Friday, July 10, 2009

On the viciousness of London shoppers and the downside of free...

London, or at least what I've seen of it so far, really is everything I've expected from it. Lots of gorgeous architecture, twisted streets and a far more diverse mixture of people than anything I've seen in Chicago. Granted, this is only the second full day we've been here, but we've done a bit of walking around. The flat we're sitting is in Kensington, a roughly 15 to 20 minute walk to Kensington Palace, the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall, and just a short ride down the Tube to Oxford Cross, where you too can bear witness to a commercial district so affluent and so crowded, it makes Chicago's Magnificent Mile look like a dingy, dusty flea market in the middle of nowhere. Which is where we happened to wander today, while Zoe searched for some form of cute sweater or what have you. She had no success mind you, and we were both driven to distraction by the press and swell and the masses, frenzied like sharks by the scent of sale prices.

Yesterday was far more pleasant, with a luxurious ramble through Kensington Gardens and the Serpentine Gallery, followed by a walk through the Museum of Natural History. The Serpentine Gallery has a brilliant Jeff Koons exhibition that just opened, and I found it immensely interesting, even if I'm without the words to describe it. Even still, a link should be provided: Clickage.

And the Natural History, it is by far one of the most spectacular museums I've ever had the privilege to walk through. And that's all we really had time for, just a walk through. We had already walked quite a ways that day, and while both thoroughly intrigued by everything we saw, the place was incredibly crowded and we were both sort of tired. So we walked and browsed and vowed to return to examine various places much more in depth. Some points of note though were a physical and kinetic recreation of an earthquake (from inside a Japanese convenience store), a full-size replica of a Blue whale (that thing is bloody huge) and a fantastic collection of dinosaur skeletons. My favorite thing about museums (or at least the majority of them) are that they are free. It enables me to point at a museum and say "That is the one I will wander aimlessly through until I am bored and disinterested." and then proceed as such without fear of spending twenty quid to do so. The downside to the free bit is that they become crowded, due to the free-ness of them. But it enables people to learn, or at least roam around and feign interest while we intellectual effete pray that some knowledge seeps into their skulls through osmosis. Point in case, I witnessed two pre-teen'd English children wandering with their mother, and from display to display they would exclaim "Awesome!" or "Wicked!" without actually paying attention to what it was they were walking past. In the States, and especially places like the Field or MSI, you'd have to pay $20 for your children to have such a valued experience.

After the Musuem and a lazy, slow walk back through the Gardens, and a shower, Zoe and I were taken to a fantastic little Chinese restaurant a few blocks away by Sally and Rocky, our delightful and in absentia hosts, where we discussed a wide range of topics not limited to Allen's capability to eat restaurants out of stock during a dinner rush. Zoe and I relaxed in our room at the flat, watched Sweeney Todd and read our books and fell asleep in our wonderfully comfortable bed.

Today we lazed around the house a bit, chatted with Sally before she left to catch her flight and the ventured off to Oxford Circus (which really is a circus, if you replace feral beasts and acrobats with rabid shoppers and dodging vicious taxis and rather large buses) where we failed to find clothing and I failed to get a free USB cable out of Apple. We ate at a cute little cafe (part of a chain that hasn't quite hit the States yet, called Pret a Manger) that serves delicious pre-made sandwiches and wraps that are actually made in-house, with bread actually baked that day, and that taste far better than anything Panera has offered us, and an incredibly reasonable price. We wandered back home, lazed about some more, reading our books and then headed out to Marks & Spencers.

For those of you who aren't familiar, M&S (or as Zoe calls it, Marks & Sparks) is a gourmet grocery store, somewhat like a less expensive but somehow more posh Whole Foods, filled with quality produce in the name of M&S. I had planned a huge long diatribe on the difference in types of grocery stores, but this post is already feeling long-winded and thinking about it is making me realize that I should probably be cooking dinner. So that is what I'll be off to do now.

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