United has a daytime flight from IAD to LHR, which is wonderful. You leave Dulles at 9:30 in the morning and get in at about 10 p.m. Seven hours and daytime makes this perfectly reasonable to do in coach. The flight was remarkably empty. It was an older plane with somewhat limited seatback entertainment selections, but I was still able to find two movies to watch. One for the Money was not as good as the Stephanie Plum novels, but still pretty entertaining. Albert Nobbs was, alas, merely dull. Food was mediocre (breakfast was choice of omelet or french toast, snack before landing was sandwich and chips) but not horrible.
I’ve heard horror stories about immigration at LHR in recent days and they did appear understaffed at terminal 1, but I got through in under a half hour. I got some money at an ATM, bought a pay-as-you-go Oyster card (something I really ought to have done a couple of years ago), and took the tube to Earl’s Court. I stayed at Base 2 Stay Kensington, which was relatively reasonably priced and very convenient. The room was small, with a twin bed, but had a refrigerator and microwave and free internet via the television (somewhat slow but useful for things like checking opening hours and weather).
The primary object of the trip was seeing the exhibit at the Natural History Museum on Scott’s Last Expedition and I did that Friday morning. The museum was an easy and pleasant walk from the hotel. I thought they did an excellent job of highlighting the science that Scott’s men performed, which is one of the key differences between his expedition and Amundsen’s. There’s a lot one can criticize Scott for (especially his last minute decision to add a fifth man to the polar party). But seeing the replica of the Cape Evans hut and the samples in the work area, really brought out that his was a scientific expedition and not a mere race to the Pole. I was also pleased that they had a lot of material both on the Western expedition (“the worst journey in the world”) and the Northern party. The latter is truly one of the great survival stories of all time, as the men, who’d planned a six week trip, unexpectedly wintered in an ice cave when the ship was unable to reach them and then managed to walk to the main expedition hut. All in all, the exhibit was well worth a couple of hours.
After grabbing a quick lunch, I took the tube east to the West Ham station. Why was I off to the industrial wastelands of East London? The Olympics are coming up and London Walks had a walk that took in the Olympic venues. I’ve done several of these walks over the years and I’ve enjoyed all of them. This one was largely along a greenway that had been built on top of the sewer system. The guide talked about the history of the area, which included pointing out the gas works where the rockets used in the War of 1812 were manufactured. There was one very dramatic building, resembling a cathedral, which turned out to be the main pumping station for the sewer system. There was also plenty of trivia about the Olympics. Eventually we reached the Olympics Park area and had excellent views of various venues, including the stadium, the aquatic center, and a rather dreadful modern sculpture that looks like it should be a roller coaster. At the end of the walk, we were near the Pudding Mill Lane station of the Docklands Light Rail, making for an easy connection back to the tube and central London.
I meandered over to Leicester Square and bought a cheap ticket to see Top Hat that evening. I had time for a pub dinner at the Wellington (delicious smoked haddock fish cakes, salad, and roasted potatoes, but rather bland Cornish ale) before the show. The stage adaptation of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie was reasonably entertaining. The plot was silly and a bit sexist and the first act could have used some tightening up. (Bear in mind, however, that I dislike farce.) But the Irving Berlin score (which includes such songs as “Cheek to Cheek” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”) is excellent. The performances, by Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen as the leads, were excellent, with strong support from Martin Ball, Vivien Perry, and Stephen Boswell. All in all, it was an enjoyable evening.
Robert and I may no longer be conducting the world’s longest running brief meaningless fling, but we are trying to be civilized and made plans to get together on Saturday to do a foodie walk of the West End. Neither of us had quite realized that this was not a tasting tour. Instead, it was just a normal London Walk, but with a focus on food-related sites and stories. That was probably better for us, anyway, and it was definitely entertaining. The sites included the Ritz, Fortnum and Mason, chocolate and cheese shops with royal warrants, Italian delis, a gelato shop (where we did get samples) and, eventually, Chinatown. We took advantage of the latter for lunch after the tour. All in all, I had a good time and we got along well enough that maybe we can continue to be friends.
I can’t go to London without a visit to Foyle’s, one of the greatest bookstores in the world. I took advantage of the visit to replace my dated copy of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetables, as well as to buy Alexander McCall Smith’s new Professor Dr. von Igelfeld book, which is not yet available in the U.S. (and was a quick and enjoyable read).
As for Saturday night, I had done a quick look at the website of the Society for Storytelling and found out about Story meal. The concept, eating a meal and listening to stories, was right up my alley. The location was a short walk from a tube station and easy enough to find. The storyteller for the evening, Fema Martin, was more literary than I might have preferred, but she did tell (rather than read) and her pieces were interesting. The conversation was as appealing as the stories, with a wide range of attendees. And the food wasn’t bad, either. I would definitely go again if I were in London when this is happening.
The trip home was pretty painless. It was a newer plane, with audio-visual on demand. I took advantage of that to watch Young Adult, a very interesting movie starring Charlize Theron as a writer struggling against her own immaturity. I also watched The Bucket List, which I had surprisingly never seen before and mostly enjoyed.
Overall, it was an excellent trip. I could have used better weather and I wouldn’t have minded another day, but it was definitely worth even such a short excursion.