On Sunday, September 20, 2009, I returned to the city, again by train (though this time by BART). Though my main goal was a festival in Chinatown, I first stopped off at the city's main public library (by the civic center). I figured, if I can't find the books I want at an independent bookstore, and my local county library system doesn't have them, then at least I can get them from another county. Indeed, the San Francisco public library system seems to have a more extensive collection than San Mateo. At the library, I picked up a library card (yes, California residents outside the city can get a card), and checked out a number of books.
I left the library with my now-heavier backpack and immediately noticed a bunch of stands--I stumbled upon the "Heart of the City" farmers market (by the Civic Center). Though I didn't want anything, I knew I'd regret it if I didn't browse to see what it had. It's a large market, with many vegetable and fruit vendors--certainly more such vendors and with a wider variety than San Mateo's market. For instance, there were more types of apples and eggplants, plus date vendors with many types (San Mateo usually only has one date stand, which sells one type of date), plus many items that don't normally appear at my local market such as Thai chilies. The most interesting aspect of this market is that there were practically no prepared/cooked foods, not even a bakery.
Finally, my curiosity satisfied, I hiked to Chinatown for its Autumn Moon festival. It was a large, typical street festival. As such, it had the usual wide assortment of booths: community groups and government agencies doing outreach to this community, business sponsors (banks, insurance companies, Chinese magazines, etc.), art, crafts, knickknacks and low-end accessories (many Chinese), Chinese home decorations, DVDs, plants, and more. Some booths even sold electronic goods such as rice cookers. Incidentally, Safeway set up a large pavilion to give out free samples of items they carry. You should've seen the line for the ice cream bars.
Also, I was surprised to see a lot pre-packaged food for sale. Sure, I expected many booths selling high-end mooncakes in fancy boxes (tis the season), but there were many more baked goods and other packaged foods (e.g., noodles, tea leaves) and bottled drinks (e.g., green tea, aloe drinks) than I thought there'd be. In contrast, I was disappointed to find only two fresh food stands. (I guess being in Chinatown means there's food everywhere already.)
I counted four stages of entertainment, presenting (as least when I walked by): a solo of a traditional Chinese musical instrument, a Chinese opera, a Chinese orchestra, and something I don't know what was happening (there was talking, but it wasn't in English). There was also a small, decent photography exhibit, displaying photos of China and of California.
I then hiked to the Marina district to see a film at the Iranian film festival. An under-promoted festival, it only attracted members of the expatriate community--as I waited in line, I didn't hear any English. Indeed, judging by when people laughed, most weren't reading the English subtitles. Incidentally, there weren't more than four dozen people in attendance. The screening was held in a lecture hall on the Art Institute of San Francisco's campus. Though the room had a modest screen, it at least had comfortable chairs, and, as I discovered when I left, the campus has great views of San Francisco.
I took pictures of the festival and from the Art Institute.
On Sunday, September 20, 2009, I returned to the city, again by train (though this time by BART). Though my main goal was a festival in Chinatown, I first stopped off at the city's main public library (by the civic center). I figured, if I can't find the books I want at an independent bookstore, and my local county library system doesn't have them, then at least I can get them from another county. Indeed, the San Francisco public library system seems to have a more extensive collection than San Mateo. At the library, I picked up a library card (yes, California residents outside the city can get a card), and checked out a number of books.
Posted by mark at Saturday, October 31, 2009
After the South Beach festival, I took a bus to the Festa Coloniale Italiana festival in North Beach. I got off the bus a stop early to visit the City Lights Bookstore. (When I have a book in mind, I go out of my way to try to find it at and buy it from a local, independent bookstore whenever possible.)
I took a few pictures at the festival.
At first I was disappointed with the festival, noticing only half a dozen crafts booths and four food booths: olive oil, vinegar, salami, and drinks. No hot food. Then I discovered the inside of the Italian Athletic Club, and found a pretty impressive video, projected in a large screen, showing a close fly-over of Italy (Sicily in particular). Returning outside, I realized the stand labeled salami actually sold hot food. However, the only items it had that weren't sold out didn't interest me (meatball sandwiches, sausage-and-pepper sandwiches, and penne pasta bolognese with tomato sauce). Picking up a festival brochure outside, I realized that there were multiple floors inside the athletic club. Returning again inside, I discovered that a cooking demonstration was just starting. The young chef was entertaining, telling stories of his grandmother's advice and his kitchen misadventures, and the meal he made was easy, healthy, and delicious. The demonstration alone made the visit to the festival worthwhile.
Not in the mood to eat the festival's food for dinner, and because the temperature dropped a bit, and because the park (Washington Square Park) isn't quite a cozy as South Park, and because I was feeling a little tired, I grabbed the bus back to the caltrain station and returned home.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, October 28, 2009
On the first Saturday back in California post-London, a typically beautiful California day, after a morning trip to the farmers market, I took the train to San Francisco for the South Beach/Mission Bay/SOMA festival. It was a small festival, with a handful of arts and jewelry booths, a couple community groups, and a good number of food booths (mostly from fancy restaurants located in the neighborhood). Lots of alcohol in various forms was available. The festival was held in South Park, a pretty, narrow park with a good balance of trees, grass, a playground, and picnic tables. (I know that makes it sound rather ordinary but it's heads above any park in San Jose with similar amenities.)
I assembled a tasty lunch from the various stands and hung out for a while sitting on the grass in the sun.
Here are pictures from this excursion.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, October 27, 2009
I returned to the bay area on an early morning flight on Sunday, September 13, 2009. It was wonderfully easy to go through all the airport lines when at the airport at dawn. The cross-Atlantic flight was cold, making it hard to sleep, but otherwise fine and unremarkable.
I transferred in Houston and was interested to see they're now using a surface scan (something like light x-rays) in security to look for concealed weapons. They have you strike a pose (no, not any pose), they take a scan, and then they have you stand aside for a minute until the remote room that examines the scan radios back to say it's clean.
Posted by mark at Saturday, October 24, 2009
On my last full day in London, I took only a few pictures. This blog entry describes the day much more than the pictures do. Di Yin also took some pictures, though hers don't cover the day any better. That link goes to her first picture from this day. The rest of the album is from this day. If you're in slideshow mode and see pictures of Oxford, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album and are seeing pictures I already linked to.
After a lazy morning, Di Yin and I took the bus to Putney Bridge, then took a long ride on a double-decker bus to Piccadilly Circus. We sat on the second level in the front and enjoyed the great panoramic views.
Once in Piccadilly Circus, we stopped by the Japan Centre supermarket. It has wide selection of Japanese products, including a huge amount of pre-packed sushi.
Piccadilly Circus is a crowded shopping area. After walking around, I guessed I was wrong when I said Oxford Street was London's main shopping street. But, however, we walked the dozen blocks to Oxford Street and, upon arrival, I decided that, nope, I wasn't wrong: Oxford Street is bigger, denser, and more crowded.
Incidentally, we stopped by Piccadilly Market, an outdoor street market, where I almost bought a hat. I ended up buying one in a department store later the same day.
On Oxford Street, we stopped by an ultra-hip ice cream shop in the basement of one of London's famous department stores, Selfridges. (Note: it has since moved.) The ice cream shop was painted black and had lighting like a nightclub. It even had a loud, live rock band and two black-shirted bouncers at the door. Though it may still be in its promotional period (it opened two days prior), I can't imagine how it would make a profit.
After a bit more shopping, we left the beaten path. Because we were in the vicinity of one of the guidebook's walking tours that I hadn't yet done, we did part of it before taking the tube to dinner. The neighborhood we walked around was just east of Edgeware Road. Once off Oxford Street and into this residential neighborhood, the area was fairly nice. We saw a number of cute mews and green squares.
On a tip, we had dinner at a Persian restaurant, Mohsen, in Kensington. (Wow, a Persian place that's not on Edgeware Road.) It was decent. We then took the slow route home, riding a double-decker once again.
In the evening we listened to parts of the BBC Proms' Last Night. I'm amused that my last night in England aligned with the last night of the proms. The BBC Proms is a summer concert series known for, on its last night, playing nationalistic music and getting a bit rowdy. This year's last night was as off-beat as in past years (which I watched earlier on video).
Posted by mark at Friday, October 23, 2009
On my last Friday in the city, September 11, 2009, I left work at noon. I'd intended to efficiently do a walk, grab lunch, and do another walk before returning to work. But plans change. My first walk brought me through the expensive neighborhood called St. James and its neighboring park, St. James's Park, which I'd visited previously. It was just as beautiful on this visit. Because I was enjoying my stroll through the park and the attractive, elaborate buildings in the neighborhood, dodging well-dressed people much of the way, I walked leisurely. By the time I finished my walk, it was later than I expected and I was famished. I also felt fulfilled, not feeling the need to cram in more sightseeing after lunch. After all, it was such a pleasant stroll, why should I stress myself by trying to run around a lot more before returning to work?
For lunch, I took the tube up to Selfridges, an enormous high-end department store, for a taste of a salt beef sandwich, Britain's version of the American-Jewish corned beef sandwich. On the way, I had to walk (fortunately briefly) down Oxford Street, which, judging by the crowds, the shopping bags, and the storefronts, is London's main shopping street. (It made me think of Singapore's Orchard Road.)
Here are the pictures from my walk and lunch.
Posted by mark at Thursday, October 22, 2009
On Thursday, September 10, 2009, Di Yin and I had tickets for the afternoon performance of As You Like It at the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Leaving work before lunch, I decided to spend two hours walking around this neighborhood (Southwark), a neighborhood I'd visited previously for Borough Market. Indeed, this was the main reason I decided to do a walk in an area I've already somewhat explored--as an excuse to be in the area for lunch at Borough Market. (I was elated when I realized the market is open on Thursdays.)
I took pictures along this outing.
Southwark is definitely an area that, when most of the buildings were built, was not inhabited by the wealthy. Indeed, centuries ago, it used to be tenements. It has the feel of a place that used to house the down and out.
Within Southwark, I visited the Southwark Cathedral, which is rightly called a cathedral. It's fairly impressive. It has monuments and stained glass that are as nice as the ones at St. Paul's. It has lots of memorials, somewhere between the density of St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, though it's smaller than both. I could've taken pictures if I bought a permit, but decided not to. (I figured if I made it through St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey without pictures, taking pictures of this less impressive sight might blur my memories of all three.) Also, Southwark Cathedral provided a handy walking guide and occasional plaques too, a nice touch.
I ate lunch in Borough Market, which had fewer shops open and was less crazy than on Saturdays, but certainly had more than enough shops open to be interesting.
I met Di Yin at the reconstructed Globe Theatre. It was made with traditional materials and even used the building techniques from the time. Neat! This also meant the theatre's design is unlike most modern theatres -- the audience is arranged into rings that go 180 degrees around the stage. The inner ring is for standing people; the outer, for sitting ones. The rings are about equally sized, meaning about half the audience is standing. This, combined with the small size of the theatre, gave the show a very lively feel; the audience seemed more engaged with the show than most plays I've attended. Indeed, sometimes it felt as if the audience were part of the show as the actors walked among them to get on and off the stage and even acted parts of scenes on the grounds in front of the stage. The crowds parted as necessary. (This is probably why if you buy tickets for the standing section, you're not allowed to sit down. Ushers will remind you of the rules if you do.)
Di Yin and I thought it'd be uncomfortable to stand for several hours, so we bought seated tickets. This may not have been much better, as the (bench) seats were very tough and our butts ached by the end. Ah, one downside of old-fashioned theatre design.
As for the play itself, As You Like It, I hadn't seen or read it previously. I thought the story was decent, though parts of it felt like mere ploys and some characters felt superfluous. Think romantic comedy that's not particularly tightly plotted. I enjoyed the play: the acting was good, and the actors even danced in the last act. The themes include how quickly one's perceived social status can change, the foibles of love, and the freedom of speech.
From the extensive playbill I learned some interesting things about how Shakespeare wrote. For instance, I learned that he wrote As You Like It partially to exercise the abilities of a new actor in his company, Robert Armin, who specialized in playing fools, after his last leading fool, William Kemp, moved on. I'd never previously thought of Shakespeare as having particular actors in mind for his roles while writing his plays, though in retrospect it should've been obvious. I also learned that As You Like It's style is partially a response to a recent change in the theatrical experience: some newly-opened acting companies in London used choir boys as actors and included much singing in their performances. Presumably in reaction, Shakespeare made As You Like It have more boy actors and more songs than any of his other plays. In these ways, though the plays are timeless, they do reflect the local milieu.
We decided not to allocate time or money to tour The Globe's exhibition on Shakespeare or to tour the theatre's backstage.
After the play, we walked across Millennium Bridge to get to the tube. I returned to work.
Later, we grabbed dinner at a place near work that I'd been eying: Wilton Cafe, labeled as Turkish Pide Salon. Its menu includes pide (basically boat-shaped Turkish pizza), lahmacun (round Turkish pizza), and gözleme (gozleme) (Turkish crepes). Pides are hard to find and the others even harder. We talked to the chef about what to order, and he made it fresh. :) The pide I had was pleasing but not great.
On the way home, Di Yin convinced me to ride a double-decker bus for a couple stops (before we needed to get off to get on our regular single-decker which plies the route to our street). To think I've been in London for more than a month without riding one of these. It was great! I can certainly see the appeal of those sight-seeing buses. Through the huge, bubbly windows, we could look down on everything, and across to second-story windows. There's even a roller-coaster aspect to the ride: getting tossed around a bit (especially when on the stairs) when the bus turns, wondering what'll happen as we rapidly approach a bulldozer parked in our lane, and seeing people running across the road where the bus is about to go.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I took a holiday on Wednesday, September 9, 2009, to go with Di Yin to Oxford.
I'll start with the obvious about Oxford because it's true: Oxford's a small, picturesque, university town. The highlights from my visit aren't any particular sights but rather two vistas: one, the architecturally interesting buildings and cobblestone streets that make up downtown Oxford/the university (these two things are intermeshed) (especially as seen from atop the central church's spire); and two, the peaceful, pretty paths along the canals. I was surprised to find the latter so notable, as no guidebook I had mentioned them.
When I say Oxford is small, I mean it. Though the university has 18k people, the town is still tiny. I can easily imagine seeing and knowing every street and most buildings, shops, and restaurants before too long. Di Yin told me of a friend who went to Oxford and complained that she'd gotten stir-crazy after a couple of years because she knew everything about the town and was getting bored of it. I certainly felt like I'd gotten the full flavor of Oxford within five hours of wandering.
Oxford's size and flatness lends itself to bicycle riding -- I saw a good number of bicycles.
Oxford University is composed of several dozen individual colleges, the first few established in the twelfth century. These colleges are densely packed throughout town. My viewing of them was rather haphazard -- I'm sure I missed some famous ones. They are like walled compounds, though attractive walled compounds with ornate medieval buildings and always with a perfect quad of grass within (usually multiple quads). I took pictures from the doorway of a few that were closed to visitors, though stopped once I realized the colleges' interiors all looked roughly the same. Later, I managed to find a college that was open to visitors and free, walked around inside, and decided the impression I got from peeking in the doorways and from viewing the exterior buildings was just about accurate. Also, as implied by guidebooks and by the sight of all the spires, most colleges have their own chapels. If the one I visited is representative, they're as nice as the town's main church (which is quite well done).
Over the course of the day, through guidebooks and museum exhibits, I learned a good deal about Oxford, including how much it had discriminated over the years. Here's a timeline I put together:
- the twelfth century (roughly): Oxford University founded.
- 1856: Jews allowed to enroll.
- 1877: Lecturers (all male) allowed to marry.
- 1878: Women allowed to attend classes.
- 1920: Women allowed to be granted degrees.
- 1948: First female full professor.
It was a beautiful, comfortable, sunny day. That meant I got some good landscape shots, but also had trouble with too much contrast in my smaller-scope shots (or they just ended up overexposed). Here are the day's many pictures. Di Yin also took some pictures. That link goes to the first picture in her set. In her set, when you see pictures from a double-decker bus (picture 23), you're done with her pictures of Oxford. The rest of the pictures are from another day; I'll link to it at the appropriate time.
We got to Oxford by bus from London. When the view wasn't blocked by trees, we often saw wide-open fields and pastures and sometimes even a herd of sheep or cows. I wasn't fast enough to get a picture of these. While they may not match the views from the train in Scotland, the sights were nonetheless nice to watch out the window.
We arrived in Oxford and quickly stumbled on an open-air market (the Gloucester Green Market), which sells a wide selection of goods ranging from clothes to books to nuts to dairy to produce. I then dragged Di Yin around to some relatively famous places mentioned in my guidebook, before letting her bring me to the "Covered Market". Although not a particularly attractive space, the stores within are neat. Most have character. Besides a number of delis (each with a different atmosphere), there are cute pastry shops, meat shops, a barber shop, a shop with funny shirts, and more.
We then walked up and down Cornmarket Street, Oxford's main pedestrianized street and probably one of the first streets created in the town. A bustling street (at least in the daytime--it was much quieter in the evening), it's filled mostly with chain stores, bank outposts, and fast-food restaurants.
Di Yin split for her meeting, and I returned to the covered market for lunch. Realizing I hadn't eaten enough meat pies when in London, I selected Pieminister, a mini-chain meat-pie company with about a dozen locations in England (the number depends on whether you count farmers markets or not), including one in London's Borough Market. I had a reasonable meat pie, surprisingly non-heavy despite containing beef.
First thing after lunch, I explored the Museum of the History of Science. This two- or three-room museum is packed with instruments, dials, microscopes, telescopes, quadrants, astrolabes, globes, gauges, sundials (even portable ones--think about that), and calculating devices. Though accompanied by descriptions of what each items does and when, where, and for whom it was created, there wasn't much about how the design of the instruments changed over time or about how the invention of or improvement of the devices changed science and our understanding of the world. In short, it's a fine museum, if limited in scope.
Next I walked down Oxford's High Street, stopping in Oxford University Press to browse its intellectual titles, including its series of Very Short Introductions to any subject, which cover topics ranging from anarchism to witchcraft to english literature to kant to nothing.
I also stopped by University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin (a.k.a. Saint Mary's), which I explored and where I climbed the tower's tight, dangerously slippery stone steps. From the tower, there are terrific views of Oxford! Incidentally, it's a good thing there were alcoves along the stairs (with slits for archers), or else people would not be able to pass each other going up and down.
After the church, I walked east, seeing the sights on the way to the River Cherwell, then came back along a different path to see more colleges and back lanes. Merton College, one of Oxford's oldest, was actually open to visitors, so I got to explore its estate.
Returning to Cornmarket Street, I rejoined Di Yin, and we proceeded to stroll through the Museum of Oxford. Although not large by any means, I'm reluctant to call it small. It's a respectable museum, well-laid out and with clearly written signs. I learned some neat facts. For instance, I learned that bread bowls are a modern version of medieval trenchers: an often square piece of stale bread used as a serving dish or a plate. The bread is later given to dogs or the poor. I also learned that, for a time, the Jews in England were considered private property of the king.
From there, we walked through town, a large field (Port Meadow), and down a river/canal. I was amazed to find nature so close to the center of town. Along the river, we stopped and ate a snack of blueberries that we brought with us: good eating a nice setting. :)
Despite the sun, it was cold near the river, and we walked back to town without much dilly-dally-ing.
We looked around for dinner and, finding the covered market closed, eventually decided on a restaurant with the neat name of Nosebag. The food turned out to be mediocre.
Before catching the bus back to London, we stopped by G&D's, Oxford's local specialty ice cream shop. It has three locations and apparently many devoted fans. We were, however, too full for dessert, though the ice cream looked good and interesting.
Before concluding this post, I should apologize to the people who recommended that I go punting on the river: I'm sorry; I didn't have time.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, October 20, 2009
On Tuesday, I met a friend of mine, J, for lunch and to explore St. Paul's Cathedral.
We met at The Wine Tun, where we sat and ate in the sun. I had a fine open-faced portobello sandwich, topped with a fried egg. Eating in the sun was nice, as the day had perfect weather -- definitely one of the nicest days I've had in London, on par with bank holiday weather.
St. Paul's Cathedral is majestic. Designed by Christopher Wren, it's an elaborate, ornate, baroque building rightly called a masterpiece.
Sorry, like Westminster Abbey, photography wasn't allowed inside. I did, however, take pictures outside and during the rest of the day.
The interior layout is spare and open. It's the flourishes on the arches and the columns that make it special. Indeed, there's something ineffable about the interior architecture, something that makes me agree with the quote that the design shows "mastery of space and light."
The ceiling has beautiful frescoes and mosaics, though they're perhaps a little more decadent, more glittery, than I prefer. I really liked the sepia-toned old stone feel of the dome's fresco by Sir James Thornhill.
Monuments are sparsely placed around the periphery of the cathedral -- nothing like the overwhelming density of Westminster Abbey. There are pretty metal screens by Jean Tijou placed near the high alter, and many mosaics throughout. Unobtrusive / well-integrated grills are placed in the floor; they provide central heating.
J and I climbed to the Whispering Gallery, which gave us an amazing view of the interior and the paintings. Ceiling painters should not be afraid of heights! I think the cathedral's design, with different inner and outer domes, is an elegant solution to making the cathedral look good inside and out.
We climbed higher, to the Stone Gallery, which is outside the dome (but at its level), for a nice panoramic view of London, and higher still to the Golden Gallery (above the dome), which had an equally good view. The latter gallery was smaller and therefore more crowded, but, on the positive side, the view is less obstructed by railings.
In the crypt, which is not overfilled as in Westminster Abbey, I found tombs of Wren, Turner, and Lawrence of Arabia, among others.
After St. Paul's, J had to leave, and I took the tube to do a walk and finish exploring the British Museum on the way. First I walked through the well-used park named Lincoln's Inn Fields, through the cute and quiet Lincoln Inn (a small enclosed district used by lawyers) with a prettier green space, and through Gray's Inn, which has a similarly nice "garden"-park but has much more boring architecture than Lincoln's Inn. After passing Bloomsbury Square Gardens park, which only appeared nice from a distance, I was at my second major destination for the day.
Once in the British Museum, I breezed my way through an exhibit on coins and the remaining exhibits on Greece, Rome, Etrusca, and Cyprus. I particularly enjoyed the room devoted to Greek and Roman life; it has many interesting panels (along with appropriate objects) on aspects of life ranging from children, games, and medicine, to armor, chariot-racing, and wrestling. I wish I'd scheduled my afternoon to allow myself time to read all the text in this gallery.
I walked more, passing the nice Queen Square park (well, nice after one ignores the flowerbeds, which could use more attention), the still very nice Russell Square Garden park, and the Woburn Square Garden park. I also walked by some University College London buildings, including the Greek-style main building. There were many people in graduation caps and gowns running around. It's a decently nice campus for a city university. Finally, I took the tube back to work, returning much later than I'd hoped.
During the day, I passed a couple of supposedly-noteworthy museums but decided to skip them all. Given how beautiful the day was, I wanted to spend as much time outside as I could.
Posted by mark at Monday, October 19, 2009
I finally finished seeing the V&A Museum on Monday, September 7, 2009. (I'd visited twice before: first time, second time.) It's still eclectic. I browsed the wing on 20th-century design movements (arts and crafts, exoticism, new design, etc.). These movements were displayed through furniture, kitchenware, electronics, posters, and more (basically anything). Likewise, when I discovered the museum had lots more British galleries that I didn't see in earlier visits, I concluded that it seemed to have everything made in Britain in the 1760s-1900s: a wide assortment of objects. I also browsed this day exhibits on tapestries, embroidery, carpets, and other textiles, and on metalwork.
Some particular exhibits struck me:
- In one room, I discovered micro-mosaics. (I hadn't previous known about them.) I like them.
- There was a neat exhibit of old locks and keys from the early days of locksmiths.
- I liked the interesting small display about how to identify fake antiques.
- There was a decent exhibit on architecture, with many models.
- The densely-packed, information-filled room about glass and how glassware and glass art have changed over time was just as incredibly detailed as the jewelry display I saw during my last visit.
Posted by mark at Sunday, October 18, 2009
I spent Sunday, September 6, 2009, doing walks from my walking guidebook. Though overcast, it cleared up for brief periods in the afternoon.
For lunch, I bought another sandwich from my local French deli, Chanteroy, in Southfields, carrying it with me until I was ready to eat.
I first did a walk that took me through Clerkenwell, a neighborhood north of Smithfields. I call it a neighborhood for a reason: it feels like a place people live who want to live in a city but don't want all the city action. This isn't a tourist destination. In fact, it's not listed in my regular guidebook. The buildings are functional, ordinary, though there are a few historic ones scattered around. The whole area was very quiet; I'm not sure whether it's because it was a Sunday or, as I'd like to ascribe, because it's a quiet type of community, not on any regular trail that brings visitors to the area.
The next walk brought me through Smithfields into the area south of it. The following walks comprehensively criss-crossed the part of London's financial district ("The City") around St. Paul's Cathedral (which I held off on visiting, saving for a later day). Except for tourists around the cathedral, this area was similarly quiet as Clerkenwell, but had a different feel: this district felt quiet not because the residents are quiet but because the district's primarily a business one. Not many people live there; hence, it's relatively depopulated on a Sunday and everything was closed.
From these pictures I took this day, it may seem as if I went out of my way to visit churches. I did not--it's just that there are an astounding number of churches in the areas I walked through this day.
In the evening, I met Di Yin for dinner in Tooting, an Indian neighborhood south of London. We've been to Tooting before, but didn't get a chance to explore due to the rain. This day, we walked up and down its largest street, examining its markets, glancing at its mosque, and inspecting its restaurants. The neighborhood felt urban. I don't think I'd feel comfortable there at night. In contrast, the town where I'm staying, Southfields, is suburban. Incidentally, they're an equal distance from London. Nor does Tooting have a (non-cemetery) open green area nearby, like Southfield's nearby Wimbledon Commons.
Posted by mark at Saturday, October 17, 2009
On Saturday, after going running in the morning, we returned to Borough Market for lunch (previous visits: 1, 2). We got there by taking the tube to Wimbledon to the NLR (national rail) to London Bridge/Borough Market. On the way, we passed cute houses, but I wasn't fast enough with my camera to photograph them. I did, however, take a smattering pictures later in the day. It began as a beautiful day, then got cloudy.
Borough Market was crowded--more crowded than we hoped--, perhaps because we arrived later than we intended. We had lunch there, then walked north and followed one of my walking tour book's routes exploring part of the neighborhood known as The City. (I'd previously explored other parts of it.)
We continued onto another route, which was mostly a walking tour of the neighborhood around Covent Garden. With the same bustling quality as Leicester Square, Covent Garden is another large, outdoor, pedestrianized shopping area. Restaurants line the nearby streets. The whole larger area is also mostly car-less like Leicester Square. There are a lot of theatres, dance companies, and an opera house in the area. This is to be expected, as Covent Garden is located within the larger district known as the West End, which is the entertainment centre in London.
Near Convent Garden, we also walked through Victoria Embankment Gardens, passing its many monuments and sculptures.
At home, I had a special meal in the evening.
Posted by mark at Friday, October 16, 2009
On Friday, September 4, 2010, a friend and former housemate of mine, J, came by for lunch and a tour of work. We then explored The Inns of Court, so called "legal London". The Inns are associations of lawyers (well, technically barristers) in London; each has a compound with offices, a restaurant, a library, etc. We visited the four Inns (Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Gray's inn, Lincoln's Inn); they're all in central London and all many centuries old. Because of the way they're designed, they feel secluded and quiet. We also looked at the streets nearby, and got reminded that the architect Christopher Wren did a lot.
Because I spent the time catching up with J, I didn't take many notes. J knows a lot of history and especially symbolism; she was a good person to explore a historic section of London with. She told me that British letterboxes are annotated with who was the monarch at the time. (Note: most of the things she told me were interesting, less-well-known facts than that; that fact isn't a good example of what I meant by my sentence about J's knowledge.)
I took a handful of pictures on this trip.
Posted by mark at Thursday, October 15, 2009
On Thursday, September 3, 2009, I re-visited the V&A Museum in a failed attempt to finish seeing it (first visit).
I took another batch of pictures this trip.
I realized while walking through the museum this time that silver is another emphasis of the museum. It didn't occur to me before because I was thinking about types of art, not the material with which it was made.
This day, I browsed sculptures, cabinets (I liked the 17th century European ones), jewelry boxes (these were intricately carved and richly detailed), gold table pieces (precisely crafted), religious ornaments (plates, lamps, crosses, etc.), and paintings (nothing remarkable), most from the early days of the museum (the 19th century). I also visited the densely-packed exhibit of jewelry, showing century by century and country by country how jewelry has evolved over the last two thousand years. (Yes, the exhibit is as extensive as I make it sound.) Finally, the last exhibit I visited before I ran out of time was the exhibit on theater. It includes not only costumes and advertising posters but also interesting items one wouldn't expect: old account ledgers and cue books.
The museum's age and historical significance shows. For instance, the museum has a small photography exhibit displaying, among other things, photographs shown in the museum in 1858 as part of the world's first museum-held photograph exhibit. I'm also amused that the museum is so old that the mid-19th-century frescoes it had installed are now appropriate to display as historic work.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, October 14, 2009
On Wednesday, September 2, 2009, I left work intending to go to the V&A Museum but realized on the way there that I forgot my camera and so redirected myself to the Tate Britain (which prohibits photography, so my lack of a camera wasn't a negative). I finished exploring the Tate Britain this day (see earlier visit), completing the section on historic British art and going through the sections on modern and contemporary British art and, the part of the Tate Britain that I was most looking forward to, the Turner Galleries.
The Turner Galleries were pretty good. Although (not surprisingly) I didn't see anything I liked better than the paintings I know and love by him--those paintings I love are great and famous for a reason--, I enjoyed seeing the breadth of his work. He painted a variety of subjects I wasn't aware of, including scenes of the Thames, paintings of scenes from mythical stories, paintings of people (sometimes even large groups of them), and paintings of Italian landscapes. I noticed he painted buildings well. (I never knew.) In particular, I like his paintings of Venice, both his unfinished atmospheric ones and his finished, detailed ones of canals, boats, and buildings.
I also learned about Turner's technique, how his palette evolved over his lifetime, and what colors he selected for various countries he visited. I even learned he did watercolors in his early days (and saw some of them). In addition, one room showed how black and white prints of his paintings were distributed. (They didn't have copy machines at the time, let alone color ones.) I learned how closely Turner worked with etchers, artists in themselves in the same way that translators are, and the kind of feedback he gave them. He did his own etchings at times, although rarely; I saw one of his etchings and compared it with the ones etchers did with his guidance. In all, the visit to the galleries was mighty educational.
I enjoyed reading the story about Turner on the day he finishes his paintings (read the first paragraph). On so-called "vanishing day", Turner implicitly challenges and out-shines (figuratively and literally) the other painters.
Within the Turner galleries, I particularly liked the following:
- Sunrise, with a Boat between Headlands. (Though allegedly unfinished, I like it.)
- Norham Castle, Sunrise, also allegedly unfinished.
- Sunrise with Sea Monsters, also allegedly unfinished (notice a pattern?).
- Sun Setting over a Lake (actually finished).
- Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus and Caligula's Palace and Bridge (image elsewhere). I like the way you see the beams of light. (Sorry, they don't seem to be visible in these online copies.)
- I liked the room The Sublime in Crisis: Terror, Torment and Transcendence for its dark, epic paintings.
- Samuel Colman's The Temple of Flora is a crisp, yet surreal, nature scene.
- John Linnell's Harvest Home, Sunset: The Last Load's sky has a feeling of depth, though it's overly dramatic (given that I enjoyed dramatic paintings, that's a statement I don't make lightly).
- Bridget Riley creates abstract, geometric paintings. The more I browsed the modern art exhibits, the more I realized how much more I liked her pieces than any others.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Beigels & Vicinity
I spent the morning following a guidebook's walking tour in the vicinity of the East End around Brick Lane, taking these pictures on the way. They document the sites much better than this blog post. My main excuse for doing this tour was to visit a particular bagel shop for breakfast. The tour was only okay for three reasons: I'd already seen most of the area before, the architecture is low-end and bland, and the tour's historical emphasis was on Jack the Ripper (whose story I don't care about).
First, I stopped by Beigel Bake, this time to actually try some bagels. (I saw it once before with Di Yin, but we weren't hungry then.) I had one with butter and one with cream cheese and lox. They were okay bagels: better than supermarket bagels but not as good as New York bagels. I'm not sure what was wrong with them -- perhaps not enough bite to the crust? I wouldn't buy them again.
On my route around Brick Lane, I stopped by Spitalfields, which was setting up for a clothing and accessories market. Soon after, on Wentworth Street, I found another fashion market, or it could just be that all the shops on the street were placing their racks outside.
The National Gallery & Theatre District
In late afternoon, I left work to explore the area of the West End around Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Chinatown, with a stop by the National Gallery to see what I missed on my last visit. This area includes much of London's theatre district, though the district covers a wider area than I explored this day. By the way, the West End is east of Buckingham Palace and where I work, so I have trouble with the name.
While wandering the West End, I took pictures. Again, these pictures describe more sights than I'm writing about here. This area is definitely a much nicer part of town than the East End. I like the liveliness of the area, and that there are few roads crossing the district to interfere with strolling.
As for Chinatown, in particular, it's no bigger than I previously thought (a couple of blocks). Still, it's not quite as bad as my previous impressions: I saw people behind windows rolling noodles and steaming dumplings.
As I mentioned, I stopped by the National Gallery. Here are my notes:
- I breezed through 13th-15th century paintings because religious art generally doesn't interest me (and many paintings had such themes), and because a good fraction of these paintings don't include perspective and I thus had trouble finding them attractive.
- Carlo Crivelli, a 15th century painter, paints religious scenes with naturalistic details. He uses vivid paints and does a good job with depth.
- I wanted to photograph one painting because of its elaborate frame: rose vines surrounded the painting and were elevated above the frame itself. It was no mean feat to remove that extra underlying wood.
- I took longer in the wing of the 17th century paintings because they varied much more in subject and look than the 13th-15th century wing. Incidentally, the 17th century wing's emphasis was on Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Rubens.
- I like Richard Wilson's landscapes, especially A view of Holt Bridge on the River Dee.
- Claude Gellée (a.k.a. Claude Lorrain) was the model for / precursor of many later landscape painters I like.
- I definitely liked the Flemish painting Cognoscenti in a Room hung with Pictures (circa 1620). A painting of paintings, it reminded me of two similar works I saw at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston: 1, 2.
- Hendrick van Steenwyck (the Younger) made good paintings of attractive architecture.
Posted by mark at Monday, October 12, 2009
I had Monday off because it was what the Brits call a bank holiday.
First, I took the opportunity to re-visit the Notting Hill Carnival for lunch. It was more packed than yesterday, and there were more parties on the street, sometimes with real musicians (drummers). I also saw more policemen than the previous day. Walking became a crawl once or twice. The police definitely managed the flow of people; for instance, I tried to leave the district on the same street I entered, but I couldn't -- police had made it a one-way pedestrian street. I had to detour a few blocks to find the proper way out. Furthermore, there were crazy lines not just for food but to enter the nearby tube stations. (They closed the main/closest tube station due to crowds, but nevertheless the other tube stations nearby were so crowded that we had to queue to enter the station.)
After my festival re-visit, I met up with Di Yin and two other people to hang out for the afternoon. We met at Harrods, one of the Britain's famous department stores. Naturally, having met there, the first thing we did together was to wander through it. It's a big store; it appears to have everything.
We spent the middle part of the afternoon wandering through the very English Regent's Park. It's pretty. It was a warm, sunny day, a perfect day for a stroll in a park. We only walked through part of the park.
In late afternoon, I brought them to tour my company's offices. They were impressed with our micro-kitchens and canvas beach chairs, among other things. We relaxed for a spell, then called it a day and went our separate ways.
I snapped these pictures during the day's outing. Di Yin also took some. That link goes the first picture she took this day. The rest of her pictures are relevant. If you're in slideshow mode and begin seeing pictures of our local neighborhood, Southfields, you've finished the set and have cycled back to the beginning of her album, which are pictures I already linked to.
Posted by mark at Sunday, October 11, 2009
On Sunday, we attended the Notting Hill Carnival, a Jamaican-themed event and one of the world's largest street festivals/parties. The entire district was closed to cars! We wandered through the district and found the festival just goes on and on. Given the crowds, the visible police presence wasn't a surprise. It boggles the mind that there were so many people everyplace we visited, yet the festival was spread over the whole district. And it was loud: there was music all over the place, all played through speakers, usually mounted on trucks, plus many people with whistles (the purpose of which, other than adding more noise, I know not). Also, I was happy to notice that practically every vendor sold food. :) (This was perhaps a good thing, as that meant there were enough vendors to service the crowds.) The food choices mainly consisted of grilled jerk chicken, curried goat, rice & peas, and Asian food (satays, fried noodles, and egg rolls). (Obviously, only those first three are Jamaican.) Finally, I'll note the Carnival has a parade but, unlike the SF parade, the route wasn't fenced, making it easy to cross.
I took a good number of pictures at the festival. Di Yin also took some pictures. The link goes to her first picture of the Notting Hill Carnival; when you see a picture of me holding a plate with a fried plantain, you've reached the end of the relevant portion. Her later pictures are for the following day; I'll link to them in my next post.
Oh, and as you'll see from the food comments in the pictures, it was an unexpectedly great food day.
After about four hours, the ringing in our ears and the density of the crowd drove us away.
We went home, had tea, sat around for a while, then headed to Putney Bridge, a downtown area near our apartment, for Sunday roast. Sunday roast is a traditional British meal served at pubs. It consists of some form of meat roasted with potatoes and vegetables. Given its uniquely British status, I knew I wanted to have it once while in England, and Di Yin and I managed to fit in on this day.
We tried it, deemed it good, and returned home for dessert.
Posted by mark at Saturday, October 10, 2009
On Saturday morning, August 29, 2009, Di Yin and I went jogging in Wimbledon Common/Putney Common. It was a beautiful day with big, puffy clouds. The Common is a large pleasant space: a combination of forests, fields of straw-grass, wildflowers, a lake, and a windmill.
Later, I returned to Wimbledon Common with a tupperware and picked blackberries. I gathered blackberries from three different patches in the Common to hedge (hehe) my bets.
For lunch, we walked down to the Southfields tube. On the way I took a few pictures of the vicinity as I realized I didn't take any pictures of my neighborhood when I wandered around the previous day. Incidentally, Di Yin also took seven pictures of our neighborhood. The link goes to the first picture in the sequence; when you see a picture of me with my android phone, you've reached the end. The later pictures are not relevant to this post; I'll link to them in other posts.
We got lunch from the French deli, Chanteroy, that I spotted the previous day. I had a good ham & brie sandwich (naturally, on baguette), though I think I might've liked Di Yin's ham & emmental sandwich more. (Emmental is a mild, hard cheese in the Swiss family.) We also had the blackberries; these were of course a mixed bag: some plump and ripe, others ripe yet pleasingly tart, and others still maturing. None were bad; all were just a reflection of the changes berries undergo in their lives. In less exciting news, I finished the meal with a plum, leftover sweet brown cheese from Undredal (Norway) on baguette, and a few bites of something labeled a chocolate croissant but was really chocolate bread. (Nevertheless, it was good).
In the evening we cooked dinner at home, a fact I mention because I wish to record that we had a good ginger beer made by Fentimans.
Posted by mark at Friday, October 09, 2009
On the way to work on Friday, August 28, 2009, I decided to browse Southfield's town center (my local town), though its size makes me more inclined to call it the cluster of stores near the tube station rather than a town center. It took thirty minutes to see everything and conclude it was a normal town: a couple markets, a few pubs, a few other restaurants, a bakery or two, a butcher, a fishmonger, a beauty parlor, a couple real estate agents, a couple outposts of banks, etc. (basically everything that you'd expect). The only place worth mentioning is an apparently-very-popular hole-in-the-wall French deli named Chanteroy. That description is compact and apt: although I'd been looking in the window of every store in Southfields, I almost missed this one because the storefront is so narrow, the signs are obscured by overhead construction, and I thought the door might've simply been part of the adjacent shop. The only reason I noticed it was because of the queue of people into the doorway. I tried to look in. There's a long deli counter. It's really narrow: the distance from the counter to the wall is the width of a person, so I couldn't push my way further in to peek at the cases. There seemed to be many tarts, and the people behind the counter were stuffing things in baguettes. The entrance smelled of cheese because the cheese selection is at this end of the deli. I hoped to try it at some point (and did try it, on a later day).
In the early evening, I walked the neighborhood around the Bond Street tube station, Marylebone Lane, and Baker Street. It's a decent neighborhood, average for a good city. The part closest to Bond Street and on Marylebone Lane is cuter and has more local restaurants than the chain-infested area near the Baker Street tube station. Marylebone Lane itself is quite attractive. After my walk, I met Di Yin at a restaurant in the neighborhood, the Golden Hind, which, from my research, is supposedly one of best fish and chips joints in London.
During the day, it rained intermittently (despite no prediction of precipitation at all). I can't recall going more than fifteen minutes without taking out my umbrella, or fifteen minutes walking around with it open.
Over the course of the day, I took a couple pictures.
Posted by mark at Thursday, October 08, 2009
On Thursday, August 27, 2009, I planned to go walking in the afternoon, but ended up starting my excursion sooner than I planned because of a fire in my office building. Using a book of walking tours of London, I walked through the neighborhood of Belgravia and among its white 19th-century mansion-row-house buildings. Because it was such a beautiful day, and the walk having taken less time than I expected, I continued with another walk from the guidebook, through the nearby and similarly elegant and upscale district of Mayfair.
I took these pictures during the walks.
Posted by mark at Wednesday, October 07, 2009
In the evening on Wednesday, August 26, 2009, I met Di Yin and some friends to go to the Science Museum's program named Lates. Once a month, the Science Museum opens late and adds some special, temporary activities and lectures to its program. The theme of this day's Lates was crime scene investigation, but we didn't actually manage to get into any of the special programs. (We tried to go to a CSI-like talk but the queue was over an hour, and we tried to go to the investigate-a-staged-crime-scene event but were told it was booked that entire evening for parties of four.) We did go to one special, though un-themed, activity: a silent disco, in which every person gets headphones (with two radio stations) and dances. You don't know what the other dancers are listening to! And, a nice bonus compared to real dance clubs, you get to control the volume.
We spent a while browsing the museum, especially the interactive exhibits. It was fun. (I can't compare it to other science museums because I rarely go to them.)
I took one picture in the museum, not of any of the events related to Lates but rather of a poster I thought might be worth examining later.
Once we all got hungry, we ended up at a fairly good Indian restaurant, Khan's of Kensington. It also had very good service, quite a contrast to dinner the previous night.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, October 06, 2009
On Tuesday, August 25, 2009, once again a regular workday in London, I continued my pattern of disappearing for a few hours by returning to the British Museum. I saw almost the rest of the museum (see first visit); comments on what I saw and thought on this visit are in the pictures.
In the evening, I met Di Yin, one of her friends, and a friend of that friend, and we went to dinner at a restaurant on Brick Lane (Shampan II) with mediocre food and horrible service. Even discounting that the restaurant wasn't particularly good, I think I'm gradually learning I don't like Bangladeshi food. We also stopped by a famous bagel bakery, Beigel Bake, which does business 24/7, and watched them twist bagels and stir a vat of bagels in boiling water in the back. The shop also bakes its own bread (allegedly good) and pastries (probably not good).
Posted by mark at Monday, October 05, 2009
We awoke and ate breakfast at our hotel. Di Yin left for Glasgow (about an hour away by train) for a meeting; I had most of the day to myself before I was to meet her in Glasgow in mid-afternoon.
After dropping my baggage off at the train station, I began a series of walking tours that covered a wide swath of Edinburgh. It was a beautiful day, and the sights and pictures stood out much more than the previous day. These pictures capture the highlights of what I saw, but I won't bother in either the pictures or this post to mention every little spot I visited. Given the breadth of my exploration, I wish I recorded a walking map of my day -- it would look impressive and give a sense of the amount of Edinburgh I covered.
I first stopped by the University of Edinburgh's Old College to visit its art museum, the Talbot Rice Gallery.
Later, after hitting more of the University and two nearby parks, I stopped by the National Museum of Scotland, which covers Scotland's history. It's a large museum, and I was impressed by the scope and quality of its objects and the quality of its displays, but found the museum's building's design, with no natural flow, so disorienting that I quickly left. This is surprising and particularly disappointing, as the building was designed specifically for the museum.
Finishing my first walking tour in my guidebook and starting my second, I visited the Princes Street Gardens. Nestled under the cliff by Edinburgh Castle, these gardens are beautiful. I know where I'd bring my lunch every day if I lived in Edinburgh.
I found and briefly browsed a large craft fair by a church.
Then, I ventured north, into Edinburgh's New Town, which was designed and built in the 18th century. My first stop there was Charlotte Square, one of its main parks and with many notable historic buildings surrounding it. Just as George's Square (a park I stopped by in the morning) was taken over by a festival, so was Charlotte Square, this one for a book festival. I wandered through. I observed that the bookstore at the book festival was primarily organized by publisher. Interesting.
I rambled a bit far north of downtown proper to the neighborhood of Stockbridge. It was like downtown in architecture, but has fewer pubs and more regular shops and markets.
I then walked through the neighborhood of Northern New Town, consisting of long blocks of nearly identical (though pleasant-looking) granite buildings and similarly up-scale stores.
I trotted back to the train station, picking up a quick lunch on the way, and caught my train to Glasgow. In Glasgow, I needed to transfer from the Glasgow Queen Street Rail Station to the Glasgow Central Rail Station. This required a walk through downtown, mostly on Buchanan Street and other large pedestrianized streets. It's a nice area of Glasgow to see, and I wish all transfers could be like this.
In Glasgow, I met Di Yin, and we caught a train that would take us all the way back to London. To get back to London, we actually returned past Edinburgh first. heh. (This made my Glasgow excursion a bit silly.)
Anyway, the train rides were pretty; for the journey through Scotland, we followed the North Sea (and hence had water views) but even without the sea the vistas were appealing. We passed fields and fields and sheep and cows and Christmas tree farms and sea and other farms and more. In addition to my pictures from the journey, Di Yin also took some as well, starting with that one. If you're in slide-show mode and see pictures of buses to Scotland, you've cycled back to the beginning of her album and have exhausted all the pictures from the train trip.
Posted by mark at Sunday, October 04, 2009
Di Yin and I spent most of the day in Edinburgh's Old Town along the Royal Mile, the famous set of streets (they change names over its length) that connect Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. Branching from these streets in Old Town are warrens of narrow passageways, usually called "close"s, often leading into small courtyards. They're fun to discover, and more common here there than London (which is notable, because they were common enough in London for me to mention them there).
I took a smattering of pictures this day. (As is usual when I begin a trip, it takes me a while to get into a photo-taking mood.) Happily, Di Yin took a lot, enough to document things we saw that my pictures don't cover. The link goes to her first picture in Edinburgh; when you see a picture with a caption about taking a bus to Glasgow (picture #132), you've exhausted her pictures from Edinburgh. Incidentally, it rained on and off throughout the day, which made the pictures perhaps less vibrant than they would have been otherwise. The weather variability was due mainly to fast-moving clouds.
My red-eye flight deposited me in the tiny Edinburgh airport, where I stopped by the tourist information booth, took the express bus to the city center, and walked to my hotel. In retrospect, I realized I could've gotten off at the penultimate stop and had a shorter walk that didn't involve hills. Ah well.
At the hotel, I met Di Yin (who arrived via an overnight bus from London), and we deposited our luggage and ventured out. We walked through Grassmarket, a recently-gentrified area with many pubs, to the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. We approached the castle up to the point where we were required to pay, looked around, read the guidebook entry for it, and decided to move on. We actually ended up doing the same thing with a few sights today; it's an easy way to see a bit of something and prioritize where to spend more time.
We stopped by and wandered through the respectable National Gallery. The Scottish artists it displays are fairly good. Also, the impressionist collection includes the requisite names. Sorry, I didn't take more notes on the museum. Incidentally, there was a sort of market of street vendors near the National Gallery.
We also happened upon The Collective, an art gallery with an exhibit on the The How Not To Cookbook: Lessons learned the hard way (alternate web address). It's basically a large number of quotes collected by Aleksandra Mir about failed attempts and failed experiments at cooking. It's a mix of good advice, absurd lessons learned (why did someone think that was a good idea?), crazy accidents, and snarky opinions. Limited edition. It's so entertaining that I seriously contemplated buying it on the spot in spite of having to lug the encyclopedic tome with me the rest of the day, all the way back to London, and eventually back to the states. Read some excerpts! Here are two good quotes from the book (scroll down). Many more quotes, some erotic, are available. Or, if you want, you can read a sample of the cookbook or even the whole cookbook itself (which is available online now that the art exhibit is over).
Walking along the High Street (part of the Royal Mile) was fun because of quantity of performance art, mostly there due to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Many artists and actors were in costume. Some gave short shows (playing music, singing, acting, juggling, performing comedy, whatever), whereas others hawked large theatrical works, shouting "four stars" or "five stars" and either doing skits from the show or at least handing out flyers. It seemed as if every show got a four or five star rating from some newspaper or other. :) Incidentally, we also saw many bars/pubs/etc here.
We looked through a museum called The People's Story in an old "tolbooth" (the Canongate Tolbooth, actually a tax collecting house).
We also decided to explore the Museum of Edinburgh. Sorry, again I didn't take notes. (Can you tell I was exhausted?)
We gradually made our way east along the Royal Mile. There, in addition to a palace and the parliament, we found the giant rise of Holyrood Park. Wow! It looked awesome. (See the pictures.) I wish I had the energy to climb it, but Di Yin didn't let me take a nap yet, nor did she let me eat anything yet either, so I could not.
When she returned from climbing it, I got a chance to eat. And not just any chance. We found ourselves next to the Foodies Festival, a food festival that was happening in Edinburgh for this weekend only. What a fun surprise! We sampled a bunch of items, especially cheeses, ciders, and meats. We also sampled a Christmas pudding, a dessert made from tons of dried fruit smashed together, that was so good we bought some. We also saw some unusual food products, including Scottish seaweed.
To eat, I bought an Arbroath smokie pasty. It was okay. The insides were mostly mashed potatoes, with a little flavor from the Arbroath smokie (basically a special variety of smoked haddock).
We then returned to our hotel. Our hotel room was unusual in that it had a separate room for the toilet and for the bathtub and shower. I took a nap.
After my nap, we walked to New Town and began a hunt for food (dinner) among its pedestrian, pub-lined streets, especially Rose Street. Eventually we found a pub, ate, and then headed off to the dance event Di Yin had bought tickets for us for the evening.
The ballet The Return of Ulysses was about how Penelope (Odyssey's wife) denies suitors, then begins to give out favors as her resistance wears down / as her energy disappears. It had good dancers (from the Royal Ballet of Flanders company), and the choreography played off different ballet styles.
On the way back to the hotel, I noticed High Street was still lively at night.
Posted by mark at Saturday, October 03, 2009
My flights to Edinburgh were uneventful. I awoke before dawn to take an early flight from San Francisco to Newark. The only comment I want to make about this flight is that the baggage labels Continental Airlines provides has a list of reminders, one of which is, perplexingly, to lock your luggage. (The airline and the TSA require that all luggage be unlocked.)
In the Newark airport (where I transferred), I killed time by browsing the Met and the Smithsonian stores. In the latter, I found and read chapters of an interesting history book, How the States Got Their Shapes, about political disputes, surveying mistakes, and more.
I tried my darndest to sleep on my red-eye flight from Newark to Edinburgh. I constructed an elaborate head-dress to keep light out. My seatmate also helped! For example, she picked up my pillow for me when I dropped it so I didn't have to take off my mask. As another example, she saved me breakfast so I could eat it when I woke up. What a nice woman.
By the way, Continental Airlines's video entertainment selections are much better than American Airlines's.
Posted by mark at Friday, October 02, 2009
I spent two days (Sunday, August 23, and Monday, August 24, 2009) in Edinburgh (pronounced eh-dinn-burr-ah), Scotland, before returning for my second stint in London.
Because I arrived on a red-eye and stayed only two days, I didn't have a great amount of energy and time to explore. My actions were unusual for me: for instance, I skipped some historic and cultural sites, neglected climbing a great nature spot, spent less time in museums than is typical for me, and took fewer pictures than normal, all because my brain couldn't absorb much and my body couldn't execute much, at least on the day I arrived. Nevertheless, I feel I got a fair impression of the city.
Edinburgh's a charming, small, hilly city. I found myself comparing it to Norway (Oslo and Bergen) and Quebec. They all have walkable, compact, cozy city centres, though Edinburgh's felt a bit larger. Due to Edinburgh's multiple-century-old buildings, all made of stone/granite (no wood, no brick), the city's Old Town felt like Quebec's Old Town. Furthermore, when walking around Edinburgh, Bergen, and Quebec, you can feel the character and history in the streets. Also, they're all rather green.
In fact, there's something a bit magical, a bit fantastic (as in fantasy stories) about Edinburgh: an ancient castle atop sheer cliffs, a lush garden immediately below, a historic town built of stone, and a great grassy rise ending in dramatic crags.
Although a coastal city, the main part of Edinburgh is far enough from the sea that one doesn't normally see it; it's easy to forget you're near the sea.
Edinburgh's famous for its numerous festivals, many of which happen in August. Our visit coincided with the largest and most famous of these, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and we saw a lot of colorful activities on the street because of it, but the only festival event we attended was part of the Edinburgh International Festival, a festival focused on the performing arts (music, dance, theatre, etc.).
Scotland, though part of the United Kingdom, calls itself a country and is self-governing for domestic matters. Some Scots, however, want independence. It constitutionally joined with England (to form Great Britain) three hundred years ago.
I'm not going to make a comprehensive list of places in Edinburgh I still want to see. I'll say that I'm mostly done with downtown, noting that I skipped or hurried through most cultural sites and museums, as well as Holyrood Park and Calton Hill. Aside from those, everything else I want to see in Edinburgh is a substantial walk from the center of downtown.
Posted by mark at Thursday, October 01, 2009