London: Day 2
The day began with a spread of meats, cheeses, pastries, and juice and a journey cross town that brought us to Lloyd’s of London. I’m sure many of you have heard the stories about eccentric celebrities getting their toes, wrists, arms, and voice insured? Well, this is where they come to do it. Lloyd’s is an insurance market complete with a rich history and unique stories. The oddest thing I saw insured in our short visit to the premise was a pink elephant. Yep, you heard right. Now although this business visit was fun and all, we were rearing to get out and discovering more of the huge town that was London. There was still so much to see and experience and a quote still resonated with me from our tour guide the day before. “If you take all of the parks in London and put them together, you can fit the entirety of Paris inside.” Damn, this city was no joke.
We wrapped up our academic venture, and braved the summer heat. Dressed in formal attire we went to visit what else, but the magic shop from Harry Potter in the back alleys of London. We explored the maze of streets, gorged on fish and chips (again), and we were close enough to St. Paul’s Cathedral to stop off and pay it a visit. The cathedral was astounding, sensational, gorgeous, amazing…from the outside that is. To get inside we would’ve had to part with 15 pounds which was at the least, a laughable proposition. The train back to the hotel seemed a far more attractive option, especially as we stood in the sweltering heat donned in dress shirts, suits, and ties.
With clean hair and fresh clothes we departed the hotel for Trafalgar Square to relax, people watch and enjoy the museums. Fun Fact: All museums in London are free so we stopped inside to view famous works that until now, I’d only seen in my art appreciation textbook. I gazed upon some of Rembrandts early works and had a moment with an awe inspiring portrait of Samson and Delilah by the Flemish Baroque Painter, Peter Paul Rubens. It stood out in the long corridor and was accentuated by it’s vibrant colors, strong detail, and raw emotion. After staring at the piece for what seemed to be hours I peeled myself away and returned to the fresh air of the square just outside. Big Ben and parliament stood watch just across the street, silently guarding it’s city’s inhabitants and keeping time for all passersby. The wind kissed my cheek as I stood atop the stepsand I had an experience then that I can’t put into words. As I looked out across the expanse of London I felt nothing but joy. I was elated just to be there. I was living for the day and I was free from all responsibility. I was surrounded by amazing people, beautiful sights, and in that moment, I was unequivocally happy.
From this point on, the day spiraled into a hooplah of cliched adventures where we rode on a double decker bus, visited the Harry Potter inspired platform 9 and 3/4’s, and browsed the luxury stores of Herrod’s. Outside of Herrod’s, luxury cars lined the street and a peculiar Bentley stood out from the crowd with large men in Armani suits guarding it’s perimeter. We were all admittedly out of our element.
Over our burger and fries that evening at a restaurant called Giraffe, my new friends and I made some generalizations about the city from our own experiences. As off point as these generalizations may be, I figured that I’d share my impressions with you all from the second day of my visit.
1) Londoners were very willing to help and they were all absurdly friendly. There was more than one experience where people stopped to give us direction or to simply strike up a conversation. It was definitely a welcome change from the cold stares and awkward nods I’d grown accustomed to in good ole Chicago.
2) Locals took their time to socialize when sociallizing with their friends and family. Everywhere we went there were people sitting on steps, benches, and architecture simply passing the time eating, drinking, and being merry. I saw more men drinking wine in two days than I’d seen in the past 21 years in the U.S. Waiters at restaurants would avoid the table as to not interrupt conversations. There was no rush when it came to mealt ime and the check wouldn’t come unless you asked for it. “Turning tables” was a foreign concept here and I must admit that I really appreciated it’s absence.
3) Stereotypes aren’t just for America. At the close of the day, I sat in my room watching the tele when I saw something peculiar. There was a commercial for an evening of American shows like the ones that normally run on MTV. It was marketed as “American Friday” or something of the sort and it highlighted our culture as crazy, rambunctious, and wild. It was very interesting because it put the world view of America into context. It seems that they may think that all my countrymen are partiers, pregnant by the time we’re 16 based on the programs that represented our culture, just as we assume all British people are exactly like the actors that we’ll see on BBC. We have no other frame of reference in the media beyond these innacurate typecasts.
Day 2 had reached it’s end. I went to bed with the nervous energy of a child on christmas eve, ready to unwrap the joys of a morning soon to come. 🙂