Trains, Planes and Blistered Feet – Part Eight

Up early and saying goodbye to Paris. It was a fun packed three days, but London was calling and the train wasn’t going to wait. So, we grabbed our stuff and hopped on the metro for the last time and headed for the Gare du Nord, near the Sacré-Cœur, to grab the Eurostar train that would get us to St Pancras International. We were a little confused to know where to get the train, but eventually found it was on the upper level. Going to the check-in was a fun experience as a machine gun totting police officer was holding a sign, basically asking you to declare if you had a grenade, knife, gun or other potentially deadly items on you. How do you respond to that? Then the most gruelling customs check in history. It was worst than most airports. Passport check twice, bag check twice. The only good part was a lovely Irish lady that had a quip about needing to see all my face, to which I joked “I was already married”, and she smiled.

I don’t know what it was, but I was expecting something dramatic or monumental going through the tunnel, but it basic just went dark! Then some 30 minutes later we were in the UK! My homeland, and those green and pleasant pastures. The train eventually stopped and we were at the next destination; London, Baby!! And the manic rush to get to the hotel and avoid loosing a lot of the day, so we could go site-seeing. England was great for me…I could understand everyone. I literally wanted to talk to everyone, and the first lucky person was the young lady selling me the Oyster cards for the Underground. We made it to the hotel and after another conversation with the lovely reception lady, we were in the room and taking 5 before the walk into town. We found a great hotel right on the corner of Hyde Park, and close to two main tube stations, so felt lucky.

Walking to the park, we saw a Greek restaurant called “Santorini“, so I mentioned to Lythia we could pop in and have diner there tonight and feel familiar, like Greece. We hit the park and the amount of green was overwhelming. Lythia instantly said “I love London” and we started to walk towards ‘Speakers Corner‘. We crossed the lake and walked its length, to see the flurry of birds on the side. Had a little moment with a particularly proud swan and then hit the cafe for a quick coffee and bite.

On leaving the cafe, we saw some flurries of fur in the woodland area of the park. To our surprise there were many squirrels running around doing their job. Even more surprising was the degree of friendliness they showed, as they came to almost touching distance. Lythia loved the squirrels!

All along the journey I was telling Lythia stories of my time when I used to visit Grandma, in Tottenham, and walking around London. Not much had changed in the recognisable buildings, and I soon found the Wellington Monument and the walk down to Buckingham Palace. A brief moment to take in the building and we were then off again. Heading toward the parliament buildings. As we approached, we were a little disappointed, as the main Big Ben clock tower was completely covered in tarpaulins for the renovations. We walked the length to find ourselves in the green opposite. Photos taken, we realised it was close to lunch. So the plan was made to get something on our way to the London Eye and then board the ride to take in the ultimate view.

Walking down the promenade before the Eye we found a fish and chip shop, and I proclaimed that Lythia must try this, but didn’t convince her enough to get mushy peas! Again, Lythia was curious to my need to talk to every English person I could, but the waitress was very kind and communicative. It had been thirteen years for god sake! Lunch dispatched and the London Eye towered above us. As we approached we encountered another feral friend hanging about the walls of the Thames. He seemed eager to partake in a short conversation, or eyed us up for possible treats to nab. Either way, we enjoyed his company for a bit and moved to the Eye. Tickets and surprisingly short queue later; Hop, we were aboard.

If there is one thing you should do, if you visit London, it is go on the London Eye. The cost is a little expensive, but wow the view seemed to make it all worthwhile! You basically get on a capsule, that is constantly moving, and move around on in a group of around 10 people. The trip takes like 40 minutes and slowly goes in a graceful circle of the enormous Ferris wheel.

There are something like 20 capsules on the Eye, and when one reaches the point of embarking/disembarking, it slows to allow the people on or off. At that moment the ride obvious slows for the others and you get a chance to take in the view. For us the sun was starting to set on our first day in London and the start of the Autumnal season meant that the haze created this beautiful beams going past the Houses of Parliament. At the peak you could see an enormous amount of London. Very similar to the view from the Sacré-Cœur in Paris.

No sooner had the trip started and we were defending to the disembarking point. It was a magic moment to remember, and probably the most photos I took on the whole trip was in the eye! Anyway, we jumped off and perused the two directions to go in. The Jubilee Bridge seemed like a good idea, and head back into the centre. So off we went. Reaching the other side, I spotted a little delight for Lythia‘s Benedict Cumberbatch fascination: The Sherlock Holmes pub!

That done, we headed to Traffalgar Square and the National Gallery. We went through the normal security checks and emerged into the vastness of the foyer. We couldn’t find where to pay! We were stumped and then realised it was free entry. So we went o leave our coats at the cloakroom, and then realised life in London was a complete opposite to Paris: You pay entry and the cloakroom was free, but the other way round in London.

I love art galleries. They are a little more boisterous than a library, but quiet enough to take in the splendour of the creations around you. The National Gallery was my first visit there, and I was so sucked in by it all. I feel like a kid in a toy store. Lythia was getting into was well, until the point we came across some Canaletto paintings of Venice, and I commented to the curator that we were supposed to go and it was flooded. There started a 30 minute conversation about global warming, that seemed to bore Lythia a little. But was fascinating and refreshing to me. Being able to talk English so openly and with depth.

That concluded we had a plan to go to find Foyles, as Lythia is into books and I told her of one of my visits there in the old days. So a quick detour to find a working ATM in Chinatown and back down Shaftesbury Avenue and to Foyles. Some 30 minutes perusing the shelves I started to feel uncomfortable, and Lythia was no closer to finding a book. Eventually we found a copy of Les Miserables. All paid up, we headed home, went through Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and on the subway to the hotel. On the way back we popped into the Santorini restaurant and made a booking. I think it made their day as they recognised Lythia‘s mobile as from Greece, and they started a chat. We returned later to have a great enjoyable meal and I then took Lythia for her first pub encounter. Chatted with the locals and then returned to say goodnight to our first day in London. Another busy day ahead in the morning.