We are in London tonight after two very long haul days. This morning we left Paris early and travelled first to Calais, took the ferry to Dover, then drove through Kent to London. We drove by Vimy Ridge memorial, and our new friends, who are Canadian, were touched to see their country's special place in France. The battle of Vimy Ridge was a turning point in the war-after twelve days of trench warfare, the Canadians took the ridge. I watched out for the connecting road signs that pointed the way back to the Somme. As we drove through Kent, Irene pointed out the oast houses and other historical aspects of the area.
Fortunately, it is a Sunday, so the traffic coming into London was light. Only after we arrived at the base did they let us know this is the first time our driver, Pino, has driven his coach in the UK-on the other side of the road. He did a great job. He followed another Insight coach in, and we were more impressed with his ability to move the big coach than that of his "leader." With cars parked on both sides of the narrow streets, manoeuvring the huge coach around corners is an artform.
Anyway, we said goodbye to the members of our tour without too much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Tash made some good friends, and all our acquaintances had grown on us. However, we were quite happy not to be staying with them; Simone and I had stayed at the Royal Thistle in Marble Arch once before. Approximately four or five buses arrived as we did. Bus tour co-ordinators are a bit like airport managers-they have everyone arrive when it suits them, not the clients. That can mean during the night or the early hours of the morning. Their base does have the advantage of being right near Oxford Street, the shopping centre, and they, the shops, stay open on Sundays.
After claiming we would not, we folded at the knees and took a black cab to our hotel, here. It was thirteen pounds, about twenty minutes' drive-through Hyde Park and Kensington gardens, which were a hive of activity. Children were riding ponies along Rotten Row, people were picnicking on the grass, and boats were out on the Serpentine. He was a nice taxi driver, and gave us a bit of a talk about things. We saw the Diana water memorial from a distance. The park looks different this time-the grass needs mowing. Tash and I have not been to London in Spring/Summer time before.
We are at base2stay, and apart from the room being tiny, it is fine. Clean and modern. Close to Earls Court Road. It is very user friendly, with a manual of useful information, including a Laundromat nearby.
For breakfast, they deliver a little box of goodies at 6 am outside your door.
Last night, for our farewell dinner in Paris, we went to Montmatre, and saw a show just down the street from Moulin Rouge. Some parts of the entertainment were spectacular, and the four course meal included foie gras, chateaubriand and cheese and sweets. All wines were included, so we were tired little bunnies for the long drive today. It was nice to have the chance to dress up, after dragging good clothes across the countries. On the way home, we passed the lit up Eiffel Tower, and drove along the river. It was a special night.
In Paris, the highlight for me was the trip up the Tower. I had not done that before, and loved the experience. Our tour director was a wizard, and we were the first group up in the morning. Irene had been a tour leader since 1971, and she knew all the tricks to get her charges through quickly. I tried my Alliance French on a lovely young woman who was the attendant on the lift. She replied charmingly, but I could not understand her. She said, in heavily accented English, "I zed, your accent is veree good."
We had dinner the other two nights in Paris in restaurants along a street of eateries, only a hundred metres from the hotel. We even had a cinema complex there, but nothing worked for us to see a movie in terms of time. It is interesting to me that we have chosen Italian food everywhere we have bought our own meals. It has been sustaining, wholesome and quite bland; neither of us has suffered from tummy problems. It is really different for me, as I did not think I liked Italian, but it has been very successful. My normal choice would be bread based foods and pastries.
We had free internet access at the beautiful Sofitel hotel at which we stayed. It had a downstairs lounge in the spacious foyer. Our waiter had been on a working holiday to Australia, and knew Perth well. We loved it there. Even the bedrooms were large enough to accommodate all of our belongings. It rather spoilt us for the future.
The tour was crammed with new experiences and people and places, and it all seems to be a blur. We will need some time to reflect upon what we have seen and where we have been.
And so here we are, resting before the final week of our holiday. We are going to send another box of goods home, as we really want to travel light now.
That night we took the Underground in to visit Picadilly Circus, the Trocadero and other haunts from past visits.
We are here for three nights, two full days, and plan to take it slowly for the remainder of our trip. We hope to see the Kew Gardens. The Chelsea Flower Show is on, but we are steering clear of the crowds. The forecast is a bit dismal-sixteen degrees with showers on and off.
The Cutty Sark has been accidentally burnt this morning, on the Docklands we drove through yesterday afternoon.
The news is still all about Madeleine, the little girl who disappeared in Portugal.
We are lodged very close to Chelsea Football Club, who has just won the FA Cup Final. Our local team, of course! David Linley's wife was mugged on her bicycle, nearby. Signs everywhere warn us of pickpockets. We walked to the Natural History Museum, had a look around and then found the Victoria and Albert Museum open and free, with a Kylie Exhibition. Because it was raining, it was a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
On the way home we went to Waitrose, a supermarket, and bought magazines and a newspaper for a quiet afternoon's rest.
This morning we did our washing at a local Laundromat, sent home a box full of things we no longer need, for eighty pounds, finalized our bookings for the Ireland leg, and confirmed our bookings home. I had all of our photos copied to disc, in case we have a disaster with the computer. I was engaged in conversation by a local lady at the Post Office, who charmingly complained about the Services having "Gone to the dogs."
Her premise was that there are people in the Postal service, from other countries, who are unable to read the addresses on the parcels and "Things are being delivered to the strangest places." I told her I was Australian. She said she knew I was not a local-I think she wanted to have a complaint-fest to anyone who would listen. She was quietly spoken, but seemed bewildered about the changing scene around her. I wondered if she owned a home in the area, but my turn came up, and I left her standing in the queue.
On our last day in London, the sun shone, and we took ourselves to Kew Gardens. They are like a large Park, rather than gardens. There was a palace of King George III and also a picnic cottage of Queen Charlotte, and I assume the Gardens were their private world whilst they lived there.
The gardens have grassed areas, huge mature trees of various shapes and sizes and flower beds. There were lakes and conservatories. It was a great day. We picknicked beside a lake then walked over much of the area. Because the Chelsea Flower Show was on, there were few people there, and we were often the only ones in secluded areas of the trees. It was lovely.
On the other hand, Tashie was horrified by the intrusive sounds of the 747s which flew above, almost every minute or so, as Heathrow airport is close by.
Later, we went to a French movie, in Chelsea, and lots of the shops had decorated their show windows with floral tributes. Everyone was very happy, I think because Chelsea had won the FA Cup Final.
So, we booked out of the Base2stay and were soon on our way to Heathrow and Ireland.