London Day 7

It was another rainy day in London today, and with a couple of hours to kill before a tour of the BBC (which I booked before I left Perth), I decided to visit Westminster Abbey as it was indoors and there was no queue. I did try to visit the Abbey on the first day I arrived, but the queue was ridiculously long and I didn't want to spend my first day here standing in a line for a couple of hours. 

The Abbey was well worth it. I was completely blown away by the intricate Gothic architecture, and the lavish interior. I was just in awe at how old the place is. The Abbey was founded over 1000 years ago in 960 AD, but the current building which was built by Henry III is 769 years old. Beneath my feet were the many tombs and memorials of notable British people, including Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers, Aristocrats and of course the poets, playwrights and writers that are buried in Poets Corner

The Abbey has several smaller chapels, and a few of these were not accessible to the public as the Abbey is still a working church, and many people come to here every year seeking God's forgiveness, healing and wholeness, as part of their journey as followers of Jesus Christ.

The Sacraments of Reconciliation (confession) and the Anointing of the Sick (with laying-on of hands) are also offered at Westminster Abbey for any who wishes to receive them. Every hour for one minute, there are prayers made to God for Peace on Earth, which all visitors are encouraged to take part in. 

Unfortunately, photography was not permitted in the Abbey, but I was allowed to take photos in the Cloisters and outside the building. 

Next I headed off to the BBC for a tour of Broadcasting House. Opened in 1932, this was the first purpose-built broadcasting facility in the UK. In 2003 the building was extensively renovated, and a new eastern wing was added and named the Egton Wing. The name was changed to the John Peel Wing in 2012 in memory of the legendary Radio 1 DJ. 

In 2010, a new wing was added to the rear of Broadcasting House that joined it with the John Peel Wing and created a public plaza between them. This new wing is now home to the BBC Newsroom, which is the largest newsroom in Europe.

The buildings are home to BBC NewsBBC Radio 1BBC Radio 1XtraBBC Radio 3BBC Radio 4BBC Radio 4 Extra, BBC Arabic Television, BBC Persian Television and the BBC World ServiceBBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 6 Music are located in nearby Western House, and BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra are located at MediaCityUK in Salford. The original building also houses the BBC Radio Theatre from which many classic BBC radio programs were made & broadcast, including music, comedy, variety, sketch shows, and quizzes.

There is also a TV studio on the ground floor of the John Peel wing where The One Show is broadcast every night at 7:00pm on BBC 1.

The facility is now equipped with the very latest technologies for both TV & radio, and the scale of it is just incredible. The newsroom was particularly impressive with all of the BBC News departments together for the first time. 

The tour was very well presented and informative, however it didn't include any of the working radio studios or the TV news studios. I'm assuming this was because a tour group would have been too distracting for the presenters. At the end of the tour, our group participated in the recording of a radio drama, complete with foley sound effects. Such fun!

After the BBC, I ended the day with a river cruise up the Thames to Greenwich. This was a great opportunity to see many of London's landmarks from a different perspective, and fortunately the rain held off so I was able to sit on the upper deck for the best views. 

Even though I had been to Greenwich on Day 4, it did give me the opportunity to walk along the Greenwich Foot Tunnel from Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs. This is a 370 metre tunnel under the Thames that was opened on 4 August 1902. The tunnel is lined with 200,000 white tiles, most of which are badly stained and dirty. A majority of people that I met in the tunnel were either jogging or riding bikes (even though you are meant to walk your bike through the tunnel). It was a weird feeling walking under the Thames River, knowing that all that water was just above you. 

Time for a beer. Kate Bush tomorrow night! 

London Day 6

I was very much looking forward to today as this was the day I got to visit Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium in Shoreditch. This is where you get to enjoy an afternoon tea in the company of 11 beautiful felines who were originally rescue cats.

This was the best experience ever! The kitteh's were very sweet and loved the attention they were given by the patrons. There was also quite an audience watching through the window. The food was also excellent.

I probably took way too many photos, but then again, when it comes to cats you can NEVER take too many photos!

If you're planning on going to visit the cats, you will need to book. This is easily done via their website at ladydinahs.com and is well worth a visit if you're a cat lover. You can also follow the each of the cats on Twitter - the details are on the website. 

The only downside of visiting Lady Dinah's was that I realised how much I missed my own 3 boys. I'm really looking forward to some kitteh love when I get back to Perth.

After I left the cats, I wandered around Shoreditch for a bit and discovered the Brick Lane Markets. There was so much bric-a-brac and nic-n-nak on offer, and I may have accidentally bought a leather jacket.  

Next up I headed over to Covent Garden to check out the London Transport Museum. I have always had a bit of a "thing" for public transport - especially trains, so this was just heaven for me. The museum was brilliant, but I didn't take any photos as my iPhone battery was getting desperately low after taking a bunch of cat pictures, but I can assure you that the museum is well worth a visit if you're interested in the history of London's transport system.

What I found most fascinating was an original electric tube locomotive that was used to pull passenger carriages through the tube. Now of course, they use EMU's to carry passengers. There's also examples of all the different buses, trams and trolley buses that were used in London over the years, including the original horse-drawn omnibuses. 

The Museum's website has a plethora of old photos from London's transport past, and is well worth browsing if you have a spare couple of hours. 

I finished the day having probably the best steak I have ever eaten at Steak & Co. If you love your meat, this is a must visit restaurant in London

London Day 5

After spending most of my time in London being a proper little tourist, I decided to have a break from sightseeing and catch up with some distant relatives out in the suburbs of London. 

My family tree on my father's side is a bit confusing as my grandfather couldn't quite stick to having children with the same woman. As a result, there are lots of "half relatives". The two ladies I went to visit today, Linda & Deborah, are my half second cousins. Their grandfather was my father's half brother. I think I got that right. 

To get to them meant a trip to the suburbs which I was wanting to do while I was here. It's tempting just to stay around the Central London area when you're here for the first time as there's so much to see and do and the need to travel to the outer suburbs is often not there. 

So I headed out to Burnt Oak Station on the Northern Line.

This was also an opportunity to see the deep level tube trains out in the open.

I had a very pleasant time with Linda & Deborah, and they were kind enough to provide a delicious lunch. I got my iPad out and we had a Facetime conversation with my father back in Perth which was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed catching up with them, and hearing stories of my family's past. 

After a few hours, I bid them farewell and headed back into the city to see if I could score a cheap £5 "Promming ticket" to the a performance of Salome by Richard Strauss which was part of the BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall. The queues for these "standing only" tickets were way too long though, and sure enough.. I missed out. 

Feeling a little disappointed, I headed into Soho for dinner and a few drinks. Soho looked completely different at night. 

While I was wandering around, I discovered a hilarious busker who was just making noises through a traffic cone. Quite a lot of people were putting money in his cup. Britain really does have talent!

I ended up staying for a couple of hours at the Admiral Duncan pub, which is a gay venue on Old Compton Street. The drag queens there were hilarious, and sang using their own voices rather than miming. A lot of fun!

A good sleep was very much needed after all of this!

London Day 4

Today I went to explore North Greenwich (home of the O2 Arena) which was basically a building site. There appears to be a lot development for new housing, so apart from the O2, there wasn't really anything to look at. 

One thing I just had to try was the Emirates Air Line. This is a cable car that runs for 1km over the Thames from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks at a peak height of 90 metres. The service is actually run my Transport for London (which operates the Tube) so the ticket was only £3.30 if you have a Travelpass or Oyster Card. 

The views were rather breathtaking, and there was a running commentary during the trip that explained all the areas visible from the car. 

Once I was back on solid ground, I dithered about on the DLR for a bit to see where I would end up, and eventually made it to Greenwich. This is the home of the National Maritime MuseumQueen’s House, the Old Royal Naval CollegeGreenwich Market and Cutty Sark

Greenwich is also where you'll find the Greenwich Royal Observatory and Meridian Line that is home to Greenwich Mean Time and Longitude 0°. This is where every place on Earth is measured in terms of its distance east or west from the Greenwich Meridian. The line itself divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth, just as the Equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres.

The views from here were amazing, and there were some great displays about the history of time-keeping in the UK (and around the world) as well as the Greenwich Great Equatorial Telescope which was used for research into double star systems until its retirement in the late 1960s. It is now a central part of educational programmes at the Royal Observatory. 

There was also an exhibition at the Observatory called Longitude Punk'd, in which steampunk artists lavishly reinterpret the science and drama of the 18th-century quest to find longitude at sea, inspired by the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act. 

Well worth a look if you're heading to London. 

London Day 3

Today I was booked in for a tour of Buckingham Palace, however when I arrived to collect my ticket I was told that I needed a printed paper copy of my purchase receipt. Just showing them the receipt on my iPad screen was not enough. The very unhelpful gent at the ticket office directed me to an internet cafe at Victoria Station to print my ticket, but I was unable to find it and missed the tour. Hopefully the good folks at the London Pass (who I booked the ticket through) will be able to do something for me. *fingers crossed*

Here are a few photos from the area...

As I was unable to get into Buckingham Palace, I headed over the Whitehall to have a look at the Churchill War Rooms & Museum. It was not easy to find, but it didn't matter as there was plenty to look at while I was searching for it.

I also went to check out Number 10 Downing Street, but they have sealed this off from the public now, however the very friendly and heavily armed police that were guarding the PM's residence showed me how to get to the War Rooms. This was an amazing attraction, and again I was kind of awestruck to see where Churchill and his Government planned their strategies during the Blitz. The Map Room and the Cabinet Room were pretty much left untouched after the war finished and the lights were switched off on 16 August 1945. The remaining rooms were faithfully re-created using photographs from the time and from descriptions from the people who worked there. The conditions during the 6 years of operation would have been horrendous.. with no natural light, food rations, and no flushing toilets. Also, pretty much everyone smoked, and given the poor ventilation it would have been a pretty foul environment. 

These photos are a bit dark, due to the low lighting throughout the exhibition.

I ended the day by catching up with a couple of Perth friends in the Covent Garden/Soho area. When I got off the Tube at Covent Garden Station, I noticed that it was exit only while they replaced two of the four lifts. This station only has lift or stair access to the deep Piccadilly line trains and so the the only options were to wait for a lift, or take the 193 stairs to the surface. Given that this is equivalent to a 15 storey building.. I opted for the lift. I've been told that this is one of the deepest of the Tube stations.  

Picture by Sunil Prasannan

London Day 2

Today I spent the day by the Thames. First port of call was the Tower of London, which has excellent displays showing over 1000 years of history. The best part was the Crown Jewels which I wasn't allowed to photograph.. needless to say there's some serious bling going on there. Some of the pieces date back to 1661 when the monarchy was restored after the English Revolution. The original jewels were melted down or destroyed after the monarchy was abolished in 1649. Around the grounds around the Tower were a field of red poppies which were placed as part of The Tower Of London Remembers The First World War commemoration. 

The Tower also has seven ravens who are the guardians of the Tower and are there to make sure that the Tower of the Kingdom never fall.

I loved walking around buildings that are older than anything in my own country. You can feel the history oozing from the walls (in fact I think I slipped on a bit of it). 

Here are some photos from the Tower...

Next up was one of London's most iconic landmarks, the Tower Bridge. Had a look inside and went for a walk along the upper walkways which had breathtaking views of the city & river. 

I then spent a bit of time just relaxing on the southern banks of the Thames and witnessed the Tower Bridge open & close a couple of times. 

Here's a few photos from the area...

Next I caught the Tube to London Bridge to endure the London Bridge Experience. This was an interactive tour of the old London Bridge Vaults where sets had been constructed depicting buildings that used to be on the bridge. A group of actors played characters from the time and I found it all a bit cheesy to be honest. It also took ages to get in, so if you're planning on going make sure you allow plenty of time. I enjoyed it - kind of - it was fun in parts. You do leave the experience with the song "London Bridge Is Burning Down" stuck in your head though. This may induce an urge to kill someone. 

There was a very cool market under the bridge, which sold all manner of delicious foods. Mmmmm... foods.... 

Here are some photos from the London Bridge area. 

Finally, I ended the day with a performance of Wicked at the beautiful Apollo Victoria Theatre. The show was excellent with great singing and production values. The show has been running in this theatre for 8 years now. It was... umm... wicked!


Kate Bush delivers with her first shows in 35 years

It looks like I'm in for a treat on Tuesday. The reviews of Kate Bush's first shows in 35 years are in, and they are very positive. I can't wait! 

Kate Bush at the Eventim Apollo on Tuesday 26 August 2014. Pic courtesy of The Guardian

Kate Bush at the Eventim Apollo on Tuesday 26 August 2014.
Pic courtesy of The Guardian

Here are the reviews if you're interested:

The Mirror

The Guardian

The Independent

The Telegraph

BBC News

 

London Day 1

After the horrors of my first long haul flight, I am finally here in London! The ordeal of flying was quickly forgotten once I was on the train from the airport to Paddington, and could see glimpses of this great city whizzing past me.

I spent the first day doing some random exploring, which was hampered slightly by the steady falling of rain. Apparently this was the coldest & wettest Bank Holiday the country had seen in years. A lot of the buildings in London don't have awnings, so if it rains, you have nowhere to run.. nowhere to hide.

The Tube is the probably the best public transport system I have ever used. I was just randomly getting on and off the trains and seeing where I ended up. I noticed that a lot of the stations don't have escalators or lifts unless they have a deep line tube. I'm not sure how people with a disability manage to travel, but I was quite thankful for the extra exercise.

I got to see a fair bit, despite the day being completely unplanned. Here's a gallery of things that caught my eye on Day 1.

Another thing I noticed is that there seems to be a distinct lack of rubbish bins around London. I carried rubbish around in my bag for a couple of hours before I saw one. People don't use big Sulo bins when they leave their rubbish out for collection either. They just dump all the bags on the footpath. The pigeons seem to love it! 

The men in London are also incredibly good looking. I nearly got hit by a bus, nearly walked into a traffic light, and nearly knocked over a display case at Harrods as a result of this. I expect to need treatment for whiplash at some stage later this week as well.

Oh, and you can buy booze everywhere. I think you can even buy it when you're shopping for white goods.

Finally, there are people everywhere. So many people.

 

Long Haul

So today was my first long-haul flight. Yeah I know. I'm a couple of weeks past my 49th birthday and NOW I get 'round to doing a long haul flight? Yep. I need to get out more.

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Anyway... The only flight from Perth to Dubai with Emirates leaves at 6:00am. So I get to the airport at 3:45am. Just think about that time for a moment. 3:45am. I had completely forgotten that time of day even existed. Of course I'm too nervous/excited/scared to go to sleep, so I just stay up. VERY CLEVER. Then I sit around waiting for 90 mins before we bored. I mean board.  

Now, I'm just over halfway through the flight and I have to say that I would rather stick bamboo shoots under my fingernails, while eating mouldy anchovies coated with DDT. 

My eyes feel like they've been removed, deep-fried, then inserted back into my head... and where did I put the bottle of eyedrops? IN MY CHECKED BAGGAGE OF COURSE. VERY CLEVER. PLEASE LET ME HELP YOU PLAN YOUR NEXT TRIP BECAUSE I'M AWESOME. 

I also neglected to buy a big 12,000 litre bottle of sweet refreshing water before boarding, because I thought (again because I'm just awesome at this) they would have bottles of water on the plane. They do, but they pour the water into something resembling a thimble and bring it to you. Aww thanks! Now can you bring me another 37,842 of those before I turn to dust?

Then there's the sleeping bit. I stayed up before heading to the airport because I though "oh I'll just sleep on the plane". Then I remembered. Sleeping on a plane in Economy class is like sleeping vertically inside a large noisy engine with a tourniquet around your guts. I think I dozed for around 5.9 seconds though. So refreshed now! *thud*

3 hours 53 minutes to go. Once I get to Dubai, I will use all of my available cash to buy a crate of eyedrops and 476 olympic-sized swimming pools of water.