After the whirlwind dart up to Manchester, we came back for six full days exploring London. I’d been to London once before when I was 15, a quick visit which pretty much amounted to me getting my picture taken in front of Buckingham Palace and also in a red phone booth.
We woke on the first morning to sunshine beaming through from the terrace area. We thought we better make good use of this while it lasted and quickly got ourselves outside and walking. Little did we know, but the next six days would be predominantly sunshine and no rain (although we would encounter a bizarre 5 minute burst of hail in East London over the weekend). All this talk about London being rainy and miserable all the time, and we had nothing but glorious sunshine although still with a crispness in the air. I think we even got sunburnt on the first day.
The next couple of days we spent ticking off the quintessential London attractions. From our base in Victoria we meander along the River Thames and see the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, with the London Eye off in the distance. St James Park is packed with people basking their pasty skin. We get the impression it has been a long time since the sun has been out like this. From there, we continue down The Mall to the gates of Buckingham Palace.
We encountered a very unusual protest unfolding in front of the Houses of Parliament. From what we could gather the government had recently changed laws on the farming of bees and the importation of honey. This drew several hundred bee-keepers and their workers into the city centre to have their message heard. Together, dressed in an array of bizarre bee costumes, they stood and sang “All we are saying, is give bees a chance” to the tune of a very famous John Lennon song. It was quite a sight.
We check out Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square and do a spot of shopping in Oxford Street. For the latter, we could only endure an hour as it was crazy and jam-packed with people.
We cross the London Bridge to admire the Tower Bridge. The afternoon sun provides a stunning post-card perfect scene.
A day and night ride on the Eye provides a stunning aerial view of London. Usually the night would be better with all the lights ablaze, but with the beautiful blue sky it is hard to beat.
On the second afternoon we got out of the city centre for a visit to the Abbey Road Studio. The pedestrian crossing was a complete disaster zone. There is 24 hour camera that snaps a photo every second and uploads it for you to collect at the Abbey Road website. It even has directions painted on the crossing so that you can be properly positioned. We opted not to after a few tourists who did try and strike a pose were almost mowed down, copping abuse from the passing cars. Aaron also ticked off some other important sights such as the Lords Cricket Ground and the inspiration for Gerry Rafferty’s song ‘Baker Street’.
As a park lover, I made sure we visited many of the Royal Parks; we lunched in Green Park, strolled through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and admired the gorgeous flowers in Regent Park.
Although, a little hidden gem which we probably wouldn’t have found ourselves, turned out to be my favourite. On recommendation from my good friend Gab, who had lived in London for a couple of years, we decide to escape north of the city for the day and catch the tube to Hampstead. You can notice straight away the feel of this place is very different to central London. Old windy streets, lots of nice shops and cute cafes. It has a suburban country feel and you can tell there is a lot of wealth in the area. We take note of the huge old mansions although the neighbours don’t seem all that friendly.
After a delicious ham, cheese and runny egg crepe from a French-owned crepe stand on the main street (also another recommendation by Gabby!), we start to wander through Hampstead Heath.
Hampstead Heath is a 320 hectare open space of woodlands, grassy hills and swimming ponds with lots of wild life. A nice change from the formal well-kept Royal Gardens. At times, we feel like we are the only people wandering through the woodlands, as we don’t pass anyone for up to 20 minutes. When we do it is people jogging, taking their dogs for a walk and children running amuck taking in the fresh air. The Heath has been the setting and inspiration for many literature works, such as, Ode to a Nightingale by Keats, and the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. A truly amazing place.
Of course time in London would not be complete without seeing a West End show. With ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘The Book Of Mormon’ completely sold-out (with some utterly ridiculous tout prices), we pick up some cheap tickets to ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ – a surprisingly hilarious period play with many jokes about Australia. The weekend arrives, and after seeing lots of the must see sights, it’s time to relax and get into the real culture of London.
Friday night, we head out in South London to the Ministry of Sound superclub where Ferry Corsten is playing. This double story multi dance floor clubbing institution has been going for over 20 years now and spawned the monster record label of the same name. The sound-system and lighting is like nothing we have ever experienced.
Saturday, we head East and hang out in the neighbourhoods of Angel and Shoreditch, which both have a great feel to them. Angel is lovely, with loads of restaurants, bars and shops – while Shoreditch has a nice gritty feel, a very trendy vibe that lacks any kind of pretentiousness.
That evening, after a few drinks at the Ten Bells Pub on Commercial Street in Shoreditch (apparently where Jack the Ripper would select his victims as they were all seen drinking here the night of their deaths) we head deep into East London to a secret warehouse party in Hackney Wick. A great find by Aaron on one of his music sites. You could buy a ticket online and then the address of the venue would be emailed to you on the Saturday morning. Even with the address our friendly veteran taxi driver struggles to find it. When we arrive there are about 500 people crammed into a dark, gritty, converted warehouse. Todd Terje, a Norwegian DJ we had seen previously in Sydney, is playing. Behind him is a set of large windows looking out into the darkness. In the early hours of the morning as the party is winding down, the sun appears through the windows and we realise we are looking out across London’s Olympic Park.
Sunday afternoon, we are back in the East this time to hang out in Brick Lane. Brick Lane is famous for being lined with Indian restaurants, where vendors come out onto the street to try and haggle for your business. If you pay more than ten pound for a starter, main, rice, naan, wine/beer then you are being ripped off! On Sundays, Brick Lane’s many restaurants, bars and food markets are buzzing with people. We spend our last afternoon here, reflecting on what has been an amazing week.
London felt like a more historical and cultural version of Sydney (obviously without the beach). We knew we were going to love it, and weren’t disappointed at all. The stunning weather might have helped that though – not sure we would like to try it in December or January! One thing it does have Sydney covered with is the public transport. The tube is fast, clean and oh so easy to use. By the end we were criss-crossing the city – no journey was too difficult.
On the Monday morning we said goodbye to our cute little studio and headed for Kings Cross St Pancras Station, complete with another sunny day to farewell us. In a couple of hours we would be across the English Channel on French soil heading for Paris.