Travel Diary: Europe, 2018

Join Stephen and Rona Yarrow, and Steve and Debbie Hall, as they trek around England, Wales and Scotland during September 2018. In the first week of October they take the ferry to Amsterdam, then travel by train through Germany, Austria and Switzerland on their way to northern Italy. There's a lot to see in a very short time, but somebody has to do it!

Penny Lane will be "in our ears and in our eyes", though being "there beneath the blue suburban skies" is a bit of wishful thinking, knowing what the weather is like in Liverpool in September!

For something a little different in London we plan to do "The Monopoly Walk" in which you visit every place on the Monopoly board and take a photo of yourself to prove you've been right around the board.

The idea of doing the trip began when I said to Debbie and Steve, "Let me take you down 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields". Debbie responded by saying, "Can we also go to Appleby? I want to see where the Appleby dynasty began". Rona concurred by singing, "We're all someone's daughter, we're all someone's son" and Steve jumped at the opportunity to don his scarf and beanie and head off to Goodwood to watch some old fashioned motor racing.

Over the last few months we have been bombarded with tips on everything from how to sleep during a long distance flight to the best place to get a coffee in Paris (not very useful, unfortunately, because we are not going to Paris). Thank you everyone for your contributions! So what is on our list of things to see and do? For Rona and I there'll be a little Deja Vu as we catch up with friends and relatives, and show off some familiar places (like the place where I had my first brush with The Law at the age of seven) to our First Timer friends.

Debbie in disguise as Mr Monopoly, plans to go hunting for Jack the Ripper, but will no doubt come across a Monopoly board railway station or two in her travels

We'll sample Bakewell Tarts at Bakewell, Yorkshire Pudding in Yorkshire, Wensleydale Cheese in Wensleydale, Parmigiana at Parma, Bolognese Sauce at Bologna and Ferraris at Modena. On the way we'll visit the village in Austria where the Christmas Carol "Silent Night" was written and first performed; take a tour around the Cutty Sark - the most famous 19th century clipper that brought wool from Australia to Britain; track down Jack The Ripper in the back lanes of London; go Nessie hunting on Loch Ness; ride a section of the line made famous by Hogart's Express, and scour Sherwood Forest in search of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men.

We also plan to take a glance at Lady Godiva as she rides through Coventry 'au natuale'; check out Ann Frank's house; drop in for tea with William Shakespeare; pop by the homes of numerous composers, including Handel, Verdi, Puccini and Mozart (though I suspect none of them will be home), and see if the hills of Austria are still alive with the Sound of Music ... plus a whole lot more.

Wednesday 5th September 2018

It's about 4.30am and I can't sleep - I think I'm ovetired - so I've decided to get up while the others sleep, and update the travelogue. This means I won't have to be up until all hours of the night this evening, which wasn't something I was looking forward to. As per yesterday's post, we spent the day checking out the regular things people come to London to see - Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey etc. so we can focus on some more specific things and places that we'd like to see before heading off to Endinburgh on Monday.

Our accommodation is a 2 bedroom Air BNB apartment in Southwalk (pronounced Suzz-ick). It has a great kitchen (though no one has been game to use it yet). Though the near new unit is on the fouth floor there is no view, unless you can call five railway lines almost outside the window a view. That's OK though because the unit was chosen for its location, and it is totally soundproof. It is 10 minutes walk to an underground station, 5 minutes walk from the River Thames and nothing that one comes to London to see is too far away to reach, either by Underground train, or by walking.

Yesterday, after getting settled into our unit, we took the 10 minute walk up to the River, and followed it west towards Westminster Bridge passed Tate Modern Art Gallery, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, the Millenium Bridge and The London Eye, a giant ferris wheel on the southern bank of the Thames - almost facing Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. The carnival atmosphere and crowds of people enjoying the pleasant weather reminded me of Circular Quay in Sydney when a cruise boat is in. It is a good walk (see my review) with plenty of recognisable icons dotting the skyline, inculding Tower Bridge, St Paul's Cathedral, the church of St Martin In The Fields (the fields have been turned into Trafalgar Square but the church survives), plus some iconic new buildings with names like The Shard, the Cheese Grater, the Gherkin, the Skalpel, The Trellis, Flower Power and the Walkie Talkie.

London's 'new' skyline featuring the Walkie Talkie (left), The Cheese Grater (centre) and The Gherkin (right)

100 Leadenhall is famously referred to as the Cheesegrater for its sharply slanting side that maintains a clear view of St Paul's, while the 206-meter development under construction at 52 Lime Street has been nicknamed The Scalpel for the acute angles formed by its tapering shape. Many of these new iconic buildings were controversial when built. It comes as no surprise that one of the most recent buildings, 20 Fenchurch Street or 'The Walkie Talkie' is one of the most controversial on the list. Opened in January 2015, the 34-storey building is visible from many places across London and won that year's Carbuncle Cup for worst new building in the UK. It is also home to the UK's highest public park, the Sky Garden, which spans the top 3 floors of the building and is accessible via express lifts. Unlike some others on this list, the building called The Gherkin at 30 St Mary Axe is critically acclaimed as a piece of architecture and has won prizes from RIBA as well as being voted the most admired new building in the world.

Tate Modern is one of the largest modern art galleries in the world. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, it is directly opposite St Paul's Cathedral and is a beautiful example of London's juxtaposition of traditional old buildings with exciting contemporary architecture.

Big Ben, Elizabeth Tower and the Houses of Parliament partially under wraps

A ride on the London Eye was given consideration, but the queue, the cost and the fact that it takes an hour to do the loop on it relegated this popular London attraction to the "next time" category. Big Ben, Elizabeth Tower and the Houses of Parliament were all looking a little sad - wrapped in scaffolding during their first major restoration work in 200 years. It would have been nice to see them 'au naturale' but the other side of the coin is we got to see them in a way that people will have to wait another two centuries to see again.

Rona, Debbie and Steve at Westminster Abbey

I wouldn't be surpised if the 11th century Westminster Abbey is next on the list for a bit of an exterior touch up as it needs it. Its walls, vaulted undercrofts, towers and iconic flying butresses are looking patchy and dirty and a little worse for wear, but it is still spectacular and hasn't stopped hordes of people from queueing up to take a tour through it. For every person in the queue, or posing for a selfie with the world's most famous abbey, there was another person oblivious to the significance of the spectacle, milling around in groups, shouting at passers by and waving placards. Each had their own beef that they wanted to get across to the politicians and government officials in the nearby government buildings and anyone else who dared stop. The area around the Old Palace Yard looked like a scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian, with bug-eyed soothsayers shouting out their words of wisdom and waving flyers and placards in the faces of the stony-faced police officers lining the footpath, keeping the peace.

Charles and Camilla leaving St James Palace

We were more interested in seeing the sights so we headed off for a stroll through St James Park and up The Mall for a glimpse of a royal or two on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Again there were swarms of tourists milling around snapping selfies and gazing on the royal residence, hoping in vain to see a little action from its residents. On our walk away from the palace down The Mall, we came across a group of excited people, iphones in hand, milling around the entrance gates of St James Palace, which a number of royals call home. As we walked up the gate opened, a couple of mounted police (on motorcycles, not horses) passed through, followed by Prince Charles and Camilla in separate cars.

Contented in having made a 'royal sighting', we continued down the Mall to Trafalgar Square. Steve was hoping to get a photo of one of the stone lions that didn't have little kids crawling all over it, but such was not to be, so he wandered around getting plenty of shots of tourists sitting on the edge of the fountains while Rona and Debbie went to spend a penny. These days, however, the deal is not as good as it used to be - it cost's 50p for 'a pee' - that's inflation for you.

Traflagar Square

By now it was about 2pm, but the change in time zones was starting to play havoc with our minds and we couldn't figure out whether it was time for lunch, time for breakfast or time for bed! Lunch won the day so we stopped in at a Garfunkels cafe for a bite to eat before heading back to our unit, which we then discovered was a long but interesting hour's walk away. Needless to say there was plenty to keep us amused on our way back. We posed for a picture with members of the Royal cavalry on guard outside their barracks and passed another group of protesters singing 'God Save The Queen' on our way to photograph the famous "New Scotland Yard" sign outside their home.

St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral wasn't quite on our way home, but we took a detour so we could get a few external photos before heading back across the Thames using the Millenium Bridge, which isn't far from our unit. All in all, it was a very tiring day but we saw lots of sights. According to Debbie's FitBit watch, we put in 30,000 steps, which equates to approx. 100 km (just kiddng - it's actually about 21km). That included 25 laps around the aeroplane, which they say keeps the Deep Vein Thrombosis away. After a breezy start, the day remained cloudy but reached a surprisingly muggy 21 degrees C. Tomorrow we are heading off by train into the country to visit Canterbury.

- Stephen Yarrow

Tuesday, 4th September 2018

Our journey began on Tuesday morning when Rona and I met up with Steve and Debbie Hall at Sydney International Airport prior to our departure to London. We only encountered one little hitch - the spelling on one of the names on the flight tickets was slightly different to that on the passport. Singapore Airlines spat their dummy, and said they needed to be the same. It was a quick fix - all they had to do was open up our booking on their computer, change the name, press "save" and print out the new tickets. Thumbs down to Singapore Airlines for charging $100.00 for what amounted to 3 minutes' work.

Our flight was via Singapore with a 6 hour stopover there. It was longer than we would have liked but it broke the journey nicely and gave us some time to plan our first day in London.

We landed at Heathrow just before sunrise, and by 9am had already caught the train into London City, found our Air BNB accommodation, checked in and were just about ready to head out the door. It had always been our plan to do a quick tour of London's major attractions on the first afternoon, and by the end of our first day in London, we had already checked out the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The Mall, Trafalgar Square, and Cleopatra's Needle, the Millenium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral (all from the outside, I must add). We even got to see Prince Charles and Camilla leaving St James Palace under a police escort, and visited four places on the Monolopy Board.

We apologise that this, our first post for the trip, is a little on the boring side, but we are all extremely tird and need an early night. We'll share a bit more om our next post.

Y'all come back now, y'hear!

- Stephen Yarrow.

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