london, day two

We had breakfast in a little cafe (what New Yorkers call a coffee shop, a real working-person's breakfast spot) in R's neighbourhood. This was my only opportunity to have a full English breakfast on this trip, and it was yummy.

We got a bit of a late start, but that was probably best in the long run. I either did poor research or didn't fully take in what I was reading, because we didn't realize the British Library was no longer part of the British Museum. Last time we were in London, the British Library was closed for its massive renovation. I had really enjoyed it when I was here before, and I knew Allan would want to see it. So first we went to the British Museum, learned our mistake, and got back on the tube to the King's Cross, where the new British Library is located.

The exterior is an unprepossessing building, but the interior is white and light and airy, designed around a glass-encased tower of books, known as The King's Library, with seating all around it. Scores of people were working in the open, sitting in chairs of very clever design - each comfy chair a small L, with a desk for a laptop and a side table for papers and books. There are also standing spots, where you can lean against a tall, slanted back support.

The Library's permanent exhibit has been updated and modernized. When I was there in 1985, if I recall correctly, it was a parade of male British writers and British historical documents. I do also remember seeing a Mozart score. I was still an English major at heart and that was fine with me. Now they've widened their lens. Along with Shakespeare and the Beowulf manuscript, there are early printed documents from China, Japan, Korea, and India, and along with the Gutenberg bibles there are korans and hagaddahs. The music section includes a Beatles display, and there are female authors other than Jane Austen. Also Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and many gorgeous illuminated manuscripts, which I love.

We only went to the permanent exhibit, although there were two current exhibits, one on propaganda and a beautiful display on the detective novel. There's also a huge philatelic collection, contained in a wall of metal plates, stacked side by side, that you can pull out to view. One interesting stamp we saw: from the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland: judenpost.

In between the British Library and meeting Mara at her workplace, we thought we'd see some of London's great new architecture. We took the tube to London Bridge, came above ground, turned the corner, and WOW, there was The Shard. It's an exciting building.

We walked around to see it from different angles. Looking straight up, against a background of sky and drifting clouds, you get the disconcerting illusion that the building is falling towards you. Because of the building's transparent skin, it looks different at different times of day.

I gather from the media that Londoners have been put off by how expensive it is to visit the observation area - "The View From The Shard" - and how far in advance you have to book: advanced tickets at £25, day-of £30. Then we saw the kicker: "Immediate Access: £100." If you have the dough, you don't have queue up with the riff raff. A class system even for a tourist attraction.

We also saw City Hall, where Mara is working right now, and the top of "The Gherkin", which resembles a giant dildo more than a pickle. Although we didn't see it close up, it seems unappealing in the distance. The shape is interesting but the colour and pattern of the skin seems tacky.

When Mara got out of work, we took a long and seemingly complicated tube ride to Chiswick (pronounced "chis-ick"), and met Justin and their daughter A at a beautiful pub, the Duke of Sussex, a great setting and a really interesting Spanish-themed menu. We ordered a lot of food and wine, and had a really nice time. Mara's daughter is an amazing girl - smart, precocious, adorable, and altogether charming.

When it was almost A's bedtime, Dad and daughter took off, and Allan and I went to another pub and had a quick pint with Mara. Everyone inside was watching a Chelsea v Tottenham game. Neighbourhood pubs are one one of my favourite things about the UK. (They are disappearing, too. I'm told that in the country overall, an average of three pubs close each week.)

We went back to Mara's to see her flat, then a long tube ride back to R's neighbourhood. I love the tube. (We used the hell out of our day passes.) And I love London! This visit was mainly to see friends, but just being in this great city gives me such a charge. I fell in love with London on my first time there in 1982, and only like it more every time I've been back.

This morning we were up very early. R drove us to the tube, which we took to the St Pancras Station, and are now in Paris!

Some photos of London architecture are here.


Amy said...

All those new buildings! I imagine London looks quite different from when we were there in 1995.

Did you take the Chunnel to Paris? Have a great time there. I can't wait to see your photos. I am going to go look on Google Images for The Shard and the Gherkin!

johngoldfine said...

Pubs are closing for a lot of reasons, though the rate is slowing--but there was a time when they were going down one a day.

The OS maps that I still use from the 90s are no longer necessarily accurate when they indicate that a village, hamlet, or town has a pub. Often when I arrive, famished for a pint, the old pub's boarded and derelict. Sad.

Also sad is to come to a larger town which once had two, three, or even four pubs around a central square--and to see only one left.

I was in Weymouth in January, and it seemed to have an amazing number of pubs, not surprising perhaps so close to the old RN base in Portland. I was told that the area used to be famed for having so many pubs that one could drink for a year and never cross the same threshold twice.

No longer the case.

Still, England and the UK seem unable to completely quite shake off their little quirks and eccentricities--so there are still a few pubs with separate lounge or saloon bars, snuggeries, ale served from pitchers brought directly from the cellar, pubs with only space for a half-dozen patrons, pubs with official pub dogs, etc. And there are still times when I come on a welcoming pub in what seems like the middle of nowhere.

Which is wonderful!

laura k said...

I added the links. For the buildings I did Google image searches. We are taking a lot of photos, as always, but we don't bother with them while we're away.

London is really one of the greatest cities in the world. It has so much energy, and great unexpected beauty. It would be strange if it hadn't changed a lot in almost 20 years!

Amy said...

You had to remind me it's been almost twenty years since we were there...sigh.

laura k said...

I do find all those pub closures very sad, and although I don't dislike change generally, I can find nothing positive in this one.

To me the UK is still loaded with wonderful pubs, because to me they are brilliant novelties. In Ireland, we heard traditional music and watched sports with locals in every town we pulled into. In London friends always suggest terrific pubs with beautiful wordwork and etched glass. But for anyone who lives there and cares about these places, it must be very depressing.

johngoldfine said...

Another depressing thing is to go to an old pub that's been 'improved' and modernized inside in particularly tacky fashion. If that's what it takes to keep the place alive, okay, understood--but it's still awful to see plastic and crap a few inches from medieval timbers and stonework.

My experience is that the further away from things the pub is, if it is still in business, it is likely to be relatively unspoiled. I've been to some wonderful pubs in the Yorkshire Dales, coastal Cornwall, the Welsh Marches, Scottish border counties....

laura k said...

You had to remind me it's been almost twenty years since we were there...

You keep saying 1995! I figure you can do the math. :)

laura k said...

but it's still awful to see plastic and crap a few inches from medieval timbers and stonework.

That would be killing.

I love when a pub serves great food - I don't think that part has to stay in the middle ages, or the 1950s, for that matter - and upgrading the creature comforts is fine in my book. Like a functioning women's washroom!

But why people need to "upgrade" beautiful cratsmanship is beyond me.

johngoldfine said...

Women's washrooms in the pub? Never been a problem for me!


The men's bogs in the UK often use a trough instead of the individual urinals found in USAian men's rooms. But the troughs are quite modern, constant Niagara stream, stainless steel etc.

The only urine trough I think I've ever seen in the USA was at Fenway Park!

Now, I'm going to read about your day in the City Of Light, and perhaps something to remark on other than boulevard pissoirs will swim up out of the muck of my mind.

laura k said...

Ah, the famous Fenway trough. I haven't seen it, but it sounds... *shudder*.

Women's washrooms are one very nice thing about modern ballparks. And today I had the dubious pleasure of using one of the new automatic public washrooms here in Paris.

Yes, perhaps a change of subject is in order... :)

Amy said...

Yes, I CAN do the math, but I hadn't! It just doesn't feel like twenty years ago!