First Weekend: London

We were up and making sure everything was ready. I managed to downsize everything into a manageable size. The addition of the rolly suitcase really helped with mobility. Things were divided up between staying behind or coming with us. We carried it all down and waited for the cab to come. 


There was this old lady that got into the first cab that came. I had to look at her and the cabbie sideways as he didn’t know who he was picking up. Just to make sure that we were still getting a cab I called the company again our cab was still en route. The driver was a friendly chap. He was Kurdish and has lived in the UK for almost twenty years. We talked about the benefits of living in a small town or city. He pointed to a house and said that one of those is affordable to me and the pace of life was slower especially when raising a family. We shook hands and we ate some breakfast while waiting for our train to London. I asked one of the attendant where it would be best to stand and she suggested a few places. I chose the one furthest from the front as it offered the best chance at being empty. All our luggage took up the disabled area. The train was full with some people sitting on the ground outside the toilets. 


When we got to Euston we had to catch another train to Tulse Hill to meet up with Joe. He volunteered to take the luggage for me and for us to go and check into our room. We were on our way to Jaco’s birthday party and needed to accomplish quite a bit in order to make it there on time. From Euston we caught a taxi to St Pancras instead of walking the 650m between the stations. Chrl strongly admired the design of the British taxi and enjoyed my banter with the taxi driver. It was a ten pound ride due to the snarled traffic that we had to navigate. It was well worth it though. 


Trains have been running with a persistent delay from the notices on the screens. The one we had to get was already delayed and even the indicated time was generous. Once the train did come it was delayed at Blackfriars due to a conductor change. The conductor was late hence the delay. Chrl was asking me questions about some of the things she saw. The “cheese grater,” “shard,” “gherkin,” and “walkie-talkie” buildings are prominent in the skyline along with St Paul’s cathedral. There is something to say about each of these buildings along with all the other structures that fill London’s landscape. We will get a chance to see some of them up close after we take care of this drop off. Joe found us on the platform and helped to carry one of the suitcases down the stairs. The original plan was to have a coffee at his place but we were short on time and after a snack we were going to jump on the train to Elephant and Castle where our hotel was. I checked the departure times and made the decision to get a cab through the app. 


Driving through the city to Elephant and Castle allowed Chrl to have another view of the city. It was a warm/hot day out there and Chrl spotted some guy in the park with a teeny weenie pair of pants. At first she thought he as naked. Traffic flowed slowly and this gave her a chance to experience how traffic moves here in the city. The driver wasn’t too talkative as Chrl and I stared out the window holding hands. I can tell by the expression in her eyes that she is taking it all in. I remember being like that when I first got here. 


Our hotel was in a student housing block. It was a suite with a little kitchenette, a bed and not much else. It didn’t even have a bedside lamp. The other problem that we had was that we didn’t bring a towel with us. Once we got checked into the room we had to go and find one. Fortunately there was a street market still in full swing where we purchased one. We both wanted to take a quick shower before heading off to the party. Chrl went first and quickly discovered that the towel left a layer of fluff all over her body. She discovered it as she was moisturizing. It’s the new towel problem. They have to be washed before use. 


We walked a short distance to the tube station and caught the Bakerloo to Waterloo and then the SouthWest train to Jaco and Rita’s. We passed through my old neighbourhood and I tried in vain to show her some landmarks. Soon our stop approached and we walked the rest of the way. I almost didn’t recognize the place. A new fence was put up all around the property to give it some privacy during the party. There were tents set up to shield the guests from the sun or the rain as one never knows what the weather will be like. The party was in full swing and we found the birthday boy enjoy going himself chatting to his guests. He told us to get a drink. We found Joe and Gulnara as well as Rita to say our hellos and for me to introduce Chrl to them. 
Our day has been busy with travel and we quickly found the table laden with food and proceeded to be good guests and consume some of it. Jaco went all out and had a friend of his working on the lamb spit. That was going to be ready soon in the meantime there were odurves to start on. A good guest is one who eats as much as they can to help digest the prepared food. One doesn’t want to have much left over after the party. The party was quite lively as the multitude of cultures reflected in the many friends that came together for this celebration talked animatedly. I found some polish compatriots and they took great pleasure in talking with me in Polish in front of the Afrikaans speakers. It was a bit of payback. 


I caught up with some people that I haven’t seen in a while. We used to have quite regular get togethers when we lived together. Now since I’m living up north I don’t see everyone as often. Joe and Gulnara left early as their little one is a bit sick. Others with little babies began leaving too. As each said their goodbyes Jaco tried to persuade them to stay and party. He took the mickey out of some and I knew I was going to get it too. We wanted to leave and Jaco used the line that this party plus a once in a lifetime occurrence and that London the city will always be there for us to explore. While I agree with his line of argument we wanted to go and explore by ourselves anyways.  This is a once in a lifetime trip for both of us and our time is short here in London. We got to Waterloo and walked to the Palace of Westminister. As we approached we were talking about something and Chrl stopped mid sentance captivated by the sight. The sun was setting and the parliamentary building looked quite stunning. We walked and found a spot across the River Themes to take some photos and hold each other as we admired the scene. This area is always packed with tourists as the London Eye is near and then there is Southbank another popular destination for a stroll. 


We walked along Southbank hand in hand passing the National Theatre as well as a multitude of other sights. This walk is quite romantic with the trees lit subtly by LED lights creating that certain mood conducive to coupling. Chrl’s reaction to the city and the experience itself has been great. We sat there on one of the benches that were free and soaked in the atmosphere as we talks about this experience. I’m glad that London has made such an impression on her. I cheekily told her that at the beginning London mesmerizes you and pulls you in then once you are in its grasp it begins working on you slowly wearing you out. It is a great city and the weather has been great for for me to show it off. 


We walked back to our space and I lead us down the wrong road taking the wrong road from a circus. It didn’t matter as we weren’t that far away and we did make it back. We collapsed from the day’s activities and slept well with traffic noise soothing us to sleep. The next morning I woke with the morning light and walked to get some coffee from the local golden arches franchise. It’s the closest place to get coffee this early. The plan in the mornin is to go to Tate Modern. It recently opened up an addition that they have been building over the past few years. I remember seeing it rise slowly from the ground when I walked to work. It just recently opened up.


It is a short distance from Elephant and Castle to Tate Modern. We wanted to get some breakfast before getting there. I found a Breakfast Club place and decided that it would be the place to nourish us in the morning. We had a fancy breakfast both ordering the same thing. It’s like when we made the same comment at the party about a big baby. Our timing was impeccable as soon after our arrival a massive queue developed for tables. 


Tate Modern is housed in an old power plant. It along with Battersea were built to generate power from burning coal. These buildings were then decommissioned when the soot and poor air quality became unbearable to live in. Since these buildings are iconic and eventually Listed something had to be done with them. There is a Tate museum further up the river that houses classical art. It was decided that an art gallery would be an ideal use for this building. I’m not sure how long it’s been open for but I’ve always enjoyed visiting this place. The sense of scale and the expanse of space has an effect on a person. 


We began our ascent in the new Switch building of the Tate Modern. A staircase winds up the ten floors within the building. Strategically placed windows allow light to illuminate the space as well as framing the structures and geography around the building. We made our way trough a bunch of the free exhibitions that form part of the collection. Modern art is a lot more conceptual and abstract from the art of old. Sometimes it is important to read the descriptions in order to gain an insight regarding what it says. There were a few feminist artists displaying their work. Some of it was from the post war era when women having been empowered by their contribution to the war effort starts to assert themselves in order to avoid being put back into a domestic role. There was also art that spoke about the role of the female body in media and the arts themselves. Much of this work probably influenced how we think about women today. 


We took an elevator to the top of the Switch building and admired the view from the observation deck. It’s possible to get a full panoramic view of the city. With the bright sun up in the sky it made the view that much more exhilarating and memorable. We took the elevator back down and crossed the bridge to enter the Boiler House and make our way through the galleries there. I wanted to see one piece in particular by an artist that is being displayed there.


 Mona Hatoum created a giant globe with the continents outlined in neon red symbolizing that the “hot zones” are everywhere in reference to violence and oppression. I was quite disappointed that no photography was allowed inside the exhibit but was quite happy to get away and capture a few snaps when the attendants were tending to something else. I was hoping for a selfie with Chrl but had to settle for a pic with her beside it warning me that someone was coming. That shot made my day. We finished off by walking through a few more galleries and then settling down with a coffee outside in the sun watching people picnic. 


One of Chrl’s friends is near London and the plan to meet her was long in the making. I suggested that we meet at the British Museum. In order to get there I we walked accross the Millenium Bridge and took a photo outside of St Pauls Cathedral. #BoyfrendTakesPictureOfGirlfriend it’s a thing. As the day progressed and I had Chrl pose in from of various pieces of art we noticed that other guys did the same thing with their significant others. We laughed about it and it’s become a little humorous observation. Chrl adds a lot to the composition of the photos. 


The bus that was supposed to take us to the museum was diverted and this fact caused much trouble for us. We needed to meet Jill at a particular time and this caused us to be a few minutes late. Once we got to the museum we needed to find her. I asked how she looked like and the description began with “blonde” I said that this didn’t help. We did find each other and then made our way inside through the new security measures that have been instituted by the authorities. 


The crowds inside the museum were large. It was late afternoon and at this point the kids are cranky and the parents are tired. Never mind that but other tourists trying to cram as much as possible into a short trip are likewise exhausted. The heat has caused this and it felt like the climate control system couldn’t keep up. The first major piece that is seen as one enters the ancient exhibition space is the Rosetta Stone. This piece is responsible for allowing the deciphering of heiroglyphs by archeologists and linguists in the late eighteen-hundreds. The crowd was thick at this point and this ebbed and flowed depending on where one was in the building. This museum houses many artefacts collected during the British Empire’s conquest of much of the world especially Egypt and much of the Middle East. There are also artefacts from other parts of the world most notably Greece. 


There comes a point in the day when one becomes museumed out. Chrl said I was like a machine but that comes from purveying many museums in my day. I was getting to that point too. There was what would have been normally interesting artefacts before me but I couldn’t bother to read about them anymore. The people around us too prevented an appreciation of the things from antiquity before us. I saw it in Chrl’s face. We needed to sit down and relax. After we navigated the tricky world of toilets we decided to go for a pint. It was a chance to sit and have a chat. 


Jilly and Chrl have been friends for a long time. It gave me a chance to ask some questions that I wouldn’t of been able to hear otherwise. 

“Any embarrassing stories?😉” 

“Well the first time we met…”


We were on a timeline and the chatting kind of threw it off. After the pizza after the pint we parted ways. We quickly passed through Leiscter Square and then onto Picadilly Circus before finishing off in Trafalgar Square. We were unequally tired and there was still some packing to do. The hour was getting late and the train leaves early in the morning. We had a really good weekend and there is so much more to go. The next phase will begin when we get to Amsterdam tomorrow. 

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