Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 11: Parks and Gardens, Selfridges, Evensong

Sundays are marvelous days for walks in the UK. Lots of people flock to public spaces the enjoy their free time, especially on a day with as gorgeous weather as this one. When I got up this morning, I knew it would be a good day for park-walking. And I wasn't disappointed.

In all my time in London, I had never before gone to the Regent's Park, one of the larger park spaces in London. (Fun fact: In the UK, the term "park" refers to an enclosed space, that is, one that has some sort of surrounding structure and close-able entryways. An un-enclosed space is just a public space.) For a person like me who particularly likes parks and gardens, formally manicured or no, Regent's Park is a real treat.

I spent some time walking along the Avenue Garden, a paved walkway surrounded by really gorgeous and formal flower arrangements:

I spent some time walking in Queen Mary's Gardens, a rather large garden space within the park that is divided into multiple formal garden areas. I sat and read for a bit in both the gardens with a country stream-type theme...

...and the rose gardens. I am not embellishing when I say that these gardens boast at least several dozen types of roses, all of them beautiful and fragrant:

I also spent some time walking around the good-sized boating lake along the southwest side of the park. I saw several swans and lots of very cute little babies enjoying a lovely morning in the sun. I also enjoyed some soup, bread, and butter for lunch at a little cafe overlooking the boaters on the water. Quite quaint.

In general, I must say that I love English--and Scottish, too--gardens for a few key reasons:
1) These gardens always appreciate the colour green as one that can positively contribute to a flowerbed. Sometimes one will be in a garden in which all effort was devoted to making the flowerbeds as brightly-coloured as possible, which can sometimes produce a rather crammed effect. Muted tones can be really wonderful.

2) Gardens are usually set off from everything else by some sort of barrier, be it a wall around the garden itself or the garden's location within a barriered park. Lots of places in the UK, very specifically London, are rather loud: lots of traffic, lots of public transportation starting and stopping, and always lots of people moving about and, oftentimes, talking loudly. Gardens, however, are quiet places. Whether the plants help to muffle any noises that might make it into the garden proper, or whether people tend to be more quiet and reflective in gardens, I'll leave to you to decide.

3) These gardens always seem to have, somehow, a certain Alice in Wonderland quality to them. Really, sometimes I'm taken aback at how big, flush, and almost lifelike some of the flowers are; it's like you've stumbed into that Golden Afternoon. Likewise, there are usually somewhat fanciful topiaries. These gardens tend toward the whimsical, which makes them that much more appealling to me.

Not all of my time could be spent in a garden today, I'm afraid to say. I started making my way toward St. Paul's Cathedral again, although I made a stop at the flagship Selfridges store on Oxford Street. Like Harrods, it's mostly just a high-end department store. Still, I always enjoy looking about the food halls at such places, and I wasn't disappointed with Selfridges. I found their "American foods" aisle particularly amusing. The highlights of their stock include Lucky Charms; Double Stuf Oreos (because it wouldn't be worth importing just regular-stuffed?); Betty Crocker cake mixes and tubs of chocolate icing; vats of Marshmallow Fluff; and pretty big bottles of Karo Syrup. A part of me thought this selection was really funny, while another part of me wanted to camp out in the aisle and assure passers-by that these shelves aren't actually representative of American food in general. I hope.

I moved onward to St. Paul's, where I took in an Evensong service. I really enjoyed getting to hear the choir in that space, it really made the service very elegant and moving. My last stop before heading back to the flats was to Piccadilly Circus and the bookshop there; once again I neglected to bring with me enough books to read during the course of my trip, and so have had to buy more. The life of a librarian...

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