Wednesday, August 15

London Day Two

On our second day in London, naturally enough, we headed straight to the British Museum. That was a delightful experience--although may I be a snob and say that I think the Metropolitan in New York is better? Still they are, of course, closely parallel. We were there primarily to see John Dee's artifacts, but we couldn't resist going round to see everything else we could. Ivan, amazingly, photographed almost every single exhibit. Here are some of my favorites:

And then at last, we found John Dee:

I don't remember the exact chronology of events following. So I'll improvise. After the Museum I believe we went to Treadwell Books, the other occult bookstore. I liked this one even more; to begin with, it had plenty of chairs and as tourists, we had very sore feet. Even as a regular reader, however, it's nice to sit down and study your prospective purchase. Also the books were overall of a higher quality, generally of good substance. I discovered an encyclopaedia of herbalism--ancient and modern magickal and medical uses of herbs--that I lusted after, somewhat, but it was 200 pounds in the currency sense, and 8 pounds in the sense of weight... not very practical. They also seemed to be selling excellent quality handmade oils.

Then we were hungry for a real lunch, though we'd snacked in the Museum cafe. We headed towards Covent Garden Piazza, a lovely broad space... and found a delicious pizza restaurant. Ah, that meal was lovely and so satisfying. It was my first taste of really good European food in years. (Ivan had had some good sausages and mash in a local restaurant, but our pescatorian dishes weren't quite as delicious.) We finished our exquisite pizza and Gordan left for a certain library. Ivan and I remained in the Piazza to watch some street theatre: samurais sword fighting to beat box music, and a man who lay on a bed of nails while an Italian tourist stood on top of him.

We arrived back at the hostel at 4, and I couldn't resist; I went to sleep. So, all in all, a short day.

London Day One

London was quite a trip. It was important to us to spend a few days there, because Gordan is such an Anglophile but had never been in England beyond Heathrow airport. So there we were in London at last... jetlagged beyond belief. (Especially me!) We spent those few days doing as much as we possibly could, and they were well documented. The jetlag came in handy to the extent that we were up quite early. I found the city to be far more fun and postmodern than I expected. Our hostel was lovely:

Ivan took that picture as I was setting things up. You can see our three bunk beds. I slept on the top one, Gordan slept in the middle, and Ivan slept on a fourth bed that you can't see in the picture. Spartan, cheap and fun. I wish we'd taken a picture of the hostel from the outside. It was right near St Paul's Cathedral in the center of the city, and was the former house of the chorus boys. Can you imagine? Ivan did take a video of it so perhaps later we can extract a still shot of the building. Or else if he finishes the movie he's making of the trip (entirely out of videos shot from my camera; I didn't even know my camera could do that!) I'll link to it. It came complete with a cafeteria where we had our free breakfasts with such delicacies as bacon and beans, along with the usual hard boiled eggs, cup of yogurt, canned fruit, cold cuts, and slices of cheese or marmalade on toast. There was a lovely reception downstairs staffed by extremely helpful Russian students, which rented and sold all kinds of useful things like towels and umbrellas for the rainy mornings.

The first day we walked along the dark and swollen Thames to the Temple Church, where several templar knights are buried. It was closed for cleaning and repairs. One thing I love about traveling with Gordan is that our primary destinations are always esoteric sites of interest.

As we walked out of that area, weaving between venerable buildings and small lanes and passageways, we passed two beautiful courtyards. The first bore a lovely pink passionflower, and the second consisted of a fountain surrounded by three gorgeous trees to which pictures cannot do justice.

And then we were off to the National Portrait Gallery. I didn't take any photographs of the paintings, if I recall correctly you weren't supposed to. However they were quite impressive. There was a great variety; stodgy old portraits, modern ugly portraits, lots of photorealism, realism using miniaturist techniques for unbelievable detail, semi-abstract portraits, actors, artists, royalty, politicians, judges, soldiers, anonymous people, wives in baths, children, and so on. I did take some pictures of the building as viewed from the underground cafe, and the ceiling of the lobby:

Our next destination was Atlantis Books, a venerable occult bookstore. We first took a detour in some regular bookstores. I happened to find "Plants in Garden History" by Penelope Hobhouse which has utterly delighted me since then; as the title suggests it looks at the role of specific plants (especially imported plants) in garden design history. I've read about Egyptian gardens, Hellenic gardens, Roman Gardens, Islamic gardens, and Medieval gardens so far. Additionally we found that although London is quite expensive in most respects, books are far cheaper than they are in Canada.

Gordan asked the shopkeeper for directions to Atlantis Books. The shopkeeper murmured, searching his directory, "Atlantis Books... it may not exist any more... I have heard of it, it's a very old bookstore, but I'm not sure where it is or if it's still there..."
His assistant replied, "Atlantis Books? I thought that it fell into the sea."

For lunch we toured through Chinatown, randomly selecting one dim sum restaurant. From the rowdy wet streets of Chinatown we entered a sumptuous (or perhaps garish?) interior, surrounded by children racing about. We sat at our table and young Chinese women with trolleys full of food came and attempted to explain what foods they were offering us. We could not understand them and they could not understand us. On the whole it was a delicious and stressful experience, however we didn't end up with any bizarre accidents like New York's duck feet.

We did eventually find Atlantis Books, with its beautiful blue storefront. I found mostly new age fluff but Gordan zeroed in immediately on the good stuff. The shopkeeper offered us chocolates and off we went again.

However at that point we were rather staggering about, what with the jetlag. We decided to see a movie in order to stay awake a little longer. We could have watched The Seventh Seal, or a movie about an Englishwoman putting her life back together after prison, but couldn't decide between the two. So instead we watched The Simpson's Movie (eh). And then we walked home and I at least went to bed.

So concludes my first day in London.

Tour of the Continent

Hello from Ljubljana, Slovenia! It's a peaceful day here at the hostel in which we're staying. I'm alone here, eating smoked gouda on brown bread, and taking the day off before our next adventure starts tomorrow, so that I can update everyone.

I haven't even mentioned this trip at all on this blog, previously. While we'd been vaguely planning the trip for quite some time, the details unfolded rapidly and serendipitously in the weeks before we left.

The outline of the trip is that Gordan, Ivan and I are in Europe for a month. We spent four days in London, then we flew to Slovenia. There we spent a few days visiting Gordan's old friend Janez in the country, then a few days in Ljubljana. Next we'll spend a night in Zagreb, Croatia, and then go on to Bosnia. Now I don't have the clearest sense of our itinerary in Bosnia; we'll meet up with Dragana and Anselmo, and we'll spend some time in Gordan's hometown, some time in Sarajevo, and some time in a few other towns. After that we're planning to spend a week on the Croatian sea coast with Dragana and Anselmo, and then a few days in Paris visiting Leila, before we return to London and then Vancouver.