April 18, 2012:
Had my last full breakfast of the trip (double veggie sausage and double tomato this time-YUM!). I’m going to really miss the Old Court House. I was only there for one day and two nights but I felt right at home. I finally got to meet the owner (she’d been away because of her birthday–April birthdays are the best!)
I caught the bus at 10am (stops right outside the B&B, coincidentally. How perfect is that?) and got to the train station with half an hour to spare. I sat around reading for a while inside. I went outside to take the train to Lancaster then a train from there to London. For some reason I thought that would take 6 hours but it was only 3 1/2.
Probably because the NYC Subway is more complicated than the METRO, I was terrified about properly navigating the complex London Underground. But I was amazed to discover that, though there are more lines, everything is so beautifully marked that it’s a pleasure to use! I got an Oyster card with 40 pounds on it, hoping that would last me my whole trip. However, the machines didn’t like my credit card so I had to stand in line and one of the employees got my card set up for me. I only had to go a couple stops on the blue Victoria line to get to where the hostel was. It was raining when I emerged from Oxford Circus and at once I set off in the direction I thought I was supposed to go in. When I didn’t run into the street I thought I was supposed to be going down, I realized I must be turned around. I got under a store overhang and pulled out my map. After figuring out where I was, I realized that I was indeed going the right way and all I needed to do was to go another half block.
I found the hostel and checked in. It’s a funny kind of setup they have, compared to the US (but not, as I found, compared to many other places in the UK). You buzz to get inside. Then you have to go up three floors to get to the first floor of the hostel where reception is which, if I’ve got this right, is not what they call the first floor; the second floor is the first floor, though in the hostel’s case it’s the fourth floor that’s really the first floor. Yeah.
Anyway, I had to buy a YHA membership to avoid paying more for being a nonmember. I hadn’t realized that when I booked the room, but I’d read a review before leaving the states that said that, so I was prepared to pay. The place is pretty funky. There are lockers in the room, though they’re tiny–the rooms themselves are tiny. The showers are little closest down the hall from your room (they’re like dog runs, with a little hallway ending in a shower). Down the hall are WCs where the door opens on little closets that each contain a toilet & sink. Kind of sucks when you have to both go to the bathroom AND take a shower.
I ended up on the top bunk of the bunkbed and wondered, not for the first time, if I were maybe getting too old to stay in a hostel. Despite the climb, it was nice that each bed (including the top) had a little shelf, light, and power outlet so you could read in bed and charge your equipment without getting in the way of your roommates. Anyway, I rented a towel and bought laundry detergent. And I realized I hadn’t brought shower shoes. I totally forgot what it was like to stay in a hostel! DOH!
When I got off at the Picadily tube stop, the signs even inside the subway (all permanent signs built into the walls) mentioned the Tate being at that stop. Man, I love the labels on the London Underground. The gallery isn’t just outside the station; it’s a bit of a walk. I had my iPad with the map in my bag but as soon as I walked outside there were signs for the museum with arrows pointing the way. Every time I thought I was lost, another sign would magically appear. I found the museum with no trouble at all!
There was a big Picasso exhibit the museum was playing up, but you had to pay to see that and, frankly, I’ve seen a lot of Picasso before. I adore him, but he wasn’t what I was there for. I pulled up the gallery page on my iPad and asked the guy at the info desk to direct me to Gallery 1550-1880. Upstairs, through a large gallery hall, and turn right. So I went. And just when I thought maybe I’d gone into the wrong gallery, I looked to my right and there she was: The Lady of Shalott.
Took my breath away and tears started down my face.
John William Waterhouse is by far my favorite painter and I’ve never had a chance to see even one of his paintings in real life. But there she was, one of my absolute favorites, about 5 feet tall (bigger than I’d imagined), and towering above me. Of course I cried.
Other Pre-Raphealite paintings were there in the same gallery and were also amazing. It was these paintings I knew so well from reading about them and seeing them online were suddenly right there in front of me. JWW’s signature. His brush strokes. A canvas he actually touched and created on. The overwhelming beauty and power of imagery.
I looked around the room, then came back to her. Then I went and saw some art in other gallery rooms… then went back to her. I sat down on a bench in the middle of the room and just stared up at her for the longest time. There was a group getting a talk from a museum employee or instructor; they looked like they might be French, young, college-aged students. They were monopolozing the whole right corner and talking about a Rosetti, I think. I wanted a better look at it anyway, so I sat and waited and just admired the Lady of Shalott. It was so wonderful just to be close to that painting.
I bought some things at the gift shop–mostly art postcards for my art postcard & poem journal I started about 20 years ago. But I also bought some presents and an impulse buy was a Pre-Raph book. Damn it, I’m sure I could get it on Amazon.com for half the price I paid, but I just couldn’t help it. I wanted it.
Then I headed back to the Underground station, not getting lost at all. I wanted to eat dinner at the Green Man, a pub I passed, because I have a thing for Green Men. But there were absolutely no free tables or spots at the bar. I stood outside and called my mother to let her know that I’d made it to England safe & sound and was having a good time. Starving, I walked around and found this tiny kebab place a few blocks away. Ignoring the four-foot tall chunk of meat rotating under a heat lamp, I ordered a veggie burger and chips (fries) and ate in while reading the Pre-Raph book. The place was staffed by guys who were bored and incredibly eager to serve any customer to walk in the door.
After that, I went on a search for shower shoes. The guy at the hostel suggested the pharmacy but told me the wrong direction to walk in. So after going WAY out of my way, I turned back and found it in an instant in the opposite direction. They didn’t sell flip-flops. They suggested the department stores all around, but those had expensive dresses in the windows and I thought it was unlikely they’d have cheap flip-flops. Just as I was contemplating using ziplock baggies on my feet, I looked over and, next door to the pharmacy, was a store with about 40 pairs of them hanging on the wall inside. I also found myself a wallet with a cloth loop that I could use to clip to myself. Shower shoes acquired AND my third wallet for the tip! It was nice to stop using the glittery wallet from Dublin that made me look like a five-year-old.
Victorious, I returned to the hostel and did all my laundry. The dryer didn’t dry it all and I was too cheap to pay for a second rotation (also, there was someone else who needed it next and there was only the one machine). So I hung my several pairs of jeans and some shirts up on my bunk bed to dry overnight. I met a few of my roommates and then lay down in bed to read some more fanfiction before sleeping.
I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do the next day, but I had a few ideas I was kicking around. The hostel advertised a free walking tour of many of the popular London sights, so that was super tempting, but I had a tour in the afternoon the next day and wasn’t sure where the walking tour ended & how to get to where I needed to go. Another thought was to go to the British Museum, which wasn’t far from my hostel and which several people had recommended to me. I went to sleep anticipating the next day but without actually deciding what to do.