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June in Paris has been so exhausting that I needed a break! Three days in London seemed like the perfect get-away.

Not really, of course. My London vacation-within-a-vacation was more about friends and sightseeing than relaxing. I had met Michael Åhs several years ago, when he was a grad student, through the Harvard Humanist Discussion Group. He visited me in Paris for long weekends each of my first two years here, when he proved to be a curious and intrepid flâneur. On his first Paris trip Michael introduced me to Dan and Rick, a gay couple with a place in London, with whom I have also became friends. This year, Michael already had plans to stay with them for a few days towards the end of June, so we arranged for me to visit also for the first two nights of his stay. I don’t think Michael has many other gay friends, but he’s so secure in his own heterosexual identity that the orientation of friends is a non-issue.

I had been excited by the idea of a tunnel under the English Channel since I was a little kid, when it seemed like a distant dream, so it was a thrill to take my first trip through the Chunnel, on the Eurostar high-speed train. I have to admit, however, that apart from speed this was really just a reasonably comfortable train trip. As a French acquaintance pointed out, you can’t see anything while you go under the Channel. What did she expect:  Sharks? Nuclear subs?

Apart from changing planes I had not spent time in London since a family trip in the ’70s, so I could make no pretense of being anything other than a slack-jawed tourist. Michael didn’t arrive until Monday evening so Dan took the day off to show me around town.

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Dan in Trafalgar Square.

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St. Paul’s and Millennium Bridge.

The squares and buildings were of course impressive, but the single most memorable experience of the day was a glass of wine at Gordon’s Wine Bar, in a cellar lit only by candles.

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Dan at Gordon’s Wine Bar.

That evening Dan made a home-cooked meal for Rick, Michael and me. It looked as good as it tasted but you’ll have to take my word since I was too much in the moment to remember my camera.

Michael and I got an early start the next morning and set out to explore London on our own, while Dan and Rick worked.

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A fanciful building I liked near the Houses of Parliament.

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We just happened to arrive at Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard. Honest!

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One excellent feature of London is that nearly all of the museums are free. This not only saves money but it eliminates the psychological effect of the “sunk costs fallacy” — i.e. “I paid $15 to get into this place so I have to see everything.” Dan and I saw one exhibition at the Tate Modern and a few choice rooms at the National Portrait Gallery, then in each case continued on our walk when we were ready to move on. Michael and I did the same thing the next two days, at both the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Museum. Our only miscalculation was arriving at Tate Britain well before it opened.

That evening the four of us set off for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. We happened to run into two gay friends of Rick and Dan — Simon and David — so naturally we invited them to join us.

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Michael, Dan, Dave, Simon and Bob. With Rick taking the photo.

Fluffy was unable to join us for dinner, but she was a full participant in a mini birthday celebration afterwards.

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Fluffy preparing to pounce.

My train back to Paris wasn’t until 7 pm on Wednesday, so Michael and I had time for another city walk. We started in Bloomsbury at Russell Square, which I remembered fondly from our family trip decades before. We spent most of the day, however, at the British Museum. I had seen photos of the Great Court by Norman Foster, but I was blown away by it in person.

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The Great Court of the British Museum, with the Reading Room (and Michael) on the right.

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Michael and Pericles compare beards.

That afternoon we just had time for a beer with Dan before I headed out to catch the train back to Paris. At each end the station was just a few stops on the subway — a huge convenience over air travel.

I’ve posted two photo sets for those who want to see more:  2013 London People and 2013 London Places and Things.

Mot du Jour: « Pret à Manger ». The most common fast food chain in London (though only five locations in Paris): “Ready to Eat.”