Dear professor and co.
Greetings from the land where cigarettes apparently don’t cause cancer. I’m writing to you from aboard a train speeding through the drizzling French countryside to London where I will rest my weary feet for 22 hours before flying back to the land of snow and freezing temperatures.
Much has transpired since we last wrote, though not, I’m afraid, much sleep.
Between the 7 hour time difference and the bells of St Paul’s, the bulk of my slumber happened during the hours of 5-730am.
This was, of course, not ideal but fortunately I have extensive training in the art of subsisting on virtually no z’s.
More than the lack of sleep, however, this is a tale of redemption.
Due to the abbreviated nature of our trip, the itinerary required some serious logistical considerations to avoid backtracking and walking our not inconsiderable feet into bloody stumps.
On our first morning I escorted my companions to Monmouth coffee shop. Which, in keeping with my eccentric preference for searching out good coffee no matter the distance involved, required us to walk for about 20 minutes.
My slightly more senior companion stole frequent glances at the fitbit attached to her hip, which might have been her way of indicating it was perhaps a very long way to walk for a ‘flat-white’, particularly since there was a (subpar) coffee shop within spitting distance of our appartement.
[See previous comment about eccentric preferences.]
Many steps later, we arrived at Monmouth and found three vacant seats. Quelle miracle! We enjoyed what was undoubtedly the best coffee of the trip while my mom cast longing glances at the unlimited baguette and jam on offer. I assured her our next (slightly far away) stop was a bakery, and so we carried on.
We walked past London bridge and Southwark bridge, through St. John’s estate which has a slightly more gritty vibe than, say, Kensington. Finally, we arrived at the address on my map.’Closed to the public except on Saturday mornings.’ It was, of course, Monday.
If memory serves, that was a particularly quiet moment on the trip.
It wasn’t even noon and we’d already walked something like 12,000 steps according to our friend, Mr. Fitbit.
As ‘luck’ would have it, we found ourselves on the doorstep of Tower Bridge and made our way, along with every schoolchild and tourist in the city, to see ‘the poppies’. What, you hadn’t heard there were 880,000 poppies ‘planted’ outside the Tower of London for Remembrance Day? I don’t blame you, they did keep it on the down-low.
Afterwards we ‘minded the gap’ and tubed it to the National Portrait Gallery. [Allow me to pause for a minute and observe how amazing it is that so many of London’s museums are free. London 1-Paris 0.] And, as an added bonus, I even got to see Kate Middleton! (In her unfortunate portrait by Sir Paul Emsley.)
With our howling feet placed gingerly upon cobblestone, we headed over to Covent Garden for a lunch-time concert at the Opera House. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, young Nedezhda’s formidable mezzo-soprano, or the exceedingly comfortable seats.
There was really just one tiny kink in the London plans. Rain, you say? No we were fortunate to have very little rain. It does, however, get dark at 4:30pm which, for me at least, does not really lend itself to ‘seeing the sights.’ [Courtesy of the time difference, Paris has an extra hour of daylight. London 1-Paris 1.]
After a seemingly interminable night of listening to bells, my sister and I left the apartment just after 9 the next morning for another far away coffee shop. Though not quite as good as Monmouth, Ozone was certainly better than anything Paris offered us while we were there. [London 2-Paris 1.]
Upon being caffeinated, we were off to Islington for a bit of wandering around and for the express purpose of eating lunch at Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant-deli. As luck would have it, we beat the lunch rush and ate a very leisurely lunch of various salads and curried lentil cauliflower soup. Along with a large to-go box filled with dessert. It was to be the culinary highlight of the trip.
As we walked towards the next tube stop, my slightly junior companion mentioned she had never been on one of the iconic red double decker buses. As you know I’m slightly bus-averse myself, so we carpe’d the diem and hopped on a bus headed for Marble Arch, which – in all my London living – I don’t believe I’d ever seen.
Following a quick stop at a chain coffee shop to purchase something in exchange for the privilege of using their wc/toilet/washroom/whatever we hobbled over to Hyde Park to rent bikes for a quick ride through the park. (Allow me a moment to comment on the annoyance that is adequate restroom facilities in Europe. Though experience tells me it’s worse in the City of Light. London 3-Paris 1.)
Though we were unsuccessful in finding the Princess Diana memorial, or even Prince George and his nanny, the ride was a complete delight apart from the initial few panicky moments when we were convinced a small group of guys was trying to hijack the bikes we’d just paid for.
Instead they took a picture of us and showed us which paths to take.
I abandoned my bike-loving, small space averse sister and joined my mom at the London Eye, which my fear of Ferris wheels and steep admissions had caused me to avoid on previous occasions. I was very relieved to find out it was not at all like the dreaded fear-wheels, though my dream of getting amazing pictures of London was slightly dashed by the much dreaded reflective glare from the glass.
Following our thirty minute rotation, we hobbled over to the Dorchester Hotel for our highly anticipated afternoon tea. Yes, for an absurd sum of money, you too can sit down for an hour and forty five minutes and eat small sandwiches and drink vast quantities of tea. I may have over indulged in the sandwiches and scones (as my way of justifying the expense) because by the end, my stomach was expanding with every passing minute. I felt much like a blown up balloon about to liftoff into space. Or burst.
I must bid you adieu, but I promise to regale you with tales of our lightning fast trip to that other city when next I happen upon some wifi.