Saturday, April 22, 2006

London Highlights and Lowlights

Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first:

FOOD: Terrible. I had heard that fresh veggies and good food were hard to find in London, but I thought that the fact that it's a world-class city would prove the critics wrong on both counts. Nope.

The only decent food we found was Indian and Thai, and even that was only passable (the Indian food was good, but honestly I don't think what we had was any better than Indian food we could get back in the Bay. Of course, we only had time to go to one Indian restaurant while we were there). And veggies? I think potatoes were the only vegetable we could find on a consistent basis, and the other veggies we had weren't very fresh or tasty. Fish and chips, however, were pretty yummy. And English tea, of course, was quite delicious (don't drink the coffee, opt for the tea for your caffeine fix instead). We brought a few boxes back from bling-bling department store Harrods (see picture below of their amazing Food Hall).

Now on to the good stuff:

FREE MUSEUMS: Which are pretty much all the major ones. They're all free free free, all the time. We saw this cool installation at the Tate Modern, made up of hundreds of white plastic boxes piled high in the huge, post-industrial warehouse space behind the lobby.

We also went to the British Museum, which holds miles (literally) of antiquities from all over the world (yes, the British were major plunderers). We mostly focused our time on the beautiful, round National Library (first picture), where Karl Marx completed Capital, and the Egyptian collection. That second picture with H. is of the fist of a huge statue of the Egyptian Pharoah Ramses. We also saw the Rosetta Stone, which was pretty frickin' cool.

FASHION: I looked around everywhere we went (mostly in Central London, which is where the major sites are and where we were staying), and I swear, EVERYONE had a 'look' in London. Whether it was casual-preppy, high-fashion couture, punk-rocker girl, hip hop b-boy or whatever, everyone was sporting a very distinct and put-together 'fit that made me feel quite shabby in my used, slightly generic Seven for All Mankind jeans and boring-beige Ann Taylor Loft raincoat. And there is TONS of fashion shopping to do in London--it seemed that on every corner there was some kind of clothing store (although not as much as in Rome), catering to every income level and fashion taste. We spent the most time in Oxford Circus and on Knightsbridge (where Harrods and one of the H&M's are, as well as Zara and other big stores). Unfortunately, the British pound was worth almost twice the US dollar while we were there, so I didn't have much disposable cash to clothes-shop with. Boo-hoo.

SOCIALIZED HEALTH CARE: I actually got sick (a bad bout of food poisoning) while I was in the UK, and got treated speedily and cheerily in a small hospital outside London near Luton airport (Luton's a suburb that seemed to have a much higher population of people of color than central London). And all I had to pay for was the meds they gave me (rehydration salts and some anti-nausea medication). They didn't even ask to see my passport. I couldn't believe it. The US is so behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to health care, it's pathetic.

All in all, if there is any US city I'd compare to London, it would have to be New York. The constant crush of people, the multi-culti, high-fashion consciousness of the general populace, the late-night buzz on the streets (even though many pubs close around midnight, which is unheard of in the states, especially in New York), all reminded me of my trips to the Big Apple. There were lots of people of color in London, too, and we even saw a crew of Filipino men working and hanging out at a casino (I'm not even kidding) in Bayswater.

It's also an expensive city, like New York, but as a tourist you can see quite a bit without having to spend too much, thanks to the free admission at museums and such. And of course, there are just amazing layers upon layers of history in London, as in Europe overall, that are interesting to examine close-up, in churches or the architecture around the city, which you can see plenty of just wandering around the streets.

H. standing before Tower Bridge. We didn't get go inside the Tower of London, which is right next to the bridge, but I really wanted to. We ran out of time and it's quite expensive (around $30 I believe) but any history-buff would be crazy to not go take a look from the oustide at least (see picture below). This is, after all, the place where executions took place, where royal heads were lopped off (e.g. Ann Bolyn and other of Henry VIII's unfortunate, son-less wives) and royal prisoners were kept. Now it houses the crown jewels and is a big attraction for kids, if you can believe that.

This is Westminster Abbey, a nearly thousand-year-old church where all English coronations have taken place over the last nine centuries. We saw the tombs of King Edward the Confessor and Queens Mary and Elizabeth I here as well, not to mention the graves of other luminaries such as Sir Issac Newton, Oscar Wilde and Charles Darwin (yes, Darwin is buried in a church). These people never seemed real to me, since I'd only read about them or seen period movies about them that seemed more fiction than fact. But after seeing their graves, I left with a real sense of their mortality and their impact on the world. And of course, Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married in Westminster Abbey. It's quite a beautiful, awe-inspiring place. If you go, pay the extra 4 quid (pounds) and go on a verger-guided tour.

1 comment:

PeonInChief said...

Only two of Henry VIII's wives were beheaded--Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Jane Seymour died, but as she had produced a male heir, not by beheading. Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves, and Catherine Parr all survived marriage to Henry.