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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

Last Week in London - Part 1

UNITED KINGDOM | Friday, 29 April 2016 | Views [524]

Arriving in London in early October was in a strange way like returning home. Until I returned to England I hadn't realized the subtle tension of being somewhere I didn't speak the language. Scrambling to remember the words for "I'm sorry. I speak English," when someone spoke to me in German, trying to guess at the labels in stores, or perhaps most of all listening to conversations with no idea what is being said. Without really knowing I'd started to feel a bit alone. It's remarkable what simply being able to read the signs, and causally inquire about something can do!
Feeling rather as jet lagged as I had been the last time, despite only an hour's time difference instead of 7 I decided to explore London rather than give in and go to sleep at my hostel. With my map in hand I stopped at a wonderfully located grocery store between my hostel and the tube station. By this time I had my eye out for any grocery store, post office, or other convenience to me on my walks to wherever I happened to be staying for the night. Back on the tube I managed to navigate my way to St. James Park. Of all the parks in London I must agree with the people who'd told me it is the most enjoyable. The paths loop and meander around ponds, and through trees and lawns with benches scattered at every place you might wish to stop, and at least a dozen different varieties of water birds.
Predictably perhaps it started to rain on me, but I found an unoccupied bench beneath a tree on which to sit and eat. The fresh air revived me. In the light drizzle I walked along the edge of the park and unexpectedly found myself in front on Buckingham palace. After all the times I'd seen London in films, and read about it now and in decades past it was hard to believe I was really here. With the darkening evening though I made my way back on the underground once I'd located another tube station on the side of the park I found I had exited.
With so many places to see in London, a week really seemed quite short indeed. I had a list of the few things I wanted to be sure to see so the next morning I headed off to Kew Gardens on the outskirts of London. Luckily when I came out of the tube station I heard someone complaining about the map there that pointed people in the wrong direction to the gardens, and how they should correct it.

On the overcast day Kew had relatively few visitors apart from a group of school children. I spent the morning exploring the Japanese Garden with it's low boarders and trim shrubs, and the Treetop Walkway, which was true to its name and in this case also level with the spiky seed pods that fell from the trees. At the appointed hour in the afternoon I and another lady gathered for what turned out to be a rather private tour of the gardens, including the several greenhouses. One of them was designed as the hull of a ship to be reflected in the water in front of it. You really do have to give these architects some credit for innovation hundreds of years ago! Inside of the ship's hull greenhouse were plants such as bananas, turmeric, and oil palm. Kew Gardens, while beautiful, is apparently more a place of horticultural study than of display in say the manner of a flower garden. Their students go on to receive the top gardening positions in the country. I believe our guide said they only except 40 students at a time making it an extremely competitive school!
Inside of another greenhouse was a Lilly pond with giant Lilly pads 3' feet wide. Another progressed from a desert climate to that of a rainforest with vibrant orchids. The greenhouses were a welcome relief from the rather cold air outside, but made it all the chillier when we left. For the remainder of the day I explored the rose garden (still blooming in early October), the great tree lined pathways, and the pond with small islands and numerous birds. The grander of Kew Gardens can be attributed to its beginnings as a royal residence some 300-400 years ago. It certainly still holds true to that character!
Over my dinner at the hostel I shared a conversation with a girl from Scotland, and a girl from Sweden, both vegan! The latter and I were in the same room and had exchanged some words earlier. When I asked where she was going the next day she said she'd been thinking about The Tower of London, which was on my list as well! So the next morning we set off together.
We had a wonderful day talking and exploring the old walls and rooms of the Tower, which is in fact more than one building, and many rooms themselves part of the wall. By the the afternoon we'd made our way in to see the Crown Jewels. In an effort to prevent people from crowding around them too long there are two moving walkways past the most popular of the Jewels: the crowns themselves. They are incredibly ornate, and sparkled under the careful lighting.
To finish off our day at The Tower my Swedish friend and I took one of the tours by a Yeoman Warder. It was perhaps the most amusing tour I have ever been on! At Traitor's Gate, which was built by one of the King Richards he reminded us Americans that we have our own Watergate involving tricky Dick. Before entering the chapel at the end of the tour he stopped to tell us of the very small step between the outside and the doorway, but despite his warnings he said at least 20% of people will still trip on it. Once we were inside he proceeded to tell us that he counted not his estimated 6 people, but 11 people who had tripped on the step! My friend and I though were not among them.
Back at the hostel we arranged to meet again the next day at Selfridge's, the department store on Oxford Street well known now due to the Masterpiece program of the man behind it. Neither of us had much inkling to buy anything, we simply wanted to go inside. However my day was not to go as planned.
In the morning I needed to move my bag from the hostel to my Airbnb in north London. I found myself in a very slow moving line at the Post Office as I waited for more stamps and cell-phone minutes. Everyone in front of me needed to inquire about over seas shipping and how much it would cost if they sent the boxes together. What if they sent them to different addresses? What if they re-boxed them into one box? Finally I got out, already late to meet my friend. I jumped on the tube, got out and started looking for the street where I was to stay. It wasn't there though. In my hurry that morning I hadn't double checked the name of the station and had chosen the wrong one with a similar name. So back I went on the tube, switching a couple times to get on the right line, and finally I got off where I needed to. I then walked several blocks and finally made it to my new bedroom to leave my bag. Back to the tube I at last got out on Oxford Street a very disheartening 1hour and a half hours late! If only my friend had had a phone, or if I'd had her email address! There was nothing else I could do. So on my own I went in to Selfridge's.

It was an upscale store when it was founded in the early 1900s, and it certainly still is today. That now means about a 900% increase in price (including inflation). Past the jewelry, shoes, and dresses priced at 450 Pounds (about $700), on the top floor I found a corner of the store for me. With the holiday season only 2 months away Selfridge's had put out their early Christmas display. Among it I found some beautiful, and very British Christmas cards. One of my favorite things there was a velvety Polar Bear standing about 3 feet tall with his head turned to look at the people passing by. Nearby was a demonstration of a new artificial snow. Looking like tiny balls of a washing detergent when water was added to it about a 1/4 tsp. swelled to 1/2 cup of soft white balls of snow without the awful static of the polyester version I knew.

Outside again I wondered down Oxford Street, the busy heart of London's shopping scene. I'd had enough though and after a trip on the tube, which I'd become very familiar with by now, I ended up on the grassy lawn by the Imperial War Museum for a picnic. Rather an unusual choice this was the one museum I'd had my heart set on going to. I was hopeful that it would prove much more helpful than their online resources. After examining the floor plan I found the only exhibit I was really there for: The Homefront during WW 2. It was based on a London family of 12, and their home at the time. There was a cut away view of the house so that each room with it's miniature furniture down to the meat safe and chamber pots were visible. Accompanying the other information and displays of the time were the stories of each child and their parents. Nearby the exhibit was the most wonderful collection of books in my eyes; books that I'd been looking for for years. They covered everything from children and women in the war to cooking during rationing. Given my limited space though I bought only one book and one DVD. I later discovered that DVDs are encrypted differently for different countries. Fortunately in the end I was able to watch the DVD by changing a limited setting on my computer.
Unwilling to part ways with my Swedish friend by never seeing her again I returned to the hostel, and innocently followed a couple of other people up the steps, past the locking door. Sure enough my friend was in her room. This time we traded emails and agreed to get together again.


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