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Monday, May 7, 2007

Weekend in London

I'm currently involved on a big project at work that involves working with an English agency based in London. We needed a 2-day meeting with our Account manager and it was held in the Canon office in London. As it was on Thursday and Friday (ok, I conveniently planned them close to the weekend ;-) ) I decided to stay there to enjoy a little of London and to visit some friends.
The meeting was rather successful and packed with lots of information. Unfortunately I was getting a cold which got worse while sitting on the plane for almost for almost 3 hours on the plane on the way there. It's a joke sometimes how those annoying delays on planes make a 40 minute flight become such an long trip.

However, regardless of the bad cold, on Friday at 15:30 I bid good bye to Christiaan (my boss) in Terminal 4 at Heathrow airport and made my way to catch the Heathrow express that would take me to Paddington station in the centre of London!

Most of you know that I lived in London for 9 months in 2002 and that I absolutely love it. And of course I have been to London many times after that either for business or to visit friends (or a combination of both) and of course for shopping ;-) However I hadn't been to London since the end of 2005- I don't count the business trips to Canon UK because when I do that I even stay in the Sofitel hotel in the North Terminal of Gatwick airport!

I know my way very well in London, but was I in for some surprises! I remember that the first day I was in London back in 2002 I was in the supermarket and I was amazed to see that the prices had the same "numbers" but they were Pounds instead of Euros. Everybody knows that London is one of the most expensive cities of the world...but God it feels like inflation hit them in about 50%!!!

When I lived in London a Tube single ticket (for the ones who don't know "The tube" is the way the London underground is referred as) costed £1.90. Well, I was horrified to see that it now costs £4.00 !!!! (that is about US$ 8.00). Of course they now also have another system with the "Oyster Cards"...but I won't bother you into the details. Lets just say that just making my way from Heathrow into town I had some incidents and shocks with the prices...the 15 minute ride from Heathrow to Paddington was £15 (US$30)...anyway, I won't go on, but you get the picture.

As I had some time to kill until 17:30 when I was going to meet Carla in Liverpool Street Station, I decided to get off in Oxford Circus so I could do a little window shopping in Oxford Street where I didn't lose ANY time and bought the most beautiful pair of white sandals ;-) ...ok, I'm getting sidetracked again. By the time I was back in the Tube on the Central line going only about 5 stops from Oxford Circus to Liverpool Street...it was rush hour on a Friday. Oh MY GOD!!!! Had I forgotten how crowded the tube can get. The amount of people, all squeezed like tuna in a can, the door opening, then closing, the "mind the gap" voice in every station, everybody with their iPODs and reading their books or newspapers, nobody looking into anybody's eyes. And then when leaving the carriage walking with a pack of people, everybody looking for the long escalators: stand on the right, walk on the left, people walking and just walking and wanting to go home!!

I remember that I have always heard that some people like London but they feel overwhelmed by it. I always said that that was nonsense for me. After all I come from Lima, a massive, over 8-million-inhabitants, chaotic and noisy city...so I felt pretty much at home in London. But I guess that back in 2002 I had only been in Europe for a couple of years. After being over 4 years in a row in Amsterdam...where I cycle to go everywhere, where it takes not even one hour by bike to cross the city, where I don't have to fight with anyone to get a seat in the bus in the morning on my way to work, which is outside Amsterdam and it takes me half an hour (I guess it's also because I go to work rather early and I miss the rush hour)....I was REALLY overwhelmed by the whole chaos!!! I really missed my bike! ;-)

Of course on the other hand...London is London. And I was positively overwhelmed in the shops with the choice of things....so many nice things, so many things to choose from....too expensive though ;-)...and of course the amount of things to do: concerts, theatres, musicals, opera, ballet, museums. So as you see London and me have some kind of love-hate relationship, which is great because it's a "long distance" love affair anyway ;-)

I eventually found Carla and we made our ways to Chelmsfort, Essex just half an hour by train outside of London where she lives. We had a very nice evening the 2 of us, Julien (her husband) and Italo who joined us after work all the way from Kingston (about 1.5 hour away).

The next day we had already made our plans for the day. After breakfast Italo, Carla and me decided that the 3 of us would head into town. It was rather nice to be among Peruvian friends, speaking Peruvian slang, catching up and remembering our time at university. Of course Carla and my plan was to go shopping...Italo was happy to come along. I guess Julien was very smart as he went to play golf...and I have the feeling that Italo must have thought why on earth did he go shopping in London with 2 women!

On my defense, I did exactly what I said I wanted to do. I only went to 2 shops that I really like and that I had planned on going. Of course I won't forget Italo's shocked face when I came out of the second shop with only a tiny little carrier bag: "Over an hour for only THAT?????"...hey, doesn't he know that we women have to try everything before choosing the first thing we tried on?

After an afternoon of shopping we went for some coffee and rest in Starbucks while we waited for 19:30. We had tickets for a concert in St. Martin in the Fields, the church in Trafalgar square. While I lived in London I used to go a lot to that church on Saturday evenings as they always had lovely concerts. Just on Monday last week I received their newsletter and I saw that that the Belmont Ensemble was having a Candle night concert of Vivaldi's 4 Seasons...so I proposed Carla and Italo to get tickets.

Just as I expected it was beautiful. Nothing really fancy just this really talented musicians playing delicious music. Just some easy listening Barocque: some Vivaldi, some Mozart and some Bach...perfect 2 hours! I would have loved to take photos or to film, but it wasn't allowed. However I sneaked out my camera and covered it with my scarf just for the audio...so you can hear a little of the concert by clicking in any of the following links: Mozart - Salzburg Symphony No 2; Bach - Air on G string and Vivaldi - The 4 Seasons, Spring.

After the concert Julien joined us for dinner and eventually we headed back to Chelmsford after midnight on the last train. On the walk from the station to Carla's house I was reminded again of what surprised me back in 2002 about British people...my God why do they drink SO much? I know that I have already told this to several of you but I need to document it on my blog: First of all, I have never in my live have seen as many people being drunk at the same time in the street as in Britain- but when I say DRUNK I mean TOTALLY wasted! Second of all...British define how much fun they have according to how drunk they get...I take it as still an interesting cultural aspect. And of course, another typical characteristic: what kind of super genes do English girls have to be able to walk with tiny clothes, no jacket, no socks and sandals when it's bloody cold is entirely beyond me! Another interesting aspect ;-)

On Sunday I was positively surprised by a lunch invitation from Marco van den Berg and his girlfriend, Annette. I met Marco in a seminar in Mannheim, Germany back in 1998 just before he went to Peru for an AIESEC project. We've met some other times includding New Year's 2002 in Peru again and the last time we saw each other was in Paolo's farewell party in Zurich...I was really very happy to see him and Annette again. It was a very enjoyable lunch!

After lunch Marco drove me to Heathrow and after only about 45 mins delay I managed to land at Schiphol airport a little before 20:00. All in all, regardless of the cold (and cough I caught on Saturday) and regardless of the weather (it seems that spring is gone and rain is here to stay this week :-s...good for the plants though...) it was a really, really nice weekend. Met some old friends, did some shopping, went to an excellent concert, went down memory lane (Arnaud, Martin and David...I kept thinking of our time in London!) and as I said before, that's the way to keep the love on this long-distance relationship with London...lets see each other only every once in a while to keep the "honey-moon" period!
For a few photos of the weekend click here, can you tell that the weather is crap again? :-s ...so much for my new sandals ;-)

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