Ah, Britain. I was SO excited to arrive back in my home country after so long in countries where i couldn’t speak the language. I was starting to get really homesick, despite all the fun I was having. We arrived in the UK on November 5th, and we stayed in a little pub called “The Crown” about an hour or so outside London in Clapham Junction. It wasn’t too bad a train ride to get into the city each day, and I had a lot of fun taking my boyfriend round all the major sights.
We saw most if not all of the typical London things to see… The London Eye (although I’d already been on it and the boyfriend doesn’t do heights, so we didn’t go up it), Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, London Bridge etc. etc. I don’t feel like I can delve into everything that I love about London, simply because there’s so much. I’m not sure I’d necessarily want to live there, but I’ll definitely be going back as often as I can.
A few highlights, I guess, were Covent Garden, Big Ben and Hamley’s. I’m aware that Big Ben is the bell and not the building, but as I don’t know what the building is called Big Ben will have to do it (we didn’t see the bell…). I get the impression from conversations with my mother that Covent Garden is much more high-end than it was in the seventies and eighties, but I loved it nonetheless, despite or even maybe because of the fact that I couldn’t afford anything. I will be going back, with lots more money.
I think the main thing that endeared me to it was the way it was set out. I loved the contrast of the cheap and nasty souvenir and second hand market across the road from the kitschy, artsy stalls selling things like silk scarves, metalwork jewellery and carved wooden ornaments that I’d never have been able to get through Australian customs if my life depended on it. And then in the next few streets there were all the higher end stores selling off their own brands, like the Dr. Martens or the Cambridge Satchel Company pop-up store. We spent a good hour in the Tintin shop where the boy spent about as much money as I spent on my mask on merchandise, and to top it all off it looks really pretty at sunset. A plus in anyone’s books, I reckon.
Big Ben, and surrounds, I have to say were simply impressive. There’s not really another way to describe it. Even though I’ve been to London before, a few times (hell, I’d been just before going to Greece to get my passport renewed!) I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to Westminster Abbey, or if I have, I don’t think I realised it at the time. I was surprised by how dwarfed it is by its surrounds, making a fairly massive building by the standards of its time, appear quaint and understated, which you really don’t get from this picture at all…
Hamley’s I don’t really have any pictures of, just this one with me next to life-size Lego models of members of the royal family…
We were there during the Christmas shopping high period, and my poor boyfriend (kidding, it was hilarious) bore the brunt of some British humour in the form of an information attendant in Oxford Circus. As we came out of the tube station, we were both quite disoriented and weren’t sure which way the shop was, so we decided to ask for directions. The exchange went something like this:
Me: Hi, which way is Hamley’s?
Info Guy: (totally deadpan) Hamley’s? You’re out of luck, they’ve closed for Christmas!
Boyfriend: Oh… okay then
AND THEN HE STARTED TO WALK AWAY. I Think sometimes he’s way too polite to guess when people are joking… coming from a British background, I see now why he thinks my mother doesn’t like him. It’s not that, she just likes making fun of him. The poor info guy looked completely taken aback that he’d been taken seriously, having heard my accent he’d assumed we were both British and would understand, poor bloke unwittingly confused the life out of my silly Aussie boy, who hasn’t yet learnt from me that this is considered high class humour where I’m from…
After London, (having stayed in a small hostel above a pub in Clapham Junction, about an hour out of the city by train, and only been harassed by one drunken man for pizza) we moved on to Cambridge, where my parents were renting a flat for my dad’s sabbatical and mum’s long service leave (for those of you in countries where this doesn’t exist, basically she gets one school term, or ten weeks, worth of paid leave every ten years she works at that school. We were really lucky everything coincided like it did).
We stayed there, very cramped up (we took over my brother’s bedroom, and he slept on an air mattress in the hall) for a few days, wandering around Cambridge to museums and cafes, before heading to Lancashire to visit some old friends for a few days. We went on a walk through some farmland, and I saw the girls I went to nursery school with again.
From Lancashire we drove to Bromyard, a small town on the border with Wales, for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of my dad’s parents, at which point (or just before) I got really sick. Like, I didn’t change out of pajamas for about a week kind of sick (that sounds grosser than I intended. By no means did I wear the SAME pajamas for the week, I changed out of one pair and into another). Most of my family was there for this, which could have been slightly awkward for my boyfriend, suddenly being foisted upon my grandparents, aunt, three of my cousins and right at the end my uncle and his new wife, but if it was he didn’t show it. It was a pretty cottage-type house with plenty of room and it was a great week of celebrations, culminating in a massive Chinese take-out banquet, at which not nearly all of the food was eaten, because it’s Chinese take-out, it never ever gets finished and you always order too much rice.
We had an afternoon in Hay-on-Wye, another small town, this time just inside Wales, which is almost entirely made up of bookshops. I went gift shopping while everyone else went wandering, and then we got back in the car and drove into mid-Wales (I’m really not sure if that’s one word or not…) to see my mum’s parents and stay with them for a week. Still being sick, I wasn’t too keen on the walks around the village everyone else was going on, so with the promise that I’d come with when I came back at Christmas, they went without me.
Another British-staple type-thing we did was drive from Wales to Manchester for a football game (soccer, for any Aussies or Americans reading. And potentially Canadians, what do you call football in Canada?). We watched Man City beat Aston Villa by an atrocious margin, just as well we were sitting on the City side (my home team). After the match, Dad drove us past the house we lived in when I was born, and pointed out all the differences. I was really appreciative of that, because I was only two when we moved from Manchester to a little village about three-quarters of an hour outside Lancaster.
The last big thing with did in the UK before flying on to Germany was go to Leavesden Studios in Watford Junction for the “Harry Potter Experience” it’s some of the best fun I’ve ever had (such that when I got back to the UK around Christmas, I went again with my little brother), and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who’s even a bit of a fan of the movies. They’ve got pretty much everything you could possibly want to see, and the interactive digital guides are a must. Seriously. Go there.
I’m kicking myself for how long it’s taken me to write this, and I think I’ve only got two, maybe three posts to go before I’m finished writing about my trip and have to find something else to write about… in the meantime you can follow me on twitter or instagram (or both?) I’m helenrov on both, and I will most likely follow you back, although I’m still learning about using them so bear with me!
Next time: Germany, with maybe a little Amsterdam and Copenhagen.