Monday, 24 November 2014

London: Day 1

We arrived in London early in the morning extremely tired from the long trip to the UK. Customs ran very smoothly at Heathrow and we had soon entered the country. I was struck by the number of pianos they had in the airport. Indeed, there was even one piano with "play me" written on it in various languages. It was quite comical really, as the translations were clearly a Google Translate job.

After a short time on the laptop trying to work out train tickets, we took the tube to our accommodation in Greenwich, to find out that they were not able to give us an early check-in (despite a request for this). We left our things at the hotel (at a cost of £2) and headed out to London to have a look around.

On our way in we stopped off at a supermarket: Tesco. I'm not sure if it were because we were sleep deprived or genuinely excited, but we must have seemed a bit silly to the people also using the supermarket. We were amazed by some of the products on offer, most notably Mars Bar Milk. Another highlight was chocolate Special K. This was particularly weird, as Special K tends to be marketed as a healthy choice back home. Chocolates were also extremely cheap, which is certainly a bonus. We bought our lunch there, as Tesco has a meal deal that's relatively cheap (a drink, meal and snack for £3).

Dad's girlfriend had asked that I get her a bag from Harrods, so we decided that we should get this done first. A short ride on the tube—which is infinitely better than our excuse for a public transport system at home—and we had arrived. Harrods is an odd place and it's somewhat difficult to explain in terms of Australia. It's, essentially, an unholy mix of Myer and Safeway, with a nice amount of inflation thrown in. Better put, Harrods really is just a shop for snobs. It has everything that the wealthy could possibly need in one place. It operates as a grocery story, where the snob can buy his/her caviar and jambon, it has fashion, where the snob can buy all sorts of dead animals for thousands of pounds and it has just about everything else in between.

We didn't stay for particularly long in Harrods, but we did make sure to have a good look. What got us most was the price of everything. There was even a dressing gown, made of cashmere admittedly, worth £2000. There was also a washing machine worth about £1300, which was a bit of a surprise.

The busiest part of the store was our destination: the Harrods merchandise area. This area was packed with visitors from all around the joint (English was a rarity). Gladly, we did end up finding dad's girlfriend's bag, which we purchased at a later day.

After leaving Harrods, we decided that we'd hit the clich├ęs and head off to Buckingham Palace. Another ride on the tube and we were soon there. At this point, we were really starting to question why a country that drives on the left insists that everyone on the tube sticks to the right on escalators. The announcements were also exceedingly polite at times, which I guess is very British.

Buckingham Palace wasn't particularly busy, though that is not to say that there wasn't a crowd. It was easy enough to get a good look and get some good photos. In truth, the palace is a little underwhelming. It's neither big nor exceedingly pretty and really does miss any sense of grandeur. This dullness was exacerbated by tacky, mismatched curtains and the carpark full of Ford Mondeos.

Near the palace is Wellington's Arch, which is 1000 times more interesting than the palace itself. The fountain outside the palace, and the gates into the palace itself and the park that is adjacent to it were also much more interesting.

We left Buckingham Palace after a few quick snaps and headed through St James' Park. This was a good decision, as it allowed us to see some of the sites. There's a bridge across the middle of the park from which you can see some very pretty buildings (that I couldn't identify) and the London Eye. It makes for a good scene, that's for sure.

Leaving the park we headed over to a collection of buildings at the opposite end to the palace. One of the buildings was the guard station, where the guards to Buckingham Palace reside. There were some sillily-dressed men sitting on horses at the gates to this building. One of them looked very likely to ride his horse into the traffic.

A short stroll from the guard station are the Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster. That the legislature got Westminster and the monarch Buckingham must have been a hard pill to swallow, as the Palace of Westminster is the most beautiful building I've seen. This palace is home to Elizabeth Tower, more commonly known as Big Ben.

At this point, we'd just about crashed and decided to head back to Greenwich. We were, finally, permitted entry to our room and quickly moved our things up stairs from the lockers. I must admit that the room was pleasantly surprising. There is plenty of space and a surprising range of amenities, including a kitchenette that is dangerously close to being a proper kitchen. We decided to retire to bed for a nap and wake up in a few hours to have dinner. This didn't exactly go to plan—I slept through the alarm and woke up at 3 in the morning. I guess that's jet lag for you!

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