Sunday, July 29, 2018

London Calling

Dateline London. After 18 interesting and entertaining months I am now out of Asia. I found myself in an English Pub, The Black Swan, sipping a Guinness and reflecting on what was, what is and what will be. A 14 hour flight and a 20 hour day will do that to a person.

The trip to Singapore took closer to 15 hours. It was Sunday night crossing the border and it was busy. There were hundreds of buses coming from Malaysia and there is a slow process to get into Singapore with every person from every bus having to get off the bus, grab their luggage and go through customs and immigration. Was it worth the effort? Well aside from the incredibly cheap flight to London, not really. Singapore is about as sterile a place as you could possibly find.

Yes, it is very clean and safe and yes there are some interesting areas like Clarke Quay, Chinatown, the Harbor front and little India but the place really lacks a soul. There is some history but it seems to be whitewashed in the Governments effort to move steadily into the future. It was interesting enough to manage the subway which was cheap and extensive. In the end Singapore is in the books and I am glad to have been there. Unless you're working in Singapore I would only recommend 2 days, 3 at the most. The great news was I was off to London, the polar opposite of Singapore and a place I have not been to in a long while. I was ready to leave Asia and London is the perfect place to land.

Aside from costs everything in London is a snap. Trains and bus routes are easy to understand because they are all in ENGLISH!! Yeeee Haw! Throughout the entire centre core there are "you are here" maps that are crowded with gawking lost tourists and friendly city helpers in blazing pink shirts ready to answer any questions. London tourism has it going on.

If you do not want to sleep in a hostel dorm, accommodation in London can be savage. I discovered that there is a huge travel rental market at all the Universities in England. University Room offer discount dorm rooms that are vacant during the non-school months. I decided to give it a shot and was pleasantly surprised. I found the Pembridge Gardens which are a part of the University of London near Notting Hill and it was simple to find. My flight landed at Gatwick and I took the local train to Victoria Station. From there I found the Underground, jumped on the very busy Circle Line and 5 stops later I was in Notting Hill.  For those who complain that the TTC in Toronto is expensive you would pass out at the price to ride the Underground in London.

I had just come off a 14 hour flight and was working on a 20 hour day. With the time zones going backwards my day started at 6:30 am and it was now 3:30 pm on the same day. I could have easily gone to bed but that was not an option as there was a pub to find and a pint to enjoy.

 As an aside, for those who remember the horrible Grenfell Tower fire from June of 2017, that was in Notting Hill district. A morbid curiously wanted me to go and have a look but common sense prevailed for a change.

The next morning it was time to explore. I looked at the city map and figured my trip around town was about 15 km, easy enough really considering all the parks and places to stop, so off I went. First stop was only about 15 minutes away, Kensington Palace and the Sunken Gardens. You could go inside for a visit if you wanted to pony up $40. I chose to grab a decent coffee and sit in a cafe between the Castle and the gardens.

My walk continued past Albert Hall, Harrods Department store, The Diana Memorial Fountain in High Park, Speakers Corner, Marble Arch and down to Buckingham Palace. I was surrounded by all the clichés, Double Decker buses, black cabs and red phone booths. Unlike Canada and the USA the emergency vehicles, especially the police cars/trucks did not blend it, they stood out which makes complete sense. These vehicles are to help and should be easy to spot. They are not supposed to blend in. (do you hear that Canada/USA?)

I wandered through various gardens and parks, each containing statues and monuments to London's Royal past. There are also more statues, memorials and gardens dedicated to everything WWII, including a monument to the Animals of WWI and WWII.
"This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time."

I managed to find Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister and it goes without saying that security was ever present and not hidden. Downing Street led up to Trafalgar Square where I picked up some food at a shop and found a shady place to eat. I found myself reminiscing back to when I was here last, which was a long time ago. I needed a pint to recharge and came across the St. Stephen's Tavern which goes back to 1873 but the pricing was definitely 2018.

After a few delicious pints and a chat with some other travelers it was over to Westminster Abby, The Churchill War Rooms, Big Ben (which is hidden by scaffolding) and the mighty River Thames. I tossed a camera into that river many years ago because it was not working properly. It's funny the things you remember. There was the London Eye(sore), the river front and finally Tower Bridge.

I had a great wander and was ready for dinner. Happily I was meeting my friend Antonia near London Bridge. We go back to our volunteer days with Global Vision in Guatemala. We last saw each other a few years ago in Nicaragua and I have to say she is arguably the best travel researcher I have ever met. We jumped on a river boat/taxi and sipped Coronas while working our way downriver for dinner near the London Eye (sore). Dinner and the company was excellent. As anyone who has gone on an extended trip knows, meeting up with a friendly face from your past travels, who themselves have traveled, is about as perfect a moment as you can have while on the road.

Three days in London brought back memories of my past trip. It also gave me a refresher of how fantastic this city really is, both historically and in the modern world.

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