Friday, April 25, 2008

Miles and Miles

My last full day in London served up quintessential English weather. It was dark and pouring when I headed out for the day with the intention of going from museum to museum, spending as little time as possible outdoors or above ground. By the time I reached the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, the rain had tapered to mist, and it had stopped by the time I had finished looking at the Impressionist paintings and the Renoir at the Theatre exhibition.

Wednesday was St George's Day, which apparently England is trying to reclaim from its more recent association with the British National Party and football louts, and there was a festival of English food, with lots of vendors from Borough Market, in Trafalgar Square. I wandered around, watched the tea ladies and some other entertainment, then had a bowl of various types of salad, made from spelt, rye, beets and other veg from The Veggie Table, and a scrumptious piece of banana cake that came from Flour Power City Bakery.

After lunch, I nipped into the National Portrait Gallery to see a small, but fab, photography exhibition by John Londei called Shutting Up Shop. Then, with the weather now warm, sunny and gorgeous, I decided to stay outdoors and really started covering some miles, most on foot with intermittent bus and tube trips. First to Oxford Street -- a place I usually try to avoid -- to hit John Lewis for another pair of knitting needles.

Next, a walk up Marylebone Lane to The Button Queen where I got a couple of interesting buttons, one vintage deco one that was probably too expensive but I think it would look neat on a neckwarmer. From there, I went by bus to St John's Wood to pick up a Beatles floaty pen for rosenbeans, and ran into Esther walking back to Belsize Park.

Not wanting to waste a moment of spring air and lovely late afternoon light, I decided to do the Hampstead walk from Some of it was in streets and lanes I'd been in before, but most of it was new. I skipped the Admiral's House, but otherwise did the entire walk, all the way up to the flagpole by Jack Straw's Castle, a pub that both Dickens and Marx liked to frequent. The flagpole is on the highest point in London, and I was hoping for splendid views, but there were no vistas to be seen from there.

Walking back to the tube station, I went by the Holly Bush Pub and caught sight of the BT Tower and the London Eye over the rooftops of Hampstead.

Before leaving for home on Thursday, I took a quick walk down some previously-unseen streets of Belsize Park.
Everywhere I walked, there were signs of spring bursting forth -- lilacs starting to bloom, magnolia blossoms opening, tulips and pansies in all the front gardens. I saw the site of a painting by Robert Bevan that we'd seen in the Camden Town Group exhibit on Saturday. As soon as I saw the painting, I thought it had to be Belsize Park (the label confirmed it), and I dragged Spooner over to see if he would recognize it (without looking at the label or my saying where it was). He hadn't a clue, even though it's a five minute stroll from his house. I guess I'm getting pretty good at identifying the sights of London, or at least the sights of some of the areas I've gotten to know.

The trip home was long and tiring. I left Spooner's at 10 a.m., and while I was underground for an hour and a half, making my way to Heathrow on the tube, a storm went over and planes weren't allowed to take off until it had passed. This put all flights behind schedule, and ours sat on the tarmac for two hours before they let us move to the runway. It was 8:30 p.m. by the time I got into my car in Framingham, and 10 p.m. on the dot when I pulled into my driveway. My body is now somewhere between London and Eastern time, and I got up at about 4:30 this morning to dump my 617 photos onto the computer and look at them. After I unpack and do some laundry, I'll start putting them on Flickr and will drop a few into my blog posts. I'm sure I won't get far before jet lag takes a grip of me and I crash.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Sea and the Gloatfest

On Monday, two of my Flickr mates took me on a great daytrip to Whitstable, a little seaside town in Kent. It's just the sort of place where I could imagine Mr. Peggotty, Ham and Little Emily living in their overturned-boat-turned-house, although I think they lived in Yarmouth. It was really fun -- great company, and nice to be in a place where the scale of things is smaller than in London.

The three of us happily wandered about with our cameras, pointing at the sea, rocks, beach huts, birds, and boats. I took dozens of photos and will add more to my Flickr photostream when I get a chance to sort them out.

Yesterday, I walked through Southwark and went to the Imperial War Museum in the morning (there was a roiling sea of school groups in the museum, so I didn't stay long, but did go through an exhibit about the WWII experience of children in Britain), bought knitting needles at I Knit in Lower Marsh Street, met a Flickr mate and a Ravelry mate for lunch, and looked for Donna Leon books for rosenbeans at the book stalls under Waterloo Bridge (sorry, no luck). After that, a group of six of us did our volunteer work at Southbank Mosaics. I don't have any photos of that
, but I will write more about it later (here's one of my mates' photos of me working on one of the Blake mosaics:

Then, it was on to the Royal Festival Hall for the Guess Where London meetup, a.k.a. Gloatfest, in the bar. It was so nice to see people I'd met last autumn again, and to meet more of the group.

Today is my last day of exploring, and I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do. Time to check the weather forecast and make a plan.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Greetings from (c)old soggy

Everyone here talks/complains about the weather constantly, so I may as well, too. It pretty much sucks. Arrival day was sunny, but windy and a bit chilly. Friday was very windy, grey, somewhat damp and COLD. I spent the day walking around Islington, with runny nose and watery eyes most of the time. But it was an enjoyable walk that included Camden Passage Market (not much going on there on Fridays), lunch at the S&M (Sausage and Mash) Cafe, another Banksy, and a nice little gallery of Italian art called the Estorick Collection.

After finishing with Islington, I took the overground to Finchley and Frognal and walked down the Finchley Road to catch the bus to St John's Wood to meet Spooner at his school. As luck would have it, I saw a charity shop and got a warm scarf for 2 pounds. At Spooner's school, we went to a concert that the kids were doing as a fundraiser for a school in Kenya, and then had dinner at the Princess of Wales pub in Primrose Hill.

Grey, cool and damp again on Saturday, but we were able to do most of what I had planned (a graphic art exhibit called AgitPop at the London Print Studio and the Camden Town Group painters at the Tate Britain), with the exception of the stroll around Chelsea -- when we got to the Royal Hospital, the rain that had been threatening all day started for real and the grounds of the hospital had just closed for the day, so we skipped that as well as Cheyne Walk and headed for a caff instead. The day ended with a concert of Welsh choirs at Cadogan Hall in Sloane Square -- some fine voices, but a very odd assortment of numbers, many sung in a language consisting mainly of G and W and totally without vowels, and a lot of stuff about the Risen Lord and Amen, Amen, Amen. The popular numbers were the strangest -- the theme from The Rose, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, When You Walk Through a Storm, and -- weirdest of all for us Yankees -- Elvis' American Trilogy of Dixie, the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and All My Trials.

Today, we're heading to Moorgate where we'll begin a walk around Smithfield Market and various dark and mysterious alleys in the City. It's somewhat warmer and not raining yet, but still grey. I guess you just learn to live with it.

End-of-day update: The afternoon turned out to be sunny and nice, so after the City walk we went to Covent Garden Market (ScribeGirl and rosenbeans will be happy to hear that I scored the soap and tea for them), walked through the Embankment Garden, and did a little food shopping in Chinatown.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Eagle has Landed

Hey Mates! I arrived in London at 7 a.m. this morning and walked in the door of Spooner's house at 10. A long but uneventful trip. After taking a quick nap and shower, I headed into town to meet one of my Flickr mates at the Royal Academy of Arts to see "From Russia," an amazing exhibition of French and Russian masters, mostly impressionist and post-impressionist, from the Russian collections (i.e. stuff that was in private hands until the Russian Revolution when the state seized it all). Virtually none of this stuff has been out of Russia since, and Putin almost didn't let it out for the exhibition.

Afterwards, we walked up to Newman Street to see the newest Banksy. It's fab.

Then, I came back to Belsize Park and did some shopping -- soap (forgot mine, don't like Spooner's), cello tape (for wrapping prezzies), the essential HobNobs, and some cake for Spooner's birthday. Prezzies are now wrapped and he should be home any minute.

Tomorrow, Islington (weather permitting).

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Pssssst. Don't tell Spooner!

I'm not taking any Zud to London on this trip. I've got other stuff for Spooner.


Charlie WattsImage via WikipediaI've been trying out a new Firefox plug-in called Zemanta. It's a tool that generates suggestions of photos, links, tags(labels) and articles for your blog based on its analysis of the content. As you type, Zemanta looks for suggestions and then presents them to you after every 300 characters (or, you can click to update the suggestions whenever you want). Most of the links come from Wikipedia, with homepage links for some things. It was really buggy when I gave it a test run this past weekend, but they just pushed out an update and things are running much better now. It's in alpha, so bugs and fixes can be expected. I must say that their support people are very responsive, answering questions incredibly quickly even on the weekend.

So, let's give it a whirl and see what suggestions it finds from this list:

Northampton, Massachusetts
Tower of London
Emma Goldman
Rolling Stones

Not bad -- Zemanta found links for all of these, giving me a choice of Wikipedia article or homepage for several. It found five pix of Northampton or Hampshire County, the Firefox logo, and a photo of Charlie Watts. I've added a couple of the suggested articles below; these give more info about how Zemanta works (geekspeak about algorithms and such) and have some screen shots and videos (I like the demo video).

If you're using Blogger, Typepad or WordPress for your blog, and Firefox for your browser, I suggest you try Zemanta and see what you think. Don't be surprised if you have to reload your dashboard page [Ctrl-F5] when you first open a new post, or if you have to turn off ad blocking -- such as AdblockPlus -- for that page in order to make it work. Be patient as they work out the bugs -- it's a great concept, and should improve with age.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Almost Set to Jet

Cheyne Walk circa 1800.Cheyne Walk c. 1800Plans are falling into place for London. I've got Spooner's birthday prezzies all ready to pack, including a few from his ex. The weather over there has been like a yoyo -- in the low 60s on Friday, then 30s and snow today -- so I can't figure out what clothes to pack. Here are some highlights of what I'll be doing over there:
Rosenbeans has requested that I look for floaty pens, Earl Grey tea and Donna Leon books for her, so I'll check my favorite souvenir stand next to St Martin-in-the-Fields and a bookstore in Belsize Park called Daunt. ScribeGirl wants more soap from Covent Garden Market. Anyone else with requests should let me know. Stay tuned for further developments.