England: Punting, Picasso, and Mystery

Christchurch College, Oxford

After landing in London Gatwick on Saturday morning and dropping my bag off at my sister’s place, I was whisked away to Oxford on a double decker bus (and yes, I got to ride on the top!). London was experiencing the warmest beginning of October in probably ever, and with temperatures at 28ºC I couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend my first day in England than double-deckering it to Oxford and punting on the Thames.

Punt-boat Captain Lauren, at your service

For those who don’t know, ‘punting’ is the time-honoured tradition of sitting in a low, long, flat-bottomed boat and relaxing while someone who isn’t you pushes the craft along the river by pushing a long pole against the riverbed. ‘Punting’ can also be the time-honoured tradition of pushing a long pole against the riverbed while locomoting some lazy-bones passengers around the Thames in a flat-bottomed boat. For a jet-lagged traveller such as myself, it was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon (did I mention was also eating a cornish pasty and feeding the ducks?).

For the record, I did try actually punting, but it didn’t work out so well for me. I’d like to say I spent most of the time careening from one riverbank to the other, but in actual fact, I spent my entire poling experience careening into the same riverbank again and again. Sigh.

Compost-lovers, it’s your lucky day

Sunday was another hot day which my sister and I spent in Kew Gardens. Their star attraction right now seems to be some ‘aerial walkway’ that puts you ‘right in the canopy’, but to be honest, the tree-top adventure at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver really puts this one in its place and I wasn’t too impressed with it. What I was impressed with was almost half a square mile of garden space with pleasant walks, benches in the shade, water features, and the massive old-fashioned glass houses that house their tropical and temperate plant collections. Spending Sunday afternoon strolling the grounds in Kew Gardens felt like a very English thing to do and was very pleasant indeed.

Required tourist shot of Big Ben over the river

On Monday I decided to take some time to be a real tourist and take in London’s South Bank. I took a snap at the outside of Shakespeare’s Globe but at £12.50 admission I decided to head back to the Tate Modern where I could get in for free or by donation (encouraged). With eating and other attractions feeling so expensive in London, the fact that their galleries and museums are, for the most part, free or by donation is really helpful to the cash-strapped traveller. I popped £3 in the donation box at the Tate Modern because that’s what I had on me and wandered around the place for two hours. I don’t usually read the title cards/info beside the artwork but I did notice that I was looking at some Picassos, Matisses, and Jackson Pollocks. Just sitting there. On the wall. Y’know, there’s a Picasso. Oh look, there’s another. No biggie. It was pretty cool.

I also visited the Covent Garden marketplace and got my Punch & Judy fix at Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop. The shop is worth a look for their paper diaramas and reproductions of old stages, even if you’re not into buying anything.

That evening, my sister and I went to St. Martin´s Theatre and took in the Agatha Christie play, ‘The Mousetrap’. ‘The Mousetrap’ has been running in London for over 50 years and is, I believe, the longest-running play of all time. I would tell you more about the show but the audience is sworn to secrecy at the end of the play so that future audiences will enjoy the mystery for themselves. The play itself was rather delightful but it does leave me with artistic questions about the pros and cons of a show that runs for so long, in the same way. It does not seem as though there is much emphasis on reimagining or rediscovering the play or the characters. And how can there be? Even when the show moved to a different theatre, or had its entire set replaced, it did not miss a single performance. In a way, ‘The Mousetrap’ is more like a moving museum piece than a play. It’s funny, and enjoyable, and I do love a good-old-fashioned murder mystery. But it is a play that speaks to the world and the genre in which it was written, and not to me on a personal level. I’m not sure that I needed it to, though. I love tradition, and I love the idea of physically keeping a tradition alive on the stage.

As delightful as London was, unfortunately it was time to move on and yesterday I flew out to Porto, Portugal. Stories from Portugal to come.

Adventure stats:

Number of necessary items forgotten in Vancouver: 3

Number of above replaced: 1

Number of items lost on trip: 1

Up, up, and away! Nifty’s European Adventure

40 lbs of adventure in $300 worth of backpack!

I’m no stranger to European travel. I’ve lived in Latvia, Poland, and England (in addition to Canada) and travelled through many other countries besides. But never by myself. I’ve always had a family member with me (a parent, sibling, or cousin) and most of the planning was done by them.

I’m also no stranger to adventures, though most of them are in BC, the city, my neighbourhood, or in my own head.

Now it’s time to take the plunge and have my own big adventure in a faraway place. Ladies and gentleman, for the month of October, NiftyNotCool will be coming to you from Portugal and Spain. And I will be ALL BY MYSELF.

(Ironically, my Travelling Companion, TC, will be unable to accompany me on this journey. Such is the life of a freelancer.)

My mom and I were talking on the phone the other day about my preparations for my upcoming big adventure. My mom said, “Are you getting excited or are you just scared?” I said, “I’m scared.” And I am.

I’ve bought all sorts of gear for the trip (expensive travel backpack, Lonely Planets, etc.), likely a few things I don’t need, and I think somehow I feel comforted by having done this. As in, look at me. I’m ready for this. Look at my Money Belt. Look at my Not-too-heavy Jacket That Will Keep Out The Wind. Look at my Quick Drying Underpants For Easy On The Go Laundering. I’m capital “P” Prepared. I even remembered to get my tetanus booster.

But in actual fact I am capital “P” Petrified. When I see myself in my Keep Out The Wind Jacket and my Walking Sandals and my Hat With A Brim I see an impostor. “Hey there Girl With a Hat,” I think, “what makes YOU think you’re ready for this? Who are YOU to presume you can be an adventurer and go on a caper all by yourself?”

Portugal will be lovely. Spain will be beautiful. I will meet people in hostels, drink port (that’s the plan, anyways), immerse myself in Moorish architecture and natural wonders, take trains, and look at art. I will visit places whose names whisper like a sand-worn dream: Porto, Faro, Seville, Granada. I will probably get mixed up somewhere along the line, or lost, freak out, and wonder why I possibly thought I could do this.

And that’s why I’m going. Less than 24 hours now. I’m ready. I’m prepared. I can do this. Even if I have to stroke my expensive backpack and Quick Drying Underpants for assurance.