Kyle on Carnaby Street

26 December 2008

I am learning about myself.  I am learning that I am really not good at not having a plan.  :-)  But, I want to be!

We had an absolutely wonderful day in downtown London.  I enjoyed it all immensely.  But, I am not wired to create the sort of day we just had.   I found myself constantly asking (in my head, if not out loud), “so, what next?”  I kept trying to find something for us to “do.”  A show to go see, a gift to seek out for someone.  It really took some time for me to relax into the “nonplan” of our day. Once I did, of course,  it was wonderful!  So, although I’m no good at making this sort of day happen, I’m awfully good at enjoying it!

We started the day by oversleeping (can you really do that on a vacation?) and what should have been breakfast at the nearby Pheasant pub, became lunch.  And a delightful lunch it was, of jacket potatoes (that’s British for “baked potatoes”) filled with yumminess.  Then, we were off on the adventure that taking buses and subways always is, when you only do it three or four times a decade!  We caught the bus that was suggested we take, to the Tube station.  And, there, we bought two one-day passes a piece, to allow us to travel anywhere in London on the Underground for the two days we’ll be here.  Then, down the stairs and onto the train!  Picadilly line, all the way to Picadilly Square!  We knew many shops and businesses (and indeed all the museums and tourist attractions) would be closed, but we figured if anything anywhere would be open, it would be in Picadilly Square.  And, we were right.  We emerged from the Tube tunnel into a bustling city of lights and people and cars and buses.

We made a quick trip into a Boots store (think CVS and Walgreen’s added together and you’ll imagine both the type of store, and the overwhelming abundance of them in this city), to buy a new SD card for Kyle’s camera, and then we were back out in the cold (I love my new coat!—I believe coats are “wrappers” here) and off on our walkabout with no particular place to go. 

And did we walk!  We kept thinking how good this was for us . . . and how sore we’ll likely be in about a day and half!  We walked, and took pictures, and walked and took more pictures . . . all afternoon, and into the evening. 

We walked past monuments and along St. James’ Park.  We walked exclusive streets of merchants to the Queen and saw such beautiful elegant homes and stately old buildings.  The architecture alone in this part of town is breathtaking. 

I specifically wanted to be in that zone of London after sundown while the Christmas lights were all still lit for the holidays.  I am so glad we got to see it.  It was amazing to me, how much work must go into making the twinkling wonderland happen.  Giant “nets” of lights covered the whole of Regent Street and down every little nook and close (alley) were more lights and more decorations.  All the stores had holiday displays in their windows, and a few select stores had outstanding, eye candy for us.  One in particular, seemed to be a giant candy company—I don’t think I ever found the name—but they had six giant window displays filled with three dimensional dioramas telling the story of a fairy tale, complete with a wicked queen and a flying sleigh and love’s kiss curing all.  It was truly beautiful.  We did get sucked in by one bookstore.  But, the sign telling us they’d been a bookstore for over two hundred years was a little too much to pass by! 

As we were getting a bit cold and hungry, and we could see the end of the bright lights, I asked my question out loud: “So, what do we want to do, next?”  And, Kyle, totally on a whim, said, “Let’s cross here!”  So, cross we did, and immediately were treated to the sight depicted in my photo of the day.  Giant, all-white, snowmen “balloons” floating overhead, all the way down the street ahead of us.  We both wanted photos, so we stopped to do that, and while Kyle was shooting, I rounded the corner and had a moment of recognition.  There was a pub—exactly what we were really looking for—that seemed familiar.  I talked myself out of that notion quickly (I mean, what are the odds?) and went back around the corner to tell Kyle I’d found a pub.  As he rounded the corner with me, this time, he said, “I know exactly where I am!  We’ve been here.”

And indeed we had.  The pub, The Clachan, was the very same pub where he and I had grabbed a quick bite and a pint before going to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the West End in June of 2005.  These places that have been there for a hundred years don’t change much in only three-and-a half!

So, I realized then, of course, that this had been one of my favourite zones in all of London!  We were in Soho, specifically on Carnaby Street.  The little shops that line these streets are all unique and wonderful!  It was here that I found an “Office” store—fabulous fun shoes!  And a Camper store—um . . . fabulous fun shoes!  Unfortunately, even in this foot-traffic-only, specialty shopping zone, many merchants were closed for Boxing Day, or closing early.  So, shopping didn’t really happen this time.  But, I wouldn’t have missed seeing the place at Christmastime, for anything!

While we sat at The Clachan, we perused our little London map, and got our bearings a bit better.  We were learning to realize how close all these famous and familiar places really are, and when we left the pub, we were on a quest to see Trafalgar Square. (Aha!  At last, a plan! <wink>)  Neither of us had seen it on our last couple of trips to London, so we wanted an updated picture of it in our heads.  So, after more walking, on what were now fast becoming emptier streets, we found it, and were not disappointed!  The giant Christmas tree that stands there as a gift from the city of Oslo, I believe, covered in lights; the beautiful fountains, the huge column atop which sits Nelson on his horse,  all against the backdrop of the National Gallery and the London lights . . . it was magical. 

We made one more brief stop at a pub—-the first pub of the trip that Kyle had never been to before!—The Harp.  Wonderful little place with friendly people, one of whom, after we inquired,  informed us that we might want to hurry to the station if we wanted a train home tonight.  So, not really ready to give up on our day, but, fearing a $200 cab ride, we bopped back to the nearest Tube station, and forty minutes or so later, we were getting off a bus in front of our hotel. 

I could really get spoiled by too many of these days of no plans, no obligations and therefore no disappointments!

~MB