Thursday, 3 May 2018

Spots for Staring in London

London, UK, April 29th to May 2nd 2018 and several previous dates

After Mexico, I firmly decided to stop traveling for a while, since my finances had a near death experience. Then a friend from London duly noticed that we hadn't seen for ages and I immediately started browsing for tickets. Which were on sale. Oh, well.

Hooray! I'm in London! Said my wallet never!

So, what to do in London? Whatever you like, it's all there. Personally, I like to observe. I'm not as talented as Kim Jong Un, but I admit that a lot of my travel activities include some looking, staring even. Here's some of the places I use for specific staring purposes in London.

Staring at People: Old Compton & Frith / Dean street corners and Golden Square

Old Compton Street is optimal for people watching: not too much traffic, narrow enough street to see everything, lots of leisurely people to watch, including good amount of eccentrics to keep it interesting and even better amount of cafés with purpose built people watching tables and terraces, especially at the corners of Frith and Dean streets.

People watching at the terrace of Balans Soho Society.
Also recommended for the food.

Another good place for people watching, especially lunch time is Golden Square, also in Soho. You can pick lunch or coffee from the nearby cafes and sit on one of the benches for consuming it. Nordic Bakery is a good choice, even though they serve their laskiaispulla with jam and not with marzipan as is right. The marzipan/jam question is one that divides the Finnish nation, so that you know. Some are ok with both, though. Sluts.

Quick and slow lunches at Golden Square

Other writings on people watching in London: Londonist's list of cafés and bars, Foursquare recommendations

Staring at Shoes: Selfridges Shoe Galleries

The visit to Selfridges department store at Oxford street a couple a years ago was a pettymys (disappointment in Finnish). But even when bad, the Selfridge's shoe department is an experience. And when it's good, it's ecstatic, even though I'll never have the means or calf muscles to wear most of the shoes there. Yes, you have the boring nude heels, too, but the main attraction are the flashiest, most colorful and imaginative shoes of top and upcoming designers. The further you go, the more interesting shoes you'll find. The decoration is equally flashy and changes according to season. I mean, come on, who wouldn't love a two meter tall mirror ball shoe?

My previous reports on Selfridge's Shoe Galleries (in Finnish): Kummat kengät: May 2016, September 2013

Sophia Webster's trademark butterflies
As soon as these shoes found out their prices, they fainted.

Staring at Windows: also Selfridges

These guys sure know what to do with a display window! They're practically pieces of art, I'd say. The lighting is usually an important part of the composition, so you should see them nighttime. Also, way less people then, Oxford street becomes your own private art gallery.

Staring at Art: Rothko Room in Tate Modern

There are a lot of options to see art in London, but this is an exceptionally good place to stare at it. Dim lights (demanded by the artist), benches at an optimal distance, meditative abstract art requiring some staring to really get something out of it.

The so called Seagram series, originating from the 50´s,  was originally intended to the Four Seasons hotel's restaurant in New York's Seagram building, but the artist Mark Rothko (1903–1970) withdrew from the commission after finishing the paintings, possibly realizing that the luxurious restaurant was way too shallow environment for them. For me, the weirder part is why he accepted the commission in the first place, being quite a leftist person and the restaurant being everything but. My favorite version of available explanations is that with his paintings, he wanted to ruin the appetite of the rich diners. A visual revenge, so to speak.

Anyhow, by the end of the 60's, he decided to present the series to Tate, with strict terms that the series must always be exhibited together, in a certain kind of room, in a dim lighting. The cargo containing the paintings reached London the same day as did the news about Mr. Rothko's suicide.

More on the Rothko Room: Darren Lyons in Abroadblogs

Staring at Tombstones: Highgate Cemetery

Ok, this a short term staring only, since the West Cemetery of Highgate Cemetery is to be visited in a guided group. As we were starting the tour, the guide reminded us to keep the pace and not be the one everyone else had to wait for. I was so sure that I wouldn't be one of the stupid tourists the guide referred to, but there were just too many beautiful, slanted tombstones and I obviously had to take picture of every single one of them. I could use them in a book cover! Or a birthday card!

More info on Highgate: Highgate's Lost Girls by Spamosphere, BBC on tombstone tourism

Staring at Scenery: Sky Garden

Sky Garden is a combined bar/restaurant area and a 360° lookout spot near Monument. The garden is an area of plants and bushes, but the main thing is the view here.

The entrance is free, and you can either book a visit beforehand (if you're quick to reserve tickets) or you can just walk in during certain times. Well, not just walk in. As I saw the lines ten minutes before the 18:15 walk in time's start, I was about to turn around and climb on a ladder instead or something. Luckily, my company insisted we stay and the queue turned out to move quite swiftly. The view is fantastic for staring and after visiting, you can tell your friends that you've seen most of the sights of London.

For properly staring, not just looking, you should be among the first visitors at 18:15 and rush to Sky Pod Bar's plastic sofas right in front of the first window you'll see. Obviously, via the bar counter, since these are customer seats. Yes, it's a horrible sacrifice to drink a glass of bubbly just for the view. You can wander around for the whole 360° later, first things first.

Other people tell about Sky Garden: Tuula's Life (in Finnish), Charlotte Brown, My Baba

Staring at City: Buses

Obviously, you need to go to the upper deck for this, preferably to the first row. Wobbling through City's narrow streets between high, distinguished buildings is an experience, and other parts of London, too, are well observed from the high angle the bus provides. Mind the rush hours, though, or you'll end up staring at St. Paul's for half an hour as I did. I'd recommend east to west direction in the early afternoon, since the light is at its best angle at that time. If it has been raining, as it often has, all the better!

Yea. There it is. Still.
And oh, do you know that you can pay for the trip with your regular contactless card now? The good'ol Oyster card is becoming obsolete, which sucks since I have three.

Watching the fleeting buildings is like
a slow, cubistic Monty Python animation.

The rain may make the scenery very gerhardrichter

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