British Museum, Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guard, Chunnel, Eurostar, flâneur, Gordon's Wine Bar, London, Millennium Bridge, Pret à Manger, St. Paul's, Trafalgar Square, Victoria & Albert Museum
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fluffy was unable to join us for dinner, but she was a full participant in a mini birthday celebration afterwards.
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.
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.
Mot du Jour: « Pret à Manger ». The most common fast food chain in London (though only five locations in Paris): “Ready to Eat.”