We arrived in London on time at 5.15 am on last Friday morning after a good flight from Melbourne. The benefit of a free trip using frequent flyer points is that you get to see more scenery on the long way around. Our first sector from Melbourne to Hong Kong was getting long & tedious by the time that we got there and we only had a very short stop before continuing on a direct flight to London. This part of the trip seemed to go very quickly, perhaps because we were able to get 7 or 8 hours sleep and arrive in a reasonable state.
It took a while to collect our bags in London but we were through immigration quickly and exited through customs via the green channel without seeing a soul. We found our way quickly to the London Express train and it only took a few minutes before a train arrived at the platform. It seemed quite bizarre that as we were standing on the platform, my phone rang and I took a call from my stockbroker with an investment suggestion for the day. Just another activity in the day of a world traveler! (More like the wonders of modern phone diversion technology).
We caught the relatively new express train to London and had it almost all to ourselves. We were able to catch up on the news and weather on the TV although the train only took 15 minutes to get to Paddington Station. Like other London main line stations it is a vast structure with a curved steel roof built to provide ventilation for the original steam trains. We arrived too early for there to be many other people around and the temperature at that time of the morning was crisp enough to be refreshing after such a long trip confined to planes and airports.
We reached our hotel by Hyde Park by about 7 am. Fortunately, they had a room available and we were able to check in and unpack and have a shower after over 24 hours of travel. We were feeling well enough to hit the road and headed into the city to exchange some vouchers for some tickets. In fact, we spent most of this first day looking around.
We started with a walk along Hyde Park from our hotel which is near Kensington Palace. It was a lovely sunny spring morning with daffodils & other spring bulbs flowering in patches in the grass. There were some magnificent beds of tulips interspersed with other flowers near Hyde Park corner. We found the new Australian war memorial and reflected on all the place names from which men & women had come from to serve – Eaglemont to Seven Mile Creek. It was a little eerie to be also looking at the names of the places where these people had fought and which we will see later in our trip – Fromelle, Amiens etc – all so far away on the other side of the world.
We caught the tube to Piccadilly Circus and found the visitor center to exchange our vouchers and then spent a few hours exploring before returning to our hotel ready to crash.
Too tired to walk any where else, we decided to eat at the hotel. What an experience! It was just like being on the set of Faulty Towers except that ‘Manuel’ was actually Pedro and the Philippines Manager did a good impersonation of Basil Fawlty. We waited 12 minutes to be seated while the staff entered other orders and bills into their computer, all the time arguing between themselves as to who had priority. Finally we reached our table and ordered. The waitress complained when we asked for a menu and our wine arrived half way through the main course (and it was not what we had ordered). Believe it or not, we went back another night as it was raining and too wet to walk outside.
On our second day we caught a boat down the Thames to Greenwich and had a great look around the Maritime Museum and the observatory. I’m not sure whether the highlight of the day was seeing Nelson’s uniform. Complete with bullet hole and blood stains, or the death defying act of crossing the road to get there. Actually, it was really being able to see those wonderful clocks made by Harrison in the 1700’s in an attempt to solve the problem of accurately determining longitude.
Back to London on the Docklands light rail. Jill was delighted to have traveled through the Canary Wharf area where some of her favorite show ‘The Bill ‘ is filmed. It looked to be a rather ordinary place to me, but Jill was impressed.
On Sunday we did two remarkable things – we went to the Tower of London and at the same time, braved the crowds of the London Marathon. It wouldn’t have mattered where we went that day as the race went through most of the tourist areas from Greenwich to Buckingham Palace. We had great difficulty in getting across to the right side of the road from Tower Bridge and back again to the entrance to the Tower. Thank goodness for a considerate policeman who let us use an underpass that had been closed off. (I think that we will also be in Monte Carlo at the same time as the Grand Prix, but by then we should be very adept at ducking & weaving in the crowds! )
I have decided that the English were very good at knocking off people True to their belief in people having different ranks in society, they just did it in different places . They certainly had lots of practice at the Tower. I guess that you have to blame the Spanish for the loss of Nelson, but its just as well that he didn’t end up at the Tower like those other nobles who were either imprisoned or beheaded. Any way the crown jewels are quite spectacular.
So is the National Gallery. What a wonderful collection of masterpieces. They range from Raphael to Van Gough. We could have spent all day there but it really became time to brave the Marathon crowds again and head to Kensington Palace – our last stop for the day. Jill tells me that I spend too much time sitting on the throne but this is the first time that I have really been inside a palace. They had an incredible display of Royal clothing including those appropriate to the court of George II as well as some beautiful dresses worn by the Queen and Princess Di. The royal apartments used by the Royals around the time of George 3rd were open and as expected were quite grand. (After that I think that they moved their residence to Buckingham Palace). I couldn’t see any bathrooms however so I came to the conclusion that whilst the ceilings at the palace were very beautiful, our hotel room was looking better for the night. We were getting cold after being out in the rain all day so we walked back across the park to the hotel and a stiff drink before facing Manuel in the restaurant again. (Where’s the executioner when they are really needed)?
Monday saw us heading off to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We followed our usual way of travel to the city by catching the Circle Line train from South Kensington High Street, this time to St James’s Park. We had a walk through the park on the way and reached the Palace a good hour before the big event, therefore we had a good position right by the fence.
I can’t remember which of the regiments is which but the old guard had three buttons on their tunic and the new guard had single buttons on theirs. The old soldier in me appreciated the sharpness cf the drill and the overall presentation. The Poms certainly know how to put on a good show of pomp & ceremony.
From there we walked around to the Royal Mews – a great place if you are a ‘horsey’ person. Lots of horse smells but some very fine coaches – even one from Australia. It was very regal; not just your polished up Cobb & Co model from the last John Waters and Sigrid Thornton tele-series.
From there we went on to Westminster Abbey. I am still to see some of the European churches, but this one appears to me to be quite grand. Apart from the fact that you can’t see from one end to the other, it has some seriously old history with the graves of Henry 8th & Elizabeth 1st. Jill was not impressed with the artificial flowers in the Nave and the dust on all the memorials. She would be just as likely to organise a working bee to clean the memorials and a flower roster to ensure fresh flowers each week.
Last stop for the day was the underground Cabinet War Rooms at Whitehall. These are furnished exactly as they were during WWII when they were used as the command center by Churchill. Some of the rooms (mostly the personal bed rooms) have been refurnished from photographs but the working rooms such as the cabinet and map rooms were simply left as they were when the war ended. It seems strange that this would be the case especially after being used for six years but I guess that simply turning out the lights and going home was the natural thing to do at the end of the war.
We concluded the day with a nice meal at a restaurant on the High Street and then back to the hotel to wash out some knickers and socks.
Today, Tuesday is our last day in London. We used it to catch up with a number of outstanding things – visiting St Paul’s, walking along Fleet St and then up through Covent Garden to Oxford St and then off to Harrods.
St Paul’s is a spectacular building. It is currently in the middle of a five year plan to clean the both the interior and exterior so we had to look at some of it through scaffolding. Never the less it is an impressive place.
It seems that London is full of surprises. Up one little lane we found Dr Samuel Johnston’s house. He was the first person to write a dictionary. There is hardly a straight wall or window in the building, but it looks pretty good. It’s just hard to find the right words to describe this place – perhaps I need a dictionary! Next door was a small pub with a sign that said ‘Rebuilt in 1672’. That’s not bad – it’s into its second life about 100 years before Captain Cook discovered Australia.
I must say that Harrods is a remarkable store. In the same place as one can buy a Cartier watch, one can also buy a side of lamb. The £5.95 exercise books in the stationery department provided good value for money, having pre-ruled margins on every page.
We were back to our hotel early today as Jill wasn’t feeling too well. She has gone to bed for a nap as I finish this. I hope that she is OK tomorrow as we have a morning flight to catch to Frankfurt.