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!

Previous posts

4.9.2018: Sydney to London
5.9.2018: London

6.9.2018: Canterbury, UK
7-9.2018: London City

Saturday 8th September 2018

I always plan our overseas trips in considerable detail to ensure everything has been covered, but I've learnt not to be too rigid, as circumstances can and do change, requiring a re-scheduling of events. Such was the case today. I went online this morning to check out the timetable for trains to Windsor from London, only to discover that there is a railway strike on. Not only will buses replace trains, they will run once an hour instead of twice and hour. That not only meant a 30 minute journey would now take just under 2 hours, we would have to wait an hour for the next service if we missed the bus.


There was an easy solution - follow our Sunday itenerary today, and set tomorrow's itinerary tomorrow when we will know if the strike will continue into Sunday or not. That meant today's activities would now revolve around a day on the River Thames. The hop on-hop off ferry was a lot cheaper than taking a river cruise and included more stops but no commentary. The London Bridge ferry wharf is only 10 minutes walk from our apartment so we headed there, and decided to take the first ferry, irrespective of where it went. It was headed upsteam to Battersea so we enjoyed an interesting trip past Westminster Bridge, The Houses of Parliament and The London Eye. Upon reaching Battersea, we stayed on the ferry and came back, alighting at The Embankment, which is where all four ferry services meet.


Next we boarded the Greenwich ferry, hoping to stop at the Tower of London, but we were advised that the ferry wasn't stopping at the Tower of London as there was an annual rowing race taking place on the river. Consequently, our destination was changed to Greenwich. That didn't bother us one bit as there is plenty to see and do at Greenwich. It was at the British Observatory at Greenwich that Zero Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time were set back in the days when the British Empire was at its zenith and Britannia ruled the waves. It is from Zero Meridian that the latitude of every place on earth is calculated, and from here that the earth's time zones have been determined.

National Maritime Museum

The promise of a pleasant but cloudy Saturday had enticed both locals and overseas visitors out in droves. Furthermore, it was market day in Greenwich and there were plenty of stallholders offering everything from home-knitted clothing to jams, cakes and hand crafted confectionery. We used our London Passes to gain entry to the National Maritime Museum, housed in the old Greenwich Military College, and the Royal Observatory. Both had interesting displays, with the later featuring a Zero Meridien line embedded into the ground where you can look down and take a photo of your feet straddling the line.

Had time permitted, we would have also paid a visit to the Cutty Sark, a famous 19th century clipper that operated on the Britain-Australia run carrying wool and supplies, but we had already booked an evening tour that limited the amount of time available. When we decided it was time to leave, we discovered that half the visitors to Greenwich had the same idea and so we had to join a queue that stretched from the ferry wharf all the way into town. We initially thought we were in for a long wait, but hadn't realised London is as efficient with its ferry services as it is with its underground trains. As one full ferry pulled out, another empty ferry pulled in and before long we were on our way.

Englanders are proud of their fish and chips and so we decided to partake of some at an old bar on the southbank waterfront - The Anchor. The place was built in 1645, 25 years before Lieut. James Cook sailed the coast of New South Wales and claimed as British territory. The Anchor has operated continuously since that time, and judging by the number of patrons spilling out onto the street because there was no room inside, I can't see it having to close down any time soon through lack of patronage. Our fish and chips were served with another food synonymous with British cuisine - mushy peas.

The theme of our evening tour was Jack The Ripper, the notorious 19th century serial killer who chose his victims at random from among the prostitutes of London's Whitechapel district. We boarded an iconic Roadmaster London Bus at Victoria Coach Station, and headed towards Whitechapel while enjoying a commentary about some of the places we were passing. Upon arrival our group jossled for space around the five major Ripper murder sites with a number of other Jack The Ripper tour groups. We were told we were standing on the "exact spot" where the murders took place - no doubt the other tours groups standing a stone's throw away were told the same. Our guide was a typical Cockney with a twinkle in his eye, who embellished every story with detail that I suspect stretched the truth somewhat.

Tower of London guard

Sunday 9th September 2018

The cold Rona has been fighting with a great degree of success all week, decided to have one last attempt to bring her down, resulting in her losing her voice. As we still had the Tower of London and Tower Bridge to see, we decided to knock them off in the morning, and then head for Windsor in the afternoon. Debbie and Steve, who had never been to The Tower, found the buildings and displays quite fascinating, and it soon became clear we weren't going to make Windsor if we gave The Tower and Bridge the time they deserved.

They say "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". We, however, were in England, but as England was once a far-flung colony of the Roman Empire, we thought it right to apply the same principle when selecting what to savour for lunch. Steve chose the traditional British Sunday lunch - Roast Beef, Roast Potatoes and Yorkshire Pudding. I was about to do the same until I spotted Beef suet pudding on the menu. Mum used to make it from time to time in winter when I was a kid, so I chose that. Rona also recalled the dish with affection and ordered it; Debbie had never heard of it but decided to gave it a try on our recommendation. She was not disappointed, and neither were the rest of us with what was our first taste of local fare on this trip.

After a few hours of wandering around The Tower of London, Steve began looking longingly at Tower Bridge next door, no doubt hoping someone would suggest we move on and take a tour of it, which we eventually did. The tour includes climbing to the top and viewing the roadway below through a glass walkway on the bridge's top span, as well as going into the bowels of the earth to see the mechanism that lifts its two spans.

Steve and Debbie did the tour by themselves - Rona and I gave it a miss, having already toured the bridge on a previous occasion. Much to their delight, the bridge spans opened to let an old sailing vessel through while they were on the glass walkway, and they managed to get some spectacular photos of the ship below.

A short distance from our home underground railway station - London Bridge - is The Shard, a 95-story skyscraper, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. It forms part of the Shard Quarter development. The distinctive shape of The Shard has redefined the London skyline. As it is the tallest structure in the European Union, its owners had the bright idea of erecting a viewing platform. From it, you can take in a breathtaking 360-degree view of London from more than 300 meters above the city.

If you can't see at least three of the following landmarks - The London Eye, St Paul's Cathedral, The Gherkin, Tower Bridge and One Canada Square - on the day of your visit, the good folks at The Shard invite you to return within 3 months for free. We could see them all plus a whole lot more, snapping away with our cameras to our heart's content.

- Stephen Yarrow.

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