looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

Day 1 in London

The nice man at the Airways Hotel reception desk explained that our room wouldn't be ready until midday, but we could leave our bags under their care and walk about the Pimlico district, or go downstairs and sit in the lounge where supposedly there was Internet access. We had arranged to meet M at the hotel at some point during the day, but as he was driving up from Southampton, we really didn't expect him for several hours yet. So a walk outside seemed like a good idea. We collected some tourist pamphlets from the stand in the lobby and went outside. The air was brisk, but not too cold. We stopped for a photo-opportunity in front of some real London phone booths. No sign of the TARDIS.

We walked up Warwick Way towards Belgrave Road and saw a Cafe Nero on the corner. They used a font for their signage that really made it look like "Cafe Nerd". Considering that they offered WiFi Internet for laptop users, it seemed more appropriate. Of course we had to stop and have Real Coffee for breakfast. To my delight they also offered a real Almond Croissant. Another no-brainer.

The brand of coffee was Illy which doesn't rock my world usually, but it was a heck of a lot better than anything else I'd tasted in the last 24 hours.

It was so much fun just to walk around the streets, drinking in the atmosphere. Yeah, sounds corny, but I was feeling it. We ended up walking up Rochester Row, and seeing signs that said we were in Westminster. We walked back by a slightly different route, and I looked around for where the cathedral might be, but apart from the odd glimpse of the bell tower, no sign. And no, I wasn't confusing it with the Abbey.

M still hadn't shown up when we got back to the Airways hotel, so we trudged downstairs to the Internet lounge and tried to get our laptops to recognise the WiFi LAN. No luck. We sort of connected to a network, but couldn't get a valid DNS server or indeed, get any pings to successfully hit the Internet. L used the webmail interface on the one lone PC in the corner that could browse the web, and checked her email. I dozed off in a chair.

Sometime later, L went upstairs and found that M had arrived a little while ago, settled into his room, and what's more, our room was also ready. We were very excited to see him again, and he looked great too.

We didn't have any firm plans for our few days in London, just to see as much as possible without getting involved in anything too complicated and touristy. We knew in advance that we would be centrally based, and within walking distance of a lot of stuff, but we had no firm plans. We decided just to go out and see where we ended up, and get some lunch on the way. One thing we knew we wanted: Lunch in a traditional pub.

We checked out a number of places as we walked North-West along Wilton Road, but at this time of day they all seemed very full, both of people and cigarette smoke. Yeah, people are going to smoke in a pub. Doesn't seem so quaint and attractive now, does it? We found ourselves at the top end of Victoria Railway Station, and a pub called "Duke" something looked relatively empty and free of airborne contaminants. We found a table and M and I ordered sandwiches and beer at the bar, then went back to consult the maps and plan out the next few days.

One of the pamphlets L had was about the Original London Walks that take place on a regular schedule. The guide basically shows up at the pre-arranged time and place and for 5£ he or she will show you around various interesting places and talk about them. Interesting names like, "Ghosts, Gaslights, and Guiness", or "Jack The Ripper Haunts". One of the Wednesday night ones was the "Old Bloomsbury" or Literary London Pub Walk. I wouldn't know a Bloomsbury author if they all came up to me and introduced themselves, but L would, and there's nothing wrong with checking out some pubs. We settled on doing the walk tomorrow, after walking up to Oxford Street and doing some shopping; Thursday we would check out Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, and some museums. For the rest of the day, we would walk around Westminster.

We set of up Buckingham Palace Road, map in hand. L and M kept teasing me about the map, but in my defense I would like to say that I always knew where we were and we never got lost. A funny side-effect of getting the map out is that other tourists would ask me for directions. I didn't figure out why they were choosing to ask me until much later.

It was a grey, overcast day. It would have been stereotypical if it were drizzling rain, but fortunately that didn't happen. We walked past Buckingham Palace, then turned right and ambled alongside St James's Park down Birdcage Walk. Why is it called Birdcage Walk? I still have no idea. The trees in the park were mostly feeling the Autumn, with some lovely combinations of colors, like a Monet painting.

Pretty soon I gave in to the tourist urge and just started taking pictures of everything, including a window in the Guard's Museum which was full of painted lead toy soldiers. Despite the many signs indicating that the Museum was open and willing, we continued walking down towards the Thames. The footpath was covered in yellow-brown maple leaves. At least, they looked like maple leaves.

At the end of the street, we encountered a sign that said, "Storey's Road" and "Westminster Abbey". On an urge I sugggested to the others that we followed the sign and checked out the Abbey. The buildings were tall on either side of the narrow street, but after a bit it opened up into a courtyard, and there, across the road (Victoria Street) was Westminster Abbey in all its glory. Now, apart from all the weddings and funerals and what-not on TV, most of what I know about the Abbey comes from a 60's science-fiction tale called "Quatermass" in which a returned astronaut (who is really a conglomerate of three astronauts plus a space fungus) retreats into the Abbey in order to escape being captured. The climax of the tale involves the authorities being unable to take much action against the alien for fear of damaging the building. For some reason I felt a bit reticent to actually go on a tour of the interior of the Abby, but L and M convinced me that it would be stupid not to. So we retraced our steps a little and paid our 7£ each and made our way into the building. I was glad the others had convinced me - it really is something. We weren't allowed to take pictures, which was a shame because there is so much to see and try and remember. On the other hand, it would have felt kind of distrespectful. Lots of crypts, tombs, fiddly bits and things I don't even know the name of.

For a long time my grandmother had a couple of wax rubbing hanging on her wall. She and Grandpa brought them back from a trip to England many years ago. They made them themselves from bas-reliefs in a number of places, one of which was Westminster Abbey. Perhaps it is unlikely, but I remember the image of the robed woman and believe I saw the original bas-relief where Grandma did the wax rubbing. I have no idea which of my family has the wall hangings now but if I get a chance I would like to see it again.

It was getting dark by the time we left the Abbey, but the time was well-spent. Across the square - Crown Court I think - we could see the Parliament Buildings and Big Ben. Some sort of demonstration was going on. As we got closer we could see that it was just one guy with a whole lot of placards decrying the involvement in the Iraq war. "Stop killing our kids" said one. "Peace" said another. "Baby killers!" proclaimed another. It was just one guy sitting there with his megaphone. But he had a lot to say.

We walked around and through the crowds of people, most of them trying to get home after the day's work, by the look of them, and headed out on to Westminster Bridge to take a look at the Thames river. Light was fading rapidly, but we did out best to take pictures of the London Eye, and Parliament Buildings all lit up. It was getting cold.

We decided not to cross the river and try to ride on the 'Eye. Instead we walked briskly back down Victoria Street, past Westminster Cathedral, all lit up and looking very impressive. Back down Wilton Road and back to the hotel, where we refreshed ourselves before venturing out again in search of dinner. Originally we were thinking pub grub again, but good sense prevailed and we ended up at the Spicy World Balti House for really good indian food. This was one of the things we wanted to do while in London - enjoy a good curry. Cross another thing off the list.

 

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