Tonight: Despite our best-laid plans, our travel was initially upset by the Qantas engineers’ “requirements” (strike). We were bused to the Ibis Hotel in Darling Harbour in Sydney to spend our first night, instead of in Singapore.
Once we got to Singapore, we managed to grab six hours’ “horizontal time” at the Traders’ Hotel, before getting on the Qantas flight for London at 2 am the next morning.
Flying over London at 7 am in fine weather was breathtaking. The first landmark that was pointed out to me on the edge of the Thames was “The London Eye,” as it has become known: the highest ferris wheel in the world. Then I saw the Tower Bridge and felt like I was really in London. Londoners believe it to be the most famous bridge in the world, and yet most outsiders don’t even know its name: “Isn’t it London Bridge?” they ask.
While waiting to get on the underground, who should come along and get in the same carriage, but Ann Packman, Mark’s colleague, who is attending the Oxford Dysfluency Convention with him. Then the hard part began; we had to take the subway during peak hour from Heathrow Airport to Russell Square Station, about two dozen stops further on. We are staying for two nights at the Russell Hotel, opposite the Russell Park with its oak tree planted in memory of the people affected by the terrorist attacks on the transport system in 2005. It’s a fancy-looking hotel with chandeliers and floral carpets in the Victorian style. Comfortable but fairly basic inside the rooms.
Samuel Johnson once said: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” So true. There is so much to see and to do in this grand metropolis. Wonderful theatre, pubs, art galleries, museums, monuments, and, of course, shops and markets.
I have already seen the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum (not far from the hotel). I’ve hopped on a tourist bus to see Fleet Street, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower Bridge, and I’ve taken a ferry under six of the bridges across the Thames. As well as walking, walking, walking; getting lost in Covent Garden in the West End; and walking again for hours.
What strikes me is how different this culture is from our Australian one. I have become obsessed with the quaint place names and have started memorising some of them: The Elephant and Castle, Ye Olde Cock Tavern, The Slug and Lettuce, Shoe Lane, Fetter Lane, the Wig and Pen Restaurant, Site of the Devil Tavern, and Toffee Nose of Covent Garden.
Yesterday was warm and sunny, and people lay on every patch of grass, many of the men shirtless, like seals on rocks. This is unusual. But, despite the relative lack of sunny skies, I could easily live in this place for a year or two. Like Paris, grey skies even suit it. And it is the perfect place for the art of “flâner”: to wander the streets and to discover something serendipitous around every corner. You’ve also got the big buses and the underground to take you all over the place.
I want to come back to this amazing city, which my paternal grandfather, Pop Skyvington, left when he was sixteen.