Monday, 18 November 2013

Love London

Do you love London?  I've decided, I do.  We were there a couple of weeks back.  Hubster had a conference and a trip to the UK sounded like an excellent idea.  This was my third time in London, but the first where I can say, 'Yep, I really enjoyed that'.

Our first trip to London, in 2007, was for two reasons - the rugby world cup and visiting my sister who lived in Warrington.  London was the stopover point.  We stayed in budget accommodation overnight and it was gross.  Grimey, mouldy, creaky, small and on the third floor.  It's the first accommodation where I've ever checked for bed bugs!  Anyway, after a quick look around the local area to get an idea of where we were, we returned to the boarding house to find yellow police tape across the door and we were denied entry.  Apparently there had been an argument and a man was thrown from the top floor and died.  That was our intro to London.  Lovely!!

I returned to London again last year.  Once as a day trip down from Oxford as my friend and I came to see a show (The show was great.  Wicked - if you get a chance, go see it.  And if you have Athan on your phone, remember to turn it off before taking your seat.  I forgot and part way through, the only segment mind you that was a quiet, reflective monologue, the call to prayer went off.  And being aging and hearing challenged, I had the volume on my phone turned right up, didn't I), and, before I returned to Riyadh, I spent a day with my niece who had recently moved to the UK.

So this is my third trip to the UK and London and this time I had time to enjoy it, and I loved it.  We had done the main touristy stuff our first time round (Big Ben, a Palace or two, that type of thing) so I wasn't so interested in those activities for this trip.  I had people to see, things to do and places to go.

Our hotel was at Canary Wharf, central to Hubsters working needs.  My first morning in London I woke early and did something I can't do in Riyadh, freely.  I went for a walk.  No abaya. No headscarf.  No worries about being told to cover up.  No concern about being hassled, followed or stared at by randoms.  It was a real pleasure even though the wind was blowing a bit of a gale (this was the morning of the day of The Big Storm).  One can't help thinking, when one is walking... (Ahhh... Now maybe that's why walking is frowned on for females in KSA - too much time to think!)...that a country that denies the female half of the population such small, simple delights is a weeny bit screwed.

After my walk I bought a day ticket and jumped a train, just to jump a train.  Is that sad or what?  The train system in London is fabulous.  Londoners might complain, but they should try living in New Zealand (our public transport system sucks) or Saudi ( their public transport system currently looks like this...

Appreciate your tube Londoners - it's fabulous!  Downloading the free Tube Map app was a very good idea and stood me in good stead for navigating the underground for the rest of the week.  While tripping around on the train that day I stopped off to visit St Pauls Cathedral and the Museum of London (just to get my cultural fix).

That evening a young lady from the US, who taught in Riyadh for a couple of years and is currently studying for her masters in London, came around for a most excellent catch up dinner.  Much Washington State wine was drunk over the most delicious steaks I've had in a while.  I swear, if you want premium steak and excellent wine go dine at Goodman Restaurants at Canary Wharf!

The next day I was off to Brighton to visit another friend and, while there, decided to hire a car.  Unfortunately, like a nincompoop, I left my drivers licence in Riyadh, Duh!!  It's not much bloody good there is it!  (Was kicking myself for that for days...).  Friend K, however, decided hiring a car was a great idea and stepped into the void, eventually taking us on a drive over to Beachy Head, infamous as a suicide spot and also as the last sight of the homeland for a lot of young men heading out to a number of battles that were fought off its coast.  Though the wind was still up after The Storm, it wasn't enough to keep folks from strolling the grass covered, chalky hillside.  (These are not the white cliffs of Dover - they are further around the coast another 73 miles or so).  We finished off that visit with a very late pub lunch made later by the fact their service was snail paced.

My last morning in Brighton was wet and rainy and we decided to eat breakfast at a local hotel.  While scoffing back bacon and eggs with coffee I was imparting words of parenting wisdom when, really,  I should have just shut the heck up!  (Occasionally I have running at the mouth issues.  This was one of those occasions.  Sorry K, will do my utmost to zip it in the future - though don't take that as a promise, I also have promise keeping issues!)  Anyway, the trip back to London on the train was so quick that, once again, I marveled at England's wonderfully efficient transport system.

The Husband & Co were picked up from Canary Wharf later in the afternoon, and we all headed in to Leicester Square.  We had show tickets to buy.  Thanks to advice from the bloke at hotel reception, we discovered that website statuses re:ticket availability for shows isn't entirely accurate.  Which means, if the website says 'No more seats', then go to the theater itself, which we did, and picked up four tickets to Book Of Mormon for that night.  (My London based niece was joining us).

This is a satirical musical written by the creators of Southpark.  If you don't like satire, you don't like Southpark or you are easily offended by sarcasm, crassness and over the top non-pc jokes, then don't go.  However, if you love wit, humour, clever lyrics and and taking the piss out of almost every segment of society you can think of (which is pure Southpark, isn't it?) then you'll love this show.  We did.  It was a great evening.  We're recommending it to everybody who cares to listen.

Mr Associate was keen to visit Bicester Village for some brand outlet shopping so, the next morning, that's what we did.  He, and I, thought the place was a complete and utter waste of a twenty pound fare.  The Husband, however, bought a stack of new shirts and is looking very swish in them as he goes to work these days.

That evening we took in show number 2 - Jersey Boys.  This is also a great show.  It's a different style to the previous night with numerous scene changes as the story, told through music and narrative, moved about through the years, locations and characters.  As I wasn't familiar with the Fankie Valli  story I learnt a lot at that show including how many Four Seasons songs I actually know!

Halloween happened to fall on the weekend we were in London, so after the show, before hitting the casino (Mr Associate ended up winning so he bought the after Casino pizza), we did a spot of people watching.  With clubs giving away free entry, free drinks and prizes for the 'Best Dressed' there were a lot of young adults proving they hadn't grown up yet (in spirit anyway, in body some of them were very brave wearing what they wore!)

No visit to any country is complete for me until I have sat on a bicycle.  What can I say, I love cycling.  So early the next morning Hubster was dragged out of bed and onto a Barclay's bike (although I think Londoner's call them something else).

As in Paris, these bikes can be found all around London's inner boundaries and you can hire and return them to various points about the city.  They are fabulous.  I had no idea you could do so much cycling in London!  I downloaded a map off the internet and, despite The Husbands initial protests (he always does that, no idea why!) we spent the morning thoroughly enjoying ourselves.  We rode our way over to the Borough Markets (with a couple of tiki tours down a few side streets on the way) to meet my niece and enjoy a pork roll and a pint.

This was our last day in London and we had one more visit out in London's outskirts, to an Aussie friend for dinner.  It took frikken ages to get there, we should've left an hour earlier than we did.  We had no idea London's outskirts were so far away!  We got over it once we caught up with James and his wife.  They have a nine month old baby who has just learned to maneuver himself around the floor, a bit like a mop really, and was an absolute cutey drooling and baby chatting his way around.  It was good to see them, and the journey back didn't seem nearly as long as the trip out.

That, in a rather long blogging nutshell, was my recent trip to London.  And like I said at the start, I loved it and am hoping a return stint isn't too far away.  I was reminded (at the end of our trip of course, isn't that always the way) that my cousin's son also lives in London, so will be putting 'getting in touch with whanau' on the return to London itinerary.


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