Day 17 – Moving Day (London to the Cotswalds)

We checked out of the apartment and headed back to the airport. This time the cab driver was friendlier although he couldn’t understand how we could be heading to the airport without caring what terminal we were dropped at. He didn’t seem to understand we weren’t actually flying anywhere so it didn’t matter.

We found Europcar and picked up our ride – a Volvo, mmm I’m officially a Volvo driver for the next week, but its ok, its got a sunroof, so its cool.

After doing a couple of laps of the airport and trying to work out which way was out, we managed to get underway and head towards our next destination, Chipping Campden.

We left the highway (I think I missed a turn or something) and followed the winding country road through little villages. It was fun learning to drive in UK, on the winding lane ways, cars parked in the opposing direction to traffic, narrow roads and oncoming traffic. It was like driving in Cairo except, more polite and “English” and not nearly as busy. It was fun.

I was a right and proper tourist driving at about half the speed limit, looking at every tree, stream and church. There was just so much to see, and everything was so different to ANYTHING I’d seen or been in the middle of before.

We found ourselves in Oxford, (what I’ve now declared the city of bicycles) so we decided to try and find the University. After three laps of town and not being able to find a car park, we gave up and continued on our way. I now understand why everyone rides a bike!!

Passing through all these little villages (about every 4 or 5 miles) I noticed every one had a Pub on the highway, and being around lunch time decided to pull up at one for lunch. A good traditional English Pub Bangers and Mash.

After lunch we carried on to Chipping Campden and found our room/cottage, a converted grain shed. It was only 2 o’clock and we couldn’t check in for a couple of hours so we headed into a nearby town to get some groceries.

We knew the cottage wouldn’t have wifi, and as this was going to be our home for the next week, needed to do something about it. We enquired about a personal hotspot device, but the technology was beyond our local shop keeper (to be fair, it was just a small grocery store), so we headed to another, larger town nearby to pick up a sim card.

Sim card in hand, an a couple of hours successfully killed, we headed back to the cottage to check in.

After dinner we tried to fire up the wifi, but the card wouldn’t work in any of our iPhones or iPads. It seemed they hadn’t been fully unlocked. We needed to connect to the internet to complete the unlocking process, but couldn’t connect to the internet until we had unlocked them, so with a stalemate at hand, gave up and tried to light the fire instead.

Apparently city living has made me a bit soft, and we couldn’t get the fired started, so with no fire and no wifi, we called it a night and headed to bed.

Day done. Successfully transited London and arrived the Cotswalds.

Day 17 – London

Today we caught the bus into town, which was great as we had a chance to have a look at our surroundings on the ride in. We got off at Kensington Palace, which was the home of Queen Victoria, and had bit of a look around. It was too early for a tour so we walked the gardens and had a look at a few of the monuments and sights.

There was a tree (or what was left of a tree trunk) loaded with little ornaments and statues like gnomes and animals throughout. It was pretty cool and we spend a bit of time doing a couple of laps, checking out all the inclusions.

We continued walking towards the city and found ourselves outside the gardens and in Notting Hill. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t see Renee Zellweger or Hugh Grant.

We re-enter the park and found ourselves in Hyde Park (it comes after Kensington Gardens on the way into London). There was a Half Marathon underway with half the British population either participating, or on the sidelines cheering. It was pretty cool. Almost made me want to consider running – NOT.

We went to the Princess Diana memorial fountain which was not at all what we expected. Rather than a fountain throwing water up into the air like a traditional fountain, it was more like a stream, in a circular shape, rolling over uneven ground. From the high point, water fell/flowed in both directions, across carved stone creating a ripple effect, meant to replicate her life. Its kind of hard to describe, but it was very special.

I’m not really a Diana tragic (Mum takes up that role), but being there made me reflect on the charity work she did, and where I was the day she died. It was a moving experience.

We left the park and found another Bike Hire station, so we hired some more bikes and headed towards Buckingham Palace.

Arriving at the palace was spectacular. There must have been 10 000 people there, all taking photo’s and admiring it. We spent about 20 minutes just staring at the fence, and the carvings and the building itself. I was even half plotting a plan to storm the castle and declare myself the new King of England. There were only two Beefeaters on Guard, so I liked my chances, but in the end I thought better of it. (Does anyone know if that would even count?)

We left the front of the Palace (through the Australia gates of course) and before long found ourselves at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Again, an incredible site, and an emotion thats hard to explain, being in front of symbols of Britain and democracy we had grown up with.

Big Ben sounded for 12 o’clock, and chimed 12 times, which again was pretty cool.

We tried to get into the Abbey for a look but it was closed (It was Sunday, its not open to the public on Sundays) so we just rode around it, in absolute awe of what we were seeing. The architecture and attention to detail on these buildings is so incredible, and so hard to describe. I can not imagine something like the Houses of Parliament every being rebuilt in our modern day.

Our second “Boris Bike” ride ended the same was as the first, with us spending another hour trying to find a spot to drop the damn things back. Riding bikes through London was excellent, but trying to find the stations (which are not in prominent positions rather tucked away in back streets and behind buildings) really did my head in.

We had arranged Sunday lunch/dinner with my two great Aunts that live in London so once we found the bike station, we grabbed the Tube and headed to their place for Dinner. A traditional Sunday Roast. It was nice, and especially interesting to reflect on how family works.

One of the Aunts I had never met. The other, only a few times, and not for more than 10 years. Both are my Grandmothers sisters. And yet, like families do, we talked and laughed and joked and shared stories like we had know each other for years.  After being away from home for a few weeks, it was great to have someone other than each other to speak to, and to be in a family home, with personal effects and belongings instead of hotel/apartment style accommodation.

Second day in London complete, and I love the place. I’m scoping our locations for an office and trying to work out what I might be able to sell in this city.

Day 16 – London

This morning we headed into London (without a plan). We went to the Tube Station and asked for direction – when asked to where, we told them we had no idea – a little confused, they suggested we should head towards the Tower of London. So on their advice, we bought the ticket, and jumped on the train.

It was cool to be on the London Underground, but in hindsight, we didn’t see anything on the way in so that was a bit disappointing.

We arrived at the Tower just in time for a tour, and a very entertaining Yeoman told us about the history of the Tower, including the key locations, some of the former guests including prisoners and royalty, and even Mel Gibson (in Braveheart).

The Tower is an old fort nearly 1000 years old, which was used by former Kings (and Queens) of England as a Palace and a residence, as well as a prison. Currently it serves to hold the Crown Jewels (which are owned by the UK, not the King or Queen of the day) and a collection of Armour and History from previous times. The tower was also the site of the original Mint, and stored records.

The Tower was where a lot of prisoners who were to be executed (by the heads being chopped off) were held before the execution. Inmates were marched outside the Tower complex to the Tower Hill, to be beheaded. Past prisoners included Kings and Queens though they were executed within the grounds at a special Royalty “deheading” spot.

A very interesting and bloody history of royalty in England.

We went into the Tower itself, and looked at the Crown Jewels. They were amazing and every bit as impressive as you’d expect. It was quite a contrast to see how they were displayed compared with the Egyptian jewels a few days earlier.

We went into the Armory where there were load of medieval weapons and Armor, including King Arthur III’s armor. He had a cod piece that was ridiculously large. It was the talking piece of the day from the Yeoman to other tourist and even made its way to our dinner conversation.

We crossed the River Thames by the Tower Bridge, which reminded me of a story my Grandfather told me about how an American had purchased the London Bridge many years ago and had it pulled down, brick by brick, with each brick being numbered and transported to the US to be reconstructed. You can imagine his disappointment to find out the London Bridge (a pretty regular looking bridge) and the Tower Bridge (the large and impressive one) are two completely different bridges.

Following the tour we went to a museum remembering the Blitz, and the war children that were sent to the country during the war. It was pretty cool, with loads of original newspapers and propaganda on the walls, replica bomb shelters, and scenes of the results of a bombing raid, including devastated buildings and busted pipes. There was even a clip of Churchill’s “we will never give up” speech, which was excellent as Mikeala and I had only been speaking about it a few days before hand.

In all it was pretty cool, and gave us all a bit of an understanding of what the war was like in London. Should be interesting when we get across to Europe next week to see the other side and more of the front line.

We went for a bit of a look and walk around London and found the banking district. When I say the banking district, it literally is a district full of banks. Block and blocks of nothing but banks, from every country and region, and religion you can imagine. I now get why London is considered a Banking Hub.

We found ourselves at Burnhill Cemetery, one of the oldest Cemeteries in London. Tombstones that were hundreds of years old; so old it was hard to make out what was originally carved into them.

We hired a “Boris Bike” from the London bike scheme (same as Brisbane and Melbourne) rode a little around London then spent over an hour trying to find a station to return it too. Ridiculous really. When we finally found a station, it was full, but at least we managed to find a map, which pointed to another location.

We called it a day and got the tube home. We would have preferred the bus, but had no idea which one to get on, or which direction to head.

First day in London done.