Tuesday, October 02, 2007

London Journey: Part Eight

September 25-29: Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

After we bid a fond farewell to Russell, (if you want details of his Ghostly Tour of Britain, be sure to check his blog, NYCity Stories…I’m sure all the spectral details will be there in a few days- once he’s recovered from Jet Lag.) Bobbi and I started settling into the day-to-day life.

While we are still waiting for British Telecom to wire up our flat, we are still using the pay phone and the wireless internet access at the Kensington as our main portals to the outside world.

Londoners do not carry their umbrellas as an affectation. It rains a lot here, and when it’s not raining, it’s often gray and overcast. Blue sky’s seem to be something of a rarity. But, it is London, after all. We’ve yet to experience a “real pea soup-er” of a fog- I’m not sure if they still have them, or if that was a function of Victorian pollution.

One thing that I find very remarkable is the amount of tropical vegetation you see growing around the city. Many houses have palmettos, or large tropical succulents growing in large pots outside (too large to bring in). These types of plants are also in abundance in the public parks and gardens that I’ve walked through. When you think that London is much further north than Vermont, it is amazing to see. (I also can’t help but be reminded that this was once the capital of the world’s largest tropical empire.

Bobbi had to return to the States for a conference this weekend, and so I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to explore London’s giant public parks. The colors of the flowers in the highly formalized gardens are vibrant even now in early autumn, so I can only imagine what they must be like in the spring.

My first park visit was to Kensington Gardens, about 45 minutes from our flat. Most of the world knows Kensington Palace as a focal point in the cult of the late Princess Dianna, but it was known before that as the birthplace of Old Queen Vic herself…it was here in 1837 that she learned that her Uncle had died and that she had become Queen of England. She would remain so until her death in January of 1901. There is a statue of the young queen outside her place, where she competes for attention with memorials to Diana.

The palace was built for William and Mary, when the Royal couple were invited to come from Holland and Reign in the place of wicked James II – who had fled to France. It is arguably from this time period, in 1689 that both English Parliamentary Democracy and by extension, American Constitutional Government began to grow- and so I found the spot a bit inspiring.

Kensington Gardens is also the home of Queen Victoria’s gigantic memorial to her beloved husband, Albert. The statue is huge, and covered with Gold leave. He over looks the Albert Hall, and now, having seen it, I’ve a pretty good notion that I don’t want to count how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.

Kensington flows into Hyde Park. This gigantic swath of open land in the heart of London is dominated by a long, artificial pond called the Serpentine- where Londoners boat, fish (with a permit) and watch the hundreds of ducks, geese, Canadian geese, pigeons, and seagulls that float and dive in the water.

(It was interesting to see a regular model goose- I hadn’t gotten a close look at one in a long time, being rather more used to seeing the Canadian version. He is much more stocky and substantial looking then his lithe Canadian Cousin. I bet Bobbi is going to have problems when it comes time to roast him for Christmas dinner.)

The other thing that blew me away was the bins for dog waste! I have no idea of these are modern or of Victorian origin, but the British didn’t, and don’t, do things by half measures. (The brass rounds in the sidewalk marking the Diana memorial walk look as if THEY could have been there since 1899). These repositories are built of giant slabs of cast iron, riveted together, and painted a deep forest green. Only the British would build a dog-poo receptacle designed to last for millennia.

As the reader may have guessed by now, I’m somewhat apathetic about Diana. I’ve never been able to quite understand why she holds such great sway over the imagination of so many, both here in England, and at home in America. But I have to admit that the memorial fountain to her is a very interesting piece of work. Build on the side of a small hill, the fountain is a flume in the shape of a ring. Water cascades from the top, where it flows down hill in both directions, passing over artificial steps and rapids, until it reaches the bottom, where it is pumped back to the top.

Bobbi will be sorry she missed this walk, but it will be quite easy to return to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park again and again, as there are literally miles and miles of different paths to take through, and across the parkland. And it’s almost completely possible to forget that you are in the heart of one of the most important cities in the world.


Anonymous said...

We are NOT roasting him for Christmas!

Kate said...

that's what i'll miss most... the sound of bobbi whapping alex on the arm when he's starting trouble. which is often. i think alex likes to be whapped.