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!

William Morris and Covent Garden Adventures

“I have never been in any rich man’s house which would not have looked the better for having a bonfire made… of nine-tenths of all that it held.” – William Morris on why the rest of us shoudl not give up our day jobs and become interior decorators.

Went out the the William Morris Gallery today in Walthamstow somewhere, and found a wonderful little free gallery that illustrate Morris’ art, his life, work and influence. Naturally I was very interested to see the works, but somewhat worried for my credit card as there was bound to be a bookshop and giftshop full of lovely reproductions of William Morris’ designs (I LOVE the Compton design on just bout anything) where I would surely buy some truly beautiful, but enormously expensive scarf, that I would never wear back in Brisbane … but I needn’t have preemptorily panicked as the gift shop was modest and filled mostly stationery and small knick knacks, and both myself and my credit card got out un-scarfed and unscathed respectively!

The exhibition has many printed, woven and embroidered fabrics, rugs, carpets, wallpapers, furniture, stained glass and painted tiles designed by Morris himself – as well as items painted and designed by his Chums from the Pre-Raphaelite Bortherhood – Edward Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown, and others.  Together they eventually borrowed some moey from Morris’ mother to create the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company in 1861… eventually Morris & Co.

There were pleny of outstanding items on display including, Morris’ medieval-style helmet and sword that were made as props for the Pre-Raphaelite murals at the Oxford Union.  I also saw the original design for the Trellis wallpaper (the first of many Morris’ wallpapers).  They also have the gorgeous and famous Woodpecker tapestry woven at Morris’ Merton Abbey workshops, the Beauty and the Beast tiles and the Labours of the Months tile panels.  As well as works printed at Morris’ Kelmscott Press such as his own writings and the Poems of William Shakespeare and The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer.

They also have a substantial collection of furniture, textiles, ceramics and glass by Morris’ contemporaries in the Arts and Crafts movement, (the height of which was about 1880 to the 1920). Among those represented are Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo and the Century Guild, May Morris (Morris’ exceptional daughter who turned household embroidery into a thriving artform), William De Morgan, Ernest Gimson, Sidney Barnsley, Selwyn Image, George Jack, C. F. A. Voysey, Harry Powell, Henry Holiday, and Christopher Whall.

Much of the collection of is complemented by the Brangwyn Gift – Sir Frank Brangwyn was a former student of William Morris who collected many paintings, drawings and prints by Morris and the other Pre-Raphaelites that were later donated to this collection.

Upon leave the Gallery, I had the most unusual encounter in Walthamstow High Street… a good looking young man in a well fitting suit approached me and said, very amiably, “Hello. Have you had a good morning?”, to which I felt free to reply, “Why, yes.  I have thank you.”  He then proceeded to ask me if I have internet at home.  Ah, the penny drops, “Yes, I do, but at home in Australia.”… then the poor lad incapable of letting go of someone willing to reply to his innocuous opening questions starts asking me if I would consider changing providers.  I had to stop, look him dead in the face and say, “As I said, I live in Australia… I strongly doubt your company wants to solicit customers that far from their network.”  He then said, “Nooo. You’re not Australian, you don’t sound Australian at all… c’mon, where are you from?”  I had to flash him my passport before he would believe me.  He walked off very confused, and I wished him better luck with his next potential customer.

After this I head back to Covent Garden to have a look around the shops and find some lunch.  I have to admit, Covent Garden is nothing like it used to be… it used to be filled with heaps of fancy stores on the inside and surrounded by market stalls – the type you’d find in any market – nearby.  Now it feels like the market stalls are overtaken by people who are probably on Etsy selling over priced crap that no one needs. Not a hat stall or glove stall in sight and loads of custom printed aprons, over priced handmade silver jewellery, and 3D printed plastic London monuments. Mind, you could still get a bobble headed Queen so maybe I was over thinking that ‘too classy bit’, too much.  

On my way back to the flat, I stopped at Marks and Sparks for what turned out to be another unusual encounter.  I’m off on my cruise tomorrow, so I decided to buy a bottle of Shiraz to take with me.  As I am going through the self service point, the register sets off an alarm for a store attendant to come check me out, I guess because alcohol is a restricted product and they want to check you’re not 12.  The store clerk comes over to me, and logs into the machine, and say “You’re right aren’t you?  Over the age for alcohol.” I laughed and said to him, “I’m 43, how much more ‘right’ do you need to be to buy a bottle of wine.”  He looks at me and says, “No, you’re not!  Can I see your ID please?”  I was a bit taken aback… carded at Marks and Sparks!  But not because he didn’t think I was over the legal age, but because he didn’t I was as old as I was claiming to be!  *scoff*  Weirdos.

Tonight I caught up with Stephola for a few pints at the Prince of Wales in Covent Garden before heading out to the most amazing dinner at a lovely place called Sarastro with Stephola.  


 Sarastro has the most crazy and quirky decore. Outside it is an overgrown cottage garden climbing the walls.  Insider there are delightfully cosy booth spaces and hidden balconette tables amidst a veritable feast for the eyes in an all round fabulous atmosphere and the most delicious Mediterranean inspired food.  


We talked about old times and mutual acquaintances (there surely were plenty of ears burning back in Australia!), giggled like high school girls, and there may have even been a tear or two over lost loves, lost family members and the sadder dramatic moments of our lives.  It occurs to me that I am truly blessed to have friends like these – ones that I may not see for years, but when you do get together, you realise how much they mean to you and how much they have your back should you ever need them… and thanks to the Internet, the miles just melt away.
I had ever such a lovely evening, and if it weren’t for the hideous 30 hour transit, I’d suggest we meet up and do it every year or so!