London Day 1: Jet Lag & the Symphony

Our first exciting day in London was checked by jet lag. Your body is five hours behind and screaming at you to stop and lay down, but your mind keeps telling you to push on because you need to get on London time and you’ll regret it if you don’t. Plus, our arrival in the wee hours of Greenwich Mean Time meant that we had to leave our bags at the “flat” we’d rented and occupy ourselves for five hours while the previous tenant vacated and the place could be cleaned. So, we found ourselves walking, zombie-like, along the Thames river as Londoners woke and made their way to work.

Fortunately, the weather wasn’t half-bad with sunny skies and near 60F temperatures. Our place is about a 90 second walk from Trafalgar Square and we eventually found our way to Britain’s National Gallery, which opened at 10 a.m.(and is free to the public). We enjoyed wandering through the galleries, but I think I’d like to pay another visit before we leave so I can view the artwork without feeling like I’m walking in my own dream. It’s always amazing to see the original works that you’ve seen in countless books.

By now, hunger was setting in, and we needed to eat before we took posession of our apartment, so we stopped at a pub, The Princess of Wales, and ordered lunch. It was at this point that we learned most places in London won’t start serveing lunch until noon. It was 11:45 and we were too tired to argue so we ordered a drink and waited. The food was good, but the service appeared hungover from the previous night’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Jet lag LR Our flat is near the top of a small, widing staircase on a dead end street. I described it as “Spartan” in an email to our families yesterday and it still seems the appropriate word after a good night’s sleep. It’s small and not particularly well apointed. I feel like we’re portraying starving artists in a play. At the same time, we have everything we need and we’re not going to be here a lot. We ended up giving in to our wearinessand taking a nap in the afternoon, waking to the feeling that you’d just been hit by a large, red bus (see picture).

Big ben from royal festival hall 031809 LR The best part of our place is the location. We were only a five minute walk across the Thames to the Royal Festival Hall (where, from the balcony, I snapped the picture of Big Ben) where we witnessed Conductor Daniele Gatti’s farewell performance with the Royal Philharmonic (see clandestine picture, below, which I took from our seats during the ovation). The orchestra performed two symphonies: Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. It was an interesting contrast since these were the final symphonies of each composer’s life.

@ the royal philharmonic 031809 LR Wendy preferred Mozart with all of his complex, subtle tension. His symphony was meticulously controlled, but you could feel the major chords constantly threatened by a minor key menace. Knowing a bit about Mozart’s own tumultuous life, you can almost feel the dark cloud surrounding him. It was the shorter of the two pieces and it was one of three symphonies Mozart cranked out in a six week period at the end of his life. Listening to it, you’d have thought it was the crowing acheivement a man had spent his entire life composing – not something he quickly penned while he was in between some other compositions. Amazing.

Rph 031809 LR I preferred Beethoven, who is credited with moving music from a more steady classical form to the unbridled passion of romanticism. With his 9th symphony, Beethoven seems to push the passion to the Nth degree. The 9th symphony is bombastic, as if the composer was laying it all out on the table as he feels his life waning. When the 4th movement (where Beethoven introduces us to “Ode to Joy”) kicked into high gear with both the instruments of the philharmonic and the voices of the full London Symphony Chorus raising the roof, I was in tears. How incredible that Beethoven composed the piece completely deaf. He never heard a single note of his own masterpiece except in his own brilliant imagination.

London night-life was just getting started as we walked back to our flat, but we were too pooped to party. We grabbed a sandwich at Subway and went home to discuss our evening and get a good night’s sleep. Wendy is still sleeping. We had planned to head to the market this morning to get some essentials before catching a double-decker bus tour of London. But, who knows. We have nothing we have to do, and that’s a good feeling.

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