Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lessons Learned

Happy to say that I didn't lose anything or get lost on my trip. Before I forget them, here are the lessons I learned:

  1. I must stop looking for the steps-free access to the westbound District Line platform at Paddington. Yes, it is possible to take the lift up to the ticket concourse/street level from the eastbound platform, but steps-free access back down to the westbound platform does not exist. Advice to self: Deal with it, get a lighter suitcase, or use the Circle/H&C via Hammersmith to get to Heathrow. 
  2. Aer Lingus from Hartford via Dublin is the way to go. Doing immigration at Dublin saves much time and hassle over the lines at Heathrow. It was so quick and easy on the way to the UK that I hardly realized (at 4 am) that I had done it, but I have the stamp in my passport as proof. Coming back was a bit more complex, with three different segments to the pre-clearance for US-bound passengers (re-screening of all carry-on items, passport scanning and a final station where you turn in your customs declaration form and receipt from the passport scan), but at 45 minutes all told it was better than the up to 2 hours it can take now at Logan Airport in Boston. 
  3. The Airbnb experience was fantastic. I was a bit wary of staying in the home of people I didn't know, but with my room a bit removed from the rest of the house (I was over the garden extension) and my own bathroom, it was extremely comfortable. Traveling on my own, it felt nice to have people to talk to for a few minutes when I came in every evening. The location was ideal -- I really like Queen's Park and it was fun, after two years away, to explore new things in the area.
  4. The 2GB add-on package I purchased for £15 with the sim card from EE was more than enough data for my stay, even running Google maps and the Citymapper app every day. I switched the phone to wifi-only data when I was in the flat and used a total of about .6GB of data over nine days. I could easily have gone with the 1GB package for a tenner. 
  5. Having a smartie phone with me when I was out and about was certainly convenient for maps and transport info, but time spent looking at a screen is time not spent looking at what's around you, as tempting as it may be to check Facebook when riding the bus. 
  6. The 90-day Art Pass for ten quid was brilliant. I got value for money within the first day of using it. They don't advertise the 90-day pass, but I saw a promo code for it in one of the London e-mail newsletters I receive (can't remember now which it was -- possible Open House or London Transport Museum). 
  7. I need to upgrade my technology. Taking the bluetooth keyboard to use with my tablet wasn't worth the bother (heavy, awkward touch), so I finger-typed my blog posts on the tablet instead most of the time. Time to think about buying a Chromebook -- possibly the new Asus Chromebook Flip C101
  8. Many years ago, my friend Helen declared me an honorary Londoner, but at the time I didn't feel that I'd fully earned the appellation. I'm chuffed to say that, finally, I think I wear it well. 
I came home with £20 in my wallet and ~£13 on my Oyster. Time to open a new spreadsheet and start adding things for the next trip to Blighty. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Open House: Sunday

A quick recap before I finish packing and leave for the airport. On Sunday, I set out with many more index cards in my stack than the number of places we could possibly visit. I figured that, if queues were long or took more time than I'd thought to visit, we could skip some and move on to others. The first two stops were non-starters. When we got to the Andaz Hotel, the queue for the Masonic temple inside was already 100 people long. It was supposed to open at 10 am, but the queue didn't begin to move until 10:20. By 10:30, we'd only moved a few feet, so we pushed on to St Helen's Bishopsgate, where the morning service had just begun and we weren't allowed in. After that, we were much more successful and saw seven OH venues:

  • St Mary-le-Bow, a small Wren church in Cheapside
  • Billingsgate Roman bath and house (archeology under a new building)
  • Custom House, just across Lower Thames Street
  • After a bus ride to Bermondsey and lunch at Maltby Street Market, we hopped back on the bus to Rotherhithe to see Brunel's shaft, recently fitted with a proper staircase inside. It's the 8th wonder of the world, as we were repeatedly told by the director of the museum during his talk/tout of museum shitknacks. 
  • The nearby Old Mortuary, now the Time and Talents Community Centre
  • A quick look at Sands Films Picture Library
  • Through the tunnel to Wapping to Metropolitan Wharf, where we visited an architectural studio overlooking the river.
We walked along the Ornamental Canal up to London Docks in hopes of seeing Pennington Warehouse, but reached it too late to get in. So, we ended our trek at St Katharine Docks, where we saw the royal barge Gloriana moored. No, we didn't get to go aboard.

Making an early night of it so we both could go back to our Airbnb flats to pack, we had dinner at Mr Fish, the local chippy in Queen's Park, which was quite good. Thanks for treating,  Molly!

Speaking of my Airbnb, it was totally lovely and comfortable. And the location was perfect.

Final stats:
1 pound 85 for egg and avocado on a mini roll
4 quid for lunch
90p for water
85p for coconut macaroon

23303 steps
10.01 miles

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Open House: Saturday

It's been a number of years since I was last in London for Open House, an annual September event during which over 800 venues are open across the capital. It's a fantastic opportunity to see the inside of buildings normally not open to the public or to go on special tours to learn about the unique architecture of sites. I do my research well, choose my destinations, make an index card for each, put them in order and plan the transport route from one to the next.

Armed with my stack of index cards, I headed to the first venue, a home and studio near Brondesbury station, stopping in the cafe in the middle of Queen's Park (the actual park) for something to eat on the way, and was the first to arrive at the gate at ten minutes to ten. I was soon joined by a woman wearing an Open House volunteer name tag and her husband. We chatted a bit and then we're confronted by a snotty youth demanding to know why we were standing in front of his house. The woman explained that we were there for Open House. He kept insisting that the house was not open and finally said that his parents changed their plans and it would be open only on Sunday. I'm guessing that the bratty attitude is a case of the apple not falling far from the tree.

The rest of the day went much better. I did one residence/studio near my Airbnb myself and Molly then caught me up for the rest. Here's what I saw:

  • Studio McLeod in Kilburn Lane, an architect's studio and residence that made amazing use of a small space, even finding places to conceal and store three motorcycles.
  • Simon Court in Saltram Crescent, where we saw a small flat in a converted Victorian church.
  • 264 Westbourne Park Road, two contemporary houses built one atop the other on what had been a small corner of derelict land. We were the last people admitted for the last tour of the day. The architect/owner/occupant showed us most of the house and explained his design and the construction. It was a great tour.
  • Royal Albert Hall. As I'm not sure if I'll be able to attend a concert here anytime soon, this was a good opportunity for hoi polloi like me to see it.
  • Holy Trinity Church in Sloane Street, with lots of Art and Crafts elements. 
  • Moravian Close, just off the King's Road, on a site dating back to Tudor times, where there's a more recent Moravian burial ground and chapel. I need to do more reading about this spot (we missed the talk).
  • We walked down to Cadogan Pier, where there was supposed to be an exhibition of art made from bits and bobs found on the foreshore, but it wasn't there. (This was something I read about on the Totally Thames website, not an Open House venue.)
  • Sambourne House at 18 Stafford Terrace in Holland Park. Again, we got there in the nick of time to be among the last people admitted. This is said to be the best surviving late Victorian middle-class home in the UK, and I'd had it on my spreadsheet for ages but had never managed to get to it on one of the days that it's open each week. It was totally rammed with people, but we got to see most of the rooms.
Much in need of a drink, we stopped at the Elephant and Castle, a nearby neibourhood pub, for bevvies and nibbles. Next, it was back to Queen's Park for a pub meal at the Salusbury to end a long and full day.

So, seven venues seen, two closed or missing, and two index cards skipped. All told, a highly successful day.

2 pounds for pastry in the park caff
2 pounds 86 for meal deal for Tesco (eaten in a park off the Portobello Road)
1 quid for pamphlet about Holy Trinity Church
2 pounds 35 for half pint of beer
20 pounds for pub meal

25019 steps
10.28 miles

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Bermondsey, Bankside and Victoria Embankment

Friday was a very full day spent on both sides of the river. The weather cooperated through the daylight hours and we got some great views of Westminster, the City and Southwark.

I started my day at White Cube Bermondsey to see an exhibition of women surrealists called Dreamers Awake. I hadn't read much about it beforehand and there was no text in the gallery to help me understand what each artist's intent was or how the pieces fit in the surrealism movement. What I saw were some disturbing images, a lot of genetalia and many dismembered body parts. Not my favourite exhibition of those I've seen this week.

Molly caught me up and we walked up to Borough Market for lunch, followed by a walk along Bankside under a warm September sun. This was the weather I was hoping for, not the dreary damp of earlier in the week.

We reached Westminster Pier for my friend Jen's guided walk, Beyond the Great Stink. Jen does her walks through a collective called Footprints of London, a group of qualified guides who give well-researched walks on a variety of topics in locations all across the capital. This walk was no exception. I had read the book The Great Stink, but the walk really did take my understanding beyond the miasma. I learned a lot about Joseph Bazalgette's engineering of the sewers and the Embankment. We saw 16th and 17th century watergates, which showed us just where the pre- Embankment Thames would have been, and peered through a grate where we saw a platform on the District line just a few meters below us, made possible once the river was contained.

As it was Friday Lates, we were able to go back to the south bank and spend time at Tate Modern, where we saw Soul of a Nation, an exhibition of black American artists' work from the 60s and 70s. It's a massive exhibition that covers many themes and perspectives on a turbulent time in American history, and it exposed me to scores of artists I didn't know of. If I lived here, I'd go back and see the exhibition a second time.

We also went to the observation deck on the new extension (great views) and had a look round the building and the tanks.

4 pounds 50 for lunch
8 quid for walk
7 pounds 50 for Tate exhibition (50% off with Art Pass)
A fiver for dinner at Leon (not great but ok)

30041 steps
12.97 miles

Friday, September 15, 2017


Thursday was my day to explore Stepney and Mile End. On each visit to London, I choose at least one area I don't know, do my reading and research before coming, and set out with map and camera to explore. I used a walk in Stephen Millar's series London's Hidden Walks for my guide. (I have all three volumes of the series and think the walks are great.) This walk starts at Whitechapel station and ends at Bow Church, but I knew I wouldn't do it all.

Along the way, I passed former breweries, hospitals, social housing, a workhouse, two Jewish cemeteries and various institutions of education and culture. Through the buildings and the geography, I saw the history of immigration to this part of the East End, as well as poverty and wealth, alcohol and temperance, work and home, life and death. One of my favourite stops was Stepney Green, with a lovely garden in the middle. Around the green are Georgian houses, two Victorian social housing blocks, some more recent social housing, the Stepney Jewish School and a sweet little memorial clock tower. Just a few meters from the busy, noisy Mile End Road. it's a green oasis of quiet.

I made it as far as the Green Bridge when I knew it was time to start making my way back to Spitalfields to meet Molly at 1:30, so I hopped the tube from Mile End to Whitechapel and worked my way northwest towards Hanbury and Pedley streets, passing Spitalfields City Farm as I walked along. My destination was the Nomadic Community Gardens in the derelict goods yard to the east of Shoreditch High Street station. With so much development going on in Shoreditch, mostly unaffordable residential tower blocks, my fear is always that I'll return to the East End one year to find a monstrosity on this site. Happily, for now, the local community has taken the land for gardening and other community use. I had a sit down at the Roving Cafe and ate tuna mayo on a bagel, then rushed to Bishop's Square to meet Molly under the white goat (only five minutes late).

I'd promised Molly we'd look at streetart around Brick Lane, but first we popped into the Bishopsgate Institute to use the loo and look at the library. After that, we zigzagged around for a couple hours, then had tea and a sit down at the Albion Cafe in Red Church Street. No time to walk round the Boundary Estate, but we did go over to Village Underground to see the latest streetart piece by Ben Eine, which is in tribute to the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Our final destination was the Walkietalkie, where I had booked us tickets for Sky Garden. We took in the view, had a drink and watched rain clouds move in from North London.

1 pound 60 for cookies
4 pounds for lunch
2 pounds 75 for tea
3 pound 20 for dinner (Sainsbury and M&S)
6 quid for a bottle of wine

30275 steps
13.33 miles