Monday, April 6, 2015

Oh, my aching feet

It’s hard to quantify how far we’ve walked in the last 2 days. I think f I’d had my pedometer app turned on I’d have terrified myself. Taine has turned the trip into a fitness camp, sprinting up the steps in all the subway stations while I struggle to stay upright on the escalator.  I guess the bonus is that we’re wearing off our ‘all you can eat’ breakfasts and my calf muscles are in a lot better shape than they were a month ago. I wish I could say the same for my bunion!

Yesterday started with a trip to Abbey Rd for the mandatory crossing shot.
The tube to St John’s Wood was out of service so we had to go to Kilburn and walk back down Abbey Rd. It’s quite a walk but an interesting exercise in itself just to see the real estate change drastically over the length of the street, from barren, concrete estate housing at one end to ornate mansions at the other. The Abbey Rd studios are down the ‘good’ end of the street and at 11.30 in the morning there was quite a crowd of people waiting to recreate the Beatle’s cover picture.

This is not quite as easy as you might imagine because Abbey Rd is a real road , traversed by double decker buses and local residents who are understandably sick to death of being held up by tourists posing in the middle of the road!
An added element of fun was the webcam just above the road near the studios. People at home were able to watch us in real time walking across the zebra crossing and our friend Joel even screen captured the image from his computer and instant messaged it to us so we could see ourselves walking across from both sides of the world!

Us from the webcam on Joel's computer !

We managed to walk a few hundred metres  beyond Abbey Rd to see the outside of Lords. Not being huge cricket fans we didn’t mind that it wasn’t open.

We took a bus to Hyde Park and hired bikes. This was fun for a short time but there are lots of places in the park that you aren’t allowed to ride and the bike hire runs in 30 minute cycles so you couldn’t really stop to smell the roses (or in this case, the beautiful magnolias that are just starting to bloom in Hyde Park). In the end we rode one circuit of the lake, ditched the bikes and walked another lap to reflect by the Diana memorial fountain. Being Easter Sunday the park was full of people. So many different faces and stories. I think you could sit and people watch there for hours. And, despite the multitude of nationalities wandering around, it was all so stereotypically British. There were people paddle boating on the Serpentine ( how boring would that be after 5 minutes?), picnic rugs and chequered table cloths and thermoses, squirrels and pigeons and kids blowing bubbles and everyone walking dogs of all sizes.  We only managed one side of the park and I hope we have time to get back to the Kensington side before we go home.

The plan had been to take in the Victoria and Albert museum but by 3pm our phones were flat and so we had no cameras and besides, my feet could go no further so we hopped on a number 10 bus and high tailed it back to St Pancras for an afternoon rest before our Jack the Ripper tour at 7.30.

The tube took us to London Bridge where we walked across to the East End for our tour in Aldgate. Once again, the contrast between West and East was startling. We were early so we went to a Turkish restaurant for dinner and had some delicious pizza and barbequed meats.

The tour itself was OK.  Our guide was suitably costumed for his role and had a friendly enough banter but it’s hard to get ‘in the mood’ when there are  ( I counted at least 10) other groups roaming the  same streets at the same time. There were 40 people in our group – about 30 too many for the intimate sort of story they were trying to peddle. My cynical nature started counting the dollars – 10 groups x 40 people x 10 pound per head. The poor prostitutes of Whitechapel have turned the alleyways to gold and the constant foot traffic must drive the locals crazy.

I was a bit worried that the ‘ripper vision’ (a handheld projector of photos of the victims) might give Taine nightmares but he went straight to sleep when we got home.

On our second last day in London we started to panic about the ‘must sees’ that we haven’t seen yet. We chose what is apparently the busiest day of the year to visit the Tower of London. Luckily, following Fodor’s advice, we got there before the advertised opening time and went straight in. This meant we were first in line to see the Crown Jewels and could take our time being bejazzled by the Koh-i-Noor  and Cullinan diamonds and the amazing array of golden treasures, including a  salt box in the shape of a castle. It truly is an Aladdin’s cave of wonders.

We joined a Beefeater tour with a crowd of about 100 others. Our beefeater was very amusing and informative and we learnt a lot of history in a short space of time. Even with such a huge crowd, it was pretty eerie to stand by the spot where Anne Boleyn and others had their heads removed. The display of armour was also interesting. Taine was particularly impressed with Henry V111’s codpiece!

It’s hard to do justice to the Tower in just a morning but our trip clock was ticking so we moved on and over the Tower Bridge. They have an exhibition that is quite interesting and the opportunity to stand on the glass floor of the bridge while the Thames flows beneath you is fun. We walked some way into the Bermondsey side of the bridge looking for coffee. Suffice to say, if I ever move to London it won’t be to live in Bermondsey. We caught a bus back over the bridge and then caught the light rail from Tower Gateway out to Shadwell and back to Bank to change lines for Holburn and then to Knightsbridge to go shopping at Harrods. It occurred to me that the most difficult journey in London is from the poorest area to the richest – in more ways than one.

Harrods is as enormous and expensive as you expect it to be. Like everywhere else this Easter weekend, it was over run by tourists like us looking for an affordable souvenir to take home in a signature green bag. We bought some tea in a Harrod’s tin and Geoff bought us a treat – 5 chocolates for 6.75 – that’s $14 for those playing at home!

From there we took another couple of trains and walked another couple of km to get a bit closer to Buckingham Palace without the changing of the guard crowds. We walked through  St James’ Park which is just beautiful at twilight. I wish we could stay a few days longer because Spring is just about to burst here. The daffodils are already magnificent and the blossom and tulips and magnolias are just starting to flower. We watched the squirrels playing for awhile before we staggered back to the tube and home for dinner at the hotel.

Queen Victoria Monument

St JamesPark

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