London calling

Trip Start Jun 09, 2005
Trip End Jun 08, 2006

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Monday, June 12, 2006

It's quite a culture shock arriving back in our home country, Britain. At first everything seems foreign and luxurious. The first things that we notice are the carpeted hallways (which don't smell very clean), lots of traffic on the roads (with fast cars), and high prices (especially for food). After the waste paper bins in South America, John says that the best thing for him were the "toilets" with their powerful jets of water. Apart from seeing family and friends, the best thing for me is being able to communicate freely with people in English.

We plan to stay 2 weeks with Rachel's parents in Crawley, then 2 weeks in Scotland with John's family (and the West Highland Way) before having 3 weeks back to settle in our home in St Neots (near Cambridge). Rachel will begin work on the 1st August whilst John will need to look for a new job.

After 2 days in Crawley some Canadian relatives arrive. Christina Wu is related to me through our great grandfather on my mother's side of the family. Having just graduated she is taking a 2 week cruise around Europe. England is their last stop and she has just two days to "see" London. This is quite a difficult task for the capital but John and I will enjoy being a tourist in our own country. It will be interesting to see how the West compares to our travels.

Day 1: We start the day by buying a super fast train from Crawley to London. We get off to a good start as there is a summer special ticket whereby a group of 4 can travel for half price. Our One Day Travelcard which includes a return train journey and unlimited use of the underground and buses) costs only 7 GBP/person. The journey takes only 40 minutes and it makes me wonder how long a 50 mile journey in South America would take?

There is a heat wave in the UK this summer. When we arrive at London Victoria station there are blue skies. From here we walk around the usual sights: the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade and Buckingham Palace. I feel a strong sense of historical pride as many of the buildings are centuries old and have been maintained in look in good order.

Christina studied Design and Art so we visit a number of museums. One of the great things about London is that most of the museums are free. I like the many guides in the National Art Gallery, Trafagar Square who talk enthusiasticaly to the children. One guide asks of the 1000's of paintings in the gallery, how many are painted by female artists. It's suprising for me to learn that there are only around 6.

I have always liked the British Museum. Open to the public since 1759 after the death of Sir Hans Sloane for 'all studious and curious Persons'. The renovated Great Foyer is an impressive entrance which comprises a two acre square covered by thousands of panes of glass. In the centre is the old library reading room where Marx and Lenin once studied.

John and I eagerly hunt around for the stone Moai statue which was "stolen" from the Easter Islands by British archeologists. This was the most beautiful carved stone Moai which was located in the Orogna ceremonial site. Sadly we find it in a disorganised section called "living and dying" alongside a giant cabinet displaying the average person's lifetimes supply of drugs. Its hard to see the connection unless you concentrate very hard. The 1000's of drug boxes are mesmerizing and most people ignore the magnificent Moai.

Our final museum is the Tate Modern, situated along the South Bank of the River Thames. Christina finds this her favourite museum, but for us everything is a little too abstract to appreciate.

We end the day by catching a London Bus to the Tower of London, and then squeezing onto the London Underground at rush hour to get to China Town. Nothing much has changed here although the main street in China Town, Gerard Street, does look a little unfamiliar with the multitude of St George's flags to support England at the World Cup.

After a delicious meal at the Mayflower cantonese restaurant we head back home on the 10.30pm train. John chats to an Indian lady who has just finished a days work at the office. She looks tired and worn out after working long hours and scorns John as he donates 50p to a young man who begs for some change. We're not used to countries where people are not living in desperate poverty and where there are social security systems to help the needy.

Day 2: On our second day my parents take us to some of the royal homes of London. We visit Windsor Castle and Hampton Court.

At Windsor a large crowd gathers to watch the changing of the guards. The guards are dressed up in their thick red uniforms and march along the roads looking hot and bothered. Some soldiers play instruments and the military music reminds me of the flag raising ceremonies in South America.

Hampton Court was built in the 16th Century and since King Henry VIII it has been used by many of the monachy as their residence. The palace (GBP 12.40/person) houses many regal rooms which have tall ceilings, antique furniture and giant tapestries. The gardens are the highlight of our visit. There are magnificent manicured gardens with trees, roses, ancient grape vines and fountains. The gardens now have a seperate entrance charge (GBP4.00) and subsequently there are few local people enjoying the serenity of the surrounds.

To us, life in London seems the same as before. I really do notice that it is a country full of history and tradition. It is a little shocking to see how expensive some of the sights are but it is reassuring to know that you can still visit the museums for free. There is a buzz around the city. It is busy and most people look tired and worn out. One of the most amazing sights is to see how Cosmopolitan Britain is. I am most suprised by the increase in Polish workers who seem to be everywhere. They are young, hard working, efficient and usually very beautiful. It doesn't seem so suprising that they all have jobs.
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