1:30 pm, Sunday:
I’ve both lucked out with brilliant weather and chosen well in how to spend my one free day during this briefest of trips across the pond. It’s a warm, cloudless afternoon, and I’m sitting in an old-fashioned beach lounge chair overlooking the Italian Garden, a lovely set of fountains near the northwest entrance to Hyde Park. It’s clearly the place to be on a summery Sunday afternoon. While strolling through this vast park over the last two hours, I’ve seen hundreds of families, couples, and groups enjoying the many things this park has to offer (which, today, also includes an official London 2012 Olympics Shop). People of all ages are sunbathing on the grass, rollerblading or running along the paved and dirt paths, reading in the shade of trees, enjoying a Pimms & Prosecco at a lakeside café, walking dogs, feeding the numerous geese and swans, and swimming – either in a designated area of the lake or in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, a shallow, circular lazy river of sorts in which many small children (and not a few adults, including myself), delight in sticking their feet in the cool water. If I’d brought more reading material, I would stay here all afternoon.
This is the second time I’ve had the fortune to visit London this year and also the second time the weather has been perfect. Back in January, I had similarly (and even more unseasonably) cloudless days and fairly mild temperatures. In fact, of the five total days I’ve spent in this city over the years, only one has been rainy. And each time I come, I find more reasons to love London.
Today, for instance, is the last day of the Paralympic Games. I arrived at Paddington Station this morning and hopped into a cab with a driver who spoke with a hint of cockney and chatted with me the whole way to my hotel. Or rather, to near my hotel. The marathon took place this morning, and the route literally went in front of my hotel, so the closest he could drop me was on the other side of London Bridge. (After crossing it, I can confirm that it is not, in fact, falling down.)
Having been in England but not London for the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in July, I was pretty pleased when I found myself an accidental spectator at a Paralympic event. After dropping my suitcase, I joined people along the marathon route to cheer on runners – what a cool thing! I followed the route west to St. Paul’s, from which I crossed the Thames on the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and the (new) Shakespeare’s Globe. The weather was too nice to spend any time inside, so I added money to my Oyster card and headed over here. On my way over to this end of the park, I took a quick nap under a tree, popped into the London 2012 shop (where everything is now 50% off), and put my sore feet into the cool water of the Princess Diana fountain.
8:00 pm, Sunday:
From Hyde Park I took the tube over to Notting Hill Gate for a wander along Portobello Road. I did this back in January on a weekday but wanted to check it out on the weekend. There were actually fewer vendors on the streets, but the shops were just as quirky and irreverent. I looked through cases of costume jewelry, piles of cell phone covers, walls covered in scarves, and windows of shoe stores selling glitzy, teetering platforms that I would love to wear but never will. Along the way, I enjoyed listening to the same wide variety of languages that I’d heard throughout Hyde Park: Spanish, French, Italian, and even BCS! I think London is THE most international city I’ve seen throughout my travels, and there’s nothing I love more than being around people from all over the world.
I’m now back in my hotel room in The City, where most shops and restaurants have been closed all day due both to the marathon and the general deadness of the area when the many bankers and lawyers aren’t working. I’m nibbling on Digestives and quickly succumbing to the exhaustion of being awake and on the go for so long – but I think that’s the key to fighting jet lag. Do not, under any circumstances, go to sleep when you arrive in a new time zone! It’s mind over body.
9:00 pm, Monday:
After a full day of interviewing (the reason for this visit), I met up with my friend’s younger sister and went in search of the famed curry on Bricklane, about a 15-minute walk from my hotel. This Bangladeshi area boasts a long line of restaurants, each with an overly solicitous proprietor at the front door offering you the best dinner you’ve ever had and at a good price. Ceri and I fell for the charms of the man in front of the restaurant boasting a banner proclaiming it as the home of the “Best Curry Chef 2012” and offering us a 25% discount on dinner, plus a free beer. I’d heard much about the south Asian food of London and was glad for this chance to finally try it. We were not disappointed: my lamb curry, swimming in delicious sauce, was well worth the £10 price tag and paired beautifully with the palak paneer and nan that we ordered as sides.
11:00 am, Tuesday:
I’m back at Heathrow after a lengthy but enjoyable ride on the Circle Line of the Tube to Paddington followed by another quick trip on the Heathrow Express. It feels weird to be here after spending the night sleeping in an actual bed; the last two times within the last 13 months that I’ve flown home from Heathrow, I spent the night sleeping on the floor of Terminal 1. I did have a spot of excitement when I arrived; a group of Russian paralympians were also on their way home, wearing those visible-from-a-mile-away red and white uniform jackets. Perhaps there were other athletes about too!
And, the best possible news: my plane’s only about a quarter full for the flight to Dulles, so I can spend the next eight hours comfortably sprawled out over an entire row of seats. All in all, I’d say this trip, albeit far too brief, was a winner!
And now, some pictures:
St. Paul’s, viewed from the Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge and St. Pauls (viewed from the Globe Theater)
The London 2012 Official Shop in Hyde Park:
my favorite feature of the shop (this is an entire wall):
the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain:
the Italian Garden in Hyde Park: