Sunny all year round, truly!
26.07.2007 - 31.07.2007 24 °C
Arriving - 26 July 2007
While we were excited about our first flight in months we were even more thrilled to be arriving in London, and by London we mean the sheep paddock called Stansted Airport. The bus ride rocked us to sleep for almost 2 hours before we emerged at Baker Street in the pooring rain. Totally unphased we put on full mountain wet weather gear and strode off in search of the Queen.
Baker, Oxford, New Bond, Piccadilly, Pall Mall and The Mall are all far easier street names to navigate than the last 4 months. Ladden with our heavy burdens and convict pride we arrived at the gates of the 'Mother Ship', Buckingham Palace. The sun came out in time for us to enjoy the Queen Victoria memorial, a stroll through St James Park and visit the horse guard courtyard before synchronising our watches with Ben (the big one that is), and finally stopping to marvel at the London Eye.
Having ascertained which of the dozens of platforms at Waterloo Station was ours we rode to Walton-on-Thames and walked onto New Zealand Avenue. Greeted by our New Zealand friends the jokes regarding their street name quickly subsided to a warm welcome into their home where we would be based for the coming days.
Day One - 27 July 2007
Fully stocked up (finally) with Australia's finest condiment (we had to regain the rose in every cheek), our start and end point would be Waterloo Station. For today it was a long walk in the first sunshine locals had seen in weeks. Walking along the South Bank we came to Englands largest collection of Modern Art at the Tate Museum. As with all visits ever made to modern art collections, Camilla swears to never return with Steven in tow as the constant criticism and mumbling disturbs the other visitors and embarasses to no end. Vegimite was clearly the only thing that would placate Steve.
Tower Bridge, to our surprise was baby blue rather than red as we had thought for some reason, yet no less impressive. We enjoyed watching the red double decker buses and London cabs cross the small gap in the middle of the bridge where the Thames is winking up from below. Unfortunately, due to long queues we would miss the last Yeoman tour of the Tower of London so we admired the stronghold from outside instead and are determined to visit next time round.
A short stop on the steps of St Paul's cathedral was necessary after a quick peak inside, then down Fleet Street we went to Temple Church ( in Da Vinci Code) and most importantly to the birthplace of tea consumption, Twinnings first retail store. It is nice to be back in a civilised country where tea is cheaper and more readily available than coffee. One of our favourite places in London is Covent Garden with its myriad of entertainers, tea houses, pubs and quaint specialist toy shops. As if our legs weren't tired enough we bypassed the Royal Opera House before dashing to Leichester Square to find out what was on the stage in the West End tonight.
Camilla took substantial convincing before finally agreeing to go to Cabaret, what with all that unnecessary dancing, singing and over the top theatrics... promise. With some time to spare before curtain up we walked a big triangle through Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus both writhing with activity before stopping for take-away chinese outside the theatre. Whether it is our Aussie accents or broad smiles, we don't mind which, we were upgraded to our own private box, LUCKY!
Our boomerang tour for the day took us out of the theatre to Waterloo station via Big Ben where we checked we were still on time for the train. With the rain starting lightly there was a magic in the air as the lights of Westminster lit up the underneath of the clouds overhead. The buzz of the evening was drowned out only by Ben's chiming 11pm as we turned for the station.
Day 2 - 28 July - Back on a bike!
To be sure, the greatest consipiracy in history mandated by the Queen herself is that ALL BRITISH are to tell the rest of the world that England has miserable weather. For all the evidence we have on hand suggests that England is blessed with crisp sunny summer days (ignoring the recent devastating floods). To take full advantage of the day Sarah suggested a bike ride along the Thames river and received no opposition from us.
Past the Aston Martin dealership and through a small field we were gracefully bumping and jerking along the banks in no time. Our first stop was Hampton Court Palace to admire Henry VIII love pad and gardens then onto Bushy park to track deer to no avail. Onto Kingston for a picnic lunch next to the river using fresh local farmers produce.
On our return we stopped to eat wild blackberries, YUM! Sarah's second excellent suggestion for the day was to wash down the berries with a selection of England's finest beverages such as ales, ciders and wheat beer. It was a lazy afternoon affair with Prince Charles 'Dutchy's Original Organic Wheat Beer' and for Camilla a 'Hobgoblin Oak Matured Cider'. When Rob got home we left to Windsor Castle for dinner however unfortunately the Queen was not at home so instead we walked the streets of Windsor, visited Eton College and dined on fine Italian cuisine.
Day 3 - 29 July
Sunday morning in Walton on Thames reminded us of home with a full English breakfast. Thankfully we were full of beans as we assisted in stripping a one of Sarah's friends cars for spare parts. Sarah's Rover Metro now runs straighter with new tires and a shiny bonnet. We all headed to Hyde Park to start the afternoon in town and after a short stop at speakers corner we escaped the mad ranting of soapbox weilding shouters for Greenwich. With a pit stop at Canary Wharf for Tescos sandwiches we walked up the grassy hill and paid tribute to Captain Cook's statue before entering the observatory. In typical tourist fashion we stood on both sides of the world at once (0 to 360 degrees longditude) before marvelling at the original maritime time pieces such as the first timepieces and chronographs.
ROB AND SARAH ON THE LINE
It was ale o'clock so back on the tube to Soho we went in search of a 'dinky' English pub with traditional cask ales and cider. What a great end to a super day with friends.
Day 4 - 30 July
Changing of the Guard would today be our first tourist adventure. We made it just in time as the procession wound around Queen Victoria Memorial and behind the fence of Buckingham Palace. Having now witnessed a couple of Guard Changing ceremonies throughout Europe we feel confident in saying that this ceremony is a real treat to enjoy. The sunshine was out and we could feel the buzz move through the crowd as the masses gathered to listen to the band play.
We set a brisk pace to escape the now dispersing crowd across to Green Park Station and like lightening flashed across town to the British Museum. There were numerous displays which our appreciation of the artefacts and exhibits was substantially enhanced due to having recently visited many of the historical sites in Italy and Greece. After spending over an hour marvelling at the Egyptian collection of mummies and tomb treasures a trip to Egypt should be on the cards in the future certainly. Some of the collections in the Museum are outstanding and for one we are pleased to say we have seen first hand finds such as the Rosetta Stone which unlocked so much history for us all.
Now that we were completely saturated with information we felt the excitement of another West End production was in order to calm the nerves. Unfortunately Les Miserables was sold out save a few 'Restricted View' seats so we opted for the hilarious new Monty Python production 'Spamalot'. Given that we had a couple of hours up our sleeves we headed out to Notting Hill in order to take our first ride on a double decker bus and visit the famous Portabello Road markets. What fun it was to watch the city pass underneath and once we had arrived we found the town of Notting Hill charming. Sainsbury sandwiches, with a much needed enhancement of smoked salmon, was enjoyed on the bus ride back to West End. Spamalot proved even funnier than could possibly have been expected, such a laugh our sides split.
Day 5 - 31 July
As of yesterday Camilla has read the first two lines of the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, only making us more determined to find Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. Thankfully we were able to avoid suspicion when taking photos of blank walls between the platforms (we suspect we are not the first). Now hungry we made our way to the Natural History Museum and soaked up the sun with the locals whilst having a picnic lunch of Sainsbury's finest sandwiches (AGAIN) and toffy cookies. You can imagine how busy a sunny patch of grass outside a museum full of dinosaurs can get during the first week of school holidays.
As has been repeated a number of times by Steve's Mum, we have in our minds the fact that when he was a young boy he declared his undying love for all dinosaurs and wished to marry one if possible. Things turned out rather differently (lucky Camilla, or more so lucky Steve). At the sight of all the skeletons our imaginations were ignited as we dashed between huge femurs and sharp claws. Saving time in the day for the Science Museum required us to leave the Natural History Museum a bit prematurely yet we weren't dissappointed.
Amidst the extensive collections of world firsts in engineering and science were 1000's of detailed explanations regarding the birth of steam engines, ships, rockets etc. Everything that moves or beeps from X-Ray machines to rocket ships, industrial steam engines for mining, a dissected boeing 747 fuselage and an original WWII spitfire all within our reach ('please do not touch'). Camilla found the first ever electrocardiograph (ECG) particularly interesting and noted the few similarities with todays MUCH more advanced systems.
To top off a great day we were indulged by Sarah and Rob with a traditional British / New Zealand / Australian BBQ in their courtyard before poor Rob had to retire from the festivities to complete a uni assignment, ouch. We really have immensely enjoyed London and thoroughly appreciate Rob and Sarah's generosity and friendship. We look forward to returning the favour in Sydney soon.