First we went for a walk through Russell Square, which was right next to out hotel. It looked magical in the morning light. It's so amazing seeing these beautiful squares right in the middle of a big city. Other people were already up and about, too, having a coffee or going for a run. Good place for it, too. Turn 90 degrees and snap – another amazing view. And then we went in search for some wifi. It was so frustrating that the hotel's just didn't work. We were relying on it to plan everything, but it was easy enough to find. Although all walks were slowed down by photo taking. The buildings here are non stop beautiful. We found our wifi at a chain cafe, and paid for it with more enormous yuck coffees – but the wifi was fast, so, you know, swings and roundabouts. We decided that our first call would be at Portobello Market. It's only open on Sunday (I think?) and it was on the list of places to go as we hadn't been together before, and I hadn't been for years, even before I left London. So, we were off on another quick walk past more incredible buildings to Holborn Station, and a zoom westwards on the red line to Notting Hill Gate. We still couldn't get over how fast and pleasant the tube was. Finding the market is easy – you just follow the crowd and before you know it, there you are. I hadn't been since I was in my teens, when I didn't like it very much. I remember going to Notting Hill a few times when I was 7 or 8, with a friend and her family. Back then it was Not That Posh, unlike now. I remember the big tall houses with the columns and the stairs to the front doors, but their white paints was dirty and crumbling, and me and my friend were far more interested in the curbs, which were sometimes two or three steps up from the road, instead of the usual single one. They are still there, of course! Something that really struck me, as we walked past the brightly painted cottages in that soft English sunshine, was how nice Spring actually is. I hear all about it here, of course, as we are having our Autumn, but when our turn for Spring comes it's never that good. Well, it's never really anything at all. For almost as long as I can remember – there was one exception when I first moved here, maybe my second Spring time here – it just stays as cold as winter, we grumble about it, and then bam! it's hot. We don't have the amazing blooming of plants and trees and flowers, as we saw in London. (Our Autumn feels more like Spring, as everything that died in summer starts to come back). I was so chuffed to see it, as I'd all but forgotten that it ever existed! And isn't it lovely! The market was quite busy and we were happy to just wander north. We liked Admiral Vernon, who supervised our journey from a comfy spot with an excellent view. Some houses are pastel, and some are brighter. And the big impressive pubs on the corners are always familiar. Next up, as we were having a West London day, was Little Venice. I'd never even heard of it, never mind been, until a few years ago. The amazing thing abut London is you can go to more than one place in the same day, or even the same morning/afternoon, using public transport. (You can't really do that in Melbourne.) We walked up through Portobello Market, and found Westbourne Park (or was it Ladbroke Grove? I already can't remember!) tube. From there it was just minutes to Paddington, and then one stop back west on the brown line (yes I know their names, but I like – no, LOVE – the efficient colour coding, so indulge me!) to Warwick Avenue. We guessed our way to the canal and got it right first go – and one short walk later we were looking at something very beautiful, right in the middle of the city I'd grown up in. We wondered up the shaded side, past the houseboats, almost disturbing the gents having some sneaky beers behind a bush, and then picked a bridge to cross over. And the views were pretty spesh. We were happily lost at this point, so just enjoyed the walk back through the streets, with the flats on one side and the grand houses on the other. This street was especially post card London, with the street lamps, railings, and red phone box and pillar box. And we'd managed to walk back to where we needed to be, too – the tube! We went back to the hotel for a quick nap, and then Paul picked us up (thank you!) and whisked us off to East London, where he lives. We met his lovely partner L and his adorable daughter J, and walked past more houseboats, this time along Hackney Marshes – again, somewhere I'd never been. I think I remember the name but I had no idea anything like this was here. It's surprisingly busy, with lots of other walkers, runners, and the people who live on the house boats that line both sides of the skinny river. Sun sets are soft and slow in London, and we had plenty of twilight to stroll along the river banks, while J explored and played with plants she picked and we took it all in, this huge expanse of grass and wetlands, cut across once by a dark steel bridge for the trains flashing their way through north up to Walthamstow. It managed to feel lonely and alive at the same time. We crossed over later on, walking past the lush green hills that are covered in snow in the winter and tobogganed down by locals. Oh, for snow, a hill and a tray! I haven't even seen snow for over 10 years. Our first stop was the Anchor and Hope, an old pub surrounded by newer flats, still holding on to its turf (good), and I put my camera away for the night. Then it was another walk past terraced Victorian houses to the Crooked Billet in Clapton, another old pub filled with a new crowd. And then we were off again, past more rows of classic East End houses, and a city fox – who casually trotted past us, clearly having more important business elsewhere – stopping in at Testi, a Turkish restaurant in Stoke Newington, for amazingly good food – hooray for local knowledge. I admit, at this point my jetlag was kicking in, and I was at that horrible tired stage where it takes ages – and a lot of concentration – to build up to talking, and then it takes almost as long to stop, but we had an amazing time, and were so, SO chuffed to catch up with long lost friends, and meet new ones, and all in awesome local-approved places. BIG THANK YOUS!!!
Monday, 5 May 2014
London, day two: West and East, canals, river boats, city foxes and spring
Our second full day in London was a Sunday, and we woke up very early again – but no complaints, it meant we could get out there sooner! We were out nice and early and were treated to the most gloriously sunny morning, with blue skies and crisp air, and a romantic mist that slowly rose to reveal a beautiful city on its day off. (So that romantic mist turned out to be dust from the Sahara and was in fact some terrible air quality, but it looked great.)