Tuesday, August 1, 2017

London Town

I’d forgotten how much I loved London until we found ourselves on the street outside the Camden tube station. On a Sunday afternoon the whole place was a buzzing, bristling microcosym of humanity – people of all nationalities and walks of life, some so bizarre looking that they could have come from another planet and yet here they seem perfectly normal. London makes Melbourne seem suburban.
Outside our apartment in Camden
We had an interesting travel day, starting at Dublin airport where the queue to check in on Aer Lingus stretched out the doors. We thought we’d given ourselves plenty of time but after almost 90 minutes in the queue we reached the desk with just 5 minutes to spare before check in closed. Prematurely, we were just laughing with relief when the check in person called her supervisor over because there was a problem with Geoff’s ticket. He was sent to another counter to have it investigated where they told him the name (Demanser) on his ticket didn’t match the name on his passport ( De Manser) and that it was unlikely he could catch the plane because the check in was closing. He told them his bag had already been checked (almost true because mine and Taine’s had) so they gave the ticket the all clear and we did another Amazing Race run for the boarding gate.

The flight to London is a short hop, just 55 minutes but clearly the whole queue thing had rattled us a bit because we let our guard down on arrival and got conned by the Heathrow Express spruiker in the baggage claim area who convinced us that, given how much luggage we were carting, taking the Express into the city would be a much better option than the Tube. Clearly he knew quite well (as we should’ve because Sophie had explicitly told us but we hadn’t listened well enough) that we would still have to get the tube once we got to the city and that actually, taking the Express would leave us at Paddington (aka known as “Suckertown”) with two changes  to Camden – for a cost of 22£ each, when we could just as easily have taken the tube to Piccadilly with one change for 3£. Bloody hell; I hate that, almost as much as I hate how many times Sophie is going to make ‘express’ jokes from now on!

Anyway, that’s old news. The best thing to do with travel faux pas is to file them for future reference and move forward.
Our apartment in Camden is almost great. It’s right above the market, around the corner from Camden Lock and just metres from the train station. It’s not the 2 bedroom apartment pictured in the advertisement on Booking.com (that we’ve paid for), it’s a one bed with fold out couch but this is a good bonding opportunity for Sophie and Taine. The very loud R and B from the bar next door until 4am in the morning is entertaining and it means we don’t have to be woken by our neighbours taking their bike down the stairs at 6 because we're still awake! And the sweet, sweet smell of marijuana floating through the windows definitely covers the smell from the garbage left over from the market. It’s completely splendid.

After a cup of tea to recover from the shock of the express train rip off and 2 bed that’s actually only one discovery, we hopped on the tube and went to Embankment to catch up with one of our ex students who is nannying in London this year. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching kids grow into confident, adventurous young adults so it was amazing to catch up with Tayla in her new environment and see how well she’s thriving. We had Pimms and chicken waffles at the Underbelly Festival on Southbank and then walked back over the Waterloo Bridge. The view from there at night time is just spectacular – Tower Bridge, Westminster, The Eye, all visible in the same view finder.

The next morning we took the Sophie Barr walking tour of Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park on our way to Euston to get the train to Harry Potter World. The amount of open green space in London is incredible. From inside the park it’s hard to imagine the breadth of the city outside. We ate lunch just near the station and Taine was very impressed to find deck chairs set up for the office workers to watch cricket on a big screen.

Watching the cricket

Last time we visited London we missed out on tickets to Harry Potter so this time it was one of the first things I booked. When they told us that the self guided tour could take 3 or 4 hours, I was a bit sceptical but sure enough, we were so engrossed in the sets, costumes, props and the information behind them that 3 and 1/2 hours flew past. We had lots of fun dressing up and riding broomsticks across the green screen (although we drew the line at paying 25£ to have a copy of the photos!), drinking butter beer and eating Bertie Bott’s. It’s amazing to think that the child actors actually grew up on this set in Leavesden; what an incredible learning environment!  My favourite bits were the Great Hall, Diagon Alley and the incredible model of the Hogwarts that they used to film all the castle scenes. Who knew all that action took place in a really big doll's house. Real magic! 

Too much butter beer

The only down side to the day came on the way home in McDonalds while Taine was feeding his burger addiction. A man, I think the manager, approached us in a friendly way because he thought we were Canadian- a simple mistake given that we’re such nice people- and... Geoff was wearing a shirt with CANADA on it. We explained that actually we were Australian. This launched him into sermon about how Australia is the best place on earth (conversation going well so far) because our government has balls like rural America (our eyebrows rise) and keeps the muzzies (sp) out so we don’t end up with a whole lot of cappuccinos (awkward smiles turn to frowns). In fact, he says, his own cousin has been to America and had his photo taken with the leader of the KKK so he knows what he’s talking about. Wowsers. (By this stage I have a warning grip on Geoff's arm communicating that a silent stare is the best response) This xenophobic idiot didn’t even have the sense to notice the irony that his own skin was brown, he was born in France and had an Italian accent. Like I said, London is a microcosym and so of course, some of it is scum but it did upset me that this piece of flotsam saw Australia as a racist haven.

We had plans of picking up theatre tickets at TKTS  but we were too foot weary so we settled for salad and chicken wings from M and S and an evening spent listening to the action in Inverness St.

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