On Our Own in London Town

December 23, 2000, Saturday

Anna and Eoin had lots to do to get ready for Christmas (including some last-minute shopping), so once we were up and moving, Eoin drove Jesse and I in to Reading. He planned to do some shopping; we were going to catch the train to London.

London! The possibilities for tourists in this grand city are endless, but we’d already decided on the historic British Museum. We’d get off at London Paddington, then hop the underground—the tube—to the Picadilly Circus station in the heart of London.

Piccadilly Circus tube station subway entrance opposite the Trocadero and next to Eros, on the southern side of Piccadilly Circus (image is from Wikipedia). As you can see, not reeeeally a circus (ahem).

Piccadilly Circus tube station subway entrance opposite the Trocadero and next to Eros, on the southern side of Piccadilly Circus (image is from Wikipedia). As you can see, not reeeeally a circus (ahem).

Thank goodness I had Jesse with me. I can usually figure things out, given time to, you know, breathe deep and study. But you don’t really have time for that in a big city, especially during the Christmas rush. However, Jesse immediately divined the whole system: how to read the maps, how to change routes, which platform to stand on to catch which train … I truly believed he could easily exist in that big-city environment (in fact, Anna and Eoin had already decided he must be part British, so easily had he fit in with, well, everything), while I, left to my own devices, might still be lost in the bowels of London.

At one point, when we changed from one route to another, we found ourselves in what appeared to be one of the original London underground stations. The others had been very sleek and modern in appearance, while this one looked to be turn-of-the-last-century. Once again I was charmed by the most unexpected thing: a great, cavernous hall that looked like something out of Dickens. Or a late-night horror show. (Which in some ways isn’t that far from Dickens.)

A Hammersmith and City Line train for Barking arrives at one of Baker Street's two oldest platforms. (From Wikipedia.)

A Hammersmith and City Line train for Barking arrives at one of Baker Street’s two oldest platforms. (From Wikipedia.)

We made our way across town to the British Museum and spent the whole afternoon wandering from room to toom, marveling at hundreds of exhibits of antiquities from around the world. The museum’s collections are arranged by geography, culture, or theme; I love the antiquities so we spent much of our time in prehistory, Greece, Rome, and Egypt. The Rosetta Stone, mummies, Roman statues galore … we saw them all. To be honest, we didn’t have time to read every single card at every single glass case; we browsed, as our time was limited.

“The British Museum is one of the world’s greatest treasure houses, and one of its most respected academic institutions,” the offiucial guidebook says. “Founded in 1753, the Museum exists to illuminate the histories of cultures … Since its foundation, the British Museum has been guided by three important principles: that the collections are held in perpetuity in their entirety; that they are widely available to all who seek to enjoy and learn from them; and that they are curated by full-time specialists. … Its principal aims today are to be at the center of international scholarship and to disseminate knowledge for the education, in the widest sense of the word, of all.” To make good on this mission, the museum is open to the public free of charge. Ya gotta love that.

Later we walked through Harrods, a huge, upmarket department store. In fact, it’s seven floors of shopping in a building that encompasses 4.5 acres—the largest department store in Europe.

Harrods department store as viewed from the north-east along Brompton Road, in London, England. (From Wikipedia, this photo is by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.)

Harrods department store as viewed from the north-east along Brompton Road, in London, England. (From Wikipedia, this photo is by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.)

I’m not much of a shopper even when I’m in the mood, but to be frank, we were all shopped out. And the place was an utter madhouse, what with it being two days before Christmas and all. There is a world-famous food hall in the basement but we were innocent, inexperienced Yanks and had no idea where to even begin. And, again, it was shoulder-to-shoulder crowded. I’m sorry to say we didn’t linger. Here’s a little video that gives an idea of what the food hall was like. You can hear how loud it is—now just imagine it on the eve of Christmas Eve. 🙂

This day spent on our own in London was a great time for Jess and I to chat in a way we don’t often have time to do. What an adventure we were having! We dragged ourselves home in mid-evening, all walked out. (Those of you who know how much I have dieted this fall may wonder how I was able to eat so much clotted cream and such—things I have generally given up eating in my normal life (not, of course, that I come across clotted cream in the States, ever)—and yet managed to keep weight gain to zero. In a word: walk. Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk!

Just two more days to go, and our wonderful trip to England will be over.

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