It’s been a few weeks since we visited the marvelous city of London, England. Nick has been hassling me to write this for a couple of weeks now, but let’s just say, I had writer’s block already.
Let me begin with a famous poem, about this wonderful city:
Upon Westminster Bridge – William Wordsworth
Sept. 3, 1802
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
It is hard to explain the pull I have always had to London. Being raised in a fledgling Commonwealth country, it has always been the dream to visit the ‘Mother Country,’ and I had always planned to do my big ‘OE’ to London after Perth. A certain Sergeant Rice got in the way of that – but at least he came with me for my introduction to London. I had hoped, with all desperation, that I would hate the place, so that I wouldn’t think twice about it. Sadly, it wasn’t the case. London is my favourite place – in the world – to date.
Wordsworth seems encapsulated with the city in his words above, as was I. There’s a certain majestic quality to it. Would an American feel the same way? I’m not sure. As a law student we had to study for an entire year the history of the common law and equity, which engrained in me a fascination of the streets that those men had walked before. I did look out for the ‘Clapham omnibus’ that ‘the reasonable man’ would ride, alas, I did not catch such a sight. Enough – I digress.
Our journey started on a mild Friday morning. We left at 3am to make our 6am Ryan Air flight. As it was our first experience with Ryan Air, we were a little nervous, but there was nothing to worry about. The flight was on time and we arrived into a dreary, wet London morning. I expected no less!
We caught the Stansted Express (which ended up being late due to track issues, much to the distain of the men in grey and black suits and ties, who made audible disapproving sounds and quickly got on the old ‘dog and bone’ (phone) to their offices) into Liverpool station. From there we purchased an all day ticket for the tube (underground train) and all transportation networks within zones 1 & 2. This pretty much covered the entire tourist area of London. The tube was easy to navigate, despite ending up in loops sometimes in the stations.
[London businessmen on the tube. The one on the right catching up on the daily news on the way into the office]
We only had 36 hours, so we didn’t bother taking a rest or a nap. We headed first to Buckingham Palace as soon as we arrived at St James Park station – via Starbucks. It only took a few moments to pick up the tickets for our tour later in the day, so we took off on foot to sight see around Buckingham Palace, St James Park, the Royal Cavalry House, Westminster, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
I tried to catch a sight of 10 Downing Street (the residence of the British Prime Minister) but it was guarded too far out to see. The bobby’s (English police) were very friendly. I ended up patting one of the mounted Police’s horses, and they had no problems having a wee chat. There seemed to be a bobby on every corner, completely willing to send you on the right way.
We ended up getting pretty hungry, so we walked around Westminster to try and find something to eat. We ended up grabbing a Cornish pasty from a bakery and headed back to Buckingham Palace. By this stage my feet were already raw with blisters. I refuse to go to the sneakers/trainers & jeans stage just yet.
At 1.30pm it was time to head for the Buckingham Palace tour. I was worried about Nick’s sanity during this, as he knows my obsession with my Royal family, but surprisingly, he seemed pretty interested. The tour came with our own walking guide, so it was self-paced. I loved all of the art, and being able to look out into the courtyard of the Palace. I also realised that my obsession with damask print obviously comes from a past life as a Royal, as the Queen appears to be a big fan of damask with yellow gold. We weren’t allowed to take photos unfortunately.
Inside there was the Queen’s 60th jubilee display, which showed her wedding dress and coronation grown. She actually had a pretty tiny waist! I loved seeing all the paintings of the previous Royal families. I couldn’t help but wonder if Prince William and Prince Harry (and soon, Prince George!) had run around those halls wreaking havoc a few years earlier.
We had a break to check into our hotel. We stayed at the Park Plaza Hotel in Victoria. It was near Victoria station, which was perfect, yet close enough to walk to all the tourist attractions. I can’t fault the hotel, and even less able to fault it as we got a great deal through bidding on Priceline! They had an excellent bar, which had a Rekorderlig Passionfruit cider. We were addicted immediately.
It was almost dinner time, so we headed to the tube and took it to Aldgate East so we could go to Brick Lane – a curry house street. We went to a place called Cinnamon. It was okay. Nothing to actually write about. We got the entire meal ½ price though as I found a coupon on their website – winning!
Once we arrived back, it was time to head to the London Eye. I’d booked us the ‘Pimm’s experience’. Pimm’s is a favourite alcoholic summer beverage of the British. “It’s pimm’s o’clock!” is the slogan. Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin-based liquor made from dry gin, liqueur, fruit juices and spices, and is often served with lemonade and fruit. Our rotation on the Eye was at 8pm. There were only 8 other people and we had our own server who came up with us and served us our drink, he also took our photos. The timing was perfect as during the 30 minute rotation, we got to see not only London during light hours, but saw the sunset. I would highly recommend it! Being up that high I saw the magic from the air that Wordsworth only saw from the bridge.
On day 2, we arose from our slumber and took the tube to Harrods department store. We were meeting up with my friend, Laura, who visited us in June. Laura has lived in London for the past 18 months. She took us to the Harrods food court, where there were an abundance of delicious choices of food. From cakes, to sushi, to Chinese, to Indian, to almost anything you could imagine having a craving for.
We headed off to Hyde Park, where we sat next to the lake and caught up. I had a delicious sandwich called a ‘naanwich’. It was an incredible sandwich with tandoori chicken in it, but sandwiched between NAAN bread! What an excellent idea.
Sadly, after wandering around Harrods for a little bit, it was time to head back to our hotel. 36 hours was not long enough in London, and I was sad to leave – and I think Nick was a little bit too. We stopped in at a deli on the way back to the hotel and found an NZ drink called L&P! I was so excited that it was so easy to get NZ things, just like in Australia. It was also hilarious that as I was there, my quirky ‘Britishisms’ came out – such as words Nick had never heard me use before. There were a couple of times he just looked at me with a strange face, and I realised he had no idea what I was talking about. I have a feeling this will happen our whole lives.
We hopped on the Stansted Express and headed back to the airport. I felt melancholy as I watched the green fields with horses flash by, and lakes with families picnicking near by. Nevermind, we will be back again, such is the joy of living an hour flight away from the motherland!
I will be writing about our Swiss adventure in due course,