Thursday, August 7, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 45 = Paris, Day 1


 At 5:30 a.m. we said goodbye to our wonderful flat in South Kensington, loaded up a taxi with two months' worth of belongings, and rode to St. Pancras to board the Eurostar!

I had no idea what it would be like to travel in the "chunnel" under the English Channel. The idea of it was a little unsettling, honestly. But the Eurostar traveled at such a high speed, the chunnel was barely a blip. Suddenly we were in France. The whole ride from London to Paris was under two hours.









Day 45 London rapidly becomes Day 1 in Paris! 

We rented a great little flat in Neuilly-Sur-Seine, a rather posh section of Paris, with a dreamy French bakery directly across the street. We dropped our bags in the apartment, and headed straight to the boulangerie to load up on all sorts of breads and quiches and tarts. Divine!

 We bought a 5-day Metro pass and went straight to the Louvre...then after one look at the line decided not to go inside, but walked through the Tuilerie Gardens instead. We felt no pressure and had no schedule, and were perfectly content just to wander. Paris is such a beautiful city, and we just soaked it all in...and got soaked ourselves! After almost no rain the whole time we were in England, we were excited to pull out the umbrellas in Paris. We strolled past shop after shop, admiring the fashions and dying over the prices.

Our friend Eliza gave us a fabulous list of restaurants in Paris. Our first official mission was the perfect creperie. Restaurants in Paris open for dinner at 7, so we had to wander a little longer than expected. But as the list recommended, on Rue des Canettes we found a creperie that was positively divine, and ate salad crepes, steak crepes and dessert crepes to our heart's content.

For our final activity of the day, we purchased a boat tour on the Seine at sunset. There's Notre Dame in the distance, below the stormy sky. Cruising down the river was so romantic, and so Parisian—People were dancing to live music on these outdoor plazas on the banks of the Seine. I wanted to join them!
The boat ride wrapped up right at the Eiffel Tower, all lit up after dark. Spectacular! The perfect introduction to Paris!




Wednesday, August 6, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 44

The Home Stretch Marathon

This was the day we tried (and failed) to check off all the remaining items on our list before we leave London. I'll just make a quick list:

One last breakfast at My Old Dutch: Dutch pancakes topped with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, another topped with fresh lemon juice and powdered sugar, yet another with bacon, tomato, and romaine. Ah, the possibilities are endless!

We also took one last peek inside the church across the street. 



The Holocaust Exhibit at the Imperial War Museum (An incredibly sobering and emotional experience. You leave determined for nothing like that to happen again...yet terrified that it potentially could. Especially effective is the way they set the stage, showing conditions in Germany, and the ways racism and discrimination grew for five years before Hitler came into power.)

Sir John Soanes Museum If there's a classy version of a hoarder, this is it. (Famous 18th Century architect whose entire house is now a museum. The house has never changed since his death. You see fragments and details from great architecture through the ages, from the Egyptians, the Greeks and more. It was fun to see what inspired him, and try to understand his creative process. I especially loved that there were floor-to-ceiling bookcases in every room of this fascinating house.)

Heperian Museum (Right through the park, directly opposite John Soanes' house, is this 18th century surgical museum.) I had no idea what to expect. Most fascinating—an entire roomful of glass jars, stacked five shelves high—showing specimens and dissections. There are all kinds of animals—from a baby hyena to an alligator to a kangaroo. Pieces of humans are preserved as well—including organs (liver, lung, pancreas, etc.) and every stage of a developing fetus, month by month, all preserved in formaldehyde, looking as fresh as if they were taken yesterday.


An Art Installation at the Tower of London commemorating the 100th anniversary of World War I. There is a red ceramic poppy "planted" for each Briton who died in the war...over 1.6 million in total, spilling out of the tower, surrounding the walls and flooding the grounds. The quote accompanying the exhibit says, "Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red." Sobering.







Final walk to the BFI. Goodbye, London Eye. Goodbye, Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. Goodbye, St. Paul's. Goodbye, Tower Bridge and River Thames. We'll miss you.


Dinner at Rocca. Back to our favorite Italian restaurant for a parting dinner with our co-director and his family.

Then it was time to pack.
We realized this city is truly inexhaustible. It doesn't matter how long you stay here, I don't think you could ever run out of wonderful things to see and adventures to discover.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 43

Appointment at Tate Britain

Okay, this might be the coolest of everything I've done in London so far. I was able to make an appointment to spend the morning in the Prints and Drawings room of the Tate Britain. This is a bigger deal than it sounds, since the Tate owns more than 37,000 of Turner's works on paper.
You can request anything you'd like to see, and they have it ready for you when you arrive. Your own private showing.
I requested to see some pieces I'd seen 15 years ago there—part of an exhibit called Turner on the Seine.

Some are unfinished, just sketches—you'll never see these exhibited. Here especially (even though Turner died in 1850), I felt like I was having an intimate dialogue with the artist...like he was right there in the room, and we were having a conversation.











My dad had also told me that in that room you can see a gorgeous little watercolor of a waterfall by Thomas Girtin that is probably the most beautiful watercolor he's ever seen. So I requested to see that one too.

The woman ran a search and said it was loaned to another exhibition and never returned. (Art theft!) But she did pull out these two gems from and old portfolio Girtin and Turner had worked on together. She turned page after page while I ooohed and aaahed.  At one point I said, "We're past our time. I don't want to keep you on your lunch hour." And her droll reply was, "Don't think I'm not enjoying this too!"










Tate to Tate boat

More coolness: there is a boat that takes you from the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern along the Thames. Of course we chose that over the tube! In just about twenty minutes we had cruised down the Thames and were at the next museum.

Matisse

Matisse's Escargot is part of the permanent collection at the Tate Modern
The Tate Modern had a special exhibition of Matisse Cut-outs: My favorites of all his work! We saw room after room of wonderful shapes and delightful colors, plus the Oceania series he'd done for his own bedroom, and the originals designs for the Chapelle du Rosarie de Vence in France—everything from stained-glass windows to clergy robes—his magnum opus. Matisse said he “wanted those entering the chapel to feel themselves purified and lightened of their burdens.” Very inspiring. Last we saw the piece that always makes me smile: Escargot (The Snail).

Dinner at the Tate Modern
Museum food is notoriously pricey and disappointing. However, some of the best—and most reasonably priced—food we had in London was in the cafeteria near the exit at the Tate Modern. We were all thrilled with our selections.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

photo by Brinkhoff/Moegenburg, via BBB
Our last show in London was also one of our favorites: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (based on the novel by Mark Haddon, which I read years ago in California). I'm running out of superlatives to describe London Theatre. The performances were astonishing. They used every possible device to put the audience inside the mind of a teen with Asberger's. We were blown away by the graphics, the set design, the sound design, and all the use of technology, in addition to the brilliant acting. It was quite the experience.

There is a phenomenon in London that is like our family fantasy come true: They serve Haagen-Dazs during the interval at every single theatre we visited. At first we resisted. But little by little they hooked us, and we paid the exhorbitant 3-4 pounds to share a tiny tub of our favorite ice cream.

Monday, August 4, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 42

Dover!

For our last day trip from London, we chose to take a train down to Dover.

There is so much to explore in and around Dover Castle. One of our favorite adventures there (besides the castle itself) was the underground war tunnels, including an army hospital. Sorry—no photographs allowed. They need to keep the location a secret in case they ever need to use the tunnels again.





The cab ride from the castle to the cliffs was only five pounds. We had a fantastic time hiking over and around the famous White Cliffs of Dover. At one clear point in the day we could actually see France beckoning from across the channel.

































We got back just in time to make a screening of some short 1914 silent movies from the BFI archives (Chaplin, newsreels and more). Another perfect day!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

45 Days in London: Day 41



After a strawberry-and-whipped-cream laden breakfast at Wafflemeister, we got to Buckingham Palace nice and early to stake out our space outside the gates.

Ever since I was a little girl and my grandfather sang the Christopher Robin songs, I've wanted to see the Changing of the Guard. The Ernest Shepard illustrations in the songbook make the dream even more magical.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace. 
Brrrum-bum-bum-bum. 
Christopher Robin went down with Alice. 
Brrrum-bum-bum-bum

In all the times I've been to London, that has never worked out to see the changing of the guard until today. We loved the parade and the pageantry, the horses, the pennywhistles, the drummers and the marching band. Plus, what's not to love about red coats and tall black fur hats (unless you have to wear them in the summer in London!)?

Just before they make the official swap of fresh guards for sleepy ones, the band stands in front of the palace and plays a number or two. (Who knew?) Not sure whether this is for the queen's pleasure, or to gratify the crowd clamoring outside the gates. This morning they played a medley of numbers from the musical Les Miserables, which we thought was a little funny. Perhaps we were expecting something more regal? Or more British?
They exit to the right of the palace, and the crowds disperse.





From the palace we walked along St. James's Park to Trafalgar Square.


Just around the corner from the National Gallery is the
National Portrait Gallery. My favorite was the one of Paul McCartney, done by his brother's friend. (But for some reason I don't have a picture of it?)
The contemporary ones are by far the most fun, but it was also wonderful to see the faces of all those famous characters in British history, immortalized on canvas.







We went to Evensong at St Paul's this afternoon. I'd forgotten how stunning it is inside! It's also mind-blowing to think that there has been a church on that site since the year 600! While steeped in all that history and tradition, the service at St. Paul's was more liberal and progressive than at Westminster. No boy choir. Female pastor. Led almost entirely by women. It seemed to be all things green and fair trade and equal opportunity. Very interesting.

The sermon referred to a youtube video, where a young woman responded to some racist behavior (unaware that she was caught on camera) by asking, "Where is your great and loving heart?" She went on to plead for kindness, compassion, peace and healing. It prompted us all to look at the way we respond in heated situations, and how powerfully love can deescalate a tense situation.