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Published: October 3rd 2013
After one very long, bumpy but reasonably comfortable flight to Dubai, we had to change planes to get to Heathrow. For those of you who know what Dubai airport is like, feel free to skip this part. It is the biggest building by floor area in the world. The connecting flight was approximately 2 kilometres away from where we landed so this meant a fairly long walk and a fast train ride only to find that our flight was already boarding so no time to look around (probably a blessing)! Emirates had worked out that this would be a tight transfer and had a fellow stationed to collect and herd all the Heathrow passengers to the correct terminal.
A well oiled machine. We like Emirates despite their sponsorship of the forces of darkness (Collingwood).
- arrived very tired but determined that we were not going to give in to sleep so we set out and walked to all the places we have all seen masses of photos of - Waterloo Bridge, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and Covent
Garden. It really was quite an emotional experience for me – I was finally here seeing the places I had always wanted to!!
Our hotel was small but very central and any number of restaurants to choose from within easy walking distance. I could not get over the number of people everywhere – it made Melbourne in peak hour look quiet and this was a Saturday!! This city is also a city of sirens – they never seem to stop, police and ambulances alike.
– we ventured out early and caught the Underground (how deep are these stations?) to Spitalfields (very like Freo Market) & Brick Lane Markets (lots of junk and Jack The Ripper territory). We then went on to Greenwich which was fascinating. Ron took the obligatory photo of me standing either side of the zero meridian. It was rather funny watching loads of tourists (dare I say Japanese) standing in the pouring rain waiting to get their photo taken on this line OUTSIDE when they could have done the same thing INSIDE as we did and not get wet!!
Unbeknown to a lot of people,
Greenwich has the most amazing Painted Chapel and Painted Hall which literally takes your breath away when you walk in. The Painted Hall is often described as the “finest dining hall in Europe”. These date back to 1708 and the detail of the artwork has been beautifully preserved. The building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and it took painter Sir James Thornhill nineteen years to decorate
On to see the Cutty Sark and Ron was in seventh heaven – boats, a Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory Longitude detailing the history of time and clocks which I must admit was fascinating – something that we all take for granted and never really think about how and why it evolved.
Took a river cruise back which landed at Tower Bridge and the London Eye. Thought about taking a ride on the Eye but after looking at the queue decided it could wait for another day (we never did go on it but with my love of heights, I don’t mind)!
– back on the Underground and on to Buckinghuge Palace and the Queens Mews. This isn’t everyone’s cup
of tea but it truly was fascinating. Unexpectedly, the Mews are nothing to do with cats but are the stables and storage for the royal carriages. The history, traditions and pageantry all come to life instead of something seen in magazines or on TV. The security to get in to Buck House was extraordinary as you can well imagine. Plenty of guards and police patrolling grounds and the house and they watch like hawks! We were very glad we went early – by the time we came out, the queues again were extremely long.
Despite the obvious security, there were at all times a flotilla of delightful helpers in red cloaks at the ready to chat and assist. The thousands of punters that were herded through never felt rushed nor anything but welcome. An experience that will stay with us for ever, made even better by the high quality crowd control.
On to Westminster Abbey - Tomb it may concern (Ron’s little joke). I just sat and let Ron wander around. A beautiful place but to me “you’ve seen one grave and you’ve seen the lot” especially when the epitaphs are in Latin and as my Latin is not up to scratch, well…….
Ron thought it pretty cool to see the famous tombs and memorials to; for a start; more kings and queens than you could poke a stick at such as Liz the first, Mary Queen of Scots. Then there were the poets and the scientists including Darwin, Faraday, Maxwell etc. There were also a lot of dead people that we had never heard of. We were told that for a considerable period, your financial status (or that of your surviving relatives) was often the primary reason you were buried in Westminster Abbey.
Harrods next and what can I say – opulence and tacky all rolled into one with wall to wall Arab women (am I allowed to say that!!!!). I did buy something just so I could have a Harrods bag!
- Changing of the Guard. What a crowd! On the advice of the brother-in-law, we got there early, 1½ hrs to be exact and had a perfect spot 2nd
from the front. By the time it started, the crowd must have been 100 deep with many, many more even further back. Beats me how those soldiers/guards never crack a smile. There must be times when they would love to extend the middle digit to some people! Again, the pomp and ceremony was something to behold and well worth the long wait. Some of the marching back and forth seemed a bit pointless. It was unnerving to have a large, stern, bearskin helmeted guard aggressively marching straight at you only to stop inches from the fence, turn on his heel and march back again. I bet some of them think; “I scared that geezer!”
By the time this had finished, the rain had started so we decided that a typical English lunch was the go. Into the “The Bag of Nails” pub for a Shepherd’s Pie with gravy and mushy peas. How English can you get!!!
Next on the agenda saw us at the British Museum. Big statues, the Elgin Marbles, Dead Egyptians, Roman and Greek warriors and a gift shop that must have a daily turnover exceeding the current Greek GNP. Highly recommended. Seems that the British “rescued” the Elgin Marbles from Greece for safe keeping because they were deteriorating in Greece. That they are now in safe hands does not seem to be in dispute and given the current state of the Greek economy, perhaps it is just as well. This will always be controversial. At least they are safe and are being enjoyed by millions of annual visitors.
– this day saw us make a beeline to the Tower of London where we had a guided tour (along with 30 other people) with a genuine Beefeater. A very funny man! His first question to the group was, “Any Americans here?” “Yes”, came the reply. “If you had paid your taxes, this could have been all yours”. “Any Australians here?” Again yes. “Welcome home”, he said. This set the tone for the tour so as well as being funny he was a wealth of information. One of the more gruesome tales associated with the tower was the murder of the two young princes. Whilst there are a number of suspects, probably the favourite suspect is Richard the 3rd
of Shakespearean fame; “A horse, my kingdom for a horse”; who died in battle with the location of his body unknown – until just recently that is. He was uncovered during excavation work at a car park in Leicester and his identity was confirmed by DNA analysis. Buried under row R in the car park apparently! Much to the dismay of many Richard the 3rd
devotees he did in fact have a hunched back as per the Shakespearean cliche. The humorous banter of the Beefeater did not however gloss over that this was indeed a sombre place associated with many executions; mostly as a public spectacle on the hill outside the gate. The headless bodies were subsequently buried unmarked in the chapel inside the grounds.
We then went on to St Pauls Cathedral. Now this was one magnificent church. Despite the number of tourists in the place it still had a very peaceful and hushed atmosphere. Ron braved the stairs to the whispering gallery and found himself moved by the unequalled beauty of Wren’s glorious work. Not the oldest nor the most historic, but perhaps the most coherent and beautiful building we have ever seen.
More later. Next stop Eurostar under the channel to Paris.
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