Tate-ing and London’s public transportation

There are a lot of small differences between England and America. One thing I’ve been shocked about is that you don’t have the freedom to put your own milk in the tea or coffee that you order. But what if I want cream or skim milk…or half and half…? You either order it ‘white’ or ‘black’ no if buts whys hows whens about it. The first time I encountered this it took me by surprise. For the first time in my life I was bad at ordering coffee.

There is a remarkable public transportation system in London. I’ve been taking the underground, the tube, everywhere. Every central station has a jenga-stack of lines that are stories and stories below ground. You can shoot all across the city in a flash. At each station you have to wait 3 minutes (at most) for a train. Why drive! Then above ground, if you want to see the sights there are busses on busses. In central London, there is at least one bus per block at all times. London’s made the buses iconic and stylish. It’s cool to ride them…unlike the buses in the U.S.

Right now it seems like London has a pretty good handle on its water management and flood control. However, should water get passed the barrier at the mouth of the Thames and creep into the river-side stations, I fear that the slick tubular tracks of the underground will look more like sewers than transportation stations. The lines are sometimes so far underground that it would be a disaster to try to dry them out and get them up and running again. The underground lines are London’s arteries. They keep people moving and keep the city pumping. The tube has a daily ridership of about 3.5 million people. The city would shut down without it.

In addition, London’s public transportation is really getting it going with bike shares and water buses. Dotted all over the city are bike hubs where you can take a bike for a pound or two (2 or 3 dollars) and drop it off at another bike station. You are charged a little extra if you take more than 30 minutes…and what happens if you get to a station and there are no open parking spaces? Nevertheless, it’s a good thing to try and it seems like it is going well. The Thames has really funky, nicely designed docks for the water bus that runs up and down the river. It’s a very convenient method of transportation for tourists and residents alike. Great views!

Water bus station.
Water bus station.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at the Tate Britain. I went to go see a painting exhibition, a retrospective of L.S. Lowry. Lowry was an English artist who portrayed the industrial landscape of North West Britain. For 40 years he painted urban landscapes and the life of its working class. His work shows men coming and going through factory gates, gathering around a street fight, or rushing to the ‘football’ pitch. I was pretty struck by the exhibit, his paintings told stories. Together, they tell us about a bygone era in England’s history. Between 1920 and 1950, Lowry left a descriptive record of life between the world wars that is even more accessible than any George Orwell book or history text.

I then walked around the museum and sketched this. The whole time I was drawing I hoped that I won’t have to do something similar in India.

An Athlete Wrestling a Python by Lord Leighton.
An Athlete Wrestling a Python by Lord Leighton.

My other favorite pieces in the Tate involved elephants. The first was a big room with two screens and on the screens were projections of an elephant in that very same room. I turned the corner and saw an elephant unexpectedly so honestly at first I was pretty scared, especially since I was the only person in the room. Then there was this sculpture made out of old car doors. I dig sculptures made out of re-used materials.

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Eurostar to Brussels tomorrow. Netherlands on Thursday! More drawings to come soon.

Thames Barrier

In 1951, the east coast of England was hit with a flood; 300  lost their lives. If the water reached all the way into central London, the death toll could have been a lot worse. The 1951 flood and the prospect of further damage triggered the British Government to restructure the city’s flood defenses. In 1966, Sir Herman Bondi did an investigation and reported that raising the bank together with a flood barrier with movable gates would fulfill London’s needs. Parliament passed the legislation in the Thames Barrier Flood Prevention Act of 1971. A year later the banks were raised and in 1982 the construction of the barrier was complete. To this day, there have been no floods in London.

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The Barrier was designed by Charles Draper who got the idea of ‘rising sector gates’ from the shape of a gas tap. Building such a complicated structure required a lot of very technical engineering. One method they used to build a foundation into the riverbed is called a ‘Cofferdam.’ A Cofferdam is a watertight steel box, formed using steel pipes sunk into the river bed. ‘Tremie’ pipes were used to feed the concrete into an excavated space under the river. Concrete sets underwater forming a water-tight seal, then the water is pumped out. The Romans used the same method.

Seventy-five percent of the project was financed by the central government funding while the rest was provided by the local government. It cost 535 million pounds in 1980. The cost to build it today would be on the order of 1.7 billion pounds. The upkeep of it costs 8 million pounds, then there is the need for capital improvements which cost another 10 million pounds a year.

An individual gate can be closed in 10 to 15 minutes but closing the whole barrier for takes up to 90 minutes. The gates need to  be opened from the bottom so that the water level is even upstream and downstream of the Barrier.

The river front where the Barrier is has a rich history. In 1512 Henry VIII established his Royal Dockyards near there, where his flagship Henry Grace-a-Dieu was built. It was a massive ship for its time and was commonly called Great Harry. HMS Beagle on which Charles Darwin conducted his scientific studies was built there in 1820.

London mischief

My biggest challenge (by far) on this trip has been looking the right direction when crossing the road.

I’m living right down the street from my kindergarden, so walking past it I remembered a lesson from all those years ago. Stop, look both ways, and cross when it’s safe. Getting smushed by a double decker bus isn’t on my top ten list of ways to go.

This morning, I went out to get a tea. I took the Clark’s dog, Millie, with me so I could appear more local than I felt, especially since I was wearing my Tevas. Walking around Notting Hill on a saturday morning made me feel just like Hugh Grant. My wandering brought me to Portabello Market, one of the most popular saturday street markets in the world. Millie and I were a great team, she was a total magnet of attention. Then, she decided to pee terrifying close to a woman’s nice shoes, started barking ferociously at street actors that were ‘headless’, and finally took a big poo in the street. I knew you were supposed to bring a doo doo bag when walking around London to clean up after your dog, but all I could find in the kitchen was a zip-lock bag so I ended up walking down the busy market with a sandwich bag filled with dog poop. Nice. Millie is all tuckered out and sleeping on the floor next to me.


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting a British film director named Adam Smith. He took me out for a coffee in a swanky hole-in-the-wall (#onlyinSoho) coffee shop. I had met him 18 years ago when he did the light show at my Dad’s 50th birthday party…so it was great to catch up. He was really excited about what I had planned for the year and said to get a lot of footage of what I’m doing because I’ll appreciate having it later down the road. He was very soft-spoken gentle speaker but clearly was a brilliant, creative guy so he was interesting to listen to. One is the most memorable parts of our coffee get together was his description of the roads in India, how they are a symphony of interwoven bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, and animals that has no rules yet works flawlessly.

Here is one of his films (10 minutes long–but well worth it. It has a James Bond meets Blow meets Cohen Brothers vibe). Booya. Lana Del Rey wrote a song specifically for this, so you know its a keeper.

On Thursday, I hiked London’s riverfront from Parliament to the Tate Modern. It was remarkable how much tide and current changes the character of the river throughout the day. There were giant barges sitting in the mud in the morning that were floating in deep water by the afternoon. You could really see the thrust of the current, too. I immediately noticed how much London activates it’s riverfront. There are swamped, crowded patches of tourists, then pleasant stretches of benches and trees, then markets and so on. There are government offices, museums, cathedrals, markets, banks, and homes–thats why the government decided to protect London in the mid 70s.

The two things the government did was border the Thames is bordered with a 12-15 foot tall embankment throughout London. The city is literally giving the water lots of room to rise and fall with the oscillations of the tides. Closer to the estuary, where the salt water of the North Sea meets the River water, London built the Thames Barrier, a marvel of engineering that spans over a quarter of a mile across the river. It is the second largest flood barrier in the world that boats can pass through. I am going to dedicate a new post solely to my drawing of, and information related to, the Thames Barrier.


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iPad finger art

I drew that on the plane using an app called pages.

Departing Logan, the plane had a great fly-by past my New England home. As the sun was setting, I got my last glimpses of U.S. soil for the year. Specifically, I got a direct view of Boston, Portland, and Brunswick before we banked right and headed across the Atlantic. It was a great way to say goodbye.

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3 hours later, the sun rose again.

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Funnily enough I sat next to a 26 year old woman who had also grown up in London for 10 years. She moved back to the U.S. when she was 16 and has dual-citizenship so she has a better claim to British heritage than I have. Better yet she alternated between speaking a word with a British accent then a word with a Boston accent. I had to focus pretty hard to keep up. We had a nice chat over Virgin Atlantic’s penne pasta pick-me-up.

Heres a view of South London as we were circling around preparing for landing. You can just barely see the city-scape and the Thames at the top of the picture.

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I took the underground (tube) into central London from the airport. The front page of the Metro daily newspaper was a massive cover photo of the royal couple with their new baby. Imagine coming into existence and growing up to be told that you are the prince of England! I’m not sure I’d like it. But this unnamed young man is surely the hot news of London town.

London Bound

I had a fantastic last couple days in Hanover, NH. I got to see some old Bowdoin friends and had a marvelous final dinner with my Mom. Thanks Ma! I said goodbye to my Dad yesterday when he left  for Ireland to do some market research for his green energy venture. For the next week I’m spending some time in London, looking at the Thames barrier which regulates the water levels coming up the river that bisects London. It should be great to re-visit my childhood home.

I want to share some final words that my friend Kelsey Aaron Cole left me. Kelsey, just like the Boy Named Sue is totally tough as nails. He recruited me to play rugby for Bowdoin and he was probably the second best president the club has ever had. Heres what he told me:

Some tips for traveling abroad–

1. Being jacked in America doesn’t mean anything. Your strength is instantly cut by more than half– you’ll only be able to lift like 1 european pound for every 2.2 American pounds. Small things will be a struggle–always make sure to use a cart whilst grocery shopping.

2. Watch out for Albanians who offer you free rides/cool stuff.

3. You already do weird stuff with your hair/wear skinny jeans, so you’ll fit right in with Eurobros.

4. People love learning about America and how much freedom we have. Talk about it all the time.

5. Are you more of a Mary, Edith, or Sybil guy? Decide now, just in case.

Number 5 is a Downton Abbey reference. Sybil is the obvious choice:


Next post will be about the Thames Barrier. Talk to you soon!

Honey Tzatziki

Jerome and Nadine are a European couple who stopped by my home in Hanover, NH on their way north to Canada to WWOOF and generally explore Canada and northern New England. They each have had a lot of experience backpacking around the world, so it turned out to be a completely fortuitous opportunity to have some “pros” check out what I’m taking and give me some advice about country-hopping across the world.

Their best advice was getting a sleeping sheet to replace or complement my sleeping bag. Just about everywhere I’m going is too hot for my 18degree bag. Next, they explained the superiority of wool vs. cotton socks: no blisters and no stink! They told me that only I will really know what I need to take and ultimately they encouraged me to live simply, that less is more.

Jerome and Nadine told me about some of the most common pick-pocket tricks the local kids use on tourists:

Mustard Mayhem: When you have your backpack on your back and your daypack on your front walking through a city, someone will spill a substance like mustard or soda on you. As you take your day bag off and place it on the ground while you clean up the spill, someone will be half way across the city with what you just put down before you even notice. They said just try to ignore anybody’s attempt to distract you in a crowded area.

I’m lucky I don’t have the added burden of worrying about sexual harassment. Im sure its a concern that many young women deal with when traveling alone. In the circumstance that someone does try to come onto me, I hear it’s best to pretend you’re married or a fiancé back home…any takers?

In return for their advice and words of wisdom, I showed them around Hanover. I took them for a swim in the Connecticut River and to the farmer’s market on the Dartmouth Green. We picked up some fresh vegetables to grill alongside good old fashioned American hamburgers (which I learned actually originated in Hamburg, Germany–where Nadine went to school– a place I plan on visiting this fall).

I went off to the store to pick up some greek yogurt for the tzatziki that Jerome was planning on making and to pick up some good local beer to disprove their conception that Americans only drink bud-light. I’m not a frequent purchaser of greek yogurt so I accidentally grabbed the honey flavor off the shelf…the tzatziki had a honey-sweet taste when you first tried it but then after four seconds would smack you across the face with the strong wave of garlic. It was like the chewing gum that changes flavor on you as you go! It was an incredible mistake if I say so myself, a mistake that forever redefined the taste potential of tzatziki.

As I got talking to Nadine, it turned out she had done a lot of work with environmental and climate issues back in Germany. She left me with plenty of websites to search through and a few people to try to contact all related to my project. It was re-assuring to meet awesome people who have spent a considerable amount of time traveling.

Five days until I depart.

Captain Planet

I find packing tough. I always take too much or forget something crucial, like underwear.

What do you pack for a year away in eight different countries? It’s hard to know. I will probably spend the next week working it out. Two shirts are certainly coming along; they have been around for almost 4 years now, acquired during my days at Milton Academy.

The first shirt features Captain Planet, the superhero from an early 90s TV show Captain Planet and the Planeteers. The group defends planet earth from disasters and educates humanity about these catastrophes along the way. The shirt was given to members of the Lorax Board, Milton’s student environmental group. Captain planet uses his strength, power, and dashing good looks to protect Earth. I will feel his influence when he’s on my back. Remember, the power is yours!

(see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpXM9bj-WPU)

The second shirt was given to me as a  graduation gift from Mr. Bingham, my Advanced Environmental Science teacher at Milton.

My best memory of that class is from senior dog day–yes, the day all the seniors bring their dogs to school. My 1 year old golden retriever, Ollie acted the opposite of the ideal canine student. While all the other dogs sat attentively and listened to Mr. Bingham discuss thermohaline circulation, Ollie decided he’d have more fun mindlessly running around the Harkness table in circles, knocking over water bottles, breaking beakers, and spilling chocolate milk on some poor girl’s white pants. He consequently lost the respect of all other dogs in the class and all members of the Milton community. To this day, my friends think he’s the worst dog ever. But I still love him, always will.

Throughout the year, I worked just a little harder than Ollie did that day.

The shirts Mr. Bingham gave us show the planet in pieces, it’s screws are loose. Idling next to Earth is a screwdriver. In class Mr. Bingham introduced us to the planet’s natural systems and informed us that anthropogenic forces are knocking the planet out of equilibrium.

On graduation day he gave the class these shirts with the shattered planet and encouraged us to go out and fix it.

In my bag.
In my bag.