Wee Bus Trip to Oxford

Wasn’t really feeling the tourist vibe today and would have happily taken a day off but when there is so much to see, I always feel really slack if I take a ‘sea day’ when I’m travelling.  So it was about 0900 when I got motivated to see when I could jump on a bus to go to Oxford for the day.  Checked the timetable, X60 bus was at 0917.  Right, up and at ‘em – I can make that.  Quickly dressed, grabbed sunscreen, hat etc and went to the bus stop which is about 1 min from Stephola’s front door.  How unexpected?  The bus was late… but anyway, got on the bus and admired the landscape and scowled at the unmasked, all the way to Buckingham Tesco where I had to change to the X5 to Oxford.

At the interchange, things didn’t improve, the bus which should have been 4 mins, failed to materialised and the following one which was 23 mins behind it was running late. So I stood around for a good 39 mins.  Yay.  Onto bus two… and now feeling like I needed lube: £21.40 for the round trip.  Ultimately ended up in Oxford; what should have been a 1hr 20min trip was closer to 2 hours, but c’est la vie – what can you do?

Decided to wander around to the Bodleian Library via the Covered Markets (much of which was closed, because Monday!), to have a look about only to find that you can no longer go into the library without a tour guide.  Hmmm… things have changed. And again, being a Monday, tours were limited and therefore all sold out for the day.

Oh well – I wasn’t too disappointed as I have been here before and I still got to admire the beautiful architecture which is so unlike anything we have back home.  The Radcliffe Camera is also closed to everyone except Readers, unless you’ve booked on a special tour that takes you in when the library isn’t in use.  This is certainly sounding like tourists had become too disruptive over the years and they’re desperately trying to keep the libraries useful for the students.  Unsurprising really… before the pandemic, *I* was finding the sheer bulk of rude, ignorant and noisy tourists fucking annoying (and I am one!), so I can’t imagine what it must be trying to maintain a quiet contemplative library environment when truckloads of selfie-taking tourist are flocking through the book stacks.

Right next door is the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, which is one of the oldest working churches with a place on worship having been on that site since the 11thC and parts of the existing church build in the 13thC.  Absolutely stunning… though there was a rather weird exhibit inside which I am still uncertain as to its purpose.  There was an enormous balloon/orb with a projection of the earth on it, and audio track which appeared to be of early astronauts talking to each other – it seemed rather out of place being in the old church, and I had no idea what they were selling/promoting, but felt obligated to take photos of Australia when it spun towards me!  *shrug*. She says she doesn’t know!

On the way out I realised I hadn’t had breakfast and that it being now midday, I should probably stop and have something to eat and more importantly drink. I saw the Vaults and Garden Cafe (which is no doubt why entry to the church is free) and saw a lady having a scone and a cuppa in the garden and thought that looked terribly civilised and followed her lead.  Popped in ordered a pot of tea and a plain scone, complete with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream and found a table outside, which turned out to be in the middle of an medieval cemetery, and promptly remembered why I hadn’t had a clotted cream tea since I was St Ives with BigSal and BluddyMary in 1995… it’s soooo bloody sweet!  Tea was lovely though, and I did manage about half my scone.

After breaking my fast thusly, I decided to head to the Oxford Natural History Museum to see the dodo, which I do not recall doing last time I was here. Now, back in proper tourist mode, I googled to check they were open on a Monday and happily found they were. Not only are they open, but entrance is free.  The building itself is spectacular and the first things that greet you on entrance are enormous dinosaur skeletons, one of which is an enthralling T-Rex skeleton that just dominates the enormous space even in such a huge building, along with other massive whalebone on display and huge elephants skeletons etc.  I wandered around for quite a while up and down the various levels looking at all sorts of interesting object and thinking ‘where is this famous dodo?’  Only to look it up and find out that it’s right beside the T-Rex!  If I had been a normal tourist and turned my back on the T-Rex for a selfie, I probably would have seen it immediately but instead I was just so taken by the enormous skeleton, I walked right past the modestly proportioned dodo.  😛

There were many other animal specimens in here, all stuffed to the gills with sand, but of course the only other one that captured my attention and gave me a good giggle, is this stuffed platypus.  It is the second late 19thC taxidermied platypus that I’ve seen and you can tell quite readily it’s been prepared by someone who has NEVER seen a live platypus… the last one I saw which BigSal and I have been laughing about for years was at Blair Castle in Scotland – he was so stuffed he looked like a blowfish and his little feet didn’t even touch the ground.  God bless those weird little 19thC aristocratic gentleman naturalists, and their cotton socks!

Right behind the Natural History Museum is the Pitt Rivers Collection which is a crazy arse collection of STUFF from all over the world that belonged to some altogether too-monied and too-bored aristocrat named August Pitt Rivers.  He had some 20,000 weird anthropological and archeological objects that he had collected over his lifetime and he bequeathed them to the museum on the proviso that they appoint a Head lecturer in Anthropology.  This collection is full of weird and interesting stuff – but the arrangement by ‘Object Type’ did my head in.  The cabinets are named ‘Body Forms in art’ or ‘Tribal Face Masks’ or ‘Pottery Objects’ or ‘Bows and Arrows’ or ‘Opium Pipes and Equipment’ and you’ll look in the cabinet and for example see ‘Tribal Face masks’ from twenty different cultures across several hundred years!  So if you’re interested in say, Anglo Saxon objects you might see one object here, another two over there, and maybe three more somewhere else.  It’s really quite disconcerting when most of us are more accustomed to going through a museum that will have objects sorted by period and culture, eg: ‘Japanese Edo Period Gallery’, an ‘Aegean Artefacts Gallery’ or ‘Ancient Egyptian Gallery’.  So much so, that I found it thoroughly impossible to take in.  It was overwhelming given there are now some 500,000 objects on display from Inuit totem poles to bark textiles to flensing knives! It kinda broke my little brain and I knew I’d need about five weeks to comb through to make sense of it so gave it a unfortunately cursory once over knowing I couldn’t take it all in.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is also very famous for having a ‘shrunken heads’ collection which they very respectfully no longer have on display.  They also have som information placards about which make it clear they are working with many different stakeholders regarding repatriation and/or sensitive display of tribal objects that were just rampantly taken from various places and cultures around the world over the last several hundred years.  I hope it’s not just lip-service and that they are doing serious consultation.

After the weird and kinda curious mindfuck of the Pitt Rivers, I made my way over the the Ashmolean Museum, which I left for the late afternoon because I knew once I got in there I wouldn’t want to leave. This place is a wonderful museum full of all those beautiful things the British are famous for pilfering since pampered rich men first needed something to fill their under-employed days with. Egyptian sarcophagi,

Albarello (drug jar/s) lustred, Italian, c.1450-1500




Testa di cazzi, Francesco Urbini, Casteldurante, c.1536, Maiolica plate.Lustred dish with Cupid  Workshop of Maestro Giorgio Gubbio c.1525-1535

14. Frankish Bottle, wheel-throne ceramic c.500-650. Marchelepot, France.
15. Biconical jar, hand-thrown, Frankish or Anglo Saxon, c.450-600. Waben France.
16. Cup, hand thrown ceramic. c.500-700 ceramic form of German palm cup.
17. Bell beaker, glass c.500-700. Palmero Sicily.
18. Globular jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, Late Gallo-Roman c,450-550. Waben France.
19. Globular jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, c.500-650. Beuvais, France.
20. Squat jar glass, c.450-600. Amiens, France.
21. Biconical jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, c.450-600. Cologne, Germany.
22. Cylindrical beaker, glass, c.500-600. Andernach, Germany.
23. Carinated jar, wheel-thrown ceramic, c450-600. Cologne, Germany.Brooches from Andernach Germany
73. Disc brooch, c.500-600, copper alloy, silver and garnet
74-77 Two pairs of radiate headed brooches, silver gilt
78. Disc brooch, silver and gemstones c.600-700. Rhine Valley, Germany.
79. Appliqué (?) gold and gemstones. Rhine Valley, Germany.

40-42 and 44. Gotland Sweden, c.400-700
40. Open work disc brooch, copper alloy.
41. Disc on bow, gilt copper Lloyd and garnet.
42. Disc brooch, copper alloy.
44. Annular brooch, copper alloy.
34. Radiate-headed brooch, silver gilt and garnet, c.500-600. Italy
35-36. Radiate-headed brooches (park) silver gilt, c.500-550.  Thennes, France.
37. Buckle, silver gilt and garnet, c.500-600. Belluno, Italy.
38. Buckle, copper alloy, c550-600.  Kerch, Ukraine.

Huntsman Salt – gilt, and painted silver, and rock crystal, c.1400-1450, unprovenanced.
One of the most important survivals of medieval plate in England.  It belonged to Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury, who founded All Souls College, Oxford.  In 1438, it may have been a gift to Chichele, who led a number of diplomatic missions to Rome (between 1406 and 1420). Equally plausible that it may have been made in London by a continental goldsmith.

12th C Ivory Mirror case

Rune stone, granite. 1100-1150 Andersta, Uppland, Sweden.
The runic inscription states that ‘Lidsmod had this stone carved in memory of Julbjorn (his) father’.  The stone was presented to the Ashmolean from the Swedish King, King Karl XI in 1687.


Flight of the Vestal Virgins (tempura and gilding on panel) and detail below.
Biagio di Antonio Tucci (1446-1516)

Saint Nicholas of Bari Banishing a Storm (tempera and gilding on panel)
Gucci di Lorenzo (1373-1452)


Master of the Ashmolean Predella (c.1350-1400)
The Birth of the Virgin Mary (tempera and gilding on panel) and detail below.
The Virgin and Child (tempera and gilt on panel) and detail below.
Bernardino Pintoriccho (1452-1513)
Anon Riding on a Dolphin – Arion charmed a dolphin to safety in Ovid.
Attributed to Francesco Bianchi Ferrari (1481-1510)


Christ among the Doctors – oil on canvas (detail below)
Jacobo da Ponte, called Bassano (1510-1592)

Assyrian protective spirit front he Northwest Place, Nimrud, (modern northern Iraq).
c.875-860 BC.  This supernatural spirit with a human body and the head and wings of an eagle is carved in relief on a huge slab of gypsum (approx 8’ tall). He was one of a pair of spirits that guarded a doorway into the royal throne room at Ninrud, capital of Assyria providing magical protection against evil and welcoming in good. The cone and bucket he carries were symbols of fertility and purification. Across the middle of the slab is a cuneiform (wedge-shaped) inscription naming King Ashurnasirpal II (c883-859 BC) and recounting his achievements. (Detail below)
I lost myself in the Ashmolean in the most delightful way possible, and next thing I knew I realised I had better try and navigate the buses (oh the sense of impending horror!) back to Whitchurch before my phone battery was completely dead – for without the aid of Google Maps I feared I would end up in Stratford or somewhere… not a bad outcome, but not the desired outcome (for today anyway).

On my way back to the bus stop I realised I had spent barely £15 going to the Natural History, Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums as they have free entry but they do provide a ‘tap and wave’ £5 Donation pay point, which I happily waved my credit card at in each location.  It’s clever, hardly anyone is carrying cash since Covid and the perspex donation boxes looked mostly empty.  I hope most visitors do drop them a Fiver so they don’t have to start implementing structured entrance fees for upkeep.

Completely OT: I’ve noticed that many of the red phone boxes around the place now have defibrillators in them and a ‘Call 999 to get access’ sign on them, which seems like a great use for these iconic phone boxes seeing no one uses public phones anymore…

Right!  Back on the buses and I managed to find the correct X5 bus that was heading to the exciting transfer point of the Buckingham Tesco Bus Stop B.  Again with the lack of masks on the bus, even though every ticket has a request for patrons to wear one,, *rolls eyes*.  And found myself being ferried along with a driver who was driving like he fucking stole it!  I swear this guy was doing close 120kph on these windy two lane country highways.  I was constantly bracing myself for when he was braking for the huge roundabouts that break up these routes.  Mad bastard… and so stress inducing.  There are no seats near the driver except the one priority seat and I had no idea where my stop was or what it would look like as we got near to press the bell – and there was now way I could steady myself (I’m still only six weeks post carpal tunnel surgery) enough to walk up a speeding bus that felt like it was hurtling through the countryside, trying to break the fucking sound barrier!  Eventually I asked some lovelies on the bus if knew when the the Tesco was coming up and one of them hit the bell for me immediately or I would have missed it!.  So much fun.  Then the wait for the connection… there is a handy sign that counted down the minutes until the X60 turned up, and I was watching it counting down from 12 to 4 mins and then just stay on 4 mins for a while.  Eventually a man who was also waiting for the X60 got up and ran off down behind the bus stop.  I thought, ‘maybe he’s got an alternative route home’?  Nope.  Guy had run off to a nearby bottlo to grab a couple of tallies and then settled himself back in for the wait.  He said one day last week he waited nearly two hours for buses that just never came.  😐  and I thought BCC buses were bad.

After about 40 mins of waiting for a bus that was 4 mins, 4 mins, 4 mins away… Stephola called and said she was in the car from the train and she decided to meet me in Buckingham for dinner.  So it was with glee that I abandoned the bus stop and found a bar serving cold ciders.  It was ridiculously hilarious but only because Steph magically provided an out!  Dinner was had in a strange chain steakhouse (whose namesake BBQ sauce had weird hints of curry flavour!) and then back to Whitchurch where we had a few civilised G&Ts.  I am ‘Le tired’… and likely tomorrow I won’t feel so compelled to ‘make the most’ of the day!

Post Pandemic Transit Time

Well, I’ve finally made it out of the country and back on the road. Travelling feels both intrinsically different and yet inherently familiar at the same time – as oxymoronic as that sounds.

I’d been watching the travel nightmare stories on the news over the last few weeks and armed myself with very low expectations of a) arriving anywhere remotely near my scheduled arrival time and b) my suitcase managing to make it to the end with me. Those pictures of the ‘Heathrow Luggage Carpet’ were a bit hard to ignore and did not exactly instil confidence. In an attempt to ameliorate being left standing around a baggage carousel waiting for luggage that no one could locate, I have picked up some AirTags and popped one in my suitcase. At least I’ll know whether or not it is there and be able to decide to leave without it or not? *shrug*

First leg was a domestic hop BNE to SYD because business airfares to London ex BNE were $2-3k more than going from SYD when I was booking. The plan to fly business was in part because I’m nowhere near travel fit! Two years of being stuck at home, and recent surgery on my hands meant I am trying to take it easy as possible. I got a message saying to be at the airport 90mins before my domestic flight due to ‘peak demand at this time’ only to get there at 0930 for a 1100 flight to find a completely concourse, both at the check in, and security screening. Either I am the only idiot who was doing what they recommended or the recommendation is an overreaction. Meh… just popped into the Qantas lounge wait.

Boarding call to head to the gate and there I found ALL the people and barely 2 in every dozen people were wearing a mask. It feels awful to be surrounded by maskless people coughing and sniffling when you know Covid cases are still around 5000-6000 each day in Qld and you know 20 people died from Covid yesterday and another 19 died today. People have just given up. There is a mask requirement in place, but no one is policing it at all. The flight to Sydney was uneventful. While everyone was reminded repeatedly to wear their masks on the plane when they’re not eating – I’m getting the feeling the policy is an effort to protect the staff more than the passengers at this point. Don’t care, whatever makes everyone keep their mask on while we are stuck in the plane!

Now because my hands are still lacking in strength, I had decided to jump into a taxi to get from the Domestic to the International terminal, rather than taking the free shuttle and having to heft my bag about and possibly end up standing and having to hang on. I planned to give the driver a generous tip for the convenience to me and the pain in the arse I knew it was for him to return and go to the back of the cab queue. I told the cabbie that I only needed to go to the International terminal and he loaded my bag and I got in the car and he started driving and then said “The meter isn’t working ma’am, it has technical problem, but you can still pay by credit card and I can still give you receipt, ok?” Now I’m immediately doing that internal sigh thing you do when you know someone is about to try and rip you off… and I said to him, “Legally you’re required to have a functioning meter – should this car even be on the road if the meter doesn’t work.” He started pfaffing with it saying “It sometimes work, sometimes not, ma’am.” He then logs into his system and surprise the surprise the meter is working. I watch as he clicks a few buttons and it says $9.90 and then turn to my phone, I look back up as we are nearing the end of our three minute drive and it says $35.40. I said to him, “Excuse me, why is the meter saying this trip is $35?” He replies: “It’s the airport tolls, ma’am.” We’ve driven <5km I argue with him saying we haven’t gone through any tolls and definitely didn’t drive under any toll gates, so please break down the fare for me. He claimed it was $5.50 flag fall, $4.40 airport fee and then the three minute drive and the tolls. I responded by saying: “What’s your cab number, please?”, as I leaned forward to photograph his meter and ID. He said “4116, ma’am.” Followed by a pause, then says “Why?” And I responded by saying I work for a transport consultancy and we work with taxi companies all the time, and that his company is one of our main clients. That I didn’t appreciate him trying to rip me off like this, that the fare should be barely $15-18, and that the last cabbie I reported for trying to rip me off got fired. Well, didn’t he back pedal… He spent the remainder of the drive into the International Terminal apologising and saying he won’t charge me the tolls and saying over and over, “Please don’t report me, ma’am. I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” I said I’m not paying more than $20 for this trip and that is being generous, I gave him both barrels about ripping off tourists and giving a bad impression to the city and our country, and landed on blasting him on, “You wonder why everyone prefers to use Uber now!” He just kept saying “Please don’t report me, ma’am. I’m very sorry ma’am.” … meh, by that point it was too late, he’d already been reported to his head office. Why does shit like that keep happening? I swear I don’t have single good cab story in the last six years (come to think of it since the market became saturated with ride share options).

Anyway, I leave the sad cabbie and head into the terminal to find the Sri Lankan Airline checkin counter – and it’s not open. :/ I arrived in SYD about 1300 and my flight had been scheduled to leave at 1630 but I had received a notification that it was now leaving at 1825 so the check-in counter wouldn’t be manned until 1530 which is a pain in the arse and there is zero seating on the public side of the terminal. It was then that the one staff member who was at the counter said, “Your flight isn’t leaving until 1955 now.” *ugh* I managed to go for a wander and find a seat near a family who were at least pretending wear their masks and figured I just had to wait it out… Eventually, 1530 rolls round and I’m (yay, business class) in a very short queue, I check in and head towards security, where that was an enormous hidden queue as 3 out of a possible 17 security points were open. Staff shortages were evident everywhere. Eventually get through security and get myself settled into the Qantas Business Lounge – but not before a ‘discussion’ with the front desk who was “sure we don’t have reciprocity with Sir Lankan Airlines”. Oh yes, yes you do! Another long wait ensues in the lounge but at least this time there is a comfy chair and free alcohol… what are you gonna do.

Eventually we are loading onto the plane and I gotta say, I don’t like the attitude of my fellow passengers with the business seats – they’re literally pushing people out of the way and barging through the crowd to make sure everyone knows they’re the ‘not like them’ waiting around for economy rows to load. One guy was tut tutting the whole time as people were trying to get their tired and confused children to comply and get out of his way and they just seemed boorish… I was trying to fade into the walls and not be all forward. I mean, I’ve flown business plenty of times before but obviously not often enough to be all pushy and entitled about it.

Sri Lankan business class is all of 28 seats or so and there was about 10 of us in the cabin. So I have to say the service was excellent. By the time we got boarded and champagne’d (and I use the term lightly, as they serve some hideous sparkling white wine from India which I did not want a second glass of!), I could feel the days ‘hurry up and wait’ fading away and I settled in for our 11 hour flight to Colombo, leaving only four hours after the originally scheduled departure. Meal service was swift and polite. Food options were excellent and the meal I chose was very tasty. The inflight entertainment was neither here nor there as I had my iPad loaded up with TV shows and movies. I watched about 4 episodes of This Is Us and then lay my seat down to go to sleep… and jesus titty fucking christ if that isn’t the best thing on a long haul flight ever, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! The seat reclines fully flat and you can roll and sleep on your side comfortably if you want to.

Next thing you know, I’m being woken for the inflight service prior to landing. We were originally scheduled to arrive in Colombo at 2300 local but instead were arriving at 0130… not sure how that works, leave four hours late and arrive barely two and a half hours late, but I do know we were at 40,000 for most of the flight and the pilots seemed to have the hammer down. All good, we get to Colombo at the appointed ungodly hour and I silently thank Mr K for suggesting that I book an in-airport hotel for an 8 hour stay as my flight didn’t leave until 1300… until that is, it got pushed forward to 1215 and then pushed back to 1400. I don’t know – but this time I’ve given up on the schedule and am just hovering about hoping the staff don’t let me miss my flight. The Serenediva Airport Hotel was nice and tidy, their fancier rooms being all booked out, I found myself in a lime green abomination with a comfy bed and a clean hot shower. I managed to get to sleep around 0230 and didn’t wake up until 0800.

I still had a few hours until I had to leave the room, but desperation for a cup of tea without long life milk drove me out of the room at 0930 towards the Sri Lankan Airlines Serendib Business Lounge. Best cup of tea I’ve ever had – shouldn’t have been surprised… we are in Sri Lanka! Managed to amuse myself in the business lounge for hours, aided by the recliners in the Quiet Room and the chatty ladies in the ‘foot massage’ corner… yes, the Serendib Business Lounge in Colombo has a partitioned off room where you can get a free foot massage. Damn, but this international travel on a business ticket is something I could get used to! Eventually it’s time to load again and we are advised to head to the gate. Again, some of my ‘fellows’ at the front of the plane are acting like entitled parts – once even asked someone to move out of the gate seats set aside for business passengers so they could sit down and wait the ten minutes before we board completely oblivious to the fact that this poor soul may have been stuck in that seat for literally hours between their connections.

Second leg was as uneventful as the first. Lovely service; the Purser even came and introduced himself and asked if I needed anything at all to make my flight more comfortable. I asked for some fresh masks if they had any, and he came back immediately with three… never mind I’m the only person wearing one at this point. Weirdly after my day of doing very little in the lounge, I managed to doze off and on in my flat bed most of the way to London. I was already aware that I had never done a long haul and arrived so free of back pain before – I couldn’t believe how well I pulled up when we got into London. I had sore feet, (but that fibromyalgia shit doesn’t really go away and there had been queueing on concrete, but my back felt pretty good.

Arrive in London at 2230 – again I don’t know how we leave so late and get there nowhere near as late, but I wasn’t complaining. Walked straight through to passport control, no lines, did the passport/photo thing, walked through to the baggage hall anticipating disaster and noted there was a lot of unattended luggage laying about but made a dash to the bathroom while I waited to see what horror was going to ensue. Came out of the loos and stood near baggage carousel number two feeling a bit, ‘yeah what are the odds’, and opening up the Find My Stuff app to see where my suitcase might be (half expecting it to show up as being in Colombo still!). To my surprise, I opened the app, and it showed my suitcase with ‘with me’, I looked around for less than ten seconds and spotted my bag. Unbelievable. With a small laugh, I collected it and waltzed through customs. Without a doubt one of the BEST transits I’ve even done, even though it was a full 46 hours since I left my front door! My previous record of a hideously painful 40 hour trasnit from Quetta to Brisbane left for dust.

Came out the doors to be greeted by a cheerful Stephola who sped us off proficiently through the London traffic to her little village whereupon we had a couple of calming drams of Hellfire Sloe gin and then sleep. 🙂

It’s good to be out and getting ready to see new things again – but yeah, I am so not travel fit! It’s gonna take a awhile to get back in the swing of things.

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.