Wednesday, February 4, 2009

London Calling

In Charlotte Bronte's novel Villette, the main character, Lucy Snowe, arrives in London for the first time alone. 

She says, "Descending, I went wandering whither chance might lead, in a still ecstacy of freedom and enjoyment; and I got-I know not how-I got into the heart of city life. At the West-end you may be amused, but in the city you are deeply excited."

Deeply excited was the way I felt when I discovered London for the first time. Watching haughty guards with black poms poms perched on their heads carry the British flag across Buckingham Palace, seeing the Rosetta Stone, posing with the doorman at Harrod's-everywhere I looked there was something new, historic, dazzling-and expensive. 

        The Rosetta Stone                            
Within our first step we discovered London's high cost of living.

My roommate and I walked into Victoria Station with our hefty backpacks and the flushed faces of tourists. We were ready to conquer London. But first to find a bathroom. I found a "loo," only to discover you had to pay 20 p. to enter the bathroom. 20 p. to pee! Ridiculous. That was the first eye-opener that England really is the most expensive city in the world. 

We took a 10 pound cab-ride to our hostel in Bayswater, London. The hostel had white columns, was next to luxury condos, bordered Hyde Park and was near a pub called Whiskey's. Jackpot. It had to be good.

We entered the hostel to the blast of crooning emo-music, a mildewy/b.o. smell and a disinterested girl at the front desk with a lip ring and boyish red hair cut. Hostel life here we come. We learned we had to pay 39 pounds each for two nights, 5 pounds for a lock, 10 pounds for a security deposit and then 5 pounds if you want to rent a towel. Note to self: bring a towel and lock next time.

We walked into our room where a red, jungle gym array of bunk beds were smashed together. After fumbling with the lock for our bags for 25 minutes, we rushed out of the hostel for the non-B.O. smell of the city.

Like Lucy Snowe, we got into the heart of city life. We visited the British Museum (which was free, thank goodness), and strangely enough contains the main artifacts of the world: the Rosetta Stone, Cleopatra's mummy, a piece of the Great Sphinx's beard. As I walked through its great dome and arching pillars, I thought how the museum really showcases how imperialistic Britain once was. 

Cleopatra's mummy

To add to our cultural experience we bought tickets five minutes before to "Jersey Boys," a musical about Franki Valli, the high-pitched, greasy-haired, Jersey boy of the 1950's. The show was as American as you can get.
Jamie and I in front of "Jersey Boys" at the Prince Edward Theatre.

We sat 8th row, in jeans, next to fur-clad old women. At intermission, we split a three-pound Haagen Das the size of a Chef Borardi container. We were living the good life. After the show we ate at an American diner called "Ed's," similar to Johnny Rockets. Very American. They had hamburgers and shakes (yes!) along with a grand selection of beer and wine. 

We walked through part of crowded Tottenham Court Road. We were in a little cobblestone street but it felt like Time's Square. Horns tooted, men on bicycle cabs yammered, people spilled out of pubs, there was life everywhere.

We spent the next day perusing Hyde Park. We saw an Indian family getting attacked by swans and pigeons, little children playing soccer games outside Kensington Palace, and dogs frolicking leash-less through the park. I wanted to live there.

Family getting attacked by birds in Hyde Park
Throughout the afternoon, we watched the changing of the guards, took pictures of Big Ben and the London Eye, wandered into the National Portrait Gallery and about Trafalgar Square. I remember standing in Trafalgar Square and turning in a small circle. At every step I could snap a picture of something beautiful-the grand facade of the South African embassy, the two fountains, the Gaza protests and armed police. And in the foreground, in front of the National 


Portrait Gallery, behind the man singing jazz into a microphone, and behind the straggly-haired hippy chalking "All You Need Is Love," on the ground, was Big Ben. I felt happy, amazed, like Lucy would when she saw this. 

Our last stop was Harrod's. I can't comprehend the sheer opulence of the place-it puts Marshall Field's to shame. Harrod's has everything: a bank, an optometrist, a pet parlor, boards of Clue, a room dedicated to meat...One wonders why you would ever need to leave. We walked into Harrod's "Ludree," their tea room where you can have a 21-pound tea underneath shelves of pretty little pink and green boxes.  We settled on 1-pound Krispy Kremes.

The doorman at Harrod's and I

After two days in London, I was ready to return to my simple room, eat a free dinner, and pee in a free bathroom. But I can't wait to go back and see more.

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