The Westminster Abbey Choir is regarded as one of the finest in the world. The choir consists of thirty boy choristers and twelve adult singers known as Lay Vicars. The young boys, ages 8-13, are pupils at the Westminster Abbey Choir School located in Dean’s Yard near the abbey. The school is the last remaining choir school in the United Kingdom.
It’s believed the choir originated around the year 1560 as the choir of Westminster Abbey have been educated there since Elizabethan times. So, it’s quite an honour and accomplishment to be part of such history.
There are numerous recordings of Westminster Abbey Choir and they travel the world performing concerts, including a performance with the Sistine Chapel Choir at a Papal Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in 2012. The choir also plays a central role in royal, state and national occasions that take place at Westminster Abbey.
If you’re curious to listen to the choir in London, plan to attend a Choral Evensong. There is no charge to attend the service, though do be prepared to dress appropriately as you would at any church. Everyone is welcome. I’ve attended Evensong on numerous occasions, including Easter Sunday. The experience is ecumenical, to say the least, but sitting in Westminster Abbey with over 950 years of history adds to the special experience. You’ll have an appreciation for the abbey unlike most visitors and it is possible emotion will overcome you.
The choir boys and men sing Evensong Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 5 pm. Simply arrive at the main entrance of Westminster Abbey and state you’re there to attend service. No cameras, video or audio recording is allowed. Be sure to check the choral service schedule before arriving at the abbey.
Oftentimes I’ll stroll through Westminster on a Sunday afternoon. One stop I’ll make is Westminster Abbey Cloisters. During summertime, the cloisters are a splendid place to cool off. More than this, I’ll time my arrival near 2:30 pm so I can watch the choir procession from the choir room to the abbey door. With my camera always at my side, I’ve captured many a fun photograph in long exposure form.
I’ll stay in the cloisters throughout the choral service as the choir’s voices float like a graceful feather from inside the church. I suppose this is a casual way to enjoy the music and beautiful voices without properly dressing.
Video of Westminster Abbey Choir During Church Service :
Too, there is no admission fee to visit the cloisters at Westminster Abbey. I enter through Dean’s Yard at the right side of the church. If you’re unfamiliar with a cloister, it is a covered walk or open arcade running along the walls of buildings and forming a quadrangle. The attachment of a cloister to a church or cathedral, usually indicates it was part of a monastery at some point in the church’s history.
The cloisters would essentially act as a barrier separating the monks from the ‘outside world.’ You could refer to this as an enclosed religious order. Cloister derives from the Latin term, claustrum, or enclosure. You’ll find cloisters at many medieval churches around the world.
Where is Westminster Abbey Cloisters? GPS Coordinates of Westminster Abbey Cloisters ::51.4993° N, 0.1273° W
Map Showing the Location of Westminster Abbey Cloisters :
The moment I saw a photo of Mont Saint Michel in a magazine I was mesmerized. The notion of an island off the coast of France topped by an awe-inspiring medieval monastery still in use today immediately captured my imagination. The realization that I could not only visit Mont Saint Michel but also stay at the very base of the Romanesque chunk of history sent me over the moon.
Mont Saint Michel is one of the world’s most magnificent sights, there is no doubt. Aside from picturesque, why should you visit Mont Saint Michel?
Mont Saint Michel is connected to the mainland via a causeway which until recently was a thin natural land bridge. During high tides, the bridge was engulfed by water during high tide and revealed at low tide. Victor Hugo described the tides as á la Vitesse d’un coeval au galop, “as swiftly as a galloping horse”. What a superb description because the tides can roll in at one meter per second. You wouldn’t want to be caught in that. In fact, over the years more than a few lives have been claimed by the tides and even quicksand. In 2014 a new causeway opened which allows visitors to safely cross to the island but also opens the flow of seawater so once again the mystical quality of Mont Saint Michel reveals itself during high tide. You can download the current tides schedule at Mont Saint Michel before your visit.
The abbey built high on the island catches your eye from great distances. If you’re driving, it will seem as Mont Saint Michel gradually appears out the earth like magic. The slow emergence into your view only adds to the anticipation of what lies ahead, though the sheer magnitude of this wonder is only appreciated when you stand mere feet away from the entrance. For me, it is inconceivable how such a grand structure could be built on an island over a thousand years ago.
When you enter, you’ll walk directly into a medieval town though the buildings are filled with modern restaurants, souvenir shops and museums. Many of the tourists walk no further as the climb to the abbey, which is at the very top, is difficult. If you choose to climb to the abbey, you’ll have peace of mind knowing few others will join you. Walk the steps. By the time you’ve reached the famous Escalier de Dentelle (Lace Staircase) to the gallery around the roof of the abbey church, you’ll have climbed no less than 900 steps. The climb is worth every inclined step you take. I guarantee it.
Halfway up Grande Rue is the medieval parish church of St Pierre, which is still used today. The church features a beautifully carved side chapel with a dramatic statue of St. Michael slaying the dragon. The day I visited I was treated to the sight of a monk pulling on a long rope to ring the church bell. When the rope ascended toward the bell, the monk was lifted off the ground. The memory stays etched in my memory and I can only hope to witness this again.
The Grand Degré, a steep, narrow staircase, leads to the abbey entrance, from which a wider flight of stone steps leads to Salt Gautier Terrace outside the dignified church. Alongside, you’ll find stunning arcaded cloisters which offer sweeping views of the bay. Be sure to wander at your leisure amongst the maze of rooms, staircases (yes more) and vaulted halls that make up the abbey.
If you’re able, let your creative imagination take you back hundreds of years to enhance your experience.
Information about The Abbey at Mont Saint Michel ::
The Abbey is open every day except January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th. From May 2nd – Aug 31st, the hours are 9 am to 7 pm with the last admission at 6 pm. From Sept 1st – April 30th, the hours are 9:30 am to 6 pm with the last admission at 5 pm. The entry fee is 9 euros for individuals age 25 and older. The rate is 7 euros for individuals age 18 to 25. Under age 18 is free. Under age 26 and citizen of a European, Union Country is free also. Mass is celebrated at 12:15 pm from Tuesday to Saturday and on Sunday’s at 11:30 am. Other masses are conducted at 7 am during the week and at 8 am on weekends.
Interesting Facts About Mont Saint Michel :: During the 100 Years War, England captured all of Normandy except for Mont Saint-Michel. The Statue of Archangel Saint Michael atop the Abbey spire also acts as a lightning rod to protect the island from electrical storms. Mont Saint-Michel was the first site in France to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stage 11 of the 2013 Tour de France ended at Mont Saint-Michel.
Operatic performance in London stretches back more than three hundred years, though the organisation of the current theatre began in 1946 as the Covent Garden Opera Company. The theatre we attend today was built in 1858, but it wasn’t until 1892 when it officially became the Royal Opera House.
The first opera I attended was Don Giovani in London during the 1980’s. It’s safe to say I slept through much of the production. I don’t remember much besides the bellowing voices carried through the theatre. My mind was unwilling to understand the language and my age prevented me from interpreting what took place on stage. In an odd way, the opera intimidated me. But, I could say I attended the opera for what that’s worth.
For years afterwards, I turned to musical theatre. ’42nd Street’ at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane sealed the deal for me. I was mesmerised by the show, the mighty tap dancing and tunes that stayed in my head long after the show ended. The list of shows I’ve seen is endless, and for the most part, I enjoy each one I see. In fact, just recently I saw ‘Hello Dolly’ with Bernadette Peters not once, but twice, in New York City. The shows are hugely entertaining but in a casual dining out sort of way. You can have a splendid time with comfort food, or in the case of musical theatre, a song you can hum or tap your foot to. The shows are mainstream if you will.
On the other hand, opera and ballet productions tend to be more sophisticated and cerebral. Some see a night at the opera as something only the elite do. Yes, you might see a sea of black ties adorning the audience, but beneath the grandeur on stage are poignant and dramatic human stories set to beautiful music. The opera nor the ballet are untouchable. The productions at the Royal Opera House are for everyone – young to old.
The set designs, lighting, costumes, exquisite music, glorious and heavenly voices, and graceful ballet dance leave you in awe. When you are at a Royal Opera House performance, you’re part of an experience – and one you won’t soon forget. What transpires on stage can inspire a lot of emotions. You might even go through in two and half hours what many people spend their entire emotional lives living through. You’ll feel everything on stage.
If you get swept away, so be it. Cry, laugh or gasp. Some shows might be hysterically funny, horribly devastating, sexy, thrilling, tense, gorgeous, poignant – and yes, sometimes boring.
Royal Opera House :: Favourite Romantic Ballets
And no, wearing a tuxedo or a long gown is not a requirement to attend opera or ballet. I’ve attended numerous productions at the Royal Opera House and I fit right in wearing slacks and a button-down shirt. It’s possible I once wore a nice pair of jeans. Do leave your scuffed up trainers at home. For ladies, dress pants or a skirt and blouse will work nicely. Even a cocktail dress is acceptable. The most important thing for you to remember is this is your night, so make the most of it the best way you know how. Even be creative and colourful if you choose.
When the curtain goes up, the audience may mysteriously begin to applaud. Know the conductor is walking to his or her stand. Simply applaud as the others applaud. Unlike a concert, there are the right times to applaud during the show. If you’re unsure, the easiest approach is to take a cue from the rest of the audience. If they start clapping, join along.
The opera and ballet are for you, me and everyone. After one performance at the Royal Opera House, you’ll be richer than you were before the curtain rose. The productions are like fine dining and the flavours arrive in layers. Each layer ignites your senses in luxurious tantalizing fashion.
Royal Opera House :: What Do You See?
Photos of Programs and Tickets from Various Royal Opera House Productions:
Royal Opera House :: A Photo From Every Seat
For a better understanding of behind the scene operations of the Royal Opera House, consider taking the backstage tour. You’ll receive an overview of the fabulous building, the massive backstage area, the Front of the House and Paul Hamlyn Hall. Better still, you’ll gain an insight into the illustrious history of the theatre, learn about the state of the art technology utilised to pull off each production and see firsthand various aspects of current productions.
Keep in mind, the Royal Opera House is a fully working theatre, so it is possible to catch a glimpse of performers practising or a workshop. The day I took the tour the Royal Ballet was in class and I couldn’t get enough of the intensity and grace displayed before me. Royal Opera House productions change day-to-day, so it’s fascinating to learn how backstage technology is used to move around scenery which can weigh up to 30 tonnes.
The backstage tour is brilliant and one I highly recommend whether you love opera and ballet or not. The tour lasts a little over an hour. Currently, tours begin at 10:30 am, 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm, Monday through Saturday. Check ahead to be sure tours operate as scheduled. The cost for the Royal Opera House Backstage Tour ranges from £9 – £12
Video :: Discover: Royal Opera House – Backstage Tour
Where is the Royal Opera House? GPS Coordinates of the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden ::51.5129° N, 0.1222° W
Map Showing the Location of the Royal Opera House :
Qatar is known by many as a layover at Doha’s fabulous airport or a mere day stopover. For a couple of years, all I knew of Doha was the drive between the airport and the hotel. During the airport-hotel transfers, I’d notice Doha’s interesting elements that were enough to decide to give Qatar enough time to explore.
I especially love the architecture in Doha, by the way. The buildings aren’t your run of the mill square or rectangular boxes we so often see in London or New York. Doha’s buildings are inspiring and spark a creative mind’s imagination. Can you imagine a building touching you enough to make you decide to make a place a destination?
During my first extended stay in Qatar, I quickly received a warm welcome. Yes, the weather is beyond your normal hot and humid. In fact, when you outside expect to perspire and expect it to be part of the experience. What I really mean by warm welcome is the feeling I got from everyone in the city wherever I happened to be. I’m always met with smiles and a genuine sense of belonging. I especially appreciate being greeted with a handshake then placing the hand over the heart. There’s a warmth to the gesture that I find most endearing.
In Qatar you’ll discover a country rich in tradition yet you will discover it to be dynamic and exciting at the same time. The country is indeed a land of contrasts where contemporary sophistication melds beautifully with old world hospitality. Qatar is unexpected in so many wonderful ways. Think of the Middle Eastern land as a rich cultural tapestry waiting for you to discover.
If this isn’t enough to convince you to make Qatar your next destination, consider the following top reasons to visit.
Museum of Islamic Art Mathaf Al-Fann Al-Islami (Museum of Islamic Art) houses one of the world’s most impressive collections of artworks crafted according to traditional styles from across the Middle East and central Asia. It’s in this museum you’ll find glorious decorated ceramics, glass and textile items, stunning carpets, metalworks and richly detailed antique manuscripts. The museum building is iconic, designed by architect, I.M. Pei. The Museum of Islamic Art building itself is a work of art both inside and out.
The Corniche Curved around Doha Bay is a long waterfront officially called the Corniche. Enjoy splendid vistas of Doha, from the inspiring high rise buildings in the business district to the distinctive shapes of the Museum of Islamic Art. Traditional wooden dhows (boats) line the bay reminding us of Qatar’s seafaring past. The area is pedestrianized for a safe stroll from end to end.
Katara Cultural Village I visited Katara Cultural Village out of curiosity. I reluctantly left the cultural centre wanting the same in my city. In fact, I want to conduct a photography workshop with the Qatar Photographic Society. Katara is a creative interpretation of the region’s architectural heritage. The village consists of a stunning amphitheatre, small theatres, various art and photographic galleries and performance venues where you can see concerts shows and exhibitions. All arts housed in one innovative place.
Souq Waqif (Shopping) Doha offers shopping for any and all discerning shopaholic. You’ll find luxury brands galore and glorious scents not readily available in the western world. But, for an authentic taste of traditional commerce, make your way to Souq Waqif after the sun sets. Meander through the maze of small shops and vendors who offer anything from spices to perfumes, jewellery, clothing, Middle Eastern handicrafts or a treasure trove of trinkets. As you stroll through the souq, you’ll be treated to cultural shows, traditional music, and art. The atmosphere in the night air is eclectic and one not to miss.
Desert Safari For a true sense of Qatar’s terrain, be sure to set aside time for a desert safari. The largest area of sand dunes in Qatar lies to the southwest of Doha. The high dunes are brilliant for viewing, climbing – and if you’re adventurous, dune bashing. Like most dunes around the world, the desert scenery changes constantly with shifting winds. The colours of the sunset are especially breathtaking from the dunes and you’ll be treated to a change in the colour of the sand as well. And while you’re at the desert sand dunes, travel further south for the impressive Inland Sea, Khor Al Adaid. The sights are simply beautiful and ones you’ll remember long after you leave.
I offer only a handful of reasons to explore Qatar, though there is so much more to discover in this magnificent country. Not only will your senses be touched, but your mind is encouraged to think. As I visit Doha over and over again, I’ll update this page.
At weekends I meet a good friend for drinks at our member’s club in Shaftesbury Avenue. He always asks where I’ve been during the week. When I tell him, his response is always, “Where is that?” or “I’ve never been there.” The reaction never varies, and I believe him. His world revolves around the home, the office, a spot of lunch on Saturdays and drinks at the club. I’d go as far as to say my friend isn’t alone. Most Londoners, even those living in Central London, don’t know the city very well.
Before Instagram and the rapid growth of blogs, there were numerous ‘secret’ places in London. Today, a popular London Instagrammer posts a new London discovery and then hordes of others follow in his/her footsteps to take and post the same place. The practice doesn’t seem original, but it happens.
One good example is Peggy Porschen Cakes in Ebury Street around Victoria Station in Belgravia. The cake shop is a hop, skip and a jump from where I live. When the shop opened in 2010, it was popular with the residents in the area and Londoners “in the know.” When Instagrammers discovered Peggy Porschen’s and posted photos of the stunning store exterior, the secret was no longer a secret. London bloggers are no different as one after another writes a post about the cute bake shop on the corner. Now everyone in London knows. I can only imagine how much business increased since the rise of the popular social media platform. Any good marketer will tell you word of mouth is the best form of advertising. The cake shop struck gold.
Out of curiosity I popped over to Pinterest and searched ‘Secret Places in London.” If you’re unfamiliar with Pinterest, their search page is one that scrolls endlessly toward the bottom, except you never reach the bottom. The page keeps on going all the while proposing ‘pins’ of secret places in London from a vast array of people or bloggers. Everyone it seems is an expert of London places about which you need to know, but no one else knows. A popular buzz term these days is ‘hack,’ which isn’t a congenial sounding word, but everyone seems to use it.
There are more listings but I only chose nine. For each, I clicked the link and I’m not surprised to find St Dunstan In The East on every secret place in London list except for one. Most of the bloggers place the bombed out church turned into a garden as their number one secret place. Even the ever popular Londonist site recently suggested you to “Discover This Secret Garden in a Bombed Out Church.” It’s a true hidden gem, you know.
My photo of St Dunstan In The East
So, I have to ask – is St Dunstan In The East a secret anymore? Or, the noses of Soho? Postman’s Park? The smallest police station in London? Each ‘secret place’ shows up on everyone’s list. Is there any place in London that is a secret anymore or is everyone simply copying one another? The latter makes no difference to me, though the repetition does make me wonder.
Perhaps when Instagram loses favour, and it will one day, will London’s secrets return? The same question can be asked when the wave of London blogs recedes and the notion that influencers promote better fades away.
All that said, not everyone uses social media or read blogs to discover London. If you’re like my friend I meet each week, you’re in this category. There are still secrets in London. If you’re like me, you discover something new in London every day you walk around the city. In fact, I found St Dunstan in the East simply be meandering from Tower Hill to Monument over ten years ago. No one told me the bombed out church garden was there; I simply found it and it instantly became my favourite secret place in London. The difference is – I didn’t share it with anyone online. And, St Dunstan in the East is more than a secret, it’s special.
The tradition of night markets in Hong Kong reaches back to the days when the region first became a major trading centre. The days were hot, and with no air conditioning back then, the best time to go shopping was in the evening. Night markets were located throughout Hong Kong though over time and re-development schemes the markets disappeared one by one.
Temple Street Night Market is the last remaining example of a traditional Hong Kong night market. It has been a fixture of the Jordan/Yau Ma Tei District since the 1920’s and perhaps even before. The market takes its name from the nearby Tin Hau Temple and you may have seen it as a backdrop in a number of movies.
People visit to buy inexpensive goods from bags, fashions and accessories, or jewellery, trinkets, electronics and gadgets. Plentiful delicious street foods tease any passerby whether its a feast of snacks, noodles or congee that is all served well into the wee hours.
The market is a popular place for visitors and locals alike to congregate in the evenings. Various forms of entertainment are common while you meander up and down the buzzing street. Expect to find mystic fortunetellers or tarot card readers from whom you can receive glimpses into your future. There is a long tradition of fortune telling in and around temples tho’ the fortunetellers are not located inside the market.
The fortunetellers and tarot card readers are closer to the Temple itself as they have always been. Simply walk along Temple Street Night Market northwards, go past Yau Ma Tei Library until you reach the Temple gardens.
A variety of methods are used including the examination of hands or ears and the use of Chinese astrology. Be sure your fortuneteller knows sufficient English or you may leave a bit confused. Personally, I find Eastern philosophies fascinating so I’d go just to satisfy my curiosity.
After you know your good fortune continue up the road and turn right into an area where the opera singer tents are located. In the tents, you’ll find opera singers who perform Cantonese Opera. If you’re unfamiliar, Cantonese Opera is a unique singing style with its own music genre which is different than what you and I know.
Amateur singers come together to practice and perform in order to encourage one another and develop their craft. You’ll find amateurs from all skill levels, from professional quality to beginners. It’s said that a few singers from Temple Street have gone on to professional careers in Opera Houses. You can listen to the opera singers from 8:30 pm until 11 pm most nights except Wednesdays.
Hong Kong is the epitome of a modern metropolis. Hidden away in Temple Street you’ll find a thriving cross-section of traditional and modern Hong Kong culture, cuisine, commerce and society that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Temple Street Night Market is an enduring example of theatre and festivity of a traditional Chinese market. And, it’s on show nightly.
Gallery of Photos of Temple Street Night Market
Where Is Temple Street Night Market? Temple Street Night Market GPS Coordinates :: 22°18’21.20″ N 114°10’11.53″ E MTR Yau Ma Tei Station, Exit C, turn onto Temple Street at Man Ming Lane; or, MTR Jordan Station, Exit A. Turn right onto Jordan Road and then take another right onto Temple Street.
Map Showing the Location of Temple Street Night Market
You might also be interested in 12 Awesome Reasons To Visit Hong Kong
Historically, St Dunstan-in-the-East is a reminder of the frightful London Blitz carried out by the German’s during World War II. Ironically, the church survived the devastating Great Fire of London in 1666 but succumbed to an air raid in 1941. A bomb directly hit the small church destroying the structure except for the north and south walls as well as the steeple designed by London’s famed architect, Sir Christopher Wren.
Today, St Dunstan in the East is a re-purposed ruin. Instead of the site being razed, the church remained in ruins until 1967 when the City of London Corporation voted to turn the bombed-out remains of the church into a public garden.
St Dunstan in the East is tucked away on a side street between the Monument to the Great Fire of London and the Tower of London. I found the church garden simply by exploring the streets one day ten years ago. The notion that such a serene place could exist amongst cold contemporary office buildings fascinated me. It’s entirely unexpected.
St Dunstan in the East is like a little oasis in the City of London. When I shared with my friends what I had found hidden away off Lower Thames Street, no one knew what I was talking about. At the time, I referred to the church ruin garden as a secret place in London. In typical fashion, many bloggers today place St Dunstan in the East as number one on their lists of secret places in London you must discover.
I like to refer to St Dunstan as a London garden retreat instead of a secret. The gardens consist of overgrown trees, ivy clinging to the walls and flowering vines creeping along the ruined arches. Benches are dotted around the former interior of the church for visitors to enjoy a moment of quiet or to have a spot of lunch. At high noon you’ll find numerous office workers from the area enjoying their lunch or simply taking a break. I visit with my camera even today as the garden is still endearing.
What strikes me most about the space is the calmness and serenity felt in the garden. The usual city noise seems to disappear once you step into the confines of the old church. There might be a bit of magic at St Dunstan in the East. I’ve noticed on more than one occasion how hectic London sounds disappear despite the structure being open air.
Life does indeed go on after tumultuous times like the Blitz. And, whether St Dunstan in the East is a secret or not, it should be atop your list when you explore London.
A relatively new way to explore Hong Kong arrived at the Hong Kong TramOramic tour. With the purchase of a ‘Golden Ticket’, you’ll have two days to get the most out of your purchase. And, though the tour is included in its name, don’t expect a tour guide. Be prepared to conveniently travel through the bustling city and hop off at various points to explore on your own.
The stylish trams are reminiscent of those used in the 1920’s and a brilliant way to discover Hong Kong without the frustration of getting lost. The historical trams are open-top so you can clearly see major landmarks along the tram network and learn about daily life in the city. The TramOramic tour is an hour long though with the purchase of the Golden Ticket you have two days to also use the regular Hong Kong Tramway network to explore Hong Kong on your own.
Listen to the sounds heard while riding Hong Kong’s Tram ::
Tramoramic Golden Ticket (Images)
The hour-long tour itself begins at one of two starting points. I used the Western Market Terminus as it is convenient to Conrad Hong Kong. The other terminal is Causeway Bay Terminus. (See the route maps below).
Simply hop on board the 1920’s vintage double-decker tram for an enlightening journey where you’ll see sights such as Statue Square, Macau Ferry Pier, Tak Wing Pawnshop or Man Wa Lane. You’ll also see important Hong Kong landmarks like the Bank of China Building, the Supreme Court, Times Square, Lippo Centre and Tai Yau Plaza. You’ll even pass by Happy Valley Race Course and Jockey Club as well as Happy Valley Cemeteries.
You’ll hear pre-recorded commentary along the way which points out the various sights along the journey from one terminus to the other. Do know there is an onboard ‘host’ to answer any questions you may have.
The beauty of the Hong Kong Tramoramic Tour is you can use it as hop-on-hop-off transportation to see sights on your list of Hong Kong things to do or even have lunch. Hong Kong Tramways provides suggested sights to see, which I’ve included below. Feel free to download the guides to create your own enjoyable experience.
Quite honestly, I was reluctant to buy a Golden Ticket for the ‘tour’ simply because I avoid structured tours. I’m pleased I did because this service provides an easy way to explore Hong Kong at your own pace and allows for you to explore on your own. No one is herding you on and off a tram, nor is anyone rushing you. I like to take a travel experience as it comes and the Hong Kong TramOramic is fully flexible to allow that.
During the day, London seems short to me. Have you noticed? Maybe the grey skies make the city look like your short plump uncle or aunt. I can’t quite put my finger on why I feel this way. But, on a clear day when the skies are ocean blue, I’m still underwhelmed by the majestic city that melds together and doesn’t look so grand.
Don’t get me wrong. I love London at any time during a twenty-four hour period, and even 363 days a year. I reserve two days to loathe the city, especially when I need to walk Oxford Street.
There is an infectious energy in the capital city, no doubt. London is busiest during the day. Hordes of people casually mill about or rush from here to there. Some people are wandering tourists who can sometimes be annoying; others are quasi-Londoners who feverishly commute in and out of the city for work. Then there are the actual residents who take the city in stride and at their own pace. Did you know London’s population swells nearly 60% during the day and decreases after working hours? It’s true. It’s also true since the financial crisis, people’s patience waned and gentle manners fell by the wayside. There is stress and it shows.
I remember years ago walking out onto the street only to get a whiff of diesel fumes. The pungent aroma was unmistakable and most noticeable after I’d been away from the capital for an extended period of time. I often felt like PigPen from the Peanuts cartoon as if there was a cloud constantly hovering around me. London’s air has improved since the fume days though it still has a long way to go.
Traffic is still an issue throughout the day. No matter how much of London is pedestrianised, snarled traffic only seems to get worse. I used to take black cabs because they were quick and convenient. Overzealous street traffic changed my habit. And down below, commuters pack like tight cello wrapped McVitie’s for long stretches of time. Crowded Underground trains are not reserved for rush hours anymore. London Underground carries up to five million passenger journeys per day. The annual passenger numbers per year are 1.37 billion people. Let that sink in. What a remarkable operation London Underground is, but I tend to pass on public transportation.
These days I prefer to walk no matter how far I need to travel. I’ve got the calves to prove it. The exercise is agreeable to me in any London weather, dreary or not. Walking allows me to learn how London is connected, and it’s seldom I’m lost unless a gradual curve takes me west instead of east. The truth is a former taxi driver taught me how to navigate Central London. His voice is always in my head when I explore.
I’ll often plan my walk to avoid high traffic areas during the day. Luckily, I don’t participate in the daily grind, so I discover London at my leisure and whatever peaks my curiosity any given day. I’ll explore unfamiliar neighbourhoods, gardens, art and photography galleries or find a new place for lunch. Jermyn Street and St James’s is always a favourite for this gentleman.
I’ve also been known to view a historical photography exhibition then retrace the steps of the photographer. My mind drifts as if I’m in a time machine imagining the sights, sounds and smells from another era. Discovering London by way of the past is enlightening, not to mention the activity makes me grow fonder of the capital city. I think those who came before us were wiser and more aware that we are today.
Sometimes I’ll venture into the crowds at Trafalgar Square just to take in everything around me. Admiral Lord Nelson’s statue seems tall, but maybe it’s because he’s standing alone on his imposing column. Perhaps London seems short to me because the buildings are so tightly packed together nothing’s set apart from the others. Almost every structure is the same height so there’s nothing to impress. In that, there is a bit of respect I have for London. 90 story buildings aren’t needed to make London spectacular, it’s all of the diverse bits and pieces spread throughout the landscape that make her special.
I’m still pondering height, though people watching in Trafalgar Square is enjoyable. All sorts of people pass through at any given moment. The pigeons are gone thank goodness. There are imaginative buskers entertaining the crowds. Buses swirl around the square in sync and a piercing sound of sirens is a given throughout the day.
From Trafalgar Square, you can see firsthand that London is always on the move. The commotion is exciting and makes you feel alive. Even if you’re alone in the city, you’re never really alone even if you’re not engaged in conversation with a companion. If you want to have a congenial conversation with yourself, it’s ok because you’re in London. Sometimes moments are more meaningful when you’re brave enough to talk about it.
Despite the swarms of daytime Londoners and tourists, I love popping into the National Gallery. I’ll weave my way through the admirers of Impressionist art for a brief glimpse of Monet, Renoir or Van Gogh. A savvy wink is all I need to satisfy my desire for calm colours meshed together to resemble a familiar scene I know. The language of colour jumps from the paintings to convince me there are harmony and balance in the gallery room despite being bumped into numerous times. This reminds me; I very much enjoy Seurat as well. Dot. Dot. Dot. Georges Seurat. Bathers at Asnières is one of my favourite post-impressionist paintings at the National Gallery.
The earlier the art periods, the fewer people there are to negotiate in the galleries, and the calmer the National Gallery becomes. Why is that? I always find myself in awe of Peter Paul Rubens painting of the biblical story, ‘Samson and Delilah’ with few others around. I admire the painting for an hour undisturbed. The storytelling, use of colour, light and textures Peter Paul Reuben utilized for this masterpiece never cease to amaze me. Viewing the painting is a calm moment for me. If you’ve seen the painting and think it’s the perfect size to hang over a fireplace, you’re right. ‘Samson and Delilah’ was created to specifically to hang above a fireplace in the house of the mayor of Antwerp.
The National Gallery hosts a series of talks about various paintings in their collection throughout the year. You can learn more about Peter Paul Rubens painting of ‘Samson and Delilah’ in the video below.
There is much, much more to discover in London despite my perception of her being short. It’s safe to say there is more happening in a small corner of London on any given day than most cities around the world have in a year. London may lack height but the city is wide and deep. I’ve visited enough cities on all the continents to certifiably make the statement.
I always think of London in the daytime as a time to learn. The city is like one massive open book full of knowledge that it’s willing to share. Choose your interest, prepare to use your imagination in overdrive, then trundle the streets until your curiosity is satisfied. There are layers of London. Once you uncover one layer, you discover there’s another layer with even more splendid adventures waiting for you. And, another layer after the first two with other layers after that.
You know the line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘If’ – “Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it…”? The same is true of London except you may need to pay an entrance fee at most places.