The plan - Do lots of stuff in London for a few days, then hire a car and escape to the Lake District for a few days, then return to London and fly away
July 31... London - "Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London..." We've both had that song in our heads as we've walked through this beautiful city. We're staying at Earl's Court, a suburb apparently renowned for the great numbers of Australians who end up here. We've certainly heard more than a few Aussie accents. But then, London is a truly multicultural place with people of every race and colour. We've seen almost as many women in black burkas here as we did in Egypt! While the cost of accommodation and food is astronomical, our consolation has been all the free things to do here. So far, we've seen the Natural History Museum (lots of fun but almost too interactive) and the British Museum (with extensive collections of artifacts from everywhere, including the Rosetta stone). We found some suggested walks on the internet, which have cool titbits of information on all the famous and not-so-famous landmarks, which we have enjoyed doing a lot. We've walked around Westminster Palace and admired Big Ben (which is very admirable indeed); saw Buckingham Palace (Nicole didn't think it was that outstanding from the outside, but we're sure the inside is fancy as, and the surrounding parks are beautiful); Picadilly Circus, Regent Street, Oxford Street, in fact, a good three-quarters of the Monopoly board; Trafalgar Square (at which a statue of Charles I marks the true centre of London); as well as Number 10 Downing Street (but the Blair family actually live in Number 11; their next door neighbour, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, kindly agreed to swap house because the Blairs needed an extra room...) Aside from all this, we've spotted lots of pretty buildings and old-fashioned pubs, numerous red phone boxes, and a barrage of double decker buses and black taxi cabs on the roads. Tonight we had tea in Hyde Park, and had fun spotting other places on the map from where Adelaide suburbs get their names: Dulwich, Norwood, Kensington, Croydon, Brompton... London is a fantastic city - our favourite in Europe. Love Graham and Nicole.
August 5... London - For church on Sunday, we went to Holy Trinity Brompton, a large church well-known for starting the Alpha Course, an introduction to Christianity now run around the world. It was a good and lively service, similar to what we are used to at home. Afterwards, we had a wander through the enormous Science Museum. We quite liked looking over the old inventions and medical equipment on display, from an anaesthetics "kit" (cloth and ether) to a nasty-looking enema device (very popular in the 19th century apparently). There was also Crick and Watson's model of DNA, and a completed version of Babbage's "computer"... For a change of scene, we hired a car for a few days to see the Lake District (Cumbria), an area of beautiful hills and lakes, once home to William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. For the first night we found ourselves a nice farmhouse Bed and Breakfast in the small village of Staveley. There were two lakes nearby - Elterwater, and Ullswater, which we strolled around the following day. There was plenty of interest to see in the countryside - cows, sheep, ferns, blackberries, raspberries, swans and a heron. The temperature was like an Autumn day - probably around 20 - so we were surprised to hear another couple complaining about the "heat wave!" We thought we were very lucky with the weather because most other parts of England had severe storms the last few days. There was hail and risk of flooding back in London, and a 14 year old boy was tragically killed by a bolt of lightning. Sorry, we're sounding very English with all this weather talk... The next day we drove from Carlisle along Hadrian's Wall towards Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. Hadrian, as Roman Emperor, had the wall built in 122 A.D. to keep the "barbarian" Scots out of Roman England. The wall runs for 117 kilometres, and once stood at 4.5 metres tall. Although significantly shorter these days, it still looked impressive to us, as it weaved along the hilltops and through fields. Later in the day, we drove south passing through Chesterfield. We're not sure if this is where the sofas come from but the town is renowned for its church with the crooked spire. It looked very cool, like it belonged in a fairytale. For our last night with the car, we simply drove around until we found a small village with a place to stay and a bit of charm. Olney turned out to be just right - quaint houses, another tall church spire overlooking the town, and a pretty stream with swans... Today we're back in Earl's Court, ready to see some more of London. Love Graham and Nicole.
August 7... London - One of the things we love about this city is that every street has something famous on it to explore. Yesterday, we walked through town and along the Thames. We decided to call in to Harrod's on the way, a department store like David Jones but much fancier. Wandering through the food hall was the best part - rarely would you want to spend much time in the seafood section of a store, but Harrod's collection of creatures was intruiging: octopi, crayfish from around the world including Western Australia, an enormous range of smoked salmon, oysters, cockles and clams, and the most surprising sight to us - parrot fish! How could anyone eat something so colourful? The most expensive item we found was the caviar - one type sold for $15,000 a kilogram! Hmmm... Our whole trip is worth only a few kilograms of caviar. But enough window shopping... Walking along the river, we found ourselves in the arty and historical district of town, which had a great atmosphere. We saw the original Clink prison, Southwark Cathedral (where Shakespeare's brother is buried) and the famous Tower Bridge, built in 1894. Across the river is the Tower of London, a medieval castle with turrets that houses the Crown Jewels. We turned to our walking notes again to find some more historical sites. The nearby Monument, a single upright column (the world's tallest), had an interesting story. It was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London of 1666, which started at Pudding Lane and ended at Pie Corner, destroying over 13,000 houses. Since the fire started in a bakery, the people at the time apparently saw the fire as divine retribution for their gluttony! Next came the financial district of London, with the Bank of England. The bank still stores Britain's gold in its underground vaults. Apparently in 1836, a man found a passage from the sewers to the vaults, and instead of stealing the money (and we imagine, setting off for the new colony of South Australia...) he alerted the police and was rewarded for his honesty with a penny... (Actually we don't know how much reward he got - the notes didn't say!) We then passed by the Guildhall (the seat of local government) and St Paul's Cathedral, before heading to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. This is a reconstructed version of his original theatre, so there is an open roof, wooden benches for sitting and watching from a distance and a large space right in front of the stage called the yard, which is for standing only. We were lucky enough to get tickets to Romeo and Juliet, and squeezed our way to be right next to the stage. We both agreed this was the best play we'd ever seen - done it the the style of Shakespeare's day, the story was brought to life, with the often humourous and generally brilliant acting. Being so close to the action was excellent, especially for the sword-fighting scenes. We both also liked the musicians, who played with traditional 16th century instruments and incidentally all looked like hobbits. It was a really good day but one spent entirely on our feet so we caught the underground back home. Tomorrow we're off to Kenya, and looking forward to seeing some wildlife. Love Graham and Nicole.Click here to see some more England photos (London, the Lake District and the Peak District)