Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lon-done at last

Sorry everyone. It's been a while and I can offer no excuses. One lovely extended vacation in London quickly followed by a somewhat less lovely trip to Boston (for actual bill-paying work) cut a serious wedge out of my blogging time. I had left for London with the intention of making regular posts, but I didn't seem to find the time – not to say that there wasn't, I was just unable to overcome the inherent laziness that plagues my existence. Click here for proof that blogging from the road is not only possible, but highly entertaining.

Of all the touristy stuff that I took part in, the one that I was most dubious about beforehand was the Jack the Ripper tour. The idea of taking part in a cattle drive through busy commercial streets while someone barks out historically suspect facts through a battery powered bullhorn filled me with a small measure of dread. But after a recommendation of these folks by several locals, we took the plunge and had a pretty terrific evening. Though very little of the Whitechapel district looks as it did over a century ago, there were a remarkable number of side streets that retained the character – and in some cases, the actual architecture - of 1880s London. Aside from the more macabre historical significance of the area, it was also interesting to see a side of London that was quite different from the typical "Big Ben, Parliament!" regions that most tourists stick to. The Whitechapel of today is a working class, Bangladeshi neighborhood that sits just east of the City of London (the Gherkin looms over nearly the entire area) but seems a million miles away from the fog wrapped streets and eviscerated prostitutes of the Ripper's time. It's a tribute to the folks who run the tour that, for at least a couple of hours, the 21st Century is put on hold and you can pound the same cobblestones as Saucy Jack himself. Unfortunately, my pictures taken on the tour are more shaky that saucy, but I'll post them anyway.

And while I didn't want the trip to be too bogged down with movie location visits, there were several that doubled as legitimate tourism destinations and I was able to add to the itinerary without further beleaguering my patient companion. These steps leading down from the Royal Albert Hall towards the Prince Consort Road have been used in many dozens of films over the years, but I remember them most vividly from The Ipcress File, where Harry Palmer gives a right pasting to a meddlesome bodyguard, and from the Columbo episode "Dagger of the Mind", where the Science Museum Library doubles as a wax museum for the final scene.

Likewise, St Paul's Cathedral had been a familiar site from its own cameo appearances – particularly in the opening scenes of Lawrence of Arabia. The current Cathedral is actually the fourth to occupy this spot (the previous had been destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666) and was designed by Christopher Wren, a name that appears frequently when on an architecturally themed walking tour of London