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Published: October 12th 2016
Ahh . . the joys of long distance air travel. We cannot really complain but we were ready to drop by the time we reached Helsinki. The Finnair A340 from Singapore onwards was just that bit more cramped and was significantly noisier than the previous A330. We found it difficult to snooze. Thankfully, the leg from Helsinki was short and in a brand new A350; perhaps the most technically sophisticated plane around. It still had that “brand new plane” smell. Note to Qantas: buy some A350s.
Sunday morning and Heathrow welcomed us efficiently and we were soon at our Kensington hotel; only three and a half hours before we could check in. After twenty-eight hours of air travel, we felt badly in need of a shower; not to mention cleaning of teeth. Trying not to stand too close to others, we wafted along Gloucester Road (pronounced glosster) finding an establishment for cake and coffee. The wallpaper did not peel from the walls, so perhaps we were not as unsociable as we imagined.
Gaining in confidence, Cromwell Road beckoned and we embarked on a journey of serendipity. Wafting along until – have mercy – what is
that building with the green sign? Oh no. Harrods. How inconvenient! Suppose we might as well go inside. Harrods is wonderful. Yes, it is opulent but not intimidating and great fun to explore. Ron was most taken with the personal submarine but it wasn’t on special. Judy accosted an extremely large Policeman Bear; her first photo opportunity.
Roast beef sandwiches hit the spot and we were feeling better. How far back to the hotel? “Just a block and a half” says Ron. Four blocks later and the scenery was not that familiar. Mmmmm . . perhaps we could look at the map. Back we went, retracing our steps, footsore, tired and still wafting; we clutched our room key with religious fervour. Showered and with oral hygiene attended to, we flopped on the bed. Fortunately, with sufficient presence of mind to set the alarm for 6pm. Just as well. Forced ourselves to go out for a meal and hit the sack. All good and negligible jet lag in the morning.
With Oyster cards that the London Rail people had mailed to us a month before, we hit the magical and brilliant
London Underground, and we were looking at Big Ben in no time at all. Our friends John and Lyn had highly recommended we visit the Churchill war rooms; the underground bunker from which Winston and the chiefs of staff ran the war effort whilst bombs rained overhead. Initially we were thinking it was just another museum but the gravity of what they faced and the enormity of Churchill’s leadership in the toughest possible circumstances was palpable and profound. Highly recommended as a sobering reminder of what mankind needs to avoid.
London is hip, it swings, it has everything from mounted horse guards, helpful and friendly policemen, Stanley Gibbons (Philatelic heaven apparently), groovy baaaby (Ron watched “the Spy Who Shagged Me” in the plane) markets at Covent Garden and a cool transport museum.
On Tuesday we hit the fab Natural History Museum, Hyde Park & The Serpentine, Oxford Street, Selfridges and a Swatch shop (Judy needed a battery). Met Ron’s former colleague Alex for dinner in Soho at a Peruvian restaurant. In case you were wondering – no Guinea pig on the menu, but great food and atmosphere. Great suggestion Alex!
As much as we love London, it was time to go further afield and we headed to the Rental Car depot at Heathrow and picked up our blue baby hatchback and installed satnav “Betty”. This after the most extreme effort Ron has ever experienced from Avis to upsell us to a bigger car. Flattery, cajoling, and coquettish flirting from the girl at the counter was resisted and we took the car originally booked. Betty took us safely to Windsor where there is apparently some sort of Castle thingy. The queues were long due to some problem in the Castle so we instead popped off along the Thames Valley to our evening’s accommodation – The Waterside Inn, Bray. What an idyllic place, a beautiful room and a magnificent dinner. Brilliant in every way.
Back to Windsor in the morning without Betty’s help – we must be locals! Straight in the gate, no queues and what a great experience is Windsor Castle! Chatty and friendly guides everywhere and history everywhere. Lillibet’s grandparents, parents and her sister are all interred in the Chapel as will she be in due course. Festooned in the
Chapel are the banners and symbols of the current Knights of the garter. Some of these are quite unusual as the Knights can choose symbols and heraldry based on their personal interests; including sporting club emblems. Should Ron become a Knight of the Garter, perhaps the Geelong Football club emblem could be a feature. The State Rooms were graced by our presence as well. A beautiful town and magnificent castle.
Off to Heythrop Park & Dinner with the President of Pumps for Britain, the Pump President for Europe and yes, the President of Pumps from Australia (Duke Ronald of Cheltenham) was there. His consort, Countess Judith of Southland made many friends including the delightful wife of the Pump President of Europe and Countess Judy snagged an invitation to the next pumping conference which will be in Ankara. Lady Judith is quite excited about that.
Given our new aristocratic titles, Duke Ronald and Countess Judith felt quite at home during our visit to Blenheim Palace the next day. The current Duke of Marlborough’s handwritten invitation and welcome note was a nice touch on the brochure. An incredible
joint, and privately owned to this day. In case you are not aware, Blenheim is the birthplace of Winston Churchill. He was not in line for the Dukedom, but they are indeed his family. Whilst obviously aristocracy, the Spencer-Churchill’s are not actually royal and this is the only stately home in Britain allowed to use the term “Palace”. Originally a gift from the Crown to the Churchills, the expense of building it all became a hot political potato. One of the Dukes managed an arranged marriage with the American Vanderbilt family and this rescued the finances. Sadly, there was no romance and the reluctant bride cried through the entire wedding ceremony. We had the best tour guide imaginable; flamboyantly over dressed with a witty turn of phrase. Just a wonderful day.
Oxford. The Holiday Inn is an excellent hotel located on the outskirts of Oxford and whilst it is not within walking distance of anything interesting except the roundabout connecting the A34 highway North and the A44 West; where Ron could watch cars driving around and around for hours. It is, however, conveniently next to a “Park and Ride” hub and a bus
runs every fifteen minutes into Central Oxford up till 11:30pm. This is an excellent system and we sat gleefully on the top deck of a double decker, taking in the sights as we made our way to and from our accommodation. A minor downside is that we ended up eating in the Hotel dining room each night because we could not be bothered bussing it in the evening. This was not really a chore because the food was not bad at all, but meant that we missed out on a bit of culinary diversity. Ron was impressed by a sign propped up on the bed saying; “Hard or Soft – it’s up to You”. Judy said; “it’s about the pillows RON”.
On Saturday, Oxford Castle beckoned, built in 1071 as a defensive facility but converted to a Jail shortly after. It remained a prison until 1996, but Judy came close to imprisonment during our visit on the 120 step narrow enclosed spiral staircase. 120 steps to challenge the knee plus claustrophobic cramped conditions plus heights. All deadly sins in one location! All good; although there was a moment of hesitation half way up. Well done Judy! The
visitor’s centre provided a helpful map with a suggested walking tour. We did the lot. Much has been said about the majesty and beauty of Oxford, so we will not reinvent the wheel here. The photos speak for themselves. For humble Australians, the history and sheer age of everything always amazes. Christ Church College and Cathedral were highlights with a Harry Potter moment in the great Dining Hall – the inspiration for Hogwarts. Time for a coffee in a crowded bookshop; “May we share this table?”; “Certainly”. What followed was a lovely chat with an Oxford local and we solved all the world’s problems.
Next day a Cotswold tour. We thought Burford to be one of the most beautiful towns we have ever seen. It still is, but it was merely the first of many exquisite villages and cities in this region, Bibury, Chipping Campden and Cirencester. As Bicester is pronounced Bisster, we were working on our version of Cirencester; was it Sirrister, Sirrensister, Twistedsister? Turns out it is Sirrensister; but some of the locals call it Sirren. Lots of dead people around the Costswolds, with graveyards galore, ancient cathedrals and the narrowest roads you can imagine.
Several times we had to back up to find a drive or wider patch of road so an oncoming vehicle could pass. Judy obviously does not have a heart condition. The sudden onset of the biggest tractor we have seen would have caused cardiac arrest for most passengers. We climbed half up the kerb and he crept past with millimetres to spare.
Oh yes; in Chedworth there were Woman Wuins. A Roman Villa – looking again for Biggus Dickus! It took us a while to find this historic site. Ron ventured that this was because it was Roamin. Sorry indeed for that one.
Back to Oxford and next - off to York.
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