It’s a funny old world. I lived a little more than an hour away from London for 7 years, but in all that time I’d never spent a day there other than for attending meetings for work. So a train in, a tube to the location and back again, sometimes with a glance at some interesting architecture, thinking I really should bring a camera with me next time. Never spent any time in recent years exploring the city. I didn’t like London you see. I found it dirty, noisy and too busy so all I wanted to do was get in and get out as quickly as possible.
I have ‘done’ the tourist things years ago – Buck Palace, the Mall, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Camden Lock, Greenwich Market, but never been interested in what else it has to offer, until now, when I decided that I should at least visit the splendid museums that lie within the centre and are free. I like free. And Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. I like gardens.
So last week I accompanied the OH who was going there for business purposes and found myself in a reasonable hotel a spit away from Earl’s Court. With three days at my disposal. And a tube strike for two of those days. I dislike the tube at the best of times but at least it gets you to where you need to go, usually. Now buses, not only are they complicated, but also they are slow. On account of all that traffic you see.
On my first day I spent an hour and a half going round in circles as I attempted to get across to Chancery Lane tube station to go on a London walk. Eventually it dawned on me that there was no way I was getting anywhere close to the centre as Circle, Central and Piccadilly lines were not running. Had I realised that at the start of the journey I could have made my way differently, but by the time I’d sussed out an alternative route it was too late. Frustrated now, by all the hopping on and off tubes going nowhere, I opted for some fresh air in Kew Gardens, but even that was a challenge as it involved a tube to Turnham Green, a walk to a bus stop, a bus to Kew Gardens Station and a walk to the gardens. Phew! I was quite exhausted before I even got there!
Kew is big. Really big. And although I walked for four hours I only covered half of it. I got to see the Palm House, which was closed on a previous visit, but not the Temperate House, which is closed for restoration. I was enchanted by the peonies, the Woodland Garden and the Rockery. I loved the Princess of Wales Conservatory with the pelargoniums, the succulents and cacti, the jade vine and the chameleon. I was irritated by the number of school children on a day trip (usually Primary age) running around, screeching at full volume, getting in the way of a shot. They were everywhere!
I hear leaves drinking rain;
I hear rich leaves on top
Giving the poor beneath
Drop after drop;
‘Tis a sweet noise to hear
These green leaves drinking near.
~ from ‘The Rain’ by W H Davies
Getting away from them I discovered the lovely Davies Alpine House, the Waterlily House and further away, the Secluded Garden where I sheltered from a heavy April shower beneath the canopy of a Prunus tree. Only to find another small glasshouse just around the corner! Oh, well.
Just when I thought I couldn’t walk any more my eyes glimpsed a shock of colour across the park, and I headed for the Azalea Garden, getting attacked by a crazy squirrel en route. I spotted him in the grass and thought about getting a photo of him, but he just kept heading straight towards me. Next minute he is clinging to my thigh and staring up at me, no way could I get a photo, I was too busy trying to encourage him to get down without being bitten! After a couple of moments like this I did manage to take his picture and then quickly hurry away before he decided to have another go. Anyway, the azaleas were well worth being attacked for.
Admitting defeat just before I found the bluebells and knowing that I still had to make my way back to the hotel as we had a dinner date at 7 pm I reluctantly left Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, footsore, but happy, and both camera batteries exhausted, like me.
Today I decided to head east and go to Tower Hill as I wanted to find a secret garden hidden in the ruins of a bombed-out church near there. I wasn’t interested in the Tower of London, nor the bridge, although had I realised how close I was to the latter I may have gone closer to get a few photos of the famous Gothic Towers. My rather vague plan was to wander back along the Thames to visit the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern Gallery and then possibly Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.
It was a reasonably successful trip, but far too ambitious. I discovered St Dunstan’s Garden, a real oasis in the midst of the city.
I passed a couple of interestingly named pubs, the Monument itself – a tribute to the Fire of London that started in Pudding Lane close by in 1666 – and had a good Bratwurst sausage from Borough Market for lunch, eaten in the grounds of the lovely Southwark Cathedral.
By now though my feet were beginning to protest and I was wondering how much further I could walk. A busker at Southwark close to the Clink Prison (no I had never heard of it either) amused me as he was set up directly opposite a No Busking sign! Not sure he was amused by me taking his photograph though. I didn’t go inside the Globe as you can’t take photos and it was for that reason I wanted to visit it. Also I was getting tired.
The Tate Modern is big. And confusing. The Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition is running, but as I am not a huge fan of modern art I decided against paying the £16 entry fee. Instead I visited a couple of other floors, but was so underwhelmed by some utterly pretentious crap that may make you wish you had not ventured in. A shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) a few years ago and imagined the Tate Modern would be similar. It’s not.
Defeated again by sore feet, I headed for the tube and back to the hotel for a rest, fully intending to head back out to photograph Brompton Cemetery. Didn’t happen. Instead I listened to the continual banshee wailing of police sirens as van after van screamed its way to Fulham for the football match that evening.
And rain. But the tube strike is over so I can at least head to Holborn and the British Museum which seems a good place to while away a few hours in bad weather, and if I get bored with that then I can always visit the V&A Museum. Or so I thought. Of course, if you have visited the BM you’d know instantly that one can not possibly see everything this has to offer in ONE DAY! Little did I know what was in store. Suffice to say that several hours of tramping around this huge building I was once again footsore, but happy, and this time with a dead camera card. You may wonder how anyone can fill up an 8 Gb card? So did I, considering I’d only taken about 100 photos. It appears that the OH doesn’t format the card after he removes photos and somehow the thing keeps folders and indexes so believed itself to be full. Changing the settings to web-sized photos helped me squeeze a few more shots out of it, but to be honest I was rather more interested at browsing through some of the most interesting objects in the world and avoiding the hideous crowds in some rooms (Rosetta Stone) and finding an empty bench where I could rest before setting off for another period in history.
Discovered a good pub around the corner from the hotel which served good food and even better wine (I nearly refused to finish the bottle of Malbec we had in the hotel – and I never do that!) to end a good, though utterly exhausting three days. Though the pub was so packed and noisy when we entered I wondered if we’d made a big mistake. A good bottle and a half of NZ Pinot Noir later, we conceded we hadn’t 🙂
Things I have learned about London
- It’s awfully difficult to see any stars at night due to light pollution, plus fog or possibly smog?
- it is noisy. I have not heard so many sirens since I left Surrey 3 years ago. So. Much. Traffic. So. Many. People.
- Ugly, ugly concrete tower blocks.
- Overcrowded tube carriages. Actually during the strike at Earl’s Court we had an Irish driver who said ” Now now folks, ye don’t all need to crowd in the one carriage, ye know, we don’t charge extra for y’all to use the rest of the train” which brought a smile to my face.
- People avoid eye contact. Read a book, a Kindle, a free paper, a phone, the adverts, the tube map, anything but look at someone else. Or smile.
- People are so rude. If you happen to get in their way – or even when they get in your way – they glare at you as if to say “what are you doing standing there?” And they never say sorry as they barge into you or step on your foot. It’s as though it is a sign of weakness to admit they are in the wrong.
- So. Many. School. Trips! See Kew Gardens! They are everywhere you go, snake lines of young children running amok, getting in the way, teachers shouting, everyone making Too. Much. Noise.
- Free Museums – a good thing – though by being free they are also very crowded. A bad thing.
- Unexpected green spaces. I’d love to explore the green bits of London, but suspect I’ll need a lot of time to do that.
- Black Cabs (or even the odd yellow one) with drivers who actually know where they are going.
- Shoes. You need very comfortable shoes. I thought mine were, but I hadn’t reckoned on walking on hard pavements for hours at a time. Should have worn my hiking boots. Maybe. Or buy a pair of those Sketchers with memory foam insoles. Has anyone got a pair?
- Don’t try to do too much. 2-3 hours at a stint is more than enough.
I’m sure many of you have visited London, and I know at least one Londoner who follows my blog who might have a different opinion about the city, so tell me please, what is your view of London? Love it? Hate it? Why?