Thursday, November 15, 2012

Day 2 in London - Kensington and Trouble at the Marble Arch

This is a continuation of the series I started based on my trip to London last much to share!

Well, if the jet lag and time difference didn’t kick in yesterday, it sure arrived this morning!  I don’t think I could have felt worse, but it didn’t matter because I was in London!

When I was planning this trip, I used the Eye Witness Travel Guides, simply because it breaks the city down into sections.  Every day was planned out, with some room to move of course--I didn’t want to spend time while I was there figuring all of that out.  Besides, half the fun was planning the trip!

So, on the Tube I went--destination:  Knightsbridge.  I walked into Harrods and within about 5 mins walked right out again.  Beautiful on the outside and on the inside, but there was no time for shopping, nor did I have the dollars to spend. 

Next was the Brompton Oratory--a gorgeous building dating back to the late 1800’s.  The interior architecture brought tears to my eyes--I had never seen anything like it.

Before visiting, I didn’t even think about the fact that it was an operating church, and Roman Catholic to boot--it was also Sunday, with a full Latin mass starting in 15 minutes.  Believe it or not, it was tempting to stay to hear the Latin in such a beautiful setting (my parents would have been proud); however, I was on a bit of a time budget.  I lit a candle for my Grandma, and after a dozen or so pictures sans flash were snapped (much to the dismay of the church-goers), I just smiled sweetly as I snuck away in my completely-inappropriate-for the-setting Lululemon tennis skirt (which would have not made my parents proud).

I carried on down the road to the Victoria and Albert Museum (or the V&A as they call it in London).  This museum was on my list thanks to its vast collection of British artifacts, furniture, textiles, armour, building fragments, etc., all dating back to various periods.  I was in heaven, specifically in the medieval and Tudor eras.  Trying to explain how “at home” I felt in this museum is almost impossible, so I will use what was told to me by a Tarot Card reader earlier in the year to explain.  Outside of telling me I was going to England (my ticket was already booked at that point), she told me that in a past life, I was part of the British Monarchy during the 16th Century (1500’s), and naturally, I truly believe it.  You would have to see my home and know my manner at times to understand why I actually have internalized this depiction of myself.  Everywhere I looked, four poster beds, tapestries, little ornate boxes that belonged to Henry and Elizabeth--it was all too beautiful--and interesting enough, it all subtly reminded me of my home.  The irony was that the building that housed the museum could have been in a museum--it too was gorgeous.  
And the icing on the medieval cake was lunch in the cafeteria--a spectacular room where I had a salad and hummus wrap amongst the vaulted ceilings and chandeliers.  

Across the roadway was the Museum of Natural History.   I lasted 20 minutes in there before I felt like I was going to lose it.  Children were everywhere--yelling, screaming, and running around like little terrors.  I found the t-rex skeleton and a giant ancient sloth--two picture-worthy items, then took a few photos of the building, and got the hell out. 

I stepped outside, and all the glorious sun that I enjoyed in the morning had disappeared and was now replaced with scathing cold rain.  I dashed back inside and bought the world’s smallest, flimsiest, bright red umbrella--anything would help, or so I thought.

I had my trusty map with me, a map that I relied so heavily on during my entire trip; however, interpreting distance has never been my strong suit, so off I went down Kensington Avenue for a long, long walk through a residential district until the Royal Albert Hall made an appearance.  Prince Albert built the hall back in the 1800’s for Queen Victoria and it stood out on the street quite vehemently.  Once indoors, I was disappointed to find out that I couldn’t look around, so I promptly bought a ticket for another evening to see a tribute to Stan Kenton, a musician who was a major contributor to the jazz scene over the last 4 or 5 decades--that way I could hear some fabulous music and see the hall itself.  I spent some time casually loitering around the lobby just to dry off a little given I looked and felt like a drowned rat at this point--stupid umbrella.

I finally mustered the courage to trek on to Kensington Palace.  This is where Princess Diana, along with many other princesses throughout the ages, called home as a child.  How much she was and still is loved by the British people was evident as I passed by one of the outer gates that was fully adorned in flowers, poems, letters and pictures--it was beautiful to see.  The palace itself was under construction, but they did have it open for a princess-themed exhibition (how fitting).  I finally got to christen my London Pass (a pass that you pay a flat fee for before you travel that allows you entry into a variety of attractions, etc.) which saved me huge amounts of money in the end.  The exhibition hosted beautiful gowns and furnishings and so much more.  As I wondered through the great hall, I had a seat at one of the windows and thought of what life must have been like living as a princess in a place like this.  After I had my fill of daydreaming, I said goodbye to the palace and ventured off into the gardens, only to come across a plethora of interesting wildlife, which naturally included squirrels.  And oh how they loved me because what other human purposefully carries nuts in her handbag to feed them?  

It was now time to head to the Marble Arch--which also was quite a hike, especially with a pair of legs that were now getting stiff thanks to my attire and the penetrating cold.  Before reaching the arch itself, I passed through Hyde Park and walked over to Speaker’s Corner.  I was imagining people reading poetry, sharing their philosophical viewpoints, and my feeling inspired--but instead it was two guys up on their perches screaming at each other, both looking horribly confrontational, in front of a crowd of seemingly uneasy and almost frightened onlookers.  I couldn’t resist making sure I was heard, so I walked into the crowd, stood on my tip-toes (this is where using toe-shoes in ballet for a few years came in handy), and shouted “Hi everybody!  My name is Denise and I’m here from Vancouver Canada!  Have a brilliant day!”  The entire crowd stopped, stared and was silent for the 5 seconds as I announced myself, and then readily focused back on the spectacle of the two angry men.

Finally, I made it to the Marble Arch and even in all its glory, it really was just a marble arch.  It was made originally for Buckingham Palace but turned out to be too narrow for the Royal carriages to go through, and I was soon to discover it was only meant for Royalty to pass under, which should have explained the orange cones stopping people from walking underneath.  I, of course, could only see the potential photographs I could get if I just moved the cones out of the way...which is what I did.  Within moments, a Bobbi on the corner came over and in a fairly thick English accent, asked me what I was doing by moving the cones.  Without a moments hesitation, I quickly gushed to him with a serious tone, “No, no, it’s ok, you see, I used to be part of the British monarchy in a past life, so, you know, there’s no issue here at all.”  He just looked at me in absolute disbelief and asked where I was from.  As soon as I chimed out “Vancouver, Canada” a huge smile swept across his face as he then retorted “Oh, that explains everything--you people smoke a lot of pot out there, don’t you?”.  There was really nothing further to say.

My day was still not over--I hopped on the Tube to make it over the British Library just before they closed.  I did it, with 45 minutes to spare and bolted right for the gallery that housed all the old books, maps and manuscripts.  And then I saw it...I couldn’t believe it was right in front of me--Geoffrey Chaucer’s original Canterbury Tales.  I’m not ashamed to admit that a wave of emotion came over me when I saw the book from the 14th century, written by the Father of English literature--a book that has inspired me all through my was overwhelming.  Of course, everyone else just casually walked by it whilst I was busy trying to not draw attention to myself by inadvertently smearing my mascara all over my face while muttering “Oh my god, I can’t believe it’s right here in front of me”. The Magna Carta, early Bibles and some of the world’s first maps--it was just stunning to see...I was in heaven.  Not surprisingly, before I left the book store drew me in and I ended up buying the complete works of Jules Vern and a book on Irish Poetry, two of the largest books there and bought without a single thought of the weight restriction my luggage would be facing when I left the country.

Down the road was St. Pancras International and King’s Cross Station, so naturally I had to stop there before heading back.  King’s Cross is a famous “Harry Potter” site thanks to Platform 9 3/4 and of course every tourist possible was looking for it.  To prevent unwanted tourists in the train station, the city ended up putting up a fake platform outside the station to satisfy the crazed Potter fans like me.   

I was pretty much done for the day at this point, tubed it home to the hotel and passed out on my bed, my head reeling with the events and sights of the day.  And it would all begin again when I woke up the next morning.

Stay tuned for Day 3 in London - Surrounded by Royalty:  A Palace, An Abbey and A River

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