London stories: Hyde Park

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On my first weekend in London last summer, I visited Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

I had the best of intentions last summer when I returned from England to share my experiences in a series of posts I was going to call “London stories.”

I produced exactly one. And funny thing, it wasn’t even about London. It was about my day trip to Oxford, an hour outside the city, where I stumbled upon something called “Soapbox Science.”

Well, here goes Round 2. If I don’t give myself a kick in the arse, it’ll never get done. (Besides, this is a good way to start thinking ahead to July, when I’ll return to teach Media Literacy to a new group of students.)

So why not start with the same place where I literally began my visit last summer? That would be Hyde Park, a big and beautiful green space that I explored during my first weekend in the city.

If you’ve ever visited New York City’s Central Park, then you have an idea of Hyde Park. It’s a gathering place for Londoners of all ages and social classes — a living, breathing tapestry of people sharing a public space with room for everyone. With more than 600 acres of greenery, the park has multiple entrances and activities of all kinds.

On my Sunday afternoon visit, I saw skateboarders, bicyclists and joggers on the paved paths; tourists and residents out for a walk; young adults and couples sunning themselves or cooling off in the shade; families picnicking on blankets; and people of all kinds, in hijabs and baseball caps, renting canoes and paddle boats on a man-made lake. All of this, plus a view of central London in the distance, made for a very inviting, cosmopolitan feel.

I accessed the park from the south side, just across the street from the Royal Albert Hall, where Adele and The Beatles and so many other musicians have performed, and passed by the ostentatious Albert Memorial, named for Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband), right at the entrance.

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As I wandered through, I passed by a grassy area where performers with a Flying Trapeze School were giving lessons, and later spotted a huge sign listing live music and theater at the park. Paul Simon was scheduled that evening, a night after Bruno Mars and a week after Eric Clapton had performed. Damn!

For lack of time, I decided to forgo a visit to the far northeast corner of the park to see the famed Speakers’ Corner, where soapbox orators can pontificate to their heart’s delight. Instead I made my way to the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. It was the liveliest area of the park, with parents joining their children in an ankle-deep circular stream of cooling water.

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From there, I walked along the north perimeter of the park, adjacent to the trendy Notting Hill neighborhood, and headed for the western part of the park, known as Kensington Gardens.

If I didn’t know better, I would have thought I was still in Portland. Shaded trees, quiet paths shared by walkers and bicyclists, and a wonderfully relaxed vibe made me think of Laurelhurst Park in my own city. There are several markers and plaques describing the area’s history and wildlife, including foxes and Great Blue Herons, and I was pleasantly surprised by the park’s scenic lagoons.

Eventually, I made it to Kensington Palace in the southwest corner of the park. The elegant structure was the royal residence for nearly 150 years, from 1689 to 1837, before Buckingham Palace took over that role. Queen Victoria, the longest-serving British monarch during a 64-year reign that ended in 1901, was born here.

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Today it serves as the official residence of the young royals — William and Kate, Harry and Meghan. I balked at the admission price for a tour, especially as the day was winding down, and settled for a photo of the exterior.

I had begun the day by visiting two museums. After a long walk in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, I was more than ready to head home and rest my feet. But as I did, I felt I had treated myself to the best possible introduction to this amazing city.

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