The cursed rash wasn't going to stop me enjoying London though.
My first night, I arrived at Vasi and Majuran's cute apartment in Canada Water. Nivi and Matt arrived back from a day out with a massive box of Krispie Kreme donuts that I got to try for the first time... yum!! No wonder they have an obesity problem in America, those things are truly addictive, you can't just have one. Vasi and Majuran were going out, so Matt, Nivi and I went to Brick Lane for dinner, famous for its curry houses... and touts. Seemed like EVERY restaurant had a guy outside offering a percentage off, free drinks, much better value, etc, etc. We finally settled for a place, and it was really good, a great night out.
The next day, after patiently waiting for me while the find-a-doctor-debacle raged, Matt came with me to the British Museum that afternoon. It was huge. And packed with school kids. Nevertheless, we had a great look around at all the amazing treasures that the Brits have plundered from different cultures over the centuries :-) The Egyptian collection we visited first, being of particular interest to Matt, having just been to Egypt. Fantastic treasures, beautiful and intricate sarcophagi; I was especially intrigued at how the colours they were painted inside were still so brilliant after so many thousands of years! I then visited the Roman antiquities, the Greek antiquities including the original marble decorations from the Panthenon in Athens (subject of a bit of a spat between Britain and Greece, who want them back, and have custom built a museum for them), and a section of English antiquities; old Norman and Viking stuff, Victorian stuff, very cool.
That night Nivi and I travelled to Putney to meet Jo and Matt for a drink... Putney is lovely, a cool relaxed vibe.
This was a busy day. I left early, with a packed lunch, for Notting Hill, but as they were doing maintenence on the closest tube stop, I hopped off at Marble Arch instead and walked through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to Notting Hill. Hyde Park is huge! It was a beautiful day, clear and sunny, and I loved the beautiful green avenues. Finally at Notting Hill, I walked up to Portobello Road and did the length of the Portobello Road markets. It's an eclectic market: a huge "antiques" and bric-a-brac section, fruit and veges, clothes, jewellery, tacky souvenirs, food stalls. I got Spanish paella for lunch, and sat up an alleyway off the main drag filled with Hugh-Grant-esque style houses.
Back through the markets to the park again, and a wander through the Kensington Gardens, home of Diana. The Diana fountain was lovely, a meandering concreted path where a brook of water gurgled down, filled with families paddling their feet. The Serpentine Lake was pretty too, although I got up close and personal with a squirrel, who heard me open a bag of, ironically, or perhaps aptly, mixed nuts, and jumped up on the back of the chair behind me, ready to scrabble over me for the food. While I enjoyed the encounter with new wildlife, I wasn't particularly keen on it clambering over me, so me and the nuts left.
I tried to go to the Serpentine Gallery but it was closed for a few months (damn! As was the Saatchi Gallery! Gutted!), so continued through into Hyde Park and out into the posh Kensington area, where I walked up to visit Harrods and Harvey Nicol. Posh :-) I had a great wander around Harrods and it's fabulous foodcourt, checked out the deliciously horribly tacky memorials (yes! there's two!) to Di and Dodi, and caught the tube back to Canada Water, where I scoffed yummy Vasi-made food for dinner, followed by cake and Notting-Hill-bought-strawberries for dessert.
Feeling gross and itchy and lousy with the rash and feeling rather stressed out having not booked France, only a week out from being there, I spent the day at home, chilling out, hogging Majuran's computer to research. Had terrible trouble trying to find accomodation in Paris, but settled for a place called the Hotel Andre Gill, which turned out to be brilliant. I also had to book my transport to Paris; the Eurostar was going to cost a wince-worthy 154 pounds!!! Eek! Flights were no good either, so I settled for an 11hr overnight bus with Eurolines to Paris, costing an unbelievable 20 pounds. Score.
That evening, feeling heaps more prepared, I caught the tube to Covent Garden, where I met up with my friends and old flatmates from NZ, Dave and Anita! We went to a great little Japanese place called Satsuma for dinner, before heading to a cocktail bar called B@1, where they had two for one cocktails and a great atmosphere. Had a really cool night, where Anita's two vet friends joined us, and when the bar closed at the strangely early hour of 11.30, I caught the tube home. A really cool night.
My intention today had been to do the National Gallery in the morning, and the National Portrait Gallery, just behind it, in the afternoon. Except that I ended up spending the entire day in the National Gallery!!! (I decided that did not bode well for the length of my visit to the Louvre). So many beautiful paintings, from the old masters to the modern masters... I saw my first proper Van Gogh sunflowers!! :-)
Afterwards I wandered around Trafalgar Square, marvelling at the statues, watching the kids climbing the two giant lions, and getting annoyed at the pigeons (how can people let them land on their head and hands? They're so filthy!!) Home with an enormous pair of chocolate cheesecake slices from my new friend Marks and Spencer, which Nivi, being the only one home, shared with me (and forgot to hide the evidence!) over sitcoms on the Hallmark channel.
Today I was meeting my cousin Merrick for lunch, so I set off for Westminster Abbey in the morning. Another huge, old, and incredibly intimidating monument, with the altar surrounded by tombs of ancient kings like Henry VIII and one of the James's, and poets like Chaucer nearby. It was beautiful. I got totally distracted, and forgot the time, and so had to be one of those terrible people running through the tube station system to meet Merrick on Goodge Street. Merrick was great, enjoying London, and had just been to Brussels, which sounded cool, the joys of being able to pop away on long weekends in Europe....
After lunch was the National Portrait Gallery, which was a little disappointing. There weren't as many modern portraits as I had anticipated, and a whole floor of British dignataries from the 18th and 19th centuries that I didn't recognise. It didn't help that the gift shop had on display heaps of postcards of great paintings that had obviously been in storage during my visit. Ah well.
Today was the event I'd been waiting for... my trip to the Tate Modern. Unfortunately it was a crappy rainy day, so the view from the top wasn't so hot, but I got my fill of modern masters, from Kandinsky, Picasso and Jackson Pollock, to a whole Len Lye room (yay! a kiwi artist). It's so crazy being able to wander around and look at them in the flesh, rather than try to guess their size, stature and texture from the pages of a book. My highlights were the room dedicated to Rothko, which was very dimly lit with four of his huge paintings in deep reds and blacks on each wall. The room felt heavy with paint, and the paintings felt like they were absorbing you into them. My other favourite room was where the curator had put together 2 pieces, Umberto Boccioni's fantastic Futurist sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, with Roy Lichenstein's Wham!! on the wall behind. Very cool juxtaposition, and two very cool artworks. Anyway, I was on my way out when I discovered the Tate bookshop. Aargh! Very exciting, definitely worth a return visit...
Then the day turned slightly disastrous. It had specified on the Eurolines website that I had to print my booking confirmation out, but after trekking around London for 1.5 hours trying in the rain to find an internet cafe/library/anywhere that would let me print out something, to no avail, I gave up, and returned to Canada Water, where I had minimal time to pack and get on the tube to Victoria Bus Station. Vasi, Majuran and Nivi were angels; Majuran worked a small miracle with operating systems and different computers to get me a printout of my booking from his little printer, which had been packed away in a cupboard, Vasi packed me a special on-the-go dinner (I didn't have time to eat with them, felt very rude, but ate it at the bus station and it was GOOD). And then, in the biggest disaster of the night, Nivi had to catch the tube in and meet me at the bus station with my precious notebook that had all my bookings and travel info in, which in the panic I'd dumb-assedly left behind. Definitely the worst (and most unstylish) departure I've yet made on this trip.
The night bus was... well... an experience. Cheap yes, but I hardly slept as we were woken at several points to get passports checked, and for some reason had a loud, bad, 80's rockband's concert screening at the front at 2am. Bizzarre. So I arrived in Paris rather jaded, exceptionally early, and rather tired! But more on that tomorrow...
Random street art(?) I saw in Soho. No one seemd to be blinking an eyelid over it.
View from St Paul's Cathedral down Fleet St
Greek mosaics in a stairwell inside the British Museum
The main big atrium of the British Museum, which was light filled and voluminous
Cool signs at Notting Hill... Dave, spot the Land Rover one :-)
Me in Hyde Park
The Serpentine Lake
Me at the Diana Fountain (sorry, not the best handheld one I've done!)
My squirrel friend
The main esculators at Harrods
The most hideous of the Di and Dodi memorials
Me, Dave, Anita, and yummy cocktails
Us all out
Funky foyer at the Tate Modern
Lone man crossing the great turbine hall, Tate Modern