Friday, July 2, 2010

Thursday, July 2, 2010 St. James, St.Pauls, and St. Christopher

Buckingham Palace peeking through St. James Park

Thursday, July 2, 2010  Stilton Cheese and A London Taxi

Thank goodness for my ugly Merrill sandals! I might not have any feet left if I hadn't pushed my vanity aside and plumped down the money for these ugly, but comfortable shoes.

Today I discovered Regent Street. It is this long street full of impressive architecture befitting a street named for royalty. On the ground floor are shops, LOTS of shops. I spotted a famous London store called Topshop, a Scottish tweed and cashmere store, Jaegar, Monsoon, Hamlen's Toys, Whistles, Crabtree and Evelynn, and all the high end stores we are familiar with like Calvin Klein and Dulce and Gabbano. I guess Regent Street is sort of like a Galleria, but Brittish-er. Fortunately for me and my checking account, it was early and the shops weren't open yet.

I walked straight down past the hedonistic temptations and into St. James Park. Oh, the British really know how to do parks! It was a beautiful mix of formal planting areas and patches that looked like untouched countryside complete with stunning wild flowers. There was an adorable miniature thatched cottage next to the lake. It had a well attended cutting garden bursting with lavender and carrots and cabbage. It looked like my image of Peter Rabbit's liitle cottage. It turns out that it was a cottage built by one of the more recent King Georges for the Bird Master. Huh?
So many questions popped in my head. Bird Master? How does he master the birds? Was the man unusually short? I can't see how a normal sized person could fit in this tiny house. There was no one around to ask except for the hundreds of elementary and middle school kids in the park on a field trip. That's right. They're still in school! Nanny, nanny, boo, boo! Somehow that made my stroll through the gardens all the better. Shame on me!

From there, I tubed over to Southwark Cathedral. Southwark is on the South side of the Thames, close to The Globe Theatre. In fact, it was ol' Bill Shakespeare's home parish church, and he actually attended. The church has only been a cathedral since 1905 which a sweet, elderly verger assured me was quite young for a cathedral. However, there has been some type of church on the grounds since 1050, before William the Conquerer. Southwark was small and lovely and quite clearly a real working church which happens to get a lot of Shakespeare fans who come to see Bill's memorial. Oh yeah, it was also the home church for John Harvard who gave the money to start Harvard University.  He loved the idea of the United States, but never actually went to the U.S.

Have I mentioned how good the breakfasts are at The Jesmond? Well, they are fabulous! Maria, the maid from Portugal, remembered me from last summer and gave me two pieces of bacon this morning! The bacon is really delicious and sort of like thin ham. It's not nearly as fatty as our bacon, and it's cut more like slices of ham instead of strips of bacon. I tell you this to explain why I didn't get hungry for lunch until 2 o'clock. Southwark is literally right next to Borough market which is one of London's open air markets. This one is just for food and only held on Thursdays and Fridays. I had seen it on a show on the Travel Channel. The timing was perfect. I was finally hungry and here lay all this delicious and exotic food. Venders come from all over Europe, so there were Spaniards selling empanadas (very good) some flirty Greek guys selling chocolate baklava (very very good,) and understated Englishmen selling cheese. There was also a section for meats with pig's heads on display and a fish section. Neither seemed very appealing to me. Instead, I went into Neal's Yard Cheese. Now I've never been in a cheese store before. The first thing I noticed was the smell. Cheese is molded milk after all! But I wouldn't say it was a bad smell, just a strong smell. Walking into the store was like walking back in time a hundred years! I didn't see one modern tool or appliance. The men who worked there, and they were all men, were wearing funny green fabric hats and had those big canvas aprons folded over and tied around their waists. I got to try two types of Stilton. The pasteurized Stilton was very good, buttery and slighty flaky. Then I tried the unpasteurized Stilton which is illegal in the U.S. Oh my goodness! It was that much better! Stupid health and safety laws! I bought some. After that, I went to find the cheese toast man. I saw him on the Travel Channel, too. Apparently a lot of Americans saw him on the Travel Channel. He has gotten so popular that he had to move to a new spot that has more room for the crowds standing around his stand. He makes amazing fancy grilled cheese sandwiches. Sorry! No American cheese in sight.

Not surprisingly, I felt a little sluggish after the market. So, I took a digestive stroll over the Millenium Bridge, sat on the steps outside St. Paul's Cathedral, and listened to a free piano concert given to celebrate London. It was interesting. They set up an old beat up, up right piano and encouraged people walking by to stop and play. Little kids played their best recital pieces and adults played everything from The Beatles to Chopin.  After I listened a while, I noticed that the old beat up piano had an awfully good sound, better than just a Sunday school room piano, and I noticed that a few of the "volunteers" were strategicly placed in the crowd to help fill slow times.  But it was all done so artfully that the production truly seemed completely spontaneous.  And, it was fun! 

         The new Millenium Pedestrian Bridge looking over The Thames towards St. Paul's Cathedral.

By this time it was about 6:30, and I was exhausted. I started walking back to my hotel and wondering if I would make it. Just about that time, a taxi stopped right in front of me to let out a fare, and I jumped right in! I wanted to take a taxi last summer, but chickened out because I couldn't see how people flagged them down. It seemed like they stopped the taxis with telepathy. Well, the cab ride was great! There was a Celebrate Canada festival in Trafalgar Square and the opening of the new Twilight movie in Leicester Square, so the traffic was a mess! As I sat down in the cab, I noticed the driver had a St. Christopher medal around the rear view mirrow.  That was probably a good thing.  My cabby took all kinds of twisty one lane back streets. He even went the wrong way on a one way street on purpose! We almost ran over an idiot who jumped in front of the cab and another cyclist who refused to share the road. It reminded me of that wild bus ride scene in the second Harry Potter movie. In fact, I'm starting to think J.K. Rowling didn't make up all those creative things in her books as much as just exaggerate the eccentricity she saw around her daily!
My cabby was great. He never stopped talking and he saved me about forty-five minutes.  The experience was worth every bob!

See you tomorrow!


The Horse Guards performing some sort of mysterious ritual.  Whatever it was, it provided a great photo op for the camera ready tourists.

The Shakespeare's Memorial in Southwark Cathedral.  Notice the fresh rosemary in his hand? 
Rosemary for remembrance.  If this is life sized, than ol' Bill was a shortie!

This is an effigy for a knight interred at Southwark Cathedral.  The verger told me that if the knight's ankles are crossed, as this man's are, it means the knight went on one of the crusades.

    I loved this effigy.  This rich merchant gave boatloads of money to the church.  In exchange, he had this wooden effigy made for himself, his wife (the one in the Puritan hat), and his daughter, but not for the son-in-law!  Family politics at their 16th century finest.

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