Month: May 2009

London, England: The Hidden Gems

I was set to leave London on Saturday and take the train to Manchester where I would meet Phil. On that Friday, my last day in London, Rebecca had the day off from work, so we went on a small cultural tour of the city.

My traveling philosophy is based around doing things that the majority of other travelers wouldn’t do. I don’t like group tours, sightseeing buses, or going to museums for the sake of going to museums. I like visiting quaint neighbourhoods (and their bakeries), neglected galleries and museums, or maybe just spending an afternoon eating lunch in a park.

I met Rebecca in a neighbourhood near the British Museum, and we went to a small used bookstore where Rebecca was searching for a Christmas present for her boyfriend. She told me it was arguably one of the best secondhand bookstores in the city. We found a beautiful print of The Jungle Book as well as one of Jane Eyre, a favorite of Nick’s. We browsed around the store for a while before walking towards the museum. I had no intention of spending any amount of time in the British Museum, but there was one thing I wanted to see. Fortunately, the museum is free, so I had the freedom to spend as much or as little time there as I wanted.

The Rosetta Stone. Just like the Code of Hammurabi, it was another one of those vestiges of my elementary schooling that always stuck in mind. The ancient key that unlocked a forgotten language. I had to see it.

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London, England: Neighbourhoods Of Class And Culture

While Nick and Rebecca were at work, I decided to do another tour of the city. After picking up a coffee at a great little Middle Eastern cafe down the street from Rebecca’s apartment I jumped on the tube and went to the Barbican.

The Barbican is an estate in the northern part of the city which encompasses about 40 acres and contains everything from schools to residences to a massive performing arts centre. After WWII that part of London was completed destroyed and much the population had been killed or driven away. The city chose an architectural firm to design and build a replacement. It’s a pretty eerie neighbourhood, in my opinion. London is such a mix of old and new, traditional and modern, that to see such uniform planning — especially in the style of the late 60s and early 70s — was interesting and surreal.

I walked to the Performing Arts Centre and took a look at a small exhibit featuring artwork rendered from images in the film Waltz With Bashir. I passed through the large concrete courtyard and tried to find my way back to the main street.

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London, England: An Afternoon in the Heath

The next few posts will be general highlights from my time in London … in no specific order, but I’ll try to keep it chronological.

Rebecca lives in the neighbourhood of West Hampstead, which borders one side of the massive Hampstead Heath. “The Heath” is 790 acres of parkland, one of the highest points in the city and home to the Kenwood House estate. We started by walking through West Hampstead towards another small neighbourhood nearby (can’t remember the name). That area is incredible, with narrow cobblestone streets winding through expensive property. We stopped at an antique shop and browsed for a little while before having some lunch. After lunch Rebecca stopped at a princess store (I’m not sure how to describe it … it’s a store targeted at 12-year old girls — or girls who think they’re still 12 years old — filled with pink fluffy things and glitter), where Rebecca bought presents for a couple young girls she teaches.

We walked through the Heath towards the Kenwood House where we stopped to check out a garden sale of herbs and plants, seed books and things like that. Just outside the Heath, near the Kenwood estate is a small pub that was our ultimate destination. It was the English pub poster-child: low doorframes leading to dimly lit rooms, and all of it built with ancient wood. We had a couple ciders while admiring the decor and sheltering ourselves from the cold and wind outside.

By the time we walked back to Rebecca’s place, it was getting dark and there was an incredible sunset over West London. I tried to take some pictures, but without a tripod and sure footing they didn’t come out very well.