London Calling

After our New York adventures, we traveled across the pond where there lies a magical land where everybody speaks like they’re from “Downton Abbey”.  For real!  They have these charming accents and they’re all quite different and that’s truly what they sound like!  It was quite novel for me, a Canadian gal, as I’ve never been to England.  And I was impressed with myself for differentiating between English and Australian accents because before I moved to Australia I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between English, Aussie, or Kiwi speakers.  Now I can.  Londoners are very posh and I couldn’t help it but I totally started speaking with a London accent too.  I drove Callum nuts because I couldn’t stop.  I litch-rall-ee could.not.stop.it.  (Imagine a posh accent with that last sentence.)

And just like New York I have seen England portrayed in so many films and TV shows and have read so much British literature that I felt like I kind of already knew London even though it was my very first time there.  We can’t really say we’ve been to England though, as we were only in London for a mere 4 days.  It was a good taste-tester for when we go back.  Because we must go back.

And when we go back…we need a lot more cash.  England is not a good place to be if you’re a traveller on a budget.  Or coming with Australian dollars.  We stayed in a hostel and we tried very hard to eat cheaply but it’s next to impossible.  Our poor little Australian dollar is worth virtch-u-lee nothing, darling.  About half.  So while 19 pounds for a steak seems likes a grand deal, for us that’s not a bargain.  It’s what we’d pay for a night out in Perth.  But let me remind you, we don’t normally eat out every night while at home in Oz.  We had a “proper hamburger” from Byron one night and we were trying to economize so decided to get a burger each, obviously, but to split a small fries and just drink tap water.  The waiter came and requested our drinks selections.  I disappointed him by stating we were backpackers on a budget but what the hell, we’ll spring for the sweet potato fries rather than just the plain ol’ normal ones.  We’d just do it.  He recovered well from our pitiful order and laughed at us (well, I guess with us) as he sauntered over to his ordering machine, I’m sure realising we would not be a profitable table for him that night.

I had a hard time finding proper coffee in London.  They do like their tea, I suppose.  But I ordered Americanos everywhere and was sorely disappointed too many times.  The third time, since no one was behind me waiting to order I started a conversation with the barista asking him if he’d promise not to burn my Americano.  I explained in great detail that I hadn’t had a proper one since landing in his fine country, and that I suspected that the English simply didn’t know how to make one, no worries, not their fault, them loving tea and so on.  I asked him politely if he was planning on burning my Americano if I ordered one, and if so, to let me know as I would then make a different selection.  All this while Callum silently laughed and rolled his eyes at me.  He thinks I’m perfectly ridiculous when it comes to ordering things from service people.  I always add or subtract things from the meals, or ask questions about things, or ask for descriptions of menu items.  The barista earnestly promised he wouldn’t burn my coffee and explained in just as much detail that most baristas leave the beans too long in the warmer hence burning them whilst he would never dream of doing such a thing as he ground the beans fresh every time.  This seemed reasonable.  Since our conversation was going really splendidly, I then asked him if he’d ever met Prince William or Kate Middleton.  He said no.  But—there was a but!  He did say that he occasionally saw the helicopter that carried the royals flying overhead and landing in the nearby property of Kensington Palace.  This was pretty impressive.  I felt assured that my coffee would be drinkable after such an encounter.  It was, but I think I’ll have to switch to tea next time we visit England as the one mocha I ordered was also just barely satisfactory.

So, what did we do besides copy English accents and make lengthy food and drink orders?  Well, we saw Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery of Art, the British Museum, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, The Natural History Museum, and we saw a play called “Venus in Fur” with the enchanting Natalie Dormer (most famous for her roles as Margaery on Game of Thrones and for Anne Boylen in The Tudors.)  Al in all it was a great trip!

We’ve said every month of our 9 month journey that we really can’t complain about the weather.  We’ve been very lucky everywhere we have gone with only a few miserable days here and there.  I must say, we were equally and surprisingly lucky in London.  It did rain one of the four days we were there but not enough to actually warrant an umbrella.  Sorry, a brolly.  We were ok with just our hoods of our jackets.

To start from the beginning, we flew from New York at 11:30am and had probably the best flight ever with Norwegian Air.  The plane seemed like it was brand new and it was roomy and even though it was a budget airline, we had TV screens with a few movies and shows on board.  I’ve never experienced that with a budget airline before.  Unfortunately, when checking in we asked one of the workers if there would be food on the plane for purchase.  He said no, since we hadn’t paid in advance for our meals.  So we bought a bunch of food at the airport and took it on board seeing too late that the airplane DID have food for purchase.   The flight itself was great because we finally finally finally won the lottery of having three seats to the two of us which hasn’t happened this entire year.  So I had plenty of room to stretch out.  The flight was smooth and the 6.5 hours to London “flew” by lol.  Pun intended.  With the time difference though, we landed at 11pm which felt very strange because to our bodies it was only 6pm.  Customs was all good and we were through to baggage claims.  As I stood expectantly at the conveyer a growing sense of despair overcame me.  I stood waiting, waiting, waiting.  It is my most favourite job collecting our bags from the conveyer belt.  I don’t know why I love it so much but I do.  It feels so satisfying to see yours pop up or fall down and to confidently stride to the edge, saying “Excuse Me” authoritatively to strangers as you budge your way through and grasp the handle and HEFT the bag off the belt in one smooth, strong motion.  It’s my job.  I do it well.  But after standing hopefully for 30 minutes along with about 20% of my fellow travellers and not seeing our bags, I began to realise that they weren’t coming.  This has never happened.  You understand that it was now 12:00am and we hadn’t eaten dinner yet.  Some other people inquired about the location of everyone’s luggage.  The answer was “we have no idea”.  The same neon green, cheetah print, giant purple and 3 or 4 nondescript black suitcases kept circulating the conveyer over and over, taunting the 40 or so of us staring at them.  I wondered who on earth those bags belonged to and why they weren’t collecting them.  Callum pointed out they were probably people caught up in customs.  They eventually came to get them, one by one, all of them retrieving them with a sigh of relief that they were not like those of us, waiting miserably.

This is a really long story to say that we waited 1.5 hours for our bags which eventually turned up just like that, with no explanation.  We were so relieved that everyone cheered whenever someone said “hey, that’s my bag!” and grinned at one another in solidarity.  It was now 12:30am and we hadn’t eaten dinner.  I’m not sure if you have noticed that I am very concerned about eating and drinking schedules.  We were able to get something from a 24 hour supermarket sort of place and ate it in our uber to our hostel.  The check-in chick didn’t seem fazed that we were arriving at 2am (that’s how long it took to get there, geez) and said that we weren’t even late.

We quietly-as-possible lay our things in our room and readied for bed.  There were two others in the room, fast asleep.  We slept in very late as you can imagine and missed the breakfast on offer at the hostel.  We instead ate eggs benedict (a wonderful thing) at a place called Salt and Pepper at 1pm.  Then we just wandered the streets making our way to Trafalgar Square where there was a huge group of people protesting animals.  Or rather protesting the treatment of animals.  I think they were all vegan.  They were shouting that animals have feelings or something and they were all very passionate.  We also watched a young musician play his violin.  I was enthralled with his music and took video footage of him and even bought his CD.  As I don’t have a disc drive in my computer I’ll have to wait until we’re in Australia again to hear it.

Big Ben and Westminster Abbey were completely covered in scaffolding so they were unrecognizable.  So sad.  Another reason to go back one day soon and see them properly.  However, Buckingham Palace was looking good, though not as grand as I imagined it would look.  I didn’t even recognize it to be honest and I’ve been recently watching “The Crown” with the talented Claire Foy as the queen and John Lithgow as Winston Churchill.  Jolly good show.  Anyway, the palace.  Looked good.  The gates were impressive.  What I did like about it was how very accessible it seems to be.  After being in DC about 10 days prior, the White House was so extremely the opposite so it was nice to be able to walk right up to the gates and gaze at the windows with lights on wondering if the queen was just beyond them, drinking her tea and thanking God she was indoors rather than out in the drizzly grey of the late afternoon.

We had the fortune of staying next to the British Museum which is free to enter.  They do encourage a donation but you can choose what you give.  The British Museum is free since they pilfered all of the famous objects they house from other countries and cultures.  It is THE PLACE to go to view a good example of the world’s history.  I was most interested in the mummies and the Egyptian sarcophagi and the canopic jars (where they stored the organs for the afterlife).  Also, I liked seeing the Assyrian lion hunt reliefs and think it was special to see them.  I had no idea what they were or that they existed before going to the museum, but Callum told me they were from the ancient city of Nineveh which parts of have been destroyed by a certain group which I won’t name here.  This group is destroying thousands of years of history and culture and so it is therefore wonderful that we still have pieces of it in the British Museum to view.   Also a major attraction at the museum is the very famous and much-gawked over Rosetta stone.  It is a piece of a stele with three scripts written on it, one of them Greek which then in turn helped historians to decipher the above Egyptian hieroglyphs and demotic texts.  Today it is the symbol of language learning and there is actually a language learning program named after it.  I also liked seeing some really old chess set pieces called the Lewis Chessmen.  They are from medieval times and made from walrus ivory.  You could spend a whole 24 hours at the British Museum and you might just get to see everything thoroughly.

The National Gallery was just a very brief stop for us.  If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know that I’ve been to a gazillion art galleries in the recent past.  Therefore, I’ve taken to brief visits to see only the pieces I am personally interested in.  This time I went to see more Van Gogh and Impressionist works including a couple impressive pieces by Georges Seurat.  He was an artist who used pointillism (or divisionism) as a method for laying down his colour.  When you look up close to his art, the brushstrokes, or dots of colour are all separated and seemingly random.  As you back away and take a different perspective of his work, the colours seemingly blend in front of your eyes.  His most famous painting “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte” is in Chicago (a great excuse to see Chicago one day) but his “Bathers at Asnières” was in London.  I was happy to see it because I used to have a calendar of Impressionists works when I was a youngen’ and this piece was in it.  I distinctly remember making a pencil drawing copy of it when I was about 13 or 14.  How neat to see it in real life.  And it is so big!  Much larger than I thought it was.  Also of note was the technically impressive “The Ambassadors” by Hans Holbein the Younger.  What’s neat about this painting is that the artist was the court painter for Henry VIII and the skull in the foreground looks like a real skull when viewed from the extreme right of the canvas, but front on it is distorted and elongated.  This was a tactic Holbein used to showcase his talent and sort of “show off”.  I looked at this painting for a great deal of time.

We made a stop at Kensington Palace where the young royals live (Will and Kate and Harry too) and where there are some public areas you can view.  On display were the rooms of past kings and queens as well as some of Princess Diana’s gowns from the 80’s and 90’s.  My favourite part of the self-guided tour was the drawing room games they had set up that you can play.  Callum beat me at a dice game while I schooled him on a game akin to snakes and ladders.

The Natural History Museum was an impressive building and worth it to go even if all you see is the entry way and the current blue whale skeleton they have hanging from the ceiling.  I was pretty museumed-out by the time we visited this place.  I won’t say much about it but if you go, you will not be disappointed.  They have lovely displays of all sorts of animals.

We also went to the Tower of London which was a highlight for me.  We got through security just in time to join a free walking tour led by one of the Yeomen, or, Beefeaters which are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London and they protect the crown jewels.  Our particular beefeater was a real character and made many of us jump with his booming loud proclamations and funny way of including his audience into his speeches.  I found the whole presentation comedic, informative, and intriguing.  We learned about what each of the buildings was for and who lived where.  We saw where King Henry VIII most likely met Anne Boylen for the first time, and where he had her head chopped off.  I am very interested in kings and queens and King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I in particular, so this tour was right up my alley.  We saw the crown jewels which were all very shiny and sparkly and also went into the white tower which has a bunch of cool armour on display.  Then, we walked across Tower Bridge and the whole time we were doing so I was singing a ridiculous version of Fergie’s “London Bridge”.  Callum just smiled and didn’t tell me that we weren’t actually on London Bridge.  When I realized I was a bit embarrassed but ah well.

One highlight for me was seeing Natalie Dormer and David Oakes on stage in the play “Venus in Fur”.  This was a total spur of the moment decision.  I got to talking to one of the gals that worked at our hostel about shows and she highly recommended seeing this play.  She gave us tips on how to get tickets for cheap—go to the box office around 10am and ask if they have any cheap tickets available.  The normally do.  We got front row seats for only 15 pounds each, which we thought was a good deal.  We bought the tickets not really knowing anything at all about what we were going to see.  Actually I don’t want to spoil the play for you so I won’t tell you what it’s about, just go see it if you can or rent the movie.  It was a real “battle of the sexes” sort of play with a lot of humour but a lot of complexity and tenseness too.  It was brilliant.

I loved my first experience of London and know that we’ll visit again soon, hopefully in some warmer weather next time if there is such a thing.


2 thoughts on “London Calling

  1. I’ve finally caught up on all your posts, Rachel. I got a bit off track when I made two o/s trips and then had to catch up on so much when I arrived home. My goodness, what an amazing time you and Callum are having and what interesting posts and wonderful photographs you have put on your blog. They have certainly made great reading and viewing. Glad you are having such a blast. I bet you can’t believe this year is nearly over. Enjoy the remaining month of your trip and please keep posting and photographing. Love, Atholene

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    1. Thanks so much Atholene! I am so glad you are still enjoying my ramblings. We also are amazed that it’s December already. In less than a month we’ll be home!

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