23 September 2008

London Calling

It has been nearly two weeks since Matthias and I went to London on our UK 'staycation'. It was an interesting trip in many respects. We tried to go 'budget' since we had just spent a month of entertaining guests which backfired in a way. Instead of having fun and just experiencing the marvels of this world metropolis, we were totally focused on saving as much money as possible.

We stayed at a cheaper chain hotel in East London, nearly a 40-minute tube ride into 'The City'. On the othe hand, we got to see how the 'other half' live. It is a shocking contrast between Knightsbridge ala Harrods and Barking ala Pakastani market. But you live and you learn and I definitely learned not to hold onto those purse strings so tightly because it only chokes your experiences of life. Left, our Yeomen, aka Beefeaters, at the Tower of London. They actually live there!
Right: The Bear and Tower Bridge. Below: Me in front of the backdrop of 'The City' including the gherkin (which has a special place in my heart, thanks to Dad)

On the other hand, what we didn't spend on a hotel, we spent on several nice meals. We ate at a great sushi restaurant called Satsuma the first night in Soho after leaving The Duke of Wellington , a very nice gay bar we weren't aware was such. No wonder Matthias was getting so many looks! The next day, we ate at some chain called HaHa and for lunch (there isn't much you can do wrong with pasta). Later, we went to an Asian fast food joint after a few pints at theWindmill and watching the afterwork crowd on The Cut .

Our last day, we ate at PJs , an unbenownst to us American restaurant just outside Covent Garden, for a prefixe menu for 11 quid each. The food was fresh and carefully prepared and the staff were very hospitable (a real rarity in London). That night we spent in what is rumoured to have the longest bar in Britain be one of Karl Marx's old haunts, The Cittie of Yorke and drank refreshingly cheap pints while again watching the afterwork crowd. The architecture was really incredible and oozed history. I especially liked the enclaves off to the side with seating for 2 or 4 people which gave a very intimate feeling to a pub with cathedral ceilings. Photos: Bottom right: The Horse Guards at Buckingham.

We did lots of walking about and took in all the sites: The Tower of London (which we did shell out the $32 to go in since neither of us had been there as teenagers), Big Ben and the Houses of Parliment, Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, St. Pauls's, Fleet Street (I am a writer after all), Picadilly Circus, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Waterloo, and of course the very disappointing I Knit London, an overly-hyped knitting shop. Here I am swallowed by the massiveness that is the Tate Modern, an old refurbished mill or factory.

We also spent a ridiculous amount of time in museums. Afterall, I was on the cheap (most public museums are free in the UK because we have to pay city council tax) and have an Art History degree. We went to the Museum of London and learned about the Roman and Medieval past of the city, the Great Fire and that museums often close entire wings for remodeling. We also went to the National Portrait Gallery to get our fill of dead and living monarchs and famous British people.

Then there was the Tate Modern and the architectural marvel that it is. It was an interesting juxtoposition to be in an old industrial building, a power station to be exact, which now houses the powerhouses of modern art. Two floors and four wings of modern art later, we hit the pavement looking for some less cereberal activity.

All in all, I was happy to have gone back to London. It was a very different place than I had remembered from my trip with my high school best friend Mimi (who incidentally I am thrilled to be back in touch with now) and my parents. It still seemed just as large and cosmopolitan. But this time around I saw things with different eyes - not looking from the outside in, but looking from the liminal state of neither here nor there. I was looking in both directions, at the locals and the tourists, knowing that I didn't fall into really either category. That has been the story of my expat life.

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