Grayza goes to London Day 6

January 30, 2010

Flying back to civilization this evening so last few things to see or do.  Ehh…. I don’t really have any deep desire to go see anything else, but I suppose I have to.  Checking out the map it seems to make sense to go to Liverpool Street Station where later I will be getting the Stansted Express, so I could leave my bag there and walk down to The Tower of London, see what is around there.

I think this is the business and finance part of London because, well, it is empty.  There is no one around, shops are all closed and traffic light.  But the high buildings make it difficult to get bearings.  Eventually I find the Tower, which is bigger than I expected, but it was really Tower Bridge that I wanted to see.

I like Tower Bridge.  I like that it is sort of ‘fake’ with the appearance of being some kind of ancient Gothic building but is in fact much more modern than that.  Entry to the tower and exhibition is £7 and with an extra 50p you also get access to The Monument.

As soon as you get inside the first tower it is obvious how shallow the façade is with the real structure of riveted girders inside the stone exterior and windows.  The tour is interesting, and gives some nice views from the bridge, and down into the engine room.  After that I went along the river again to The Monument.


The Monument was designed by Wren to commemorate those lost in the Fire of London in 1666.  Access is only £3 + a workout as you have to climb 311 stairs in an ever tightening spiral to a viewing platform.  I was more pleased that I was able to make the climb than I was to see the view, but hey it’s another part of ‘the London thing’ ticked off the list.

I headed back to the station, still mostly through dead streets and then I found a flock of geese.

A flock of geese penned in but by the look of the film crew around the corner and the extras sitting at a bar being given directions on what to do.  So if anyone sees a film or TV show where a flock of geese waddle past a bar let me know… (do geese waddle?)

Back to the station and even though it was far too early to go to the airport I had nothing better to do and with a replacement bus service in place and rumors of an accident on the motorway I figured I might as well be at the airport than hanging around in London.  When I did get to the airport I grabbed a coffee, opened up the mac and started watching an episode of Dexter while waiting (with headphones on obviously).  I was getting into it when I suddenly realised that I was watching this scene where the police were examining the naked body of a murdered woman… while people were walking around behind me chatting and enjoying their coffee and perhaps not wanting to see this.  So I had to move around to find a place to watch more privately.

A long day.  Glad to be back.


Grayza goes to London Day 5

January 30, 2010

Nearly over, last full day in the capital.  Breakfast then get into town early – I’m still very impressed with the underground system, but I also still can’t get the hang of it and ended up in the wrong place again.  Oh well, it just meant a bit of a walk to get to Trafalgar Square to have another go at The National Gallery.  I was there briefly on Tuesday but I just had to get a better look.  This meant I could try Museum Technique #5!

To recap:  Museum (and Gallery Visiting) Techniques:

  • #1 ‘run’ around randomly
  • #2 hire an audio guide
  • #3 ask at the information desk what the highlights are
  • #4 ask at the information desk what you should see given ‘x’ minute
  • #5 the guided tour

There are a few things you need to keep in mind for a guided tour of somewhere like The National Gallery.  You have to be able to hear the guide and you need a solid elbowing technique to make sure you can get a good place after each move!  I only started to realise this after the second painting we saw but once I was in on the game I was good at it and very much enjoyed both the tour itself and this gentle ‘sport’ among the 60+ people that were on the tour.

The way it worked here was that the guide took us around 5 paintings in the collection to show the layout of the building and how the collection was divided among the gallery, give some background detail of each painting and the artists.  He also mentioned that there are a number of guides and they choose what to show and change it for themselves so you are likely to have a different tour each time you go.

This was a very good way to visit The National Gallery as it gives a good start and overview then allowing you to browse in a more informed manner.  I even managed to find a nice corner to do some sketching, which I get very self conscious about doing in a gallery.

At around 1 I did another repeat of Tuesday by going back across the street to St Martin-in-the Fields (which isn’t) for their free lunch time concert.  This was great, very well attended but still a nice relaxing environment and now I was in the mood I carried on sketching – also it didn’t really look like the kind of crowd who would appreciate snapping photos during the music.

Then I met up with some friends for lunch!  We went to Covent Garden, round some back lanes that I would never have discovered on my own and to a very, very good coffee shop – the Monmouth Coffee Company (good coffee : no website).  You could tell it was good by the queue, the fact that there were only three tables squeezed in to the tiny place and the toilets weren’t working.  Oh and the coffee was good!

Then we went back to there place a fantastic split level flat somewhere near Shepherds Bush, to just hang out at catch a film – Valkyrie.  It was fantastic to hang out and also to just chill and not be either wondering around on my own or in a hotel.  It’s funny how hotels – even though someone comes into clean every day and they cook you breakfast – just aren’t as homely as home.


Grayza goes to London Day 4

January 28, 2010

Second and last day of the Exhibition I’m hear for and it was fairly interesting.  Not as productive as I had hoped but it never did look like it would be an exact fit with what I’m looking for.  It was winding down by 3:30ish and there really wasn’t anything left to see so I went for a walk and found myself at the Kensington Palace end of Hyde Park.

As a person who hasn’t been to London much (which is no doubt apparent by the amount I have had to say about it in the last few days) place names like Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Albert Hall, etc.  are familiar but I have no frame of reference as to where they are from each other.  I’m not sure why, but I always thought that the Albert Hall was down by the river but it’s not, it is opposite the Albert Memorial (which is a truly awesome piece of public art and celebration of Empire with people from all over the world represented in what we would not call caricature).

I walked around Hyde Park for a while and then started to think I should do something more productive so hopped on the tube to check out the Saatchi Gallery (it was due to close in an hour or so but if it grabbed me I could come back tomorrow).  I found it – it was closed.  Later on the local news there was a report from the gallery showing a new exhibit opening tomorrow which not only explained why it was closed, but also showed me I wouldn’t have liked the visit.

Another long walk (my feet are aching this week!) back to the hotel stopping only for some Mexican food, and an early night to start to write up my notes from this exhibition.  One more full day in London tomorrow, and I’ve done all the main things on my list…?


Grayza goes to London Day 3

January 28, 2010

Today was the first day of the Exhibition that is my actual reason for being in London.  So a busy, long and uncomfortable day in Earls Court Olympia that certainly felt like hard work and I still have to try to write up the bits that I did find relevant.

After that, a very quick stop off at the hotel and then heading off into town.  I did a quick stop off at the Apple Store on Regent Street to pick up an ipad but they didn’t have any.  Then on up the road to BBC Broadcasting House for a recording of Newsjack in the Radio Theatre.  Once again, for me, this is a little bit of modern history because it is one of those places that you see so often on TV and know what has happened there that it is strange to actually visit.

Security was not trivial and it took a considerable time and an army of very well organised and efficient people with radios and black ‘audience team’ jackets to get everyone in to this full-house recording of a very good, fairly new, BBC7 show.

Radio Theatre – what has happened here – on looking around and seeing all the mics hanging over the audience reminded me that I was not simply there to be entertained but to play my part in this recording – by laughing and applauding at all the right parts.

I immediately grew concerned about whether my laugh was up to the job, in fact now that I was ‘on the spot’ I couldn’t think what my laugh was like!  Some people have very loud and distinctive laughs – I am not aware of being one of those but what if I am but no one has ever pointed it out to me.  I wanted to practice, to try out one or two alternate laughs in case mine stood out too much or didn’t fit, but it was too late – the lights went down, the audience quietened down and the produced was on stage explaining what was about to happen.

I’ve always wondered with radio shows and I suppose comedy in general how a recording works.  Things are bound to go wrong and the audience can’t be expected to laugh at a repeated punch line like they (hopefully) did the first time. Also is it like film where they keep recording the same bit till it is OK then move onto the next.  Well, to answer my own questions – it was very informal (they don’t all wear evening dress at the BBC anymore).  The cast ran through virtually uninterrupted, from start to finish apart from the odd ‘corpsing’ or line-trip, where they simply picked it up again straight away.  Then at the end the producer came back on stage from the recording booth at the back with some notes of parts to pick up and some new material that had been written during the recording (this is a news based show after all).  The cast, did interact with the audience a bit but that was mainly when things went wrong or if they themselves found something very funny.

So, even though I couldn’t get tickets to one of my favourite Radio 4 comedies I have heard Newsjack before and it was fun to see it recorded.  Again, if you are planning to travel to London (and this does need some booking ahead) check out what BBC shows are being recorded.  They are free to attend and not only do you get a good show, but see how it is made.

In the way back I passed this fence but didn’t hang around


Grayza goes to London Day 2 (part two)

January 28, 2010

Trafalgar Square: if you are in London you have to visit this place.  It is (again) bigger than I had remembered and a simply awesome space both for the feeling of openness and closed in by the dominating surrounding buildings and traffic flowing towards it.  This is also a place where so much has happened over the years and yet it still struck me as a little surprising that the whole place is in fact a monument to Empire, great warriors and most obviously I suppose the battle of Trafalgar with Nelson on top his column and lots of Naval type sculpture.     Anyway, perhaps more of this later, when I arrived in the square it was late afternoon so time to rush on.

My fifth main target for the day was The National Gallery, which makes up more than one side of the square.  However, by the time I made it I only had 45 minutes before they closed – therefore Museum Technique #4, is a slight tweak to #3 by saying to the staff at the information desk “If I only had 45 minutes what should I see”.  At The National Gallery the map made great sense, the works here were separated by time periods and in each collection there were some highlights mentioned and which rooms they were in.  I immediately gave up on seeing much, went into the first room and stuck to that collection.  Incredible!  Again I really can’t do it justice here so perhaps given more time, and if I get the chance later in the week I will come back here because 45mins is ridiculous.

To end the day I aimed for St Martin-in-the Fields (which isn’t) and got tickets for The Belmont Ensemble of London which is part of a week long Mozart Festival.  Now, my original plan was to try to visit Trafalgar Square at some point this week around lunch time and take in one of the free lunch time concerts at St Martin-in-the Fields (which isn’t).  But there was no way of doing that today but now it was in my head I really wanted to go to this.  I’ve not been to many classical concerts but this is more due to lack of momentum than lack of interest.

Before the concert I grabbed some dinner in the crypt café – downstairs in St Martin-in-the Fields (which isn’t) – which is a very impressive modernization of this ancient crypt space.  Also, to call it a café doesn’t do it justice, as although it is self service the quality is very high and is very good value for money and a very nice space.  I would highly recommend anyone visiting London aims for Trafalgar Square at lunch time, to eat in the crypt of St Martin-in-the Fields (which isn’t) and even possibly catch a lunch time concert.

The concert itself was just a perfect fir for my day of wondering these old historic streets looking for the whys, hows and whats of London streets, churches and museums.  The beautiful, traditional church building had great acoustics carrying every detail of the performance.  They played a mix of Mozart and Handel, which confused me as this was a Mozart Festival, but what do I know.  I was also a little disappointed that neither Mozart of Handel were actually there – this must have been some kind of tribute-act ?!

The building itself has many nice architecturally touches, flamboyant chandeliers and sculptures.  However what really caught my eye was the main window which is very modern and intriguing.

It is almost entirely clear glass with the white led (I think traditionally it would be lead but I couldn’t get too close to this) creating lines, which start as a plane grid but moving towards the center create an optical effect of a cross.  At the middle of the cross is an off-set oval piece which is, or appears to be light.  I think, this piece of glass is etched or opaic   !!! but may also be lit at some angle, but although I did try to investigate I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Also, when I went outside to see if it was back lit (which it wasn’t) I noticed that the window is also distorted i.e. not in a single flat plane.  Anyway, I will do some online research eventually, but for me this window is so simple but striking and says everything about God being at the center of everything, at the center of the cross, God as light, the sacrifice of that light, that light still shining even though the cross is empty, the cross is ethereal, we don’t see the cross in this window but it is represented and alluded to…. OK I’ll stop, after all, on the other hand it is just a window.
[update: found some more info  – “The one controversial note struck in the otherwise impeccable interior is a new east window by the Iranian-born artist Shirazeh Houshiary. This appears to depict a cross as if seen reflected in water, a work of rippling lines seemingly at odds with Gibbs’s classical forms.” ]

After the concert it was back out to Trafalgar Square which is a very different place at night than in daylight.  I could, but for the moment wont, wax lyrical about this place but instead I will just let these two photos sum it up.


Grayza goes to London Day 2 (part one)

January 28, 2010

This is the only day that I have all to myself so have to do everything, which is a tall order.  I started with the biggest slowest breakfast I could manage.  Thus fortified, I headed Underground again and this time managed to get it right but got off a stop early (Embankment I think) to have a little walk along the river, and found a Tardis too thin for even David Tenant to fit into.

And on across the Millennium Bridge (where it is very hard to take a good photo because there are so many people posing for photos), to Tate Modern.  No photography inside I’m afraid.  Now this is somewhere I have long wanted to visit and was one of the first things I wrote down when planning this trip.  I wasn’t all that impressed though.  The collection itself has a lot of interesting pieces, the building has some impressive moments and some real let downs leaving it impossible not to cover some areas several times and not making it clear (to me at least) any sense of continuity or cohesiveness – why were these collected together in this room, is there any reason to see this followed by that… etc.  I also tried Museum Technique #2 here, which was to pay for one of those headphone interactive guide things, I won’t do that again!!!

The audio guide felt very isolating (because of having headphones on) and didn’t add any route or order to anything. I suppose this could be so that users have the flexibility to see what they want in their own order but there could easily have been a recommended path.  Also the guide only went into detail on one or two items in each room.  While I wouldn’t have wanted to listen to detail about every single thing it would have been more useful to be able to choose information on more than that.  Also the big Dell PDA thing was heavy, a handful to operate and just got in the way.  It didn’t take me long to give up on this and listen to the school trips that were going around as the comments from some of the younger ones was much more interesting.

That moan out of the way there are some incredibly iconic pieces here that I am glad I have seen first hand.  Also the current exhibitions were fairly interesting, perhaps with more time than I was giving it I would have enjoyed the place more.

I was about to leave when I decided to take a walk down to the big machine hall which had looked empty to me – this was an incredible experience which I’ll go into when I have more time.  Honestly this was the most thought provoking, perspective altering, inspiring, frightening and enjoyable piece of ‘art’ I have EVER experienced!!

So, back over the bridge and up towards St Pauls, which was the second thing I had written down to visit and climb to the top of, etc.  I was surprised by how massive it was, but then everything here is larger than I expect them to be.  I think of Kelvingrove Museum as being ‘museum size’ all these buildings would laugh at the size of Kelvingrove.  Anyway, St Pauls, I went in, was asked for £12.50 and told that there would be no photography.  Now photography is the main thing I would be doing and I didn’t think that would be value for money.  Perhaps with a tour guide or something, but no it didn’t interest me.

Speaking of money.  I’ve not been going out of my way to do this trip on the cheap but I’m not in a position to be too extravagant either.  Accommodation is the biggest cost for me, the gig I caught last night was free – I found it on the National Theater web site and liked the sound of a blues guitarist.  Today I was planning to catch a lunchtime concert, which was also free but missed it.  Museums and Art Galleries tend to be free ( I always try to eat or drink something and give some kind of donation, but still).

OK, so not too thrilled with Tate Modern and St Pauls effectively written off I started walking about in the general direction of Fleet Street looking for the Temple Church.  Before that however, on my way down I glanced left and spotted this little gem:

St Bride’s Church.  I didn’t get a good look around inside as there was a lunchtime recital taking place that I didn’t feel like., but I did catch this interesting fact: this was Christopher Wren’s tallest steeple and the inspiration for the first Wedding Cake.  So there you go – a little education – now on to the drivel.

It took some doing to find the Temple Church.  In keeping with the legends of Knights Templar it is hidden not just down a side street but an archway with a half closed door over it and no sign posts that I noticed.  It is an extraordinary building and invites you to make mystery out of every piece of architecture and sculpture – no wonder it plays a part in the DaVinci Code.

Much, much more walking took place after this when I discovered lots of theaters, lanes, interesting looking buildings and eventually made it to the British Museum. It’s rubbish don’t bother going!

OK, that’s a little rough it just wasn’t my idea of a good time today.  The building is fantastic and the staff were awesome.  I tried my Museum Technique #3 here which was to go straight to the information desk and ask how the museum worked and what was considered to be its highlights.  Did I mention that Museum Technique #1 happened yesterday at the V&A when I walked around aimlessly looking at everything and taking every turn – it didn’t work, I got lost.  So Technique #3 told me that the museum was organized by country of origin of the pieces and everyone came here to see the Egyptian and Greek stuff – I had a coffee.

Ross had insisted I should come here to see the Elgin Marbles (even though I have been to Elgin) and the Roseta Stone, here it is…

After that I noticed I was looking at the building more than the exhibits, got board and left.  At this point I would like to say that contrary to a lot of how this sounds, I’ve been having a very pleasurable, relaxed and fun day!!

Next, came more walking.  I did think about using London Transport but I just kept walking and finding more interesting places. I’ve been using Google Maps with the GPS on my phone plus a few other London apps I downloaded today has really hit my battery hard, but it just about lasted and led me to Trafalgar Square.

That’s all for now.  Day 2 has to be split into two because it is taking too long to sort out photos and everything so I will try to catch up tomorrow..


Grayza goes to London Day 1

January 26, 2010

Not a great weekend – neighbours had a party on Friday night, so didn’t get much sleep after the late night at the Celtic Connections Festival Club.  Then on Saturday night a flat across the road had a Jazz band start up in the middle of the night – drummer, trumpeter and penis (that is the correct term for someone who plays piano in a flat at 4am).  The Police finally came just before 6 and started clearing the place but that just put the noisy hyper folk out on the street.  So I wasn’t so sure about staying up all night to catch my early morning flight to London but since generally I am better at not sleeping than getting up, that’s what I went for.

So, my first flight since 2003!!! (not through fear of flying, just lack of planning) – airports sure have changed.  I remember popping up to Glasgow airport to hang out and watch the flights come and go.  Now, you can’t park near the airport and other than collecting someone or checking in for a flight there is very little to do until you get ‘air side’.  Anyway, flight was good, couldn’t read because I just kept looking out the window at the sun coming up (and fascinated by how much the wing looks like it just wont stay on)

Transfer into London was nice as well – lots of canals with houseboats between Stansted and London.  But raining when I arrived in Liverpool Street and took ages to get any bearings.  I wanted to walk a bit to try to wake up but should have just jumped onto the Underground.  Anyway, eventually negotiated the underground system, found hotel, booked in and snoozed for an hour then went out to explore.

London is a bit mad.  Went along the road a bit and found this massive building full of ‘Natural History’ but decided not to go in. Then went along a bit further and went into the Victoria and Albert Museum – it really is mad!  I was walking around for about an hour before I realised that my mouth had been gaping the whole time and I still hadn’t really figured out where I was going or what I was looking at.  I like to have a quick wonder to get my bearings and then have a proper look at what interests me most – but I never did get my bearings this place just goes on and on forever.  With massive rooms full of massive things! and little corners with tiny objects every single one fascinating and beautiful. You could (and probably should) spend months exploring this place – I had lunch and left after a couple of hours.

There was a nice little exhibition on about digital art with some nice pieces.  I took this self portrait in one piece called mirror (I think) where you were only ‘rewarded’ with seeing yourself if you stood still for long enough for your image to slowly appear.

Back to the hotel and then I had about an hour to get to the National Theater which is only 8 stops down the circle line on the tube.  I got on the wrong train I think, spent two hours hopping on and off trains and went through Paddington 5 times before I could get myself both on the right line and going in the right direction but made it to the National Theater in time for the second set by Marcia Mello playing in blues in the foyer.  The National Theater looks like a nice place and I’m sure there are good things going on there, since I was really there to listen to some nice blues it wasn’t so good to be sitting in a very busy foyer & bar area, especially when the tannoy started to announce start times for different shows.  But Marcia was great and I picked up a CD.

After that, I had a quick look around the National Theater but it seemed full of people who were full of themselves so left.  Right next-door is the BFI (http://www.bfi.org.uk/) which I really should have thought about visiting earlier.  I didn’t go to any screenings but the book shop is awesome for any film buff – it was really hard to leave.

From there I had a long walk along the south bank of the Themes.

I found this big pointless wheel that everyone told me to take a ride on.  I really tried to make myself interested in it but other than taking photos of it I couldn’t bring myself to get on.  It is nice to take photos of though.   Then there was this big building with a clock on one end…

A little further along I realised (by the massive walls, cameras and secure gates) that I was passing that funny building that is the HQ of MI5 or 6 or something.  These four blokes came out of gates a little in front of me after a long day ‘admin’ presumably and were chatting loudly about what they were up to that night.  I ended up behind them across several roads and was getting worried about trying not to follow them when it became obvious we were all heading for the same tube station.  I hope they haven’t opened a file on me :-)

Early to bed to try to recover from lack of sleep.