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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 3

UNITED KINGDOM | Friday, 29 April 2016 | Views [93]

Late 14th century artwork by Lorenzo Monaco originally from a monastery in Florence.

Late 14th century artwork by Lorenzo Monaco originally from a monastery in Florence.

After parting ways with my friend in probably one of the most iconic parts of London I made my way back through the tube stations to the north part of London, collected my bags, and back to central London I went again. Even with the wonderful public transport it's surprising how much time it takes to get around. By the time I finally arrived in the correct neighborhood where I was to stay that night it was dark. With my directions in hand I set off. Perhaps understandably I missed the small lane and consequentially spent probably half an hour walking around the same streets in the upper class neighborhood. With a point in the right direction I finally found the woman I'd arranged to stay with for my last two nights.

Once I'd made my apologies to her for being so late and not having her correct phone number we spent the evening talking. When you're continually meeting new people you can share the same things again and again and yet it's not old! Ironically we were both leaving London in just two days. My hostess was heading to Morocco with a frien, so she told me about the sunny, bustling markets of that African country from her last trip there.

The following morning she gave me directions to the bus stop so that I could have a chance to see what I was passing by rather than speeding beneath it in the tube. Well, I seemed to be inept at finding much in that neighborhood, so I simply ended up walking along with my map and finally came to Hyde Park. Not in any particular hurry I made my way in the direction of the Trafalgar Square along meandering pathways, watching the runners and dogs at play, and admiring the grounds, wanting to savor every minute of it.
Eventually I reached Buckingham Palace, and what would you know: it was the changing of the guard! Initially interested I milled around with the large crowd before realizing that I all I was really getting to see was the crowd itself! So I left it behind and finally reached Trafalgar Square with its 4 giant lion statues. Throughout my whole trip I kept meaning to visit art galleries, or museums with their collections far beyond the age of anything in the United States, the places housing the originals that we see printed in books. Somehow I'd never managed it! So on my last day here I was in art corner at the National Portrait Gallery right beside the National Gallery. Either one of these places could take several days to explore, so needless to say I only saw very small portions of them!
I decided to begin with the oldest portraits and so found myself in a room of oil canvases of Henry the 8th, and Queen Elizabeth among many others from 400 - 500 years ago. Proceeding to read about the other people depicted on the dark backgrounds, in their very best finery I quickly lost track of who was who. In my eyes the skill of the artists to capture these characters so perfectly with only their brushes and paints is incredible. A couple floors below I found more modern portraits of the royal family this time against the more colorful back drop of their living space, as well as other faces and people from the unsure times of the earlier 20th century. One of the most recent additions is surely the portrait of the current Queen Elizabeth the Second displayed on a screen that randomly changes the colors of the composition. What's more the artist decided to use the photograph she or he took at the moment the Queen had closed her eyes, so it looks as though she's sleeping.
Like many people I have my limit of how long I can look at composition after composition so I left for lunch, which I found on the street just around the corner. Afterward I returned to the art galleries, this time the National Gallery. Once more I made a pick from the timeline of artists, and headed for the oldest ones, predating the Elizabethan work from earlier in the day. It's so interesting to look at the art at the time when the skill of three dimensional painting was just being honed. I used to take if for granted that while I was not able to create such work, surely artists had always known how to! I had to look twice at the dates of some of the artwork so vibrant that it looked as though someone had painted it the day before in colors I never guessed were available in the 15th century.
As the gallery reached its closing time I made for the floor of 19th century artists, with several rooms devoted to the Impressionists. Incredibly I'd learned that photography was allowed in the National Gallery of all the artwork with the few exceptions on what was on loan from private collections. As my hostess had pointed out earlier though you go to a gallery to see the artwork in person, not to take photos of it to look at later. In agreement with her, I only took a few photos of what especially stood out to me. Before being shooed out I stopped to admire some of the other work from the 1800s with colors that would have shocked the Elizabethans and an inviting softness to subject.
Upon leaving the gallery I headed back for dinner with my hostess. Even in a place full of things to see like London it is nice to stop going places and just sit back. After finishing the slices of pie I had brought within me that evening as a thank you to my hostess we both finished packing our bags.
In the morning we had breakfast and a last cup of tea together before walking out the door with our bags. We bid farewell, and like the morning before I set off towards Hyde Park. By a pond populated with Swans I finished the last couple of post cards to send, though I'd get to the United States before them. I meandered through the park again, through a lovely little rose garden, and once more past the Palace and the changing of the guard (or the milling of the crowd). It seemed so long ago that I'd first sat in St. James Park as I walked briskly through to the tube station.
From my many trips through the airport I'd discovered that I did not need 2 hours to get through security at Heathrow and arrive at my gate on time, so I'd planned to leave myself an hour and a half instead. As usual the tube station was crowded, but for the first time in a whole week I was not able to get on the packed train. Rather shocked I waited anxiously for the next one going to Heathrow, but of course I didn't just need the next one to Heathrow, but the one to terminal 5, the international terminal, which only came every other time. Finally it came and I was able to get on. As luck would have it they stopped for at least five minutes at another platform for a change or drivers, or for some other unknown reason. Then the screens announced that they would not be going to terminal 5 this time and everyone must get out at the stop for the other terminals. So I out I had to go. Thank goodness on the other side of the platform was a train to terminal 5, but it involved another wait before it arrived. At last I arrived at the baggage check line with about 45 minutes to go. I relaxed a bit seeing that you only had to be in security 15-30 minutes before your flight. Just as they said I got through fairly quickly.
Seeing the arrow to my gate I dashed off for water and the restroom before heading for my gate with about 10 minutes to go. To my dismay I found that it was not just a short walk to the gate as I had assumed, but a short walk to a subway to the international gates. Jumping off the subway I was off running up two sets of escalators as I anxiously checked my watch. According to it I had just a few minutes before boarding closed. Catching my breath as I reached the crowd of people at the gate I quickly asked if it was the flight to Denver, wondering if I'd missed my plane as I looked at the empty gate beside it. Yes, the crowd was indeed queing for the flight to Denver; they hadn't even started boarding yet! By the time I was headed down another escalator and along the walkway to the plane I'd fully recovered from my sprint there.
I was very relieved not to have missed my expensive flight, yet I half wanted to stay there. It was as though I'd just discovered something, something I didn't want to leave behind so soon. Perhaps it was the places, or the people, or the freedom. Whatever it was it had been welcoming and different.
Over the previous three and a half months I'd been so many places. Each time I'd settled in and become familiar with the place and the people it was time to go again. Naturally you make connections where you are, to the roads, the landscape, the people who aren't strangers anymore. Then with a little tug at your heart you must let them go, and look to the next place and the next hello. This was the last goodbye because it was time to go, time to put the backpack down and not pick it up again the next morning, time to sleep. I was on my way home.


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