Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The weather was beautiful; blue skies unspoiled by clouds as I walked past the heavily guarded Prime Minister’s residence. The barrier is relatively modern and the police presence seems to have been increased greatly since I last passed. Following yesterday’s uncovering of a significant amount of explosives and the capture of a terror cell, I’d expect it to increase some more. I’m still in London by the way and looking forward to tonight’s flight back to Israel where I’ll be able to feel safe walking the streets with my Kipa on which I no longer do in (most of) the UK.

Although I lived in London for the best part of 22 years, I never really took advantage of all it had to offer. School holidays were spent sleeping late and seeing friends rather than enjoying the tremendous wealth of culture that is always only a train ride away. I never really grew tired of London, I just didn’t appreciate the riches on offer in the first place. This trip I resolved to take a small step towards correcting this aberration and randomly picked The National Gallery as an appropriate starting point.

Deciding to take a slightly round-a-bout route, I got off the train at Westminster Station, in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament and the world’s most recognisable clock. Strolling down Whitehall, it struck me that Britain has chosen to place monuments to its bellicose past at its historical heart; wartime leaders such as Churchill, Earl Haig and Viscount Montgomery are prominent; the Cenotaph memorial commemorating the dead is a constant reminder to the PM of his responsibilities. Most prominent however was the statue marking my destination: Nelson’s Column towering over Trafalgar Square. The monument to The Island Nation’s greatest hero, guarded by four lions, is truly magnificent. After a suitable admiring pause, I headed for the entrance to The National Gallery though I could equally have gone round the corner to The National Portrait Gallery. Entrance to both is free and highly recommended.

The National Gallery houses the treasures of centuries – I headed for the oldest paintings, displayed in a number of rooms, decorum preserved by visitors from elementary school age upwards. The collection is vast; a complete viewing would take at least a couple of visits. As with most galleries, in addition to the permanent exhibition, there are constantly changing exhibitions; currently El Greco; for which a fee is charged.

Having spent several hours admiring pictures from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, mainly with a religious theme, I decided to head for the open air. Stopping at a piece of bizarre performance art, currently situated under Nelson’s watchful eye, for not more than a couple of seconds, I headed for St. James’s Park. Situated alongside The Mall, the park provides an oasis of calm in the midst of the city. Its green lawns, punctuated by dancing daffodils heralding the spring, were filled with picnicking tourists, games of football and sun seeking office workers on their lunch breaks. The lake, which carries childhood memories of feeding the ducks for so many, was filled with ducks, geese, swans in both black and white liveries and even the odd pelican.

The far end of the park nestles up to Buckingham Palace which, despite appearing to be besieged by Japanese tourists, appeared to be guarded by only four soldiers in all their finery. Quickly losing interest, I continued my walk in the park, this time Green Park on the other side of The Mall, and wandered up to Piccadilly where I found a station and headed for home.

So often it’s the case that we don’t know the city in which we live as well as we should. Attractions are left to the tourists and it’s only when we have a visitor from overseas that we take advantage of what is on offer. I couldn’t tell you when the last time I visited the Kotel was and Jerusalem has many tourist attractions, particularly those holy to other religions that I have never set foot inside. It strikes me that this is a real shame and therefore I’m resolving to get to know my city better. I will look forward to blogging my exploits in the coming months.


No comments: