last days in london

As I sit here in my room, post-London, with the rain beating down my windows, layers upon layers of clothes on, and the freezing cold making my toes curl inside of their slippers, I think to myself, ‘Isn’t California was supposed to have good weather?’

By some sad turn of events the weather here in sunny CA has taken a turn for the worst (or maybe I just brought bad weather back with me), and has somewhat strengthened my belief that London–at least in winter–is pretty much the same as Berkeley, except with snow and less friendly people. In any case, I think it would be unfair to London if I proclaimed judgment right now; I should visit again in the summer months (I think fish&chips and a pint of IPA would be enough to sway me positively).

Anyway, during my last two days in London I tried to hit as many museums, historical attractions, and local favourites as possible, which resulted in me feeling like some kind of one-man-monster-tourist-bus-on-legs while getting a London tour book stuffed down my throat. Nevertheless, I made it through with minimal scars and only slightly cranky.

Day 6:

Entrance to the British Museum. Oh the British, swashbuckling thieves and plunderers..

My first stop was the British Museum, which was, unbeknownst to me, merely on the other side of Russell Park and less than 10 minutes away from where I was living. Even arriving promptly at 10 am when it opened, there were already quite a few people there, many of them parts of school and tourist groups. The museum was really quite imposing, but at the moment all I seem to remember is that there were guards posted around the grassy lawns to make sure we didn’t step on them.

Central lobby of the museum.

And here we have the central lobby of the museum that you see just as you enter in from the main gates. That large cylinder building is the Prints room where scholars and researchers can look at the museum’s archives and materials. Standing at the foot of the of the large cylinder and looking up into the glass ceiling, it almost seemed as if the building was sprouting insect-like wings in preparation for flight, or perhaps the underside of a giant mushroom. In any case, it took a lot of patient waiting and fielding of random questions like, “are you Korean?” and “where are the maps?” before I could get a clear photograph with only the security guard in the picture.

Room for Chinese artifacts.

Being short on time, I had to choose wisely where I would visit first (spanning endless centuries and countless countries, dynasties, and cultures, the British Museum is very much like the appendix of a very thick and rather dry history book). So naturally I chose China. I must admit that while perusing the glass cases, I every so often snarkily thought to myself that the British probably stole everything in the collection, but then again, who knows if they would still be intact if they had been left in China. The photograph below is of a set of warriors, horses, and servants that were found in the tomb of a Chinese official or aristocrat.

Statues 'found' within a burial site.

Though I’m not much of a Chinese history person, everything I saw here was amazing. Oddly enough, it made me think of all the Chinese ancient history dramas and movies that I’ve seen recently. Here are some other items that attracted me.

Replica of a Chinese house and courtyard.

Fingernail guards for the court ladies. Think Gong-Li in the Curse of the Golden Flower film.

The British Museum also had a small gallery devoted to Chinese jades and jade-making. The collection I believe is actually owned by some very, very wealthy Chinese gentleman, and is currently on loan to the museum. There was no photography in the jade collection, but here is one anyway.

A jade frog.

Afterwards, I made my rounds in the museum and saw most of the famous articles in the museum, such as the Rosetta Stone, the giant sphinxes from Assyria, the Roman and Greek statues, and more.

The Rosetta Stone. Learn French! Learn Spanish!

Inscribed on the floor of the lobby, unnoticed unless looking from above.

From an overhanging on one of the upper floors, I happened to stop for a breather and saw this quote. What, is the point of history, you ask? Let Tennyson tell you for me.

Of course, no morning is complete without some mishap, and as I attempted to leave the museum, the fire alarm suddenly went off and all of the visitors were locked in for 30 minutes while the staff tried to figure out if anything was on fire (more probably, if anything got stolen). Luckily I was still indoors when the alarm went off, great hordes of suckers people were ushered outside into the cold courtyard to wait it out, and all came rushing in like a relieved exhale of air when the doors were opened.

Poor tourists stuck in the courtyard while the investigation was taking place.

Westminster Abbey was the next stop. I didn’t make it for the tour, apparently they stop pretty early on the weekends. Luckily I got to go listen to Evensong (the next day), which was a combination of a sermon and the Westminster choir performing hymns. The entire process from the ruffles on the choir boys’ dresses to the blessing of the Queen and the royal family was much more ornate that anything I am used to, and seemed almost anachronistic, but I appreciated the opportunity to be exposed to it. Religion is an iffy issue to many, but the appreciation of music and of the uplifting of the spirit through it, is really underrated.

Westminster Abbey

Front entrance of the Abbey.

A short distance away are the famous Houses of Parliament. Who knows what kind of work actually gets done in here, but I’m sure walking in and out of such a majestic place on a daily basis would make me feel important too.

Parliament buildings. Oh look, it's that angry looking Oliver Cromwell.

Vertical is not vertical in this photo, but just pretend you're looking 'up.'

Next stop, the London Bridge. I had already been warned that ‘it’s not that great’ but really, the London bridge is just. a. bridge. According to the very helpful Tube worker, most people go to the Two Towers bridge and think it’s the London bridge because it looks cooler. And it opens up in the middle to let boats pass through. So I went there too.

The underwhelming London Bridge.

The two towers bridge.

Across the other side of the Thames I saw the Tower of London, but by this time I was too tired to physically drag myself over there (even though I really did want to see where Elizabeth I was locked up) so I contented myself with this photograph.

The tower of London, where all the grand political prisoners of the day were held.

The last stop of my tourist-on-crack day was Borough Market, a kind of half outdoors half indoors farmers market with the most amazing selection of foods and drink. The first half of the market was for fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as poultry, fish, and other meats. As I was passing through the stalls, one butcher called out, “RAHBBITS! Miss wouhld yeh like some rahbbits? Two rahbbits for NIHNE pounds!” and as I stopped and stared, half of my brain thought he wanted to sell me some pets.

Borough Market

It doesn't get fresher than this.

Cupcakes, muffins, cookies, tarts, and eclairs...

The best thing I had there was spiced mulled apple cider. On that cold and dreary day, with the sun just setting behind the tube station and that cup of cider in my hands, I felt that there was no way apples could be put to better use than this.

Needless to say, day six of my London-ian adventures was the most tiring as well as the most accomplished (in the non-academic sense).

Day 7:

Unfortunately, in my last day in London, I could not for the life of me, get my camera battery to charge. Therefore there are very few photos from day 7. I suppose it was a good thing then that I visited less places. In the morning I went to the most famous flea market/farmers market in London, Portobello Market. It was raining rather heavily when I set out and all throughout the first half of my walk down Portobello Street, but luckily by the time I got to the food stall section of the street, the rain had petered out and I found this genius stand selling mini churros. For only three pounds I got a giant cup of churros sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, and a mini cup filled with melted dark chocolate to dip them into. Aside from the British scones and tea, this was probably the best food I ate.

Churros with sugar and cinnamon, and melted chocolate to dip!! Not my hands, by the way.

Then I stumbled upon a cute, friendly old man who collected antique toy figurines of the kind you’d imagine young boys in the 1920s to have paraded around. They’re all very small, maybe about one inch in height. I bought one of an English soldier playing the trombone for my dad.

Tiny antique toy figurines.

Afterwards, I made a trip to the Tate Britain (sister to the Tate Modern). Having been severely disappointed by the Tate Modern, I was glad to see that there was some solid artwork here. A large portion was devoted to family and aristocratic portraiture (which I actually like), and there were some really good John Singer Sargent on display, among others. If only the Tate Britain would remodel and expand its downstairs cafe, which currently reminds one of a crowded AC Transit bus #51 on a rainy day, the place would be amazing.

The Tate Britain. This was the room filled with painting about the apocalypse. By far my favorite room.

After the Tate Britain I went to listen to Evensong at the Westminster Abbey (which I talked about above), and then went to Oxford Circus and shopped at the pre-eminent store for fashionable adolescent and twenty-something Londoners: Topshop. I have no photographs, but trust me when I say it was a four-story zoo.

Last Day:

Well, more like last morning. Having packed up everything the night before, I took my time checking my room and making mental notes of my stay in London. Despite the cold, snow, and grumpy people, I felt myself regretting having to leave and dragged my feet a bit as I checked out. Stepping out of the front doors, I prepared for the biting wind but was amazed to see, for the first time since I landed on London’s clammy shores–the sun. How teasingly did it peek out from behind the stick-barren trees on the morning that I was about to leave. I would stick it to the man if there was one, but instead I grabbed my camera, ready to use the last drops of battery to capture the beautiful outpouring of sunshine. Which was when I realized that my lens had, in the course of transportation, broken just at the point where it connects to the body of the camera.

London is lovely.

And perhaps it was meant to be that I had no camera on that morning, that I was forced to look at the city removed from the lens and the frame. And that the sun beating down on me with every step I took towards my return destination was a blessing rather than a mockery, beckoning me back with every glint of shine that I saw reflected on the church rooftops as the train thumped its way back to London Heathrow Airport.

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~ by robinlam on January 22, 2010.

One Response to “last days in london”

  1. Wow! Robin, great experience in a short period of time while visiting London. We enjoyed reading your blog like sharing the moments with you. It is great! From now on, you (probably) can go anywhere you want as long as it is well planned. Love Mom.

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