Wednesday, 7 May 2014

London: An introduction to England || Travel diary

(Travel Day 2)
Jet lag? What jet lag?

I woke up at 6.15am the first morning of being in London, not half bad considering I had done a 180° on my body clock, day switched into night and vice versa. This suited me perfectly, as we were having an early start on the commuter train to central London.
This particular train was comically crowded. I'm talking, squished right up against perfect strangers, definitely breathing the same air.... awkward. Luckily it was the most congested train we experienced, so it set the bar high.

We had the pleasure of attending, but thankfully for those involved, not participating in, an advanced modern ballet class at the well known Pineapple dance studios. Instructed by my Aunt-in-law (is that a thing?). The energy of the dancers, the sweat on the floor and the music coming from live musicians was just captivating. Although I am by no means a ballerina, by any imagination, I was incredibly tempted to join in the fun.

After the class we were taken on a locals tour of London by our Aunt Tory, where we got to visit a good few great London icons.

Including none other, than a red telephone box, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Strand, Piccadilly Circus, and St. James Park

Tea dancing at Royal Opera House, I really wish I had worn one of my dresses and joined in. So many poodle skirts. Eeeep! We were told that this is a regularly occasion, so maybe next time.

Leicester square, where a lot of London movie premiers happen. Unfortunately no celebrities were spotted while we were there.

We were regularly finding references to our old home town. Good old Wellington. Turns out, we do this a LOT.

London turned out to be a perfect balance of familiar and foreign to start our overseas travels. Familiar in that we speak the same language, so general inquires, purchasing food or reading signs was no issue. Foreign, because we may all be speaking English, but sometimes it didn't feel that way. With so many different British accents, just when you think you have it sussed, you speak with a cockney or a bloke from up north and its a whole different ball game, not to mention them understanding our "kiwi speak". Familiar because we have been taught in school about British history and the monarchy, foreign and mind boggling that seeing the monuments and landscapes can be so different when in person compared to in a book or on the telly. To be able to get a sense of the sheer history and depth of this city and feel a part of it, is enormously captivating.

As for the familiar aspects it was comforting to know that London is full of clichés. You don't have to look far to see them either, they are clichés because they are everywhere. Red telephone boxes, double decker buses, black cabs,  references to the monarchy and pubs on every corner.  Royal this, prince or queen that. This is a land full of national pride and Union jack's are stamped on just about everything you can think of, just as a reminder.

Next to walked over to Trafalgar Square, and what greeted us first? But a big blue cock. Not something you would say everyday...

This statue was on the current monument on the 4th plinth, which gets changed every 18 months.

I was fortunate enough to travel to England a couple of times while I was younger. One of the memories I remember best about Trafalgar Square, apart from the huge Lions, were the overwhelming numbers of dirty pigeons. Re-visiting Trafalgar Square now is a much more pleasant experience, as the pigeons aren't in the numbers that they used to be. Yeah, the £500 fine you get for feeding them would deter me too.

Anyway, the Lions' were still there, just as grand as I remember. Which is surprising, since things always seem to be bigger when you're a kid. That small green soft toy is a tuatara we brought from New Zealand to be our New Zealand mascot as we travelled around Europe, you'll see him feature more as we progress. He is now in the capable hands of our youngest niece, who has a liking for reptiles and dinosaurs. 

We stopped by to hang out with the Cavalry, the "Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment" to be exact.

Feeding the squirrels in St. James Park seemed like the done thing. So cute. Do as the locals do.

We made it to Buckingham palace which was our final destination of the day. We managed to take some quick photos before the typical London weather changed and we learnt a valuable lesson which every local already knows; always carry an umbrella.

The locals, or at least the tourist activities appear to embrace all aspects of their colourful history. London is proud to show its extraordinary resilience, to persist and become a world empire despite all the challenges of war, plague, fires, and terrorism. Some of the biggest selling points for tourists is its gruesome past, with attractions like the Tower of London, where criminals including queens were imprisoned and decapitated, and walking tours focusing on serial killers like the famous "Jack the Ripper" and "Sweeney Todd."

Yet this is not a city that is purely set in history. These features and attractions are all set amongst a busy and bustling world centre.Where ancient structures such as Tower bridge and the Tower of London can stand in stark contrast to the central business district full of polished glass skyscrapers right next door. You really feel like the world is at your finger tips when in a city such as London, especially after recently arriving from New Zealand where one of our biggest features in our isolation throughout history.

Our last day in London was much more relaxed. We started out with a walk around Brockwell park, which had views of the London city scape

and secret garden hideaways.

We also found the groundskeepers houses.

The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting family, riding the underground and exploring the South bank food festival along the Thames.

Learning how to navigate the "tube" was a huge advantage, as we went on to use public transport regularly throughout Europe. It was easiest learning the ropes, navigating and asking questions first in English before adding the extra complication of foreign languages.

We quickly learnt a lot about the city, and the way we handle stressful travel situations as a couple, all in a short few days. This was only a quick first glimpse into the metropolis that is London as we knew we would be revisiting at the end of our continental Europe adventure.

Stay tuned for our next destination, Paris.


Quick Summary (TL;DR)

Duration of stay: 2 days
Was it enough time?: No, but we will be revisiting it again.
Where we stayed: with family
Time of Year: May
Best memories: visiting family
Worst memories: getting grit in my eyes, while walking the streets.
Top tip: If you are staying for more than a few days, get an Oyster card to take pubic transport.
Next time: we will have more time, and so will go to more tourist attractions.
Recommended?: Yes
Overall experience: 8/10
Next destination: Paris

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