below.

Another remarkable item that I saw today caused a stir in the art world when it was first "uncovered".  It is a Rosellino terra cotta sculpture of Madonna and Child.  When statues were commissioned, the artist first worked up a miniature in wax.  The next step was a terra cotta figure that was larger than the wax one, but much smaller than what is eventually carved in marble.  What is unique about this one, was the humanism that Rosellino imparted to the figures. This portrayal of Jesus and the Madonna was sacrilegious for that time and the commission was never executed in marble.

What a pity though.  Look at Mary's face as she tickles the Baby Jesus' stomach.  He in turn is laughing and it's not evident in my photo, but his feet are arched and his toes are flexed from being tickled.

After that I left the museum and walked all over.  I was trying to find something for lunch, but either wasn't seeing anything that I could eat or appealed to me or I simply was not turning down the right streets!  The more I walked, the hungrier I got and the further afield I was.   All of a sudden I looked down an alley that looked interesting and at the end of it was a small pedestrian zone.  Call it fate, but I walked into one of the cafes, asked if there were any Gluten Free items and wound up enjoying this yummy Orange Polenta Cake with a nicely crafted latte.

As I've walked along, I've been curious as to the construction time period of the various streets lined with their rows of attached houses.  In the area I'm staying in, the rows of houses are all white plaster fronted with creamy yellowy-brown brick back walls.  A few blocks to the east, it's all red brick and there is a lot of remodeling going on in this section.  On some of the business  streets, the red brick buildings are dated in the late 1880's and I wonder if the row houses date from the same period.

One more thing to cover before I close.  Last night I was too tired to go further into the shopping experience that was Harrod's.  The place was packed with tourists (like me) talking about bombings (not me) and generally milling around in packs.  There were also some locals trying to take advantage of the 10% discount weekend when they buy things like the expensive support of the nice little British ladies who tried to help me find my way told me this.  In between dodging gaggles of giggling Japanese teenagers and not even bothering to look at the price tags anymore, I managed to shoot a couple of photos that sum up the "high fashion" experience of Harrod's for me.  I bought a pair of each of these shoes.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rolling with it

It always seems that no matter how much time you spend planning a trip, you either quickly learn that you have very little control over what will happen or you risk ruining your vacation.

The Comfort Economy section on the long portion of my air travel  was overbooked due to the configuration of the actual plane not being the same as the one pictured on line.  Many of us were given different variations of "the computer system has a glitch in it, you no longer have the seat that you paid for."  It wasn't so bad for me, but the 6'5" chap I met in line wasn't happy and I can't say that I blame him.  That extra 3-4" of leg room would have been great for him. By calling it a computer problem, they didn't have to compensate for "their error".  Apparently, a computer glitch is akin to an act of God.  I was lucky to have the middle seat next to me empty also.  Another pleasant surprise was the actual Gluten Free meals with which I was presented.  Delta has come along way from writing my seat number and "GF" on my breakfast banana with a Sharpie!  I had an honest to goodness Udi's GF Chocolate Muffin which I admit I ate for dinner a little while ago.  I'm too tired to worry about proper nutrition today.

I breezed through passport control after a pleasant chat with the agent and headed out to the Underground, withdrawing cash at an Amex ATM along the way.  As I stood figuring out the logistics of breaking a £10 note to get change for the phone to be able to contact the agent to arrange picking up the key, a very kind gentleman who was assisting people by the elevator near the phones asked me if I needed assistance as I looked lost. He then very kindly offered me the use of his phone to call the agent.  Then he and his colleague gave me some very kind advice as to which type of Underground pass to buy and I was on my way.  I have found everyone whom I have asked for assistance to be extremely kind and helpful.  I'm not sure why I haven't noticed this before, unless it is because I'm travelling alone and my attention is focused more outward than towards my travelling companion.

I'm staying in a compact little flat in the Kensington Chelsea area. What it lacks in charm, it more than makes up for in location.  My goal is to stay awake until after dark, so I grabbed a coffee and walked up the road to Harrod's to check out the place.  Here are some photos of things that caught my eye along the way.  The juxtaposition of the brick colors was interesting and the cherry blossom photo reminded me of one I took with my phone on a walk back home earlier this week.

Harrod's is a lot like Las Vegas, only I think Vegas is less expensive.  I was looking at some scarves and felt like my fingers had been singed.  £189.  Ouch.  After that I simply kept my hands behind my back as I walked around.  I'm sure the body language was obvious.  The prices weren't the only thing that is a bit over the top.
At this point I noticed that I was having a little trouble walking in a coordinated fashion and decided to head home doing a little shopping along the way.  The whole way home it felt like moving through a fog and I was constantly amazed at how little time had expired between glimpses at my watch.  At one point I would have sworn that the battery was dead.  It seemed like my brain was mumbling the whole way mum mumum...bzzz.

I now have a bunch of magenta tulips in my apartment as well as some yogurt and soy milk for breakfast tomorrow.  I've unpacked the suitcase and am now simply waiting until it seems "not too early" to go to sleep in my attempt to get on London time.  I am just off a main road here and there is still traffic whooshing along out there and people rushing to and fro.

There are many other impressions from my first few hours here, but there's this background noise in my mum mumum....bzzzzzzz that is getting in the way.   I'm going to roll with it.