London - The Great Wandering City

Trip Start Jun 12, 2005
Trip End Jul 02, 2005

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Monday, June 27, 2005

I arrived at Stansted and was immediately quite happy to be back in my favorite place on earth (besides Fenway Park). After a long journey in arrived at my'd 4-star hotel just off Hyde Park. The lobby of the Cumberland looks like it belongs at the Tate Modern, but most of the 4-starness of the hotel wares off right there. The staff are complete idiots and have no clue what is going on...and by looking around it seems that many of the other guests also "got lucky" and booked online for cheap. Even with the idiot staff the room is quite nice and they installed 45 inch LCD TV's in every room. Quite nice to watch the highlights of Glastonbury 2005 last night!

Last night I trucked all the way from Hyde Park over to Chinatown for dinner where I ate at a terrible buffet that sadly had looked so fantastic from the window (I mean it was only 5 quid, who was I kidding to think it was going to be good). I also had the luxury of sharing my table with this crazy woman with a moustache who claimed her uncle was the mayor of Yonkers (do they even have a mayor?) and that she hated all medical students because we were "dodgy". So after that encounter I hit the streets of SoHo to check out the crazy Saturday night scene. I was not disappointed as I saw the normal share of hookers, transvestites, punks and drunks all over. It's really just interesting to walk around and watch everyone...

After a long walk home down Piccadilly (with stop number one at the Virgin Megastore) to Park Lane and all the big name hotels, I hit the hay.

Today I was determined to do a few things that I had yet to accomplish in my previous visits to London. First off, I wanted to do one of the London Walks...many times I tried to do the Beatles one, but it just never happened. So in true Siegel fashion I killed two birds with one stone and did a London Walk though the East End (of which I had not been to either) about the history of the Jews of London.

The walk was fantastic and took us from Tower Hill into London city and the original Jewish settlements and onto the East End to the newer (although now gone as well) settlements. The Jews originally settled in the actual city of London (only 1 sq mile) in the 1100's but were kicked out by Richard I "The not-so Lionheart(ed)" and did not return until Cromwellian England in the 1650's. Upon their return, the Sephardim sect from Holland settled in the East End and built London's still functioning and oldest synagogue Bevis Marks. We were lucky enough to speak with the Rabbi of Bevis Marks who gave us an interesting short lecture on the history of the Sephardim and later Ashkenazi settlements. Bevis Marks was quite an interesting building as it was directly influenced, although not built by Sir Christopher Wren, London's greatest architect. Its builder was a highly regarded Wren assistant and thus certain aspects (the ark, pillars and windows) all bear great resemblance to many of the Wren churches built in the same time period. Although the synagogue struggles to maintain a congregation today (only 30 or so may show up for Shabbat services) it is still a hot spot for weddings, as the ceremony is done all under candlelight and really seemed like a beautiful setting.

Our walk through the rest of the East End was quite interesting. The area has always been poor and due to its location near the Docklands, home to London's immigrant population. Settled first by the Huguenots fleeing the Catholics in France, it has been home to Germans, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Africans and more recently and currently Indians and mainly Bangladeshi (after Indo/Pakistani war of 1971). The Jews more or less left beginning in the 1970's and now on relics such as building signs (see pictures) exist. Some of the buildings have begun to be re-gentrified as well, but much of the area functions as crap shopping and small (but fantastic) Indian restaurants. On Sunday's the markets are quite a sight with Petticoat Lane (named for the fact that you could have your coat stolen at one end and then re-sold to you at the other end), Brick Lane (still has London's best bagel's!) and Spitalfields all bustling. Spitalfields is a little more upscale, with lots of small boutiques with jewelry, books, food and vintage and handmade clothing. I actually found a perfectly fitting Harris Tweed jacket that I purchased for the nice sum of 25, a tad bit less than J. Crew wanted for mine is authentic!

After a filling (and cheap 5!) Samosa and Lamb Curry lunch, I took a long walk to and over the Tower Bridge, along the Thames up to the Tate Modern. Now as I've said before, I'm not much for modern art, but honestly this is a place that can convince anyone. The vastness of the converted bank side power plant is overwhelming. Unlike most traditional museums, the Tate has chosen not to show its collection in Chronological order, but via themes (Landscape/Matter/Environment, Still Life/Object/Real Life, History/Memory/Society and Nude/Action/Body. They also aim to re-hang much of their collection every six months; so constant visits are quite necessary (and quite impossible for us American's). The collection is absolutely fantastic. Jackson Pollack's "Summertime Number 9A" and Matisse's "Water Lilies" and "Back I-IV" especially awed me. They had an entire room of Soviet Propaganda posters, of "Degenerate Art" all banned by the Nazi's after 1933 and a small collection by Mark Dion called "Tate Thames Dig" which was a large and functional (thus operable) cabinet with many of the thousands of things found along the Themes when the museum was being built. My favorite room was The Andy Warhol collection, containing multiple Monroe's, "Double Elvis", multiple self-portraits, but most impressively his portrayals of Jacqueline Kennedy stressing the psychological changes that occurred during and after the assassination. Anyone visiting London really should make time for this museum.

Needless to say, I was pretty worn out after all that, so after a nice walk back across the Themes on the pedestrian "Millennium (and finally functioning) Bridge", I headed by St. Paul's and hopped on the tube home.

Earlier that morning I ran into Jane Post, a fellow WSU Med Student who was with her family in London. They were also going on a London Walk that happened to meet at Tower Hill Tube (to Greenwich). She had been with them for the last ten days after traveling in Western Europe with friends for three weeks, so needless to say she was in need of some away from parent's time. She was at a hotel over by where my dorm was at University College, so I took her to this little noodle place that I always used to go to The Hare and Tortoise for drinks afterwards and Punch and Judy over looking Covent Garden. We're hopefully meeting up tomorrow evening as well...

So for now I'm off...going up to see Eric as he arrives and moves into Oxford tomorrow!

Cheers and catch ya on the flip side,
- M (and soon A again)
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