Walking London and using my free time to figure out where to live in this REALLY big and REALLY expensive city.
09.06.2008 - 13.06.2008
View Exploring A New Home on GregW's travel map.
I just got in from Notting Hill and boy are my legs tired!
That joke really works much better with flying and arms, doesn't it?
The weather has been sunny and cool, which is excellent weather for walking for long periods of time. As I am still scrounging around on the job front and now that I have most of the logistical stuff sorted out, I have used this week to hit the streets and check out what London areas to live in.
Unemployed and wandering the streets? Why, some might even call me a Pikey, which is a pejorative slang term used in the United Kingdom. The BBC says that According to the Oxford English Dictionary, its first use in print was in the Times in 1837, referring to strangers who had come to the Isle of Sheppey island to harvest. Later that century it meant a "turnpike traveller" or vagabond. But in more recent years it has become a term of abuse and in the eyes of the law using it can even be deemed a racist offence, given its association with Irish travellers and Roma Gypsies. The word has been in the news alot recently as Martin Trundle, commentator for ITV's coverage of Formula 1 racing, used the term to describe some workers laying down new tarmac at the Montreal Grand Prix. So while I'm not Irish or Romanian, if Martin Trundle can use it to describe Canadians in Canada, I guess an unemployed Canadian in the UK could be a Pikey.
Enough with insulting myself and probably getting myself blocked by firewalls throughout the United Kingdom. On Monday, after checking out the Telectroscope, I started heading north, through "The City" (the area of tall buildings and financial businesses just north of the Tower of London) and checked out the area of Barbican, Clerkenwell and St. Pancras. They were nice enough areas, but a little sterile for my tastes - the streets seemed empty of life. They are very close to the city though, which would make it potentially possible to walk to my job (once I figure out where that is).
Thursday, on the advice of a friend of a friend, I checked out Belsize Park, Camden Town and Islington. Much more to my liking, especially Camden Town which is a very funky, hip area. Of course, I am neither funky nor hip, but it's always nice to live around those people.
Today I wandered from Paddington station through Bayswater, North Kensington, Kensington and Notting Hill. North Kensington is about the only of the places that I could actually afford to live in, and while it has an excellent selection of Kabab shops, it seems a little run down. Bayswater was very nice, but walking past a real estate place and seeing STUDIO apartments renting for £450 a week left me thinking that I was probably looking in the wrong part of town.
Tired from all the walking, today I grabbed the tube to Convent Garden and went and checked out London's Chinatown.
I was disappointed at first, because it is actually quite small. When compared to Vancouver, San Francisco, New York or Toronto, London's Chinatown seems puny and lifeless. Then I realized that why London wouldn't have developed a large Chinatown. England used to have the biggest Chinatown of all - Hong Kong. When you think of it in that context, it really puts all other Chinatowns to shame. I mean, Hong Kong is pretty big. I guess that means that now China has the best Chinatowns. I suppose that is the way it should be.
While today's wandering left me in Chinatown, the other two days of wandering both brought me to the same place - King's Cross and St. Pancras stations. King's Cross is both a tube line station as well as a national rail station, while St. Pancras is the new international station and terminus of England's High Speed 1 rail line, as well as serving some national trains. High Speed 1 is mostly used at this point to service the Eurostar trains to Paris and Brussels. I took Eurostar to Belgium from London back in August of 2007, but at the time the trains left from Waterloo station, which was cool, because I had just days before seen the Bourne Ultimatum, which has a really cool scene in Waterloo station.
In November of last year, however, train service moved to St. Pancras to provide better tube connections to London and provide a quicker ride to the continent. The King's Cross train station is currently undergoing renovations and so is the historic St. Pancras hotel, which will open in 2009 as a five-star Renaissance hotel run by the Marriott Corporation.
Now, if you are a regular reader you will know that I have an unhealthy love for fast trains, and so it was cool to check out that station, especially seeing as you can see the Eurostar trains through a glass partition.
I was tempted to buy a ticket for the next departure to Paris, but realized that I had left my passport at my flat, and as the UK hasn't signed the Schengen Agreement, there is no crossing the border into France without it.
The station hall is beautifully restored, with an amazing glass canopy and a huge clock.
At the end of the station is a giant statue of two lovers embracing. It is unclear whether they are greeting each other after one has been away on a long journey, or saying goodbye, but it does capture the passion that hellos and goodbyes can bring.
Running along the side of the Eurostar platforms is what is billed as Europe's longest Champagne bar, at 90 metres in length.
The bar is pretty pricey, with the cheapest glass of bubbly clocking in at around £7.50 and running up from that to £33.50 glass of Krug, but I had to have at least a quick drink. I got an £11.00 glass of the Champagne of the month, and sat reading the free London Paper, trying to look like I was casually waiting for a train and not just some train-geek loser who had wandered in and was now indulging in some weird trans-continental express fantasy.
There was a French guy sitting beside me, who had bought a whole bottle of champagne, but had to run for his train. The bar staff wouldn't let him take his half-drunken bottle with him, so he offered me some. However after a light lunch and a day of walking, the one glass I had was already going to my head and knowing how the bubbles will really knock you on your butt if you drink too much, I declined. The French guy shrugged, picked up the bottle and turned it upside down, emptying the Champagne into the ice bucket. He was so cavalier about it, pouring out half a bottle of what was probably a couple hundred pound bottle. One must admire the existential attitude of the French, non?
As I was leaving St. Pancras, I started to wonder where the world's longest Champagne bar was. I assumed that if St. Pancras billed themselves as Europe's longest Champagne bar, there must be a longer one somewhere. Perhaps a 100 metre long Champagne bar in the American Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria? Maybe there is a 120 metre long Pisco and Champagne bar in the Hotel Reina Cristina in Cusco, Peru? A 115 metre Vodka, Caviar and Champagne bar in the Count Vronsky Bar and Grill at Russia's Bellingshausen Station, Antarctica?
I have not found anyone else in the world claiming any length records when it comes to Champagne bars. Someone suggested that perhaps the labelling is just a Euro-centric reflection of those of us on the continent - who cares if there are longer bars elsewhere in the world, if it isn't in Europe, it isn't chic and it doesn't count.
Perhaps there is a longer Champagne bar somewhere, though. If there is, please let me know. I'd hate to think that I'd miss out on an opportunity to drink at that bar.