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 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 pics 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 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 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

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