Monday 2 October 2017
Arriving at Heathrow after an overnight flight from Singapore we caught the Heathrow Express to Paddington. For £52 return, moving at up to 160kph, we were at Paddington station quite quickly.
We checked into the quite new Novotel – their bottom priced rooms are called Superior Suites and compared with many other hotels they should be branded inferior. The detail in the workmanship, painting, tiling etc is pretty shoddy. English was the second or third language for most of the staff.
Sylvia did some work then headed of to a few meetings.
After finishing writing last week’s blog I took a stroll through Paddington to Hyde Park. The thing I really enjoy about London is the feeling of space as, compared with most cities in the world, the buildings are relatively short, meaning one can see the sky whilst walking down the streets. There are few buildings around the park that protrude above the trees. What’s more the sky was blue with little sign of pollution.
A stroll through a few streets, across Green Park and down Pall Mall and I arrived at New Zealand House. My friend Evan, who works there as the NZ Defense Attaché, had invited me to the top floor to sample some wine and cheese. It was a great gathering with lots of interesting people.
This is one of, if not the the, tallest buildings in central London with amazing views.
Tuesday 3 October 2017
Another stroll through Hyde park: I came across ponies, penned up, waiting for an enthusiastic bunch of kids to take a ride. Later I spotted these same ponies being ridden through the streets.
At Clarence House, which adjoins St James Palace where Prince Charles hangs out, two policeman slouched around their guard post MP5’s not exactly at the ready. Inside the gate two guardsmen in their red tunics and bear skin hats stood to attention, marching from time to time back and forth behind the high steel gate.
A little further down the mall there are statues to various Kings, Queens, Dukes and heroes.
The Mall leads down to Trafalgar Square where lots of people sat on the steps enjoying the sunshine.
Back at NZ House, Evan took me to the top floor again to have a look by day. It’s not the best looking building in London but certainly has the best views.
In the distance stands the charred shell of the Grenfell Tower, where around 80 people perished in the June fire. Like every big city I have visited lately numerous tower cranes are dotted around the city. After viewing the city from up high we headed to the Thai Square Restaurant and enjoyed a lunch with Evan and Willie who was passing through London.
I took a stroll home via the side of Buckingham Palace; the security fence and cameras on the walls around the garden look pretty serious. Apparently it got beefed up after a guy got inside and sat on the Queen’s bed.
A bit further down the road near a Hyde park entrance is the Duke of Wellington Arch along with a few other statues.
Wednesday 4 October 2017
A couple of years ago, when taking a boat down the Amazon with AJ And Cam, we had met three lovely English girls from Sheffield. Today I headed to off to pay them a visit.
I headed down outside the new development near the hotel which runs to a canal. Crossing the canal I headed alongside the A40.
A few kms along the road I came across Regent Park and detoured through it. Well kept, with streams, ponds, and lots of different gardens and sculptures, it is well worth a visit.
Arriving at Pancras Station it was easy to get my internet booked ticket out a machine just by inserting my credit card. The station and surrounding buildings are impressive.
British rail has changed a fair bit over the past few years, the train left bang on time, and the carriage was clean and comfortable with a food trolley passing through quite a few times over the next few hours. Arriving at Sheffield I stepped out of the station to be greeted by a magnificent water feature.
The front of the old station was well preserved, blending in with the surrounding buildings.
Heading back into the station to Platform One, near the Sheffield Tap where we had arranged to meet, there was a strong smell of spilled beer as punters packed the bar waiting for the next train. As the bar emptied out Georgia arrived, followed soon by Gemma; unfortunately Gabbie had to work and couldn’t make it. After enjoying a local pint I was led on a tour of the town.
Known for its steel manufacturing, I had not expected such a nice town where the old and the new have been blended together really well. We paid a visit to Gemma’s parent’s Butches shop, where NZ lamb is nearly half the price it is back home. A gold painted post box was pointed out to me; it has become a tradition in the U.K. that when a local wins a gold medal at the Olympics a post box is painted gold.
We then headed for a meal and a good catch up. All too soon I was back at the station saying goodbye.
On the trains and at the stations there are now constant warnings for people to be alert and notice anything suspicious – “don’t be the person that doesn’t speak up” – but in spite of the recent events life goes on as normal.
Thursday 5 October 2017
In the mid 80’s my mate Greg spent 6 months working in London and came back talking about the places he has visited. The one that stuck in my mind was Stonehenge. I have always thought I must go there one day. Finally today was the day. I booked a trip online with Evans Evens tours.
I took the Tube across town to Victoria station which left a short walk to the Victoria bus terminal. Only six years ago in London pedestrians used to mostly stick to the left side of the footpath; not any more it’s now a cluster!! Bit like playing dodgems on foot. Apparently it is caused by the huge influx of people from Europe over the past few years. Maybe Brexit will sort it.
The big red bus headed out of London with the driver pointing out lots of places and monuments along the way. Once out of the city we got a good overview of the pretty countryside with its green fields and trees many starting to turn golden brown. What really surprised me were the many large fields full of solar panels. I didn’t thing they got enough sun here to farm it!
In a little over two hours we arrived at the stones. With over a million visitors a year they have built a big tourist centre a couple of kms away from the stones. A stroll through a partially interactive museum leads outside to some period huts and a large stone set on rollers (logs) as if ready to be dragged somewhere. Buses ferried people up to the stones but one look at the queue and I decided to walk.
Apparently a bunch of people some 4,500 years ago dragged these huge stones from as far away as Wales. They were shaped and stood up to to align with the sun. Over the next few thousand years they were rearranged a few times. Nowadays one can’t get close to them as they are worried about all the foot traffic damaging the site.
One good thing was that from a distance as i walked around I got a good appreciation from all angles. At one point a Chinook helicopter hovered nearby.
Listing to the commentary on the headpiece as I strolled around, I came the the conclusion that despite of a lot of digging and research by many experts, no one really knows why the people of the day decided to make this stack of stones right here.
Arriving back in London I collected my bags and headed to the airport to meet Sylvia for our night flight to Singapore.
I am now back in NZ for three weeks then to the US for a couple of weeks on the 29 October.