Friday, June 15, 2012

YandA in London with Boaz: June 2012

Who said the Brits would not give us the time of day?

London with Boaz June 2012
It was, I think,  Arkee's idea. He was going to be in England sometime for a scientific meeting. We had mentioned something to do with English history and connected it somehow to Boaz. Arkee had already done similar trips with his grandchildren for their Bar and Bat mitzvahs. I would not have initiated the idea  nor undertaken  the responsibility of it on my own. But together  was another issue.

 It only remained to fix the date when his  colleagues would finally decide on their team meeting to be held in the wilds of Surrey and to latch onto that. Who would know that that would turn out just to be the Queen's jubilee weekend???

The authorities in charge did a wonderful job of preparing for the event and overlooked not even  the most minor detail..

 Internet sites galore warned me about long lines (specifically, at the Eye, to prove unnecessarily severe once we had taken the advice to buy combined tickets in advance) and gave prices and opening times, also when and where to avoid the Queen's expected presence – or the opposite, if we were so inclined. Musea – wonder of wonders – were not to be closed even on bank holidays - one even stayed open longer than usual due to a school holiday! – where else in the world would you find that happening? – so we were assured we would have no problems taking ourselves wherever we wanted to go, subject only to time and money. Police in evidence everywhere were benign and accessible for guidance (unless they were out-of-towners, which often happened), and mostly occupied in directing traffic.

So armed with parental permission and a blind eye from school, Boaz and I

 arrived on Friday morning to a cloudy but muggy London, schlepped ourselves to Victoria and the hotel along endless Belgrave Road and half-starving, found an outlet of fast food back at the station before setting out to discover the city.
Not to get lost...

With two hours difference in time and northern daylight, there was no lack of places to show him, but the coming festivities rather impeded our enthusiasm. The city has been beautifully redone - not to say tarted up - anything not truly ancient has been painted light blue, police are dressed in bright yellow, decorative spikes and curlicues are re-gilded and shiny everywhere you look. No place of business is undecorated.

 Flags in multitudes are everywhere, in bunches, garlands and chains, on hats and shirts and of course for sale at every corner along with every possible kind of souvenir you could possibly want - or not. But at least the vendors are not pushy and allow you to go by unmolested, as against some other countries I could mention in similar circumstances..
On the other hand our good intentions to view the palace and the guards unhindered by the crowds expected to come for the parade the next day were foiled by the huge preparations for the public concert to take place - netting, fencing, barriers and the bleachers, to say nothing of the huge electronic apparatus were being set up around the front of the palace and the Victoria memorial and not a busby to be sighted at the distance from which we were allowed to peep. Only from the London Eye were we able to get a telescopic view of what should have been one of the sights for Boaz.  Trafalgar Square was in similar state, although they could not block the pool and the column, only the poor lions peered bemusedly over the netting. However, we walked past the Abbey in the setting sun, promising ourselves a proper visit, and the Houses of Parliament, which we also viewed better from the Eye. 

 At the end of our energy and jet-lag we peeked at some entertainers in Piccadilly Circus, said hallo to Eros surrounded by smokers sitting on his steps and returned to the hotel to meet Arkee.

Today Saturday we went to visit the Tower.

Surprisingly to me, at least, there were no lines. We opted for the guided tour and sent Boaz happily off with an audio guide in German. 

This was ideal both for us and for him, he chose what he wanted to hear and do and we could enjoy the humour and language without worrying about him. He also got to see the armory which we chose not to, and we went together to the Crown Jewels which he might have given up on without our insisting, but was very impressed by and glad he took in. Then we rode the double-decker (up front on top, of course) to St Paul's

 and had sandwiches and soup nearby. At St. Paul's again Boaz took a very good audio-guide (as did we, it was included in the not-so-cheap entrance fee, but well worth it) which includes music, videos, commentary and close-ups of features which cannot be seen from afar. Then he opted predictably for the Whispering Gallery, and we opted predictably out. So he climbed the 200 and something steps and went on from there to the balconies outside the dome which gave him views

 after which we said he would not need to go on the Eye!   But of course we did. 

Sunday - it rained on the Queen's parade! such a hutzpa that the  one thing she cannot do is control the weather......

People stayed over night on the Embankment in flag-colored or decorated tents, groundsheets, blankets and umbrellas to keep their places for the flotilla expected to go up the Thames today "because that's what we do, ain't it?". Union-jack painted hip-flasks and thermoses were very much in evidence and good humour was the order of the day.
You were lucky if you were going in the opposite direction to crowds (as we were but not all the time ). The crowds. the crowds – families with baby-strollers, groups of young people with musical instruments and satchels, old people – royalists all - everyone  sporting the colours, red, white and blue on dress - hats, shirts, skirts, pants, shoes, even a batman-style total body-stocking in royal blue decorated with the Union Jack  - every possible surface visible was decorated, even dogs and babies were carrying appropriately-sized flags and the mood was accordingly jubilant.
 We decided to take advantage of the short morning before we met my friend Lesley for lunch and visit the National Gallery at Boaz' instigation. We, of course, were happy to go along, and even happier at his selection of the Dutch and Impressionist paintings. Two wonderful hours were just about right for our legs and then we started out on our way to Marble Arch to look for some speakers. Of course it had to happen that we met Lesley on the Underground, not on the last lap, but on the one before.. We introduced her to Boaz and went to Speakers' Corner,

 but here too the festivities had taken over. A good portion of the park was blocked from view because of a music festival and the couple of speakers we found might not have been "accredited". It was not clear if that is the new order of the day or not. We had a discussion with one who had been asked to move by the local guards as being in the wrong place, it was not clear why, and heard from another who comes every week that we would be better off  to come back later. But we had other ideas and went off with Lesley along Oxford Street looking for lunch. This we eventually had at a very good Turkish restaurant in a small place unexpectedly acceded to by a tiny alley between the huge stores. Selfridge's itself was decorated with windows illustrating  various aspects of the monarchy, tongue in cheek.
From there we decided to take in another museum and made our way to South Kensington. But the time we had left before closing would not have sufficed for the Science  Museum that Boaz is so much looking forward to, so we took ourselves into the Natural History and allowed Boaz to take us through the ecological, biological and volcanic exhibits that he prefers.

 He loved the museum and appreciated it very much and it was a very good idea.
Altogether he enjoys doing his own thing with us tagging along, has got the hang of the Underground and plans our routes efficiently and is in his element leading us through the crowds to our destination.  He is also easy to feed, not like some of the family, which is a great blessing. We supped at a Thai restaurant where I had a very tasty coconut milk lemon grass soup and we ate noodles before bed, running again through the rain which had held off for just about half the time of the flotilla on the Thames!
Monday. I had intended to visit Ronnie and Lettie, close friends and relatives. We knew that Ronnie was already very sick and in the North London Hospice, so would be unlikely to be aware of our visit. Together with the family we decided that only I would make the visit and Arkee and Boaz would take in the Science Museum together, under the promise of better weather in the afternoon when we would meet at the Greenwich Observatory for the obligatory photo on the Meridian line and a visit to the clock museum etc. Arkee will fill in on the museum.
It was great fun to go to the Science Museum with Boaz.  We started out with the transportation technology section that covered the range from Stevenson's first locomotive up to spacecraft with everything in between.   

We wandered through both together and separately, with questions here and there and at times I called his attention to specific things. 

 He suspected the Scout rocket hanging from the ceiling of being a cardboard mockup, but I assured him that if that had been so, an appropriate sign would have been put up.  He greatly enjoyed the part of the hands-on section that was appropriate for his age and high degree of sophistication.  We had a nice lunch in the Museum cafeteria and then wended our way to Greenwich by underground and light rail.  We managed to miscommunicate with Yosefa and to miss her at the entrance, thus assuming that she had entered.  Her opposition to capital punishment was sorely tried. (Who's opposed?) Of course it is fun to be in

 neither hemisphere 

or in once:

Lettie was glad of my visit, I think, as was David, her son. Ronnie was not aware, but is not suffering. I left them to their cares and took the Dockland railway to Greenwich. The "nice" weather promised was an icy wind with heavy clouds, occasional spats of cold raindrops and five minutes of sun about once a half hour. Arkee and Boaz took longer to arrive than I had expected and I waited outside for them, with broken communication through cellphone texting. Finally I realised they were already inside the museum and joined them for the end of the visit. Hot coffee restored our metabolism and we returned to Belgravia via the river boat under the Tower Bridge - barely tearing Boaz away from his cellphone in time to take video footage of the event!

Supper in a local pub and frustrations on the internet finished up the day....Boaz slept through the Royal fireworks which could not have been seen from our window anyway.

Tuesday was our last day. David Lyons came for breakfast to hand us some courier to be taken to Israel. He was happy to meet Arkee and Boaz again and wished us a safe journey back. The rain gave little let-up.
We had decided to dedicate the morning to Westminster Abbey. 

The Queen was going to be at St Paul's at a celebratory service, and we hoped to be out of the Abbey before she arrived for lunch at the Houses of Parliament and then proceeded in an open carriage to the Palace to appear on the balcony. I suspected access might be limited, but other than having to get off the Underground one stop before we had planned, there was no problem threading our way through police barriers  to the Abbey. Outside the Abbey we slowed up as we could hear the sound of a solemn preacher being broadcast through a loudspeaker. Getting closer we realized the service was being broadcast from St Paul's and being raptly attended to by a crowd of silent Englishmen standing in front of the Abbey. For them the monarchy is truly a religious experience.

Entrance to the Abbey was not hindered (if you paid) and Boaz took his audio-guide in German and enjoyed the full advantage of it. I had not been there for so long, I had completely forgotten what there was to see and the beautiful Henry VII Lady Chapel roof took my breath away. I wallowed in Poets' Corner and we all worshiped at our various heroes' graves and memorial stones – Darwin, Newton and others.  Confession, Boaz took a forbidden photograph in the Abbey, please do not tell MI6.

The rain was abstaining for a while, and everyone was rushing to get a good place for the passage of the Queen, but we were going the other way. Arkee had a pub-pie lunch and then took off for his airport shuttle. Boaz  wanting to seem something more of the "old city", he and I decided to visit the Temple

Gate to the Middle Temple Hall

 until the rain came back.
Paschal lambs are the emblem of the Middle Temple

This is a lawyers' quarter, one of the Inns of Court, to which we found access from the side of the river through a small park and then, when we found we had gone out the far side to the Strand, opposite the Old Bailey, came back through an almost hidden gate (but marked on the map) to continue our tour. It was still a bank holiday and no one was about, tourists were everywhere else but here and we walked between old buildings with lawyers' plates at the entrances

 to wooden staircases and looked down into windowed offices in basements with piles of paper files (yes, still) on desks and also through English gardens made for meditation away from the noisy streets – another world almost. 

Then the rain increased

 and we walked over to Covent Garden. I had promised Boaz a covered market, but there was a greater attraction – the London Transport Museum into which he could get for free. So we separated and he had a fascinating visit, he told me afterwards,

 and I wandered the market until my feet gave out and we had to leave to get to Heathrow, Pizza and plane..