Tuesday, January 25, 2011

London, UK: January 18th-24th

As I imagined, during my time in London I had much less “down time” than when I was in Iceland. This is one of the reasons why I am writing this blog after my return to New York. 
When I visit London, I don’t feel like a tourist. I’ve been there so many times and lived there for an extended period twenty years ago, so in some ways in feels similar to New York. What I mean is, I don’t go to London to take photos of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the changing of the guard, rather I visit to spend time with friends, catch the latest art exhibitions, eat some delicious ethnic food, attend various cultural events, and perhaps enjoy some shopping. In short, visiting London was an “urban fix” for me. 


I stayed with my friends Shana and Norman in a fun area of town called Shoreditch, not far to Liverpool St. station. As Shana is on maternity leave and her six-month old daughter Isabella enjoys going out, the three of us had a blast for three days, enjoying shopping on Oxford St., catching the latest exhibition at the Tate Modern, and exploring her neighborhood.
Shana and Isabella

I wanted to buy a print shirt at Liberty off Regent St. in Mayfair but they were out of stock due to January sales.
Liberty fabric


Evidently, in the not so distant past, struggling yet emerging artists flocked to Shoreditch, so it has a bohemian feel to it, which is rare for a central London location with its posh shopping and tourist kitsch. We popped in and out of various   galleries, cafes, boutique shops, and organic grocery stores and enjoyed the graffiti art that adorns the sides of buildings.
Street art in Shoreditc

On Saturday, January 22nd, I decided to explore on my own and returned to two of my favorite areas in London: Hampstead Village and Notting Hill. This day was perhaps the warmest of the entire week, so walking around was quite pleasant. In Hampstead I had a delicious goat cheese Foccacia sandwich at a chain restaurant called Giraffe, followed by a banana-chocolate crepe at the La Creperie de Hampstead.
Hampstead High Street


By the time I reached Notting Hill, the Portobello Road antique market was just about closing up. However, I did have a chance to pick up a Banksy image printed on a canvas at a local art shop, an inexpensive token to remind me of my visit to London in January 2011, where I learned about Banksy and the vibrant street art and graffiti scene in London.
Portobello Road Antique Market
While I was in London, I also had an opportunity to attend two London Philharmonic concerts. I was really excited about the concert on January 19th, as they were performing Mahler’s 5th Symphony. However, I made the mistake of not buying my ticket in advance, and was stuck with last minute “premium” seats at a whopping 55 GBP. The were indeed “premium,” right on the orchestra floor, centrally-located and not too far back. On January 22nd, I bought my ticket online in advance for a more reasonable 12 GBP, and enjoyed Faure’s Requiem. Both concerts were sublime, and it was great to see such a large audience for a classical music concert. I would think that the competition to attract an audience for classical music concerts in a city with evidently no less than five major orchestras might be tough, but both concerts appeared to be completely sold out. Like New York, London is a city of culture, and these orchestras obviously exist because there is a market for the aesthetic experiences they provide.


On Sunday, January 23rd, Shana and Isabella went to another one of London’s markets, the Columbia Road Flower Market. It was quite crowded and lively, with vendors shouting “Three for a fiver!” and the like above each other to try to attract customers. 
Columbia Road Flower Market
In the afternoon I said goodbye to my hosts and made my way to Highgate in north London to spend a night with my UH Manoa friend/colleague Will Connor. He lives in a vibrant village called Muswell Hill. An ethnomusicologist and Ph.D. student at The Royal Holloway School of Music currently researching instrument building, Will just returned from Scotland where he conducted interviews with a prominent bagpipe maker. We spent some time catching up, but mostly enjoyed playing a new X-box game, Left-4-Dead, for hours upon hours! Many of the areas in north London have a “village” feel to them and somehow feel more livable than central London. If I ever have a chance to live in London, I’d likely opt for north London. 
My flight back to New York had a few moments of scary turbulence, but I arrived on time and managed to return to the U.S.A. just a day before another snowstorm is scheduled the strike the northeast. So far my travels have not been affected by nasty weather. In the end, I could not have imagined a better way to spend my winter vacation. I managed to catch up with several close friends, address my desire for an “urban fix,” and touch the surface of a country I had not yet had an opportunity to visit. I’m sure this won’t be the last time in my life I visit Iceland and London.

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