Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Three, Two, One....Take off

Our last three days abroad. Sigh. They've been lovely.

We spent our last day in Coventry at a place called Lunds Roman Fort. Or something like that. Somewhat like our Civil War Re-enactment groups or our SCA or Renaissance Fairs, but with much older history. There was a Celtic group, a Roman group, and a Viking group. And a couple people representing Spartans. You could wander their "villages" or watch the events in the main arenas or fields. Lots of families. Rain off and on despite the little altars the Roman's had set up to appeal to their Gods for the day to be fair. They event organizers had scheduled a free bus to and from the event because it was a few miles out of town. The bus driver said we were two of only five, well, seven counting the other couple that came back with us at the end of the day, that used the bus all day. The area was the closest to a "suburb" we've seen the entire time we've been in England, and almost everyone had their own car.

The newness of travel has worn off for William and I have had to fight with him progressively harder over the last week to get him out of bed in the mornings. I won most of the battle yesterday and we got a fairly early train to London. We met the first person that was really close to William's age, a girl of 13 traveling with her parents and her pet catepillar (along with a giant glass jar full of wisteria branches for him). She chatted with William and I most of the trip and she was one of many people who I will cherish the memory of meeting.

We booked a hotel close to the train station to save time. It was pleasant and clean, like an upscale Motel 6 - actually the same company. We dumped our bags and headed straight to Leciester Square to stand in line for tickets. I really wanted to see a play in London. We scored front row seats to our first choice, Chicago. Afterwards we walked around a bit, saw Picadilly Circus (uhm, okay, whatever - don't bother with it if you come) and then through Soho and Covent Garden districts which were totally artzy, bohemian, fringe, and wonderful. William put up with me digging for goodies in a bead shop for a bit. And we found a couple books in a Borders Bookstore, including a signed copy of Joshilyn's Gods in Alabama (we took a photo for her although the guy at the information booth by the front door thought we were daft Americans for doing so). We found exactly where the theatre was for later that night so we we didn't have to wander around looking for it at the last minute.

I really wanted to go to the Tate Modern (museum of modern art). William had completely reached his saturation point with museums of any kind and wanted to go back to the hotel room and take a nap. I did NOT want to waste my last day in London sleeping. So I took him back to the hotel and then headed off on my own for the rest of the afternoon. I took the tube over to the Tate. It's free to get in. It's really amazing to me how most of the cultural events are free, or nearly so. If you can afford to get over here to see them, that's the expense.

The Tate Modern is fairly new, it's in a giant old factory building on the banks of the Thames directly across from St. Paul's Cathedral, although there's not much else located directly around it. Although I really liked the street fair atmosphere around the Centre George Pompidou in Paris, the Tate won my heart for their galleries. Picasso, Pollock, Chegall, Warhol.... even a Klimt and a Monet. Also a lot of much more current artists.

The thing about modern art is that some of it, I look at it and think "Huh!?" But then some of it is wonderful. It evokes as much emotion as the finest of the Old Masters. And some of it, despite it's simplicity or abstractness, despite the fact that I wouldn't want it in my home, still pulls you in to interact with it. It teaches you how to see things in new ways, ways you hadn't thought of before or ways you take for granted and don't notice any longer. Some of it isn't meant to be pretty or beautiful, it's just meant to make you think or react. Not the same as making you "feel", but still a valuable experience. And frankly, it's not like I like all realistic or old art either. Some are awe-inspiring, tear-welling, some are..... eh, an old painting of some guy dressed in a frilly shirt.

I left the Tate and walked over a pedestrian bridge across the Thames. The air was still cold and windy, but the skies were a vivid blue and the clouds were so white and perfectly cloud shaped, it's as if they were painted up there by some brilliant stage designer. I walked up to St. Paul's Cathedral, tried to take some photos of it against that sky, but it was too big to truly capture. Instead I just walked down the street and people watched and finally found a metro station and went back to the hotel to collect William.

We took the bus directly down near the theatre so we wouldn't have to worry about the time and then wandered a few blocks until we found a place for dinner. Morrocan! We hadn't done that yet. It was all low slung couches and little mushrooms of round pillows scattered around tables lit with candles. Having no idea what to order, we splurged and got the dinner for two which included a little bit of everything. I was as comfy as Little Miss Muffet atop my tuffet (no spiders), but William had a bit of a problem trying to figure out where to put all the extra leg he has. The food was delicious and most of it was actually recognizable or similar to things we've had before. It was fun that the few unknowns were the same sort of dishes we'd just learned about the Romans serving a thousand years ago and involved honey and dates. William ordered a Coke but I had the traditional very sweet mint tea which William tasted and then I had to fight him off of finishing up the pot of it.

The play was wonderful. Billy Flynn had an Italian accent. We sat by a woman traveling alone from Germany and a teenager with her aunt and uncle from South Carolina. We chatted before, between, and after. At intermission they sold ice cream cups!

I couldn't have asked for a nicer last full day in London. The rain we dealt with on our first run through the city was gone and so was the pressure to fit in any specific site seeing. Instead it was relaxing and fun in a "no expectations" sort of way. And I got to do the two things, see a play and go to the Tate, that I had really wanted to do while I had the chance. William has been an incredibly good companion, but I have to say I enjoyed my afternoon alone. In fact, it's been interesting how each location has caused us to comment that we wished this person or that person was here with us. We thought of my mom when we were in the Cotswolds. William knew Papa would love the Car Museum in Coventry and of course I wished he were with me in Paris (it really is a city made for lovers). I wished I had had a gaggle of girlfriends to laugh and share around the table at the Moroccan restaurant. Joe would have loved the theatre. Sam would have been such a hoot and had so much fun meeting all the different people we met. Noel would love the kids and the fringe communities as much as I did. Lisa and Kyla and I would have been fiendish shoppers.

Well, gotta go do some of that shopping now, even though William thinks shops are evil, mom-sucking black holes. Hey, I've been incredibly good! That and I've run out of room in my suitcase. In fact, it's splitting at the seams and hopefully will stay shut with a line of safety pins and a prayer. We're off to Heathrow in a few very short hours. Goodbye England!


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