Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Last Days in London - For One

Surprisingly the noise we can hear in this apartment did not keep us awake. We set off towards Madam Tussauds and made it just before they opened and so we were right up the front of the queue. We had been in Hollywood the previous year and had been impressed and thought we should go again as this one has been on the site in London for over 100 years and is the original Madam Tussauds.

It did not disappoint and was much bigger that the one in LA. It has  a couple of additional  features including a  4 D movie, a ride in a miniature taxi car through the History of London and a "experience" resembling the horrors of the Tower of London  called "Scream". That I did.....I was absolutely terrified as we made our way through winding dark tunnels with scary loud noises and live costumed actors coming to life from the darkness. The sole purpose was to scare the living daylights out of you and have you thinking a change of clothing might be necessary any time soon. My heart rate was through the roof and even though I knew it wasn't for real it didn't make it any less scary.

We wandered up Oxford Street up to Marble Arch and the top end of Hyde Park as Sunday is "Speakers Corner” day. There were a fair few there speaking their minds with the crowds heckling at every opportunity.....it was quite a sight. Not far from there we saw one of the new statues called Jelly Baby Family, however it was on the other side of a busy street and we returned later in the day to take a photograph- cute now but I am not sure what it will be like in 20 years from now and doesn't really rate with some of the infamous ones you see in the likes of Trafalgar Square.

We decided we should take the opportunity to see a show in London and thought that a matinee would be best. Big crowds were at the half-price ticket stands and tickets were selling fast. We ended up at a show at the Lyric Theatre seeing "Thriller" a Michael Jackson tribute. Our seats (the cheapest available and still expensive in our terms) were in the balcony...a very long way up as well as being incredibly steep but we had a good view and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. There were a huge variety of shows on but unfortunately not many on a Sunday but we were satisfied and well entertained. We were told anything on at the West End had to be good to stay there and this show has been going for 2 years- the theatre was packed.

We then wandered through Trafalgar Square and Covent Gardens that were teaming with people. Street performers were in full swing and there were crowds of people being entertained on every corner. The restaurants, cafes and bars are full of people everywhere- drinking and eating- the choices are never ending. 

We attempted to have a pub meal tonight as it was Brent’s last night but we could not find one that did not involve a long wait for both a table and food. We opted for small dish of paella at Convent Gardens   where a performing orchestral band played in a huge courtyard, a lamb Chawarma in Charring Cross Road and shared a huge ice cream sundae in Leicester Square.
Brent's flight leaves at 10 pm so we had a full day to see some of the last sights in this wonderful, lively bustling city. There is just so much to do. We took a tube down to parliament buildings and  renewed our acquaintance with Ben. We walked in the grounds of Westminster Abbey where there were queues of people willing to pay the 16 Pounds to see the interior (extra for guided tours). Having seen a good portion of it along with the millions of others when Will and Cath walked up the aisle we gave it a miss with no disrespect to this stately towering building intended.

 We opted for a visit to the British Natural History Museum which is in a massive old building in the Museum district. There are more museums than you can shake a stick at, the most unusual one we saw (the sign for it anyway) was the Canal Museum not far from Linda and James place. On reaching the BNH Museum there was loads of people there and a sign on the queue barriers indicating from that point there would be a 30 min wait. Brent had heard a staff member on a walkie talkie and had overheard that it was a 15 min wait. We have learnt that you can blame literally everything on "Bank Holiday Weekend" (it’s true, from the traffic to the queues to the poor service to the underground stoppages to just about everything!) and had put this down to all the visitors in town.  We decided it must be worth waiting for (mistake number 1) and joined the end of the line. It’s a bit like you don't know what’s round the next corner and one and a half hours later we entered the museum (mistake number 2) with what seemed 10,000 young children half of them in pushchairs. Most were incredibly fractious (parents and children) and in the middle of melt downs (parents and children) all at the end of their tethers (parents and children) having just waited for an hour and a half. We put this all down to both Bank Holiday Weekend and the Dinosaurs exhibition that was on. Mistake number 3 was entering the dinosaur’s exhibition. Half way through that we looked at each other and decided that our interest might lie in the Science museum just up the road and we left natural history for the man mad variety and headed off and out of there. Interestingly the Science Museum had no queues although plenty of people were there. Brent was in his element here and I left him to his own devices while I did some interesting people watching from one of the 5 cafes within the museum. The diet of those who I thought were British (you could tell mostly from what they were eating) is generally not healthy by any stretch of the imagination and I am surprised more are not overweight. I suspect though that medical issues will involve conditions bought about by overuse of alcohol and cigarettes. How judgmental of me!

From here we moved on through Hyde Park again as the parks and gardens smack in the middle of London really are a beautiful part of the city. We found ourselves back beside the beautiful princess Diana memorial fountain and both of us were once again compelled to paddle in its waters like many others.
Its Ok he didn't fall!

 We took a black London Taxi back to Harrods for a last browse through this London iconic store. Prices are outrageous here but it did not seem to deter the many people shopping. We headed back to meet Linda and James at St Pancras Station and Hotel to have a farewell drink. The station is in a recently refurbished building that took several years to get into the pristine and luxurious state it is in now. It is where the Eurostar leaves from (the first leg of my tour) and we sat outside overlooking the platforms while I sipped on a Victorian cocktail called Cosmopolitan Daisy and for Brent a local beer from Camden. Exquisite!
It was a lovely way to end our stay together in London and Brent is sad to leave but is looking forward to a proper washing machine and a decent shower.Not to mention some fresh fruit and vegetables as these seem to play a very small part in the diet of the English.

I am looking forward to having a couple of rest days and catching up with some washing....repacking the bag etc. We have been on the go for 3 weeks and I am well aware that the tour is going to be full on as well. I confirmed my reservation yesterday and was told I need to be at the departure hotel by 6.45am...rather early. I decided to go out to Heathrow with Brent to say goodbye.  I am fortunate that Hilary is going to pick me up from there. A least I do not have to worry about being in the right place at the right time.

From Windsor to London

We were first in the queue at Windsor Castle which was quite something given the numbers of people and tour buses that arrived shortly afterwards, literally 100's. Security was tight with all bags going through the x-ray machines. We had given ourselves a tight timeframe as we needed to get the rental car back to Gatwick in the early afternoon. 

As you would probably expect Windsor Castle is in pristine condition and absolutely spotless. Liz had obviously retreated there after Obama’s visit this week as the flag was flying high. The attractions at the castle are all very well set up to cope with the throngs of people that visit. Wonderful audio commentaries are available to give you more insight into many of the things to view and admire there. Windsor is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and was established by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. Over the many years it has been successively redecorated, enlarged and rebuilt by monarchs. The Queen had to rebuild several rooms when there was a fire several years ago now...the annus horribilis year.
We were also first into Queen Mary's dollhouse and the State Apartments.  The Queen Mary's dollhouse is a masterpiece in miniature. It took three years to complete and involved 1,500 craftsmen. The house has electric lighting, hot and cold running water and we were told even the loos flush! Very cute. The State Apartments have richly decorated interiors and are lavishly furnished with treasures in a display that would rival any art gallery in the world. The Queen spends most of her private weekends here and Windsor is said to be her favourite residence.......we didn't see her!

We did see the changing of the Guards at Windsor...quite an event of pomp and ceremony. Even though there seems to be much ritual we were reminded that the guards are fully trained soldiers ...not to be messed with. While we were able to take photos with them, they were not to be distracted.

There was much to see at Windsor including a special exhibition to mark the 90th birthday of Phil. (10th of June for those wishing to acknowledge it). It was an excellent display of memorabilia, photos, paintings etc. that illustrated his life, work and wide range of interests from photography to competitive horse drawn carriage racing (still at the age of 79!)

Equally amazing was St Georges Chapel which is within the Castle grounds and is used daily with a service held every evening. It has ten monarchs buried there including Henry VIII and Charles I and the dear old Queen Mother. The chapel also is the official church of the Order of the Garter the senior and oldest British Order of Chivalry, founded by Edward III in 1348. Crowns, Coronets and Crests have been placed above the Knights stalls (seats) in St Georges Chapel in Windsor Castle for over six centuries.  Much of the trimmings that go with this age old custom are on display in this magnificent building.

Like many of the things we have seen we could easily spend all day here but we were keen to get back to the car and avoid any penalties for not "paying and displaying". Signs about the penalties were abundant and it made us just a tad anxious. We set off for Gatwick and as we were making good time decided to call in at Hampton to see Hilary - where I am staying for 5 days after Brent leaves and before I go on the tour. It was lovely to see her and good for Brent to meet her and see where I would be staying. It was a flying visit and with the GPS set for Avis- Gatwick we were off down the M25.

GPS lady delivered us safely to the long term car parking at Gatwick airport. By the time we knew we were in the wrong place it was too late and we were forced to take a ticket and proceed in. We stopped to ask a bus driver who was out of his empty bus having a smoke for some directions. I swear he was the rudest person I have met in Britain. We eventually found way out to the car parking customer service office who were more than helpful and gave us a get out of the car park for free card.....Phew, it was looking like an expensive mistake for us  for a little while. Meanwhile back at Avis we were about to find out just how expensive it was to be. All the mucking around with the car parking incident meant we were late returning the car by just over an hour and they wanted to charge us for another days rental, another days insurance , and another days GPS!!! I had to walk away while Brent dealt with that one! He succeeded!

Back on the train to London with the correct ticket in our hand (this time) we were disappointed that at our destination there were no inspectors and had to show it to nobody! We were off to stay in Islington with Brent's sister Linda and her partner James for the night. We negotiated the tube to Kings Cross with ease being old hands at this now. It can be quite addictive getting on the Underground but we choose to walk where we can over ground as you get to see heaps more...and there is always a heap to see! We had a lovely night with Linda and James having not seen them for 7 or so years so there was much to catch up on. They took us to their favourite cheap and cheerful a short walk from their home. It was called Chili Cool and Brent suggested that Chili Cool was an oxymoron but Linda corrected him and said it was just a cool place to be seen! We left the ordering to the experts and were not disappointed.

We walked back home by the canal looking at the numerous canal boats moored apparently illegally. Canal boats can only really be a British invention, some of them are 20 metres long and two and half metres wide...like living in a squashed caravan on water.

We met the local wildlife as Linda and James have befriended a blackbird (Dave) that they feed worms to all too frequently as he is well rounded. He comes right up to their back door while the squirrel sits on the fence with his tail fluffed up protecting himself from the wind. Meanwhile the pigeons get the cold shoulder!

We visited the magnificent British Museum. A huge building that you could spend literally days in and still have more to see. Dotted throughout the museum they have stations where staff have a few interesting exhibits and they allow you to have a "hands on" experience. There is nothing like being able to hold a sharpened flint used as a cutting instrument (because of lack of cutlery at that time) that was 350,000 years old. Phew, that is old. The museum has many fine exhibits including the Rosetta Stone (which I knew little about until now- ignorance is bliss) and controversial treasures like the bits (Elgin Marbles) they plundered from Greece from the Parthenon no less. In the New Acropolis Museum they have left a space for its return sending Britain a strong message while in the British Museum they have on display their justification why they cannot be returned! An on-going debate.

We have moved on to Marylebone for our last two nights in London. We went and did a little bit of shopping in Oxford Street tonight ......shops are amazing and people everywhere. In one rather "the warehouse" type store I asked a salesgirl if they were having a sale to which she politely replied ...this is normal. It was a madhouse. They would have had at least 10 operators on each checkout and we saw four checkouts over 2 floors and a queue of at least 50 in each queue ...hence my question.

We finished up by watching the  first half of the European Soccer Cup Final - Manchester and Barcelona  in Nike Town ( so big could have been a city) on their huge TV screen and cheered along with the others there showing our allegiance to both sides! When you don't know who to cheer for anyone will do.!

We have had some wonderful accommodation throughout our trip so far so we had to luck out sometime.  This is it. The internet photos I saw when I booked do not tell the whole story. At the time of booking I remember the difficulty I had with these two dates. I now know this was because of "Bank Holiday" weekend- a long weekend. It is so noisy it is unbelievable. In the short space of an hour there have been constant sirens, car alarms, howling tom cats, crashing and slamming doors,  noisy adjourning tenants (  Soccer Cup Final  does not help)smashing glass  and neighbours arguing. The sad thing is that while this is not top dollar accommodation it is more than what we would pay at home and more than  most places we have stayed on this trip that were far superior. I guess we will just accept it and be grateful that we did so well up until now. We will be busy again over the next two days and will hopefully sleep through anything :)

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Getting out of London

We left Torquay early on our way to Bath determined to get there at a reasonable hour to give us some time to take in the sights. We made one stop on the way at a little place called Glastonbury that we had never heard of before but of course you our viewers will all know that it has so much history and so much mythology!
Glastonbury Abbey is set in 36 acres of parkland and is said to be the final resting place of the legendary King Arthur and Ginevere. It was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 15th Century. The ruins are truly awe- inspiring and as you wander through you can't help but feel their powerful links with the past. In keeping with Arthurian legend every second shop in town offers New Age services and mystical paraphernalia. We didn't buy any!

Onwards to Bath and as we headed out of town the little Peugeot alarm sounded to tell us we were on the Reserve tank. Unfortunately we think the GPS might be on a back hander scheme as we headed back the 10.3 km to the nearest petrol station. With GPS failing to recognise one way streets we circled the petrol station that we could see behind a big brick wall frustratingly trying to find the entrance. Tank full and we were off to Bath!

You can't help but love the city of Bath, rich in history and elegant architecture........and a favourite of visitors. Bath is unsurprisingly named for the bubbling hot springs discovered by the Romans in the first century although there is a legend that their curative powers were first discovered by a Celtic King whose leprosy was cured when he bathed in the waters. Bath's old town is free of traffic which makes wandering through its streets very pleasant and driving through it a nightmare. Parking is an issue here and our hotel charged a hefty 10 pound for the car parking.....but we decided to stay close to the city and suck up the cost of convenience. From one extreme to another ...we were fortunate to get a room upgrade and have a huge bedroom and super king bed for tonight. Whooooo! Hotel has the standard 2 person sized lift, hot water that takes 5 mins to get to your room if you are on the third floor and the bathroom has emergency cords. We think it must be the law. Shame that some of them also have pull cords to turn the lights on so I am slightly terrified of yanking on it after my experience in Poros.

All the roads lead to the Roman Baths whose excavated ruins are proudly considered to be Britain’s best preserved memorials to its Roman History. It is well set up as a tourist attraction and there were plenty of them here. Supplied as part of the admission fee is an audio guide and it was good to listen to all the background information to this spectacular attraction.

When I have an opportunity and I know we are dining out I have taken to asking the locals where they go to eat. Most say immediately what do you like to eat and I say to them that does not matter. So on a recommendation we are off tonight to Jaime's (Oliver) Italian. While we entered through into what looked like a really small intimate restaurant what transpired was a large well run, well-staffed, slick operation that served delicious food. The tastes were exquisite...simple food cooked and presented well.
Earlier in the day we had seen an opportunity to go to a street comedy walk called Bizarre Bath. It has been rated the second most popular tourist attraction in Bath on Trip Advisor. It was attended by about 40 odd people and was more about the hysterical rather than the historical. It poked fun at some of the more eccentric things in the city as well as using bemused passers -by in a very entertaining piece of street theatre.  90 mins of comedy for 8 pound was well worth it and we laughed for most of that time.

Toward the end of the tour we had heard some bagpipes in the square beside Bath Abbey.  Being curious by nature we investigated and found the Bristol Pipe Band in full puff piping a huge number of people out of the Abbey. We spoke briefly to a piper at the end, a man with a broad Scottish accent who said there had been a concert in there. We were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. It was a sight and sound that created goose bumps for those of us with Scottish blood.
We left for our own tour through the Cotswolds. Everything I had read or had been told before about the Cotswolds is true. It is a lovely region named for the limestone hills and made up of a dozen or more towns and villages that are just so pretty. It was great to explore these by car as it enabled us to get off the main roads and dawdle down the pretty little lanes with their drystone walls and grassy green fields lush with spring growth and see the odd Cotswold sheep. Some of the lanes were so narrow in places they were little more than driveways which meant when you met a car coming the other way it was always entertaining.....for me anyway! It was lovely to come across sleepy little villages almost by accident and of course that is part of the charm of the region. We followed a trail up from Bath to Castle Combe, Tetbury, Malmesbury, the infamous Badminton (horse trials and where badminton was invented-no Bath is not where baths were invented). Badminton was enormous with 2 acres of groomed gravel around the palatial sized Badminton House .In the areas that we could see just some of the hurdles and styles it was pristine and it seemed not a blade of grass out of place.
Onwards through Cirencester, The Slaughters, Bourton on the Water and Stow-on the Wold- the names are enough to keep you entertained on their own and I will never tire of looking at thatched roofed cottages and try and work out how it keeps the elements out. The sheer beauty of this area has exhausted my entire supply of superlatives!

We decided to come back as close as we could to London to make our trip back to Gatwick and onto London city tomorrow as easy as possible. We opted to drive back through Oxford and stay in Windsor. We have heard that the Castle is well worth a look and arriving in town we have found Liz is here too. Presumed so as the flag is flying high. It really is a massive and almost imposing structure right in the middle of town. Again parking is at a premium (to be paid for) with virtually no street parking to be found. We had some difficulty finding accommodation as apparently the races are on (not sure if that is Ascot- but its close by) and its Bank holiday weekend. Town is fair heaving with people and it’s difficult to tell if it’s always like that or there is an event. My guess is that this is normal.

I was unaware that Windsor is also the home to the famous Ascot Racecourse and Eaton College, which is just 10 mins walk from the Castle. The sports grounds are huge and the school buildings impressive. Whats more Eaton, its buildings and grounds are the size of a small suburb.

The plan is to be first in line tomorrow at Windsor and while we are standing in the queue will work out what we can squeeze into our last 3 days in London together. We have a list.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Doing it Like a Pom

Change of plans today as we were unable to stay on in the apartment for an extra day as we had hoped. Brent set off early in search of a rental car. A very helpful man from Avis suggested we get one from London City Airport as unlike NZ there are no airport surcharges. On our way to the tube, luggage in tow we were approached by a man who offered to help us probably as we were again studying our map. He was the project manager for a large subway redevelopment at Cannon street. It was nearing completion after 4 years and had been held up along the way for 9 months when they found some Roman ruins. He advised us to get the overland train to the next station and then change for the overland train to the airport.

We have been using an Oyster Card here in London. They are best described as a pre-paid travel card which you can top up as you need to and gives you the cheapest rate. They are on loan from one of my work colleagues who told me the last person to use them was Dave Dobbyn. Must thank him next time I see him as there was 23 quid on one and 14 quid on the other....approx. $80 NZ.

We followed the directions we were given and as we stood on the platform at the change station Brent asked if we needed a ticket. I presumed we were still on the Oyster Card deal.....oops you know what’s coming next. When we got off at Gatwick (yes that's right Gatwick ...not London City Airport) we were greeted at the turnstile by the train inspectors (there were 4 of them) who were on the lookout for those without tickets, clearly not us...or so we thought. We got done like a dogs dinner ..."as ma'am you have gone past Croyden...you mustn't go past Croyden ...you can't go past Croydon on an Oyster Card and sir it's the same for you.....there is a 20 pound penalty fine each and I am going to have to fine you!"

 After much indignation (we had spoken to a conductor and a platform staff member...and there were no signs anywhere...... and the 4 inspectors should have been at the starting end) he let us off with one penalty plus the correct fare. A total of 38 pound. Plus of course we have both been charged the 4.50 pound to Croydon (wherever that is). We can appeal the penalty ( must be in writing)and we can also get the 4.50 pound refunded on the Oyster Card. Brent will take them up on it and will do the letter writing. We are laughing about it now but at the time we felt like real crims and provided some entertainment for those that walked past us while it was all going on.

We arrived at Avis to be told our car we had reserved was at London City Airport and we were at Gatwick. Hmmmmm so far not the best start to the day...but our luck was in and we were able to secure a cute, sporty , black Peugeot 107 with a GPS for a pricey 14pound per day. They are a must otherwise life becomes one big discussion! In the end it was better to get the car from Gatwick than the other airport but it was a rather an expensive train ride.

We set off on our adventure (thankfully driving on the left side of the road again, where you instantly feel safer) heading off in a south direction. Brent wanted to return to a very small village called Lymington on the coast that he lasted visited in 1983. As it happened it hadn't changed much since then. At the time I suggested we go somewhere that he hadn't been to but he said he would like to go back. I was curious as to what was there but trusted that it was a quaint fishing village and must be lovely if he wanted to return.

 We visited Brighton on the way, walking along the beachfront in the howling wind, looked at the rough sea pounding the stones instead of sand, sat in deckchairs, bought Brighton Rock....and had high tea on the Brighton pier. We decided to continue to Lymington where the reason for our visit became a little clearer. About 10 km from Lymington is a little village called Beaulieu. There the National Car Museum is located.......it now all fitted into place!

Lymington is a lovely little village with many historical buildings and best described as a small tourist and boating town supporting the Isle of Wight.

The marine shops had a huge range of quality gear and the clothing shops had high quality boatie clothing. I spied a nice necklace in one of the shop windows and decided to go back the next morning to buy it. In this little town I found the perfect T shirt for Brent but he doesn't wear them so gave it a miss however I could not resist the photo opportunity.

We had a meal in the local pub where I had some beautiful fish from the local waters. The pub and restaurant was full of very well to do people (boaties etc.) and we could identify quite a few tourists. Surprising for a Monday night. We wandered through the small cobbled streets and looked at the quaint houses in this little village, most well-kept and with several layers of paint. Some (quite a few) gave us a good giggle as for the last several hundred years they have settled on their foundations in slightly lopsided fashions. Our lodgings for the night were no exception!

We stayed above an old English pub that had only 8 rooms. We laughed as we lugged the suitcase (mine) up the narrow staircase and through a rabbit warren of corridors to reach our room. It was very comfortable though, but had uneven squeaky floors and a very small bathroom.

We left the next morning after a short walk into town where I bought my necklace and Brent bought a Cornish Pastie......not the traditional though. His was filled with Apple and Raspberry...yum.

Off to the car museum ...to be fair it is much more than a car museum but did have 250 motor vehicles reflecting the history of the motor car on the roads and circuits of Britain, It also has a section with a focus on James Bond and another one called the World of Top Gear.
A happy man in his element !

The interesting thing about this museum is that many of the cars are the actual vehicles that won the world’s biggest motor vehicle events and many others are original one owner low mileage vehicles. Some are the original vehicles used in movies, e.g. Harry Potters flying Anglia, Mr Beans Mini, James Bond vehicles, Top Gears stunt vehicles including the totally munted Hilux destroyed on their TV programme. It is in the enormous estate of Lord Montagu who maintains the Museum, Palace, and Beaulieu Abbey and Monastery. He and Lady Montagu still live in the Palace which has been the home of the Montagu family since 1538. You are allowed into the lower level of the Palace which I can only describe as amazing. While we were there we were lucky to be invited on a tour of the private areas of the Palace as the Lord was going out. So for the bargain price of one pound we were taken on an amazing journey into rooms that the family live in. Two things stood out...the piano which our guide said  Sir Elton John and Michael Jackson had played on their visits and the guest bedroom with a four poster bed  that every member of the Royal family have stayed including Princess Anne just 6 months ago. Actually I was more interested in the little room and the little bed that her bodyguard had to sleep in. It was a stunning place with some amazing furniture, art and history and it was lovely to have a glimpse of this.

Onwards through to the English Riviera- Torquay, Paignton and Brixham. Lovely at night with some lovely lighting along the Marine parade, however by day there are areas of tackiness. We declined the invitation to Bingo at 8pm. There are traffic signs that depict the older population of this resort town and it appears that busloads of them are bought in daily.
It is an area that has so much accommodation  mostly 2 star- 4 storey hotels and B &B's-attached dwellings  and by the looks of the numbers that pour in here a car parking problem. We think there are as many car parking buildings as hotels etc.

It is hard to think that the place will be booked out entirely next weekend as its Bank Holiday weekend. There are pockets where the rich and famous live and their mansions are huge and palatial. We opted for a sea view bedroom but have compromised on the beds, we are going single twin tonight.
Off to Bath tomorrow!

Monday, 23 May 2011

The Best of British

After a very short flight from Athens we arrived at a very busy Heathrow airport. Huge delays clearing border security with questions asked rather gruffly about why we were coming and for how long. We have since learnt that President Obama is due in town next week so I guess there is heightened security........ it’s a good thing.

We took the tube to St Paul’s station very close to St Paul's Cathedral. Very interesting names of streets ...Cheapside, Poultry, Bread Lane. Even more interesting when half way down a street it changes to something else! We took a little while to find where we were staying and like most places in London central we are not far from four tube stations.

We are staying in a studio room in a small apartment block. It has a small kitchen complete with dishwasher and a two in one washing machine and dryer. A treat for the clothes to be washed in a machine.

We set off in the early evening for a walk over London Bridge and down the Southbank and back over Tower Bridge. It was Friday night and the pubs on every corner (and those in between) had young people spilling out over the footpaths and the noise was tremendous.  I guess it was a hard week for them all. It doesn't take long to get used to seeing the black taxis, double decker buses and the Mr Plods!

My first impression of London is that it is clean and tidy, spacious and feels very much alive. I like....... :) Next day we hopped on (and hopped off) the sightseeing tour bus which is always a great way to orientate yourself to a
city......but I need to still be sitting on it as it’s going to take some time to orientate me as this place is huge.......we won't even start on the Underground ....how do I know which way is East. West.... but the diagrams help hugely.

In the afternoon we took ourselves on foot back past the Queens Place..... she was at home but we decided as we were a bit pressed for time  that we wouldn't call in. We then set off for a look at St James Palace as that is where Will, Katherine and Harry are going to flat together. We had looked a big map in St James Park and Brent had eyed up the Lane we needed to go down. The only problem was the lane was in the Palace grounds and the gates at the front had two men in red coats with furry hats on.  Never mind maybe another day.

We then headed off to Hyde Park and had thought about hiring a bike to pedal our way around. Decided against that as the queue to pay for it electronically was long as only one of the pay machines was working. In hindsight would have been a good thing as we walked for miles in the hot sun and think we may return later in the week for a cycle. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens run into each other and it was lovely to see horses being ridden in a controlled area, paddle and row boats on the Serpentine in a controlled direction and walking a cycle lanes to control the crowds. The parks are huge and to have these in the middle of London is amazing. What is equally amazing is the number of people out and about....even though there is a huge amount of space people are everywhere.

One of the highlights for me was to take off my shoes and paddle (with the hordes of others) in the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain as you are encouraged to do...just so that I can say I have done it! Its design was incredible. A model was made of it (it is at least 150 metres wide in a circular shape - like a flowing river with waterfalls) and the dimensions transferred to a computer controlled cutting machine that cut the Scottish granite. The pieces were then assembled on site. The water comes from a spring 100 metres down and it tumbles down and ends up in a calm pool at the bottom. All very symbolic. We assume that no parts were purchased from Harrods. We wandered around Kensington Palace gardens which were stunning before making our way home with tired feet.

No rest for the wicked though as we showered and changed for the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. The ceremony has gone on every night rain, hail, and snow....no pics though...it has only been filmed twice in the last 700 years.  We had to request tickets two months in advance and in writing and they only allow 50 guests per night. I had found out about it while poking around on the Internet one night. We had to report at 9.30 pm sharp...nobody is allowed in late, bags searched and a short background as to how it came about and an explanation of what goes on and the significance of it. The ceremony takes 7 and half minutes from start to finish and really was very special to watch. Lots of pomp and ceremony and all very serious....absolute silence was required. Queens Guards are involved, the same lot that are at the Queens Place (with the fluffy hats, white gloves and red coats...nothing like a man in uniform) and it finishes at 10.02 pm with the Last Post being played. We are then escorted off - through a small side gate. We were there to watch the London Tower being locked up and of course we were locked inside. Liz could rest easy as the jewels were safe for the night.

It was pretty windy, dark and deserted down by London Tower so we decided to go have a look at Convent Gardens in London on a Saturday night.  Amazing!! The lights, the action, the buzz...the people!  The police!  Big police van parked up in the square and as we got close a guy opened the door and we could peek inside at the several closed circuit TV screens and police sitting there eyes glued. Doesn't bear thinking about...especially when you are in the deepest part of the Underground......the escalators are huge and there are several levels before you get up to ground level.

As we hadn't eaten and still being on Greek time we sat down to a lovely meal at about 11pm. We were lucky enough to get a window seat so were able to watch the whole range of people and the whole range of clothes that make up colourful London. Unfortunately for us we stayed up later than the London tube and managed to get the last service that left us.....well we didn't really know where.  Eventually after some serious discussion and a twenty minute walk we arrived back at the apartment at 1.30 am. A great night out in London.

The next day (Sunday) was a great one for us ...first in line at the London Dungeon and last out of Harrods!
Brent was keen to visit the attraction called the London Dungeon. He had been there back in 1983 and thought it would be worthwhile seeing. We had seen the huge queue for this the previous day from the hop on bus so thought we would make an early start with Plan B sorted in case everyone else had the same idea ...just like in Istanbul. We arrived half an hour early and were first in the queue while I went off and did a coffee run. Coffee not great but better than Greece. The Dungeon was a great experience as they let you through in groups of about 25 and led you through various gruesome and ghastly parts of London's history, from the plague, the great London fire, torture, the courts, burning at the stake and hanging. All good stuff for first thing in the morning. Actors are dressed in costume and play out the various scenarios with some reluctant audience participation!  I got singled out and burnt at the stake! while our group shouted burn her! burn her! Brent thinking this was hilarious took a video for the most part has come out quite dark but his is the loudest voice you can hear as the group are shouting burn her , burn her!!! The last "thrill" is a hanging experience...while seated they raise you up about 20 metres and drop you at lightning speed. Somehow they take photographs of you at the height of your terror...best to say that Brent  did not hesitate to hand over the outrageous price of the photo.....let’s just say it shows it all.

From there we took the tube to Camden markets which are a combination of 6 markets in one. It was fascinating with just so many things to see and again people everywhere. I am struck by the huge numbers of young people and wherever we have been those in our age group are in the minority. Brent was more fascinated by the Camden Lock that still operates here.

Onwards to Harrods where we wandered through all 5 floors and marvelled at the displays ...and the prices. They say that everyone can afford something at Harrods and that was true for us as well as we purchased a few little items as mementos. It’s amazing how reserved you can be when you know you have little room in your luggage and what you buy you have to carry. It is truly a spectacular building as well with incredibly polite and well groomed staff and plenty of them. The range of things that are sold is mind boggling. We had a lovely afternoon and made one of the last purchases of the day leaving with our infamous green bags with the gold writing.

Today, Monday we are off to see if we can rent a car tomorrow to get out of town for a few days. Where, not sure yet....next instalment. If that plan works we are off to do some cultural things today...check out a show for next weekend and visit some museums.  Until then.....

P. S.We have heard on the news that England might take the Ashes again.........not the cricket game! though