Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

























August 5-8, 2011

Another weekend and another trip away, this time to London to watch the rugby and show our colleague Ryan around the city. We left work on the Friday and headed straight to the airport even though our flight wasn’t until about 9pm. We joined one of the girls we work with, Tas, for a couple of beers before heading to grab some food. It was then we found out that our flight had been delayed and we were forced to drink more beer. Our flight eventually took off after we were due to have landed, such was the shortness of the flight and the length of the delay. Landing at Gatwick, we were greeted with a further delay as an accident on the motorway had forced the road to be closed and no taxis would take us to my brother’s house. We rushed to the train and just caught one, forgetting to buy a ticket in the process. We were soon in Merstham and soon back at the house, tired and ready for bed!

The Saturday was a busy day – we were up for breakfast early before heading out to meet Tas in Kingston for some lunch. We met her at a bar called Browns where we sat by the river and enjoyed some great food. My brother is an a diet and limited himself to a salad and I joined him, having a lovely tuna nicoise salad. All too quickly, lunch was over and we said goodbye to Tas and headed back to the station. We were going to Twickenham to watch England v Wales in the rugby and we had to ensure we were on a train by about an hour before the match, despite the fact the journey was only about 10 minutes and the walk should have only been about the same. However, Twickenham had amazingly sold out for this warm up match to the forthcoming World Cup and we arrived at the same time as thousands of others. The walk to the stadium was slow going but we reached our seats just before the teams came out. Ryan was able to enjoy his first English sporting occasion including a great version of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as well as Jerusalem and the pitiful “English” national anthem. The game itself was pretty decent and England managed to scrape a victory. I managed to miss England’s second try though which was just after half time as I was still stuck in the beer queue! My brother had missed a try earlier, too, getting beers but his was only a Welsh score! After the match we met my mate Ralph for some post-match beers before we headed into central London for a few more beers before we headed to Chinatown for a well-earned Chinese!

Having had a late night Saturday, we weren’t afforded a lie in on Sunday as my parents were going to drive the three of us (Elizabeth, Ryan and I) around London to give Ryan a taster of the city. We wanted to start early to pack in as much as possible although Ryan was a little concerned when he saw on TV about the riots in North London and wondered how close we were going to be to them. We told him we weren’t going anywhere near them, thankfully, and that we would be perfectly safe in central London. We left the house around 10 and headed into the city. The riots in London had been because of a black man who had been shot by the police earlier in the week and it appeared the local community saw it as race-related and had taken to the streets. We passed through Brixton in South London on our way into the city and the area was swarming with police cars. This area has been known for riots and trouble in the past and the police were obviously readying themselves for the violence to spread. My dad already started planning a route back to avoid this area this evening! Our first stop in the city was by Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Last time I was around this area was when I was working in our London office of my Bermuda employment. This part of London is really lovely and it is amazing how the old buildings like the Tower have remained and the new, modern London has evolved around it, including buildings like the “gherkin” which many thought to be vulgar when it was first built but which is now an unmistakable part of the London skyline. The Tower and riverside areas were crammed full of people, as is the way on a summer day, with tourists not concerning themselves with where they are going or who they are inconveniencing. It reminded me of one of the reasons why I grew tired of London – as much as I love coming back, seeing family, seeing friends and visiting the “sights”, you never truly feel like you have London to yourself and you are always fighting for the piece of tarmac with a thousand foreigners. It’s weird but I feel the same about Paris but much less so about somewhere like New York. Maybe the difference there is I am the foreigner although I like to think I’m a little more aware of my surroundings when I am somewhere different. From the Tower we drove along past St. Paul’s Cathedral, stopping briefly for a photo, and then carrying on along Fleet Street to the Royal Courts of Justice. This building is one of the most impressive in London and as we circled around the back we went past many of the offices now used by legal firms. These aren’t your legal aid type lawyers, either! We also looped around and past the Olde Curiosity Shop which was interesting, not just for the literary relevance but because it is, well, curious. The shop front is very different to the surrounding buildings and the fact this old shop has managed to stay around amongst the rich properties neighbouring it is a testament to the fact that deep-down, London and Londoners want to retain that sense of history.

From there we headed back south of the Thames and parked near the London Eye. We hadn’t planned on going on the Eye so for now we crossed the river on foot and headed into Covent Garden. The entire area was completely packed but that was nothing unexpected. The street vendors and market stalls were busy, the Japanese tour groups even busier and the street performers were wowing the crowds with their uni-cycling, juggling and sword-swallowing skills (not all at once, I hasten to add!). We wandered around the stalls and shops and soon found that we were getting hungry and our lunch reservation was calling. I had booked us into a place called Hawksmoor based on the recommendation of one of my friends. I wanted somewhere with a nice traditional roast dinner, not only so Ryan could try it but also because, selfishly, I wanted one too! The food was superb – all of us chose the roast dinner and it turned out to be the biggest, most succulent piece of beef I have had in a long time, served with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and veggies… and even just writing this is making me hungry! The restaurant even made its own beers, too, so Ryan, my dad and I tried one of the local ales and even these were great, perfectly complimenting the terrific meal. There are only a handful of restaurants I can truly remember and would ever recommend, possibly only two or three, but this is definitely one of them. You can definitely get a roast dinner cheaper in London but this was amazing value.

Stuffed, we headed out of the restaurant and back towards Covent Garden although we were soon greeted with rain, more rain and then heavier rain! We hurried our way back past Charing Cross station and down to the Embankment and hid under the arch and in the nearby dive shop for a while to let the rain slow down. Once it had, we crossed the bridge again and headed for the London Eye, Ryan and I deciding we should go on it to give Ryan some birds-eye views of the city. Our timing wasn’t too bad – the rain had ceased when we got on the Eye and we made it most of the way around before the rain started again. We were pretty much at the highest point when the rain started again and even though the downpour was brief, there was enough water to make the glass capsules a bit difficult to look through. Still, I was able to point out Buckingham Palace, the BT Tower (or whatever it is called now!), Houses of Parliament and “Big Ben” as well as some of the standout buildings in the city and beyond, such as St. Paul’s and the “gherkin” again and 1 Canada Square at Canary Wharf (commonly just called “Canary Wharf”, in fact but I know my father would be disappointed if I made that schoolboy error!). As we got back to solid ground, Ryan and I grabbed a coffee and headed back to the car park where everyone was waiting for us, having enjoyed a coffee of their own. Given the changeable weather, we decided to drive around and see what else we could see. Crossing over Westminster Bridge we had the House of Parliament directly in front of us and the Clock Tower, too. Like Canary Wharf, I won’t make the error of calling it Big Ben because everyone knows that Big Ben is the nickname of the bell that chimes inside the tower, don’t they?! We couldn’t really stop here so we headed on around to Westminster Abbey, where Prince William recently married a stick insect, and my dad was able to stop here for a short while, almost running over a few errant tourists in the process! We then worked our way past Downing Street, complete with armed guards, we saw some of the Queen’s guards on their horses working their way back to the stables (we’d just missed the final changing of the guard for the day) and then into Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. I used to walk through here daily on my way to work and some things completely bypass you. The buildings which house the galleries around Trafalgar Square are really amazing and so many people just miss it on a daily basis, too busy involved in the abhorrent practice of having to work!

From Trafalgar Square we headed up to Piccadilly Circus, along Regent Street (past Hamley’s toy story!), crossing Oxford Street and then up around Regent’s Park. Heading back down the other side, we went passed Baker Street, down Bond Street and the posh shops and then through Green Park and then towards the west of London. As we passed through Kensington we showed Ryan Harrods but I think the significance was lost on him! The final place on our whistle stop tour was the Natural History Museum, which my dad claims is his favourite building in London. The architecture is stunning and the outside of the building is every bit as impressive as the exhibits inside, which we didn’t stop to look at. After that came the long drive all the way to South London and into Surrey! I hadn’t realized but my dad had left the meter running in the taxi all day and we all tried to see what we thought the final total would be – it ended up being over £400 and as my mum guessed closest, we let her pay!

Back at Nick’s we were all tired and we just lazed around. Unfortunately my parents still had an hour or so left to drive home so they left pretty soon but it was so great to see them and we had such a good day. It is certainly a different way to see London and one not many people experience, getting a proper London cabbie as your tour guide!

We had an early start on Monday morning so we headed to bed pretty quickly. The alarm going off around 5am was not the nicest sound I’ve ever heard but thankfully the taxi was on time and we were able to get to the airport, through security and have a big, fat, horrible MacDonalds for breakfast! We boarded our plane on time but after sitting on board for about half an hour we were told the systems in the UK had gone down and all flight plans were being entered manually. Unfortunately, a flight can’t ask for its final flight plan until it is fully boarded and so it seemed many planes were boarding as fast as possible to join the queue for a manual flight plan! We sat on the tarmac for almost 2 hours before finally taking off. The man in front of us was getting quite irate and complaining about Easyjet’s poor service. I’m not sure what Easyjet could’ve done about a UK-wide issue! We were supposed to be getting into work by about 10am but we eventually arrived around 1pm and Ryan decided not to go in at all and to take a day out of his annual leave instead. Yet again, a weekend was over all too quickly but we were now in full countdown mode to leaving! This time in 2 weeks we’d be in Bangkok…

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