Racing along to Avignon on the TGV from Lille. Time to sum up London. It is not really fair to relate London to an Australian city, London is so much older than any European settlement on the antipodean continent. However, my mind was always taken back to Melbourne and that’s a positive comparison for me.
We landed at Heathrow in a pre-dawn fog and made our way quickly through dingy Terminal 4 to catch the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. Stepping out on to the station platform aPaddington was like being transported back into the Victorian Era, as seen in pictures, books and movies. Dark, grimy, yet grand.
Then came our first taste of the London Underground, the “Tube”. We had no problems using the system, although crossing between platforms often involved climbing many stairs.
Our hotel was located down Cromwell Road in the South Kensington area. Despite the 7am arrival the hotel allowed us to check into our room. The room was narrow, but full featured with colourful decor. There was even Internet access through the TV, ethernet and wireless. Unfortunately, I had misplaced my USB mini-A plug, he most difficult type to find! No ethernet access unti it is replaced.
We showered, then collapsed, asleep, for the next three and a half hours. Refreshed, we then set about exploring the great city. First was a tube ride to Wesminister to admire the Parliament House and Big Ben. Photographs cannot do justice to the grandeur of this building. We then crossed Westminster bridge to the South Bank of the Thames. From there we walked the southbank all the way to the Tower Bridge, stopping at the Tate Modern to admire the visual trickery of the kinetic sculptires. Lunch was noodles at Wagamama. [he British have a pretty poor reputation for their cuisine and, coming from Australia, we felt no compulsion to search out particular foods.
Tower Bridge is another impressive piece or architecture and it lead us across to the Tower of London. It was about 4pm and contrary to expections, there were no queues to enter the Tower. The tickets are expensive, but the Tower is interesting, especially the armoury and Crown Jewels. Of particular note was the quantity of exquisitely designed gold tableware for serving salt. According to one of the staff, the ability for a noble at the royal table to reach the salt was a symbol of importance.
With dusk falling, we made our way up to the Tottenham Court tube station to search for the mini-A USB cable. No luck, so we walked down Charing Cross road towards Covent Garden and a meeting with a childhood friend from Melbourne.
The whole area is brightly lit up by the signs for the theatres and shows, making it well worth a nighttime stroll. We followed Lilla, who had followed her classical dreams and got herself a temporary working visa in Britain, employed by a music and performance agency in the capital. After (non-alcoholic) drinks at a pub and a shared pizza, we wandered down to Trafalger Square and then on to Waterloo, with a beautiful nighttime view of London as we crossed the Thames. From there is was back to he hotel and another long sleep.
After eating a big “continental” style breakfast at the hotel, we hung around until 10:30, checking emails and resting. Then it was off to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. The new guard, including soldiers mounted on black steeds, round the monument in front of the palace and enter throughone of the gates. There was too large a crowd to be able to watch the entire ceremony, but we could hear that it involved the military band playing music for the entertainment of the onlookers.
From Buckingham Palace we walked alongside the Mall through St James Park. The park was full of pigeons, ducks, geese,… and squirrels! It was the first time that either of us had seen he little animals and yes, they are very cute.
The Mall leads into the centre of the city through the Admiralty Gate. We were back at Trafalger Square again! Both of us are used to reading everyday on our way to work and I think we missed our books, so we poppedinto a bookstore for some novels. From nearby Charing Cross station, we caught a train back up to Tottenham Court Station, from where we walked to Denmark Street. This is known for its music tores. Surprisingly, I only found one book of sheet music from the movies that was not easily available at Dymocks in Sydney. Very disappointing.
Another tube ride and we were at St Pauls Cathedral. St Pauls was as magnificent internally as any other cathedral that we had yet seen in Europe. Yet it was also different with its ornately tiled ceilings. We climbed up to the second level of the dome, pausing to listen to the amazing acoustics of the whispering dome. That was sore legs for us that day!
After St Pauls we decided to do another touristy thing and visit Harrods. The sumpteous interior and unobtainable clotheing, jewellry and furniture make it well worth a look in. Unfortunately, it took us so long to escape from there that we ran out of time to see any of the nearby museums (Natural History Science, Victoria and Albert). Walking past the on our way back to the hotel it was difficult not to feel exteremely disappointed that we could not see inside their grand exteriors.
Dinner was a shared plate of that English staple: fish and chips (*yawn*). B was still hungry, so we picked up a quarter of absolutely delcious Thyme and Sage roasted chicken and a fruit salad from a local supermarket. After finishing this off in our room it was time for one last sleep in the UK.
I have to say tat I enjoyed London. It doesn’t have the same atmosphere as Paris, but it still has something of an intellectual air and many sights to see. Yes, I could definitely visit London again.