Saturday, September 19, 2015

Day 15: London

We landed in London at 6:16am, a little earlier than planned because we got away form Toronto ahead of schedule. We were counted off in 45 people-sized groups. Once counted we could enter a bus that took us to the airport terminals. The sky threatened to rain but this is London - rain is a temporary state of affairs, as is sun.

We managed to find our hired driver who wheeled my luggage and cracked the usual English sort of jokes, including threatening to show us to the bus instead. It rained as he drove and animatedly spoke, giving us tips on how not to get booked while driving in Britain. He had almost moved to Australia 20 years ago, but the long flight dampened his enthusiasm and he cancelled his visa.

We arrived at our hotel at 8am, dreading a long day without our luggage. Our bags were immediately taken by a bellhop - and then we were immediately given keycards. Early access! The room was divine - plums on a plate, tea, coffee, bottled water, beautiful views of the stately area and even Hyde Park…astonishing. My fiancé reminded me it was a 4 star hotel.

We freshened up then ventured out into the calming drizzle. There is construction work on a road near Lancaster Terrace, tearing up tar, disrupting traffic and making the refined area a little less so.

Paddington Station also bore scars of progress but we managed to get onto the tube easily enough. It was busy, peak hour, but I enjoyed the cramped trip. It was not the roller coaster I remembered. I wondered out loud if this was because I was now used to the terrifying New York underground but my fiancé suggested that the lines might vary in smoothness. I’d never been this end of the Bakerloo line before, after all!

We exited at Baker Street. My fiancé steered me towards the infamous 221B door which…is a door. Though it was too early for any shops or attractions to be open, two sets of tourists were already taking turns getting photos at the door. Then we had our turn!

Random door we found. ;)

It was no longer raining by now, so we walked all the way to Saville Row. Our destination? Kingsman, aka Huntsman, which was used as the exterior of the shop in the movie. My fiancé had flown in wearing his beloved Kingsman: The Secret Service shirt so we could not resist posing him beside the “Kingsman” sign that was still at the entrance of the shop.

Where all spies get their bespoke suits.

We took the tube on the blue line from Piccadilly to Covent Garden. Rain began hovering, droplets taking their time to formulate a unified attack on our faces. My fiancé was losing energy (“It was like pushing a rock up a hill,” I told him later as he recovered, referring to his apparent lack of interest in all things due to jetlag) so we stopped for brunch at a great little cafe that had a too warm basement housing at least one writer on her laptop.

We managed to locate St Paul’s Church and decided we didn’t want to have a look inside as hundreds of mothers began assembling with babies and toddlers, presumably for some children’s church service. Alas, I had mixed it up with St Paul’s Cathedral, which I realised fairly soon. The back garden was a fantastical playground of flowers and ship masts - the latter may have been set up for Twelfth Night which is apparently playing there at the moment. Very nice gardens.

NOT St Paul's Cathedral

Out the front, a street performer with various sized balls was having much better luck than earlier. The rain eased and his audience of two had risen to thirty, no doubt due to his good-natured heckling of passersby. We dodged him and prowled the Covent Garden markets - not much of note, though I did see plenty of ivory-handled butter knives. I recognised them because my family has inherited many of the antique buggers.

Back to the hotel via Holborn. We had a brief respite in the hotel before we went to Kensington Palace, home of people who are not the Queen.

Yes, this IS Kensington Palace

Situated in Kensington Gardens, it has lovely views. Perhaps it was the London “heat” (I was in a shirt by the time I got inside), but tourists and locals alike were relaxed. The palace dates to 17th century in its oldest parts. It looked less palatial and more mansion-like.

“There she is,” a man said as he guided his family to a statue of Queen Victoria who passed judgement on all who approached her.

“There she is,” his wife said to their young daughter.

“There she is!” the girl cried, besotted with the former queen’s statue.

There she is.

We left them there, entering the palace. The King’s State Apartments were ornate and in here we gained a sense at how ridiculous it must have been to keep choosing monarchs. They settled on George from Hanover - well, 50 other candidates were rejected. They went through all this because they did not want a Catholic king (the closer heir) and because family members kept dying without heirs.

A dull man with an unrehearsed speech tried to regale us with tales but he was so boring we left the room when he looked the other way. Interestingly, he said one thing of note! Because George I was German and was shit at English, he had to use a local for a lot of kingly duties - this evolved to the position of Prime Minister.

The floors here and in the older Queen’s State Apartments did not crack and pop like those in Holyrood Palace. The palace had faded tapestries, rich portraits and busts of people favoured by George I’s queen, including Sir Isaac Newton.

The “modern royal” section bored me, because it was like a fashion show. The dresses were lovely but even their sparkly beauty did not liven the room. Turns out Lady Di really liked sparkles and sequins. A sign told us that royal women wear light colours so they stand out in crowds.

We dodged the palace gardens to enjoy a brownie in the cafe then we left, keeping inside Kensington  Gardens for a time. We compared it to Central Park in New York. Whereas the latter is studded with follies and noise, Kensington and Hyde Parks have nothing to prove. They have a palace. They have such history. Even though the London parks are flat and devoid of glacier-scarred rocks, they somehow seem more wild, more natural, more wonderful. Also there were fat pigeons everywhere.

We dozed back at hotel then enjoyed pub food, including salt and vinegar on fries. I relaxed with Malibu with Diet Coke. Back to hotel for the dodgy Internet speed.

Dover tomorrow.

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