Exciting London

by Britta on 20 October 2009

in European Adventure,The Freelancing Life

The Ubiquitous Double Decker Bus

The Ubiquitous Double Decker Bus

London–what an exciting town! In four days, I witnessed a protest at Parliament, watched dignitaries enter Buckingham Palace, saw others leave Kensington Palace in a helicopter, walked into the middle of a police chase that included a dog and a bike thief, and had a lucky future predicted (unsolicited) by a holy man. Add to that a seminar on small business startups and reconnecting with an old friend from high school, and I’m still processing all of it (apologies to all who expected this blog post sooner). Plus, I understood everything–everything!–since it all happened in my native tongue. Whew.

It’s great to have friends, especially ones who live in exotic or far flung locales (I’m happy to be that friend to anyone who wants to visit). I stayed with my friend Amy, who has lived in London for about a year and a half. She and her husband Casino are headed back to the U.S. soon, so I had to jump on this London trip to see her before she left. In addition to planning a couple of days of sightseeing, I had signed up for an LIP meet-up, hosted by the Woodwards, who are behind the Location Independent website. I also attended a workshop on Monday on starting a small business, run by Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation. Both events were run by people whose blogs I follow regularly, and it was an exciting prospect to meet them in person after already (sort of) meeting them online. More on these events in another post.

Protest at Parliament

Protest at Parliament

While Amy showed me around London that first afternoon, we came upon Parliament and saw people with ladders and climbing gear, clambering onto the roof and high turrets of the building, waving bright yellow banners and affixing them to the roof with ropes. It turned out to be Greenpeace, staging a protest and trying to influence MPs before a vote the next day. Newspaper articles said that the protesters planned to stay on the roof all night, and indeed, when I passed by Parliament the next day, they were still there. Police were radioing each other, but none of them seemed really concerned about what was going on. The next day, there were fewer protesters and more police, but the banners were still attached to the roof.

When I returned to Amy’s building that night, there were bicycle cops waiting at the driveway and they wouldn’t let me cross the parking lot and into the building. There was a dog chasing down a bicycle theif, adn they didn’t want me getting into the middle of things. Eventually, the dog came out with a leash and I was allowed to pass. It didn’t look like the thief was in custody, but more police on the back lawn made it seem like a major operation.

My full free day in London, I thought I might visit the British Museum, but I wandered off in a different direction, and kept going. I made my way through St. James’ Park to Buckingham Palace, where I was a day too early–or too late–for the changing of the guard, which happens every other morning. I did, however, see the arrival of some VIPs in a horse-drawn carriage, with a mounted police escort. I meandered to the edge of Hyde Park, where I saw some more VIPs in a carriage, dressed as if they were on their way to a ball, heading toward the Palace. I took pictures, and some video, but I have yet to identify them.

VIPs Going to Buckingham Palace

VIPs Going to Buckingham Palace

I wandered through Hyde Park, refreshed by all the lush greenery. The grass was thick and some of the roses were still blooming. There were swans and rowboats on the lake in the middle, and as I passed by a statue in the middle of the park, a man came up to me and said “Excuse me, miss, but you are very lucky. Something good is going to happen to you.” He wore a turban and spoke with an Indian accent, and said he was a holy man who could read foreheads. I thanked him but left without having the rest of my fortune read–if it’s good, who cares what it is?!

As I walked along the far side of Hyde Park, near Kensington Palace, a helicopter flew right over my head and landed on a field near the palace. As it touched down, a Jaguar with tinted windows drove up next to it, and two well-dressed ladies climbed out of the car and into the helicopter. I never figured out who they were, either.

I continued my wandering through the city, though the rest of my day wasn’t nearly as exciting–apparently I exhausted my dignitary-sighting luck that morning. I walked through Holland Park–a little wilder than Hyde Park–and then back around through Piccadilly Circus and over to Leicester Square. The gardens inside the square were closed off and crews were setting up a giant outdoor screen for the premier of the London International Film Festival, which started the day I left. I headed toward Covent Garden, but apparently I took a wrong turn and I found myself in Chinatown, full of bright decorations and delicious smells emanating from the restaurant-lined streets.

Trafalgar Square & Nelson's Column

Trafalgar Square

Eventually, once I knew where I was, I made it back to Trafalgar Square, where, among the monuments and statues, a performance art installation was in progress. Known as One & Other, it featured 2400 performers, one each hour, for 100 days. I caught the second to last day of the “living monument,” during which performers stood on the pedestal where a 4th statue would have been, and posed, acted, sang, protested and created art of all types. As I passed through the square, I saw a man stumping for fair-trade chocolate, but unfortunately, his protest did not include free samples of said chocolate, which, in my opinion, would have made it that much more effective. Apparently my exciting luck really had run out.

Before catching my train back to Paris, I visited Camden Market and Camden Town. What was, in the mid-1800s, a town of full of stables and dedicated to industry is now London’s alternative center, with vendors setting up in markets and streets and inside the old stables, selling everything from designer and vintage clothing to handmade jewelry and exotic imports. This was apparently also the place to find all the ethnic street food — and some good coffee. It was also close enough to walk (slowly and regretfully) to the train station. Paris isn’t nearly this exciting!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pat Perry November 19, 2009 at 11:19 am

Camden Market – if I’m recalling right – does it have the giant shoes on the store fronts – part of the signage? (Like HUGE Doc Martens?) Amazing stuff – wild clothes that are so fun & temping to buy – but where would you ever where a metal and glass decorated bustier e – unless you’re Madonna? Wonderful eye candy for shopping….

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