On our outward journey through London we observed that only coloured people spoke English like a native and everyone with a fair skin spoke with an accent. Having spent two full days here, nothing has made us change our mind. Our waitress on Friday night was from some indeterminate eastern European country, last night from Poland, and tonight coloured. Strolling through Hyde Park this afternoon we heard every language and accent imaginable. There is, however, one exception. The tour guides employed by Big Bus, the "hop on hop off" transportation company we used all appear to be ex-military, English to the core and passionately patriotic. They make no effort to conceal their disdain for the French and take delight in belittling Americans. The only problem with the latter being that they lap up the humour and appear totally unaware they are being insulted!
To be fair, the proprietor of our hotel is English and most of the staff we have encountered appear native born English ladies, so my generalization contains a degree of hyperbole.
We had our breakfast here this morning and walked round to the tube station where we caught a train to the Embankment and walked up to St. Martin's in the Fields at Trafalgar Square. We then walked around the square and admired the statues and took photos, then went to the aforementioned Big Bus stand where we joined a group for a Royal Walking Tour to see the Changing of the Guard. We proceeded, via several statues of Royalty, to St. James's Palace where we saw the Old Guard being inspected, then accompanied them at a brisk trot to Buckingham Palace. We were then led through St. James' Park to where the new guard was ready to march out to the Palace. Continuing alongside them, we saw them enter the Palace Courtyard and watched part of the actual hand over ceremony. The pomp and circumstance is impressive, but even more impressive was the skill with which the guide handled the sixty or so tourists under his care. That Christine heeded his urging to hurry, trot, almost run, is incontrovertible proof of his expertise.
We then returned through St. James' Park to see the wildlife and across Whitehall to get the Big Bus to try and catch a photo we missed yesterday of Big Ben through the London Eye. One only has a split second to get it as the bus passes a gap in the buildings. We dismounted soon after, had lunch at a cafe then walked along the embankment to catch another Big Bus back to its starting point at Green Park. We planned to transfer to another route they run to take us to Harrods, but as we waited a Harrods complimentary bus drew up, so we took that instead.
Harrods is ... well, Harrods. Nothing in our experience quite compares. They sell everything from hams to furs; from perfume to designer handbags - all at prices to make a good Edmontonian blanche. We escaped with an overpriced mug with ten tea bags as a souvenir.
We walked over to Hyde Park and had a stroll along the Serpentine to Kensington Gardens, watching people and geese - even some Canada Geese who have migrated. We stopped for coffee (Christine) and ice cream (Iain) then left on the northern end of the park where we caught another Big Bus which took us to areas we had not visited, including passing the Langham Hotel where Ryan and Judy's son Sean works then round areas we had previously passed. While it was interesting to see these places as dusk fell, so did the temperature, and upstairs in an open top bus is guaranteed to catch whatever wind is going. By the time we reached our destination and found a place to dine we were frozen. We had a good meal while we warmed up, then strolled through Victoria Station, making use of an ATM and on to the Victoria Coach Station to make arrangements for our trip back to Heathrow tomorrow. Then it was time to pack. The number of times we have to do this now is limited, which is one of the few benefits we see in this trip coming to an end.
London is an experience. We have barely scratched the surface - I know I must have said that about most of the places we have visited, but there is so much more to see and do. I had never seriously considered taking an extended vacation in a city - it seemed almost an oxymoron, but I believe I could happily spend a week or more here and still feel there was much to see. Just tonight as we went to Victoria Station it was hard to conceive that east of the station was a busy bustling metropolis with buses, taxis and traffic roaring through the streets while the sidewalks are crowded with individuals, some bent on a mission, others killing time or harassing passers by. This in contrast to the streets west of the station, where our hotel is situated, where traffic is light, pedestrians few and a sense of peace and calmness exists. Not 100 metres from here is a square where it is reckoned one quarter of the wealth of Europe is situated; Margaret Thatcher, Andrew Lloyd Webber and others of similar stature have their homes; the richest man in Britain rents his home from the second richest man in Britain; On the east side people are asleep in doorways and benches. Such contrasts provide an interesting tapestry to investigate and absorb., as do the number and variety of points of interest, museums, even just strolling unfamiliar streets. A return visit is demanded.
Tomorrow we set off for Edinburgh by air and on to Perth by borrowed car as we leave behind the new and fascinating and start our return to the familiar and known.