Thursday, June 24, 2010

UK Travelogue Day 7: I Can't Fight this Feeling Any More

Friday, June 4

We woke early to start our laundry. We’d be checking out at 10:00am, and neither of us relished the thought of folding up dirty clothes and then leaving our suitcases zipped for the next twenty-four hours. Bethany fetched us a pot of hot tea to share, and as our laundry cycle synchronized perfectly with our check-out time, we were able to have our luggage in storage and be on the Underground by 10:15. First stop: Kensington Palace and Gardens.

Kensington Palace Jump!

Neither of us really had a strong desire to see this, but as it included in our London Pass, so we thought we might as well see it as not. (This same logic did not work, however, on the Transport Museum or the Tennis Museum. Just FYI.) Only a portion of the palace was open to visitors, of course. The fanciful Quest for the Seven Princesses exhibit was obviously well thought-out and artistically rendered, although a bit more modern-art-esque than either of us could really get excited about.

Still, the rooms and the grounds were lovely, and this visit also afforded me an opportunity to attempt my first combination Jump/bow to the queen. It went about as awkwardly as you may imagine.

Bow to the Queen Jump!

From Kensington, we booked all the way across town to the small but excellent Foundling Museum just off Russell Square. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed our time there.

For one, the young man working at the reception seemed to have just stepped out of Dickens: longish blonde hair, sweet little voice, overly-obsequious manners, and a set of long-fingered hands that seemed to do nothing better than clutch and pull at one another (while held about chest-high) whenever he spoke to us. He was so dear. Somehow, tapping into some superhuman reserve of self-control formerly unknown to me, I refrained from addressing him as Smike. (I also wanted to put him into my suitcase and smuggle him home. I could keep him in the closet under my stairs and bring him out when I needed a bit of cheering up. But I have learned that Customs and Immigration discourages such behavior. Phooey.)

No doubt further adding to our enjoyment of the place, the museum was practically deserted upon our arrival, and we saw fewer than a dozen other visitors our entire time there. I have no idea if this is the norm - in fact it would be a shame if it were - but after a week of battling crowds, it felt sheer bliss to take our time.

At the Foundling Hospital Museum

But most likely the reason that I personally enjoyed the Foundling Museum so much was that it combined three interests I enjoy: history, art, and music. The first floor’s audio-visual and tactile exhibits highlighted not only the formation of the hospital but also the personal histories of children and mothers affected by the Foundling Hospital. (One story in particular actually brought tears to my eyes. Real human tears! I was experiencing Real Human Emotions! Quick, I told myself, cherish this feeling. And that was it: In my haste to capture the elusive quality of the moment, I'd immediately worked myself out of it. But whatever.)

The second floor featured art (mainly from the Italian school and a few by Hogarth) that had been donated over decades in order to form a private collection, the viewing of which would help to raise funds for the Hospital.

The third floor featured the life and music of Handel, who during his life was a long-time supporter of the work the Hospital was doing to alleviate the plight of the poorest of London’s poor.

Upstairs of the Foundling Hospital Museum

In this small but attractive room were half a dozen deep leather chairs with speakers implanted in the sides and controls along the armrests. We could have sat there all afternoon listening to the recordings, but daylight was burning away and we still had one more stop near Russell Square.

From the Foundling Hospital Museum, it was just a short walk several blocks to the Dickens House, where eminent author (and, in his own way, social activist) Charles Dickens had lived for a time. Of course, it wasn’t quite as long a walk as we made it, since we missed the understated entrance the first time and had to double back, but we figured it was only right to consider the plight of London’s poor children and the life of Dickens (who wrote much on the subject) in the same afternoon.

Charles Dickens Jump!

The house museum was small, naturally, and most everything inside “re-created,” but we still managed to pass the better part of an hour there before sallying forth toward our next adventure.

Trying to channel some of his genius

We’d had our heart set for some time on getting half-price back massages, a treat afforded us by our London Passes. After a bit of difficulty locating the exact location, a confusion which necessitated much walking up and down the crowded Oxford Street, we at last were able to ascertain our space-time location, find the back massage place in Selfridges, and collapse beneath the capable hands of two well-trained masseurs. It was wonderful.

For dinner, we ate at a small Italian kitchen (the name of which escapes me now), witnessed a bit of drama out front that involved glasses being smashed and a husband (boyfriend? Inordinately indignant cousin?) stomping away just before the police showed up, and lingered long over our excellent food and hot drinks. That is, after all, the Italian way. (Also, we had checked out of our hostel, and our overnight bus to Edinburgh wasn’t leaving until 11:00pm. So.... no rush.)

We did think it might be nice to sit in one of the quiet corners of Brompton Cemetery, but it was closing just as we arrived, so we padded back up Old Brompton Road in order to pick up our luggage and pass the rest of the night in the bus station.

It was also around this time that we noticed I was getting the stink eye occasionally, and we chalked it up to my wearing a head wrap. (One man of obviously Middle Eastern descent even walked up to me and tried speaking to me in what sounded like Arabic, which I think was a bit over-doing it, but there you go.)

After that it was much toting of luggage and sitting in the bus station. Two things of note did happen while we waited at the Victoria Coach Station, though:
1) Two (Welsh?) teenage girls tore into the station, creating an instant ruckus while seemingly trying to talk to everyone in the station simultaneously. (Although talking would be a lavishly generous term for the manner of communication these two seemed to favor.) Their luggage was dropped helter skelter as they hollered out questions, and since I had inadvertently made eye contact (these two not being the type to be subdued by The Look, obviously) barraged us with questions as to where we were going? were we going to Oxford? were we going to X? where was the bus to X? etc etc. I attempted to explain to them where to find the boards announcing gate departure locations, but they literally would not listen to what I was saying, so I said, “Okay, then I can’t help you.” Well, THAT certainly earned me a real stink eye! But whatever. A few minutes later, Bethany spied security escorting them from the building.

2) A man attempted to buy whatever unused London transport cards I might have on my person, except he was asking me (with some odd accent) if I had finished my card, but I thought he was asking me if I was FINNINSH! Thus followed a rather convoluted dialogue that may have been confusing at the time, but so hilarious in retrospect. (Unfortunately, I did not have the presence of mind to jot our conversation down immediately, and the details thereof have been lost to the ravages of my mind, probably forever.)

Waiting for our overnight bus to Edinburgh.

At 11:00, we found ourselves snugly packed into some very small seats and winding our way up toward Scotland.

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Note: While preparing to blog today's edition of the Travelogue, I realized that I'd never uploaded that day's pictures to Flickr! Only ten of them in all (I know, *FAIL*) but they've been dutifully added here.

5 comments:

  1. I have to say that Kensington was the lowlight of our UK trip. Perhaps it's that we had already been to approximately 2000 castles and palaces on our trip and were just worn out, but it was very disappointing. We did have tea at the Orangery there and it was fabulous. Followed by a game of bowling at the Queen's Ice and Bowl (lol!) that was included on the London Pass.

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  2. I can't remember why we didn't eat at The Oranery, but I remember wanting to. (Discount included!)

    Lowpoint for us the London Bridge Experience and Tombs, probably because we hiked all over creation the day we went to it, and then it was not really as well done as it could have been. And the Tombs looked icky! Did you go in?

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  3. London Tombs: http://www.thelondonbridgeexperience.com/experience-londontombs.asp

    The word "attraction" a bit misapplied in this case...

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  4. Never heard of the Foundling Museum/hospital, but obviously it would about found, thus abandoned, children, right? I can see how that would be a moving place.

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  5. Yes, the Foundling Hospital would be what we could consider an orphanage today, although quite strictly run, of course, and all of the children's names were changed when they were left there, making it difficult to families to find one another later on.

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