Sunday, November 21, 2010

Three's Company: Natural History and Science Museum

I was already on the 333 to Tooting Broadway for the Northern Line heading to Highgate Cemetery on Octobre 17th when I received a message from Katja saying something the along the lines of "We're on the way to the Science Museum - wanna come?" So sure I did.

All I did on the day before was to rest (yeah!) for most of the day and to go to Tooting Broadway for a new haircut, some shopping and foooood as all I had eaten so far was breakfast. Oh by the way, some time ago, I found out that the toast I get here is always already expired. Always. I have given up to complain or to get upset about those kind of things quite a while ago as mentioning anything would be of no earthly use and I'd rather live peacefully here than in a tense atmosphere.
Haircut. I am fussy about my hair. Fussy to a pathetically high degree. Embaressingly fussy. I once came out with such a bad haircut that I did not enter a hairdresser for more than half a year and the one I went to right before I departed to LDN, although I had been there before (but with a different coiffeur), gave me a haircut that eerily resembled the one from Mireille Mathieu with is not a good thing, either.
Anyway, I walked around for a while until I found one that looked halfway trustworthy. There surprisingly is quite a variety of hairdressers to choose from at Tooting Broadway and no - not all of them would rather give you beads or weaves (contrary general assumption). I came in, had my hair washed three times (I asked whether it was really necessary before the third time as I slowly started to think that they are going to charge extra - what they did not - but appearently, the last time was with conditioner), was treated in a friendly manner, asked how I wanted it to look like, was given further advice and left the place quite pleased with the result. I hate the places where they want to hear from you exactly what you want them to do as it always seems to me then that they don't know what they are doing and furthermore, I am not a frickin' hairdresser so how the hell am I supposed to know exactly how you are ought to cut my hair. Ah, there we go. I think it became obvious now that I really have got hair issues. Dunno where that came from.

After strolling through Tooting Market and the area for a while, finding something to eat became the main goal. The first low priced stall went out of food (haha! To their defence however, it was rather late and I was still in the market hall then and there was still some stew stuff left, but that was not really what I was looking for. It was Jamaican food, btw). I then decided to go to an Indian restaurant, which was not the best idea I have ever had. I am talking about the restaurant, not the fact that it was Indian. The amount of food was way too small for what I paid, it was way too greasy and again they gave me one of the shittiest seats available. meh.

That was the day before. I actually wanted to write about my day with the two gals, so here I go.

I arrived in South Kensington a bit earlier than they did, so I had plenty of time to get myself a (not too nice and rather flat) cheap coffee from a place right at the station and sit down on a bench for a while before they showed up.
Writing about coffee. Probably deriving from their history of being tea drinkers, the English coffee of choice is instant, somewhat weaker, milkier and sweeter from what Germans usually prefer. A kettle here is just as much a kitchen essential as is a coffee machine in Germany (FYI, I don't even own a kettle - if I need hot water, I use a good ol' pot on a stove - takes longer, though). Just a little side note. That being said, London Town is still plastered with coffee shop chains and you also don't need to look fot too lonh in farther areas. It seems to me, that Starbucks is to my surprise not the one to find the most but rather the runner up to Pret a Manger (or just plain Pret) which seems to be omnipresent. Followed by Costa and Nero, with the occasional Paul's. As I am someone who is very fond of coffee (as well as tea), I will gladly give you my opinion about the coffee of mentioned chains.

Let's start with Starbucks. Starbucks is the place to go if you want nice, tasty, overpriced fancy shmancy hot beveranges with a lotta cream and syrup but with very little coffee. Let's be honest. Who does not love overpriced fancy shmancy hot beveranges with a lotta cream and syrup but with very little coffee once in a while?
Don't go to Pret if you want coffee. I like their food; you can see the 'effort' in offering more healthy food and the fact that everything is supposedly organic is to their favour as well, but their coffee tastes plain frowsty. Fail. End of story. Organic BS or not, if it tastes bad, I won't buy it.

I cannot say a lot about Paul except that their coffee is alright and their food - at least the macaron I once had haha - is delicious but everything is ridiculously overpriced.

The coffee shop that takes the cake for me is definitely Caffè Nero. Their coffee tastes almost nutty, roasted but not burned and their prices are - for coffee shop standards - rather low.

But finally time to come back to the museums...

We first went to the Science Museum. I have already been there three years ago and remembered it being - watch out, uncreative ad talk on its way - "fun and interactive" meaning that there are many things you can/need to do something with. Different ones than there used to be  years ago which is a good thing as it makes it worth revisiting.

Besides the obvious themes of natural science and technology, the new exhibition "Who am I" adds psychological, biological and socioligical aspects. That was were we spend most of the time.

I don't want to go further into detail as is way better in describing what they offer, but it really is worth a visit, especially combined with the Natural History Museum , which is right next door, so to say and picks up themes such as geology, biology and, well, natural history. Again, we did not quite see all of it as the two still had an appointment, and I might visit it again.

Oh yes, both museums are free except special temporary exhibitions and a few extras.

Both are enjoyable and not the kind of museums where you oooh and aaaah over historical, man made, high cultural objects (arts and crafts for short), which I like as well (the V&A still being my favourite museum).

However, while grown-ups still find something interesting and are going to have there fun - children will get the most out of it.

After leaving the museum oh so much wiser but hungry, we decided to have dessert before our actual dinner (or was it a late lunch? dinner? linner?).  So we went to Snog - a frozen yoghurt shop with a shitload of toppings to choose from. I had green tea yoghurt with chocolate brownies, strawberries and mochi blobs on top. The gals had plain yoghurt and dark chocolate and that were actually all one could choose from. Tasty? Yes. Expensive? Definitely.

We moved on to Victoria Station as their train was going to depart from there and ate at Garfunkel's again (I just love their spareribs and chips. Honestly. I do) where Sarah taught me that you can just ask for tap water in restaurants here as a beverage. We all got big glasses of it even with icecubes and a slice of lemon without being charged. Love it. The best thing that would happen I assume if you asked for tap water in Germany, would be the waitress giving you an irritated look, the worst thing would be you being thrown out. Well, a bit of an exaggeration but you get the picture.
Afterwards, we I drank an alright but not too good chai latte with them at the train station (at least I had a chai latte) before they had to leave what made me decide to walk around the area by myself.

Shame on me, but I did not know that Buckingham Palace is so close to there! I pretty much ended up there by coincidence, but surely not regretting it at all. The palace itself is really not too interesting from the outside. However, the fountain in front of it is!

I got to Hyde Park Corner Station, passing the Wellington Arch.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Between Jurism, Journalism, Corpses and Fairytales: Holborn

Alright, this time it's gettin' bathetically touristy.

Bath was yesterday, sunny it was today. So, 'what to do' I was thinking when I remembered that quite a while ago, I actually purchased a guide for London that was supposed to help me in exactly this kind of situations. Half-heartedly leaving through it, I stopped in the centre of the book. 'Pretty', I thought when looking at a picture of a dragon-like figure artsy fartsy lit from behind by warm evening sunlight. That kind of picture everybody loves to look at and every hobby photographer proclaims to be his 'masterpiece'. I don't quite recall, but thoughts like 'Yes, I want to look at pretty things lit from behind by warm evening sunlight, today' might have come into my mind when settling on going out for a walk that it exactly described in the pages of that guide. Holborn it was, so I set out to go there.

Sir John Soane's Museum
What a suprise - Holborn was the name of the closest station so I got off the tube there, trying to find the start point of said walk with intitial difficulties. I think I have mentioned before that my sense of directions puts me close to retardation sometimes. Or maybe it was just because you sometimes just don't know in which direction you look when exiting the tube station. Nevermind. Lincoln's Inn Fields was supposed to be the first street to enter and also the name of the park it surrounded at the same time. The guide did not mention entering the park but I did anyway just for a sneak peak: yes, a park, not really too interesting. The first sight worth seeing was supposed to be Sir John Soane's Museum, which I did not enter, but viewed from outside. The architect from georgian times rebuilt the building, as well as the neighbouring ones himself. Alright, nice to look at for a moment, but not too interesting. What I liked about using a guide though was that one directly has a few background information and that things are described that one might not have noticed.

My masterpiece!
Heading to Lincoln's Inn - one of the oldest Inns of Court - turned out to be a bit difficult as the BBC seemed to be busy doing something in there with trucks - ehrm lories - and waggons parked outside. Gary Rush, Niamh Cranitch and and Nick Slade - are those local celebrities? Never heard of them but they had their own waggons, however. Alright, taking on the 3rd side of the park - catching a glimpse already of the backside of the Royal Courts of Justice and the Royal College of Surgeons, I turned into Portssmouth St. The 1836 founded Royal College of Surgeons now contains besides laboratories a anatomy museum, hence the corpses in the title. I found studying medicine always rather disturbing as I could neither look at corpses/body parts much less operate on them (let alone on living people always worrying of causing them any damages and so on). I am more than grateful that doctors and surgeons exist (duh), but then I sometimes think that you have to be at least slightly f*cked up to be capable of doing the things they do and did in college. Just a thought. Anyway.

The Old Curiosity Shop I saw next may or may not be the name giver of the story by Charles Dicken's  - but this building from the 17th century can give a slight impression of how the area looked like in that time (before the Great Fire of London). This is one of the most fascinating aspects of London: One old building can stand right next to an even older building standing beside a modern one.

From Portugal Street over Serle Street to Chancery Lane, this area really has to offer a lot of histrorical architecture and an atmosphere hard to describe. Old, but not the medieval kind of old but the sophisticated 18th century kind of old with a sophisticated nobleness, and the creative busyness that then gives you Fleet Street, that has been the home of many British newspapers.



I was still following that guide, leading me through a tiny passage at Fleet Street that I never would have noticed ending in a little court with a gate that - was locked. Guide:failed. End of story. Cul-de-Sac. That was the moment when I decided to send the guide to hell and walk around just with my own gusto.

See how majestically the sun shines through the dreamy smog of London.

I went back to Fleet Street, finally having a look at the Royal Court of Justice from the frontside.
This victorian-gothic building could really be right out of a fantasy fairytale: Majestic, playful and dark at the same time, here is where I finally found the alluring dragon I have been longing for all day (please notice the lack of seriousness). The dragon  - being actually a griffin - marks the border to the City of London.


I aimlessly walked down, almost to the riverside, finding a lory loaded with something that seemed to be a very old coal waggon. I am always very pleased by those kind of coincidents. Me randomly walking around London, finding a rather deserted place with such a temporary sight. Brilliant. Those kind of things remind me of the one week I spent in Paris last year when we rather spontaneously decided to go to the Arc de Triomphe where unforeseen a parade was taking place with people playing trumpets and so on and minutes later while walking down Champs-Élysées a red bus passed us with wig-wearing people on top singing songs by the Beatles. Kismet.

Anyway, quite close was a small park with a memorial and not a lot else to see, so I went back to the Court of Justice, walked down another street and found something I have never seen or heard of before:

What lay in front of me was the court of the Somerset House. Open to the public, very nice at dusk with not too many people around, I rested there for a while before I looked out for something to eat. Eating out alone always is a bit awkward and my experiences have been rather on the bad side but still: I had not eaten so far and was not even too picky. Not very far away was a Garfunkel's - a chain I had already noticed. I decided to eat there and naturally was given the worst place in the restaurant: right at the front, at the window next to the stairs down to the toilets. Fabulous. But - hungry - dinmatter. I ordered the chicken and rib combo along with chips and a sad tiny portion of coleslaw but tasty nevertheless.

The chicken was dry and chicken-y, but the spareribs however were the best I have ever eaten so far with no nibbling off the bones necessary as the meat just fell off of them. Yum. After dinner kept on walking around for a while until I came to the Picadilly Circus area where my stupidity made me waste some money. As the evening was unusually warm, I thought I could still go for a nice coffee (I don't get real coffee outside of cafes as the British really seem to like the sad excuse of a coffee that is the instant version) and found a frozen yogurt parlour. Not looking at the prices (how much could it be?) I spent 10 GBP on a coffee and two scoops of icecream. Bitter.Those kind of things ususally don't happen to me as I am generally very alert when it's about money and prices and I make sure that something like that won't happen again in near future. 10 Pound is not a fortune, but it is more about me being undesigned wasteful that bugs me. In the end, I got into the tube at Picadilly and called it a night.

About guides. If you really don't know what to do and need some inspiration, there you go. While the walks described in mine seem to be well-thought-out, keep in mind that they can never be as recent as the day you set out for them so obstacles may occur. Considering them a vague guideline might be the best idea with the background information being interesting but seriously, who walks to check a book all the time when walking around?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stonehenge and Bath in a Rush.

Geee, I just can't believe how time flies. Octobre is coming to an end and half of my internship is over already. :< I am honestly considering applying for my master's degree at a uni here in London. Just a thought I had without any definite plans or anything. Who knows... I just... Going back to Hanover will be difficult.

Anyway, on Octobre 9th I went with Katja to... STONEHENGE and BATH! We booked one of those bus tours for 54GBP I think it was which is great on the one hand as the price is not too bad I'd say but on the other hand, the time you actually get to spend there is completely determined by other. They gave us 1 hour for stonehenge which is plenty considering that despite stonehenge being stonehenge - mysterious, fascinating and so on - in the end, there are just some stones in a circle; you've pretty much seen everything after 60 minutes. Entry was included in those 54GBP so we did not have to queue at all as was the audioguide available in quite a few languages. I made myself listen to it for a while but just gave up after maybe 10 minutes - c'mon, I'm was not there to listen to some boring ass crap I would have forgotten ten minutes later anyway. I know me and how that works - I listened to it all the way through Fontainebleau when I was in Paris and does anybody think that I retained at least on thing in my head? Nope.

I want to be honest - stonehenge was pretty much a letdown. Not only was it way smaller than I thought it was but also way too crowded and they would not even let you get close to the stones as it was fenced off. So all the pictures are from quite a distance. I mean, I completely understand why they do so - they want to maintain the formation as good as possible but is kinda destroys the amosphere. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I was there and I don't want to miss the experience, but it just cannot keep up with its reputation. Interesting - but just too tiny to be impressive.

Speaking about tiny. So was our tour guide. That short, sturdy dark-haired early thirties woman I'd say being just a little too perky and friendly to be real. I'm with the client service girls - I know how that works when they're on the phone. I'm not complaining here, that is exactly what her job requires and other people (want to) buy that so she was pretty good at it. What I am complaining about indeed are people that don't know how to be on time when a whole bus (well, it was not really full to be honest) is waiting for them. When you are told when to be back - be back. I don't want to see you leisurely getting on the bus late because you just had to get into that 10 minute queue for a bloody overpriced SAMMICH. What I WANT to do in those cases is to rub that bloody thing in your bloody face especially when looking at your ignorant, completely oblivious face. I hope it gave you heartburn or something. I just cannot stand that kind of inconsideration, you gain in lunch is my loss in time - keeping in mind that WE actually abandoned to get something to eat (much less staying in the souvenir shop for more than a minute). Nevermind.

The drive was alright. Not too long, not too fatiguing. Wheather was cloudy all day long which was okay for stonehenge but maybe a bit of a pity for Bath. Bath. Beautiful. The first sight of this 86.000 resident city was stunning but difficult to catch on camera as the bus did not stop and due to the weather, the visibility was rather misty. What makes Bath so special besides having an actual Roman bath built about 60-70 AD are its architectural characteristics. The whole town - or at least the facades - are made from a kind of limestone found in that area carying its name (Bath Stone, duh) and being beige-yellowish colourwise. Even buildings built today are obliged to be covered in that precious, hence pricey, material to a certain degree to keep the flair of the town.
They gave us only 3 hours for the Roman baths (now a museum) and sightseeing which is simply not enough if you want to do it right. Katja and I quickly agreed on three main sights we needed to see (The Circus, The Royal Crescent and the Pulteney Bridge) and set off to the museum (which was included again) with me taking pictures and Katja shouting random facts at me she listened to on the audioguide. Hurrying through the baths in about and hour, devouring a nice yet overpriced lunch (steak with chips, some salad and garlic bread) in a quite posh restaurant (Grand Pump Room) with live ensemble in 30 minutes, we continued to view the town in a rush, taking most of the pictures while walking. Jane Austen 'museum' with weird costumed guy standing at the front our guide was befriended with as she greeted him already when we were still on the bus (she commanded us to wave and blow kisses at him. Well...) - check. Never read Jane Austen but hey, while we're here. It seemed to be one of those privately-ran small town museums closer to a junk-shop than to anything else we might even have checked out when there would have been more time on our hands.

The Circus

The Circus first (we were given a map while still with the group which turned out to be quite adequate so the orientation was not too bad apparently; Katja was completely in charge of that as I'm a person that seems to constantly go into the exact opposite direction than desired). Check. Alright, interesting and quite a nice view with the trees in the centre. Moving on up to The Royal Crescent. Nice. There seemed to be some kind of festival on the green areas around that place.

The Royal Crescent
As I said, we completely hurried through the town withouth having had enough time to really get a strong impression of the areas and to put deeper thought in it, inhaling the atmosphere which is such a shame so my two cents are rather shallow on these ones.

Next and final "must see" was the Pulteney Bridge.  Alright, the route was not too difficult. Go to the left at this junction, to the right at the next and - lost. Well not really. It took us only about 10 minutes to realise that the way we were on was certainly not the right one and go back. Whatev - we saw some more of the town and a 'mini Camden Market' as she named it - a small vintage car boot sale.

When we finally arrived at the bridge, we had some more time to linger. From architectural perspective is this bridge finished in 1773 not only beautiful but also quite unique with only 3 of this kind existing all over the world. One here, one in Venice and the other... somewhere else. You cannot really see that it is a bridge when directly on it as it appears to be a common street lined with terrace houses, then. We stood there for a while enjoying the view, regretting that we did not have enough time to drink some coffee (cocoa for Kätcha that would have been) and rest in the little park beneath the bridge. I was trying to squeeze out some pictures of my low battery-ed camera while she was trying to be on those (Me: Let me just take another picture from this side... K, saying  'What? You want to take a picture of me?' merciless striking a pose all over the railing...).


On the way back to the coach we grabbed some hot chocolate at Nero along with some yummy brownies and made our way back to London, taking a short unspectacular walk at Earl's Court before calling it a night.

Would I recommend those coach tours? Yes and no. It was a convenient and practical way to see those two locations with the time we had at stonehenge having been more than enough and due to the tickets already been included there was no need to get in the rather long queues at any place. However, when moving on to Bath, I came to the conclusion that one should either take their time to enjoy the city or go to the museum, as there honestly was at least one hour missing to do both properly.