London, England

Before heading to Paris for (another) work trip, I made a pit stop in London England to visit my friend Mara. She’s been living there since September studying for two masters degrees. She lives on the outskirts of London. My flight arrived just as the sun was rising over London. I have to say, one of my favourite cities to land in is London. Flying over the city is just stunning. It helps that there are so many recognizable landmarks that you can identify from the sky. This also partially because I flew into London when I went to study abroad, and when I saw London from the sky, it really hit me that I would be living in the UK for a period of time. 

And on the other hand, it was 6:30am in the morning and I didn’t get any sleep so I was not exactly at my best. There was a very long line for border security. In a moment of weakness, I decided to take a taxi to Mara’s house, even though I knew it would cost me a fortune. I wasn’t in the mood to deal with tickets and transfers, dragging a big suitcase with me. 

When I finally arrived at Mara’s around 9am, I was ready to not do anything all day. But I’m of the belief that the sooner you get yourself onto the schedule of the city you’ve landed in, the better off you’ll be. So if that means going all day and not sleeping until night, then so be it. (Finastra has me doing more all nighters than university ever did).  Mara encouraged me to go into the city and see some things. She had some homework she had to do, and having been in London for a while, she’s already done a lot of the tourist things. 

I’ve also been to London a number of times, so I’ve already checked off most of the major attractions. One place I hadn’t been to yet though was the V&A Museum. I took a nice stroll around the museum, but wasn’t particularly contemplative of anything in particular. Lack of sleep makes it more difficult to appreciate art. One cool thing they had was a view into their pottery and porcelain storage. Tiles, jugs, plates, what have you, all stacked in glass cases that seemed to go on forever. 

For lunch, I had a sandwich and some delicious thyme and rosemary ‘crisps’ in the courtyard of the museum. The weather was very pleasant and a welcome relief from the cold of Toronto. After looking through the gift shop, I headed towards Kensington Gardens. I had briefly stepped into Kensington Gardens on a previous trip, but hadn’t made it as far as Kensington Palace. So it was my mission to take a nice stroll (rather than power walk) to Kensington Palace. A large building for sure, but a little more standard looking than I was anticipating. I debated going inside, but the £25 entry price was a little much so I just enjoyed the outside and the gardens. I walked through the gardens to Hyde Park and saw the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. It’s more of a water feature at ground level than a proper fountain, but the description of why it was designed that way seems fitting. 

On my way back to the subway, I noticed a free photography exhibit so I stopped in. It was about a trip to a remote mountain range. There were some very stunning pictures of the mountains in the moonlight but the exhibit was very small. 

Back at Mara’s, we chatted and caught up with each other. Some friends had invited Mara and I over for dinner, so we had a very nice and elaborate three course meal. 

On Saturday I set out again, this time for Camden Market. Camden Market is largely like every other market: a lot of jewelry, cards and prints, candles, and knick knacks. I was more intrigued by the boat passing through the set of locks next to the market. I bought a Portuguese egg tart, and it was easily the best egg tart I’ve ever had. Figuring I should have more than just an egg tart for lunch, I browsed the extensive food area of the market. The thing that stood out to me was called ‘cachapas’. It’s a corn pancake with fried chicken, pickled onions, fried cheese, and mayo inside. It was not a light lunch by any means, but tasted good. 

My next destination was Hampstead Heath, a large park north west of Camden Market. It took 30mins to walk to the edge of the park. The park was not what I was expecting. There were a lot more trees and hills than I was expecting. At the opposite side of the park there’s an estate house. I was thinking that I would be able to get to the house because I’d see it across the park. Not even kind of. Even when I was at the top of a hill, I couldn’t see it. The hill was also a look out point over the city, giving you a nice view of the city.

Not exactly sure if I was heading in the right direction, I started walking towards Kenwood House. It didn’t help that the park had not straight paths and I was veering back and forth. Eventually I hit the edge of the estate grounds and it was relatively easy to find my way to the house from there. 

Kenwood House, once occupied by the Earls of Mansfield, was given over to the state after Lord Iveagh worked tirelessly to prevent it from being torn down in order to develop the land. Iveagh’s only request was that the house be accessible, open, and free. So it’s free to get in. The building houses a large art collection, which to my irritation were not labeled in any way. There were some Rembrandts in there, so I was told. 

After taking a peek around some more of the grounds, I slowly started to make my way out of the park. It took a while because there aren’t actually a lot of entrances to the park near the house. 

Eventually I made it back to Mara’s. She had lots of food left over from the lunch she had hosted, so I snacked on that in place of a proper dinner. We had tickets to see a musical at a small theatre above a pub in the evening. We somehow took the bus in the wrong direction and ended up at the mall instead of the pub. We called an Uber to take us to the pub, but even then we were 10mins late. 

The play was called Bad Girls and was about life in a women’s prison. The main plot point was that one of the guards sexually abused the inmates, and they wanted to get him in trouble before he was promoted to a higher position. It was all dramatized though, as one can expect. Having listened to the podcast Ear Hustle and having a better idea of what life in prison is actually like, I couldn’t help but think to myself ‘that would never actually happen like that’ at certain points. The ending was rather abrupt too. But it was fun to see a performance at a small venue with actors and actresses that probably have day jobs. 

On Sunday Mara made pancakes for breakfast which was served with the much coveted real maple syrup. Mara wanted to see Hampton Court Palace but the time it would take us to get there wouldn’t leave us much time to actually spend there before I needed to get back to the centre of London to catch the train. Instead, we went to the National Gallery (not to be confused with the National Portrait Gallery right next door). There wasn’t any special exhibits going on, which Mara was especially upset about because she missed the Courtauld Collection of Impressionism paintings. The National Gallery has a decent collection of paintings, but the gallery containing my favourites like Van Gogh and Monet was closed. They moved a couple of paintings into a different gallery so you could still see them, but it’s too bad I couldn’t see all of them. (This happened to me at the Louvre as well; the rooms with Monet and other artists in the 1800s was closed 🙄). I also saw this painting:

Which is, in my mind, an iconic painting from high school art history. (The Arnolini Portrait by Jan van Eyck). Fun fact: she’s not pregnant; it’s their wedding portrait. 

I was taking the Eurostar to Paris at 4:30, so Mara and I headed our separate ways after finishing with the National Gallery. Because the sun had set by the time we were travelling through France, I didn’t get to enjoy the country whipping past the window. It was a largely uneventful trip, except that the lady across the aisle had a prosthetic arm (if you can call that an event…). 

Just like that, I was in Paris. But I’ll go into detail about that segment of the trip in another post. 

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