London: Sight-seeing and Hospitality

I was sleeping when we drove into London, and when I woke we were in the suburbs searching for Erlis and Gesine’s home. I was considerably underwhelmed by my first experience of one of the world’s most famous cities. Happily, my perception would change radically in the next few days. We found Erlis and Gesine’s house after asking about four cabbies and reinterpreting their and Erlis’ directions multiple times. Both our hosts were at work when we arrived, but Erlis left a welcome note and a snack of fruit, nuts and chocolate. We piled their living room high with all the bags we thought we would need during our stay, after which Matt and Dan began to search for a parking spot while David and I followed Erlis’ directions; David called to let him know we would be glad to eat supper with them, while I made myself at home.

Appalled by how badly the house was beginning to smell, we moved the rancid bag of dirty clothes out side and put our shoes in bags. We tried to dissipate the pungent miasma wafting about the front room by opening the front door and a back window. Alas, British windows work differently than American windows and I broke a flower pot trying to open one. What an excellent introduction. Realizing that our dirty clothes and wet shoes were not the only things that smelled like rot, we all showered before Erlis and Gesine returned.

That evening Gesine made us a meal of salad and spaghetti. It was some of the best food I have ever eaten. We stayed at the table for hours as our hosts learned about us and we about them, and all the while, fruit and ice cream and tea and chocolate and more tea were brought out for us to consume. Both Erlis and Gesinehave travelled extensively and are remarkably well read and educated. Erlis was born in the U.S., Gesine in Germany; they met in the middle east and were married in Jerusalem. Both are extremely interesting and kind, to say the very least.

We set out the next morning for Victoria Station after a wonderful breakfast with Erlis. We bought day passes for the subway and used them to find Real Russia where the others applied for Kazakhstan visas while I scanned headlines and solved sudoku puzzles in the local papers. After the applications had been completed and printed out, we ate a packed lunch and set out for an introductory exploration of the city. We walked along the Themes, passing famous land marks like the London Eye (On the far bank), Big Ben and the magnificent parliament building, and Westminster Abbey. Dan and Matt sat in on a session of parliament while David and I continued down the river. I was impressed by the age and magnificence of so many of the city’s buildings, which set London apart from cities in the U.S., while its staggering size set it apart from the cities we had visited thus far in Europe.

David and I crossed the Themes at the next bridge, and wondered along the Queen’s Walk on the far bank, revisiting places David had seen on his last visit. We passed London Bridge (Which was no more impressive than any of the other myriad of bridges that span the Themes), walked under the London Eye, past the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater where the Bard’s works are regularly performed, and recrossed the river at Tower Bridge. We passed many musicians and performers, as well as street venders on the way. I resolved to return at some point to an open air book market we saw under Waterloo Bridge.
Tower Bridge was very impressive, as was the Tower of London, which we decided to tour the next day. Erlis and Gesine were gone for the evening so we cooked ourselves delicious burgers, bacon and fries for supper. In the process we broke a seal on their kitchen faucet and had to call Erlis to find out how to turn the water off. Fortunately, it had happened before, and it took Erlis only about half an hour to fix.

We slept in the next day, except for Dan who dropped off the visa applications at the Kazakhstan embassy. David and I toured the Tower of London for a staggering £17, while Dan and Matt explored the city. We spent several hours in the Tower. I was impressed by all the history surrounding a single building as well as the exhibit on Henry VIII, which included many items from his personal belongings. We split up at 5:30, David heading back to the house while I walked across Tower Bridge and spent several hours searching out the book market we had seen the day before. That night we ate another amazing supper prepared by Gesine, and spent along time going over maps of London with Erlis, plotting out what we wanted to see the next day and how best to go about it.

The next day we picked up the Kazakhstan visas together and saw the Albert Victoria Museum, Prince Albert’s memorial, Buckingham Palace (Which was very underwhelming compared to other buildings in London), the National Gallery (Which had some sketches by Da Vinci as well as paintings by Monet and Michelangelo), and Westminster Abbey which dwarfed all the cathedrals we had seen thus far. After Westminster we split up once more. I took the subway to the British museum which was jaw dropping. I could have spent an entire day walking its exhibits. Highlights included the Rosetta Stone, base reliefs and sphinxes from Assyria, friezes from the Parthenon, and countless other ancient artifacts. When the museum closed, I went to St. Paul’s cathedral, which was, in its own way, as impressive as Westminster.

At 8:00 we got back together to find some fish and chips, and to see the London skyline at night. Our hunt for a cultural experience was thwarted by early closing times and we had to settle for Subway instead. The nighttime walk along the Themes was beautiful. The city’s magnificent buildings were reflected in the river, and lit by countless lights. We spent our last night enjoying the unique view of a city that we had failed to fully experience, even after three days. Hopefully other cities along the way prove to be as full of experiences and things to see. Erlis and Gesine’s hospitality was a tremendous blessing and inspiration and helped make our experience of London so satisfying. Someday I hope I can bless others in the same way.

Daniel Shenk

One Response to “London: Sight-seeing and Hospitality”

  1. Allyson Randall says:

    I loved visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum. I suppose you didn’t get to see the British Library–that was my favorite!

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