Well I have left London after 5 days and am now sitting in the Gare du Nord in Paris waiting for my connection to Cologne. The memories of London are swishing around in my brain like the Thames and I thought I should try to get them down.
I arrived in London from Paris very tired. Love as I did my time in the city of lights, 5 days living in an environment of French with little of the language was exhausting. I suspect if I had been in a hotel it would have been different, but spending my time with an old couple who spoke only French, added to my cultural isolation. That said, I would not trade that week in Paris for anything. I loved the emersion and just being on the streets of Paris. I had an amazing time and feel I got a closer "French Experience" than any hotel would ever have given me.
Arriving into London was lovely. This city which has always been big in my mind due to the Anglo nature of our history. To suddenly be surrounded by people speaking English was weird and lovely at once. The accents of London's streets have always delighted me and to be among them was bliss. I think if you fly you get a real transition with the assent, and descent of the plane. But, coming through in the Chunnel you just have no real change. One minute your are in France, the next you are in England.
I have stayed with friends Michelle and Andy and they are just great. Michelle met me at St Pancras to help me make the Tube jumps back to their place. It was great to see a familiar face and just talk to someone. And indeed to be guided through the 2 Tube hops to make it to their place in Wapping. The Tube map reads like a Monopoly board to me and I have spent the week delighting in the oh so familiar names. Whitechappel, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Waterloo to name just a few. Popping out at these stations to see what lies about, was an adventure that I relished every day.
Wapping where I was staying, is a short walk from the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. My first afternoon I walked down to Tower Bridge and took a stroll over it. It is hard to put into words what it is like to see something like Tower Bridge for the first time. Those of you who have visited here will know exactly what I mean. To see this thing, that is so familiar right there and take it all in is a bit mindblowing. I wandered across the bridge and found a pub and settled for a pint and burger. It was bloody nice.
I have a thing for English Bitter on tap. I really like the taste. I could drink it till the cows come home and consumed more than my normal share of beer over the last 5 days. I guess it is also a healthy education on Coronation Street that means I find the hand drawn pumps quite romantic and just lovely. Bitter is one of the things I will miss.
Like the rest of my trip I have done my fair share of walking these past 5 days. 5 days is a great amount of time to get a feel for a city, but short enough that you need to concentrate and plan or else you will not make the best of the time you have. I have got a good mix of cultural institutions, churches, shopping, and cafés / pubs this week.
Andy asked me last night what was my favourite thing I saw. That's a hard question, but I think have to go with Westminster Abbey. That is some serious church and som serious architecture. What I loved most about it was that I had not planned to go to the Abbey as I had kind go forgotten about it. I was running several hours early for a meeting with a friend and wandered over to look at Big Ben. As I rounded the corner, I came face to face with the Abbey and with two hours up my sleeve, it was the perfect time to take it in.
The tour of the Abbey is an audio tour and it comes with your entrance fee. It is hosted by Jeremy Irons and it is very well done. From the minute you are in that amazing space and have the lovely voice of Mr Irons in your ears, you really are in bliss. The sheer size of the Abbey and the style of architecture is in itself impressive. The there are tombs and memorials everywhere in the church which is awe inspiring in itself. However, the fact that you can stand before the tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, or Edward the Confessor and it really is quite humbling. It is of course a living church too, where people worship every day, which is nice.
I also highly enjoyed the National Portriat Gallery which had been strongly recommended to me by several people. I love portraits and of course I have taken quite a few of myself and of others. The collection at the. National Portrait Gallery is impressive both for its scale and variety. It is a very nicely arranged gallery. That said I did not have a dissapointing experience all week. The British Museum, St Paul's, Greenwich, all proved to be interesting, stimulating and fun.
I was also lucky enough to attend some comedy at the Hammersmith Apollo. My hosts were going and they grabbed an extra ticket. The Hammersmith Apollo is one of the great comedy places and I have watched many great standup routines there on YouTube. To go and experience the real thing was a treat. The gig itself was a charity thing and so we got several performers. To my delight these included Dara O'Brian and Lee Mack! Those are too very funny and talented guys.
London is a great place to travel around too. It's famous Tube is definitely something. Fast, reliable and once you get your head around it simple. I loved being able to make my way around town so easily and then walk comparatively short distances. That said, I have done one hell of a lot of walking. I have done the whole trip. In Paris my feet actually got quite sore but they have improved since then. For my money, walking in a city is the best way to get the feel of the place and to see things. On Friday I walked from. Brick Lane in London into St Paul's. It was a fantastic walk and took me from more run down areas, through the heart of the financial district into London's core. Earlier in the week I spent time in Greenwich, before catching a boat up the Thames to "Embankment" and then walking up to Trafalgar Square, down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, through Green Park and Hyde Park to Oxford Street, and then down Oxford Street to Regent Street. It was a great walk and such a great way to see the city.
So now that I have left London, I know I will go back and soon. It's a city that is part of my lineage and a place that has so many nooks and crankies to explore. It's also a city that is very welcoming. As a visitor I always felt part of the place and I loved the melting pot that is the city of London.
Lastly I was blessed in London to stay with friends. They are in many ways new friends, although I have known them for some years. We had only met in person once before but they were immediately welcoming and we just got on. Their place in Wapping was perfect and their friendship and hospitality were fantastic. It's good to know good people.