A Travellerspoint blog

United Kingdom

London V

Greetings Globo Trip aficionados! Indeed, I have again escaped the depressive isolation of the world’s most southerly city to gallivant through Europe for 3 months. The primary reasons for my exodus from the harrowing doldrums of Melbourne’s winter is to represent Australia at the prestigious Paris Gay Games in swimming and attend Irish Claire’s wedding in Malta. Additionally, I will be rendezvousing with European and expatriate friends, bagging a swag of new countries (predominately micro-states) and travelling to a new frontier for me – the Caucasus. The first stop though of my third trip to the continent was an obligatory visit to my favourite city in the world, London.

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My flight journey from Melbourne to London, which came to a total cost of $90 due to clever manipulation of credit card sign-up bonuses, was undoubtedly the most comfortable long-haul trip I have ever made. I don’t particularly like the idea of airline loyalty, but the leg space provided on Singapore Airlines has definitely secured my business into the future. I was truly stupefied that for the duration of the 8 hour flight to Singapore and subsequent 13 hour flight to London, the seat in front of me never encroached uncomfortably onto my being. Needless to say, there was a little shit constantly kicking my seat from behind, but that was the responsibility of her totally incompetent mother, not Singapore Airlines. I was also impressed that between the main meals, passengers could limitlessly request snacks and beverages to ensure we had sufficient calories to persevere through the physically arduous activity of sitting for 13 hours. The highlight of the trip though was the extraordinary views above Central Asia. We were blessed with incredibly clear skies, affording panoramic views of utterly barren mountainous landscapes in northern Pakistan and Afghanistan and interminably flat desert in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. While other passengers were drooling over B-grade Hollywood films or Friends reruns, I was mesmerised by the captivating spectacle below and was amazed by the almost total absence of human settlements (except for when we flew above the fabled ancient city of Merv – that was very exciting!). That was until we encountered the clouds above Russia, where I started watching Pitch Perfect 3.

Problems started in the final 0.2% of my journey’s overall distance when I arrived at Heathrow. One would think that the busiest airport in the world by international passengers would painstakingly ensure that accessibility to other points within Greater London was abundantly clear to foreigners. Yet despite being prepared in the knowledge of the obscure transport connection I required, I was still totally flummoxed about where to go and how to pay (not for the first time at Heathrow). There is a conspicuous absence of non-Travelex associated ATMs (i.e. ATMs without criminally high fees) at Heathrow. Apparently that shouldn’t be an issue, because there are signs everywhere saying that you can use credit cards to board Transport for London services. It wasn’t clear that the bus I required fell outside TfL’s jurisdiction and infuriatingly required cash payment, so I missed that bus and waited another hour for the next direct connection to Watford. Finally, 32 hours after departing Essendon and nearly 48 hours since I had properly slept, I arrived at the pub adjacent Watford Junction to meet my usual London host, British Dave.

With Northern Europe enduring a heat wave and the sun blazing for nearly 18 hours per day, we ventured to Brighton for a traditional English seaside experience. Every second Londoner appeared to have the same idea that Sunday as the motorways were horrendously busy and the town was clogged with coaches. For an Australian, the natural composition of the Brighton seaside was hardly appealing: pebble beach, opaque, greyish water and no vegetation separating the beach from township. The English compensate for the lack of natural serenity with a unique and somewhat whimsical seaside culture. Activity centres around Brighton’s iconic white pier, which supports an amusement park, restaurant and bars. Armadas of deck chairs occupy one side of the pier, while nudists frolic on the other. Victorian-era terraces provide splendid views over the beach and an intriguing interface with the town. Central Brighton is predominately composed of pastel coloured nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings. The quaint narrow streets brim with life on a hot summers day as the patrons from the pubs and cafés spill out onto the pavements. The popularity of Brighton stems back to the reign of Queen Victoria, who retreated to the seaside town during the summer months. She commissioned the expansive residential pavilion at the centre of Brighton, which is a bizarre architectural ensemble of neoclassical and Oriental (i.e. British interpretation of Mughal) influences. Brighton is a lovely destination for a day trip, though most certainly not for the beauty (or lack thereof) of the beach.

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A day and a half after arriving in Europe, I attended the Watford Leisure Centre to ostensibly complete a rigorous training session in preparation for Paris. While that aspiration didn’t exactly eventuate, it was the first of several culturally informative experiences at swimming pools in Europe. Evidently, I think Australians take our incredible aquatics facilities for granted. In Europe, pools are much less common, overcrowded, usually 25m in length, often lacking in backstroke flags and full of terrible swimmers. The most bizarre aspect of European pools is how they generally combine two lanes into one (i.e. swim up one and back down the other), which renders it impossible to time splits properly. Consequently, my swimming session was rather more lackadaisical than I had envisaged, though it did help stem the effects of jet lag.

Since I was on my fourth trip to London, I did not feel the imperative to “tick-off” a cavalcade of tourist destinations during my three full days in the city and instead returned to some of my favourite haunts. After the Monday morning swim, I ventured into Central London to first satisfy my hummus cravings and then aimlessly wander the day away. I ambled through the glitzy neighbourhood of Mayfair and its luxury shopping precinct, Bond Street. As with every visit to this area, I was gawking at the shameless and sickeningly obscene wealth on display; chauffeurs cruise the spotless streets in vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of pounds as their owners peruse the most exclusive shops on the planet. There is no where at all comparable to this area in Melbourne. Admittedly, I momentarily experienced a pang of, “Oh, I wish I could afford this one day!”, but of course, no one deserves such excessive disposable income… unless they use it for travelling! I ambled past Westminster Palace and was grateful I had seen the iconic clocktower before, as it is currently covered in scaffolding. I walked along the River Thames, north through Trafalgar Square and concluded my evening on Oxford Street, where regular Britons shop.

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After the disappointment of the Watford Leisure Centre, I decided to cross Greater London to swim at the Olympic aquatics venue. The constituent venues of the London 2012 Olympics occupy an expansive park in east of the city. The impressive external architecture of the Olympic stadium (currently being converted into the home ground of West Ham United FC) and the aquatics venue, as well as the bizarre red steel sculpture that defines the precinct, justify a visit to the area. Which was fortuitous for me, because the aquatics venue was closed to the general public when I attempted to enter in the middle of a hot summer’s day – the Europeans really are clueless when it comes to swimming pools. Food is the obvious remedy to placate irritation, so I quickly travelled to Borough Market just south of London Bridge for a delicious Ethiopian lunch. Borough Market epitomises gentrification. It occupies nineteenth century steel-and-glass halls and brick warehouses nestled below a rail overpass. It was once a regular, wholesale market, but is now the domain of specialty food stores and populated by tourists. In the afternoon, I perused the Army Museum (wholly underwhelming considering the material the British have to work with), before retreating to read in an amiable cemetery garden near Shoreditch. In the evening, I reunited with British Hermione, a Globo Trip who I travelled with in India for a couple of weeks. Hermione and I clicked immediately when we met on the Subcontinent, so it was wonderful to catch-up on life events and reminisce on “only in India” moments during our all-too-short rendezvous. To appreciate Shoreditch’s famously alternative culture, she suggested we dine at Boxpark. Boxpark is basically a multi-level complex composed of freight containers converted into stylish shops and hip bars and food outlets. The rooftop seating area provides a lively and notably youthful atmosphere to to enjoy the summer twilight.

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On my last full day in London, I had planned to visit the only World Heritage listed site in the metropolis I had yet to inspect, the Kew Gardens. But I decided that $32 was a tad excessive to view a bunch of static organisms, so I instead returned to my favourite area of London, Camden Market. Needless to say, its not the cheap, grungy merchandise I find alluring, but rather the enormous concentration of international food stalls. And the ensemble of food stalls has seemingly trebled since I was last there nearly 3 years ago, expanding into other wooden warehouses adjacent the algae-covered canal. I went for a post-lunch stroll along the canal and then cut through the peaceful Regent’s Garden to reach Central London. I met Dave in the early evening in Covent Garden and we subsequently hoped between traditional and contemporary pubs in London’s most vibrant neighbourhood. I love the pub culture culture in London; on weeknights, every pub in Central London is completely crammed with workers. In the warmer months, patrons collect their beverages from the bar and drink them on the street or in back alleys, creating a vibe akin to a massive street party since there are pubs on virtually ever corner. The pubs are distinguished from other commercial enterprises by their hanging flower markets at the front – a intriguing and universally adopted characteristic of British pubs. We returned to Watford at a relatively responsible hour for Dave, as I had to catch the Eurostar in the morning.

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British cuisine is of course lamentably bland and basic, and I have already sampled most of their stodgy contributions to global gastronomy. Nevertheless, in Brighton I enjoyed a feast of seafood morsels prepared by a charming couple in their seventies that I had never tasted before. I tried a fried kipper sandwich (salty and extremely delicious), a crab salad sandwich (essentially just pureed crab with spices) and a rollmop, which is pickled herring rolled around a gherkin and onion. At the Camden Market, I had a delicious Stilton cheese, bacon and pear chutney toasted sandwich that oozed fatty British goodness. My consumption was otherwise international in nature.

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As always, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to London and catching up with old travel companions. It served as the perfect launchpad into Europe…

That’s all for now,

Liam

Posted by Liamps 12:59 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Northern England

UK photos.

Travelling to Northern England was merely an afterthought, as I realised the Scottish Highlands was probably not an ideal destination to visit in the early January dreariness. Consequently, I decided to travel south from Edinburgh and spend the final four days of my Christmas break in English cities. I also thought that since I had visited London thrice, it was pastime I explored another corner of the country. I chose York and Manchester as my target destinations, two cities that epitomise the old and new Northern England. York is often referred to as the “capital of the North”, due to the city’s regional preeminence from its Roman foundation through to the industrial revolution. York is now a relatively small city with an excellently preserved medieval core, offering the visitor a glimpse of a bygone era in English history. Meanwhile, Manchester’s significance was entirely fostered by industrialisation, which stimulated rapid population growth and transformed the city into Northern England’s largest metropolis and commercial hub. Northerners proved to be very friendly people, with a relaxed rural-like attitude in comparison to Londoners.

York no longer enjoys its former status as a major political and economic centre, yet its history and architectural legacy have ensured it remains one of England’s most venerated cities. York was established by the Romans as a major fortress on the Empire’s frontier in 71AD. Vestiges of the ancient Roman wall survive as foundations for York’s remarkable medieval wall, which almost completely encircle the Old Town. I circumambulated York by walking on the walls, which provided magnificent views of the Old Town and rich people’s gardens. York was conquered by Danish Vikings in the ninth century and became the capital of a Viking kingdom. York was eventually incorporated into the Kingdom of England and was designated a archbishopric (the Archbishop of York is the second highest office in the Church of England). The archbishop’s seat is York Minster, the city’s most iconic structure; a colossal Gothic cathedral with ornate exterior decorations. However, I was compelled to protest the outrageous entrance fee of $20 and not enter the cathedral. Instead, I went to a pub and spent $20 on a ploughman’s lunch: far better value for money. Close to the Minster are the picturesque ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey, which was once the richest monastery in Northern England and occupied a huge precinct. The monastery’s wealth was seized by Henry VIII during the Reformation and closure of the monasteries.

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The Old Town of York is a compact, relatively small but still atmospheric centre of winding, narrow streets and quirky crooked buildings. The Old Town is bisected by the River Ouse, which served as an important conduit for trade during medieval times. When I visited York, Northern England had experienced terrible flooding in recent weeks, causing the River Ouse to burst its banks and flood many of the low-lying buildings. York features an assemblage of architectural styles, though its tiny Gothic churches and Tudor buildings particularly stand out. Traditional English pubs abound throughout the city and they all proudly offer at least half a dozen “real ales” on tap. Several ghost tours are conducted in the evening, reflecting the belief that many of the buildings in York are haunted. One apparent sighting was of a legion of Roman soldiers marching through a cellar near the Minster; it was later discovered that a Roman road passed through the site.

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When the constituent purpose of travelling to a city is to exploit a cheap airfare, you cannot have high-expectations about what the city has to offer. I therefore travelled to Manchester without expecting to encounter one of Europe’s most enthralling cities, which was certainly wise preparation. Manchester lacks a historic “old town”, which is somewhat inexplicable for a large European city. The centre is therefore comparable to Melbourne, a mixture of nineteenth century and modernist buildings sprawled across a large area. The legacy of the industrial revolution has particularly shaped Manchester, with converted warehouses, canals and iron bridges abounding throughout the city. Most of the major structures in Manchester are composed of red brickwork, which gives the city a distinctive appearance. Manchester is obviously famous for its sporting culture, though I opted not to visit the city’s iconic stadiums (expensive) and instead visited the National Football Museum (free). The museum was a moderately interesting introduction to football with impressive displays (including the FA Cup and the EPL trophy), though it was excessively kidified. I also attended a museum about democracy and the labour movement in Britain, which had the potential to be an excellent museum but most exhibits were closed for renovations. Otherwise, Manchester’s primary highlight seemed to be an enormous shopping complex in the centre, which I actually spent considerable time at stocking up for my trip to the Arctic.

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Both York and Manchester are filled with excellent pubs, but unfortunately the pubs are not filled with excellent food. On consecutive evenings at different establishments, I ordered pies with short-crust pastry and on both occasions my meals were clearly microwaved: an absolute outrage in Melbourne! York is internationally famous for Yorkshire pudding, which is a scone-shaped side dish made from batter and dripping and traditionally eaten with roast beef and gravy. At the haunted Golden Fleece, I ordered a giant Yorkshire pudding with beef and gravy smothered inside it. The pudding was nice but unfortunately it was pre-prepared, giving it a cardboard like texture. My highlight dish of Northern England came at the Art Nouveau pub Mr. Thomas’s Chophouse in Manchester. I ate corned beef hash, which is basically pieces of corned beef, sautéed potatoes, onion and spices cooked together and served with a poached egg and HP sauce: salty and delicious. British cities are dotted with mini-supermarkets seemingly on every corner and they all sell a bewildering range of surprisingly delicious sandwiches (perhaps to compensate for a lack of bakeries).

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My four days in York and Manchester was merely just a sample of what Northern England has to offer. I was forced to skip the region’s famed national parks, due to time constraints and inclement weather. I was slightly underwhelmed by York, which is considered one of England’s top touristic destinations outside of London. It’s a pleasant small city, but certainly less beautiful and interesting than comparable small cities in southern Europe. Meanwhile, Manchester failed to exceed my very low-expectations; I’m glad I visited but I see no compelling reason to return.

That’s all for now,

Liam

UK photos.

Posted by Liamps 19:24 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

Edinburgh

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I travelled to Edinburgh at the end of 2015 to witness the city’s internationally famous New Years Eve celebrations, the two-day Hogmanay festival. It was also the first time I visited Edinburgh, which was one of the few capitals in Western Europe that had yet to host an imperial tour. I was accompanied by recent Globo Trip protagonist Irish Claire, Globo Trip regular Danish Nadia and Globo Trip novice Irish Suz. A series of unfortunate events seemed to befall Suz on her trip to Edinburgh, but on each occasion she responded with remarkable resilience and positivity; a lesser person (such as myself) would have failed to exemplify such an impressive attitude. Despite its diminutive size of just 500,000, I thought Edinburgh was just as intriguing as many of the great capitals in Europe and boasted far more to see and do than expected. Consequently, I stayed for two additional nights (for a total of five) after the departures of Claire, Nadia and Suz to further explore Great Britain’s most beautiful city.

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While the Scottish people voted to stay in the United Kingdom in the 2014 referendum, this decision was clearly spurred by economic convenience than a passionate embrace of their British identity. The Union Jack, British coat of arms and royal paraphernalia, which are pervasive in London, are almost entirely absent from Edinburgh. The cityscape is instead dominated by the blue-and-white Flag of St. Andrews, the Scottish purple thistle and the Scottish red lion. Quintessentially Scottish stereotypes abound throughout Edinburgh, with bagpipes being played on every corner, old men ambling past in kilts, tartan patterns decorating storefronts and haggis plaguing every menu. This overt nationalistic pride in Scottish identity and rejection of Britishness leads one to question whether economic considerations were sufficient justification to remain apart of the United Kingdom; or was it simply a case of the Scots lacking courage to claim their own sovereignty?

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Scotland and Ireland are both small Gaelic countries that have experienced centuries of political and cultural domination by England, but their histories are markedly different. Throughout the Middle Ages, Scotland was a united and relatively powerful kingdom that even possessed the capacity to threaten the northern regions of England. When Scotland was eventually incorporated into the United Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, it was through political acceptance by the Scottish Parliament rather than by military conquest. Conversely, medieval Ireland was never united under a single, native-born monarch and was instead divided into several petty kingdoms. The English invasion and subjugation of the country occurred more than five hundred years before Scotland relinquished its independence. Yet the country that fought relentlessly and eventually achieved liberty from English rule was Ireland; while Scotland, with its proud military heritage, still passively complies to the will of Westminster. The long-term outcome of Irish independence has probably stimulated, rather than hindered, the Irish economy, which is now one of the richest in the world.

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Claire, Nadia, Suz and I joined an excellent free walking tour of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Our enigmatic guide introduced us to the city’s incredible architectural composition, colourful history and unusual layout. Located directly in the centre of Edinburgh is the remnants of an extinct volcano, an imposing basalt crag known as Castle Rock. Numerous settlements and fortresses have occupied Castle Rock since prehistoric times, and today the immaculately preserved medieval Edinburgh Castle is perched on its top. The royal fortress is reckoned to be one of the world’s most heavily besieged structures, though its dramatic location and colossal walls give it an aura of impregnability.

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The Royal Mile runs from the apex of Castle Rock to Holyrood Palace (the Queen’s residence in Edinburgh) at ground level and the Old Town clings to the steep slopes on either side of it. Despite the aesthetics and World Heritage status of the Old Town, Edinburgh is a relatively young city in comparison to most other capitals in Europe. A royal “burgh” connected to Edinburgh Castle was not established until the twelfth century, when Edinburgh began to function as the capital of the Scottish nation. The city’s development was restricted to the medieval fortified walls until the eighteenth century, which resulted in ten storey high buildings; the forerunners to modern skyscrapers. Unfortunately, most of these structures were replaced by Victorian buildings in the nineteenth century. However, the dark tones of the stone used in construction, the prevalence of slate roofs and the impact of weathering in the Scottish climate have created the impression that the buildings are much older. Edinburgh’s Gothic churches, centrally located cemetery (the names of many of the entombed were adopted by JK Rowlings for the Harry Potter books) and preserved medieval layout of narrow and hidden courtyards have fostered a somewhat dark and sinister atmosphere in the Old Town.

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Edinburgh’s New Town was designed in the eighteenth century to accommodate the city’s upper class, who sought to leave the cramped and derelict conditions of the Old Town. The New Town and Old Town are separated by a gulley of parkland and rail-yards, which features magnificent panoramic views of both districts and Castle Rock (from a low-point, counterintuitively). The rigid, orderly plan of the New Town is a manifestation of Enlightenment ideals, which Edinburgh was a centre for during the eighteenth century. The area features wide boulevards, beautiful Georgian architecture and symmetrical gardens. Institutional buildings exhibit Greek Revival architecture, which has earned Edinburgh the moniker, “Athens of the North”. Calton Hill was to be transformed into the city’s equivalent of the Acropolis, though structures such as the National Monument (modelled after the Pantheon) were not completed because funding dried up. I suppose Calton Hill is still so somewhat similar to the modern-day Acropolis: a picturesque collection of Classical ruins with excellent views of Edinburgh.

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Hogmanay in Edinburgh is one of the world’s most iconic New Years Eve celebrations and supersedes Christmas as Scotland’s biggest celebration of the year. The tradition of Hogmanay is likely rooted in ancient Celtic or Norse custom to commemorate the winter solstice. In the evening of the 30th December each year, Hogmanay commences with a torchlight procession through central Edinburgh. Claire, Nadia and I braved the cold to participate in the procession, along with tens of thousands of other tourists. We were given proper wax torches, which were lit progressively through the crowd like a series of Olympic torch relays. The procession route took us from the Royal Mile to New Town and concluded at the summit of Calton Hill. It was quite a surreal experience to walk through the atmospheric streets of Edinburgh alongside thousands of flickering flames. The event was concluded with a spectacular firework display above the National Monument. On New Years Eve, we attended the Hogmanay Street Party, which occurs in a cordoned off area of central Edinburgh. The tens of thousands in attendance congregated around different stages, although DJs played the music rather than live bands. As the clock approached midnight, surprisingly John Farnham was honoured with the penultimate song of 2015 as “The Voice” galvanised the crowd into a frenzy of excitement. The firework display at midnight above Edinburgh Castle particularly enthralled Danish Nadia, since such performances are a total novelty for her (slightly backward) country. However, I wasn’t so easily impressed as the display was really a meagre offering compared to the extravaganzas in Melbourne and Sydney. Claire and I were unable to enjoy the fireworks anyway, as we urgently needed to attend the lavatories. So the moment the last mediocre firework burst in the sky, we stormed towards the nearest pub.

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When fried mars bars and minced sheep innards are the iconic dishes of a country, you know the local population have spent little time pursuing the art of culinary endeavour. Our tour guide passionately defended the virtues of Scottish cuisine by promoting the abundance of fresh seafood and high-quality dairy products and lamb. But I don’t care how outstanding the bounty is, producing superb ingredients is not tantamount to a rich culinary tradition! Haggis is literally the only dish of noterietay (or notoriety) unique to the Scottish kitchen. Invented by shepherds to improve the edibility of sheep innards (supposedly), haggis consists of intestines and other disgusted bodily parts that are minced, very heavily spiced, wrapped in stomach liner and boiled. The resulting mixture is traditionally eaten with “neeps and tatties” (mashed turnips and mashed potatoes). Claire was game enough to order haggis and saved everyone else the ordeal by offering tasters. Astonishingly, I actually rather liked haggis! While the gristly bits are quite off-putting, the mixture is otherwise tasty because the excessive spicing is obviously intended to mask the not so pleasant flavours! Virtually all other dishes served at Scottish pubs are standard British fare… with haggis added to them. I brunched on a full “Scottish” breakfast, which was essentially just a traditional fry-up with fried haggis. I also dined on Balmoral chicken, which consisted of chicken stuffed with haggis, wrapped in bacon and served with a cream sauce.

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Haggis and mash

Experiencing one of the world’s most iconic New Years Eve celebrations has always featured on my bucket list, and has now been satisfied. The torchlight procession was particularly surreal, forever seared in my memory. Thanks to Claire, Nadia and Suz for providing amiable company… another city next time?. Even without Hogmanay, Edinburgh would easily rank among my favourite European cities – perhaps even top 15!

That’s all for now,

Liam

UK photos

Posted by Liamps 16:34 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

London IV

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An incredibly short entry for an incredibly short visit to London (for the third time). As the title denotes, I have already written extensively about this remarkable city, so there is little more discussion for me to cover anyhow. Within six hours of my final class at KTH in mid-December, I was on a plane bound for London, eager to escape the dullness of Stockholm as soon as possible! My constituent destinations for the four week Christmas break were actually Ireland and Edinburgh. But since I needed to transit through England, I thought why not stop in my favourite city for a couple days and visit British Dave (especially with the incentive of free accommodation in this notoriously expensive city… though I may have come bearing an appreciative gift). So en route to County Cork I made a brief three night stop in London, bookended by stressful navigating of the city’s stupendous but incredibly complex public transport system. Despite the criticism London cops for its weather, the temperature of ten degrees seemed comparatively paradisiacal after Stockholm in minus five.

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I finally checked off an item that has persisted inexplicably on my London bucket list: a guided tour of the home of cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground. I visited Lord’s when my interest in cricket was probably at an all-time low; indeed, as I write this entry high above Iran (which I had intended to travel to right at this time! So close yet so far. But that’s another story…) without access to internet, I really could not say what happened in Test cricket over the summer. I assume we defeated the West Indies and… New Zealand I think the other opponent was? I suppose my thoughts regarding sport have invariably gravitated back towards the extraordinary and ongoing glory of the Hawthorn Football Club, and who can blame me?!

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But back on topic. Despite my recent disinterest in cricket, the brilliant tour conjured many memories of famous incidents and statistics that are apparently still ingrained in my head. It helped of course that the guide was exceedingly passionate, a member of the MCC and old enough to have met dozens of cricketing icons. He introduced the group (composed of Australians and Indians) to the Ashes, which is as small, insignificant and yet eminently powerful as you might expect. I didn’t know that the vessel containing the Ashes is simply an empty perfume jar. We entered the Pavilion, ground zero of the cricket world and empty of the modern trappings that characterise stadia globally. The Pavilion is the only venue in the world where Test players still pass through a crowd of people to enter the field, in what I think is the equivalent of the MCG’s long room. The guide said the most atmospheric the room had ever been was when Tendulkar strode out to bat for the last occasion at Lord’s; chasing a hundredth international century and first at Lord’s. We entered the player’s dressing rooms, which are astonishingly cramp and spartan. Yet the guide claimed that no cricketer would trade playing on the hallowed turf of Lord’s for more luxurious facilities. Indeed, he relayed a story of an Indian player Sreesanth in tears just for having the privilege of being there. It was all tremendously emotional for everyone. Security of the dressing rooms is very strict, as even Steve Waugh was denied entry to catch-up with former teammates. We toured around the other grandstands of Lord’s (very small compared to Australia, with a capacity of just 27,000) and were within one metre of the field. The renowned slope at Lord’s is certainly discernible. Interestingly, the laws of cricket were not the only rules to be enshrined at Lord’s; the laws of lawn tennis were also officially established there. Previously, different rules had existed at clubs throughout Britain. To create a standardised game and noticing the success of the MCC’s laws of cricket, the tennis clubs requested the MCC to write the laws of lawn tennis also.

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While Dave was occupied with a rather unpleasant sounding activity called “work”, I spent my time ticking off other less interesting things from my London bucket list. I ventured to King’s Cross Station and was so underwhelmed by the architecture that I didn’t bother staying to find platform nine and three-quarters. I stumbled across the National Library, which was surprisingly worth the visit as it featured the Magna Carta and several very early Christian bibles on display. I walked around the shopping precinct of Regent St and Oxford St. Dave had encouraged me to visit a famous toy store, so expecting antique toys, I reluctantly complied. However, it was simply a Toys ‘R’ Us equivalent, so I felt like a creep walking around the store with a camera hanging prominently around my neck (I departed very quickly!). I walked past the US Embassy, a militaristic compound that is probably the ugliest building in London and completely out-of-place in Mayfair. After the obligatory sightseeing pilgrimage to Buckingham Palace and Westminster, I visited London’s neo Byzantine Catholic cathedral. Never before have I seen so many appeals for donations inside a place of worship (they failed to persuade me). I spent ten minutes inside Harrod’s, half of which was spent finding the disappointingly average lavatories, before departing through boredom. I made a brief visit to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and was outraged by the insipidness of the British reproduction of a German Christmas market (after visiting Cologne the previous week). As usual, I severely underestimated the distances in London and was required to run to meet up with Dave at the correct times on both evenings.

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Dave and I ventured to a handful of pubs in central London, which were particularly atmospheric in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Many revellers were fashioning Christmas jumpers that would be considered unbelievably daggy at any other time of year. I was quite saddened actually that we don’t have such a tradition in Australia. When Dave’s parents hosted me for dinner, I was able to view the bombastic Christmas lights display that Dave had repeatedly and so passionately described. The Bridges household blazes in the otherwise pitch-black borderline countryside village, aside from the neighbouring abode (with a resident electrician). Dave warned me gravely about my upcoming trip to Ireland, with an attitude clearly motivated by stereotypes and British superiority. He was convinced that the Irish would ceaselessly laugh at me, as an Australian, and that little more would be achieved (or permitted) in Ireland than drinking obscene quantities of alcohol at the pubs. Only half true.

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There was only one culinary objective for my trip to London (since I knew I would have plenty of stogy pub fare in Ireland): hummus. Obviously excellent renditions of this magical, golden substance was not gong to be difficult to obtain in London, with its large Middle Eastern population. On my return visit to Camden Market, I had a delicious feast of hummus, falafel, feta, pickles, fried eggplant and Arabic salad. The next day, I dined at “Hummus Brothers”, which is one of those “healthy”, modern fast-food franchises similar to Grill’d or Schnitz. “Hummus Brothers” specialises in serving hummus as a simple but filling meal complemented by condiments, which is exactly how it is supposed to be eaten (hummus is NOT merely a snack or appetiser in the Middle East!). I ate a delicious batch of hummus with stewed eggplant and lamb.

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Another very enjoyable trip to London further convinced me that I could happily live there. Thanks again to Dave for hosting me.

That’s all for now,

Liam

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Posted by Liamps 16:51 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

London III

United Kingdom photos

To live for a semester only two hours by plane from London of course compelled me to return to the world’s greatest city. Yes, London has indeed retained its coveted status as my favourite city, despite the robust challenge mounted by New York. The differentiating element that London boasts is a sense of homeliness to an Australian, despite its entirely foreign geographic context relative to Melbourne. On both occasions I have visited London, I have been struck by the intangible feeling of belonging; no doubt similarly experienced by the hundreds of thousands of Australians that reside in the “Home Nations”. To me, London is therefore a unique mixture of exoticism and familiarity; potentially the ideal place to live. London was my first “reprieve” from Scandinavian society in more than six weeks and I thoroughly enjoyed a break from Scandinavian orderliness, perfection and subduedness. The incredibly diverse composition of London ethnically, culturally and socio-economically contrasts with the assimilated and therefore slightly monotonous society of Stockholm. Its this aspect of London, where communities preserve vibrant and independent identities but coexist harmoniously, that I find particularly appealing.

River Thames

River Thames

I travelled to London partly to rendezvous with British Dave, who astute readers will recall was my highly eccentric, rather hilarious and regularly intoxicated tent partner in Southern Africa. Dave visited several members of that overlanding tour in Australia earlier this year, so I was somewhat returning the favour. I was also exploiting the opportunity to stay in a magnificent location in London. Perhaps I’m being slightly facetious, for Dave’s beloved hometown of Watford is literally on the periphery of Greater London. Still, Watford is an amiable community with a medieval Gothic church and it memorably sated my craving for sausage rolls with tomato sauce (for those who wonder if I miss anything from Australia when I travel, well that’s it!). I also acquired my winter clothes for Stockholm at the ultra-cheap department store of Primark. I was preparing to spend more than 100 pounds on a jacket in London, but I exited the (widely derided) store triumphant for the loss of just 25 pounds! Despite its dubious quality, the jacket suffices currently in minus six degrees temperatures in Stockholm, so I’m marking that purchase as an unexpected success!

Dave at Windsor Castle

Dave at Windsor Castle

While Dave attended a reunion with his former Oxford chums, I enjoyed a reunion with Australian Andrew who was commencing his Euro trip in London on unintentionally the same weekend I was visiting the city. Andrew decided to travel to Europe ostensibly to visit me and another friend studying on exchange in Nottingham, though no doubt we were simply used as excuses. We met on the steps of the British Museum, where Andrew had spent a cultural morning exploring various artefacts from Near Eastern antiquity to Far Eastern anime. Unsurprisingly, my mind was purely focused on food and I quickly coerced Andrew into ambling towards my favourite part of my favourite city: Camden Market. This sprawling and ubiquitously crowded district to the north of Central London is the city’s premium alternative scene. It boasts an amazing food section with dozens of stalls selling delectable dishes from countries throughout the world, many of which are under represented on the international culinary scene. Andrew and I ploughed through huge servings of Ethiopian fare with several curries, injera bread and hummus. Since I was finally in a country with reasonably priced fruit and vegetables, I also loaded up on some of the best fresh figs I’ve ever eaten. We next walked along the beautiful Regent’s Canal, which travels for 14 kilometres through the north of London. It was a perfect activity to soak up the bright autumn weather and discuss the social developments I have missed while overseas. We passed Regent’s Park, London Zoo and clusters of houseboats and their accompanying gardens. We then passed through an Arabic neighbourhood replete with kebab houses, shisha and sweet shops, which gave me goose-bumps in memory of the exhilarating atmosphere of North African and Middle Eastern cities. In the late afternoon, we completed a whirlwind tour of London’s most iconic sites: Hyde Park, Mayfair, the Australian War Memorial, Buckingham Palace, Horseguards Parade, Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster and the River Thames. We concluded the day with a traditional pub meal at and establishment founded in the seventeenth century. It was quite an atmospheric old pub, with numerous small rooms connected with low doorways. Unfortunately, Andrew’s liver condition precluded him from enjoying an alcoholic beverage, a restriction that would continue to haunt him during our forthcoming jaunt through Poland.

Andrew searching for spiders at the houseboats

Andrew searching for spiders at the houseboats

Dave was in a surprisingly sober condition for noon on a Sunday when we met after his trip to Oxford. His parents generously invited me to an English Sunday roast lunch at the family house in the countryside just outside London. The approach to the village was on a narrow “two-lane” road bordered by hedges; the first occasion I have seen the quintessential rural English thoroughfare. I particularly enjoyed eating roast lamb, which is more of a luxury meat than a staple outside Australia, New Zealand and select few other countries (Australia consumes more tonnes of lamb (total) annually than the United States, despite possessing 15 times less consumers). In the afternoon, we ventured to the nearby town of Windsor, where the Queen’s favourite residence is located. Windsor Castle was originally constructed in the eleventh century and is now the longest occupied palace in Europe. The colossal castle rises commandingly above the quaint village of Windsor and the picturesque countryside surrounding the town. Its ancient yet intricately detailed Gothic architecture is immeasurably more impressive than Buckingham Palace, which is essentially just a generic European neoclassical palace. The interior was also quiet striking, with the use of swords and other weapons to form geometric decorative elements. In the late afternoon, we had high tea to round out a thoroughly traditional English Sunday.

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle

Dave organised a day off from work on Monday, which he perhaps later regretted as I dragged him all around Central London (he was not terribly accustomed to my hectic schedules while travelling). We first visited the National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square, which was reasonably enjoyable though we quickly hastened thereafter to a pub. I was keen to attend several old-school pubs while in London, rather than the generic chains that blight the city’s entertainment scene (i.e. Weatherspoon’s). At one of Covent Garden’s most iconic traditional pub, I devoured pie and chips and savoured proper apple cider (only the ultra-sweet rubbish is sold in Sweden). We next walked to the bustling shopping thorough of Oxford St to visit the upmarket department store Selfridges, which was rather underwhelming. After another pub visit, Dave departed in the late afternoon for his regular yoga class. I walked hastily along the Thames from St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Tower of London to meet Andrew, who had recovered from an unidentified bite to the foot. I happened to pass a student from a first semester class in Melbourne, though didn’t have time to stop and analyse the extraordinary coincidence. The mind-blowingly impressive London weather reached its crescendo at sunset precisely when Tower Bridge was being raised, with the sky lit up brightly in shades of pink and purple. Andrew and I ambled to Brick Lane, where Dave met us for an Indian feast.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

A rather short trip to London of only three days concluded all too quickly. My second visit to the city confirmed that London is absolutely a place I would like to live in the future. It was fantastic to catch up with Dave and Andrew, the latter I whom I would soon see on my doorstep in Stockholm.

That’s all for now,

Liam

United Kingdom photos

Posted by Liamps 08:01 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

London II

photos https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/Liamps/countries/United%20Kingdom/

It would appear that I’ve written this entry backwards. This is the first occasion in my blogging experiment that I am writing the introduction after I have finished everything else. Thus this entry is unlikely to flow seamlessly; and nor does it include grandiose expressions of humour either. I felt this disclaimer is needed to justify for the probable ineptitude of it. So turn away now if you’re feeling rather critical. The season finale of my London entries covers what I neglected to discuss in my previous entry; the appearance of the city, tourist attractions and the food. So how did I unintentionally compile two and half thousand words in the previous entry while attempting to implement Tory-esque austerity reforms to the length? After one and a half weeks half in London, Nick Tropea arrived from Melbourne to begin a new phase of my trip. We spent five days in London and visited most of the city’s major drawcards during that period. We stayed in a moderate dormitory shared with seven other randoms, which was a horrifyingly new experience for the expectantly soft and pampered Nick. He eventually acclimatised to the situation, though not without incessant complaints.

After wandering along the monopoly streets that define central London, we visited the city’s most symbolically powerful buildings during Nick’s second day. The Palace of Westminster borders the River Thames and is one of the United Kingdom’s most impressive structures. The site has been crucially important in British history for nine hundred years and has served as the home of the Houses of Parliament since the early sixteenth century. A great fire destroyed most of the “Old Palace” on the site in 1834, which resulted in the current building being constructed in the Gothic Revival style (the Gothic was popularly “revived” as it was evocative of traditional British architecture). I loved the external architecture of the Palace, especially the copious application of slender elements, and seeing Big Ben was quite cool. Nick and I marched up the grand thoroughfare leading to Buckingham Palace, The Mall. The street is imposingly lined by trees with immense canopies and dozens of huge Union Jacks. We visited Buckingham Palace at midday to see the changing of the guards, along with half of all the other tourists in the city. The ludicrously dressed guards completed their pompous ceremony to the delight of the crowd and the boredom of Nick. We couldn’t help but wonder why buffoons would attempt to drive through this area around midday as the roads are closed off for virtually an hour, save only for brief periods where the police can handle the crowds. We also visited the United Kingdom’s most exclusive department stores in the area, Harrod’s. Most of the store was actually rather boring, except for its luxurious food hall on the bottom level and the extravagant Egyptian escalators.

The Tower of London was my favourite attraction in the city and I thought the Tower Bridge was its most beautiful sight. The Tower of London has an extraordinary history, which is brilliantly summarised by the Yeomen Guards that lead complimentary tours around the precinct (with hundreds following). The guards match their goofy attired appearance with satirical humour and occasionally factual commentary. The Tower of London is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames. The namesake and defining feature of the complex is the White Tower, which was constructed over nine hundred years ago by William the Conqueror. The complex is surrounded by two thick walls and a moat. The highly fortified castle served as the residence of the English monarchs and is still officially known as “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress”. Control of the Tower in the medieval period ultimately symbolised control of the country. The Tower of London was also infamously used as a prison throughout its existence until 1952 (the prison was briefly re-established during the Second World War and the last execution performed at the Tower was of a German spy). The Tower has also been used an armoury, a treasury and as the home of the Royal Mint. It was also used to keep the King’s animals, including lions (which were particularly popular as they are representative of the English Crown) and elephants. The public was eventually allowed to visit the animals, but an attack on a visitor walking through the Monkey Room stymied that initiative. The Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom are displayed at the Tower of London, but the gargantuan queue precluded my viewing of them.

Unlike the other great capitals of Europe, London evidently has not feared the integration of modern structures into its central area. While this may result in an unusual architectural synergy, it nevertheless exhibits that London is continuously a city “on the move” (thank you VicRoads number plates). London is most characteristically defined by the River Thames, which meanders through the great metropolis. The cityscape along the river perfectly encapsulates London’s duality in glorifying the past while embracing change and the future. The Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge architecturally celebrate British heritage and the litany of Neoclassical buildings express the (defunct) imperial significance of the city. Meanwhile, monumental infrastructure has been developed along the Thames in the past fifteen years that convey that London is a city that adapts to the present and the future (whereas the visual spectacle in Rome and Paris does not lead to the same impression developing). The London Eye is the most iconic structure and is probably famous because it is “the world’s tallest cantilevered observational wheel” (or maybe not). The Shard, the tallest building in the European Union, was completed earlier this year and literally resembles a shard of glass. Nearby is the post-modernist City Hall, which is often compared to an egg or more crude analogies. In the Docklands area of London is the aesthetically bizarre O2 Arena, which externally appears like a giant marquee that is supported by twelve yellow towers (intentionally deceptive). London surely boasts one of the most extraordinary riverfronts in the world; who cares if its not that attractive?

London generally appeared greener and more naturalistic than other cities I visited in Europe. Unless of course it seemed that way only because I was there in summer! Throughout the city and the metropolitan area, trees with great canopies dominate the streetscape; more so than elsewhere. Aside from the higher density, the suburbs of London exhibit similarities with Australia as there are nature strips and the prevalence of private gardens. Beautiful and expansive public parks can be found throughout the metropolitan area, which are atmospheric places to visit on a summer day. They are also places to participate in the ritualistic tourist activity of photographing squirrels. It should be noted that these parks are substantially larger than the typical suburban parks in Australia as you often can’t see the other side. St. James’ Park situation beside The Mall affords exceptional views of Buckingham Palace on one side and the attractions of the Thames on the other. Prior to Nick’s arrival, I visited The Regent’s Park in the north of the city and particularly admired its ornamental gardens. I returned to the park with Nick after our unsuccessful excursion to Lord’s Cricket Ground and entered the London Zoo. Bizarrely Nick’s camera flashed far more regularly than the previous four days when we were visiting London’s constituent sites. We also ambled through Green Park and the humungous Hyde Park in London’s wealthy western suburbs.

I suspect a touch of hypocrisy is forthcoming, because of a previously published comment where I claimed, “I am not a museum person”. London’s wealth of excellent and usually free museums compelled me to explore seven institutions in the city. The Museum of London was the first and provided excellent historical context for the city. Next I explored the famed British Museum, which is brimming with ancient artefacts looted from archaeological sites from around the world. I saw the Rosetta Stone and was particularly intrigued by their collection of Assyrian architectural elements, which I knew nothing about. My usually accurate judgement determined that the city’s best museum is the Cabinet War Rooms and the Winston Churchill Museum. This once top-secret complex was the primary base from which the British government prosecuted the war effort against Hitler, particularly during the bombing raids. Winston Churchill and other senior members of cabinet resided and worked from the rooms during stages of the war. There were hundreds of uncelebrated citizens (men and women) who worked huge hours in this claustrophobic environment, as Morse code readers, typists and telephonists among others, and often slept there also (some for the duration of the war). Visitors wander through the below ground passageways and can peer into many of the rooms as they were left at 1945. The connecting Churchill Museum also provides a fascinating chronological exploration of the life of the voted “Greatest Briton of all time”. Many Londoners specifically recommended the Natural History Museum, so I visited the museum in its whimsically designed building with naturalistic motifs. It consisted of halls of stuffed mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, with each cabinet representing a different family, and an impressive collection of dinosaur skeletons. It even featured the skeletons of a blue whale and a sperm whale. I charged through the modern art gallery Tate Modern and stopped only for Picasso or Dali paintings. I perused through the Science Museum (although I don’t remember anything about it) and the Maritime Museum, which I surprisingly found quite interesting because it detailed British historical dominance of the seas. I would have visited an eighth, if Nick and I had managed to locate the MCC Museum’s entrance at Lord’s Cricket Ground.

Greenwich is an internationally recognisable name, but most people probably know little more about it than its location within the United Kingdom. Greenwich is a World Heritage listed district that is situated beside the River Thames and within Greater London. It was a historically significant area for British monarchs, the Royal Navy and scientific development. Nick and I explored the area during our penultimate day in London. We ambled through the clichéd maritime “village” with its tourist shops and postcard-perfect façades. The most attracting area In Greenwich is the Royal Naval College, which was still used for educational purposes until 1998. The precinct is filled with Neoclassical buildings that symmetrically align to create an imposing scene when viewed across the Thames. We joined a tour through the Queen’s House, which was architecturally significant as the first classical building constructed in Britain. The Palladian usage of platonic shapes and configurations is notable in its design. We glimpsed the Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory but chose not to pay the exorbitant cost to consciously stand in two hemispheres. Instead I photographed the self-proclaimed “first shop in the world”!

The ignominy bestowed upon the British culinary scene is entirely unjustified, unless my palate is just as uncivilised as the locals. I ravenously devoured pub grub and international cuisine alike as London provided satisfaction to many of my food cravings. London’s pub culture is a particularly enviable aspect of the city as everywhere throughout the metropolitan area there are old-style establishments with classic names like “The Elephant & Castle”, “The Fox and Anchor”, “The Royal Mail” and “The Wheelbarrow”. I ate excellent and relatively cheap traditional meals of fish and chips, bangers and mash, steak and red wine pie, mixed grill with chips and egg and Sunday roast with the works. As you may have deduced, I certainly welcomed the return of familiar dishes! Despite its simplicity, I surprisingly found Yorkshire pudding to be a delectable addition to the roast meal; especially when it was freshly made. I did not, however, approve of the bizarre addition of mushy peas to everything. In Oxford, I savoured cream tea, although unfortunately the quality of the scones was compromised by the presence of sultans. Sausage rolls, cheddar cheese and cider were among a potpourri of other basic foodstuffs that made a celebrated return to my diet. Malcolm repetitively asserted that London is “the centre of the world” and the evident multiculturalism certainly attests to that. Consequently, London boasts exceptional and authentic food from a litany of foreign cuisines; which other European capitals fail to emulate to the same degree. The food of the subcontinent is particularly popular in the UK, and I thus enjoyed a lavish Indian feast with Charlie and Ollie and a Sri Lankan spread with Nick. On both occasions I sampled the beloved unofficial national dish of Great Britain, Chicken Tikka Masala (which was quite delicious). Camden Market features dozens of stalls representing cuisines from around the world, including Peruvian, Jamaican, West African and Sri Lankan. On my numerous visits to this tremendous precinct, I sampled Polish sausages, Indian tandoori and a Mexican burrito. Surprisingly, I found that the food was a compelling justification as to why London would be a suitable city for me to reside in.
I have probably made it rather obvious, but if you haven’t already realised, I rather like London. I recognise though knowing people in the city undoubtedly contributed to my enjoyment there. Thus for the ranking system, I must judge London on a purely touristic basis. To which it cannot match Rome, but it places second nonetheless.

1. Rome
2. London
3. Barcelona
4. Florence
5. Porto
6. Amsterdam
7. Venice
8. Lisbon
9. Copenhagen
10. Turin
11. Granada
12. Seville
13. Madrid
14. Naples
15. Brussels
16. Palermo

Next entry will be about the other great capital of Western Europe, which will make it easy for comparison.

Tutulu,

Liam

photos https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/Liamps/countries/United%20Kingdom/

Posted by Liamps 15:24 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

London

photos https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/Liamps/countries/United%20Kingdom/

How marvellous it was to return to the English-speaking world. Comprehending Brits on the telephone and the numerous accents in the capital were other matters altogether, but at least for day-to-day exchanges I was not required to employ simplistic and slow language. I relished my time in London because it essentially provided a break from the exoticisms of the world; which have been fascinating but nevertheless draining to experience. There seems to be an entrenched antipathy toward England in the Australian psyche, but I found that personal detestations, even from a sporting perspective, partially subsided during my fortnight in London. Despite Great Britain’s location on the other side of the planet, I found a continuation of Australian culture and humour there. I suppose, why wouldn’t they attempt to emulate our magnificent society? From visiting the museums and ambling through the great city, I developed a sense of patriotism and pride for the Anglo world. I cannot decide whether this is an utter abomination or entirely justifiable considering my heritage. I nevertheless felt a “connection” to historical British achievements and our royal family. This type of barbaric sentiment is demonstrative as to why Australia must butcher all links to the constitutional monarchy and form a new national identity under the guise of the Republic of Australia, with Liam I of House Stevens serving as Emperor.

London is a city that I could happily reside in, if we ignore the deplorable weather. On only three of the fifteen ”summer” days I was in London for was I treated to what would loosely be described as sunny weather. Grey and bleak overcast conditions were the usual fare, with temperatures hovering in the mid-teens. Nevertheless, such trivial complaints failed to deter a growing desire to call the city home (briefly). I have discovered this year that my cultural and linguistic ignorance dictates that if I were to settle outside of Australia and hope to enjoy the experience, then the Anglo-world would be the most appropriate areas to consider! While the English people are purportedly classified as our eternal enemy, personally I find them to be the most similar to Australians in terms of humour and general conversation; other than (quasi-Australian) New Zealanders. The diversity that London exudes I think is its most appealing attribute. Architecturally, the central area features a mix of imperial and monumental buildings and futuristic post-modernist structures. London (unexpectedly) is probably the most multi-cultured city I have ever been to and consequently the city features a unique fabric of varying cultures and cuisines. While I suppose there are ultimately numerous similarities with Australia, the metropolitan area of London dwarves Melbourne and Sydney and it emanates international importance and centrality rather than irrelevance and isolation. If only they had decent weather.

Initially I planned to stay in London for no more than five or six days, which has been my customary timeframe in Europe’s major cities. However, because I met several Londoners on the tour through Southern Africa and subsequently also, I opted to spend two and a half weeks in the city. This was also a wise judgement because I felt like I needed somewhere to “stop” for an extended period and an English-speaking country was certainly an appropriate choice! To reminisce on past experiences/ordeals, for most of my time in London I stayed at my former tent partner British Dave’s apartment in the humble outer suburb of Watford. British Julia, another member of the Africa trip, happily reminded us all though that technically Watford is not considered to be within the boundary of Greater London and Dave should therefore not be considered a Londoner. While Dave generously provided free accommodation, the heinously expensive prices of public transport to reach Watford virtually eliminated any economic advantage of staying there (approximately $27 in transportation costs each day). Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in this pleasant town, even if it exhibited a touch of the ordinary. Dave was an excellent host and catered for a seamless stay. Well, aside from the conspicuous absence of pillows or linen for the four-foot couch I slept on. And I suppose the bare kitchen where kindergarten breakfast cereals and brie cheese were the only edible options was a tad unhelpful. I’ll ignore the derogative comments and relentless crusade against my glorious beard also. Initial awkwardness after arriving quickly subsided as we descended into the same banter as on the Africa trip, which made for a highly amusing stay in London.

While Dave had the distraction of work to attend, on my first full day in London I reunited with another member of the Africa tour, Australian Kayla. We met at Oxford Circus as the only two from the initial group in Cape Town to still be continuously travelling. This rendezvous was thus markedly different to previous reunions, as we recounted events from the previous months from an “equal” footing. After I departed the tour in Zanzibar, it continued onward to Uganda for another four weeks. Kayla was the first person I had reunited with that had stayed on the trip for its entirety, so I was most intrigued to hear her revelations about the changing group dynamics and to subsequently compare them with the occasionally contrasting perspectives of Australian Malcolm. In adhering to the common theme, Kayla toured me around central London as we passed by Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye, The Sherlock Holmes (where Dave had a drunken mishap in April) and the self-proclaimed “world-famous” Camden Market. The latter exemplified London’s diversity, as the people, culture, merchandise and aesthetics of the area contrasted substantially with the business area of the city. It was essentially similar to Brunswick St, only much larger and more alternative. Naturally one as uber-cool as myself fitted in perfectly with this environment (especially with my shaggy beard); though Kayla had some difficulty. We ventured to the pedestrian crossing at Abbey Rd that was immortalized by the Beetles. Unfortunately though, this Kayla-inspired endeavour was not interesting at all. As we patiently awaited Dave to finally depart work, Kayla had to suffer through Liam’s notorious shopping customs. In the evening, we returned to the Sherlock Holmes for dinner; which was attempted by several members of the group in April but denied because of Dave’s inebriated state. The infamous events of that evening have been recounted to me ad nauseum by six different members. Kayla and I had an excellent day and I look forward to reuniting with her in Melbourne. To which she returned the following week, leaving me as the Sole Survivor from the Africa tour!

Kayla’s simultaneous presence in London was not merely coincidental, as several from the group congregated in the city for the “event of the year”, Dave’s 30th birthday party. I made the wise judgement of vacating Dave’s apartment for the weekend festivities and stayed with British Julia and Australian Malcolm from the Africa trip. While the couple may appear mature and responsible, they eagerly encourage the deprecating jokes and drunken antics of the younger members of the trip. I stayed at their apartment in Crystal Palace and was treated to sleep in one of the most comfortable beds for the year. Note that Crystal Palace is an area in London, not a luxurious royal residence unfortunately. Amid satirical commentary about Dave and his big event, Julia and Malcolm showed me around the once notorious neighbourhood of Brixton. This gentrified area is dominated by the Caribbean community and consequently features an exciting vibe. Some in London still naively regard Brixton as a complete no-go zone, so Julia and Malcolm instructed me to horrify the slightly snobbish Dave about my ventures to the area. British Ann, another from the Africa trip, also stayed at Julia and Malcolm’s for the weekend. Collectively we visited Crystal Palace’s constituent attractions, namely the foundations of its destroyed namesake (the Crystal Palace), a series of dinosaur models in a park, the highest point in London and Crystal Palace’s very own Eiffel Tower. Ann and I attempted to attend the first day of Wimbledon, but unfortunately we were confronted with the longest Queue in the tournament’s history and were forced to abdicate such plans. I did at least walk around the perimeter of the fabled precinct. To subdue extreme disappointment, we headed into central London to ride on the Eye and enjoyed magnificent views of the River Thames and London. Julia and Malcolm generously accommodated us for the weekend which was much appreciated and credit to Julia for her excellent lasagne on my parting evening.

The “event of the year” orchestrated what will probably be the largest Africa trip reunion we’ll ever have. Representing the group at British Dave’s birthday were Australian Anna, Australian Kayla, Australian Malcolm, British Julia, British Ann, British Becky, Italian Davide and most importantly the Emperor. The event was obviously also attended by his friends and family, so it gave context to the enigma that is Dave. Intriguingly, he exhibits remarkable similarities to his father, in mannerisms and speech, though notable differences also! The occasion was celebrated on an evening cruise along the River Thames, which was a thoughtful gesture since it was a brilliant way for me to see Tower Bridge (I never realised that much of it is blue!), Millenium Bridge, O2 Arena and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Davide endeavoured to enlighten us with an architectural and sculptural themed-tour of the passing structures, but Kayla thwarted such efforts by demonstrating contemptuous boredom. Malcolm reneged on wearing the bedazzling shirt he promised to but he did enthusiastically engaged in bizarre dance routines. Upon the announcement that food was being served below deck, I disappeared for two hours. The night witnessed an unusuality for the group as everyone maintained decorum and there was a conspicuous absence of alcohol frenzied madness.

After the excitement of the much vaunted party, several lesser events occurred during the following week. I joined Dave for a classic English tradition of partaking in a midweek pub quiz at a local establishment. I was only able to answer one question (about cricket) for the entire evening, which raises questions about the integrity of the competition. Why else would every question be British orientated if not to rig it against the Australian? On Dave’s actual birthday, he had drinks with colleagues at a pub near their offices. Consequently, I was quite self-conscience about my appearance with the untamed hair, Kathmandu jacket and hiking shoes alongside the slick professionals of a law form. The evening was enjoyable, although I was slightly disappointed about the lack of dinner and Dave passing out at the station before the last train out to Watford was a bit of a hassle. We meet Julia and Malcolm in central London the following evening for expensive Chinese food. While the others partied on, I cleverly caught the last train back to Watford in order to avoid an exorbitant taxi fare. Dave returned in the late morning and his father kindly picked us up to drive us to the UK’s premium theme park, which features something like a dozen rides that are classified “extreme” (whatever that means). The rides, Dave’s drunkenness/succeeding hangover and his sleep deprivation thus formed a delightful recipe of amusement for me. Yet again, I discovered that I have virtually no fear on rides and consequently on several rollercoasters I attempted to imitate Mr Bean’s deadpan expression on the UK’s highest ride from a famous sketch. Dave ordered that we should scream for the entire duration of our last ride but he gutlessly backed out, which left me as the screaming lunatic at the front screaming at all the stationary moments. That evening, Anna bravely completed the trek out to Watford and celebrated what was my last Nick-free evening in London!

Reunions in London were not solely restricted to members of the Africa tour as I caught up with Kiwi Jess from the Portugal-Spain-Morocco component of my trip and British Charlie and British Ollie from Dahab also. Since separating in Fez, Jess briefly continued travelling and then settled in London to work. We met in Islington and attempted to locate a mysterious breakfast café to no avail. She revealed that during her time in the UK she had discovered that the British are hopelessly inadequate at customer service, that it lack’s Australasia’s sophisticated café culture and that the fish and chips just aren’t as good as in Down Under. While Charlie lives relatively close to Watford, he and Ollie determined that the sleepy hollow would not be a sufficiently interesting destination for us to meet one evening. Instead we met in Whitechapel; another district which Dave contemptuously disapproved of. I was somewhat relieved to learn that essentially everyone else from the Dahab group also felt that a particular American guy there was a bit of a turd-face (and the epitome of the “typical American” typology that seems to be universally scorned). As with previous reunions, it felt quite unusual seeing these guys in the West but it was pleasing that we got along just as well as in Dahab.

I don’t mean to be as boastful as Dave, but: I went to Oxford. Whether that involved study or touristic photography is completely irrelevant, that comment should only be evocative of unquestionable extreme intelligence. At least I assume that was Dave’s purpose for continually making such references. Since Dave has spent significantly more time in the historic town, he thus acted as the guide. While I was eager to be educated about the history and development of the colleges there, I was instead shown the favourite lawns for drinking, the ceremonial pub crawl route for graduating students, gardens in which Dave was arrested because of drunken escapades and other attractions of that ilk. Nonetheless, it was impossible not to notice the stupendous Gothic and Neoclassical architecture of the college buildings and churches. The University of Oxford does not occupy one sprawling and grandiose campus but its colleges are rather strewn throughout the town. The town boasts an attractive riverfront area and we ate at a pub overlooking the scene. Oxford was a pleasant daytrip from London and the excursion facilitated a glimpse into the English countryside.

This predominantly covers all that happened in the opening ten days of my London stay. I did actually do some sightseeing and tourist activities in London, though I’ll discuss that in the next entry, which centres on Nick’s arrival. Although I didn’t necessarily see all that many wow-factor sights, this was certainly among the best weeks I’ve had all year; which made it quite difficult to eventually leave. It was nice that friendships made throughout the trip have transcended the original meeting as I reunited with eleven different people in London.

That’s all for now,

Liam

photos https://www.travellerspoint.com/gallery/users/Liamps/countries/United%20Kingdom/

Posted by Liamps 13:27 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (0)

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