Big Day O’ London Transport

After a big morning of meetings about creating liveable transport spaces, transport’s role in securing employment outcomes, and links between health and transport options, we thought we’d have lunch and then a break from work and head to… the London Transport Museum!  😀

The museum is located in an old Victorian flower market right beside Covent Garden, it’s a lovely out building, but being a large open steel framed empty space it must be one of the noisiest museums I’ve ever visited.  And while I understood why we were there – transport, duh – I had no idea why there were so many young families with children checking out the history of buses, trams, trains and subways in London!
That is until we got in amongst the exhibits.  There was decided lack of any serious history being imparted here – a few tidbits on plaques around the place and a LOT of modern interactive museum exhibits specifically designed to engage kids… you know the stuff – spin this dial and see what happened over time with the tram lines, get your special London Transport Museum card stamped at every station and get a free sticker, and my fav, climb all over the mocked up bus/taxi/train thingy screaming with glee at the top of your lungs.
The most interesting things here were a few old photos with accompanying text – like this one below depicting an old London bus with its destination ‘blind’ which rolled out so the driver could change the visible sign on the outside of the bus to indicate where it was headed. But mostly the Museum seems to have let the interactive entertainment nonsense overtake the dissemination of historical information bit.  This guy was amusing – the original transport entrepreneur overtaken by Uber imitators perhaps?  Fell flat on his arse… wonder why. By now it was about 3:00pm and we were hoping to head over to the Globe Theatre for a tour at 4pm tour with LukenManda.  So, having taken all the buses, trains and other forms of transport available, we thought we’d try out the cross river ferry service which went from just down near the Strand across to the Globe… or so we thought.  What should have been a 4:05pm ferry with two stops to the Globe (which we arrived 20 mins early for) turned into a 35 min wait for a ferry that never came and then being shepherded onto a ferry service that was going NORTH BOUND which then loops about and heads back to the Globe with four stops on the way.  FFS… we didn’t actually get there until 4:40pm.  Crazy.  If anyone reading this has ever been on a Brisbane CityCat, you won’t understand this, but the Thames Clippers ‘river bus’ services are these huge old barges that take forever to manoeuvre to and from the pontoons and by the time we got there we were completely over it.  The staff make the transport SNAFU extra special by not telling us what happened to the service we were actually waiting for and as we were getting onto the ferry and I was confirming that it was indeed going to the Bankside stop for the Globe, responding with an indifferent, ‘Yeah, I think so.’  Oh we have so much confidence at this point..

Anyway, we eventually got there and just made it to our Globe Tour.  The tour of the theatre was a bit… short and lacking in history.  Yeah, I’m thinking how can that be – we are talking about an Elizabethan theatre here, but our guide, Simon, focussed largely on how this reconstructed building was willed into life by Sam Wanamaker back in the ’80s/90s and how modern acting companies are created and their productions are working now.  So scant little information on Elizabethan theatre practices and historical tidbits.  As such, this was a little on the disappointing side for me.  I’d have preferred to hear more about the socio-political impact of the theatre on contemporary Elizabethan audiences etc rather than how they are directing, casting and producing plays today in that space.  Oh well, still an amazing building and I’m sure one day I’ll be back to see a production here – they are doing Othello at the moment but because of our work commitments while we were here, we had only very briefly looked at seeing what was on several months ago, and then failed to follow up on it.
Oddly, it feels very much like bing in the Pop Up Globe in Auckland and gives you an appreciation of just how well the designers of that venue have done to replicate this incredible theatre in it’s temporary format.  The dimensions are the same, the intimacy of the space is the same… I highly recommend any Aussies who didn’t manage to see it in Melbourne, try to get along to see it in Sydney when it opens soon. After our (rather short) Globe tour it was time to skip through the gift shop and then jump a black cab and head back to Covent Garden to catch up with Joey Jo Jo over a jug of sangria.  🙂   Popped into a little Mexican restaurant I found here on my last trip called, (what was it called, again?) – Cafe Pacifico.  Great little cheap and cheerful place with lovely food, but rather busy and very noisy.  Sorry Angus, Dad had the chimichangas without you! 

We had our meals and went hunting for a pub for to have a quiet pint or two… whereupon we were joined by Mr Eleganza himself, KevZedBaby! was finally in the house!

It is always lovely to be able to catch up with friends while travelling, and this trip has been full of friends (well, you know, work and catching up with friends). We had a few quiet drinks and shared stories about each other’s crazy lives, before having to call it an early night. Big hugs guys, thanks for taking the time to come hang out with us, even for just a few hours.

We were hoping for an early night but this work/travel stuff can be pretty damn draining when you’re trying to smash in some sight seeing too… so it was well after 12pm before we turned in.

Westminster Abbey

This morning I sent Mr K on an early morning walk of central London to see some of the things that you can see – sans tourists and sans the ‘deadly heatwave gripping London!’  Yes, London is in the middle of a heatwave… it has like 30-33C here and people are melting.  But only because London is not prepared for heat like this.  Many shops have either no air con or systems that can’t cope once it gets over about 27, the buses and trains have zero air conditioning at all, so you can get on a bus and get stuck in traffic and then step out into the 33C heat and feel it as cool and refreshing.  The hotels have air conditioned rooms (I’m sitting here in my hotel room with a jumper on atm because I can’t seem to adjust it any warmer than about 21C) but none of the public areas and hallways in the place are air conditioned.  The supermarket has no air con, there are small stores apologising that drinks aren’t cold because they fridges won’t work over 24C… it’s a nightmare.  So at home, we’d say 30-31C is fine – but we go from air conditioned homes to air conditioned cars to air conditioned offices or air conditioned shops.  Brisbane is equipped to deal with it far better than London but it’s so bad here, I’ve been feeling somewhat concerned for London’s elderly residents who probably have no respite from it at all.

Anyway, this morning I sent Mr K out before the heat to have a look at Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column, Covent Garden, the Mall, Buckingham Palace and other well known monuments while the city was still asleep – he got some lovely photos with hardly any people in them and said it was quite pleasant being out and about before the travelling hordes were up.

After breakfast though we had planned to go back to try again to get into Westminster Abbey without the huge queue – and we failed dismally.  We arrived there at 9:15ish and already there was about an hour long wait, though thankfully it was mostly still in the shadow of the cathedral so not standing around in the direct sun as it would have been on Saturday.  The queue was steadily moving but wound itself in around considerably – at one point I had to go find a step to sit on leaving Keith to hold our spaces as my back simply won’t let me stand up for that long, but eventually we got into the Abbey, whereupon we were greeted.  By a cash register.

Now, I don’t mind paying to get into these places, I understand there are hideous costs involved in the upkeep required to preserve these national treasures for posterity and that these cost should be borne by visitors, churches and governments alike.  But unlike yesterday at Hampton Court Palace where I was asked if I would like to pay £22.70 or £25.00 with an added small donation to gain entry*, here we were greeted by a £22.00 per adult but £40.00 for a family of two adults and one child.  What the fuck? Just because we are travelling without our/a child on that day, we are able to afford a more expensive entry price? How does that make any sense whatsoever?  And if you were to ask to buy a family pass, they apparently refused to sell it to you because you didn’t have a child with you.  Honestly if they had said the price is £20.00 and given the option for a £22.00 ticket ‘with a small donation’ I would have paid the additional without blinking, but instead you are immediately put into a mindset where the establishment is deliberately ripping you off, leaving you feeling less than generous towards them right off the bat.  Fucking churches.

(*As a side note I did pay the more expensive £25.00 per person at Hampton Court – I’m always happy to make a small VOLUNTARY donation to a museum like this.)

Anyway we go on in and are offered no map or guide booklet, but only an audioguide.  Sometimes I think audioguides are okay – they are great for some museums or art galleries and they can be awesome if you are travelling by yourself.  However, when you have several hundred people crammed into a medieval church all walking around with their heads stuck up their arses with headphones on listening to an audioguide in umpteen different languages – every single one of them will immediately lose whatever limited situational awareness they previously possessed and turn into bimbling idiots.  You have people bumping into each other, stepping back to look up at something and standing on each others feet and almost knocking each other over, swinging around to see something and bumping their stupid back packs into other visitors – or worse into ancient funereal monuments!  They’re cheek to jowl shuffling along only half listening, with a slack jawed unengaged and bored expression on their face. Audioguides seriously suck in these tight, crowded environments.  Not only do they make for extremely inconsiderate visitors but they actually slow down the progression of the people moving through the spaces. People will slow down to listen to the audioguide at a designated point and not move through until they get told to do so – even if none of what they are listening to is relevant or interesting to them, as audioguides inherently cause people to worry that they may miss something ‘important’.

The Abbey is both historically important and incredibly beautiful – there is no doubting that, but they have somehow managed to suck any enjoyment out of visiting the place.  I feel really quite spoiled that I first came here over 20 years go, before the cash registers at the front door, before the line ups of thousands of tourists and before the advent of the audioguide.  My first visit to the Abbey was solemn and introspective and it felt like visiting an important religious site… today, well it felt like an old musty stone Disneyland with a decided lack of mouse or music.

I still have favourite spots in the Abbey but don’t see myself coming back here for a very long time – perhaps one day for a service if ever at all.  Seeing that you can’t take photos in the Abbey anymore (I have plenty that were taken there years ago), I have a few stock pics to add in of my favourite spot in the Abbey – the Henry VII Lady Chapel with it’s beautiful stalls and brass heraldic stall plates.

Another lovely newer inclusion was Stephen Hawkings memorial marker… and a very helpful Abbey volunteer who was saying repeatedly, “Here, underfoot is Charles Darwin to your left is Stephen Hawking”.
After seeing all the tombs and monuments – Elizabeth I, Mary I, Mary Queen of Scots, the Poet’s corner (wonder if a memorial to J K Rowling will end up in there one day right next to Anthony Trollope or Shakespeare? #showerthoughts) we went out through the Cloisters and the obligatory gift shop.

We had intended to try and smash the Tower of London in before a late lunch today but the queuing meant that was not now going to be possible and we had to head back to the hotel to get stuck into some work that needed finalising before tomorrow’s (today’s meetings).  Which kinda worked out well, as it was going to get us out of this record breaking heat – 35C today and no AC in sight.  Spent an hour on a bus stuck in traffic to traverse barely a few kilometres (would have walked, but my back is not up for it atm) and spilled out of the bus feeling that the 35C heat was ‘cool and refreshing’.  I shit you not.  London Transport – you have wilting OAPs and heat stroked tourists to answer for.  Get your act together!

Work stuff took longer than we expected and we didn’t end up going out again until evening.  Jumped the tube and went for a wander down to Leicester Square and Piccadilly to do a spot of shopping and see the gathering hordes. Mr K’s comment on seeing the M&M World, the LEGO store and the street performers: “Wow, this is like the London’s Times Square isn’t it?”  Me: “Yup, walk with purpose and hold onto your belongings.”

We made our way up Regent Street to do some shopping and then came back again towards Covent Garden before ending up at Drury Lane to have dinner at Sarastro.  Ms Stephola brought me here a couple of years ago and I loved the place – extremely funky decor, wonderful live pianist or opera playing in the background, and amazing Turkish/Mediterranean food.  I thought Mr K would like it, so here we were and we were not disappointed.  We had a lovely meal in a cute little tucked away booth where we felt like the only patrons in the restaurant.

After our lovely meal, we went for a wander down past the Aldwych Theatre which is currently showing ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’ (which is neither here nor there but we were just contemplating who on earth they could have found to belt out Tina Turner tunes all night, every night in a musical version of her life/career), when we saw a fox cross The Strand heading towards Drury Lane or possibly heading to the Waldorf Hilton. A fox. We saw an actual (presumably wild) fox crossing the street in central London – and all I could think was, ‘I bet she’s not impressed with this heat either’.

So after another lovely day in London that was predominately overtaken by work, we head back to our hotel to prepare for more work tomorrow!  (Though via Sainsbury’s to pick up some pre-mixed G&Ts of course.)

Hampton Court Palace

Today we had planned to catch up with LukenManda to go out to Hampton Court Palace.  I love that our travel plans have coincided with friends from home who live 1500kms from us also being here so that we can go do something cool together.  Had we been a little more organised and the fates aligned a little more in our favour, we’d be hanging out with Christine too – alas, she won’t be here until a few days after we head off from Southampton.  #AussiesAndKiwisDoTravel

Anyway, off to Hampton Court for the day.  I won’t bore anyone with any of the history – y’all know it inside out.  This is my third or fourth visit here, I’m honestly not sure but I love the place and it’s Mr K’s first visit so we couldn’t not come.  🙂  Have I mentioned how much we love Google Maps ability to tell you the quickest way to get to where you’re going?  Used it a LOT in Europe last year and it’s extremely handy…

We had a great day wandering about – saw all the things, experienced all the exhibitions and even took a dray ride around the park (it’s quite hot for London – and London does not deal with heat; air conditioning in these old buildings would be impossible).
Tudor Kitchens Kitchen herb gardens Formal fountain courtyard added during the William and Mary extension to the Palace. Astronomical clock… no cuckoos much to Mr K’s dismay. Entrance to William’s appartments – whereupon, my camera battery went dead.  I felt like ever such an unaccomplished tourist to suffer such a rookie mistake.  AND to add insult to injury I didn’t have a micro-USB to charge it up on the go either.  Urgh. Great Hall ceiling.  Tapestry / portrait galleries Magical gardens and the famous Hampton Court Palace hedge maze. After this we went for a well earned pint and a snack.  We were going to stop at the Mute Swan, but unfortunately (or fortunately, not sure) they were packed to capacity and we ended up at the Riverview Terrace over looking the Thames enjoying a lovely breeze and a few pints of cider.  Fanfuckingtastic.

Then it was onto the train to head back to London and yes, you got it : more work to do before we could head out for dinner tonight – which on Paul’s recommendation was to see us at the Punjab curry house in Covent Garden.  The Punjab curry house is one of London’s oldest Indian restaurants and with a line up outside waiting for a table, I highly recommend making a reservation if you plan on coming for a meal, especially if you are coming with a largish group of diners.

Established in 1946 and still going strong. All these recommendations on the back of the menu were well deserved.  The food was amazing.   Definitely want to avoid that then!  😉  On Paul’s recommendation I tried the prawn puri and Keith, the onion pakoras, because well, who needs a reason?  Both entrees were fabulous.  We then shared a dish called, Anari Gosht (a deliciously fragrant lamb and pomegranate dish) that isn’t actually on the menu but which the waiter was only too happy to arrange for us.  Good call on the Anari Gosht, Paul – it was beautiful.  Unusual blend of flavours and well worth the effort to negotiate from our waiter.  🙂 After dinner we stumbled back to the hotel where Mr K promptly went back to work and I promptly fell asleep on the couch! I was ostensibly supposed to be blogging – but so much for that!  🙂

Was a marvellous but a HUGE day out.

London, I’m back.

People often ask me if I am excited about my upcoming trip and I always find myself replying, “Not really.”  Which is both true and untrue at the same time.  ‘Yes’, I am always anticipating the adventures to come, but ‘No’, I don’t usually allow myself to get excited about anything until the long haul flights are done and dusted.  They wreak havoc with my back pain, meaning that a flight to London is more likely to be preceded by anxiety rather than excitement.  C’est la vie… it is what it is.

Our flight this trip was no worse nor any better than ones we have taken in the past.  We flew Cathay Pacific and had a stop over in Hong Kong.  The first leg to Hong Kong was pretty much an empty plane – I swear nearly every passenger was laying down asleep for the 9 hr flight. Oddly, with so many passengers laying down it was interesting to see how many chose to lay down with their feet towards the window and their heads towards the aisle, where you’d think there’s a greater risk of being knocked about… weirdos. The second,12 hr, leg from Hong Kong to London was the complete opposite and packed to the gills – YUK!  Never mind, I got through it thanks to modern pharmaceuticals and a determination not to think on the pain too much.

Arrived in London safe and sound, but did have a massive delay coming through border processing – we must have stood in line for little over an hour, which in itself would still be problematic for my stupid back, but after 20+ hours in transit was my very own private customs hell for the duration.  Honestly, the Disneyesque rope system does nothing to encourage the orderly movement of the hordes of Chinese tourists that filed off about four plans that landed when ours did.  It was barely controlled chaos with border guards using GOOGLE TRANSLATE to ask people questions.  FFS, it shouldn’t be that hard.

Then it was onto the tube and heading into town to find out hotel all of which landed us here and getting cleaned up about 2 hours later than anticipated.  We have chosen to stay at the St Giles Hotel just off Tottenham Court Road in Camden this trip, seemed like a nice central spot and they have plenty of business facilities (which is going to come in handy as the week progresses).  There’s heaps and heaps of construction going on around here – footpaths being repaved, parts of the tube being renovated and some buildings appear to be being replaced, so the area doesn’t have its usual charm and instead seems a over busy space of too many people navigating too many obstacles to get anywhere.

Finally showered up and changed we head out to find a pub for a quick bite for dinner and found ourselves at the Jack Horner tucking into fish and chips and bangers and mash with a pint before coming back to the hotel and doing everything we could to stay awake until after 10pm.

Not a bad first day, all the plans executed, all the transfers achieved, nothing of any note experienced but we made it safe and sound.

London Twenty Years On…

So way back when I was a sweet and innocent young thing, I lived in London for several months while doing some photography work, and so coming back here this trip meant that I didn’t feel any overwhelming need to race around like a headless chook and see everything there is to see in five days or less. But I have noticed that while many, many things remain the same and no doubt thanks the the National Trust and the like, essentially will remain the same… there are a lot of things around here that are very very different. These are just a few of the little oddities that struck me as having changed – or indeed have not when you expect they might have – in the last 20 years…

The big one has to be … There’s no fucking traffic in London anymore!!! Used to be you couldn’t move in inner city London for the traffic, cars would be backed up for miles, going nowhere, and to turn a corner meant literally nudging your way into a sliver of space and hoping like hell the guy beside you will reluctantly yield enough for you to merge in. The congestion tax that was implemented several years ago, obviously works a treat, the streets are half empty, and 90% of vehicles seem to be cabs. 

  The downside – and there always is one – pedestrians have gotten a lot cockier. I noticed many people stepping out in front of cars when they would never had tried that shit in years gone by, and jay walking is just the done thing. 

Speaking of pedestrians, there appears to be more pedestrian only areas in and around covent garden, down through to Piccadilly, which means you can get around a lot easier and it is far more pleasant than it was in the past. I like it, pedestrian malls always feel like they are reclaiming cities from the cars and giving the city back to the people. 

  Oyster cards. The Oyster cards are much cooler and far more durable than old weekly paper ticket with the magnetic strip that would get torn in the ticketing machine or get demagnetised at the drop of a hat. But I gotta know… Why is it called an Oyster card? And why is it a boring blue travel card that could belong to any city? Why not a London skyline, or an Underground logo, or even a section of the iconic Tube map? They couldn’t have designed a more boring, less British looking card if they tried (though come to think of it, Japan’s Suica card, Hong Kong’s Octopus card and New York’s Metrocard are equally boring… there’s some missed opportunities here to brand your city – pay attention transit authorities!) 

   

What else? Smoking!!! Wtf is with that? Everyone still smokes here. Admittedly not as bad as China, but surely in England you’ve all seen the memo, right? Smoking kills you, end of story. In China, you can well and truly blame extremely poor education still, but England, there’s no excuse. Can’t stand walking down the street in a cloud of second hand smoke, it’s time you gave it away guys. PS: I love you, Australia. 

Something else I noticed was the crazy infiltration of chain eateries. Not the McDonalds and Burger King, though, those are here too, but in particular the Pret A Manger and Caffe Nero who try to look like they’re not necessarily a big chain and pretend to be healthy even, but are ridiculously expensive and have probably put a thousand small sandwich bars and coffee shops out of business. Starbucks is bad enough, but do we need yet another pervasive chain? Can’t we have something unique.

Souvenir shops have changed considerably since I was here last – they are no longer quaint little shops run by little British granny types saying, ‘Hulloo. Are ya right there, luv?’ No, now in the major touristy areas, they seem to be largely run by Pakistani and Indian men who have six or seven guys loitering around the store while you walk around feeling uncomfortable as they watch your every step. And for some reason, souvenir shops are also selling LOADS of mobile phone cases and have currency exchanges offices in the back. Oh, and they sell novelty condoms in these places now, though for the life of me, I don’t know why.

  Bobble heads have almost entirely edged snow globes out of the tacky tourist market, but not entirely. Yet. 

 Rubbish bins are back! Yeah, didn’t see that one coming, but it was really noticeable, not just for the obvious reason – that everywhere seems just that bit cleaner, with a lot less rubbish being dropped about the place, but also… no more hunting forever for somewhere to dispose of that unwanted leaflet you just got given. Twenty years ago, the cop’s primary purpose was to look for and deal with unattended parcels, and there would be no rubbish bins in sight, especially not in tube stations or near pubs and restaurants. Now, it seems the cops’ (in their high vis vests) primary function is to stand around giving out directions to clueless tourists. Good job everyone – rubbish bins are awesome. So clean. 

   

 Errr… what else? People still don’t talk on the Tube. Of course. This is a vital and necessary unwritten rule for surviving living in enormous and busy cities like London. But I have noticed that instead of reading whatever free or cheap local newspaper that was available in the local tube station, no one is reading anymore – they’re all on their phones. Stephola tells me the Piccadilly Line is the only acceptable line to be smiling and engaged in conversation – this is largely due to it being full of people coming in from the airport travelling with friends whom they have not seen in a while, and it is only here on this one line where camaraderie and conversation is acceptable on the tube. Everywhere else must be endured with the traditional stoic silence and pretence of being alone while plunging into the crowded darkness.

 It felt very much as though there were not as many homeless floating around as there used to be, or if there are, they don’t appear to be begging as much as I remember. Not sure if this is because begging is proving to be less successful as people become ever more insular in their lives or if social policies have improved (*scoff*) to enable more homeless to have safe accommodations, but it’s just a general impression that I wasn’t being harassed as much as in the past.

Women seem to have gotten more sensible in London than once they were. They aren’t as crazy over the top dressed up as I remember. It seems that nowadays the jeans and boots rule the pavements, whereas once upon a time, everyone was wearing thin pencil skirts, tights and stupidly high heels that made you worry for their safety as they teetered over the cobbles. Oh, and huge enormous fake fluffy fur jackets. Perhaps we have the likes of Bridget Jones to thank for this terribly practical transformation towards the comfortable over the ridiculously fashionable, who knows?? 

Other than that, things are much as I remember. I love London and all her quaint little alleyways and lack of grid layout. 🙂 Though I do believe that pint glasses seem that have shrunk… either that or I am a much better drinker than I used to be!