Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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This Is London...

It's nearly midnight... am ensconced in a tiny internet cafe, blocks from Hyde Park. Tummy full of Indian curry (extra spicy!) and wine. Yes, my London travels have forced me into cheating on my liquid lover, Yagermeister. So. London. Mature, sophisticated, clever. She's well groomed and tidy in contrast with Manhattan's rough and tumble atmosphere. New York is chaos. London is organized and proper. Massive, yet quaint.

Arrived around 9am this morning to The Surge, grinning from ear to ear. Flight was fantastic. Lucked out, the seat next to me being vacant, I was curled into a comma for most of the smooth plane ride, giggling at old episodes of Friends. Then it was directly to the tube ("mind the gap") and my first glimpse of London. First impressions: Crisp, vivid, brilliant blue sky, not the gray I've been taught to envision. Bright sunlight filtered through cottonball clouds, but chilly, a bit of a bite in the air. And white, bright buildings everywhere. Clean streets, even the traffic seemed to purr delicately as opposed to the raucous roar of Manhattan's commuters. Although it's October, green abounds. Lush landscapes of lawn and trees are everywhere. Checked into our hotel, blocks from Hyde Park, ditched our luggage and set out for coffee.

Sitting on the sidewalk, I strained to hear snatches of British conversation. From very posh accents, to the working class Eliza Dolittle enunciation. An hour of people watching later, we headed back for a quick nap and shower then we were off to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens to check out Diana's old digs. Rolling green grass, dogs roaming free, manicured lawns.. Hyde Park knocked my socks off.. like Central Park but calmer, more relaxed and spacious. I could visit every day for a year and discover a new favorite spot each time.

It's about six o'clock now.. The sun is beginning it's lazy descent, so we decided to stop for a bit of coffee (again!) and crisps at a small cafe on the banks of Serpentine Pond. Crisps. A salt junkie's dream. Flavor: Lobster & Firecracker. Like spicy barbeque lays, but zestier. Yum! We decided to pay our respects to her Majesty and stopped to peer through the gates of Buckingham Palace at the stiff faced, redcoats vigilantly standing guard. Took the requisite photos and made our way to Trafalgar Square via St. James Park.

Twilight is beginning to creep in.. Stopped for some photos at Admiralty Arch and then Trafalgar Square roars to life. Ahhh...This is the London of my imagination. Lights glowing in azure twilight, Fire engine red double decker buses clamor past on the "wrong" side of the road. Blood red phone booths. Buildings perfectly lit, like a movie set.. The only thing missing? Pigeons. Apparently some eejit Mayor made it illegal to feed the birds, so now the Square is devoid of bird life.

After a brief "snog" with The Surge, amid buzzing traffic and tourists, we struck out for Big Ben and Parliament. There was minor embarrassment when I attempted to hop a turnstyle to a public loo and got busted. Paying for loos? That's the price of Socialism, I suppose.

We stood 'neath Big Ben..a monolithic building that can be seen from just about anywhere in London. Beautifully lit, the ol' boy began to boom and chime the eight o'clock hour. High on life, on London, we pressed on, past the fortress that is Parliament and Westminster Abby, strangely dark, hulking in shadow in the blue black night.

We strolled along the Thames, crossed at Lambeth Bridge where we stopped midway, to perch atop the structure. We sat for a time, reflecting on the day, on London at night, the path we'd just made through arguably the finest city in Europe. We each made wishes, and tossed a pence into the inky, slow moving Thames and continued to the other side.
We strolled back up along the Thames, past the London Eye - that strange ferris wheel contraption that looms on the embankment.. As we were passing the Eye, headed toward the Golden Jubilee foot bridge a "busker" began to sing "I Will Survive".. Quite odd actually, it wasn't the women's lib anthem version.. it was a slow, mournful ballad that floated across the bridge with us, following us until the West End swallowed us whole and drown out all noise but it's own innate bedlam. Black night by this time.. served a beautiful backdrop for twinkling lights, London ablaze across the Thames..

The Golden Jubilee dropped into the frenzied fuss that is the West End. Throngs of tourists mingling with West Enders.. Leicester Square, seemingly the Times Square of London.. Bright lights, big city baby. Rushing locals, bumbling tourists.. On the outskirts, we stumbled onto Herman Melville's one time abode. We conducted a bit of window spying on the natives, folks cozily tucked in for the night.. Then continued on in search of The Borderline, the club where The Surge has played many a gig.

Sore feet finally began to make themselves known and so we gave up for the night and caught the Central Line tube back to our hotel neighborhood in search of curry.. Turned up our noses at various Indian restaurants, too cold, bad lighting, too empty and then..just right. Spicy popadums with chutney and mint sauce to start, and yes, I ordered a white whine, Sauvignon Blanc.. Hurray for me.. Sooo cosmopolitan.. Heady atmosphere, intoxicating.. Steaming platters of spicy lamb curry and chicken vindaloo. So hot I had to surrepticiously wipe my nose every few minutes.. The waiters were fantastic. Materialized for a refill then just as quickly, vanished. At the end we were handed piping hot, damp washcloths to wipe our sticky paws.. Mmmm.. luxurious to The Girl Who is accustomed to Thai Tai take out.

Then it was on to the pub. Brightly lit, mahogany, pictures of hounds, horses and old football teams adorned the walls. Rowdy footballers adorned the chairs, with just the right sprinkling of elderly gents.. The night wears on.. Drunken footballers begin shouting strange English slang curse words.. One Cider in and before I know it, we're being informed it's time to go. Last call. Huh? In Brooklyn, the party is just getting started. But The Surge informs me last call is early in London.

The walk home is downright chilly.. I can see my breath, spiraling gently into the night.. We stop to top off our calling card, get late night snacks like biscuits and Diet Coke (what's with the warm soda?) Then we crowd into a phone booth to call Donny Pizza Sauce, Max's adopted dad for the week. He informs us he arrived safely, is already watching the Eagles game and making noodles & gravy (Philly for spaghetti sauce). Max has apparently introduced Donny to every toy he owns in an attempt to coerce him into play - undoubtedly hoping he'd get a little tug-of-war action with the new guy.

And then it's time for bed. I've now toured the whole of Manhattan and much of London these past three days. I am in love. With my husband and London.

Reader Comments (2)

Good luck in London! Have a blast, and thanks for checking out my site. Yours is great, and I admire your writing style and the fact that you have done so many brave things, and that you've taken so many chances.
October 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
Beautifully written, thanks Monica. And thanks for the 'biscuits and crisps' - I shall be heading down to the London Market at lunchtime to stock up on Walker's crisps. You'll surely inspire anyone who hasn't already been to visit that wonderful city, and you've made one English girl here in Utah horribly homesick...
October 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAli

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