Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trip to England Part 4

On the spur of the moment this morning I decided to go to London as a tourist, and I wrote some notes at certain times around the capital:

"If you’re thinking of travelling to London on a daytrip while staying outside the capital, make sure you have some spare cash. A ticket from Basingstoke cost 23.80 (about $50AUD). The train was punctual and comfortable which is more than I remember so that sort of appeased my shock at the price. The train went into Waterloo and if you walk out of almost any entrance of that massive terminus, it won’t be long before you see the London Eye. The Eye wasn’t there when I was last in London and I have to admit that it is pretty impressive. The Eye dominates the Southbank skyline.

However, the differences in the city seem fairly minor except for one. To me, it stinks. I’m not sure whether it was the traffic fumes or the filth from the Thames. But as I was walking along the Embankment (doesn’t that sound romantic?) from Westminster to Charing Cross, I almost felt sick from the smell. I cut North then to Trafalgar Square up Northumberland Avenue (past Scotland Yard which was looking even more sinister than ever with tarpaulin around the building shrouding it’s mysteries) and then carried on to Covent Garden where I had a coffee in a traffic free zone.

The bill at my café included a service charge which I thought was a bit cheeky for what was essentially a very average double espresso. So next I jumped the tube to Baker Street. Covent Garden is on the Picadilly Line (I never used that line much before) and I changed at King’s Cross. Baker Street is a tourist haven with Madame Tussaud’s and Sherlock Holmes. I, of course, was more interested in the chess shop on Baker Street!

From here it is a short walk south to Oxford Street (you are never far away from a Monopoly Square in central London) and where you meet the King (or should that be Queen) of shopping strips is the iconic department store, Selfridges. I had to go in….I don’t know why, I am no shopper but something seemed to drag on me…I didn’t even want to buy anything but ended up with a Selfridges bag from the foodstore/deli. One of my best memories of trips to London as a kid was the trip to Selfridge’s toy department which dominated most of a floor (4th if I remember rightly). The downside to my route was walking along Oxford Street which is a constant fight against foot traffic. Eventually I turned toward Soho down Poland Street and stopped in the Burlington Café for a snack and coffee. The coffee smelled rich and was delicious somehow merging a sort of spicy and sweet taste in a full bodied double espresso.

From Poland Street it’s a short walk to Shaftsbury Avenue where a couple of old friends brought smiles to my face. I used to drink quite often in the James Tavern on the corner of Shaftsbury Avenue and Great Windmill Street, and around the corner in Picadilly Square is my favourite statue in London, Eros. The God of love once ironically was pointing his bow directly at the Virgin Megastore which seems to have disappeared, suggesting that Eros still has some potency to despoil Virgins!

Coventry Street links Picadilly Circus to Leicester Square (did I do the whole Monopoly board today?), the whole area seems to me to be cleaner than I remember it being. However, it was no less busy than I remember and about this point I started to get fed up of the hustle and bustle of England’s capital. I caught the tube back to Waterloo and the train back to Basingstoke. All in all, I was only in London about 6 hours, and while I admit the sights and history are quite amazing, I’ve seen much of it before and the starkest change I noticed was the worsening of the residual pollution and smells.

There were a couple of things that I was intending to do that I never got around to. I was intending to carry on around to the National Portrait Gallery and take a short wander around, and then head down to that great chess venue, Simpson’s in the Strand. But I’d had enough. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t do Buckingham Palace and the Royal Gardens, then think that I’m a citizen of what should be the Republic of Australia!"
 Never mind Madame Tussaud's or Sherlock Holmes, here is the real attraction of Baker Street!

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