London in May


Sometimes we get to do extra flying.  I was called to London, or rather London was calling, this weekend.  I was really happy to be going to my favourite city in the spring as the weather was supposed to be warm.  I got to the airport only to find out we had a mechanical delay on our departure.  It was sorted out quite quickly and all went well for the flight over.  Unbeknownst to me when I took the trip, this weekend was a holiday weekend in the UK, this meant that the roads to the hotel on a Sunday were unusually busy with weekend leisure travel so it took an eternity to get to the hotel.

Many of you know by now, I cannot nap when we arrive or I will be up all night long and not well rested for working home.  I quickly showered and changed, grabbed my British coins and oyster card for the public transportation system and headed out to the tube station near the hotel.  Another slight snag in my plans for the day was AGAIN the bank holiday, as I have discovered in the past the tube and rail systems are often upgraded and work is done on the lines on holidays rather than the very busy commuting days.  Whilst I was planning what I was going to do today I neglected to check the underground website and its closures and notices.  I won’t be forgetting that step in the future, I can assure you.  The destination I had chosen was the area of Hampstead and the vast park, Hampstead Heath.  I had thought what better way to spend the beautiful English spring than in a park enjoying the sunshine.  Well that was the plan anyways.  I rode here and there on the tube for an hour, normally it would have taken a fraction of the time to have reached my destination.  I accidentally got on the wrong train once as the platforms had changed from their usual assigned routes.  As I had just gotten off a train to switch to this one, I missed the infrequent announcements.  I also was running to catch the train already at the station as the schedule was off due to the holiday and disruptions and did not fancy waiting underground and losing more daylight if I did not immediately catch the waiting train, none the less still got on the wrong train.  Finally I got on the correct Northern Line train and headed out to Hampstead.  The weather was not as splendid as all my weather apps had assured me it would be.  It was warm, but the sky had that British grey tinge about it, that it often gets in the winter.

My trip to Hampstead did not get much easier.  I had planned out my routes beforehand and am usually an expert at orienteering from a city map, be it paper or on my phone.  I must have been very tired; at least I am going to claim I was very tired and not at all totally confused by the winding roads of the area, I got lost.  Not just lost once, and not just lost, but hopelessly lost a few times.  I must have had this air about me though that made me appear as though I knew where I was going even though I was far from it as this lady who was just as hopelessly lost stopped me and asked for directions.  Had I known where we were I probably could have helped her.  I felt very bad for her as she was looking for the Sigmund Freud Museum (I need to find it so I can check it out in the future), and her cab driver said he had no idea where it was and abandoned her on a side street to have her find her own way.  From my experience the London taxi drivers are usually of more assistance and knowledge than that.   The last time I spoke to one chap he explained they have to go through an intensive training and testing of the roads of the city before being issued their license.  After apologising profusely that I too had no idea where the museum was, let’s face it I lam Canadian it is in my blood to apologise for even the slightest thing which is out of my control.  I headed towards where I thought Hampstead Health was.  Looking back perhaps I should have asked her for directions.

Hampstead Heath kind of was in the trajectory I went.  I found a park, but it was not as I had expected, it was all nature trails in thick brush, something I was not prepared to navigate on my own, especially after having the day, I was with bearings.  I opted NOT to need to be rescued from the park days later after having had to subsist off of questionable berries for energy, so I turned back towards the high street.  Disappointed that the park was not as I had neither imagined it to be, nor looking in real life as I had seen it to look in pictures.  I later realised the part of nature I had stumbled on to was the Heath Extension and its nature paths.

Following the flow of meandering pedestrians enjoying their holiday weekend, feeling rather let down and that perhaps I wasn’t meant to find what I had seen on line I too wandered the side streets marvelling at the homes.  I read during my research that there are a very high number of millionaires in the area of Hampstead.  I loved the styles of the houses and did fall in love with the quaintness of the neighbourhood.  I passed the Keats house at one point, where the poet had once resided during his short life.  I had fully intended to visit the museum inside on this visit but did not have enough time for me to properly see the displays and offer it the attention it deserved.   Whilst aimlessly walking I accidentally found the proper entrance to the park I had set out to see.  The minute I set eyes on the tree lined walks and bird filled lakes I forgot the trouble it took to find the Heath.  I lost my breath at the beauty of the park.  I saw the bathing ponds, which upon reading about them I hadn’t been sure they were actually ponds for swimming in or pools, it turns out they are ponds.

Finally found the part of the Heath I was looking for and it was well worth the effort, Hampstead Heath is my new favourite park in London.   I can’t put my finger on what it is about this particular park that I love.  It could be the fantastic view of downtown you get from Parliament hill, watching the cricket and soccer matches, seeing all the people enjoying the a slice of nature in a bustling city.  It could be the laid back and the idea of a lazy afternoon relaxing in the park whilst the city pulse and energy is kept outside the gates. The kites a top the hill were pretty special as I remember flying some with my parents as a child and bonding over the experience.

I ate my £1.55 salmon and pickle sandwich from the supermarket chain, Waitrose, as I watched a couple ineptly attempt at getting a kite off the ground. They couldn’t figure out which way to stand to get the best lift. At one point they were against the wind and one spectator was trying to explain they were facing the wrong way.  In a farcical style they left the kite where it was and switched sides so the girl was flying the kite this time but the kite itself was still facing against the wind.  Eventually they understood they turned the kite around but were in a place where the wind wouldn’t create any lift due to the slope of the hill. They finally found the elusive, only to them mind you, wind but ended up with a dog tangled in the kite lines the minute they found the wind. The park gets good use I saw kites, Frisbees, picnics, impromptu games of volleyball, soccer, and cricket.  The last is one sport I cannot wrap my North American mind around, no matter how many times I have been explained the rules and purpose of the game.   I enjoyed the breathtaking city vista and cloud watching.  There was a wandering storyteller/poet who at one point recited Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” to those who would listen and solicited a donation for his effort.  I found there to be less tourists here than in Hyde Park, or Green Park.  The last vestiges of daylight were disappearing from the sky as I left Hampstead Heath Park with the local families.  It was time to find a local establishment for dinner.  I had planned ahead and looked up a few places I had thought I would like to try but had vastly underestimated the expanse the neighbourhood covers.  Being as I was showing particular talent at getting lost I felt it best to stick close to the tube station I knew to be my way home, no need to endure another tube tour that was my adventure getting to the area.  I quickly discovered the bank holiday was once again affecting my quickly shortening list of places to eat as they were either closed or extraordinarily busy.  I made a snap decision to stop outside the Starbucks on the High Street near the Hampstead tube station and make use of their free WiFi.  I quickly pinpointed a number of nearby eateries and with luck found a group leaving a table open in the front of the Horseshoe Public house and kitchen.  They do have a dining area in back but due to that darn bank holiday (again!) it was fully booked.  I was happy to sit a table, alone, and choose my fare.  The tables in most pubs on nights like this are so scarce that you often end up sharing tables with other parties, which does not bother me but I know I have had Canadian friends who are used to more space remark it is uncomfortable to them.  I quite enjoy it as I ate my dinner listening to three girls discuss their plans for the evening and I do not feel so lonely.  I had chosen a plate of roast beef, potatoes, gravy and Yorkshire pudding for my nosh.  I grew up eating hearty food like this every Sunday.  My mum would slave away most of the afternoon making the most delicious meal; the offering at The Horseshoe was comfort food to me as a result.  I don’t know if it is the altitude, the hard water or what but I cannot get my Yorkshire puddings to rise like they do in England.  I have tried so many different recipes and tricks but I always end up with hockey pucks.  When dinner was done, I made a beeline for my hotel.  I was a tad concerned that it may take me a while to get home and wanted to avoid falling asleep on the tube and ending up lost yet again.

The next morning as it was a light traffic day, compared to what the normal London road commute is usually like, we got to the airport with loads of time to kill as our plane had not even landed yet, let alone, been cleaned and re-catered for food.  I had the chance to check out the shops in the airport before starting work.  I found duty free amazing.  We do not enter the airport where passengers do in most airports if we are working the flight, so we do not get to see the duty free shops very often.  I was transfixed watching people shop in a frenzied manner, both out of a horror that they would not be able to shop for a few hours and afraid they may miss a deal.  You could tell the ones who were desperately trying to find the perfect gift for the person they had forgotten to buy a souvenir home for.  They were even more panicked than the rest of the lot.