April 05, 2018 - April 09, 2018
The ~5 hour train ride from Edinburgh to London was pleasant enough. It was around 40 GBP one-way, and while the trip was about twice as long as a flight would be, it was quite a bit cheaper than any ticket I could find that went to Heathrow or Gatwick, and a heck of a lot more comfortable than any budget carrier would have been.
The most interesting scenery was the Scottish coast in first hour of the trip, where much of the ground was still dusted in snow. We passed through a few small towns, but most of the scenery was fields, hills, and coastline.
The train only made a handful of stops on the way. One was in Newcastle upon Tyne, giving a view of some interesting architecture. While I failed to get a good picture of the titular castle’s keep, I did get a picture of this odd building, a concert venue called Sage Gateshead.
We also passed through Durham, just through the south, with a castle of its own:
The last picture I took on the trip was in Doncaster, just east of Leeds, where I saw St George’s Minister from afar:
The rest of the journey into London was pretty uneventful. After my two weeks in London last year, I felt relatively confident in navigating the city, and it wasn’t hard to get from the train station to my hostel.
The rest of the night was spent out drinking with some local friends, from which I have no pictures, unfortunately.
I did laundry the next morning, which may seem like a detail too minor to mention here, but it was the first of many laundry machines in Europe with way too many settings with zero documentation about how they differed:
My goal for my weekend in London was mainly to see stuff that I had missed on my previous trip. To that end, I headed to the British Museum. Last year, I’d only gone there to see a specific exhibit, and hadn’t visited the permanent collection. On the way, I stopped at a ramen place nearby, Kanada-Ya, which I’d tried to visit last year but found too busy. This time, the wait was much shorter, and I happily got a big ol’ bowl.
The British Museum was… kind of disappointing, honestly. It’s an impressive collection of stolen stuff, for sure, but lacks a lot of what I love about my favorite museums. The space itself is dull, crowded, and rather poorly-maintained (lots of flickering lights and closed-off bathrooms). The exhibits don’t attempt to present a story or narrative, and instead just end up being a scattershot collection of artifacts that are hard to appreciate in a setting devoid of context.
There were a few bright spots in the British Museum, though. One of the first rooms I found was by far my favorite: The Waddesdon Bequest. It’s a collection of medieval treasures donated to the museum by some Rothschild, and it contained some amazingly intricate pieces such as this boxwood microsculpture:
And lots of reliquaries and other gaudy religious things:
I saw the controversial Elgin Marbles, though many were off display since they were being moved to a new temporary exhibit. Of course, the space had a pamphlet defending the British Museum’s continued refusal to return them to Greece.
Afterwards, I headed over to Trafalgar Square, site of another museum I’d missed last time, the National Gallery.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get many photos of the museum. Like a lot of galleries, many sections discouraged photography. For whatever reason, I wound up with a lot of shots of dogs in portraiture, probably because they were more interesting than the actual human subjects.
They also had an interesting Degas exhibit that had some beautiful works, and I appreciated that the informational labels didn’t hold any punches on how gross Degas was as a person. There were no photographs allowed, but I would have felt weird photographing all the relatively explicit nudes there anyways.
Bright and early on a Saturday, I woke up and headed over to Somerset House to see the Now Play This exhibition.
I didn’t take many photos at the exhibition, but I quite liked a lot of what I got to play. Usually, when I go to festivals like this, I focus on trying to play installation games, multiplayer games, games requiring custom hardware, and other things that are hard to reproduce at home. I did play a few fun games like this - in particular, Dobotone was a blast to play with strangers, figuring out each of the different games and how they could be broken by messing with the sliders - but the stuff I found most powerful was much more simple.
If you have any interest in short experimental games, I recommend you stop reading here (or at least open some new tabs) and play Karina Pop’s 10 Mississippi and Jenny Jiao Hsia’s and i made sure to hold your head sideways. The latter made me straight-up cry while playing in public, which was, if nothing else, a cathartic experience after internalizing the stress of solo traveling.
After all that, I decided to walk along the north bank of the Thames, with a vague goal of making it back to my favorite art museum, the Tate Modern. On the way, I found an odd exhibition space called Two Temple Place, which was hosting an exhibition on jazz in Britain. The exhibit featured everything from instruments, to posters and magazines, to early video footage, all with speakers soundtracking each room. It was a lovely exhibit to randomly stumble into.
I walked over the Millenium Bridge to the Tate Modern, and sat in the courtyard drinking a pint from a little outdoor craft bar before continuing. It was an overcast day, but a pleasant one. I drank this weird beer that included seaweed and pepper, but I really liked it!
The museum was hosting a couple paid exhibitions - one on Picasso, and one by Joan Jonas. I was feeling cheap, and mostly interested in the free permanent collection, so I didn’t see either, but I did see a free offshoot of the Joan Jonas exhibit. The Tate Modern, being a former power station, has some weird spaces, and this installation was in the “Tanks” in the basement of one building.
I managed to see all of the permanent (or, at least, free) collection that I hadn’t seen on my last trip, though in retrospect, I wish I’d taken a little time to return to some of my favorite pieces from that visit. These collections had broad themes, such as one focusing on art as architecture:
And another presenting past performance art pieces:
One piece I loved but failed to get a picture of was an exhibit of Tehching Hsieh’s self portraits taken every hour over a year. It looks to not be on display anymore, which is disappointing, because I thought it was an impressive way of presenting performance art: it includes the photos, of course, but also a time-lapse slide deck, the camera and outfit Hsieh wore in each photo, and an explanation of the process.
Having finally seen the rest of the collection, I made an obligatory visit to the observation deck, where took I a picture of the absurd skyline of London:
For my last full day in London, I decided to revisit my favorite place in the city: the Barbican Centre! I spent quite a lot of time there last year, so I hadn’t planned to return on this trip. However, I’d spent the night before drinking at my hostel, where I met another hostel-guest and his brother, who was actually a bartender at the Barbican. He reminded me that the Barbican’s conservatory would be open, since it was Sunday. I hadn’t managed to see it last time, and with no other plans, I made my way over.
Before I headed out, I got the only London full breakfast of my trip, at a brunch spot near my hostel.
My only plan for the day, besides seeing the conservatory, was to watch a wrestling show from the previous night on my phone, since my hostel’s wifi wasn’t up for it. The Barbican has a wonderful cafe and working space in it that was perfect for this.
The Conservatory was impressive, and fit the Barbican’s general aesthetic of a combination art center and fallout shelter. Much like how the elevated courtyards of the Barbican feel like the closest thing we’ll have to green space in our post-apocalyptic future, it’s easy to imagine the Conservatory as a far-future exhibit of the “plants” and “fruits” that were once common. Regardless, the mixture of brutalism and nature is, in my opinion, really beautiful - it reminded me of overgrown nature in abandoned office buildings.
Oh, it also has a tea room inside it, which is hilarious. It’s apparently hard to get a reservation, which is wild to me, since I thought maybe only me and like three other people in the world would be interested in a white tablecloth tea date surrounded by concrete.
After my visit to the Conservatory, I watched a little more wrestling, then wandered over to a photography exhibit in the building.
The exhibit was divided into rooms devoted to different photographers and subjects. It’s hard to describe the exhibit beyond, well, what you already know from the title. It contained photography of everything from Japanese punk scenes, to mentally ill people without homes in LA, to transgender sex workers in south America. I usually don’t find photography exhibits appealing, but this was so capitivating that I must have spent two hours or more in there.
Afterwards, I watched a little more wrestling, then headed out to meet up with friends for more drinking. One funny detail, though, is that afterwards, the train broke down while I was on my way back to the hostel, which made me somewhat homesick. I took an Uber home - first time I’d taken a car (excepting busses, of course) on this trip - and got a nice view of the Tower of London at night as we went over the Tower Bridge, though my photos are unfortunately too blurry to bother including here.
For my last morning in London, before getting on the Eurostar down to Paris, I stopped at a cute cafe by the train station for lunch. In looking it up, I found out it’s permanently closed, which is a tragic discovery, but at least I’ll always have a memory of incredible harissa chicken and a solid block of fudge you could break a window with to remember it by.
Then, it was onto Paris! A transit strike made the Eurostar gate more packed than normal, but thankfully, we were only delayed by 15 minutes.