Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sunday, 13 December

Thoughts in the middle of the night: how many people (including the little germ factories we call children) had put their eyes on those microscopes in the gallery, and when had the scopes last been cleaned or disinfected, if ever? Was all my new panic about hand-washing so I don’t get a cold before or during the trip for nothing? Oh well…I have to have something to worry about.

Ate breakfast shortly after they opened at 8, showered and headed out to Kings Cross once again to try to find my train and ticket. Got in line at a ticket window and was told there is no high speed line to Canterbury from that station, but there are regular trains from three other locations around London on the National Line. Which has ticket counters in St. Pancras. Aargh. So I bought an Oyster card for the Tube and headed back over to St. Pancras. (Oyster is a refillable card for the tube that you just scan at the gates as you enter and exit – you only get charged an amount up to a day pass no matter how much you travel.) I went back to last night’s info desk and the guy there this morning said that it does in fact run out of this station and I can get tickets from the counter right next door to the info desk. The first clerk I got tried to issue me a ticket on his hand held device, but it wouldn’t find the train, so he sent me over to a regular clerk behind a window. I was beginning to think I would never find a way out to Canterbury, but she was able to get me a ticket right away. Afterwards, I went up to the tracks to make sure everything really was correct and told the ticket agent what a difficult time I was having finding the train. He said “yes we’ve hidden it very well - it is the English mentality and way of doing things”.

Regent's Canal walk

So I finally got on the tube and found my way out to Warwick Avenue and started on a walk along the Regent’s Canal that I found in the Eyewitness Travel book. The walk started in Little Venice, a fairly upscale neighborhood where a lot of people moor and live on their canal boats. A very nice walk, and the weather looked like it would be a bit cool, but nice – ended up drizzling on and off, but not too heavily.

A small French restaurant perched over the canal:

Lots of joggers, bikes, and other walkers along the old towpath, which eventually meandered through Regent’s Park and the London Zoo, next to the aviary designed by Lord Snowdon.

At this point, the tour instructions directed walkers away from the canal and up to the top of Primrose Hill for a view of the city. I had gone a little further along the canal than the directions in the book, but managed to find the way back. Beautiful view, with a plaque which showed landmark buildings. I took a photo for a couple of students (from Italy and Colombia) and they took one of me:

Then it started to drizzle as I headed down the hill. Luckily, I had bought an umbrella at Boots before leaving St. Pancras and opened it up. Turned out to be the absolutely flimsiest umbrella I have ever seen, but it kept me dry.

Before I continued on the walk, I went into the neighborhoods to try to find the Museum of Everything, which I had read about in the Guardian. Walked up and down the streets it was supposed to be on but couldn’t find it and nobody at the little open air market knew where it was. Finally a local woman coming out of her house directed me to where she had seen a sign and, sure enough, there it was, tucked away between a couple of buildings. From the outside it looked like a little hole in the wall gallery, but once you got inside, there was a maze of room after odd little room filled with unusual art. There were directional signs with arrows in the hallways that said “Something”, “Another Thing” (and “Nothing” for a room that wasn’t open to the public). Then I heard a couple in front of me laugh in amazement at the next room - you turn a corner and there are stairs going down into a huge, high ceilinged room with its walls covered with paintings, assemblages, and several floor to ceiling biro drawings. There were a couple of benches opposite with small binoculars on strings so you could look at the upper portions of the pieces. I couldn’t quite remember the details about the place, just that I wanted to see it, and it was amazing. It opened in October and is self-described as “London’s first ever space for artists and creators living outside our modern society”. From an article in TimeOut: “Hermit, hobo, medium, savant, autistic schizophrenic- just some of the descriptions applied to the creators of the 200 extraordinary works … The artists represented here are all outsiders; untrained individuals, often socially marginalised and psychologically fragile, whose drive to create powerful, fantastical drawings, paintings, objects and texts using whatever materials are at hand, comes purely from an obsessive need to manifest their often troubled inner feelings and experiences.” The place is a former dairy, then recording studio. Overwhelming. No photography allowed, unfortunately.

It was 3:00 when I left the Museum and got started back on the path and I was beginning to get hungry. Luckily, within a few minutes, I ended up at the Camden Market, jammed with tented vendors of everything imaginable, along with an array of small stores. I bought a Venezuelan arepa, a cornbread pocket sandwich filled with grilled eggplant, peppers, and onions. They cook the cornbread on a griddle – delicious:

Grabbed a mocha from a vendor from Poland, visited with a couple of young women from Turkey in one of the regular stores in the Market. Jammed with people and everyone was friendly. It started raining pretty hard for a bit and everyone ducked under awnings and into shops. I realized that London is reminding me of BajaProg: you might start talking with someone and not have any idea what language they may speak, or if they even speak English.

I had found a link to the London Canal Museum on the web and had downloaded an mp3 audio guide to a walk along the Regent’s Canal from Camden to the area near the hotel, so I plugged the headphones in and started off on this stretch. Conveniently, this is where the guidebook’s tour ended. It was starting to get dark, but there was plenty of ambient light off the low clouds over the city. This section of the tour was very interesting, because there are a series of locks and the audio guide did a good job of explaining them and the history of the area.

Upper Camden lock:

Just after I had heard the section about the locks, I saw a boatman pulling into one of them, so I ran up and watched. We visited while it was emptying and he told me that he had bought the boat recently for 700 pounds and was in the process of fitting it out to live on (it was a former working boat). He didn’t even have a permanent place to dock; evidently, you can just find open docks up and down the canal and stay for up to 2 weeks in one place, like camping in National Forests.

Rope cuts in metal bridge guards, worn from hundreds of years of canal boats' tow ropes:

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped off at a Spanish restaurant, Camino, that was just around the corner from the hotel for another one of London’s top hot cocoas: a Hot Chocolate “Valor”. Amazing. Nothing but very good quality Spanish cocoa steamed into milk until it is a thick, dark, almost pudding-like consistency. Extremely rich – only about a half of a cup was more than enough.

Did some internet reading about London and checked email in the lobby before heading up to bed. A woman from the sandwich shop next door brought in a couple of baguettes that didn’t sell before they closed and the desk clerk gave me one. Very good late night meal (after my hot cocoa dessert), then I headed up to bed.

Last night I had looked out the window in the middle of the night and noticed a couple of pigeons roosting in the bare plane tree, just above the busy streets. I looked out again tonight and there they were again. Guess that’s home.


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