London (where else?) - Friday, September 1, 1995

Boy am I tired. Running around, even if it is on the Underground, is very tiring. I am busy organizing everything for Paris tomorrow (picking out what information/pamphlets I need to take with me, including my passport). It strikes me that I will need a holiday when all this is over, hard to imagine that in only three days I will be back on the dole (working again). I am thinking that I will have to take the Tuesday I get into Prince Albert off of work, if only to catch up on sleep. Hum, wonder if I should let them know? I actually don't know if I care what they think at this point. Work is just a thorn in my side, even here (translation (in case you missed it): I am not a happy camper, translation of translation: work is not good right now).

Started the morning off with a trip to Buckingham Palace and, wouldn't you know it, I actually got into the first morning opening (they give you tickets with a time on them that you have to show up at the side entrance but there are no guides for the 'tour') so I thought I had done well for myself. The grass in the various parks surrounding the palace are quite brown because of the lack of any rain to speak of for the last month or so it makes me wonder if the queen was actually in the palace right now that the grass would be watered. I was just struck with the thought: what does she think as she goes to sleep at night, does she stop to think that she is such an important question or has that method of thinking been purged from her mind after so long being the monarch?

The palace is quite nice, probably the cleanest (from the outside) building I have seen in London so far (except, perhaps, the Tower Bridge, but I am getting to that, eventually), though it is kind of disappointing to see that the gold at the tip of each spike on the gates surrounding is actually paint, I am sure that it is gold (as in, gold leaf) paint but nonetheless…

I was actually surprised at first to see the metal detectors but only for a fraction of a second, I have been told that anyone entering the palace, regardless of how, is to submit to this. No photography was allowed, which is a shame but understandable. I did pick up the tour guide (a book, not a person, though, I suppose, if they were good looking…) and read it quite thoroughly as I went through each room, viewing individually each piece of art, furniture, etc. It was quite interesting to see the inner courtyard of the palace and the grand staircase, the dining room, and the wonderful works of art. I am not terribly well versed in the Victorian art period but I was knowledgeable enough to pick out a view artists (Rembrandt, van Dyck, and Rubens). I don't know, the ruby coloured cheeks and the happy faces kind of get to me after about 50 or so paintings of the same kind. It does make you wonder what the REAL treasures are in the palace that we do not see on the tour. I was going to get to the Queen's Gallery where they had a special exhibition of Fabergé eggs (which I have a fascination with, ever since I was first exposed to them in, of all places, a James Bond movie). Maybe on Sunday…

After the fairly exhausting trip through the palace I made the even more exhausting walk down to the Thames to catch a boat tour to the Thames Barrier and, of course, along the way I passed Big Ben and the Parliament buildings. They really are (as mother would say, I would NEVER say it) “goopy” (spelling is rather hazy for this one I am afraid to say). It is quite fascinating to be seeing the history you have heard about (and seen) for so long. I should really take some more time to learn the history of the city, there are a lot of interesting things about it.

I made the fairly nice trip down the Thames (that is, downstream) with a bit of commentary from the captain (or rather, his assistant) about what we were seeing, of particular interest to me were, the reconstruction of the Globe theatre about 1/2 mile away from the original site (which we saw also), the London Bridge although it is really a new bridge, but interesting for it being “London Bridge”, Tower Bridge, which is just interesting in that it is exactly as pictured including a newly painted and tidied fascade, the Greenwich Observatory, as we passed from East to West and vice-versa and the Canary Wharf project which is interesting in that it was the failed project of Olympia and York from Canada (they are going after Mexico now). The barrier itself was interesting but disappointing in that they chose to emphasize the “British Engineering Conquers Nature” aspect as opposed to how exactly it was built or perhaps toning down the “Conquers Nature” bit (which is not exactly a good tact to take in Canada it seems to me but it seems to pass here). The exhibits were lacking in any content whatsoever and were all too short, but we can't win them all as was demonstrated when the boat to take us back to London (the barrier is about, oh, I don't know, 20 miles downstream from London) was about an hour late arriving (the tides were coming in).

I was hoping to get to the London Dungeon today but when I got back to London I just had time to order tickets for tonight's show (see below), get back to the room (to change, by tube) and finally get to the show (by tube, again). I did get to see Starlight Express today, boy was it IMPRESSIVE. The theatre is interesting in and of itself in that you enter through one set of doors and you are faced with another set of doors immediately opposite on the next street over, you enter the theatre to the one side. The staging was incredible. I will attempt to describe (I was quite disappointed to see that no map of the stage was included in the playbill but anyway…), first, you need to understand the premise of the show, it is about trains. The whole story revolves around these trains that a child owns (as it begins) and that are having a race (I won't go any further in the description of the story). This is accomplished by having the actors wear skates and dress up as the various characters (one notable character as an electric train is quite good). Now, to get the action of the various races (semi-finals, finals, etc.) there are, literally, roller-skate rings around the whole auditorium, when you enter (at least on the main floor), you must walk over one such ring and on the balcony, there is a ring right around the front of it. There is a ring around the middle of the first 10 or so rows that the skaters use, there is also an impressive main stage that contains a double ramp (a 1/4 circle on each side) and an interesting trestle bridge-structure that moves about on it's central axis and up and down. During the races, the racers would start from the center stage, and quickly (VERY quickly, a SERIOUS race, no KIDDING!) move up to the ring surrounding the lower level (where I was sitting) and around to the front again where the trestle bridge would allow them to proceed to the ring in front of the first balcony and then they would reverse and come back down, finishing with a final lap around the inner ring around the first 10 rows. It was quite thrilling and they had a screen that came up that showed you what was happening at any one time. The music was, as to be expected from (Sir) Andrew Lloyd Webber, exceptional and I was even more impressed to pick up the soundtrack which is VERY hard to get in Canada.

Now, I am a bit worried about customs going back into Canada, I have a LOT of books and they are worth a fair amount of money, it looks like Sunday night/ Monday morning I will be going through as many of my receipts as I can find as I am only allowed a small amount of money worth of goods back into Canada. It looks like I will be REALLY helping out our government with my hard-earned dollars.

I have to get to bed, I have to catch the train to Paris at 6:15 am tomorrow and it is 11:30 already, looks like I may be sleeping on the train a bit (hopefully not for the Chunnel), I also have to get to the train which should be interesting using the underground.

⇒ Continue to London (and, sort of, Paris) - Saturday, September 2, 1995