Day 3 - On My Own

Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Despite being completely knackered after my day out with Milla, I had trouble falling asleep last night. When the alarm went off at 7 a.m. I instantly hit the snooze button and could have stayed in bed for a few more hours let alone a few more minutes. Alas, I had to get up and go...so much to see and do today! As my knee was in quite a bit of pain when I got up, I decided to go somewhere I wouldn't have to do so much walking, or at least travel long distances on foot. Off to Trafalgar Square!!! By now, I'm feeling like the Queen of the Tube, able to get around as easily as a local. So far, my only real complaint about the subway system? It's hot. Oh so hot. Even when there's no one (or almost no one) in a particular car. I'm really starting to enjoy those massive winds that signal the approach of one of the trains. It doesn't help when the temperatures outside have been so fantastic. Holy Hannah, we're having a heat wave. I haven't yet had to wear a coat - temperatures around 15C, a light breeze and super sunny. Feels absolutely tropical considering it was snowing and -12 when I left Edmonton a couple of days ago...

Before heading to the Square proper, I had to find a post office. Do my fellow North Americans know about the mail system in the UK? They get mail delivered twice a day!!!! And once on Saturdays! Impressive. That's absolutely unheard of here, in Canada at least. I'm envious. However, that's not important. On to the goodstuff... Working my way towards the Square, I passed by the back of St. Martin in the Field and caught a glimpse of the oddest window I'd ever seen. It's something I would have expected to find on an art gallery but a church? Fascinating. Rounding the corner and past a couple of souvenir carts, I came upon the square. The minute I caught my first glimpse of Trafalgar Square, it instantly became one of my favourite spots in the heart of the city. I wandered around taking various pictures of Nelson's Column, his giant lions and all the other statues placed around the square. Amazingly enough, I even managed to snap a shot of one of the lions without any tourists on it! I feel lucky today, indeed. Nelson's Column is far taller than I had expected. How high I figured it would be, I don't know but I was quite taken with seeing the great admiral towering over the square.

The National Gallery takes up one whole side of the square and is beautiful to look at. Admission to the Gallery, like many of London's museums, is free but they do ask for donations which I was more than willing to give. The layout of the gallery is a bit confusing as many of the rooms have multiple entrances and exits but I tried to follow the progression of paintings by date according to the map they (thankfully) provide visitors with. The Gallery contains some of the most famous paintings by influential artists: Rembrandt, Monet, Seurat, Turner, Constable, even a Caravaggio that I recognized from across the room (yeah, I'm THAT good...plus I loves me some Carravaggio). While I felt quite lucky to be able to see these great works of art in person, I was far more awestruck by lesser known artists I had never heard of before. Definately go because of the famous names but prepare to be blown away by the rest. Possibly one of my favourites paintings had to be Paul Delaroche's Exectution of Lady Jane Grey. The National Gallery is definately a must see for visitors to London. After two hours in the gallery, fighting my way trhough Japanese tour groups and a suprisingly obnoxious and rude mix of French, English, and eastern European tourists, I had to get out. If there had been fewer people inside, I could easily have spent at least another hour or two exploring.

Once I had made the break to freedom though, I needed to find some lunch. My tour book had recommended Pret a Manger as had a coworker who'd been to England the year before. Sure enough, just up the road from St. Martin's and across from the Gallery I spotted one. Pret offers mainly sandwiches, soup, and coffee. Generally located near Tube stations, they all tend to be quite busy. This location was no exception. I managed to grab a banana, coke (shut up), and one of their hot wraps. Given my experiences recently with this sort of food, I didn't have very high expectations. At least I'd have the banana if the wrap failed me. Mmmmmmmm. Sitting on the steps of St. Martin's, fighting off a particularly hungry pigeon, I was very impressed with this healthy "fast food". My Jalapeno Chicken wrap was delicious - free range chicken, jalapenos, melted Greve cheese, red peppers, red onions, and roasted tomatoes. Oh yeah baby. Now THAT'S good stuff. Not great, no but compared to the usual fast food options, this is 5-star. Pret's can be found now in the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, and in parts of the USA. If someone from the company reads this...please please come to Canada!!!

After my meal, I walked over to the National Portrait Gallery, tucked into the N.E. corner (I think...my sense of direction is so screwed up since coming here) of the National Gallery but only accessible from the outside. Chances are, if you've watched a program on the history of Britain, Henry VIII, etc. and they've flashed a portrait of some famous English person, you're going to find that portrait here. To be honest, I enjoyed the Portrait Gallery more than the National Gallery. I'm sure it had something to do with the cooler temperature inside, fewer of my fellow annoying tourists or the focus on British history. It could also have been the promise of a portrait of my great great great (great?) grandfather on my mother's side, Benjamin Hallowell (later Hallowell-Carew). One of Nelson's band of brothers, he had captained the HMS Swiftsure during the Battle of the Nile. The gallery is small so I didn't think I would have a problem finding it and yet I couldn't see it anywhere. I managed to find a portrait of Nelson himself but not of Hallowell. Checking the online cataglogue, I confirmed that they had it but neither I nor one of the security guards were able to find it. Checking their website once I returned, it looks like it is not on display in the gallery but is part of their collection. I've emailed them a few questions about it and will hopefully get a response in the next week or so. Additionally, I can order a print of the portrait if I wish. I might just do that.

It was now mid afternoon and I was absolutely beat. Hot, tired, sweaty and my knee threatening to lock up, I headed home.

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