A Travellerspoint blog

England

Days 13+14+trip post-mortem: Who Knows Where The Time Went?

sunny 75 °F

Please forgive me, Europe blog, for I have neglected you. It has been a month and a half since my last confession and in that time I have not wanted to release the tethers on you. I’ve been back in DC for three times as long as my trip was, yet I still get a kick out of people who I haven’t seen for a while saying “welcome back!” (Happened just last night, in fact!) When you go far away and write about it, it seems everyone gets to share in some part. That’s been one of the great revelations of my having taken this trip, and keeping this blog – which I actually set up in the very same coffeeshop where I’m presently writing – has been, and most likely will remain, a definitive element. Looking at my stats, as of September 3, this blog received 6,853 individual hits – obviously way more than I might’ve expected. Somewhere on the trip I saw a quote from Anais Nin which reminds me of my process of keeping this log: “As writers, we get to taste life twice: once, in the experience, and another time in the retelling.” And to think, the retelling is free! So thanks for following along, friends.

Why have I waited so long to compose this? Ha! Well, I left my last day to write about and for weeks afterward I told myself and others that I could still pretend I was on my trip so long as I hadn’t finished the last entry. But with Fall, 2010 steadily approaching (it’s awfully chilly in here, and I’m wearing jeans and a long-sleeve), the days starting to get shorter and the dog days waning, I think that time has come to say goodbye gracefully to one of my seminal life experiences. And for the record there was a portion of intentionality in waiting so long to compose my last entry. I’m interested in how memory gets reshaped over time, and especially the memory of travel, where stimuli are constantly being taken in, where everything is new and unfamiliar. Much of that can be retained over the days which follow being in a certain place, but how much can I recall after almost two months hence? I should admit that I do have photographs to help jog those memories.

My final day in Europe prior to departing London, began, as many others did along this trip, with a late start, due to the previous evening dancing adventures with new London friends. (Who I’m happy to report I’m still in communication with via Facebook!) I have no memory of leaving Des’s place, although I’m sure I had a vague feeling of a soon-to-expire clock hovering above me. I remember having the feeling in the last few days of the trip that being in the “lame duck” period of the trip meant that I felt as if the trip was already over, and it felt continually surprising that I’d walk out the door and still be in a place like London.

I walked over one of the Thames bridges (probably the Waterloo) and found my way to Covent Garden, an area I hadn’t yet explored. It was a Saturday afternoon and the area felt overrun with tourists, food and drink vendors, and pedestrians lolling about. I was struck by the sound of a folky street musician singing in a sort of "British James Taylor-style" voice. I stopped and took in a tune, then during a song break went up to purchase a CD from him. In a quick plug, Terry St. Clair told me he had a song featured on the Kevin Costner film The Upside of Anger, and after asking me where I was from, mentioned that he had recently toured through Connecticut. I’ve really enjoyed this CD at home; it’s so nice when happenstance does all of the work of uncovering a hidden musical gem who I certainly never would’ve heard otherwise. I also stroll past a large crowd watching a street performer attempting to knock a match out of a young man's mouth using a yo-yo!

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I haven't posted any other videos from the trip (I took a few, and may get around to posting them on earlier entries... the beer-soaked Germans and their football win over Argentina ones are pretty awesome), but here's one of Terry St. Clair singing in Covent Garden:

I continued walking through Covent Garden and made my way through the old, grimy streets of London toward the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, which I’d seen but hadn’t yet been inside. On the way there, I stop into a cute vegetarian restaurant on Neal St. called Food For Thought, which had been recommended to me by John, way back on the flight to London. After a tasty lunch and a quick stop into a coffeeshop for an iced mocha, I continued on toward the museum. Walking over a curb, I took a nasty spill over a curb and landed with my camera crashing down to the ground. Thankfully, outside of a cosmetic dent on the lens filter, nothing seems awry. (Also, I enjoy the peace of mind that the 3-year full warranty I purchased would have covered any damage anyway. Thanks Colin!)

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Sadly for my current memory bank, photographs weren’t allowed inside the National Gallery, so I’ll have to try to piece together what I remember enjoying. (Although I did get a few in before being made aware of this, and I've got the notes I took in my iPhone to jog that memory!) This is an enormous, impressive place – perhaps not as massive as the Louvre (what is?) but still, the sort of museum one could spend hours and hours inside. There were three works by Caravaggio which I sought out, and I was happy to add these to the list of the great master’s works I’ve seen around the world. I particularly enjoyed Parmigianino's The Madonna and Child With Saints, Boilly's A Girl at a Window, and da Vinci's The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist; the description tells of da Vinci's use of sfumato, "a subtle blending of light and soft shadow, featuring changes in light, facial expression, and emotion." Also, the late 19th century collections seem particularly impressive; lots of Van Goghs (like the famous "chair" painting below), plus a heavy emphasis on Impressionists and other modernists: a few which made an impression (so to speak) were Pissarro's The Boulevard Montmartre at Night, Eduoard Vuillard's The Earthenware Pot, Seurat's The Bathers at Asnieres, plus others by Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, and a detailed presentation on the influences of Seurat's pointillism.

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After spending only around an hour here (I’ve mastered this drive-by style of tourism!) I exit and head toward the water to check out the restored Globe Theatre, which numerous people had told me not to miss. On the way, I weave my way through street vendors selling old books and maps of London and the Thames, which feels apt since I happen to be walking right by it. I also pass by a statue dedicated to Edith Cavell, whose name rings a bell, and the emblazoned dedication really sticks out: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness toward anyone.” I make a mental note to investigate further later on and I find out that Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was executed by the Germans in 1915; her martyrdom was used as a rallying cry for Great Britain as it entered the first World War.

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I arrive at the Globe just prior to the opening of Henry IV, Part 1, and as I pass by the thatched roof performance space, the actors are shouting at people to enter and find their seats. Obviously the concept of this replica of Shakespeare’s theatre, built in 1997 close to the location of the original Globe, is to present the Bard’s works in a historically “authentic” manner, which is such a refreshing change from the fussy, didactic way his works are often presented in the US. As I get up to the ticket booth, however, I’m disheartened to find out that all of the “groundling” (read: cheap standing room only) tickets are sold out. I do my best to talk my way in at the gate, telling a nice older woman that I actually only wanted to take a few photos, but she advises me to hang out in the lobby. Eventually the ticket rep finds a 5 pound ticket for me and I enter the theatre, joining loads of other tightly packed audience members surrounding the front of the stage. Along the back and sides are hundreds more higher-paying patrons, and its so cool to feel something approximating what it might have felt seeing theater in Shakespeare’s time. I watch about 40 minutes of the show, which is excellent, and feel guilty in scrambling out, yet I know time is of the essence and there are a few more things I want to squeeze into my final day.

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On the way out I stop into the gift shop and pick up a few tokens for a few Shakespeare lovers in my life, as well as a pocket sized copy of Romeo & Juliet which I imagine might come in handy on the subway someday. I leave the Globe, and come to realize that my camera battery has died (a problem I had yet to run into during the while trip!) so I resort to capturing my trip's final European sunset, gorgeously cresting over the Thames, with my iPhone camera. The remainder of the photos I took that evening, obviously, were taken with my phone.

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The Tate Modern museum came highly recommended, and I enter at 6pm, with an hour before it closes. (Both the Tate and the National Gallery were free, so I feel less guilty about these brazen drive-bys!) Not surprisingly, the Tate is starkly different from the National; I really enjoy how modern art museums are forced to think outside of the box in terms of design and presentation in order to appeal to an audience which probably contains more skeptics than traditional museums. There’s work of famous artists like Picasso and Miro to be found in the Tate, but I also enjoy the quirky work of unfamiliar names like Barnett Newman, Hermann Nitsch, and Arnulf Rainer.

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After stopping into the impressive gift shop to buy a few postcards, I leave the Tate well in advance before it closes and walk along the river toward the direction of Borough Market, where Des’s roommate Will had recommended. (About 15 minutes into the walk I realize I’d left my bag of Globe and Tate postcards in the bathroom at the Tate and make a mad dash back to pick them up. Thankfully they hadn’t walked off!) With the evening having passed into darkness, I pass by the ruins of Winchester Palace, Southwark Cathedral, church of Chaucer and Shakespeare, and the infamous Clink prison, now a popular bar! I take a bit of a detour toward London Bridge, if for no other reason, to take a photograph of it and Facebook post it with the byline: “Contrary to popular belief, London Bridge is not falling down.” (Done and done.) Burough Market, apparently an outdoor street fair held on weekends, is closed by the time I pass by it, so I resolve to add it to my next visit, whenever that may be.

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The next too-large chunk of time is spent walking in the direction of the piano bar Des had recommended I drop into, which is along the opposite side of the river back in the direction of Westminster Abbey. It takes me a good 45 minutes to walk that far, but walking along the banks of the Thames is pleasant, and I finally find it, settling in with a pint. Talking up strangers, I resolve to not-give-a-damn and to throw social caution to the wind on the final evening of my trip. (In hindsight, I feel this uninhabited quality in social situations clearly cultivated over this trip has stuck with me to this day – since I’ve been back I seem to have collected quite a few new friends!) The bar picks up after an hour or so and the music is grand. There’s something soul-charging about the energy of an entire room of people singing familiar songs which I remember from my days working at Mimi’s in Dupont Circle a few years back, and its nice to experience that again, even if I did find this place a bit more challenging to meet friends. Toward the end of the night, a few solo singers take the stage to sing renditions of “Over the Rainbow” and “Get Here,” a song I’ve been slightly obsessed with ever since. I love the experience of discovering songs which I was familiar with without realizing “how good they are!” (It only later dawns on me that the Eva Cassidy arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” which is approximated by a young singer was a song that had figured into my evening in Amsterdam at the beginning of my trip.) The piano player (a friend of Des’s) at long last fulfills my request to play Billy Joel’s Piano Man, and I sing out the challenging high G’s of the melody with all my soul. It’s funny how good singing can feel when you’re focused on the joy part and not the professional, performance part. That said, a few weeks ago at the Tuesday night “Live Karaoke” at Wonderland Ballroom in DC, I fulfilled my desire, initially instilled at this London bar, to perform this song. Suffice to say the house was brought down and the high Gs remained clear as a bell!

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As the bar winds down, I end up befriending two musicians who had performed in Bernstein’s Mass earlier in the evening, a concert I had seen posters for and considered attending. The “Over the Rainbow” singer is embroiled in some sort of gossipy, internecine quarrel regarding what she may or may not have said regarding another member of the choir, and the “Get Here” singer is overloading her with unsolicited character-improving advice. It’s sort of interesting to stand there and unintentionally eavesdrop, but I’m not a part of this social circle and my adrenaline is almost running out. Danilo, a friendly young classical guitarist, myself and the “Over the Rainbow” girl walk back toward Waterloo, and we stop to sit on a bench along the Thames, where I’m instructed to try out my British dialect. Suffice to say the girl’s American is better than my British! We keep walking and pick up some late-night grub from a food truck. We say goodbye and I amble back toward Des’s, then realize I’ve yet again left my bag of gifts and postcards somewhere, this time at the food truck. I sprint the half-mile back and arrive just as someone has picked them up. After reclaiming, I walk back and cap off a sort of anti-climactic final night, knowing I’ll have to wake up in only a few hours in order to make my train and flight out of Heathrow.

The following morning goes off smoothly, and without very much that sticks out, save for one fortuitous event. My cheapo plane itinerary has me flying from London to Ottawa (over Greenland! check out the photos below!), then Ottawa to Washington, and on the second flight I end up sitting across the aisle from a young woman who opens a book on Shakespeare. I strike up a conversation and it turns out she and her boyfriend had also been to the Globe in London. She’s a successful young documentary filmmaker and I think to bring up the grant I recently received through CuDC to produce a work based on “images of God.” Since that time, Yael has joined the OMG team as a full-on creative collaborator, and I chalk that chance meeting fully up to happenstance. Also, I recently found out that my new friends from Stile Antico will be performing one of the Tiny Desk concerts at the NPR offices in Washington, based upon a connection that I passed on. Add it to the list of synchronicitous events which came about as a result of this trip!

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How funny – the coffeeshop where I’m completing this final entry is playing Judy Collins’ gorgeous recording of “Who Knows Where The Time Goes,” and I can’t think of a more poignant and fitting musical conclusion to this log of coolmcjourneys. (Haha, usually they play punk here, so it’s really out of character!) Though I see no need to post anything else regarding this trip, I’ll certainly know where to turn to keep a record of future travel, which I am now mandating as a required condition in my life. I learned more about myself than I might have imagined on this trip, heard stunning music, saw thrilling art, fulfilling some crazy ambitions to see this chunk of the world, and did it all by myself, on was was basically a whim of a dare in a bar. What were lived, in-the-moment experiences now become framed photos on my bathroom wall, a daily reminder of the trip, though I’m reminded that any day can be a “frameable” day if we find the right beauty. I don’t know where the time went, but I know I enjoyed almost every second of it. London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, and Paris, and all in two weeks time - who woulda thunk it? Thanks for checking in this last time, friends (and reading this far!). Cheers and safe travels to all until next time. Hmm… Barcelona and the south of France, Summer 2011? Now that sounds just crazy enough to start looking into...

Posted by coolmcjazz 12:47 Archived in England Tagged london Comments (0)

Day 12, Part II: London (Re)introductions

sunny 80 °F

The "chunnel" ride back to London takes around two hours (so, like three dollars a minute?), and during that time I write this entry and begin to steel myself for the last few days of my trip. Arriving at St. Pancras station in London at around 19:40, after the start of the-concert-which-I-still-don't-know-the-location-of, I mull my options. Returning to Des’s place would clearly be the sensible thing to do. Buuut... screw it!, I say, I’m on vacation and I’m taking a risk! (Why do risks always seem to be expensive?) I hire yet another cab – who seems to have a general idea that it’s in the Chelsea/Park Walk area – to take me there. The cab driver is a real character, speaking in a (what I later found out was South London) brogue so thick that I could only understand, quite literally, about 20% of what he was saying. Lots, however, about immigrants and how they’re taking all the jobs, and about football matches and about his friends in America. A really friendly fellow, actually, and I tell him about my trip. About 20 minutes in, however, I realize the meter is steadily approaching 20 pounds (close to $30 US!) and I ask if we’re close. “No, we’re only about halfway there – you’re looking at around a 40 pound ride.” This is way more than I had anticipated – my iPhone GPS had said it was only 3 miles away! Seriously bummed, I ask if he can just drop me at a subway station so I can make the familiar deflated walk back to Waterloo. “Tell ya what, mate – I’ll cut off the meter at twenty and take you the rest of the way.” A stroke of good karma! I arrive at the concert, conveniently, right at intermission, which allows me to change my continent-leaping clothes and settle in. Funny how things work out.

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I first heard Stile Antico on Bernard Gordillo’s excellent Harmonia podcast on Indiana University station WFIU, and coincidentally my father purchased their Grammy-nominated (one of their two nods) Music for Compline CD a few years back, so I’ve been following them for a few years now. We’re also friends on Twitter! One of the distinctive things about Stile is, at least from a marketing perspective, the fact that the members seem to be all in their 20s or 30s, and their record label (the excellent Harmonia Mundi) has done a terrific job distributing their music. The concert, as expected, was gorgeous, focusing on hidden Tudor and Jacobean gems composed during the 16th century meant for private concerts. I was familiar with some of the composers like Thomas Tomkins, John Dowland, Thomas Campion, and Thomas Weelkes – um, what's with all the Thomas's, guys? – but also heard some revelatory works by the relatively unfamiliar Robert Ramsey, John Milton (father of the famous poet), Giovanni Croce, John Amner and Martin Peerson.

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Singing without a conductor and cuing their own entrances, Stile Antico sings with an incredible amount of precision and tonal purity, and their intonation is perfectly centered. It’s so nice to settle into this music after such a hectic day, and though smaller than other recently visited spots, the church is quite pretty. In between some of the pieces, a few of the group members step forward and recite (with comic flourishes) short texts contemporaneous to the music. At the conclusion of the concert, I stick around for the reception in the lobby with the hopes of introducing myself, and start chatting with Kate and Helen, two of three twin sisters in the group, Kate's boyfriend Matt (doppelgänger? Tom Hulce in "Amadeus!"), Rebecca, Oliver, the solid low bass, and Carris, who runs the Stile Twitter feed. (Haha, thanks for the shoutout!) We hit it off well – I play the role of the ignorant American and jokingly inform them that they've misspelled two words in their concert title, "Tune Thy Musicke to thy Hart." Who can spot the tourist in the following shots? ;)

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I’m invited out for a few pints and we make our way to an authentic-feeling local pub, where a much-appreciated traditional British pint, low in carbonation, high in smoothness, is purchased for me. We discuss European football, traveling, early music, why these neighborhood pubs close so early (!), Matt does an uncanny impression of what he (quite correctly) imagined my South London cab driver to have pontificated upon during my earlier trip, and it’s all great fun; I confess to the group that “this is exactly how I drew this night up!” Oh, serendipity. Stile will be singing in Boston in October and I wonder out loud if I might plan a trip home then; at the least I’ll try to send my folks! After we close the pub, I’m tossed into a cab which Kate’s boyfriend Matt graciously covers, and ancillary group member James gets me situated on my train back to Waterloo. Now, if I could only get this group booked on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert in DC… hmm…

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Not quite dead yet, I return to Des’s place, catch up with old pal Will on my travels, and head out around 23:00 to see what I can see of London on a Friday night. Heading in the direction of a piano bar Des had recommended, I remember he had also mentioned I should check out the pub attached to the Old Vic, which is only about two blocks away. I pop in, and sure enough there’s a lively scene. I end up making a gaggle of terrific new friends here – May (a local actress – I’ve met my London Kate Winslet-type, at long last!) and her younger sister, a dancer named Lily, both of whom I spent time chatting with, interspersed with a loopy guy named Sebastian (who though it’s drippingly hot is wearing a “jumper”… I needed clarification from May regarding the meaning of this term), and May and Lily’s friendly and fun cousins Wayne (doppelgänger? Pete Townshend on a good day), Emily, and Suzanne. After closing down the Old Vic pub around 1:00 we depart in the direction of Des’s to a late-night dance club, where the next two hours are spent dancing our faces, tails, and anything else that will move, off. This was such a fun night all around, with the introduction of lots of cool, interesting people in London, and I hope to keep in touch with all of them! God bless Facebook. The new friends barter for a cab, head on their way, and I walk the two blocks back to Des's, collapsing around 4am. I'd say I’m making the best of my few European hours which remain.

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Posted by coolmcjazz 08:35 Archived in England Tagged photography Comments (1)

Day 3: Lessons Learned?

(otherwise known as “the day that shall not be named” or “hopefully this is the low point of my trip” or “i wouldn't say i'm an expert traveler”)

sunny 80 °F

I awoke Wednesday morning after only a few hours sleep, and opened a message in which I’d been offered a luxury flat in Paris for two nights, for the grand total of $79! I had put myself on a “standby” list for Paris accommodations, and anyone who is on that list can be contacted by anyone looking to fill their rooms, making them a “special offer.” Though this centrally located, gorgeous flat was normally listed for $180 a night, the owner was offering me the place for the special rate of $40 a night! Although it seemed too good to be true, I figured it was a last-minute move on her part to fill the room on two weekday off-nights. Shuffing off the plans where my first impulse had directed me – which was to stay with a normal-seeming American couple in Ghent, Belgium, I accepted the woman's offer, packed up my things, hopped in a taxi to the St. Pancras/King’s Cross train station, and purchased an expensive (179 pounds!) train ticket to Paris. I order a nutella crêpe and cappuccino, and start writing at a table in the station.

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[We now interrupt this blog post to refer you, gentle reader, to the GIANT ASTERISK of a pause in the flow of writing in yesterday’s entry.]

At this very moment, I received an email from the woman in Paris, stating something to the effect that she “never agreed to rent me the place for $40 a night” (which she obviously DID…) and that she’d be happy to have me stay two nights for 300 Euro. Oh, how kind of you, Madam Bait-and-Switch. After a flurry of emails to her and to the not-open-for-another-three-hours airbnb headquarters in San Francisco, I realize I’ve been had. Perhaps not intentionally – I do believe this woman made an honest mistake, and didn’t know that when a “special offer” is made at a certain price, and a tenant accepts the offer, that should lock in the deal – but ultimately I was the one inconvenienced. Airbnb writes me to say that the woman is going to cancel the reservation, and I wasn’t about to travel to Paris without secure lodging in place. Unfortunately, the airbnb “support team” wasn't very helpful; after numerous requests for assistance they barely responded and weren’t very sympathetic to my situation, apart from implying it was a mistake so I should just suck it up. [Note: Since this time, they've contacted me and been a bit more apologetic, but still...] I canceled the train ticket to Paris; luckily since the ticket had been so expensive, it was fully refundable (phew), save for a 3 pound fee. I contacted the woman in Ghent in an attempt to salvage some travel plans, but of course by that point it was too late to book. After a morning spent booking travel plans, I wasted an entire afternoon at a train station, not going anywhere. And of course, my computer battery was dying. I hung my head, gathered my stuff, and headed back on the tube to Waterloo. The parallels to a defeated Napoleon were only too obvious. Also, I figured I could now squeeze in the eight miles I needed to reach my June goal! Sadly… THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Streak broken. :(

Back at Des’s, and resolving to DO SOMETHING and get the heck out of Dodge, I immediately got online and researched getting to Amsterdam. I figured that unless I made an effort NOW to travel toward the direction of Germany, if I traveled straight south to Paris and Toulouse, I probably wouldn’t make it that far west. I happened upon a terrific idea: I could take an overnight ferry to Amsterdam from Harwich, about a 2.5 hour train ride from London. Impulsively, but decisively (were these the winds I had been waiting for?), I booked the ferry and train tickets and got out the door, tubing it to Liverpool Station (hey, home of the Beatles! not really) and making the 21:30 train. I enjoyed the architecture of the Liverpool train station – like Waterloo, the station is indoors but appears to have originally been outdoors – look at this photo with the sign "HOTEL" adorning a building with is clearly inside, right next to the electronic schedule board!

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On the train, I sat next to a pleasant teenage girl who had just been to Wimbledon – said she paid 70 pounds for her ticket months ago, and had been offered 1,000 for it that day! All was going according to plan... however I departed at Manningtree for a transfer to Harwich, and when I walked to the track of the transfer train, found out that that train was… wait for it… broken. I wait for the replacement bus, sitting on picnic tables in the chilly, middle-of-nowhere station with a handful of locals and travelers. After some time, the bus picks us up, and the driver goes about 90mph trying to get us to the ferry. (I think someone even flipped him off on the road.) We passed through quaint English villages with ancient church graveyards, towns with British-sounding names like named Mistley, Ipswich, and Colchester.

Finally we arrive at the ferry dock, where I and another traveler get off the bus and head to the ferry. OK now – anyone want to take a stab at where this story is heading? At the gate, we’re told that although the ferry is still in the dock – we can see it just a ways ahead – the loading plank is up and no more passengers are being allowed on board. (The voice in my head asks “Even for desperate American travelers who already have one severely blundered travel story today?”) The guard tells us there’s another ferry leaving at 9am the following morning, and that there’s a b & b not far up the road, which sullenly I slink off to with a nice fellow named Bram. Bram is Dutch, friendly, and his even-toned demeanor has a nice calming effect on my pent-up frustration. He reminds me of Larry, the chess-playing manager for Franklin’s, a brewery I used to work at in Hyattsville, MD. Bram, however, has a PhD in Protein Crystalization – an area which I don’t even know enough about to know how little I know about it – but his work has something to do with the 3D imaging of protein molecules in order to build better pharmaceuticals, and he sells machines to enable this. We knock and the b & b owner comes down – he had “just retired” (which is what the English say when they mean they had just gone to bed, smirk), and he agrees to let us in at the rate of 60 pounds (and no less) for a room with two twin beds. We walk in and the smell of “old English house” hits me. Thankfully I had hit the cash machine before leaving Waterloo, and had exactly 30 pounds on me, and Bram scratched enough together to please the owner. I sleep in the surprisingly comfortable bed along with the sounds of the English countryside in my head – deep silence, an infrequent car engine, finally penetrated by yammering gulls in the early morning hours. We have a well-put together breakfast which for me features traditional baked beans, toast, and Weetabix, (“you don’t want any meat?!”) and have a chat with Don, the roly-poly, ruddy faced proprietor, who is in keener spirits at this hour – as am I after a good night's sleep, admittedly. Don purchased this guest house seven years ago and his wife died suddenly shortly after they moved in, and it’s moving to hear him tell this story, providing a nice human counterpoint to the annoyance I had about having to pay 30 pounds for the price of a bed a few hours previous. Hey, business is business, right?

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We make it to the 9am ferry by 7:30 and I have a pleasant chat with an Irish/Australian fellow in front of me in line named Paul, who is carrying his bike in a bag! Formerly he was on the Australian biking team, but crashed at 70mph in Tasmania, losing the ability to move his right arm significantly. He knows Boston via his knowledge of the Dropkick Murphys. (Doesn't everyone?) Presently I’m writing at a table across from Bram, and I can look out at the pleasantly passing waters of the English seas. I have a place booked in Amsterdam tonight, though sadly I won’t arrive until around 6pm – had the correct train been operating last night, I would’ve been there by 10am and had the day to spend. But… I’ll make the best of it and see what I can see tomorrow. Perhaps the Van Gogh museum? There are worse things. Also, I booked a cheap room for two nights (ooh) in Berlin for Friday and Saturday. I have left England and given yesterday’s battles I see this as a major victory. Lesson learned for future travel? Planning ahead pays off and helps to avoid situations like what transpired on Day 3. Anyway, onward and upward. A fine Belgian ale can’t make it to my lips quick enough!

Posted by coolmcjazz 01:32 Archived in England Tagged photography Comments (3)

Day 2: London, continued...

(in which I realize that the inside of a London flat is strikingly similar to the inside of a Washington, DC apartment)

sunny 80 °F
View European Adventure, June-July 2010 on coolmcjazz's travel map.

Well, I'm only partially being tongue-in-cheek, here, friends. Truth is, I think needed a good day of relaxing to counteract all the continent-leaping I'd been doing, and I took full advantage on Tuesday. As mentioned previously, I woke up a bit groggy from those hand-pulled ales (2, count em) Monday night, but the time spent at Greenfield's polishing up that mammoth first post (sorry) cleared my head out just fine. I then headed back to Des's and spent a few hours uploading photos and getting the post up. Suddenly I realized it was… 5pm (er, 17:00) and that a good portion of my day had been spent not sight-seeing. Blech. However, I put on my cultural awareness cap, opened up the magical interwebs, and happened upon a terrific concert opportunity within a few hours in London: Haydn's gorgeous and mammoth masterwork "The Creation" (Die Schöpfung), performed at St. Paul's Cathedral at 8pm (er, 20:00), by the terrific Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. I went online and booked the cheapest ticket available, way on the side ...

We interrupt this blog post from a train traveling from London to Harwich Town, England, calling attention to the fact that a GREAT BIG GIANT ASTERISK, which will be explained in Day 3, needs to follow the final clause of the preceding sentence. Carry on.

… of the giant church, in the furthest row back.

At this point it dawns on me that I in order to maintain my monthly running goal (a streak I have stubbornly kept up with since January), I must run 14 miles by the end of the month. Which is tomorrow. So… after scarfing down half a pizza and a cappuccino by Des's place, I lace up and bolt out the door, with the intentions of running toward St. Paul’s so I know where I’ll be for the concert. It’s a nice 6 mile run over the Chelsea Bridge and through loping, windy streets, passing numerous pubs (“why am I running when I could be joining these fellows?”) and people trudging home at the end of their work day. I run to King’s Cross, which I did not yet know would figure handily in the following day’s events.

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After returning home and showering, I briskly walk-run over the same path I had so recently conquered, and after finding my way through windy, ancient alleyways, arrive at St. Paul’s, yet another giant edifice soaring toward the sky. The British seem to like things that are very high; the broad, ornate exterior reminds me very much of the colossal churches of Rome. I’m there precisely at 8:00, and concert ushers standing on the giant steps direct me toward the ticket booth inside. I’m handed my ticket and just following a prayer (rather unfamiliar for a classical concert) and just before the conductor strides in, I hand my ticket to an elderly usher who whispers “walk straight up, turn left.” After taking another quick “cathedral punch” to the gut (see Westminster Abbey, Day 1), I pass by about 40 rows of people sitting in the center section all who have paid considerably more than I. I follow instructions and turn left, but as I do, I notice that the far right four chairs of the central section are, quite conveniently, unoccupied. Screw it, I think. What’s the worse they’ll say? “Is that your seat?” I’ll just say the concert was ready to start and I didn’t want to be walking around in search of my seat, which is the truth anyway. With the opening downbeat starting in about 10 seconds, I plop down. Somehow, I’ve scored 50 pound seats in the front row of the center section, about 15 rows back from the stage. What’s the English word for “win?”

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I’m not sure I can describe the music I heard last night. I’ll try to be brief. The opening chords, written by Franz Joseph Haydn just over 300 years ago, seemed to transport the entire hall and everyone in it to that period, especially given the dramatic atmosphere of St. Paul’s, where Haydn himself visited. (Sidenote: I remember discussing with Airplane John that I didn’t think London was known to be a great Mahler town, but it certainly is a great Haydn town, perhaps stemming from his own activities in this city. In fact, Haydn was inspired to write "The Creation" after two visits to London in the 1790s!)

Haydn wrote “The Creation” as a three-section oratorio, which attempts the rather weighty goal of depicting the world at its birth. To the extent that the aesthetic potential of Western classical music might be possible of such an undertaking, I think he succeeds. I must confess that I don’t know this piece all that well – I love Haydn’s piano sonatas, and I dutifully trudged through his tuneful trumpet concerto in high school competitions – but his music, the epitome of the classical style, has always seemed a touch on the “polite” side of the ecstatic spectrum for me. Not enough angst. Yet there it was last night: drama and passion and majesty, the quintessence of craftsmanship – I think perhaps it took hearing this music in its natural environs for me to “get it.” I wasn’t familiar with the Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer, but he was a real winner – sort of like a young Simon Rattle, a tuxedo-tailed marionette coaxing infinite gradations of tonal color, nuance, and ensemble blend from a clearly engaged orchestra of around 60, chorus of close to 100, and three exquisite vocal soloists. I love watching vibrant conductors who love what they do, and who conduct not just with their hands but with their entire bodies. Also, I particularly enjoyed the soloists, each one of whom led urgency, personality, and rock-solid technique to their solo and recitative sections – and, perhaps, most fittingly, the young, resplendent Welsh soprano Julia Doyle, while singing “The Creation,” was herself pregnant! Hearing this music will perhaps be my first entrance in my "Top 10 Musical Experiences of the 2010s" – anyone who read this entry on my other blog knows that that's pretty high praise from me.

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After the concert finished I took a few minutes to walk around the large cathedral (though perhaps not as massive as some of the churches I’ve seen in Rome), snapping photos. This technically wasn’t allowed, but no one said anything until I was just about ready to leave anyway. I found out that the concert of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony slated for July 8 was already sold out, which may end up altering my travel plans later in the trip – at the least, I’ve now seen St. Paul’s. (Though I neglected to look for the burial spot of cathedral's architect, Christopher Wren, whose epitaph states: "Reader, if you seek his memorial – look around you.")

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Outside the cathedral I spent a while taking photos of statuary, experimenting with camera angles and my 50mm-1.8 lens, then walked a bit around Paternoster Square, where I came upon an interesting, fairly recent statue ("Shepherd and Sheep," by Dame Elisabeth Frink), which I noticed had been dedicated by the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin. A rather bold statement put in a prominent location, but I liked it.

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After walking around the cathedral to take it in from different angles, I called it a night and walked back toward Waterloo. On the way I passed by a café where a young man was struggling mightily through “Heart and Soul” on a beat-up piano that had been left as part of a citywide piano festival. (There’s a similar thing going on in NYC right now, I believe.) After he left I played a few tunes myself, including Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day (in London Town)” and garnered some applause from passersby. I took a few artsy photos of the piano, walked back over the bridge to Waterloo and called it a night. When I got back to Des’s flat, I felt the strong urge to get a move on, feeling that apart from the great experience of St. Paul’s I’d wasted too much time not sight-seeing on Day 2. I spent time attempting to book some lodging options in Paris on the afore-mentioned "airbnb" site for the following evening, and got to sleep around 4am, excited about where I might end up the next day.

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PS – I have loads of pics from Day 2, but am about to dock in port, so will try to upload later. Still trying to figure out best photo uploading/maintenance system. {editor's note from Amsterdam: done and done.] :)

Posted by coolmcjazz 05:14 Archived in England Tagged photography Comments (4)

Day 1: A Landing in London

sunny 80 °F
View European Adventure, June-July 2010 on coolmcjazz's travel map.

Welcome friends! After a whirlwind trip from DC, with pit-stops in St. Louis, Dallas, and Toronto, I have ARRIVED in London, and am thoroughly crashed out from a packed first day of viewing many things which are MUCH taller than me.

A few rules I want to make for myself in keeping this blog:

1) I want to write EVERY day. (Even if I don't POST every day., though that would also be nice.) I don't know when I'll get back to this land, and as I plan on filling each day I want to have a record of where I've been, what I've seen, and who I've met.

2) I want to stick to the facts. I'd like to keep to a minimum any endless, wordy pontifications about the meaning of life and how I'm "finding" myself along this solo European adventure. (That won't happen anyway.) Just a record.

3) I'm not going to upload EVERY photo I take on the main page. Given how many I took in the first day alone, I wouldn't impose that much viewing on anyone, especially given my rank amateur status operating this brilliant yet mysterious new toy of unlimited potential. I'll post a larger collection in the "photo gallery" heading (if you want a more complete account of my overindulgent photo-taking, please visit by clicking on the right under "more photos") and just pick out a few highlights for the main page.

Keeping all these in mind... here we go!

I embarked from Dallas after a return engagement performing at the Corpus Conference, having staged a one-man show based on the fascinating Thomas Merton, written by theologian Anthony Padovano, also in attendance. Another wonderful experience with a terrific group of people (including my parents!) I flew first to Toronto for an uneventful 3-hour layover, save for a would-have-been-comical-where-I-not-so-hungry food service misunderstanding involving my lack of interest in mayonnaise (blech) on a veggie burger. On the tarmac and ABOUT TO EMBARK when lightning starts up and all ground crew must abandon positions. We sit there waiting out the rain... for 2 hours and 40 minutes! A slight annoyance, but we eventually get in the air. On the way, I strike up a wide-ranging conversation covering the gamut from globalization to vegetarianism (we're the first served... score!) to Messiaen's organ works (!) with John, a very interesting London native, and executive director of War on Want, a London-based charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, who had been in Toronto giving speeches in protest of the G20 meetings. (Look it up.) And I've made my first local connection. Hope to meet up with him later in the trip! Amidst dutifully trudging through my camera book, and watching Canadian sitcoms (Erin Karpluk is destined for Hollywood stardom), documentaries (factory work in China and Trappist cheese making in Quebec), and quirky/wonderful/moving Oscar-nominated short films (I'm learning this absolutely brilliant opening monologue), I barely get more than an hour of sleep on the 10 hour flight. (I am paying for this now. The adrenaline of the new and unfamiliar is my fuel.)

We arrive in London and after a the jokester customs officers grant me entrance into this land of my ancestor's oppressors, I scan the Tube map and figure out how to make may way to Waterloo, where I will find my temporary base of operations, due to the generosity of Des Kennedy, Washington, DC's favorite Irish director. (Des brilliantly directed Scenes from the Big Picture for Solas Nua, a show I was fortunate to be in in 2007, recently named by the Washington Post as "One of the Top 10 Shows of the Decade." He also just opened Johnny Meister and the Stitch in Washington, which I will see when I return.) I arrive at Waterloo station and call Will, Des's very friendly and helpful housemate, who gives me directions from the station. I hear "pass by the cart with fruit and veg..." and my mind instantly flashes to Wallace & Gromit. I arrive at apartment (sorry, flat), where Des's other housemate Tony welcomes me and shows me around, and I flop out. Resolving to only rest for 30 "or so" minutes, I plunge headfirst into a 3 hour nap, and wake up at 3pm London time, sleep-deprived, jetlagged, yet blissful at the thought that this is DAY ONE.

After some Thai food at a small shop down the street, and a quick photo pass by the Old Vic, I walk toward the center of town. (Apropos of nothing, I'm told that the historic part of London is called "town," while the financial district is called "the city.") I'm quite fortunate in that the area I'm staying, Waterloo, is a fairly short walk to town, and on the way in I snap a few shots of storefronts and awnings.

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I turn a corner and I'm bowled over by a lengthy, gleaming palace-like building in the distance, with a mighty golden tower in front; my immediate reaction is "well, whatever that is, it's IMPORTANT." I walk across the bridge which connects the two banks of the Thames and stop for a moment to take in this famous body of water, inspiration to countless poets and painters. I start noticing signs which say "Westminster Station" and I'm thrilled that my first major stop in London will be... the historic church of Westminster Abbey! I snap a number of photos along the bridge, spending time waiting for (other) tourists to clear the shot. I stand in front of the glimmering, very tall edifice and make a quick call home. "Mom, I'm standing in front of Westminster Abbey! I'm here safe!" (Also, "This costs me $1.29 per minute so I can't really talk!") She advises me about a website for couch-surfing in Paris, which I aim to take a look at later. I continue walking around the corner, trying to find an entryway, and when I come upon a side gate, the way in is blocked by an official-looking, yet friendly man. I say "Hi. Is it possible to go in and just walk around?" Guard: "Well, the Parliament is in session and there's an hour queue to observe." Me: "Oh, I thought this was Westminster Abbey?" Guard: "No, this is the House of Commons." Me: "Haha, OK. Forgive me. I'm A TOURIST." (Obviously, without my telling him this he would NEVER have known this.) "Uhm... where is Westminster Abbey?" "It's just around this way – it's closed now but there's a mass going on which is quite nice." It's official: I HAVE CONFUSED BIG BEN FOR WESTMINSTER ABBEY. Feeling rather like certain Midwesteners who commonly mistake the US Capital for the White House, I walk around toward the backside of the actual Abbey. Score one on the Clueless American Quotient.

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After taking a number of photos outside the Abbey, I amble around to the front gate, where I'm notice a young guard blocking entry for inquisitive tourists with cameras. I spot a flyer that mentions a 5:00 mass with music of Palestrina and Byrd and I'm instantly interested – I ask "is it possible to go in to hear the music?" "Yes, but you must stay until 6:00." "No problem!" and I'm in. As I stride past the other camera-toting Americans I feel I've pulled off a major swindle.

As I walk in I have a similar gut-wrenching feeling to that first time entering St. Peter's in Rome – my gaze soars upward and the senses are overwhelmed with visual stimulation. Ancient slab memorials everywhere, ornate greens and golds, and an architecture which points toward the skies. I walk around aimlessly until someone directs me to a seating area in the back, separated from the main service going on in the front of the church. I grab a seat on the center end of an aisle and slowly other tourists fill in the chairs around me. I'm handed a program and the reverberant sound of voices softly saturates the entire building. This is an evensong mass, typical of the Anglican worship day – I read that masses like this have taken place every day in this very space for around 1,000 years. The music, which alternates with spoken and monophonic intonations of prayer by the main presider, is stunning, perfect. I'm reminded to breathe and just take in the surroundings, especially as photography is strictly prohibited and although my photographer's eye is lustily leaping around the space sizing up shots and angles, I recognize I won't have a concrete visual remembrance of this visit. You know, say what you will about the restrictive dogmatism and historical oppression of established religions, but these people know how to throw up a building.

At one point during the service, I lean over to the two 20-something women (French, maybe?) with Harrod's shopping bags sitting next to me and whisper: "Did you see who's buried right over there?!" I indicate a large memorial about 30 feet ahead of us on which an angel balances upon a stone globe. French girls: "No." Me: "Isaac Newton!" Girl: "Who's that?" She nervously darts her eyes to her friend, who shrugs. Me, slightly thrown: "He... invented gravity." Instinctively I make a slight swooping downward gesture with my hand, meant to stand for gravity. Girl: "Oh." I'm not sure which I'm more confused by – their unfamiliarity with one of the great minds of Western civilization, or by my patently unfactual scientific summary of Newton's most famous achievement. As I silently ponder whether Ben Franklin also invented electricity, the Harrod's girls grow weary of Tomkins and Byrd, and after the next piece they gather their bags and ilicitly scurry out. As Palestrina's sublime Tu es Petrus fills the space with polyphony, I'm feeling fortunate the timing worked out so that I was able to hear all of this. The service draws to a close, and the male choir in their black robes and male celebrants (save for one woman) in flowing red and white ceremoniously process past us in the tourist section. I'm struck by what feels like the timeless nature of this ceremony – that aged British faces like these have led and sang in austere services such as this for hundreds of years without much alteration. I'm thankful for things that aren't "new" - that I'm visiting a place where maintaining ritualistic tradition is a valued priority. I think there's great spiritual value in this.

After the ceremony, with the knowledge I probably won't make it back in (according to a sign, the church "would never charge worshipers an entry fee," but does charge 15 pounds - around $25 US - to tourists), I attempt to walk against the flow of traffic (Midwesterners on a choral field trip, I believe) toward the Newton memorial, and after a few minutes am advised to walk toward the back exit. I stop to light two candles – one for my late friend Dan Shea, and one for my Aunt Betty, who passed away last January. Her generosity is funding a good portion of this trip - plus, she loved to travel in Europe so this adventure is a nice testament to her. Outside, I snap a number of want-to-be-artsy photos using my spare lens which I really don't know yet how to use. There's an impressive line of "20th century martyrs" along the top of the entryway which includes Martin Luther King, Jr. and Oscar Romero. Thankfully, George W. Bush is nowhere to be found.

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After a walk past the "Democracy Village" rather noticeably filling the large lawn adjacent to Parliament and the Abbey, a tent city with all variety of anti-war signs (my favorite is "Police: We Love You"), I continue walking the streets of downtown, and end up inside a pub (or "free house"), The Lord Moon of the Mall, whose signage proclaims itself an "authentic English pub." (I find this claim consistent of many of the surrounding establishments.) I order some food and a beer - a package deal – and am treated to my first glorious, hand-poured true British ale (a Ruddles Ale), a half-plate of thick cut, scrumptious fries (er, "chips"), and a steaming, microwaved veggie burger. Figuring two out of three ain't bad, I finish my food and continue walking, ending up in St. James's Yard, where two costumed guards are "keeping watch." Not sure what they're watching, but they're doing a fine job of it. After consulting a posted map, I decide against continuing on toward Buckingham Palace (I've more days here and am getting tired), and head back toward Waterloo. After a stop for photos at Trafalgar Square, which my trusty Wikipedia iPhone app tells me is the "4th most visited tourist attraction in the world," and a gaze at the façade of the National Gallery (hope to actually go inside another day), I head back toward the river. Crossing the suspension bridge over the Thames, I grab a few more photos of Big Ben and Parliament. (I realize that due to my earlier error, I'm slightly disappointed I didn't get to use my prepared line upon seeing these places for the first time: "Look kids, Big Ben. Parliament." Classic.) Also, the "London Eye," which at first glance from a distance appeared to be a large Ferris wheel, up close is a quite impressive structure, though seems a clear tourist magnet. I resist its urges to carry me skyward and make it back to the flat. It's around 9:00 and Des's friendly housemate Will is now home, and agrees to accompany me for a pint out to The Windmill, a local pub recommended by Des, found in a closeby area known as "The Cut." We sit at tables outside and I have two, both traditional hand-poured (very cool to watch this) British ales (a Ringwood Boondoggle and a Brakspear Bitter), which means little carbonation, smooth malts with the perfect, bitter snap of British hops, and a rich, frothy head. Will, though a native New Zealander, has lived in London for 16 years, and gives me the lowdown on other things to see and gives some keen advice (and a handy map) for the rest of my journey.

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I wake up this morning with an aching head, my body disobeying our express agreement to not feel any morning-after effects of alcohol over this trip. Apparently two English ales scarfed down within an hour is too rich for my blood. This does not bode well for wine-tasting in France. However, this time I've spent writing and eating a tasty breakfast in Greensmith's, a charming market across the street from the flat, has cured me. It's 11:30 local time – onward to Day 2!

PS – Rest assured... this will be the LONGEST entry I write. Promise!

Posted by coolmcjazz 05:47 Archived in England Tagged photography Comments (5)

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