We make a break for it.
London ‘tubes’ are a great way to get around, our trip into the city from Dagenham takes almost an hour. From the moment we have arisen this morning there has not been a cloud in the sky.
This could be a winters day in our home Brisbane, Australia.
Alighting at Green Park station we head to the nearest Big Bus Tours stop. Once again our time is limited and we want to get an idea of the layout of this huge city area. Our ticket is valid for two days and includes a river cruise on the Thames so it’s great value.
Big Bus tours have a live commentary, this should be interesting.
I have read so many stories in my life that are set in a dark, foggy, sooty London of the past and much of the tour commentary refers to this historical information however the air in London of the present is surprisingly clean.
Historic monuments and buildings abound yet London has a buoyant thriving modern feel.
Green Park is one of the smaller royal parks. On the sloping lawn leading down to Buckingham Palace people are taking advantage of the beautiful weather. It is almost like a beach scene with no sand or water.
At the end of Piccadilly Street we circle the large roundabout that contains the Wellington Arch, Memorials to Artillery Regiments and Australian Soldiers and a statue of the Duke of Wellington.
Heading up Park Lane we pass the mighty statue of Achilles and make our way up to Speakers Corner where crowds form semicircles around the ‘message bearers’.
Our bus commentator is quite funny and informative at the same time. As we pass Speakers Corner we learn the derivation of the phrase ‘on your soapbox’.
Other derivations relating to alcohol and impending doom such as ‘on the wagon’ are related as we circle around Marble Arch which used to be the site of the Tyburn Gallows.
Pam unfairly calls me a shopaholic just for looking down Oxford Street as we pass.
Passing through street after street of magnificent terrace houses all painted the same creamy white hue we learn that they are all owned by the Grosvenor family and are leased by the persons living in them.
My mind tries to wrap around the concept of owning such a massive chunk of real estate in one of the most expensive cities of the world.
We learn the derivation of the word Posh (Port out, Starboard home) which refers to the more wealthy people paying extra to have their quarters away from the boiling sun on sailing trips to and from India.
Passing Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square Pam indicates that she wants to come back to this area on foot at the end of the circuit. Our bus is completely full by now as people take full advantage of the glorious weather.
There is so much to see I am losing track of it all, Craigs Court floats by.
Passing Big Ben in Whitehall Pam cracks me up with silly references to National Lampoon’s European Vacation. My laughter redoubles and Pam joins in when the bus conductor say’s ‘hey look kids there’s Big Ben, and there’s parliament, again’.
He has obviously seen the movie. I think we were the only people on the bus who got the joke, he gives Pam a wink.
Nearing the Thames more modern buildings of London City come into view.
Nicknames such at the Shard and the Walky Talky have been given to these glass towers.
The London Eye revolves slowly.
Doing loop after loop through the streets of London has me losing my sense of direction. We cross a bridge which allows great shots up the Thames to London Bridge.
The mighty dome and towers of St Paul’s cathedral are gone in a flash.
We circle round The Tower of London and pass by The Monument before making our way up Fleet Street and beyond to Westminster where the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
I have been keeping the camera on constantly to get shots as sights whizz as we bounce along and just after Parliament House the battery dies. We make a mental note to buy spare batteries and I switch back to ‘old faithful’ the iphone.
By now Westminster Abbey is gone and we are passing Buckingham Palace. Pam wants to return to see the changing of the guard which is not happening today.
I am starting to feel dizzy from all the changes in direction and swiveling in search of camera angles. Pam tells me to relax and just enjoy the ride so I do just that as we return to the start and then redo the first loop back around to Piccadilly Circus.
Eros statue in Piccadilly Circus is fenced off by scaffolding today so we don’t spend much time there. Enroute to Trafalgar Square we stop for lunch.
The day remains magnificent, we pass statues dedicated to the Crimean War on our way to Trafalgar Square.
Londoners and tourists are out in force under the deep blue skies. Stairs to the National Gallery serve as seats for the crowds.
Ultramarine Blue of the fiberglass Hahn/Cock provides a colour gauge for the sky above.
A busker playing an amplified guitar performs skillful renditions of Jimmy Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn classics across the busy street as I do my best to take photos of all the statues and Nelson’s Column.
Pam is beginning to worry about the dogs back in Dagenham. We decide to return to London City tomorrow and head for the nearest tube station.
Walking the dogs in the evening still not a single cloud has blighted the glorious day.
Both Pam and I now have a pinkish hue.
Sunburned in London?
Chasing value from our bus tour tickets finds us back on the tube the next morning. Yesterdays ultramarine skies have been hidden behind clouds today however I do not sense rain in the air.
No matter if it pours down we will still be getting on that bus.
Today we alight at Victoria station and walk towards Buckingham Palace. By the time we arrive tourists are swarming and we join the throng waiting for the changing of the guard.
Down the road they march, grey coats and black furry hats. Pipers and drums.
Paul and Mavis, our friends from Anglesey, who in addition to being vegetarians were both vehemently against hunting, had told us that the hats worn by each guard represent a black bear killed in Canada. Each and every hat requires an entire bear skin to make.
I find myself able to think of little else as the pomp and ceremony passes by.
Men beneath Bears.
Under the illusion that we were mostly going to repeat the bus tour of yesterday I have not brought my Pacerpoles along and feel that I have been duped when Pam declares we are going to be walking through both Green Park and Hyde Park.
Luckily my knees are feeling better each day, Pam assures me that she will take it easy however immediately jets off in front of me.
‘Holding my hand will keep me by your side’ she tells me and I see the deeper meaning of her ruse.
A romantic hand in hand walk through Royal London Parks is just not possible when one of the walkers uses Pacerpoles. Pam has deliberately uncovered their one and only flaw.
Off we set, hand in hand, past the Canadian Gates of Buckingham Palace and up the gradual rise of Green Park.
Being on foot allows me to capture a decent shot of Wellington Arch and the surrounds before we scamper across the road to Hyde Park.
Achilles himself welcomes our entry, shield and sword aloft.
Hyde Park is huge, we meander down to Serpentine Road that follows the banks of Serpentine Lake and make our way slowly to Serpentine Bridge.
I have the camera in my pocket as a white swan glides three feet above the water surface almost the entire length of Serpentine Lake before touching down at the far end.
I have broken the first law of shutterbuggery ‘always have your device at hand’.
Almost everything boils down to a compromise, eternal photographic vigilance versus battery preservation, that is the question.
Turning left and crossing Serpentine Bridge takes us to the Isis Statue which was the first new sculpture placed in Hyde Park for fifty years when it was erected in 2009. A concentric metallic strip following a Fibonacci curve bears dedications purchased by the public for fundraising.
Close by, the Diana Memorial Fountain provides a place to cool hot and weary feet.
Pam does not like this simple plain watercourse that flows in two directions from the top. She has always had a soft spot for Princess Diana and feels something altogether grander would be more suitable.
I like it myself. The simple design lends an air of peace and tranquility and the ‘fountain’ is a little like a waterfall spilling simultaneously down each side of a Valentine heart laid out on a hillside.
Back across the bridge we head for Speakers Corner, a pair of grey squirrels entertain us with their lightning fast reflexes and flashing moves.
Marble Arch and the nearby gigantic bronze horses head provide a place to sit and decide our next move. We elect to take the blue rather than the red Big Bus tour as this will take us through areas of London we are yet to see.
The blue tour takes us down part of Oxford street and around Kensington before coming to a stop in front of a statue of the fictional Sherlock Holmes.
When we hear an announcement that the bus will stop here for twenty minutes we realise it is time to return to Dagenham.
No more opportunities arise to visit the city centre before Shelly returns from her trip to the USA. She is ecstatic to see JJ and Cara again and they return her love enthusiastically as only dogs can.
Even after the short time she has been away she can see they have grown.
We are packed and ready to go, Pam has a hotel room booked halfway between Paddington Station and Hyde Park for the night and we are eager to be on our way.
We say our goodbyes to JJ and Cara who have been a ton of fun before Shelly kindly drives us to the Dagenham Heathway tube station.
Bustling Paddington station has two exits so it is a fifty fifty chance that we will chose the wrong one to make our exit. As Pam is leading the way that fifty fifty chance becomes certainty.
Happily this short misdirection takes us out beside barges floating in the Grand Union Canal, London also has its waterways.
I retake the helm and we stride off towards our hotel. This is the first time in a while we have walked any significant distance with our backpacks on. Weight from extra gear like the cold weather clothes we now carry lets us know that we have to be ruthless for our final pack.
Turkey is going to kick our arses.
Climbing the four flights of narrow winding carpeted stairs heavily laden just confirms my fears.
Pam is determined not to waste a second of the remaining afternoon. Dropping off our packs we head back to Paddington station and catch the tube to Blackfriars.
Spilling out into the street once more we head towards the Millennium Bridge with our intended destination the Tate Modern.
With only an hour until closing time we race past the treasures within Tate Modern. Spending an hour in the Tate Modern is even more futile than spending just one day in the Louvre, Paris, however we do our best.
I belatedly wish that we had started on the lower floors and worked our way upwards rather than the other way round as the artwork I find most interesting is found towards the bottom.
Another day, another trip perhaps.
Closing time is announced as I am about to enter a vast room full of Picasso paintings that Pam has been fortunate to have already walked through.
The guys would turn the colour of an Avocado
When he drove down the street in his Eldorado
He was only five foot three but girls could not resist his stare
Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole
Old Sol is dipping beneath the horizon as we walk towards Shakespeare’s Globe and I get trigger happy with the shutter button.
Workers from surrounding office blocks have filled the bars in the area and we are lucky to get a table in a large multi-floored pub for dinner.
Pam had been contemplating going to a comedy show after dinner however as we walk towards London Bridge tube station under the good auspices of a clear sky and near full moon she concludes that she is ‘running on fumes’.
Our last morning in London dawns fine and glorious with an early morning haze spreading out close to ground level.
Today will be hot and fine.
With almost the full morning to spare before we are to catch the train to Swindon for our next house sitting assignment in Cricklade we seize the opportunity presented by the grand weather to walk again in Hyde Park.
Entering via Grosvenor’s Gate takes us past Speke Monument and the amazing statue of horse and rider devoted to Physical Energy.
Long lawns between trees offer hazy views towards the city and across the lake to The Arch by Henry Moore.
Crossing into Kensington Gardens we head towards the famous Royal Albert Hall where I take pictures from every angle of the imposingly grandiose Albert Memorial.
Changing course at the Rock on Top of another Rock we pass Queen Victoria’s Chapel and leave the path to find the waters edge where I pause to get better, closer shots of The Arch across the water.
Interesting tidbits of information from the bus tours rise in our subconscious.
According to legend the author of the children’s story Peter Pan, J.M.Barrie, was so eager to keep the magic of his tale alive in the minds of his audience that he ensured the bronze statue devoted to his fictional character was put in place in Hyde Park during the night when local children were asleep.
Not there one day, there the next, surely ’tis magic of the highest order.
Alas we have a timetable to adhere too and no magic carpet at our disposal.
Fountains of the Italian Garden created as a gift from Prince Albert to his beloved Queen Victoria get only a short glance as we make our way back to the Daffodil beds at Grosvenor’s Gate and the streets beyond.
Negotiating the slippery narrow carpeted steps calls for caution with our heavy packs however we make the streets unbroken and head back up the hill to Paddington station.
Paddington Bear himself wishes us good fortune.
Having come from darkest Peru he knows well travelled bears when he sees them.
Pam and Mick