Monday, June 20, 2011

Day 2: Bells, Bees, and other Unexpected Delights

London is full of surprises. Sometimes it’s the unexpected kindness of strangers who always seem willing to offer unsolicited advice (I must look either a) lost or b) confused, or c) both as advice seems to come my way frequently – more on that later), or maybe its the unwelcome discovery that the museum you really were looking forward to is actually 25 pounds per person to get into, or a store that you thought might suck, was actually quite good. Or perhaps it’s surprising how many times your mother stops complete strangers on the street to ask them directions all the while ignoring you as you wave the map around and try to drag her off in the right direction. That last one is actually not that surprising anymore. Anyway. I digress.

And so it was with an air of expecting the unexpected that we set off this morning to do some shopping and general exploration around London. We are staying in Whitechapel in the East End, which I had previously known only as a less desirable property from Monopoly, but which I have since learned to be an area rich in history and intrigue and home to such characters as Jack the Ripper and the real Elephant Man. It is now highly ethnic with Bengalis holding the majority. This makes for some delicious food and I am looking forward to following my nose into some of these yummy-smelling if teeny tiny restaurants.

Whitechapel is also home to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry which has been making bells for hundreds of years including the Liberty Bell and Big Ben. An unexpected surprise was how close this foundry is to our apartment – a few steps past our door. So I was surprised and delighted to walk past the open doors this morning where the making of bells was in full swing, so to speak:DSC07149 DSC07146 DSC07147 DSC07148


After the kids dragged me away from the bells, we headed off across town to Regent Street to visit Hamley’s Toy Store.

We fumbled our way through the Underground and emerged close to our destination. The crowds were thick and the going a little tough with all the dodging of buses and London Cabs and Take-No-Prisoners Londoners on both their cell phones and a mission. On one corner, the crowds were particularly thick and we stopped to see what the attraction was, only to discover that a wild swarm of honeybees had landed on a traffic light and was being tended to by a couple of beekeepers. It was fascinating stuff to watch and I kept expecting David Attenborough to appear behind a lamppost and narrate the scene for me. This didn’t happen however, but I soon learned that they were trying to isolate the Queen and move her to a box so that the rest of the gang would follow.

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I suggested that perhaps it was Public Art, and how inpresive that would be, but the guy next to me looked at me like I had three heads so I didn’t say that again.

We pressed on past the buzz and made it to Hamley’s. I have made this trek several times now over the past few visits and each time I have been underwhelmed by the surplus of cheap plastic schlock that they try to pass off as “toys” in this most famous of toy stores. And there are five floors to endure which doesn’t help. The place has a carnival-type air to it due to the staff who stand behind tables flogging a particular item which they each claim to be the top seller in the store, the only difference being that at least these guys have all their teeth.

So I was expecting it to be terrible and it was as I remembered it until I got to the fourth floor where I was thrilled to see the addition of an awesome collectibles area based on popular films like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. We spent a long time searching through the boxed reproductions of all the various wands from Harry Potter, with Zoe finally purchasing Neville Longbottom’s wand. I almost bought myself a Marauders Map but decided against it when I couldn’t get it to work.


That’s Voldemort’s on the far right.

On our way back, we passed the bees again and it looked like the beekeepers had been mostly successful:


The new “hive”.

After a bit more shopping, it was back on the tube and back to the ‘Hood’. I do find the tube fascinating:


I love how the woman in the middle-left actually smiled for me when I took this picture from across the tracks at Liverpool Street Station.

Another welcome surprise in this amazing city.

Thanks for reading, more tomorrow.


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