DAY 26 in London:
I couldn’t believe I was in London. I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it. London always seemed so intangible and out of reach to me, and truth be told, if not for Miriam studying in Medwards, I don’t think I’d ever find myself in the UK, at least not in the near future, because I’d have no reason to go there.
We had already slipped into a breakfast routine by this point of the trip, well, it was already the 26th day of our travels, so I guess that was a given, but anyway, here’s how it goes: Müsli, corn or bran flakes, banana coins, milk (either soy, almond or rice… OR HAZELNUT), conversations, then seconds… always seconds.
Here’s to my first official day in London!
A bus to Tottenham Court Road and a 7-minute walk later, we found ourselves in the extremely grand National Gallery where we were going to spend the morning with my ex-classmate from Secondary School, Ee Faye! We hadn’t met each other ever since she left for Canada at the end of 2012 where she continued with Foundation studies and is currently a Uni student at. It was definitely exciting to meet her again and be able to catch up on all that we missed out on in each others’ lives.
First stop in the National Gallery: The Dutch Flowers exhibition, which we thought would be a great follow-up to Holland. We had unfortunately missed out on the tulips in Kükenhof due to their sole blooming period in Spring, so this was to make up for that ‘loss’. There were roses, pansies, peonies (one of my favourites), and veins, ridges, burned edges of leaves to crepe-like petals of white poppies and hollyhocks — most of which were portrayed in transparent vases (how does one even portray transparency with paint?! that was out of this world) with dark background, dramatic lighting and a bright, decorative palette. My favourites were the unbelievable beauties and intricacies that were Jan van Huysum’s Bouquet of Flowers in an Urn, Paulus Theodorus van Brussel’s Flowers in a Vase, and Jan van Os’ Still Life with Flowers, Fruits and Poultry,
“Carnations, I like the smell, I really like it,” one lady told her husband.
We wandered all over the place and I may or may not have lost track of where exactly we were… but anyway at one point, something that became apparent to me was how pastel and charcoal on tracing paper laid onto millboard (e.g. Hilaire-German-Edgar Degas’ Russian Dancers), pastel on wove paper (e.g. Hilaire-German-Edgar Degas’ After the Bath, Woman drying Herself) and pastel on paper (e.g. Odilon Redon’s Ophelia among the Flowers) looked so alike to crayon on drawing block that I was so used to as a young girl… only more sophisticated.
Random and related to nothing at all, I must include that I took a particular liking to Eugène Carrière’s almost monochromatic Winding Wool which presented figures emerging out of a shadowy atmosphere… a focus on the daughter’s face in a scene of blur.
We then proceeded into a room which had Van Gogh’s paintings hung in it. Little kindergarten kiddos were perusing the paintings, some filling up blanks in their worksheets, others attempting to draw their own version of Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers, one of four of them dating from August and September 1888, intended to present the idea of gratitude. Van Gogh wanted to decorate his friend artist, Paul Gauguin’s, room with these paintings in the Yellow House that he rented in Arles in the South of France, in anticipation of his arrival.
Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, in August 1888, ‘I’d like to do a decoration for the studio. Nothing but large Sunflowers. Next door to your shop, in the restaurant, as you know, there’s such a beautiful decoration of flowers there; I still remember the big sunflower in the window. Well, if I carry out this plan there’ll be a dozen or so panels. The whole thing will, therefore, be a symphony in blue and yellow. I work on it all these mornings, from sunrise. Because the flowers wilt quickly and it’s a matter of doing the whole thing in one go.’ Unfortunately, Van Gogh’s race against the changing seasons didn’t prove successful and he was only able to complete four sunflower works in August 1888. After Van Gogh’s mental breakdown late in December in 1888 though, he went on to paint three additional copies of the original four sunflower works. They may have been just sunflowers to everyone else, but to him, they were all he had — “You know that Jeannin has the peony, Quost has the hollyhock, but I have the sunflower, in a way.” They revealed his mental struggles, symbolising so much pain and torment — “Thinking like this, but very far off, the desire comes over me to remake myself and try to have myself forgiven for the fact that my paintings are, however, almost a cry of anguish while symbolizing gratitude in the rustic sunflower.”
… I wish I could’ve been present when this happened.
Monet’s pieces, which I grew to love very much, was next. However, before any of us could really enjoy all that the Monet’s collection had to offer, Miriam, with slight anxiety written all over her face, walks over to Ee Faye and I and tell us that our free tour had started 20 minutes ago! We had gotten its start time wrong! We immediately checked the list of locations that the free tour would be passing through and thank the heavens — their third stop would be Trafalgar Square, which is right in front of the National Gallery. Our luck was on a high — we caught them.
Our guide was hilarious and gosh he knew everything — from the silly story of the man who attempted to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II, to the fact that it is illegal to die in the Palace of Westminster. He also shared with us that Big Ben is the bell, not the clock tower — its chime, by the way, is in the key of E because of cracks.
We were brought to Buckingham Palace — if the British Flag (Union Flag) is flying above the residence, then Her Majesty is not in residence, but if the Royal Standard is flying above the residence, then The Queen is in residence — and more parks and cathedrals than I can remember, but one thing that will never leave my memory is the fact that Henry VIII’s stomach
burst open exploded days after his death because his last meal (peaches and cider) fermented and caused excessive bloating!
Our tour came to an end near Parliament Square, where a demonstration against cuts in education was taking place. The demonstration — something which I found out from Miriam is very English — wasn’t frightening or anything, it was more so something like a civilised protest.
We then proceeded to South Bank and walked along it, meeting Simren and Reshem along the way, and enjoying the sights of London too — The London Eye, a neon pink bus-restaurant, a book sale, a bubble show, and Shakespeare’s Globe. We reached Borough Market (and met Hannah there) for a late lunch (I was STARVING by this point), and Miriam and I shared Ethiopian food! Both of us loved the yellow curry dhal type thing the most. 🙂 We find that Ethiopian food is pretty similar to Indian food — the thing that makes it different is simply the Injera bread which tastes nothing like prata/ paratha/ naan.
Making our way to St Pauls (which seriously blew my mind away) for Evensong, Miriam shared with Hannah about who I thought was Henry VIII, so I said ‘he had six wives’ (because he did), not knowing that Miriam had actually been talking about our tour guide! 😂
The sun hadn’t yet set as we emerged out of St Paul’s, so we walked to a nearby mall, One New Change, and took the lift up to its rooftop where deck chairs were laid out for those interested in watching the Wimbledon doubles match (the Williams sisters were playing). We didn’t stay for too long (we got hungry)…
That evening, Simren roasted veggies and potatoes for dinner, but seeing as it was taking longer than expected, Miriam and I walked a little way away to Sainsburys to get some bananas and müsli for breakfast the next two mornings, and just as we stopped along the way to have a look at some wristbands which had been put up on display in front of one of the shops… “So you found it!” said a man from behind us.
I didn’t recognise the man immediately so I thought it was strange that he was happy/ excited that we found these wristbands. I only pieced the puzzle together when Miriam started talking about how we did find the apartment in the end! (We had asked him for directions in the neighbourhood the previous day when we had just arrived in London.) Another one of our Michels. 🙂
Later that evening, the smoke alarm went off because of the veggies and potatoes in the oven…
So did the veggies and potatoes.