Sunday, August 18, 2013

An Interlude in London

We have come to the end of our stay in the British Isles and its almost time to cross over to the Continent.  Before we do, we’ve decided to spend two days in London.  Getting off the train at Piccadilly Station is a bit of a shock to the system after spending much of the past two months in the Irish and English countryside.  Loads of people stream out of the train and spill out to the streets outside, which being rush hour are noisy and busy and we are struggling to cope with this onslaught.  I can sense the increased stress levels of the people in this city, their faces tense, their minds still ticking over the problems from the day that’s ended.

I realise that I don’t really like big cities anymore.  They remind me of the life I left behind.  The long commutes in endless traffic, feeling stressed and feeling rushed – where each day blended into the other because often there wasn’t much that distinguished it from the day before.  The countryside had been full of people who had time to chat, people who were generous and helpful but most of all people who were happy.   I wonder what the future will hold for us when this trip is over.  I knew when I finished my previous gap year that I didn’t cope well with routine.  This trip is cementing that feeling for both of us and we are both feeling a deep desire within us of wanting to live a life that is different, a life that truly makes a difference.  We hope that the pieces will fall together by the time we come to the end of this journey…

It takes us a little while to figure out the public transport system here but eventually, armed with an Oyster card that will save us money on both the tube and the bus system, we brave the streets of London.  Travelling by bus during rush hour in Central London, lumbered with luggage is not ideal but we eventually end up at Chalk Farm, where our hotel is located although we don’t have a map and don’t have a clue as to where to go!  Just when I am beginning to feel a little despondent about being in London, a very friendly man comes to our aid and my faith in humanity is restored.  He used to be a postie (Postman for non-Aussies) in these parts and he offers to show us the way to our hotel.  He was on his way to the Metro but instead of pointing the way to us, he walks us to our digs.  We talk about the cricket on the way there.  He is excited about how well England is fairing and he remarks it’s been a long time since he was able to brag about that to an Australian.  He leaves us with a smile, good wishes for our stay and a handshake and I realise that all is not lost for big cities…

Since we have both been to London previously, we are happy to be fairly relaxed about this visit and enjoy walking around the city and uncovering her secrets as they are revealed to us rather than ticking off the sights in a guide book.  I don’t remember London being this busy when I was here last but that was 20 years ago and possibly a little earlier in the season.   We are both keen to get to the theatre in West End, so our first stop on Day 1 is to purchase some tickets for Private Lives.  

We walk around South Bank, taking photographs of the Big Ben, the London Eye, and the street life around Trafalgar Square and enjoy evensong at the Westminster Abbey.  It is incredible to think that Westminster Abbey has resounded to music every day for over one thousand years.  So much history is embedded in this cathedral where some of England’s greats are buried.  We stop at the grave to the Unknown Soldier and Winston Churchill’s grave, just near the west entrance before leaving. 

We spend the evening at Leicester Square, enjoying Noel Coward’s Private Lives.  It is amazing that a play written in the 1930’s can be still so current today.  It was a play about a divorced couple who find they still have feelings for each while accidentally honeymooning in adjoining rooms with their new spouses.  The props were simple, but the dialogue was engaging, highly entertaining and funny.  It demonstrates how volatile the relationship of two people who are too alike can be…and confirms why opposites attract! 

It was quite late when the show was over but we wanted to enjoy the nightlife of London a little.  Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the London Eye are lit up at night, as are the fountains around Trafalgar Square, which lends a special magic to these places.  Even though I didn’t have my tripod
with me, I was still able to capture a few memories…

On Day 2, we met up with my cousin Sushie at Covent Garden.  I don’t recall having been here previously, so it was fun to browse the markets and catch up over coffee.  After lunch, we wander the streets again, taking in places like St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the London Bridge. 

We end our stay in London by enjoying a wonderful performance of a play called War Horse.  Set during WWI, it is a masterful production about a boy and his undying love for his horse.  The show has life size puppets of horses and other animals that are skilfully manoeuvred by the puppet handlers that you almost forget that the horses are not real.

So – we say goodbye to London.  We have enjoyed our time in the UK and Ireland and tomorrow, we will catch the Eurostar to Brussels and make our way to Amsterdam.