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Trip Report TR: Solo in LONDON for ten days on unfinished business ...

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WHY: As always, pursuing those artistic, historical, and literary sites/venues that I missed on my previous four visits to London. In the past, I have always joined a tour after several days in a city. But on this trip I was solo for ten days - how many times can you see Stonehenge and Stratford, great as they are?

WHY NOT: Not interested in fine dining or shopping. In fact, I don't recall going into any stores. It was heaven. Suffice it to say, that after so many visits, I had "done" most of the "biggies" like the Tower, Westminster Abbey, Churchill War Rooms, the Eye, and the like. So I would be exploring less well known venues and parts of town.

WHEN & WHERE: Monday, June 16-Thursday, June 26

After a smooth VIRGIN ATLANTIC flight from Boston, with a shared transfer on HOTEL BY BUS, I arrived at the STRAND PALACE HOTEL about 11:30 and heard those sweet words, "Your room is ready." I know, I know, this is my third stay at the same hotel. Believe me, I investigated other lodgings in the Trafalgar Square/Westminster area but they were all much pricier. Tab roughly $270 per night with full breakfast in a super location. The Strand caters to solo travelers.

THE WEATHER: except for the first night, the weather was absolutely fabulous - sunny, low 70s with a very short sprinkle when returning from dinner one night. Most unusual, I know, but I really lucked out.

MONDAY, JUNE 16 - the first evening.

After sleeping for a few hours, I freshened up and headed a short distance to LSE (London School of Economics) for a public lecture which I had read about on one of the many sites listing "free public lectures in London." This was back in March. The subject was CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY by former LSE grad and French citizen Thomas Piketty - never heard of him, but that talk would do for convenience and a unique experience.

Soon I realized that this guy is HUGE! The book, widely reviewed and discussed, was on the nonfiction best seller list everywhere. Piketty, in his 40s, youngish and good looking, was attaining rock star status in the academia and the media. So what does he say in CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY? Basically that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer? Who knew? His subject is "inequality" which touches a nerve in many quarters.

The monumental study was undertaken with others, tracing the accumulation of wealth over the past two centuries in many countries in Europe and elsewhere using tax records and other data. Piketty maintains that the mid decades of 20th century prosperity during the 50-70s (I remember those "happy days") were an anomaly after the chaos of the two world wars. Whereas wealth in the old days (think Downton Abbey) was land-based and inherited, today's tycoons accumulate wealth through huge salaries and investment options. He stops there - not offering a solution, merely describing the situation. Here he is with Jeremy Paxman, British talk show guru - if you are still with me.

In early May, the LSE website announced that since interest in Piketty's visit was so high, one would need a ticket (free, of course) to attend. Students and faculty would be given first dibs, fair enough. I did not get a ticket but decided stroll over to the old Peacock Theater on campus and see what was happening that night. An hour before the event, hundreds of lucky ticket holders were queuing, holding their precious tickets in hand.

I joined a second line for those hoping to gain entry if seats were available just before the event. And still they came. I chatted with a interesting gal who worked in the City. Her daughter, an Oxford student, had a ticket so Mum hoped to join her. It was really damp and miserable (the sun would appear the next day and remain for the duration :) ), but I decided to tough it out with her. What impressed me was the earnestness of these young international students who were really thrilled to hear this guy.

Amazingly, this woman and I were admitted at the last moment and heard the whole talk. Piketty is charming but difficult to follow with his French accent when he talks quickly. He was clearer in the Q & A because he took his time when answering.

Leaving the theater, I picked up a sandwich "take away," and headed back to the Strand to rest up for the ten days ahead. It was great to be back in London...

Tomorrow: the SILVER VAULTS (and the family jewels), DR. JOHNSON'S HOUSE, MANSION HOUSE, and a THAMES PUB CRAWL

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