London in summer


So the great adventure has begun. We fly out of Sydney about mid-day on Thursday and arrive in London early Friday morning. My dictation software is accurate but even slower than me. Nevertheless it works a whole lot better than the standard windows software. At least it saves me having to peck away typing and I think we will become close friends.

Typically, London is overcast and wet but the days are long and Lilly prefers it cooler anyway. Our grand apartment is in Westminster and won’t let us book in until later in the day. We walk down to Bayswater road and catch a 94 bus to the city getting off at Piccadilly Circus. We walk down past New Zealand house – which brings back memories – and on to Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Lilly stops and we get the inevitable photos including several of the monument topped by Horatio Nelson. My birth place in NZ was named after Nelson, commander of the British fleet that wiped out the combined Spanish and French 210 years ago at the battle of Trafalgar.

If it weren’t for Nelson, Lilly today may well be married to one petit froggy or a hombre espanol. She says she prefers the extension of the wee scot. My dictation friend is not inserting spaces, full stops for capitals but we get the gist.

We wander round the square and along to see the Strand and Fleet Street, customary homes of British newspapers.

National Gallery

National Gallery from poolside

Gallery queue

Gallery queue is slower than Brown’s cows

There is a long queue outside the national gallery, they are being harangued by protesters because the government has threatened to employ the gallery’s security people through a private company. The queue is hardly moving but typically orderly.

At the gallery most of the first few rooms are taken up by 14th and 15th century paintings, the theme being religion particularly reflecting the preoccupation with Catholicism at the time. Fail to make a lot of the Virgin Mary then and you could be in hot water or worse.

I am out on my feet even dozing when I sit to view a painting. Lilly is made of stronger stuff. My excuse is she slept better than me on the plane. After an hour or so and given the huge galleries that we have not yet seen we are both ready to call it a day. We promise to be back.

We can’t find a bus home so we walk to Green Park station, change at Bond Street for central and thence to Queensway. Apart from the carpet the apartment is ok and well-equipped. It is central (handy to Bayswater underground, just off Queensway) quiet and comfortable and we dose off. Later we shop for supplies before collapsing.

Religion dominates 15th century art

Religion dominates 15th century art

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Today we catch the 148, the idea being to walk from Hyde Park Corner down Constitution Hill to watch the changing of the guards in front of Buckingham Palace. I am confused at Hyde Park Corner and instead we meander down the “back of the palace” (Grosvenor Place). The 2 metre brick wall around the palace grounds is topped by some heavy pointy steel and by at least another metre of barbed wire and possibly electrified. I am not intending to go in the back way so we make our way to the front of the palace along the legitimate route. The crowds are like the Chinese underground. It is hard to find a vantage point for the arms and heads and mobiles on poles. All this for the daily changing of the guards. No not all, we get lucky. Today is a grand rehearsal for the annual trooping of the colours due to take place next weekend (when we will be in Paris)

According to Wikipedia, “trooping the Colour is a ceremony performed by regiments of the British and Commonwealth armies”. It has marked the official birthday of the British sovereign since 1748. Next weekend apparently the Queen and royals will be out to inspect all the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men and there are a lot of them. The RAF will have a flyover. Even the rehearsal was quite spectacular, Lilly managed to worm her way towards the front row and got some good shots and panoramas. Various regiments including of the horse guards and foot soldiers all in their colours and finery.

We walk through St James Park and across the Horse Guards parade grounds, through the Horse Guards building arch and on to Whitehall. Books have been written about almost every step of the way. We turn towards the Thames and take snaps of Big Ben. Also check with security outside the Houses of Parliament whether it is possible to visit on sitting days. The answer is yes, so we will arrange. Apparently it is free but UK residents have precedence so tickets are only available if there are seats. Tickets for guided tours are GBP25. We will leave until October.


Last day of spring is cold and wet. We are still about very early – it is light at 4:30am, our body clocks are not attuned yet. We walk in the rain a few blocks west and catch the 27 to Ravenscourt Park and the 391 to Kew Gardens. Bus is the way to go – it is as good as sightseeing for free having committed to a GBP42 weekly ticket – and the Plan a Journey website shows the route and all the options.

Kew Gardens is 300 acres of every conceivable plant species. Given the weather we see little more than about 20% of it; the main attractions in the north corner. The Palm House with Marine Aquarium and the Princess of Wales Conservatory are warm and dry and huge and amazing. We would like most of the plants at home please.

We see the rock gardens, inside and outside, the woodland garden, take snaps of Lilly in the secluded garden and have our sandwiches while oversighting the horticultural students veg gardens. Mainly they get high distinctions. The Great Amazon water lilies are 2 metres across and can hold up an adult if they spread their weight around. Can’t get Lilly on the Lilly though.

The latest knight of the realm, Sir (thanks Tony Abbott) Duke of Edinburgh Prince Phillip planted in the gardens a Wollemi pine which was discovered about 20 years ago in a remote valley not far from Sydney. This tree had previously been only known in fossil form and dates back about 200 million years.

The People and Plants Exhibition showed just how much civilisations past and present have relied on plants for their existence, welfare and development. Collected by Kew for over 250 years, you can see shoes made from bark, poisons and potions, and even a cannibal’s knife and fork! Think rubber, rice, corn, beans, lentils, bamboo (a grass and “friend of the people” in China), pine, the list is endless. In the huge grounds there is a Bonsai House, azalea garden, alpine house, rhododendron dell, rose garden, peacocks and much more.

We spend a bit time at Kew Palace and in the Royal kitchens. Google reveals “Kew Palace was the country home of George III’s aunts. The palace was used as a schoolhouse when the royal family was living at the White House just opposite. Here George, on the insistence of his father, Frederick, Prince of Wales, received a grueling education in the arts and sciences. George was an enthusiastic student and during his reign, he became an active patron of both; he continued to study architecture as a grown man and peppered his estates with new buildings designed by fashionable architects, including the startling Pagoda in Kew Gardens by Sir William Chambers.” Enough said.

Lilly insists I record our return train journey where we mistakenly (mine) get off the train at Gunnersbury thinking we had to get on the underground. I was wrong, the train was both over and under and we had to re-board a later train. Crossed at Earls Court for Bayswater and delicious dumplings at our warm and cozy apartment.

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Today is colder if anything because it is very windy. First day of summer in London is like mid-winter in Sydney. Today is bridge day. We are going to look at all the FREE attractions and later get a 6-day pass to view all pay to view stuff. After summer for that is probably better anyway with fewer people around. Make a note that I want to see if the Old Bailey still opens and attend a public court session if possible no matter what the offence. Curious to see firsthand just how good old fashioned British justice works!

We catch a bus east through the east end of London and almost to Blackhall. Then back same road again to the Tower of London. We are not visiting today but take photos of this massive structure from the road. We cross Tower Bridge on foot, Lilly stopping constantly for snaps. I talk to an official, innocently asking him about the raising of the bridge. He says the Bridge Authority knew we were coming today sir and had arranged to raise the bridge in 10 minutes especially for our viewing. I thanked him warmly and we took steps down to the south bank for great views of the bridge being raised. Almost by accident there was a huge cruise ship towed through by a tug, with another tug attached to the back. Great photos. Lilly and I felt privileged they had put on such a great show just for us – and thousands of other onlookers.

We eat our sandwiches, Lilly wastes a pound on a toilet that doesn’t open, (no such thing any longer as spending a penny). We find a pub for the business and walk on to London Bridge so that we can cross back to the north side. London Bridge appears to have fallen down because there is a new structure there. Then I remember that it was sold to an American so after returning by way of three buses – we are gradually getting the idea of buses and their routes and habits (good and bad) and front row viewing on the top floor, or should that be deck, is fantastic) – so I google London Bridge and confirm it has a history worth noting. Here is a precis:

“Until Putney Bridge opened in 1729, London Bridge was the only road-crossing of the Thames downstream of Kingston-upon-Thames. Its importance has been the subject of popular culture throughout the ages such as in the nursery rhyme “London Bridge Is Falling Down”. By the Tudor era there were some 200 buildings on the bridge. Some stood up to seven stories high, some overhung the river by seven feet, and some overhung the road, to form a dark tunnel through which all traffic had to pass. From 1758 to 1762, all houses and shops on the bridge were demolished through Act of Parliament. Then…. a new bridge was opened in 1831. Then…. In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London placed the bridge on the market and began to look for potential buyers. Council member Ivan Luckin had put forward the idea of selling the bridge, and recalled: “They all thought I was completely crazy when I suggested we should sell London Bridge when it needed replacing.” On 18 April 1968, the bridge was sold to an American. It was purchased by the Missourian entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch of McCulloch Oil for US$2,460,000. The claim that McCulloch believed mistakenly that he was buying the more impressive Tower Bridge was denied by Luckin in a newspaper interview.”

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Tuesday 2nd June

We decide we need a new  GPS for Europe in particular. The TomTom we have is old and the Europe map costs GBP80 to download and will it work? We find a Garmin for sale for GBP90, pre-installed with maps of Western Europe and the UK: Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Canary Islands, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Vatican City. We set off to Halfords off Oxford St but they don’t carry so we underground to Kilburn and buy from Halfords there. Settle on the nuvi58 for GBP120. Then back by bus to Russell Square and thence to Trafalgar Sq.

Third visit to the National Gallery and we get through another three or four rooms. I noted some of the artists including Joachim Beuckelaer (the 4 elements), Paolo Veronese, Lorenzo Costa, Garafalo, Murillo, Velazquez and we have a long way to go, all 15th to 17th century artists, almost invariably the theme being religion.

Home by about 3:30 for plenty of work and watching the French Open and NZ winning the 2nd of 2 cricket tests v England.


Mainly quiet day in the apartment today, working initially, planning for France and watching the French Open. In the morning we take the GPS out to prove it can find the satellite and follow us as we walk through Kensington Gardens en route to Harrods. Visit the Serpentine Gallery but the oils are charcoal dark and not to our liking. Harrods is vast and interesting to view but there is a huge amount of over-priced and ostentatious stuff and again not to our liking. If people can afford to pay GBP100,000 for a watch, why don’t they pay $1000 or even a hundred bucks for a perfectly good watch and give the rest to charity? Stepping out of comfort zone tomorrow a bit with the train to Lille first thing in the morning and hiring a car the following day for a trip into Belgium for that day.