And basically, those 6 days in London were the happiest I've had for the longest time. It felt absolutely amazing! And, just look at how beautiful it is!
I do want to talk about the flight, as I actually love reading about other people's travel tales – as in, the being in transit bit, as well as what happens when they get there – and almost did it as a separate post. However, I hardly took any photos and anyway, we were in with the chickens on the plane, although it was MUCH better than I had remembered. We flew with Etihad, as they came up in the flight search somewhere after the super-cheap, lengthy stop over option but still within in the affordable (as Australian-London tickets go, that is) area. And they were lovely. Comfy, lovely staff, loads of films and tv to watch, and the food was actually good. Not just better than usual terrible airplane fare, but good. It wasn't as good on the last leg home from Abu Dhabi, but still would fly again with them and do recommend. This is what we saw when we got to Abu Dhabi airport and were only 14 or so hours from London. It looked so beautiful in the rosy, dusty dawn. John and I were still feeling pretty good but were keen to stretch our legs and get the blood flowing a bit. I travelled in a fitted vintage dress – big mistake, don't do that, I won't again – but still managed to lay on the dirty airport floor and put my feet above my head and maintain some shred of dignity. A man a few seats down did a yoga headstand and that was far more impressive. I had a bit of a cold when we boarded, which turned into Niagara on the first flight, with my nose streaming, so landing was really quite painful: now I know why we are warned against travelling with colds. But what are you going to do? You are hardly going to cancel your trip! I was that unlovely sick person you don't want to sit next to on a flight (or anywhere), endlessly stuffing tissues up my nose, and it was an extremely painful 45 minutes landing, as it felt as though a football was trying to fight its way out of my right ear. I was very glad when after a few yelps and several uncontrollable hand-to-ear arm flaps it was all over. It prepared me for the second landing in London, and I took some painkillers beforehand but it was even worse – both ears! – but I didn't care a bit. We could see out of the window, and I watched the Thames start to make sense, looking like the intro to Eastenders, and then I saw Hampton Court! Or was it Ham House! A red double decker bus! And we were down. I was completely deaf in my right ear, mostly deaf in my left, and literally skipped through the airport to meet my very kind and wonderful friend Paul, who had generously offered to pick us up. I am surprised he didn't run away when he saw me approaching, waving a huge box of tissues and with my compression stockings falling down around my knees. All glamour, here.
The drive up to central London was amazing; we were blessed with a sunny day an everything was sparkly and beautiful and better than I remembered; even the traffic was lighter! My ears were gurgling and I still had involuntary ear clasps when the pains hit and I kept asking (bellowing?) "What?", because I couldn't hear much, but nothing, nothing could dampen my mood. I was overjoyed to be home. Home at long, long last!
Our hotel was in Bloomsbury, which was looking all rather lovely in the soft sun. John and I thought we'd have a quick shower and a rest and then hit the streets, but then I thought I'd just rest in the bed just for half an hour... we woke up around midnight. Oops.
So, let's look at day one proper. We woke up again at around 3am, wide eyed in the dark, and eventually got ourselves ready for the hotel breakfast that opened at 7am. Oh, now I know just how good hotel breakfasts are. I don't mean just for the food itself – that can be rubbish – but just knowing you don't have to go outside and find something first thing is just really nice. We stayed at the Royal National London and I'll do a post on it, but basically brekkie was a canteen style, line up with a tray, toast and cereal sort of thing, and within 20 minutes we were full, with happily popped and hearing ears, looking at the first buds of blossom on the cold trees outside, and bouncing in our seats ready to go and see London!
For those of you not familiar with London, Bloomsbury is very central, and right near Regent's Park. Lots of tall gorgeous old houses, lush squares and gardens, and some big wide roads that were quiet enough to tempt us to hire bikes – although the main roads are mad, busy chaos, although with plenty of cyclists, which is encouraging. We had a huge, impossible list of things we wanted to see and do, but we started with a walk around our new home, and headed of to the famous park. And WOW it was more beautiful than I ever, ever knew. I was already so excited to feel the London air, and it was cold enough to need gloves, and perfectly murky and grey, and I loved it. And then the park: We first walked through the outer bit (erm, obviously) and then got to the fancy gate. The plants are so, so different to Australian ones (again, obviously!) and I missed them so much. The grass is a different shade of green, in fact all the greens are different. Imagine sitting here on a warmer day? With a book and a tasty sandwich... We walked onto the bridge over the lake and saw this excellent duck, who posed for a photo. And then flew off. We could hear rushing water, and then we saw this. So I pointed at it. I am more than happy to be a tourist! We were desperate for coffee and wifi (the hotel had neither) so we went in to the cafe there. They served us coffee in a mug the size of a bathroom basin and it was horrible, but the wifi was good, and look: radiators! I LOVE radiators! (And you would too if you moved to a country that decided heating was no longer required since about 1970.) (Radiators, proper radiators, in Melbourne are a rare, rare thing, and any kind of heating is not the norm. It's really, really strange.) It was on, it was warm, it was glorious, and I sat next to it beaming even more than before, because it was cold outside but warm inside and this is a miracle! Warmed, wified- and sort of caffeined-up, we headed back into the cold to walk through the park to the nearest tube station, to go to the V&A. Are these herons? They are very tall and lovely and none of the birds were fussed that people walked so close to them Even the ducklings were ok with it. We bought Oyster cards for zones 1 and 2 (and eventually got the right ones; we first got ones for buses and trams by mistake and I couldn't work out why the machine wouldn't let me through the barrier, but the staff cheerfully pointed out our error and fixed it for us, no faff and all smiles. This was a huge, lovely surprise for us Melbournites.) And then we were off on our first tube in over 10 years! Not gonna lie, it was really exciting. It was fast! Clean! The maps are amazing! People were friendly! This is not the London I remember at all. It was a revelation. Seriously. We wanted to go to the V&A no matter what was on, but we (ok, moslty me) were delighted to find this fashion history exhibition was on. This is completely ridiculous: I follow the V&A and Amber on twitter, and knew it was on, but only in the way I've got used to knowing these things: they're on but completely irrelevant to me because I may as well be on another planet and will never, ever be able to see any of them. I honestly don't know how I hadn't managed to put this together in my head, as I knew the dates I'd be there, but there it is. That's what ten years away does to you, apparently. It was just. so. good. Here are some dodgy pics of things behind the glass. The display itself was really well done, and there was enough room to have a good look at everything. Oh I love the V&A. My favourite kind of tailoring. Of course. Dior. I have a thing for these, I just think they're really cool. After losing each other for a bit, I got a DM from John saying he'd found a lake and I'd really like it. I wasn't quite so sure, because I was hungry and just wanted to find some lunch but he insisted, and he was right. There is a big courtyard and huge lake, right in the middle of the V&A. And on the other side is the most beautiful cafe. We lined up with trays – fancy trays with prints – loaded up with wraps and salads, and sat down in the most incredible room to eat. If you can, go here for lunch. The food is really good, really cheap, and the building is knock out. Cannot believe it is so accessible. We then went on to the Natural History Museum – packed, we lasted 10 minutes, as we knew we couldn't waste any time – and then headed back to the hotel for a break. I was so, so chuffed to get a message from Jenny, inviting us to an event at the British Museum (again, I'd seen it was on, but hadn't computed that I would be there for it). I was so chuffed, as it feels a bit scary (silly, really, but still, it does) to ask people to make time for you when you visit the city they live in, and I was too shy to contact any of the Vintage Mafia etc, and it was so nice to get that welcome. We already had plans with Paul for the night and couldn't make it, and if I'm really honest my hair was looking horrible and I didn't have a vintage outfit that would have been good enough, and would have felt a bit awkward on the looks front if I had gone. We were meant to go for dinner at The Lamb, a pub near our hotel – John was busting for a pub meal – but when we got there the pub was packed, and we weren't due to meet Paul there until later anyway, so we decided on a sandwich at Pret A Manger instead. It was only about 7pm, and we were jet lagged and very, very tired – but it was far too early to quit and go back to the hotel again. So, we jumped on the tube to St Pauls – I cannot tell you how AMAZING it is to use the tube again, especially after trying to get around on Melbourne's sorry excuse for public transport – and walked around the icon and over the bridge, taking in the lights and their reflections on the Thames. It was magical, dream like. And bloody freezing. We trotted on to the Tate for hot drinks, and although the cafe had shut (despite us being there in opening hours, lies!) another bar section was open, so we sat and drank a good latte (John) and a hot chocolate (me) next to the big windows, looking out over the river, which helped us keep our heavy eyelids open.