15 March, part 2

15 03 2011

We began a northeastern path towards Leicester Square, a site we were anxious to see.  Specifically of interest the commemoration to Shakespeare.  Also the handprints of stars and the notoriety for street performers.  The idea of sitting back and absorbing as the world moved around us was kind of exciting.  Every site we’d seen every place we’d been had required walking, exploring, going, moving – not once could we simply sit and absorb.

Before this was to happen though, our stomachs reminded us it was well past lunch.  We paused to check out a little place on a side street that seemed to be exactly what you would picture for some foreign cafe.  It was just a hole in the wall, little covered seats out front with people smartly chatting while drinking their teas and coffees.  Inside were little cozy tables, a blackboard for the day’s specials.  We popped in and were immediately greeted by the owner, who was left shorthanded for the day and he was the one man show.  Cooking, waiting tables, cashiering…he was handling it all.  And the whole while keeping us active in conversation.

While I was really in the mood to try some fish and chips, I remembered I’d been warned to not do so in London, or anywhere near London, so I heeded the warning and ordered the beef lasagne.  The English lasagne I’d tried in a few places so far was certainly one for the recipe books and I was ready to try another to work out those flavours.  Alannah ordered egg and chips, which was simply soft cooked eggs, ham and french fries.  Glenn had a hamburger and chips, while Kayla tried a steak pie with chips.  The food was wonderful, it was so far a stretch from the diner style food served in the US.  Back home it is usually pre-cooked and then microwaved or thrown on a grill to be reheated.  Not so here.  Even the lasagne was prepared only to the state of having the layers done and then baked in the oven on order.  And his lasagne dishes were prepped only the morning of.  While I suppose he could have just been telling me this, it tasted like the truth.  If ever you are looking quite literally for a hole in the wall type of diner with not to miss foods in London, give this place a try – wedged neatly between an antique store and a furniture gallery.

Finally we were ready to embark onward to Leicester (lester) Square.  I was almost giddy as we got closer, checking my map to verify our course and then as I began to see theatres and cartoonists in the distance – it was as if I were Columbus, navigating to the New World and land was finally on the horizon.

That is if Columbus had went through all that trouble to only land at Gibraltar.

Leicester was closed.  Not even visible, it was so closed off.  A mammoth black wall encapsulated the entire park and all we could see were the caricature artists set up on the outer perimeter.  If we walked the length of the wall, was there perhaps an entry gate or even a low spot in the wall to be able to look in, I asked one of the artists.  No, she said.  But if you think that’s bad, she continued, now we’ve nowhere to go for a toilet.  I wasn’t quite sure what she was meaning, so I offered up a nervous ha-ha and went on my way.

Now what?  I really wasn’t sure.  This was a pretty significant portion of my plans for the afternoon and I wasn’t 100% certain where to go from here.  We started walking up one length towards the Hippodrome, my thinking was that perhaps the plaques with the hands of the stars might still be visible.  It wasn’t.

We walked along with no real destination until we got to the Palace Theatre, which sits at a very odd intersection of about 5 or 6 streets.  Most of the little cobbled lanes were not meant for modern traffic and now were the equivalent of back alleyways and small shops.  But with little effort you could really imagine this area one hundred years ago, before the cars and busses had overtaken these streets.  Now they were tucked away from the mainstream, left to only those who venture on foot to creep down the paths and see what might be hidden away.

By the time we finally arrived at this general area, I had confirmed that our tube tickets included passage on busses and we decided to watch for a double decker to arrive and we’d ride it wherever it was going.

The nice thing about the public transportation system here was there was seemingly a way to get to anywhere from anywhere.  If I was standing on a street in the West End, I could effectively get to Paris if I so desired without ever having to catch a flight.  The rail, tube and busses snake through the entire city and then from there to corners of all of Europe.  It’s truly an amazing network that our country could do well to establish.

The bus didn’t ask for our tickets, I guess it is just presumed you will have a ticket to present if it is asked of you.  Again with this trust in the honesty of citizens.  Nonetheless, we marched up the steps to the second floor of the bus and moved to the very back row, which was not taken.  Glenn asked what our destination was and I told him we had none.  We all laughed and settled back, absorbing the view.

The bus was heading to Pimlico Station, the automated system informed us countless times over.  It weaved back through Trafalgar Square and then off to destinations unknown.

You’ll note what I didn’t notice at the time, which is that we went directly down The Mall and past Buckingham – which weren’t specifically sites I had even put on the list of “to do”, but had I realized we were so close, I would have gotten off of the bus and stopped to see.  But the sites we did see from within the bus, were no less amazing.  Every window, rooftop, gutter and side street seemed to have a landmark statue or ornament adorning it and I think even a resident would likely be hard-pressed to ever take it all in.

I found myself wondering if Londoners suffer from the same syndrome as many Americans do, where we fail to see and appreciate the sites of our own cities and neighbouring areas that tourists flock to visit.  Growing up, I lived within a half day’s journey of Colonial Williamsburg, Monticello, Jamestown, Washington DC and other crucial areas of the history of our country.  But like many of my other friends, we never went to see these places.  Did Londoners suffer the same issue, of too much to see so they visit none of it?  I couldn’t imagine living here and not spending my every waking moment taking in some area of the city.

We passed a building called the Irish Embassy and I couldn’t help but find some humour in this, it must be for the southerners.  I was almost surprised to not see a statue of Cromwell guarding the door.

On down a bit was an odd sight as we turned onto another road from Grovesnor.  On one side was a memorial garden of sorts with military looking statues, one looking similar to the little green plastic soldiers kids play with.  On the opposing side of the street was a residential looking area enclosed in a stone wall and barbed wire.  I had to wonder if this was a throw back from the war days or perhaps part of the royal estate?  Oddly though the houses protected (or jailed) were not well to do.  They looked like houses from the mid-twentieth century, a little run down, but nothing memorable.  (I’ve not yet been able to determine where we were when we saw this.)

Almost immediately we left the old world behind and drove into a dimension that was almost ahead of its time.  Glass paneled skyscrapers and chic designs…if it weren’t for random signs like Victoria or Westminster, you’d almost think you were in New York City or some other business forward metropolis.

Then I saw the signs for Vauxhall.  Could we be close to the bridge?  The bridge.  I started studying my map book and trying to make out where we were.  The automated voice I’d managed to drown out hours earlier I now began listening to.  Vauxhall Bridge Road.  Oooo.

I don’t know really why I have this silly fascination with the bridge.  It’s one of probably a hundred different bridges in London and it really isn’t significant to history I suppose.

Part of my fascination is in the name Vauxhall and the history of that name alone.  On the other side of the river there, in Lambeth area, there had been a manor house belonging to a man who worked for King John (Magna Carta fame) and that man’s name was Falkes – Falkes’ Hall.  That got morphed into Foxhall and Fawkes’ Hall.  Fawkes was fine until Guy Fawkes came along and god forbid anyone showed any association with that fire-starter, so it was changed again to Vauxhall.  The bridge similarly connects the Vauxhall area to the Westminster area.

But outside of the name changes – the bridge and its statues strike a chord for me.  The bridge statues are only visible if you are on the shore (or the Thames itself) and the represent industries.  On one side are statues representing pottery, agriculture, architecture and engineering; the other side of the bridge has statues to commemorate science, arts, politics and education.

As we neared our newly discovered stop, two young boys got on board and made their way up to the top to sit in front of us, one on either seat of the aisle.  Within minutes they proceeded to begin taking swings at one another followed by hurling the most vile words I’ve ever heard come out of a child’s mouth.  Other passengers chuckled as they called one another names and tackled each other over and over.  I decided it was probably time to go ahead and just leave at the next stop rather than wait for them to bludgeon one another to death.

We were now pretty close to the river and this heavy dampness had set in on the area.  You could almost see the moisture in the air and the sun was completely obscured by now.  We had jumped off at a church with a street sign identifying the area as St George’s Square and we began walking towards the river.  It was fairly obvious which direction the river was in, by simply looking for the denser air.

We approached a park and found a very Roman styled statue to a William Huskisson.  The sign noted him as being a local politician and the first person in the world to suffer a casualty from the railroad.  It didn’t offer any details and I figured that was probably a good thing.

(It was terribly foggy, thus my pictures turned out very bleh.)  

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