Saturday, December 13, 2008

Geeks in London!


Hello all! I have all sorts of exciting things to report! First off I have been sick all week with some sort of flu. I'm feeling much better now and am back in action which is great considering that there is lots to be done.

I think I'll start out with last week which we spent in London. It was fantastic, despite the cold, rain, skipping meals, and inefficient transit system (It is no wonder that we both got sick in the end). London is an expensive city, but we managed to find some places with cheap food and also picked up some books in English. So, the main reason for going to London was the four day Coheed and Cambria “Neverender” concert. The deal was this: Coheed has four albums so on each day of the event they would play one whole album. This was a sweet deal indeed, and we even managed to find super cheap flight and hostel to boot. The concert was great, and super nerdy considering that everyone there was a dedicated fan of the sci-fi based prog-rock. On the Second night, a street worker accidentally made contact with the main power line in the street thus ending his life and knocking out the power in the Astoria. The show was canceled and moved to Friday. I had a feeling that after everyone scattered, the band might come out the back doors in the alley, and sure enough they did and we got to meet them and talk to them for a little bit. Over the course of the concert, we saw all four albums performed in their entirety, an acoustic Coheed set, Prize Fighter Inferno, solo performances by Claudio (who played some new material for the first time ever!), Travis, Mike, and the guitar tech for opening acts, and three to four song encores on each night. During the 4th album, they played Night of the Living Dead on the screens which was cool because It is not my most favorite album of the four by any means. At the show we met and talked to kids from all over the world including places as far away as South Africa. The four turned five day event was excellent and to prevent any ranting about it, I will now change the subject.

We did lots of other things in London, and I'm happy to report that we took lots of pictures for all of you who have been worried about the lack of photos lately. You have to remember that pictures really are not a high priority for us so we often forget to take them. Our method for exploration was to pick a stop on the tube with a familiar name, such as Kensington or Tower Hill, and once we got there just wander around and see what sorts of things we could come across. We managed to see many things this way. Hanging out in Soho before the shows, we got to hang out in the many instrument, book, and comic shops.

On the first day I randomly came across the BBC headquarters! They have lots of Satellites. We saw the Tower of London, the old Palace where th Ravens are kept. Legend has it that if they escape, the monarchy will fall. Next door was All Hallows by the Tower, a church that was first established in 675AD making it the oldest church in London. In the crypt you can see portions of the original roman structure of which the church was built on top. In between the Tower and All Hallows was where they used to hold public beheadings. The Tower bridge was nearby so we walked across it on our way to the other side of the Thames. They were repainting it which will explain the covered scaffolding you can see in the pictures. Docked on the other side was the HMS Wellington. At this point we were freezing so we went into the modern curved-glass structure of city hall to warm up. Inside there was a huge aerial map of the city that you could walk on like a huge monster who climbed out of the Channel and unintentionally began wreaking havoc on London. Further down the Thames in Westminster, there are the Houses of Parliament. This is a large and impressive structure that is fully surrounded by officers and guards. No access to the inside unless you have proper ID. This of course is where the famous Big Ben is to be found. Nearby is Westminster Abbey, but since you have to pay to go in as a tourist, we went into St. Margaret's next door and watched the children's choir practice their angelic voices for the event to be held later that evening.

After warming up we went down the street where we noticed some commotion and witnessed from beginning to end, a protest for disabled worker's rights. Blind people, people on crutches and in wheel chairs, and etc, were all blocking traffic in front of where Mr. Gordon Brown was currently working (a building surrounded with military guards carrying full automatic rifles, which was surprising since the police normally do not carry guns in England. They have a no knife and gun policy which seems to have significantally cut down on knife and gun crime) and passing out fliers stating why they were there and what they wanted to change. Police came out and reasoned with them for a while. Apparently we gathered that it was against the law for the officers to touch the disabled, reasons such as they could crumble the bones of someone with cerebral palsy if they did being why, but there was a specially trained unit for situations like this on their way. After about half an hour of defying the officers' request, and pissing off lots of motorist. They backed down, achieving only minimal press coverage and literature dispersal.

We headed down the street to the Guard museum just in time for a changing of the guards, and walked around their courtyard. In the back was a dark odd building thickly covered with vines and having only a minimal number of very small windows. We asked an officer what it was and he said that it was some sort of electronic storage facility and that “They don't tell us much about it.” How can you not let your mind run wild with government conspiracy with stuff like that around! From there we went down to the great roundabout with the Queen Victoria memorial in the middle. This is essentially the driveway for Buckingham Palace. Surrounded by gardens and parks with golden gilded gates in honor of places like Canada, Buckingham Palace is only fun to stand in front of for so long. The crest with the lion and unicorn are everywhere. Majestic and whatnot, but when it is really cold out the situation is more, OK the Queen lives here now lets get moving. The palace gift shops are actually a good place to warm up and learn random facts about the place.

Kensington Palace was the home of the Princess Diana. We checked out the palace briefly from the outside and then walked about in the Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park. There are unbelievably tame animals in this park. The squirrels next to the palace would walk right up to you and even climb up your leg if you let them. This was unsettling for me who grew up learning that wild animals that approach people unafraid are likely to have rabies. So there I am in the Royal Gardens being chased by squirrels. The birds too! I saw a chickadee fly down from a tree lighting upon a man's outreached hand. The park was large so we walked about it for a bit coming across all sorts of statues and monuments. There was the enormous and elaborate Albert monument at the edge of the park across the street from the Royal Albert Hall. Our favorite statue in the park was much smaller and less colorful. It was a bronze sculpture of that young boy who will never grow up: Peter Pan.

We felt that we had wandered about the park enough so we walked over to some of the nearby museums. My favorite was the Instrument museum about two floors down in the Royal College of Music. They had all sorts of instruments (over 800) displayed in a large two-level room. There was an old glass harmonica. Apparently glass harmonica players used to go crazy, and now the suspected causes for this are either prolonged exposure to certain frequencies or to lead paint on the instrument. Ben Franklin invented the glass harmonica as a way to make crystal glasses more efficient to play. Crystal glasses, at the time, was the only instrument that was OK for women to play. There were all sorts of guitars and harps, showing the evolution of the instruments. Wind instruments too. There was a double keyboard harpsichord with four stops. I went into question asking mode and got the guy to demonstrate to me how the stops worked. It was hard to obey all the “Do Not Touch” signs so I had to get him to do it for me. In this collection was the oldest surviving stringed keyboard instrument called a clavicytherium. It is believed that it is from southern Germany from about 1480. The gentleman was telling me about this particular instrument and when he mentioned that due to the elaborate and sophisticated nature of the design in this little stringed keyboard, that it was safe to assume that there had been much prior development of these sorts of instruments only no record of it, chills went down my spine.

We also went to the Science museum which had all sorts of cool exhibits such as the evolution of the steam engine, progression of spacecraft from rocketry to rocket science, and all sorts of examples of important scientific principles used in daily life. They had two cloned mice which were directly related to the first patented mammal, different supercomputer models, and a clock that was designed to keep accurate time for 10,000 years. Next door was the Museum of natural history. Here there was a large marble sculpture of Charles Darwin. He looked deep in thought so we left him to walk about the exhibits. I found a dodo skeleton, and a stuffed kiwi. Our main reason for checking out this museum was to see their dinosaur exhibit, so in fear of the museum closing we rushed about in search of prehistoric creatures. We found them, in all their skeletal glory! Rar! Iguanidon, Allosaurus, Gallimimus, Triceratops, etc., lots of bones and teeth!

On the last day , Saturday, we went to Portobello Road to browse around the worlds largest antique market. According to Bedknobs and Broomsticks, “Anything and everything a chap can unload, is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road.” It was indeed a huge market with the entire street filled with people. Having no money and little desire to hang out in the crowd so early we decided to take a side street away from the market in order to grab some breakfast. We found a little dive called Diana's Cafe which was filled to the brim with photos of Princess Diana. This is where I learned that the English enjoy beans with their breakfast.

The trains in London are terribly inefficient. The entrances and exits present bottleneck scenarios and the trains themselves are hardly ever “running a good service” with all the delays and rerouting. We were on this one train and suddenly they announced that the train was going somewhere else and everyone got up and walked off the train. All of the tunnels of the London Underground are as confusing as a find-your-own-adventure book with missing pages. Another day someone got ran over by the train and they delayed all the lines. That makes two people who died while we were in London.

My cold had set in and with the pressure changes during the flight back I lost my hearing for about a day. I was like being underwater, or pushing the mute button on the world. The customs agent almost didn't let us back into Germany because we had to many stamps in our passports. He started asking me questions and I was all, “WHAT? I CAN”T HEAR YOU!” It was hilariously pathetic. Mandie came to my rescue and explained to him my situation and why I currently could not function properly. Skipping School for a week set my German learning back a bit, but I am catching up alright.

Oh! This week we managed to get a place to live! A two room apartment with a kitchen and a bathroom, cellar and a cool courtyard in the back. It has high ceilings and the rooms are fairly large. Definitely a step up from my dark basement box in Boone. Now I can bring my instruments to Berlin! Ich spiele Musik gern! All this week we have been meeting with our new landlord and the deal finally went through on Thursday. We are cleaning up Katja's apartment today and switching over to the new place tomorrow.

Before our adventure in London, we had a notable evening here in Berlin. Sarah stopped by for a visit before heading back to Switzerland. She brought me this cool color changing cup from the convention she attended. After she caught her train (a close call) we met up with our friend Vincenzo, the Italian fellow who just moved out of the apartment we are moving into, and had some wine where he works before going out for pizza with him and some of his buddies. The driver took us on a night tour of the city, showing us all the notable buildings and sights. He pointed out all sorts of important landmarks, such as the Reichstag, Schloss Charlottenberg, the Brandenburg Gate, the Soviet monument, Rotes Rathaus, the Victory Column, Holocaust memorial, and also took a quick drive through Alexander Platz and Postdamer Platz. After this we had Pizza at this Italian restaurant that had just opened. Food and drinks kept coming and a very entertaining trilingual dinner panned out. After about four hours and realizing that they would stick around for more drinks, we excused ourselves and went for a walk about Berlin. Good times!

There are new pictures in the Picassa album if anyone wants to check out all the cool things in London. Also we have an address now that we have an apartment of our own, where we can receive mail. If anyone is interested just shoot me an email and I'll let you know the address. We will be in transition however for a few days so I am not sure if we will have internet, but I will do my best to keep in touch. I'll post pics of the new place eventually.