On the second day in London, we arranged to meet up with Tara's friend, Evelyn. Evelyn has been studying archaeology and sociology at the University of Warwick in Coventry for the past few months on exchange and had asked to see Tara whilst we were in London.
We had arranged to meet Evelyn at the Waterloo Bridge around midday and, as such, decided that the morning would be a good opportunity for us to visit the Australian High Commission in London so that I could vote in the upcoming Victorian election. By this point we had mastered the tube and managed to get there very easily. We were both taken aback by the building the High Commission is in. It was exceedingly pretty and much better than anything we could find in Australia. It really did make me wonder about our gigantic phallic symbol parading as a parliament house back home.
With Tara waiting in the lobby, I went down to vote. It was quite a walk through all the passageways to the voting room. It was nice to see quite a few fellow Victorians voting there too. Even nicer, however, was that there was actually a Labor party member handing out how-to-vote cards in front of the commission. He'd also put a stack of Labor signs up as well. We later found out that he was from Perth and had been living in London for quite some time, which was, in many ways, a little sad.
As it happened, Evelyn had come to London to vote as well and we actually ran into her at the High Commission. She appeared, on first impressions, to be genuinely lovely, which did remain to be true for the rest of the day. We left the high commission and set off on a bit of a walk. This took us up to the national gallery, which is a truly spectacular building. Bizarrely, there's a statue of a blue rooster sitting out the front of the national gallery. None of us could understand why it was there; it looked very out of place. We then took the short walk back down to parliament to buy tickets for a tour the next day. After quite a long time pissfarting around trying to find the joint (completely my fault), we found the parliamentary ticket office only to find out that the tickets for guided tours had been booked out. We briefly flirted with the idea of taking a tour in Spanish or French, but instead opted for an audio tour at 4pm the next day.
Evelyn then took us to South Bank, which is just across the Thames from the Palace of Westminster. There was a market there, which was kind of cool, though we didn't buy anything from there. That also took us past the London Eye for the first time. The eye is enormous, though I wouldn't call it any more grand than the Melbourne Star.
We crossed the Thames again and decided to get some lunch. Evelyn suggested we got to a store called Pret à Manger, which really doesn't have an Australian equivalent. It's a café with a fridge and warmer full of ready-to-eat food. It was reasonably cheap, for London, and quite good food, so that was a good find for us.
After lunch we headed off for Hamleys. This took us down Oxford Street, which is the kind of London street one would see on the TV. It's full of double-decker buses, nice buildings and London taxis. It is quintessential London. It was a really nice walk, where we saw some pretty cool street performers and really got to soak up the London atmosphere.
Eventually we arrived at our destination. Hamleys is the oldest toy store in the world and contains six floors chock-a-block with toys. The second we entered we knew it was going to be great. The staff stand around the store "demonstrating" (read: playing with) the toys. Of particular note was a guy on the first level who was dressed as a pirate and who wouldn't let Evelyn and Tara pass, opting to shoot them with his bubble gun. When I tried to past he begged me "don't leave me" and insisted that we take a picture together. I happily obliged.
What ensued after this was a further 5 floors of the same kind of craziness. The atmosphere was incredible, even as a 20 year old who has long outgrown the toys in the shop. It felt good to feel like a kid again. On the sixth floor, we found some lego statues of the royals, with which we took photos. Oddly, Tara decided that she needed to kiss the statue of Prince Phillip. To each their own I guess! Whilst she was having a bit of a snog with the prince, she kept complaining of being hit by a jet of air. Evelyn offered the explanation that it was the vents above doing it; an explanation that Tara was happy with. As it happened, it was actually one of the staff on the other side of the floor firing air at Tara with a cannon. He then decided to make a mess of Tara and Evelyn's hair with the cannon, you know, as you do.
We ended up having a chat with the man and found out some interesting things. He does actually get paid a wage to fire air at people 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. Indeed, that air cannon is the toy that he's specialised to demonstrate. He then confessed that, after a long day like the one he was working, he couldn't feel his thumb. He also had a callous there that would rival even the best of tradies, putting to bed the myth that there's no hard labour in retail!
After Hamleys, Evelyn had to make the two-hour trip back to Coventry. We escorted her to the station and said our goodbyes. We had a bit of a walk around the general area, finding an Ugg store. Tara got talking to one of the staff, telling him how surprised we were that people actually wear ugg boots here. In fact, we were both pretty surprised I think. There are a hell of a lot of people wearing ugg boots in London. Indeed, the silly bastards even wear them out. Apparently they're fashionable here.
Hyde Park was relatively near us, so we decided to visit it. At this time of year there is a festival sort of thing on called Winter Wonderland. It included a pretty substantial market and some rides. The stalls were mainly food stalls, which offered foods of pretty much every description. Most notable were the quintessentially British offerings of ale, mead, mulled wine and all sorts of roast. This made the Winter Wonderland feel somewhat unique and showed the differences between their Christmas and ours. We decided not to partake in any of the rides because we were carrying too many things with us (read: were too buggered to go on them), but it was kind of cool seeing them anyway. There was an impressive array of activities and some fairly substantial rides that one would only expect to find in a theme park in Australia. We bought some fish and chips from the market, which were surprisingly good. The fish in particular was excellent, putting shame to the fish and chip joints at home; lift your game Australia!
At this point, we were completely fucked and decided to head off home. We both had plans for things that we needed to do that night, but both again ended up falling asleep in our clothes. Such is jet lag.