31 December 2010 – 8 January 2011: London

31 December 2010:  Devon > London

We said goodbye to the Strahans and headed back towards London.  We decided to drive the same road back that we came on, unfortunately it was no longer the quiet road and seemed to be full of trucks, who as soon as the dual carriageway came, they tried to overtake themselves making it hard for us to make it through the overtaking lanes.  It was certainly not the snow and ice covered road it was a few days ago.  Although it was a bit foggy, the weather was a lot nicer, however no sign of the sun still.  We arrived back very easily at the Avis depot to drop back the car to realise that the GPS bag was still in London – so after a bit of negotiation we have to drop it back in a few days, but we didn’t get any of the huge charges normally associated with anything to do with car rental.  We hopped straight on the Avis shuttle which dropped us at terminal 3 of Heathrow and the London Underground.  The tube came straight away and an hour later we were finally catching up with Robert and Kevin.  Which we celebrated with a couple of bottle of bubbles. 

We walked to Randall & Aubin on Brewer Street for another couple bottles of wine and something to eat.  The area was packed with people who were seeming to settle in for the New Year celebrations.  We wandered back to the house for a small relax before getting ready to head next door to Tony & Gloria who were doing a small (read absolutely massive) feed and way too many more drinks.  Duncan & Gary also came over to join our New Years Eve festivities.  Duncan’s dad, Ted, was my Dad’s best man all those years ago.  We stocked up the backpack with more champers and wine (there appears to be no restrictions on street drinking here) and headed down towards the Embankment, however as we got close to the Savoy Hotel, the crowds got thicker and thicker, so we stood and watched them wander by and decided to go back to Robert’s top floor apartment to watch the fireworks.  Of course walking back was taking your lives into your own hands, by crossing the urine and rubbish filled streets walking past many many people who were a little worse for wear – hmm maybe the drinking in the streets is not such a good idea.

Standing on the balcony we were able to see the whole of London surrounding us and counted down to the fireworks that were set off from the London Eye.  They were stunning and worth seeing.  We then ventured back down to the downstairs apartment and Duncan serenaded us with showtunes before Scott and I finally hit the sack at about 1:30am, way past our usual bedtime.

1 January 2011:  London

We got up relatively early without a hangover which was a great way to start the New Year.  So we had a coffee and headed out into the relatively warm London winter.  We walked down through Covent Garden which was just being set-up, surprisingly without as much rubbish around as we thought, considering the huge amount of people that were wandering around last night.

We then meandered through the streets to Trafalgar Square, Admiralty Arch, the Mall, Buckingham Palace, St James’s Park, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and then across Westminster Bridge to Southbank which we followed all the way to Blackfriars Bridge.  There are quite a few tourists around and as there is a London Parade today, it felt like a million tour buses depositing marching bands, school groups and more tourists.  The good thing about wandering around London today was that there was hardly any other traffic, so we were able to walk along the streets without worrying about being hit by the usual tonnes of traffic.  We enjoyed the leisurely walk, however, the weather started to change becoming cold and drizzly, so we cut across to Fleet Street where we came across the most wonderful church that had a fantastic time peace of two men banging on bell with large clubs – they were only dressed in gold loincloths, very strange for a Catholic church.  We continued up towards Holborn and past Australia House.  Due to the weather we decided to have a quiet afternoon in relaxing and finally getting a chance to sit down and read.

2 January 2011:  London

Hitting the streets early again, we decided to continue past Blackfrairs and see my old stomping ground around Tower Hill.  So we walked back down to the other side of Blackfrairs bridge and continued along the Thames Walk, which really isn’t the Thames walk as it keeps making you walk around the buildings and not along the river.  We stopped at Monument, which was built to commemorate the site of the fire that started the Great Fire of London.  Scott walked up to the top of Monument (300 steps) and I had a wander around the streets below.  After walking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, I have seriously gone off steps, hills and mountains.  We wandered off again to the Tower of London and walked around.  There are queues of people trying to buy tickets and we aren’t that bothered about going inside.  I find the walls way more interesting to look at.  We then made it across the road to where I used to work, which is now many other offices but not changed at all – surreal.  We walked around, but as it was a weekend the local pubs etc were closed.  However, they were all still there and didn’t look any different.  The main shock was that The Minories was still there and open – I spent so much of my youth there and it has not changed at all, except now it looks dated and very ordinary.  We had a drink and I sat there thinking back to all those years ago. 

We walked across Tower Bridge and then along the wharfs which are now very expensive apartments and restaurants.  We made it as far as the British Design Museum before heading back across Tower Bridge and into St Katherine’s Dock.  Scott was now wandering around with a trail of drool from all the boats that were docked there, even I must admit there was some very nice boats, if only someone could invent a cure for sea-sickness.  We made it to the Dickens Inn, which I can remember going to before, however, it might look nice from the outside, but inside it was a shocker, totally overpriced, awful food and awful clientele, it was basically just a childrens playground with kids screaming and running around everywhere, furniture being dragged around and it has been a long time since we have both been somewhere that totally lacked atmosphere.  We only stayed to eat and drink as we had already ordered them and quickly made our departure, vowing never to set foot in there again. 

We headed off along the Thames again.  As usual it started to get dark at 3:30pm, so we headed back home as it gets really cold as soon as the sun totally disappears, even though it is not out often or for long.

 3 January 2011:  London

Up early again to hit the sights.  The weather was still cold, but at least it wasn’t raining too much, more just a constant drizzle.  This time we walked the opposite way up the Thames.  We headed off towards Oxford Street/Regent Street before making it to Green Park, cutting down towards Buckingham Palace where the Changing of the Guards was happening and there were loads of tourists.  We think it may have been the vague possibility that there may be a ray of sunshine, although we aren’t hopeful and have rugged up as usual.  We walked up towards Chelsea and Kensington, where alas it started to rain – as usual and again.  We kept wandering though and went past the Chelsea Hospital which is the home to the Chelsea Pensioners, a very large retirement home for some of the armed forces.  It is a beautiful building surrounded by beautiful gardens and parks, certainly a wonderful way to enjoy your last years.   Scott and I were doing the sticky beak walk and trying to see in all the windows of the beautiful terraced houses.  We found the house that Bram Stoker (of Dracula fame for all those vampire fans out there) and continued to just be amazed by some of the beautiful homes – we did have a look in the real estate agents and realised until we had about $4m we wouldn’t even be able to buy a bedsit. 

We finally found our way back down to The Thames and started the long trek back home.  By then we were starving and a tad thirsty, so found a wonderful pub on the worker of Lambeth Bridge and the Embankment, having a lovely glass of wine for me and a pint of bitter for Scott.  We did order some lunch, but after a while the bartender came and said she was going to check on it, when she came back the order was running late, so they gave us a free round of drinks to tide us over.  It just added to the nice feeling of the pub.  They also had a selection of games i.e. scrabble and people sat around play that, it just had a nice atmosphere.  So well fed and well topped up we walked back along the embankment, although it was harder to get going, but off we went, however, it started to almost snow and got really cold, yes nothing new, but it actually got colder than even we were used to. 

We ventured out with Robert and Kevin for an indian meal at Mazala Zone in Covent Garden.  The food was nice, lots of little things to enjoy, however the bill at the end was a bit of a shock.  Something we have yet to get used to here is how expensive eating and drinking is.

5 January 2011:  London

Off to work this morning to Tracy, certainly not what she wanted to do after a nice long break.  Up early we both headed off from Holborn Tube Station to Gunnersbury Tube Station which took much longer than we thought.  After arriving at the tube station, Scott walked me to work and waved me goodbye. 

I headed into the office to meet and greet and finally find out what I was going to be doing and get ready for my trip to Bulgaria.  As usual everyone was really nice and prepared for me to arrive.  The building is really big though and like a labyrinth.  It was certainly tiring though.

Scott walked back to Holborn which is about 8 miles, stopping off along the way to get some great photos of the art in the parks.

6 January 2011:  London

Another day of work for me, if only I could win lotto, but alas until then, it is hi ho, hi ho off to work I go.  Today however it was raining, so I had to catch the bus from the tube station and Scott headed off back to the house from there.  As usual totally forgot to bring my umbrella, probably should put it in my bag as lets face it seems to be perpetually grey and drizzley.

I got home and Scott and I headed out to the local pub called Princess Louise, which we had been recommended, but it was a bit disappointing, although the drinks were good, the pub was packed, but was broken into little booths, so we had to sit at the bar which seemed to be in the way of everyone and anyone that came into the pub.  It was nice to get out.  With working I leave home when it is dark and get home when it is dark and I am missing the rays, not to say scuba diving.  So we are working on an itinerary to get us to warmer climes asap.

7 January 2011:  London

Finally made it to Friday for work.  By the looks of the deserted office, it seems to be a day where no many people work, or many people only work half a day, so I was able to get loads done, printed and ready to go for Bulgaria next week.

As usual it was raining – I am seriously getting over this rain and am just dying for a day where I could attempt to put my sunglasses on. 

Scott walked back getting drenched.  He seems to be covering some miles in his walks each day.  Even discussing the possibility of doing the London Marathon.

I got home and we headed out for a meal and a drink.  I don’t know what it is, but I am sure I am invisible to everyone, so again in the pub no matter where I stood it was in the way.  It was also so hot, we were all sweating, so after one, we headed off to the restaurant (Med Kitchen, Cambridge Circus). 

We picked this restaurant because it is on a website called www.toptable.co.uk where restaurants put their specials up.  This restaurant was offering 3 courses for GBP15 including a glass of wine.  However, on perusing the menu there wasn’t much for me to eat, so I opted for the a la carte, whereas the rest had the set menu.  The atmosphere in the restaurant was however awful, it was so noisy because whoever was sorting the dishes and cutlery was throwing them from the floor above, it was horrible, you could hardly hear yourself think, we even complained but got no satisfaction, just blank looks, so we headed off from there.

8 January 2011:  London

Saturday at last and I actually managed to have a lie in, which just seemed super luxurious.  Due to the stupid visa problems with Scott, we decided to make the most of what could be our last day in London.

We topped up our Oyster Card, which is the tube card so you don’t have to pay for each journey.  This involves a complicated process of going to the tube station and topping up the card and then you keep holding the card against the machine until it stop saying there is an error and finally accepts the money.  We walked across the road to the Thames Clipper which is the shuttle boat service to Greenwich.  This was an even weirder process for tickets there.  We walked down to the ferry where they sent us back to the ticket counter to process our Oyster Card.  So at the ticket counter they scanned our card and then gave us a paper ticket.  We showed this back to the ticket inspector before boarding the boat where we had to show the ticket again (although there was a lady onboard who could give you a ticket).  The boat went down the river making a couple of stops, but t was really great, clean, big and the coffee was made by a barista.  We disembarked at Greenwich where we had to show the ticket again.  Talk about creating employment.

At Greenwich there are a lot of things under construction or being repaired, probably in preparation for the Olympics in 2012.  We walked up through the park and headed into the National Maritime Museum which is certainly impressive, but I did feel that it was lacking a lot of things that could have been there because of the maritime history of Britain.  However, I thought the most impressive display was the glass windows that were salvaged from one of the buildings in London that was bombed in 1992, it was a dedication to those that lost their lives at sea during the wars, it had been beautifully and painstakingly restored, I could only imagine the patience of those that did that work.

After the museum, we were off to the Royal Observatory, one of Scott’s must see places.  We walked up the hill to the Observatory which I had never been too either and it was really interesting.  Scott was in his element with the first four clocks that solved the longitude problems for navigators.  You could only be in awe at the people who had worked so hard with little monetary provisions to solve some of the great problems in navigation.  After wandering through the displays we did the usual stand on either side of the meridian line and take some photos.  This Observatory is set in some beautiful grounds and parks which we walked through to get to the main streets of Greenwich.  We settled on a pub called the Spanish Armanda and sat at the bar with a drink and a lovely lunch listening to all the voices from different countries.  Again the bar staff were wonderfully friendly and made our luncheon break really enjoyable.

Alas it was time to wander off back to the complicated process of the Thames Clipper.  We bought our tickets and then got to the ticket check point where we decided to make a run for it and get on the ferry and luckily they put the gate back down and we all managed to pile on. 

This time we got off at London Bridge, as we wanted to head to Borough Markets which Robert and Kevin recommended.  We found it easily and oh my god it was fantastic, there are so many variations of cheeses, meats, wines and so many other things, all organic – no hint of pasteurisation, homogenisation anything that seems to have invaded our lifestyles in Australia.  We settled on two types of cheese, some chorizo and some olives for snacks when we got home.  We made a list of things we want when we get back.  Although it would have been fantastic to have got there earlier as obviously some of the stalls were cut and there were a few stalls that had sold out of some of their products.  It was great as there were so many things that came from different countries within Europe.  I could just not ever imagine this kind of market in Australia which is such a shame.  We continued to wander around taking in the atmosphere and smells of the market, as there were loads of stalls that did  lots of freshly cooked hot meals and you could then take this food and go into Southwark Cathedral and eat in the grounds.  Today would have been a nice to have a picnic as it was suddenly sunny – .which seems to be a rare event.

We bought a few cheeses and some chorizo and headed home to have a night in with Robert and Kevin as we have an early flight tomorrow and if the English Immigration officials are as incompetent as when we arrived in christmas, may be Scott’s last time here.