Tuesday, October 11, 2011

tell them that I am young and beautiful

Things in London were much busier than in peaceful little Totnes. After a 3.5 hour train ride into the city, we dropped off our bags at the Royal National Hotel and headed to the Underground (London's metro service) to make our way to our first event. Can I just say that the Underground in London made me really miss the clean, well-functioning public transportation system in Copenhagen. Even though London's Underground was been rated the best, most efficient transport system in the world, there were many complications while we were there, including extreme delays, overheated cars, and a dead body on the tracks!

After arriving an hour late, we started our Royal London Bike Tour, which gave us a very condensed version of the national landmarks in London. Biking in London is also very different from biking in Copenhagen. Bikers do not have equal share of the road like they do in Denmark. For that reason, we stayed mostly on park pathways. Highlights included Kensington Palace, Hyde Park, Wellington Arch, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, a royal guard, and the Big Ben clock tower (from very far away). Here are a few snapshots:

one of the many lion statues spread across London

Trafalgar Square

Big Ben from afar

cool fish fountain at Trafalgar Square

After our vigorous bike tour, we were on our own for dinner in the city. I decided to join a group for some authentic Indian food a street called Brick Lane. Brick Lane was filled on both sides with Indian restaurants who like to barter with potential customers to give them the best deal. People working at the restaurants came right up to us in the street and started offering us free drinks, appetizers, and a discount on our total meal. I ended up getting a decent sized meal, which  was really spicy (even though on the menu is said a mild sauce), for 11 pounds (about 17 USD).

Thursday started off with a bit of community service in a nature reserve. Our work was on the part of an organization called Green Gyms, which allows people to be physically active while making a difference in their local environment. Our project included sawing wood to build hedgerows by weaving skinny pieces of wood in between larger stakes. Others in the group made the stakes and also planted two trees in the reserves mini-orchard.

Laura Rose and I sawing some wood

After working up an appetite at the nature reserve, we headed to Camden Market for some lunch. The Market is the UK's largest street market with hundreds of shops, studios, stalls, cafes, restaurants, and bars. 

donkey in the Farm Yard
Soon enough it was time to make our way to Hackney City Farm, which gives the local community the opportunity to experience farming right in the heart of the city. Both children and adults can try their hand at gardening vegetables and also learn more about farm animals by exploring the Farm Yard, which houses pigs, sheep, and donkeys. The Farm also hosts community activities, like weaving, pottery making, food growing, and beekeeping! In the little gift shop I purchased some homemade strawberry-pineapple jam. I thought it was delicious, but my host mom says otherwise. 
hand-decorated sign post

welcome to Hackney City Farm!

Dinner on Thursday was another local, fresh, and organic meal this time served at the Water House. The Water House is an ethical restaurant with solar and hydro-power providing all energy, a wormery to digest food waste, and a water purification/bottling site. 

Since dinner took a little longer to prepare than expected, we had to take our dessert on the go so we wouldn't be late for our evening performance, a show called "Tell Them that I am Young and Beautiful." The play included 7 short short stories from around the world that tell huge human tales in a simple form. It explored our relationship with other people we think we know but don't, the stranger on the street, and the person who is different. My favorite story was the last story, which told of a young man trying to win the hand of a young maid by appeasing her father, who wanted the young man to find Truth. After many years of searching for Truth, the young man (who is now very old) finally finds her in a dark cave in the wilderness. Truth is old and raggedy, with boils and bumps all over her wrinkled body. The man asked Truth what he could report back to the young maids father and the rest of the world, and Truth simply said, "tell them that I am young and beautiful."

the Thames River
On Friday, our final day of the tour, we had a cutting-edge green walking tour of London. The tour explored London's broad range of examples of sustainability, including sustainable business, buildings with integrated wind turbines (Strata Tower), electric car charging points, and eco-hotels. Unlike the bike tour, the walking tour really gave us a taste of London as a city. One place in particular I enjoyed was Neal's Yard, which originated as a hub for local produce and grew into an eco-friendly area, with many shops and cafes. There was also an inspirational chalkboard kept by community members and updated daily. A quote by Mark Nepo as follows:

"Everything is changing and connected. And our call is to enter a dance with the things and forces of the world, not just deflecting what comes at us. For often the things we need to learn are in the spaces in between."

Neal's Yard
Strata Tower

After another organic lunch at The Refinery, I spent my two hours of free time with my friend Kai exploring Covent Garden. We roamed the cute little shops for presents for our friends and even had time for the most delicious ice cream I've yet to experience in Europe (a mixture of vanilla and caramel).

me and my ice cream

Sadly, the tour had come to an end and we headed back to good old Copenhagen. Even though I'd only been gone about a week, I truly missed the place I now consider to be my home and was welcomed warmly by my host family at the airport.

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