20 October : London : last day

Damn! It is a sad thing to reach the last day of one’s travels. Ten days seems so… short. However! We did still have a whole day- no aeroplane sitting until the evening.

I awoke early once again; around 8:00. Again, I used the time to prepare for the day early, and went outside for another morning walk. I so enjoyed it. It’s nice to have some pockets of alone time when traveling. (Though I must point out here that Anders is an ace travel-mate, and even had I no actual ‘alone time’ all would still have been well- we sort of incorporated bits of it into our days as we went along, even as two)

Today we’d decided to head out to the Tower of London and London Bridge. We tubed it, as we didn’t have an endless day today. We had a look at the “tower” (no tower at all, but a castle-looking building with a yard where once was a moat). Elevensies in the bright sun along the embankment, staring at the Tower Bridge, then across to the south side.

We decided simply to drift, once south. The Borough is where you wind up after crossing tower, and heading west takes you to Southwark. So that is what we did. We found many beautiful little alleyways along the river, and enjoyed the walk, the sky- such brilliant clouds again. We passed the Shakespeare’s Globe theater, which had some incredible ironwork gates, and decided to hit the Tate Modern, as it, too, was nearby. The Tate killed! I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic about it, but so glad we went. The main exhibit in the ground floor gallery was beautiful and surreal; entitled : Embankment, by Rachel Whiteread- comprised of hundreds of boxes of varying sizes constructed out of that semi-translucent corrugated plastic (such as mail bins are made of)- and piled and contrived to look like glaciers, file cabinets, mountains, christmas trees… all looking somehow like an impossibly enlarged whim made of sugar cubes. Wow.

We also had a look at some previously-unseen pieces by old favorites; DuChamp, Picasso, Cornell and the like- It’s a great museum.

AFter the Tate it was time to begin the search for a really great pub for final pub lunch; we would not compromise easily, not today. We walked.

We passed a number of inviting places (to judge by outer appearance), but all were suffering the same two flaws: (1) pricey ultra-modern fare, and (2) filled with suits! Here we were in Southwark, apparently another business district, and so finding “dark and benchy” was proving a little more challenging than normal.. ‘S okay- we can handle a challenge!

Finally we wend our way down an adorable street toward what looked from afar like a pub, but turns out to be a church. We continue on anyway, and land at Blackfriars Road. Just across an intersection we spy a very proper-looking spot called The Crown, so we decide to investigate. As we are reading the menu outside (having not realized it was the Christmas menu), a man comes out and hands us paper copies of the Christmas Menu (assuming we will still be here), at which point we just enter and read the current menu. We decide it’s a go, and choose a table after ordering pints. Our host is friendly and jokes about how he’s accidentally put the ales in the opposite-labeled pint glasses.

The place is large and old, with beautiful wood-carved detail everywhere. They’re playing cool mellow beats, the afternoon sun streams in through front windows– all is well. Our pub-finding instincts have done nothing but improve over the course of this trip. Smiles. Then our food arrives; brilliant! Rather New-Yorky fare in here (but with better crusty bread rolls than most places on this side of the Atlantic). We are pleased and decide this is one in which to stay for two pints.

While enjoying this place, we notice a particular green bottle at the bar… Absinthe! We’ve had none all trip, and decide we must, despite the early hour and plane schedule, et al. It will be a nod to Prague, once again. We order it up, and host Craig informs he knows nothing of it, so Anders shares the details of the ritual with him. Fire, sugar, water- the absinthe turns that clouded opal blue. (We can tell that Craig is totally going to start introducing this to his regulars. Ha!)

We indulge in the strange liquid, slowly- in sips. Before long, that lovely and singular narcotic high begins to introduce itself. Lovely in the sun, and the chill beats on the sound system have converted to jazz- so appropriate. We mellow like old cheese in this most comfortable and welcoming pub, but soon enough realize – we still have time in this city! Mustn’t stop all day! We depart from this sanctuary, still feeling the high of the green fairy, and enjoy it all the more out in full sun.

We head north on Blackfriars, to the bridge of the same name. Pause halfway across to take in the Thames and the sky again. To breathe, to stare, to inhale. That kind of day. (a goal: to make everyday somehow that kind of day…) We place feet once again on north side embankment, and set about to find a tobacconist which may carry DJarums, Anders clove-spice ciggies. While on this trek, we pass a hippie; sitting with all his gear at the base of a stair. He requests a cigarette, as I am lighting one while we pass. I indulge him, then Anders recalls- the half-green cigarette!! He procures it from his bag (the one we’d rolled night before but haven’t wanted)- and presents it to our hippie. I tell him (sotto voce) that it’s “half-green”. We continue on. At some point we come to a corner whereupon we spot a very large old building which has been converted to a very large pub; it is entitled the Knights Templar- we have to go in. We order half-pints, look about the impossibly cavernous main hall, use the loos. But we notice that time is getting late- we must hop the tube back to Bayswater to retrieve our luggage (left in the waiting room of Palace Court all day)! We head back out, and swiftly, in the direction of nearest tube station.

Here’s something really cool- Mid cross-walk, who do we spot? It’s our hippie! He’s no longer looking downtrodden and slumped- he’s smiling; he’s all lit up. He sees us, gives us a hippie-wink, and says as he passes us on the street “you guys are the best!” Hilarious! We laughed and laughed- what are the chances? “Further Afield Agents: Helping Hippies.” Ha Ha! We decide that being hippie-winked must surely be the opposite of being hood-winked, and continue on in search of the tube.

The tube station we find of course, is Temple Station, so it was a full-on Templar inspired afternoon. We make it back to Bayswater later than we’d hoped. Having retrieved luggage we hastily make our way through a route found on previous days to Paddington, where we can pick up the express to Heathrow. Amazingly, though running late, we make it to the vast and insane airport in time to have one last cask ale and a cigarette in a smoky airport pub before boarding.

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