Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Sunday, 09 April 2006

London, Day 1

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 23:30

I had to get up at five in the morning today to catch my plane, which was bad enough, But what worse was when I realized that due to the time difference, I had effectively gotten up at four – this day would in effect be one hour longer. Ouch.

I had realized yesterday evening that there would in fact be another group from University of Bonn presenting, from the Clausen group. And come as it may, I actually met the two of them while waiting for boarding. Bastian would be presenting the results of his thesis, about information retrieval for motion capture data, and Tido came along for emotional support. I wish I had had someone for support with me, but at least I would not be alone in representing University of Bonn now.

The flight to Stansted was uneventful if packed; Tido, Bastian and me split up at Liverpool Street station, and I proceeded to my accommodation – where of course I was told that check-in was not until two o’clock. But at least I could leave my luggage.

In search for breakfast, I went to Gloucester Rd, where I found Jakob’s cafe and deli, a very nice little cafe. It does not look like much from the outside, but the back room has a glass ceiling, so it is very light and airy. It would be perfect for reading and working, in fact, and one gentleman in the back room was doing exactly that. The ham and cheese sandwich I ordered was actually nothing like an English sandwich – it was made from flat bread, toasted, with an extra helping of tomatoes and a salad on the side, so it was more like a complete meal. The coffee was very strong, but good, and I can only recommend their organic carrot cake: a very nice blend of carrots, cinnamon and ginger, with fresh raped carrots and coconut on top. I do not think I will be allowed there again though: In my sleep-deprived stupor, I forgot to tip.

After I had replenished myself, I walked through Kensington Palace Garden to Notting Hill. I had been told to go to Notting Hill for breakfast and going out in the evening, so I wanted to scout around the area. The walk along Portobello Rd turned out to be unexpectedly long until I got to the market area, but I was surprised that so many stores were open on a Sunday – but nothing of enough interest to me to actually buy it unfortunately.

And while walking to Ladbroke Grove Station, something happened to me which is rather peculiar to me: I seem to have an unnatural propensity for having people ask me the way. It happens everywhere – be it London, Amsterdam or Z├╝rich, people stop me all the time and ask me the way. It happened to me four times today alone. Do I look so savvy and trustworthy? Do I look like a native everywhere I go? I don’t know.

After walking around in the vicinity of Notting Hill Gate for a while, I decided that there actually are not that many restaurants or pubs in this area, so I took the tube to Leicester Square – which turned out to be where it is really at. Just behind Leicester square is London’s chinatown, where you cannot throw the proverbial brick without hitting at least half a dozen Chinese restaurants. Behind that, you get into Soho, with lots of pubs and restaurants.

By now, the hotel check-in would be open, so I walked back to Leicester Square by way of Piccadilly Circus and took the Piccadilly line back to the hotel. Which was good, because there were delays on the Circle and District line due to a “signal failure".

On a related note, I think it is great that the tube lines all have names – I can already remember them now, whereas with numbered lines, I always get confused which one to take.

Oh, and in the tube station, I was asked to help carry a pram down the stairs, lots of “Thank you, mate” and “Now run away quickly in case there are any other stairs” – I guess I do have such a helpful air about me. So after checking into the hotel, which is in Beit Quadrangle, quite literally next door from Royal Albert Hall, I had a lie down for half an hour and proceeded to Science Museum, which is also just a stone’s throw from the hotel.

Admission to the Science Museum is actually free of charge, but they had a special treat for me: An exhibition of art from the Pixar studios, makers of movies like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles. They had concept art from most of Pixar’s movies and shorts, and were also screening their shorts on monitors. (You can see most of their shorts on their web site.) When seeing the final movie, one usually does not realize how much concept art precedes the making of such a movie, and that Pixar’s animators are all artists in their own right. And I guess it is true that one has to master the traditional arts before one can become a truly great animator – because one has to have the facility to actually see the finished movie before it is made, and to transform one’s ideas into a visual, two-dimensional rendition.

Dinner was at Thai Square on Exhibition Rd, after another two hour’s sleep, and the spicy lamb was very good. They also have a special kind of Thai iced tea with coconut milk, which one should try. and since the weather had turned rather ghastly, I concluded the evening with a pint of bitter at the local pub.

And, at the danger of being stoned for this remark by my English friends: English beer still tastes like horse’s piss. Hand pump or not. Give me a stout any day, but not again this stuff.

It is now half past eleven, and I am ready to go to bed – it has been a long day. And tomorrow will be a big day: My presentation at the conference itself.

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