Ireland and the UK
I've had some pretty jam packed last few days in London, hopefully all the walking has helped reverse some of the damage the pints of Guinness did in Ireland.
Friday morning I took a chance on the London weather holding out, and went and watched the changing of the guards at Buckingham palace. I have to say, it is a whole lot of ponce and ceremony, but not much spectacle, with a little bit of marching but mostly a couple of guards symbolically walking back and forward from the fence and then to the house looking in a window to check it was all clear (evidently it was all clear, still, just like the time it was web he looked 30 seconds ago). The most unusual bit for me though was when one of the brass bands started playing some music, and bashed out Elton Johns 'crocodile rock'. Completely random for what I thought was meant to be a formal and traditional ceremony, but is now mixed with light entertainment. That had me hoping the other band would then start jamming with them and a bit of competition would ensue, but no such luck. Unfortunately the London weather did not hold out, and I was getting a bit bored, so I decided to head indoors to Westminster abbey instead of watching the rest of the ceremony.
Westminster Abbey is a beautiful building, and contains history that is hard to get your head around at times as someone who grew up in Australia where our oldest buildings are about 200 years old at best. There is a number of royalty buried there, as well as other well known people such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton.
From the abbey, I decided to walk along the Thames down to the London Eye, passing by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. A storm was rolling in over town, so going up in the Eye was quite cool to see it coming in over the city.
Saturday I decided to head for something a little less mainstream touristy as my Friday, and headed out to Highgate cemetery, one of the first formal cemeteries in London. The cemetery is quite overgrown and a little bit spooky in the crypts, but contains the gravesite of Karl Marx (among others) so quite interesting to see.
From there I headed into borough markets, one of the main food markets in London. It was awesome, just like other farmers markets I have been to only on steroids. Great food, including the wild boar sausage sandwich I had and also snuck in a pork belly roll, a brownie and coffee, I could have stayed all day, but had to head off for my next item on the agenda.
I was super excited to be heading to Wembely Stadium to watch the FA Cup semi final between Wigan and Millwall. I had bought some tickets at way over the odds for the face value, but didn't care as seeing a football game in England is something I've always wanted to experience, so off I went. On the train on the way out, some Millwall fans boarded, and immediately commenced singing their team chants, one of which is "nobody likes us, and we don't care". Millwall fans have a reputation as being one of the roughest in England, and when blokes are opening bottles of beer with their teeth on the way out to the stadium, it's not hard to see why. It was good fun listening to them on the train though. It was no surprise to hear a number had been arrested during the game for fighting among themselves.
My seats were way up high in the stadium, but the view was great, and I was undercover out of the rain which was good. I was sitting among the Wigan fans, which was great fun as Wigan scored two goals and won the game, so the guys were all singing and hugging each other and falling down the stairs in the process.
Yesterday morning was another tour I had been looking forward to for ages, Lords Cricket ground. As soon as I got there I would have been smiling like an idiot, having watched countless ashes tests on tv from the ground it was awesome to be there. The guided tour allows you to go right through the dressing rooms (with the ever present odour of sweaty men still hanging in the air) and up into the media centre for the best view of the whole ground. Also the museum is really interesting, and great to see the names of some girls I have played with in my younger days on display in there.
From Lords I headed over to Camden, which is to London as Newtown is to Sydney. It was jam packed in the markets, with street performers and stalls selling everything under the sun. It was the most lively part of London I had seen, though of course the sunny weather (a heat wave getting up to 19 degrees) no doubt helped bring people out.
Continuing my journey across to the other side of the city, I wandered along south bank of the Thames to the tower bridge, them back along the river to the Tate Modern gallery to see the Liechtenstein exhibition, which was really cool.
From there, I then continued my walk along the river all the way up to Westminster and back to tower bridge (about 8km or so) to get some photos of the city at night, as the weather was still really good and it was the first clear night I had in London, I was even able to walk around without my goose down coat on for the first time. I think I got some pretty nice photos, hopefully they come up ok full size.
Having walked all day, I headed back to my hotel room and called it a night, staying up to watch Adam Scott's victory at the Masters.
Today is my final day in London, so with weary legs I headed for the tube once more, with no firm plans to fill the day in. I attempted to go on a tour through the Houses of Parliament, however they were not open for tours today. From there I decided to head back to the Tate modern where I was yesterday to see the rest of the gallery, which was quite interesting, but also with the plan to have lunch at one of the many restaurants I walked past yesterday, settling on a very nice Italian place.
Having stuffed myself with delicious pasta and a bit sick of walking, I decided to return to the hotel to chill out with a book and cup of tea, and maybe a pint or cider, to give my legs a rest and recharge the batteries before I grab my bags and head to the airport for Edinburgh later this afternoon.
I have to say, London did not blow me away on arrival like New York did (they have a completely different vibe, in my opinion anyway), however the city has grown on me today and I have come to quite like it.
Yesterday I took the hop-on-hop-off bus tour around the bulk of the city, choosing to mainly hop on, rather than off, to allow me to get my bearings on where all the main sites were and help to narrow the list down on what I might like to see.
When I hopped off the bus, I was around the Piccadilly Circus area, and found an awesome burger place to have lunch.
From there I just walked around, with no great purpose, other than exploring the area I was in. I somehow managed to do a loop and ended up arriving back at the burger joint from a different direction (subconscious GPS perhaps?), but still full from lunch I decided to head down to Leicester Square to see if I could get some theatre tickets for the night. I ended up with a ticket to The Black Woman, which is a ghost story, and really well done, with lots of screams from some of the audience. Leaving the theatre, the London weather finally delivered my first lot of decent rain, which made the walk to and from the tube back to my hotel rather chilly and unpleasant.
This morning first thing I had my filled pasta cooking class at Jamie Oliver's Recipease cooking school in Notting Hill, something I had been looking forward to for weeks since I booked it. The class was great, learning tricks to get the pasta dough just right, and how to fold it into a few different shapes. The end result was also delicious.
Since I was in the area, I then spent the next couple of hours wandering Notting Hill, which was really cool with the markets and little shops, but no sightings of Hugh Grant.
This afternoon I continued my love affair with all things Jamie Oliver and grabbed an oxtail and brisket pizza, washed down with a welsh cider, at one of his restaurants (union jacks) in covent garden. Yum. There is little doubt the personal trainer will have some work to do once I get home!
I finished the day off with a couple of pints down at the pub on the corner of the hotel. I was only going to have one, but as I was having my first, a group of people turned up, and the sole woman in the group started chatting to me. Turns out Susan was a fellow Australian, had moved here on a one way ticket in her early 20s and now lived with her husband and two kids in Watford (can't wait to tell Rooney I met other people from Watford, especially given one of her sons writes a blog about Watford football). Anyway, Susan was lovely, and somehow we managed to talk about all kinds of things including politics, so I stayed at the pub for a couple of extra pints than I had originally planned. The pub itself is actually quite cool, it serves a lot of local ales and ciders, though it is rather strange to see them pouring pints straight from a cask or barrel, having to pump the tap several times to get the glass to fill, and not via chilled pipes. The English cider though is excellent - you can get them not too sweet and medium carbonation, which makes them very easy to drink. The closest I've had at home is willie smiths or dickens, both local Tasmanian ciders and very good.
So that's it for my first couple of days in London, I have a few more left and an ever growing list of things I want to check out, so will probably be a busy few days.
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