Feeling: RIGHTLY REGAL
Now to the last days in London.
Admittance here; this first diurnal should have actually been annotated prior to those of Barcelona. But being in the Spanish situation and it all alive and fresh I couldn’t help but barge into the blogging. So apologies, I’ve gotten a tad absent of the basin (I.e., “out of sync”). (Get that? With sync/sink?). (Apologies again – awful. The puns are just on tap and I often just run with them. Stream out. I need to learn to plug at times).
So to last Wednesday.
My blossom of a bosom buddy (my how I love that phrase) from Contiki, Melissa, and I had arranged to have the afternoon cavorting about the city seeing the sights. While ticking off the tourist enumerates, it gave us the chance for a last hang out (for now – plans abound for future escapading and exploration encounters) and the ability to delve deep into discourse as we seem to do.
I met her at Waterloo Station beneath the big arrivals hall clock just before 2pm. I had sent through a list of sights I wanted to see, and Melissa had put together with aid of her mother (who volunteers as a to-go-to for tourists in the summer) a little tour to take me to see each and every.
After striding through a little leafy lane, first stop of spectacle was the one and only London Eye. Going on it did not overly appeal (an extremely slowly revolving ferris wheel did not have me clambering into a compartment) but seeing it from beneath definitely did kindle a frisson of enthralment – like mate, I was at the infamous Eye.
We walked along the London Bridge (which I was happy to find was not falling down) and Melissa pointed out Parliament, Big Ben (“Did you know it’s actually only the clock, not the whole tower, that is termed Big Ben?” she edified me) and Trafalgar Square (the hugely happening hang out spot, with a large lot of people having lunch and what not; I managed to hustle up and climb aboard one of the lion statues when the guard’s back was turned to tell off another lass doing the same). The we perambulated along The Mall (not a shopping complex as I had expected but rather a long promenade fringed by foliage), tootooed along the line of 10 Downing Street (the abode of the in power Prime Minister – ironically named as it is prohibited to go down) (whereupon I commented on the lack of bins and Melissa explained this was the case as a barrier against terrorism and them being a leaving-place for bombs) before reaching the number one necessity of the day – Buckingham Palace.
While the idea of the place did intrigue me it wasn’t so much a must-do of my own accord than a HAVE TO SEE demand of Deb. Every day I was in London I would receive at least one message along the lines of, “Have you been to Buckingham Palace yet?”, “Make sure you go to Buckingham Palace,” or the cover-of-being-helpful-but-more-a-case-of-a-barrage-of-badgering, “Don’t forget to go to Buckingham Palace.” So the actuality of actually being there made me pleased for her sake (and for me own to not be constantly requested).
What was it like?
Honestly? Not as grand as I had anticipated. Maybe on account of the amount of magnificently majestic buildings and splendidly striking architecture I have seen over the last two months, the palace did not hold the thrall it may have should it have been seen first. Don’t get me wrong – it was dignified and distinguished and stately and such, but I was not overly in awe (until Melissa signposted the balcony upon which Will and Kate had pashed up, then I fell under its spell). I was quite surprised at how close the citadel was to the street (“You could climb up and look in old Lizzy’s windows!” I remarked to Melissa, whereupon she pointed out the barbed wire fortifications adorning each and every gate top and the considerable count of patrolling police) and it was significantly smaller than I had expected. But it was beautiful, meaningful, and most of all, Deb would be stoked. (Apparently when the Union Jack flies it means old Queenie is home – alas, on our visit she was out and about).
And the best bit about it? We arrived just as the changing of the guard was going on! It was quite the regimented, well, regime – very ordered and disciplined and done precisely – but it was a real thrill to see it in the flesh and witness a happening so well-known through pop culture and what not.
It was really lovely – at the gate beside us were an elderly couple from some other country who were absolutely in awe in being at the royal location. They stood in astoundment clutching the gate as the guards did their thing, whispering sporadically between themselves as if talking at a normal decibel was disallowed. Observing them and their wonderment far outshone the palace itself in my outlook.
Although I had seen it earlier on a map, the memorial had been far out of our path so had not included in it. However, when deep in our discourse we had promenaded unawares far off our circuit and in a move of what I like to think of as fate, but what others may term a fortunate fluke, arrived at the attraction and were spellbound.
It was so tasteful. So elegant and unimposing, like Diana herself. I had expected a more ostentatious cenotaph, but the one in the park was just perfect. Opened by her Majesty the Queen in 2004, the oval stone fountain is said to reflect Diana’s life and her inclusive, open personality. Water is pumped up and flows from the highest point down the two sides, allegedly showing the two sides to the Princess’ life – one being the happy, with it gently sloping in a smooth descent with gentle ripples, and the turmoil times, with steps, rills, curves and such causing more turbulence.
And it is so pretty. So peaceful and pleasant. Young children paddled about in the shallows as teenagers and couples dipped their feet in. Birds were chirping, the sun was shining down… it was just serene, tranquil and composed.
So we joined in. Had a splash about, lolled and lounged on the embankments and – of course – continued our D&M (with this girl, they just keep on coming oh so easily).
After voicing we were both on the verge of dropping off (to sleep I must clarify, not into the water) we gathered together our sleepy selves and took off to Harrods.
Have you ever been to Harrods? If not so and you are planning a London look-in, you must – and I must emphasise the must – include it in your itinerary. It will have you as floored as its multi-storeys. The ranges of wearables (from Victoria Beckham to Roberio Cavalli to an “Arabeque stud python black” belt going for a funds fleecing 1525 pounds), a number of children’s toys rooms, books, make up and the lark, a writing room (you should’ve seen the insanely luxurious pens), guiled toilets and the food halls (a number split into one for fruits and vegetables – apples at 8.50 pounds per kg, a touch up on the old Morrison’s 1.30 – patisserie and creations of cakes, gourmet treats, meats, cheeses and intercultural cuisines, cafes and restaurants and what not – such as an Oyster Bar, a Crustaceans Café and a Smoothie stop – and of course, the chocolate one).
Mate, the chocolate one was incredible. It almost had me indulging in a square or two. Cabinets upon cabinets of milk, white and dark – as well as truffled, praline, nut including, candied, the varieties abounded – chocolate creations. By the time we’d done the laps I found I had gotten to the point of being snobby and the last few didn’t even slightly impress.
One of my to-do’s had been to score a Harrods bag for Deb (no, not a lovely leather number as you may be imagining but a regular dark green plastic shopping bag). I sidled up to a lad behind one of the choc counters and laid out my case – Kiwi mother back in NZ’s greatest wish to be gifted with a glorious synthetic carrier, would it be possible to perhaps buy one?
He was so apologetic as he explained that as of a few cases of people obtaining a bag and then placing items inside that were not actually from the store, the staff were not allowed to neither gift nor sell the bags; no, one could only go into possession of a person through actual purchasing of a Harrods piece.
So I did just that, buying two chocolate squares – one for Melissa, and one for my mum. And bless the serving us soul, he went to town in wrapping up Deb’s little choc in a Harrods box with a Harrods ribbon and a Harrods sticker before placing it in the much desired Harrods dark green plastic bag.
Because that is something that really astounded me about Harrods. Although I blatantly couldn’t afford the high end fashion I was flirting through and fingering (I feel my H&M denim shorts, being backpacked up as well as my standing-on-edge do (hey it was hot, all right?) gave me away as not being the sought after clientele)
Melissa and I sat for a fair while as she sipped back a smoothie (a good nine pounds a pop, not the cheapest – nor reasonably priced – glass of goodness but the fact it was being imbibed in Harrods itself wavered the cost) and had yet another D&M, at an even deeper level than before would you believe. I tell you, this girl is my soul sister. I told her things that I would usually struggle to say or be embarrassed to own up to, yet something about her makes me feel uninhibited and unashamed. I think everyone needs a friend like this, and I am so grateful our paths linked up to head off in the same way to have her in my life.
From there we made our way back to the tube to career off to our respective homes, and mate, I am so glad we decided to do our farewells once on the underground. The location meant the send-off had to be swift and ever so slightly less sad as it couldn’t be sustained.
But hell, I’m going to miss Melissa.
And my very last day in London?
Well, it was the one just after my night sleeping over (and only having an hour of it) at the Barcelona Airport, so suffice to say I was fairly fatigued and downright drowsy. But I was determined to make the most and tick off my last to-do’s, so upon busing back to Christina’s at about midday (a random airport lock in, delayed bus and unusual wait for the two tubes pushed my ETA back a bit) I showered, had a very, very brisk nap and took off.
Well, Poundland of course.
(After Primark, the second greatest gift from God in London bargain-basement shopping).
After loading up on one-pound raspberry and vanilla shower gel (the scent used by sweet cousin Sarah – missing her so, I needed to have my skin smell like her) I herded my newly acquired hoard home and then set out for Tower Bridge.
You see, one of my best friends (yes, another one – go with it ok?) used to live in the suburb and upon me coming over had told me of her address so if I was in the area I could go and see her old apartment. And being me, I wasn’t going home (well, leaving London) without doing so. And I am oh so so glad I did.
I love the thought of retracing steps taken by loved ones and visiting their old haunts and homes and what not, and this was a perfect instance of doing so. I saw the corner Starbucks where Rene would go for coffee every morning on the way to work, the gym she used to, well, gym at, and of course her spectacular midnight blue apartment complex complete with the horse statue of Jacob guarding the outer.
I then went for a canter across the bridge myself, saw the Shard and what not, then hustled off home to Holloway on the tube. (Absolutely awful – being rush-hour time, it was completely overrun with others and my claustrophobia was in fair force as we flung along the tunnels. I have never been so happy to get out of a confined space as I was upon reaching the 167 steps at the station).
That evening I repacked my backpacks (with the aid of Aisling and Christina – no mean feat, but we managed to get our Tetras talent on and nail it. “Oh yeah, that’s no way near 20kg,” we declared. To complete wrong estimation as the next day at the airport it summed a hefty 24.9, meaning a 5kg weight loss on the side of the departures hall and a cramming of some stuff into PMS’s bag in haste) and settled off to slumber, ready for the 4.30am wake up to depart for the airport and Amsterdam.
So to end my united time in London, a few random points as I do to sign off.
- Mate, how fantastic are the apps available? Not one to ever be overly endowed with technological talent, my knowledge of apps has always been totally not in the game. But this trip has introduced me to some superstars; how good is City mapper, to make your way around London? Yelp to yell out for help to locate your longed for? Around Me to find what you’re after in the vicinity? Airbnb, Fever, even Uber (never jumped on the motoring movement there, I must admit) … they are the most terrific of tools!
- I cannot get over the caring folks I have come across upon my ways. From Mickey the bus driver (who helped me backpack off upon boarding and hoisting it on me to load me back up upon debarking; he asked if I was on holiday and proceeded to give me some tourist tips – watch for pickpockets on the Underground, only take cash out at bank ATM’s, that such – as the passengers on the bus waited to be taken to the next stop) to the Portuguese corner shop owner who told me what to and what not to do in Barcelona, to the lovely lady at airport customs (from behind she looked exactly like Deb and when I told her she wrapped me up in a big hug and pretended to be my mumma)… just all so kind and considerate and concerned, it makes me melt. (When I told this to a chum they informed that I look like a kid roaming around with my bright pink and purple back packs and the people around see me and I kick start the maternal mentality).
- Luton Airport feedback machines: how I love to give my experience a rating and share it with those at the top! (I’m one of those ones who is forever filling out response questionnaires and doing the website feedback links on receipts – I fiend it). All around the airport the stands stood with an option of five different buttons to press to rate your experience checking in, passing security, boarding the plane… it goes on! I was in my element doing so (until on flying to Holland PMS was with me and would go and purposely press the exact opposite of what I had just decided upon. “Got to be balance in the world Pop,” he declared. I won’t tell you my response). (It included a few profanities and ended in “tosser”). And also at Luton? Unlike Stansted where I loaded up on the free clear bags for sealing up 100ml or less liquids, those at Luton had to be bought – and from little vending machine-like contraptions where they came in a Kinder Surprise-esque little container! Such glorious gadgets.
So yes, London is over. And I must say I felt a real pang as I thought it all through. I really and truly do love the place, from the culture to the vibrance to the people to Primark (had to have it included). But I’ll be back, I know it no doubt.
And mate, I’m onto the Fatherland – Holland no less! Out of all on the list, the next place of dwelling is definitely in the top two or three most awaited.
So here we go – to Amsterdam, Alphen aan den Rijn, and many a surrounds!