Travel Thursday: Calling London, part 1

Can’t remember the last time I was in London when I wasn’t just using the airport to go somewhere else. And not even for that reason recently; you think airplane security check-ins are stringent in the US? Try ‘em here. Anyway, point is, I haven’t been to London to be in London for too long.
Some years ago, to my surprise, I found myself a temporary fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and I enjoyed the honor until I wised up and stopped paying the annual dues. But I guess my name and profession were still around somewhere, and hey, free trip to London, why not? Especially since it coincided with a heat wave back in El Lay.
After two days of heavy rain, which was okay because I was inside taking meetings and schmoozing with jungle explorers and the like, the rain dropped enough to Seattle-like proportions for me to wander through Hyde Park, with Shauna Burns’ “Around You” in my headphones on repeat. The Royal Geo’s home base is across the street from Hyde Park, which explains why I chose that particular area to wander through. Simple, once you have all the facts.
It’s hard to get seasick when on a city park lake, but I was taking no chances, sticking to land. The Serpentine looked just like its name, as one might expect, in the giant park in the middle of London that was hopefully not named for Mr. Jekyll’s alter ego. It’s also too long to circumnavigate on foot, so I simply wandered aimlessly, passing the time and making sure not to get too tired, because I still had to walk back to the Royal Geo when I was done time-noodling.
As beautiful as it was, I was getting a little bored. Even overhearing a tour guide saying that “Harriet Westbrook, the pregnant wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was found drowned in the Serpentine, leaving a suicide note addressed to her father, sister and husband,” didn’t perk me and my historical detective curiosity up, other than the obvious thought of a cover-up, especially when she added, “Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin less than two weeks later.”
Hmmm, got yer Frankenstein right here. . .
That actually amused me enough to keep me going, at least to the rose garden, but then, I’m used to amusing himself. . . so to speak. And despite the fact I’d shot rose gardens all over the world, especially in my City of Angels, there’s something particularly interesting in doing so in a place known for bad weather. It was probably a good thing I didn’t know at the time that the rose garden had only been built in 1994, nor that the area was now a popular meeting place for the local gay community; I was just glad not to run into George Michael. . .
Finally it was time to start moseying southward. Having walked through Speakers’ Corner before, but never finding anyone interesting enough to bother listening to–plus being in the wrong direction–I followed my innate mental compass toward my actual destination. Had I remembered in time, I might have wandered toward the southeast and the main gate, with its Ionic columns, but the place wasn’t going anywhere; I’d get there soon.
So instead I ambled down Exhibition Road till I was past Alexandra Gate and on Kensington Road, now only needing to cross it to get to Lowther Lodge. As I once again reminded myself which way to look when crossing the street here, I glanced toward the right at the circle that was Royal Albert Hall. Though I’d never been there, I was familiar with the inside, thanks to a DVD of a concert with my favorite violinist, Hilary Hahn. As the light changed, I figured I’d go down there later to see if they gave tours, then concentrated on the cars, or rather avoiding them.
As I finally finished crossing the street, some irritated-looking guy handed me a flier that asked if I’d renewed my vows; he walked away too quickly for me to say that I hadn’t been aware they’d expired. Once inside I ran into a crowd surrounding a woman I’d met the previous day, who’d billed herself as a jungle explorer and was seeking funds to go into the Amazon. Some idiot–you know, the old British walrus-mustache retied-colonel type–asked if she was hoping to find some Amazon women, but at least it allowed a much younger, star-struck dude to gawk, “You’re the Amazon woman!”
Which allowed ME to intone, “Nope, she still has both her breasts.”
Sadly, she was the only one who got the joke. . .

To be continued. . .



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