London: Day Three

Today is election day, and I woke up in London again to sunlight and fall colors and the tap of room service delivering morning coffee. Since being here I have seen more coverage on the election than at home and I’m not sure what that means, but I do know this: the whole world is watching the US right now. I would be remiss not to say, even here, even living a dream, I too am unable to forget the reality of this day for America. But my feed today, and for the coming days, will remain a break, an escape, a moment away from the political battleground.

Yesterday began with a trip on the Tube, again. I’m growing really fond of the Underground, learning the routes and the best transfer stations. So far I’ve ridden the Piccadilly, District and Circle lines. I find the easiest way to survive public transport is to let your body feel the rhythm of the crowd. Be prepared with your card (called an Oyster card here, a Metro card in NYC) and never stop in front of stalls or in corridors. If you must pause, pull off to the side and get out of everyone’s way, otherwise, you’ll learn why locals hate tourists. Same goes for stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to take a photo, or, worse, wandering into the crosswalk.

tube

We traveled north to Kings Cross. Yep. That one. Where the Hogwarts Express takes young wizards-in-training to study. I was the epitome of not cool when we walked up the stairs from the train. However, we were bound not for Platform 9 3/4 (more on that later!), but the Treasures of the British Library exhibit where we would see, in short:

Jane Austen’s writing desk and hand written manuscript for Persuasion

Mozart, Chopin, Handel’s Messiah and so many more composers original sheet music

Shakespeare’s sonnets

A Gutenberg Bible

Ancient Maps

Early prints from China

Charlotte Bronte’s manuscript pages for Jane Eyre and letters

T.S. Elliot’s Waste Land

The Magna Carta

Handwritten lyrics to some of the Beatles most famous hits including: She Said, She Said, Ticket to Ride, and a Hard Days Night

Leonardo Di Vinci’s Notebook

…and so much more.

Photographs were not allowed, but here’s a few from the Library to prove we were there.

This was a singular experience. We spent about two hours inside the exhibit and could have stayed for more if we’d had time. I walked away with deep wells of inspiration digging through me, and plenty of notes to mull over later on.

Next, we headed back to Kings Cross where we…well, you can probably guess what we were planning to do. Both my husband and I are fans of Harry Potter. I’d read the first four before we met, but when we got together, we read through them together again, and then with each new book we embarked on the journey together. He took a class in college called Imagined Worlds, where, for his final project, he wrote a scholarly essay on the science of Magic.

Yeah, we’re fans.

As we queued up for the photo op at Platform 9 3/4, I was still shocked by how giddy and smiley my normally stoic husband became. He watched with great interest as people posed, getting annoyed with everyone else in line when they tried to be cool and not jump for the shot. And when we reached the trolley, he got his Hufflepuff scarf and joined in the journey to Hogwarts with me.

We wandered through the shop alongside the platform, buying up gifts for fellow wizards in our family and finally getting my husband some Hufflepuff gear. We listened to the cashiers— a Slytherin, a Gryffindor, and a Hufflepuff— banter in true House rivalry form, making obscure references and slaying with their English wit. Overall, this was one of my favorite moments so far simply because I got to see such joy on my husband’s face.

Then it was back to the Tube and hotel for a quick change because we had booked a fancy afternoon tea and couldn’t show up disheveled and shabby. Again, my husband fell right into the moment. We giggled and bantered, took pictures and ate too much despite our assertion that we weren’t even that hungry. We’ve been married over ten year and we still find each other quite amusing.

About twenty minutes into our tea, a dapper dressed dad and his little girl arrived for theirs. She didn’t want any of it except the scone, and she was fairly adamant about sitting on her daddy’s lap and snuggling. Her little voice in her very grown up dress, curious blue eyes, and typical childlike disgust melted my heart.

To top off our day, we’d booked theater tickets to see Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Patrick Stewart in the play No Man’s Land. It hit us, as we sat in our seats, drinking champagne and just a few feet away from the stage, that this kind of magic doesn’t happen often and should never be taken for granted. With wonder, we watched film and stage legends, best friends and longtime colleagues, give emotionally charged and wonderfully funny performances live. We turned off our phones. We ignored the world and took in the moment and it was perfect.

no-mans-land

Then we wandered back through London, via Tube and our feet, to a little French Restaurant just off High Street Kensington. Where I was mistaken for Taylor Swift, and my husband was sure that this day would be hard to top.

Lets see how we do tomorrow?

London: Day Two

This morning, the sky over London is pale blue streaked with shades of gray. I’m still here and it is still like being in a dream.

Yesterday’s journey from my hotel began with a ride on the Tube, my first. Having lived in NYC, I was inclined to think the Tube would be like the Subway. It wasn’t and I like it better. I found the lines quite a bit easier to decipher, and the whole process a lot more intuitive. But then, also, I am now older and less easily plussed, and so maybe it isn’t the Tube that runs better, maybe it is me.

I met up with a group of writers who are all going to be published in 2017 at a restaurant called Dishoom. We tucked into a booth downstairs and dug deep into conversation. It was lively and lovely, and I was in awe of each of them.

swanky
Photo cred: Katherine Webber’s phone and my husband.

London is an incredible city to experience on foot, and that’s exactly what we did.

We trailed down Charring Cross road and broke out at Trafalgar Square, a bustling, vibrant spot with famous landmarks and a smattering of talented street performers. Crawling along one edge is the National Gallery.

We walked through a portion of the Gallery, taking in works by Cezanne, Monet, Van Gough and lesser known pieces (or at least, to me) but no less breathtaking.

There was one, a self portrait by the female artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, that I found particularly arresting. She was the only female artist in a room full of men, and even now she demanded respect.

painting-1

I stopped on the far side of the Square to get a shot of the Gallery, and when I turned around I was met, to my complete surprise, by a view down Whitehall Street of the top of Big Ben. I don’t know if it was just that I’d not expected it, but tears welled in my eyes. I stood there for a moment stunned, arrested.

Walking toward Parliament feels like the building of a climactic moment in a movie. With each step you get closer to the thing you are looking for, while also constantly walking into  moments that surprise you. We saw the House of Guards, 10 Downing Street, the side of Westminster Abbey, the London Eye. My eyes kept trailing back to Big Ben, and once we were upon it, I couldn’t seem to move. I didn’t try.

I stood. I stared. I embraced the utter disbelief that it was right in front of me and was easily one of the most stunning pieces of architecture I’d seen up close.

As we walk across the Westminster Bridge toward the London Eye, it began to rain. That didn’t stop me from stopping repeatedly to take more pictures. It didn’t dampen my fervor for the walk. It meant pulling my hood up and baring into the splatter.

from-the-london-eye

Somehow, London in the rain is even more charming.

big-ben-dusk

We finished our night at a Kensington restaurant called Ffiona’s. With walls papered in sheet music and a country scene, flickering candlelight on the shabby chic tables all tucked into an intimate space. The patron is a woman, unsurprisingly, named Fiona, who not only owns but runs the floor. We ordered the night’s specials, roast beef and half a chicken, potatoes, gravy, some kind of ribboned greens that I devoured. It was an experience for my mouth and my mind. When my husband ordered a whisky, she plopped the bottle down on the table and let him serve himself.

ffionas

Later I asked for a cup, and we sat there talking and dreaming, laughing and thinking, and when it was sadly time to go — because as much as we might want to, we couldn’t sleep there —Fiona sat at our table to work out the bill and have a chat. We walked out smiling, and my husband said quietly, “That was perfect.”

 

The whole day was perfect.