Monday, February 6, 2012

Damien Hirst Spot Challenge: I love London

I've just had the best day in London, and I can't wait to come back to this amazing city for an extended stay to enjoy all of the sights and delights it has to offer. 

But getting here was a bit of hell.  I'd arrived at Hong Kong airport on Sunday morning expecting to board an Air New Zealand flight to London, scheduled to arrive LHR at 2 in the afternoon that Sunday.  (tip for world challengers -- if you keep flying west, you will generally land on the same day you leave.  If you fly east you will lose days.)  That would give me an afternoon at leisure, followed by collecting the spots at the Davies Street gallery on Monday and the Britannia Street gallery on Tuesday before I headed for Paris.  I'd seen the CNN reports of the bad weather, and the airport reported that my flight was "delayed," but I thought I had that time cushion so I wasn't too concerned if I arrived a little later on Sunday.  When I got to the airport, I found out the flight was delayed 24 hours.  In the U.S., we call that "cancelled." 

I was worried that the flight the next day would also be delayed or permanently cancelled.  So I called my dear friend, who gave me "friends and family passes" for the trans-oceanic flights on this journey (except for HKG - LHR), and he gave me another option:  fly to Chicago and then from there try to get on a London flight or, if Heathrow was still closed, fly to Paris instead and mix up my planned itinerary a bit.  Another airline friend of mine told me to stick it out for a day, but I decided to go with the Chicago option.  If I stayed another night in Hong Kong (at my own expense because it wasn't the airline's fault), I wouldn't arrive in London until Monday afternoon, which would create a challenge to get both spots and move on to my next destination.  The Chicago option would get me into London at 6am on Monday, which would get me more or less back on track.  So I boarded the flight to Chicago.  Luckily I got business class again, as it was a 13 3/4 hour flight.  The dessert they served at dinner once again reminded me of my spot quest.

Long story short, by the time I got to Chicago, planes were once again landing in London so I hopped on the next flight (8 1/4 hours) -- in coach which I was happy to get -- and I arrived in London at 6am this morning (Monday).  My hotel had held my room for me so I was able to check in and freshen and rest up a bit before I set out for the Davies Street gallery.  I haven't been to London for many years, and today I was reminded how utterly wonderful this city is. 

The Davies Street gallery is in the ultra-high rent district of Mayfair, around the corner from Claridge's Hotel, where, coincidentally, I am staying -- not!  This Gagosian is tiny, as if to match the tiny spot paintings that are displayed in a single line through the single rectangular room.  Quite a few of these works contain only one spot, or even a partial one.  The host was most gracious in greeting me and presenting the program, and even took my picture after a friendly young lady checked my i.d. and spotted me.  Indeed, my experience with the Gagosian gallery staff has been not exactly what I expected.  I expected professional, cordial, but cool even aloof.  Many have been just the opposite -- quite friendly and even warm.  It's been a very nice welcome for this challenger.

For those of you coming to London, the Davies Street gallery is very easy to locate -- take the Central Line to the Bond Street exit.  As you exit the Underground, you'll see Davies Street to your right.  Walk down past Claridge's Hotel (which you'll see on the left) and the gallery is on the right side.

Since I'm leaving from St. Pancras Station tomorrow for Paris, and the London subway system is so easy to navigate and you can buy a one-day pass for 7 pounds, I decided to head up to King's Cross to scout out where the Britannia Street gallery was, as I didn't have too much time between the 10am gallery opening time and the 11:30 departure of my train to Paris, and I didn't want to panic tomorrow if I couldn't find the gallery.  Boy was I glad I did.  It took me forever to find the gallery, and it's wet and sloshy everywhere in this area -- there's a lot of construction going on.  I thought, geez I would have been mad schlepping my carry on bag trying to find this gallery!  It's right there, but the area has so many little streets that go every which way that I couldn't find it, till I stopped a kindly Londoner and he pointed on my map where exactly we were and where I had to go to find the gallery.  I finally found Britannia Street, a nondescript little street with nothing you'd be drawn to.  I won't try to describe how to find it, as it's on the standard tourist map and I'll probably make things worse by trying to.

And I nearly walked past the gallery before I realized I was there.

I was amazed to find that the gallery was open!  I thought that it was only open Tues - Sat, but they said for this exhibition they were also open on Mondays.  I couldn't believe my stroke of luck -- a day and a half earlier in Hong Kong I thought I might not make it; now I was ahead of schedule.  This gallery is much larger than Davies Street and has the very interesting spot painting that I've seen other challengers pose in front of, as did I.  Once again the gallery staff were great and this whole thing is getting more and more fun.

Thus, by about noon, I had conquered the London spots!  I walked over to St. Pancras and rebooked my train ticket to a morning train that gets me into Paris before noon, so  (hopefully) I'll have a stress free day there and collect my Paris spot before I head to Geneva on a TGV express train that gets me there in 3 hours by dinner time tomorrow.  And I had the rest of the day to be a genuine tourist in this great city and I really enjoyed it.  The journey continues and continues to get better.