August 9, 2005 9:00am
IÂm in Broadstairs now. I got here yesterday on a train from London. I took a nearly empty bus from Stansted Airport to Victoria Cross station at 7:15am. I think I slept most of the way, since I wasnÂt able to sleep in the airport for more than 15 minutes at a time. The centre of London is beautiful. IÂm such a tourist. I was awed by famous sights like Big Ben, the Thames River and London Bridge, as I ogled them from the window of the bus. ThereÂs quite a palpable feeling of history in the city, as modern building rise next to medieval castles. I was just passing through, but I canÂt wait to go back on Wednesday and explore it in more detail.
I bought tickets to Broadstairs at Victoria Cross Station. Since the bombings last month, there have been a lot of security measures put in place. For instance, there are no trash bins anywhere. If you want to throw something out, you must give it to one of the cleaning people who are walking around with bags of trash and brooms. Also, passengers are not allowed on the train platforms until their trains have been announced. When your train is announced, you have about 5 minutes to hustle through the gates to the platforms and find your train.
The ride to Broadstairs was pleasant. The outskirts of London look pretty rough though, blanketed entirely in graffiti and looking very run-down. Overturned, rotting cars and crumbling buildings are everywhere. As the train passed into the countryside, I got a look at pastoral English farms, probably much unchanged for the last 500 years. Vast green fields are home to grazing sheep, cattle and horses. Small farmhouses sit on hills overlooking the land.
Sophie met me in Broadstairs at the train station and accompanied me to the Keston Court hotel. ItÂs a bed and breakfast type hotel, like most of them in Broadstairs. ItÂs built on a hill overlooking the sea. My room is at the top of the building, with a lovely view. Everything is old here. ItÂs not old in a bad way, but definitely not spiffy and shiny new like a Sheraton or Four Seasons. Not surprisingly, there is no Internet access here so I donÂt know when IÂll be able to post this.
Sophie and I went for a walk through town. There seem to be plenty of interesting places to eat. I had pizza from Canadian Pizza. I was surprised to find that the owner was born in Windsor, Ontario. HeÂs a friendly guy, and chatted us up for a while. He moved to England when he was 10, but returns to Canada to visit every year. He hates it here, and is in the process of selling his business and home and moving back to Canada as soon as possible.
Breakfast at the Keston Court Hotel is advertised as being a full English breakfast, and it was indeed full. There was a choice of cereals, juice, toast, home-made sausage, egg, hash browns, beans, and of course tea. The woman serving breakfast made the same joke to all the guests as they came in: ÂThe sausages are especially good today. Four guests have gone missing.Â
This morning IÂm going to walk around with my camera and then possibly do some more Broadstairs touring with Sophie.
I did a quick walk on the beach with my camera and snapped some photos of local life. Then I met up with Sophie and we grabbed a bus to Ramsgate. We walked through the harbour and the waterfront, then through town to see the shops. We hopped back onto the bus and completed the circuit of Thanet, including Margate. I grabbed a paper bag of fish and chips for dinner.
August 11, 9:15am
Yesterday I was in London. I took the 10am train to Victoria station, arriving close to noon. Upon arrival I decided to get my bearings by walking around the busy block near the station. As I made my way out into the bright sun, I noticed a cluster of police officers shaking down a dark-skinned man just outside the doors to the station. They had his luggage opened on the sidewalk and were rifling through the contents as he stood by, angrily. He was powerless, and frustrated. After they left him, he shouted curses after them. It made me feel pretty angry too, that no one with dark skin can really feel free to travel without harassment, but on the other hand, I see the reasons for the paranoia too. There doesnÂt seem to be an easy answer to any of this.
After watching that drama I continued around the block. The city is clearly ancient, but with interwoven elements of modernity. Glass and steel blend seamlessly with stone and mortar. Old-fashioned taxis line up along the street beside brand new taxis that are designed to look like the old ones. Double-decker buses crowded the street too, each one of them completely filled with people.
The pace of life in London is breathtaking. People are always in a hurry, squeezing by each other on escalators, weaving through pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks, grim determination on their faces.
After walking around the block, I stopped at the transit information office and purchased a day pass for 4.70 pounds. I still wasnÂt sure where I wanted to go, so I followed the street signs to Buckingham Palace, about 10 minutes on foot. The castle was impressive, as you might expect. The wealth was conspicuous. In fact, there were large posters along the way advertising an exhibit of some of the royal treasures. It seems a bit tacky to be charging an admission fee to see these jewel-encrusted abominations when there is poverty all around.
I took some obligatory photos of the faÃ§ade of the palace, and also the furry hat guards outside. There were only two of them, but there were many more submachine gun-armed police guarding the gates. There were thousands of tourists like myself swarming the yard in front of the gates.
I walked down the path bordering the green park across from the palace to the Hyde Park tube station, then took a few moments to figure out the crisscrossing tube lines on the system map. I had decided I wanted to find Tate Modern museum of art. I jumped on a train and headed down to Southwark, the closest tube station to the Tate.
The Tate was beautiful, actually. The building itself is impressive, somewhat plain on the outside, but massive and monumental inside, with lots of smooth concrete and heavy steel girders. The displays were informative and interesting. Some of the art was a bit over my head though. For instance, I fail to understand how a 30 second video loop of a man dressed in a jesterÂs costume, jumping up and down on an invisible pogo stick in a white room while making angry noises is a manifestation of our outer selves as we present them to the world.
When IÂd had enough art, I walked out to the edge of the Thames River, and then crossed it on the Millennium Bridge. The bridge provided a beautiful view of the city, and was aligned so it pointed directly towards St. PaulÂs Cathedral on the opposite bank. I thought it made a spectacular photo.
On the other side I searched out a tube station, and made my way to Camden Town, a somewhat counter-culture part of town. It was much like the rest of London, but with a few extra shops for Goths to buy shoes. Apparently itÂs common for people to try to sell you drugs in Camden Town, but because of recent events, the entire city is crawling in police, so I think the drug business is in a bit of a decline. I bought a chicken sandwich in Camden Town and headed back to the tube.
My next stop was KingÂs Cross. I wanted to snap a picture of the train station where Harry Potter catches the HogwartÂs Express to wizardry school. IÂm such a nerd. 😛 I took a couple of photos quietly because I had already been hassled by a transit person at Victoria Station for taking pictures of the shakedown, and I didnÂt want my camera confiscated.
I got back on the tube again and made my way back to Victoria Station to meet James (hakfest) and Susanna (pembaline) from deviantART. We had a few drinks, talked about photography, deviantART politics, traveling, Londoners, and all kinds of other things. ItÂs a shame I only had an hour to spend with them before having to catch my train back to Broadstairs. I find it quite amazing to meet people all over the world and already have this common bond of deviantART.
My impression of London is that itÂs a world-class city, perhaps THE world-class city. ThereÂs a lot of everything there: fine dining, nightlife, effective public transit, culture, counterculture, commerce, industry, and a sense of grace and beauty. However, itÂs also ridiculously expensive. The cost of everything was enough to leave me feeling winded. It was hard not to feel ripped-off, spending pounds on my Canadian dollar income. As I had been told before, everything that costs $1 at home costs 1 pound here. Currently 1 pound is about $2.40. I didnÂt find that surprising. Certain little things, like having to pay a pound for any pay phone call up to one minute, or having to pay 44 pounds instead of 21 pounds for my train ticket back to London from Broadstairs, simply because I was arriving before 9:30am, gave the impression that there was always someoneÂs hand in my pocket, even if it was a well-manicured hand.
IÂm not sure that IÂd want to go back to London, with so many other places in the world to explore. Time will tell.
August 12, 2005 7:25am
Yesterday was one of the best days IÂve had in recent memory. It was one of those days on which everything seemed to go perfectly. I met Soph at 11am in front of the hotel and we went for a walk through town. We checked out the house where Charles Dickens used to come to write. It looks like a small grey castle, perched above the sea at the top of a cliff. We couldnÂt go in. It seems to be closed, either for renovations or for lack of interest. Who knows.
We walked along Eastern Esplanade and down the stairs to the bottom of the cliff, where the tide was low. We were able to walk along the base of the cliff and the edge of the sea for a kilometer or so until we reached an old tunnel made by smugglers in Victorian times. The tunnel was carved into the side of the cliff, and had stairs winding up to the top. The feeling of touching history was amazing.
At the top of the stairs leading out of the tunnel, there was a magnificent English meadow, filled with wildflowers and butterflies. With the brilliant sky above, and the sea crashing onto the beach far below, I donÂt think IÂve ever seen a more idyllic scene. I didn’t bring my camera, but fortunately Soph had her Polaroid. Square!
When we reached the edge of the meadow, we found ourselves in a grass parking lot bordered by cabbage patches, of all things. We kept going and discovered Joss Bay, a crowded beach. We had cheeseburgers and chips, then turned back and headed back to town.
We reached the smugglerÂs tunnel to the beach again and looked over the edge of the cliff. The tide was coming in again, but decided weÂd try to make it back to Broadstairs before getting swamped by the sea. We descended to the beach again, and started walking. The waves were washing perilously close to the base of the cliff, and we had to keep moving closer and closer to it to avoid getting soaked. Eventually, we found ourselves perched on some boulders, with the sea swirling all around us. There was no choice but to roll up my pants and take off my shoes. Soph had a skirt on. She was lucky. Anyway, the end result is that I got a soaker. My corduroys were drenched, especially after I tripped on a rock when a wave came in and splashed down into the water. It was hilarious though. We reached the beach in Broadstairs and amused a lot of people who only had to have one look to realize what had happened to us.
After getting changed, we did some natural light portraits with Soph before the sun went down. It was proof of the concept that all of the studio gear that I have is only designed to emulate natural light. I love how the portraits turned out. We also played with the Vivitar flash and some pretty direct lighting, with some very fun results.
I donÂt think I can remember ever having more fun on any one day. It just goes to show that all you need is a sense of adventure and good company. It was a suitable wrap-up to a trip that was all about simple fun and relaxation. Kiitos Finland, and thank you England. This geezer had a proper well good brilliant time.
Now IÂm on a train to London Victoria again. ItÂs becoming a familiar journey. This time will be the last though. I plan to catch the Gatwick Express train to the airport, and then my flight to Toronto from there. See you on the other side of the pond.