London: Settling In
Our first night in London is loud. Noise on the street filters up to our open windows with people calling out to one another, traffic, and music, and inside the building students across the hall clomping up the stairs and letting the heavy doors slam. The temperature is warm with the windows only opening a few inches, but by morning the flat has cooled down enough to be comfortable. We meet Lauren downstairs at 10 and go for coffee at Starbucks a block over. Then it’s into the tube for our first lesson on getting around in London.
Our station is Tottenham Court and there are a couple of lines that run through here. The Central line runs essentially east and west through the center of the city, and the Northern line runs north and south. There’s a host of other lines running around the city. Each station has a distinct look to it. Tottenham Court has a mosaic tile pattern but there are sections that have been covered with tarps so that they look like they’re under repair. The trains come screaming into the station, and if you’re standing close to the tunnel the trains will push out a mass of air ahead of them, creating a strong breeze. We’ve been here long enough to know that most afternoons and evenings a musician will be playing at the end of the “Way Out” walkway. The variety of music varies, so it’s not the same person every day. The first day the Northern line is down for repairs, so we take the Central one stop to Oxford Circus, then catch the Bakerloo line down to Waterloo Station. From there we have tickets to ride the “London Eye,” an incredibly tall Ferris Wheel that will give us a bird’s eye view of The Thames River, the Westminster Bridge, Big Ben, and Parliament. The gondolas each hold approximately 30 people and are enclosed in glass so we can see from all angles. The wheel never stops spinning, but it goes so slow that it doesn’t really feel like you’re moving when you’re on it. When each gondola empties two security guards sweep the car holding mirrors on long handles to check the underside of the benches to make sure no one has left a bomb on the car.
After the Eye we met a double decker bus in the park for Tea. The upper level of the bus held about 8 tables and we were served coffee, tea, or lattes, along with pastries, cookies, and little finger food sandwiches, while riding around a huge circle of Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park. The bus must have been somewhat remarkable because plenty of people would notice us and point us out.
Between preparing for classes, getting settled in, figuring out the local grocery stores and shopping for the odds and ends we need, we’ve been fairly busy. Among the highlights so far, one day we were more or less free so we went to a noon concert at an Anglican church across the street from Trafalgar Square called St. Marks in the Field. The concert was a brass quintet of young professional musicians who all met in music school. Afterward, we walked through Trafalgar Square (where Stella got her picture made with a street performer dressed as Yoda levitating above the ground—I have to admit it was a good bit the guy was pulling off. I had to think for a while about how he was able to pull off the illusion. He looked to float above the ground, but he was holding a staff plugged into a wide base, and wearing a flowing robe. So, he was standing on a platform that linked up through his robe to the staff.) We walked down the Mall beside St. James Park and walked outside Buckingham Palace before catching the tube home. Another evening we walked to Covent Garden and met the students who’d been engaged in a scavenger hunt for supper at Shake Shack. We attended Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a beautiful church service. We walked the girls to King’s Cross Station for the obligatory posing at station 9¾ to catch the Hogwart’s express.
On Friday after classes we went to Buckingham Palace. The palace itself is incredible, and the special exhibit this year is about childhood in the palace. There were a couple of displays of the royal children in old home movies, plus some displays of their childhood toys. My favorite was a tine pull-behind camper which must have been used as a play house for the young princes and princesses. On Saturday we went to Portobello Road for the open market. The street is lined with shops that sell everything from antiques to clothes to souvenirs, but outside there are booths set up for vendors selling scarves, music, bags, hats, pocket watches, silver, jewelry, and food and vegetables of all kinds. I ate a kebob called a Boner. It had something to do with being created in Germany. Lisa had polish sausage and the girls had crepes made with Nutella. It was one of our favorite things, eating in sidewalk markets.