Since my last visit to London in 1975, the city has changed remarkably in demographics. English is occasionally heard on the streets and the multi-cultural mix is quite vibrant.
Hip hop artist at work.
We were quite knackered on returning from our road trip, so to Michelle’s great disappointment, we opted for a quiet evening with a bottle of wine on our first night back.
After a good night’s sleep we were ready to go again on Thursday and so, set forth to visit the Victoria and Albert museum in Chelsea around 10am. This is a museum with an amazing collection, which we plan to visit again before we leave. On the way to a lunch date, we passed Harrods, the temple of ostentatious consumerism. The girls wanted to have a sticky beak, but I bolted back onto the pavement when confronted by the special of the week: a $365,000 diamond encrusted ladies watch. I watched a guy doing a sand sculpture on the sidewalk, for $2 in his collection box.
We joined Pedro Roos, a prominent architect in London for a pleasant lunch at the Saatchi gallery in Chelsea. Pedro was a classmate of Annie’s at University. He lives in Surrey and has a weekender in Normandy, France.
Karen our eldest daughter arrived in London after lunch and found her way to our place in Brick Lane by about 3pm. She will be in London for a week to catch up with friends and to do a surgery course at St Thomas’ hospital, across the Thames from parliament. It is great to have the whole family together again in more than a year and a half.
The girls have stamina, so despite Karen’s long flight from Oz, we hit the tiles to celebrate her arrival. First, it was drinks at a Speakeasy pub in Whitehall, with an excellent trio playing jazz. Then it was dinner at Michelle’s favourite music venue, The Jazz Kitchen, with a six-piece brass outfit playing.
On Friday while the girls did their own thing, Annie and I set out on our own tour visiting some contemporary buildings, like the Gherkin, in our area. We visited the 36th floor of the “Walkie talkie” building to check out the 360-degree view of London and have a beer on the 35th floor terrace. We walked to the Tower of London and the Tower bridge, before taking the tube to Soho.
At six-thirty, we were in Soho to meet for drinks with Shirin Elahi architect, who studied with us at Pretoria university. Shirin has been living in London since 1980 and has two daughters the same age as ours. By 7pm we were joined by more old school and Uni friends of Annie’s and had a great dinner and evening in Soho. We managed to stumble home by 1 am.
Next instalment: Recovery on Saturday and a visit to Greenwich.
Driving North from Kent, we had to travel through the Dartford tunnel on the very busy M25 freeway to Cambridge. This was the only congested section of road we encountered – due to many trucks joining the road, enroute from the continent. We arrived at our B&B in Cambridge by late morning and spent the afternoon exploring the old city centre. Compared to Oxford, the colleges were bigger and each of them had an imposing church attached to it. Again, lots of history and a lovely relaxed ambiance.
The next morning at 8:30 we set off on the longish 7-hour drive to Edinburgh in Scotland (350 miles/560km). We had about 2 hours of heavy rain on this section, which was the only rain encountered on our 10-day road trip. We were very lucky and happy with the good weather.
Another excellent Airbnb near the centre of Edinburgh and the following day we explored the historic castle dating back to 1083 and the old town, before driving through the highlands to Inverness in the North. The Castle pub in Inverness had haggis on the menu, which was excellent, served with mash, sweet potato chips and a whisky sauce, washed down with Guinness.
The drive from Inverness along Loch Ness down to Oban was spectacular, to the point of my eyes watering. We arrived at my old friend Murdoch MacDougall (Jock’s) place by midday on Sunday. We met back in 1970 when he, as a young 22-year-old, arrived in South Africa and spent 30 years there before returning to Scotland. Being from the island of Barra, he speaks Gaelic, which he teaches at the local high school. We had a pleasant day catching up, with Jock showing us around town and having dinner at an excellent seafood restaurant.
We were sad to leave the next day, but still had a few places to visit. Jock’s son Michael has settled in Sydney and Jock promised to come and visit us sometime. On the way South along the west coast of the UK, we stopped at the Falkirk wheel near Falkirk. Designed by the architect Tony Kettle, it is a rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde canal with the Union canal. It was opened in 2002 and lifts boats 24 metres, replacing 11 locks.
Not far from the wheel, are the beautiful 30m high sculptures called the Kelpies, completed in 2013. The Kelpies represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges and coal ships that shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area. We stayed overnight in Gretna Green, just North of the Scottish border.
The following day was a short drive to Liverpool where I had to go and pay homage to the Beatles, the group that swept a 16-year-old teenager from Benoni in South Africa, off his feet in the early sixties. An emotional time was spent at the Cavern club, where we had a couple of beers with a crowd of people of similar vintage, from all corners of the world. We were listening and singing along to a young fellow, who not only knew every song composed by the Fab Four, but also sang the Lennon and McCartney vocals in a Merseyside scouse accent.
Outfitted with a new collection of Cavern and Beatles tee shirts, a contented Muller drove back to London. We dropped the car off at the rental company having travelled 1,821 miles (nearly 3000 km) in 10 days. We moved into an Airbnb in trendy Brick Lane near Petticoat Lane for the next 10 days.
Before our next post, some thoughts on our British driving experience: The Brits are very patient and good drivers, whether you are driving along a narrow country lane at 40 miles/hour or along the freeways at 80m/h. The roads are in very good condition for the most part and we didn’t see one accident. Compared to nanny state NSW in Australia, where all cars have to park in the same direction in the parking lane, here they can face either way.
It is unnecessary to fit indicators on British cars, as nobody uses them – you become very good at reading minds on roundabouts and intersections. Similarly, they could save the expense of green and red pedestrian signals at intersections, as jaywalking is an Olympic event in the UK.
More about London in our next post.
All 469 seats on the British Airways Airbus A380 were occupied on the flight from Singapore to Heathrow. Despite the full house, the service on this flight, even in cattle class, was excellent. The unflappable crew were friendly and retained their sense of humour.
We landed at Heathrow at 5:30 am on Friday the 9th September and caught the train into London, changing lines twice to arrive at Hackney central where Michelle our daughter welcomed us at around 7:30. A short walk to the terrace house she shares with three young friends, a quick shower, breakfast and then the sight-seeing started – she had an orientation itinerary lined up for us.
First, a walk through the local Victoria Park where she frequently jogs or cycles along the Regent’s canal, before taking the underground to St Paul’s. From here her tour involved a walk across the Millennium bridge to the South Bank, the Tate Gallery, the National theatre, the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament, before getting on the underground at Westminster back to Hackney.
No rest though, for the evening meant going to the Dalston Jazz Bar to listen to a jazz trio. This venue is a social enterprise venue for training people in hospitality and after a five course meal, you pay what you think the meal and the service was worth!
Saturday morning, a brisk walk to the Broadway markets for coffees and a look around. Then it started raining.
Plan B kicked in: let’s visit the British Museum. I was relishing this opportunity, as I always wanted to see the Elgin marbles and the Rosetta stone. I must admit that I thought the marbles were just that, maybe a bit bigger than what we played with at school. In my first year of architecture, I learned in architectural history that these were the marble friezes from the Parthenon in Athens “rescued” by Lord Elgin.
We attended the Hackney Empire theatre in the evening for the final night of Macbeth, funded by the Hackney council and the Andrew Lloyd Webber trust.
On Sunday morning we took the underground to Vauxhall, to have breakfast with Michelle’s cousins, Paulo and Julia.
This was followed by a bus ride to Buckingham Palace, from where we walked through Green park to Hyde Park and Speaker’s corner, to listen to some nut case oratory. We then caught the tube at Marble Arch, back to Hackney for a drink at Michelle’s local, the Pub in the Park. We had dinner prepared by Michelle for us and her housemates, Andrew, Tim and Naomi.
Michelle arranged the hire of a compact Vauxhall Corsa and on Monday we set off on a 10 day road trip, starting with Oxford and the Cotswolds. This is a really beautiful part of England.
We were bowled over by Cotswold towns like Bourton-on-the-water and Stow-on-the-Wold, where we stayed over at Jim and Carol, our first Airbnb hosts. This couple, our ages, are motoring enthusiasts and competed at Nurburgring just last month in their Mazda MX5. Different strokes for different folks!
Continuing through the Cotswolds, we visited Bibury, Painswick and Castle Combe, before staying over in Bath at Nick and Madeleine, in their beautiful 200-hundred-year old sandstone terrace house, overlooking Bath.
The following day we visited the Roman baths, the pump house and the Royal Crescent terraces, before driving on to Stonehenge where the management of the hordes of tourists has been improved substantially since my last visit. We stopped off for tea and scones in Salisbury, before visiting the cathedral, still one of my favourite cathedrals.
We stayed over in Brighton, the seaside resort on the South coast where the burnt out pier has been replaced by the controversial British Airways i360 vertical pier.
Our travels then took us into Kent “the garden of England” and towns like Royal Tunbridge Wells from where we headed North on a very busy freeway to Cambridge. More will follow in our next post.
And now, from sailing to travel.
This blog is called the Schady-Muller sailing and travel blog. So, after three and a half months of sailing on Esprit, it was time to take a break and travel on land.
We left Esprit tied on fore and aft pole moorings at Bowen marina in tropical north Queensland and took a shuttle bus to Proserpine airport for the flight to Brisbane. A quick transfer from domestic to international got us on a flight to Singapore, where we arrived late afternoon for a three-day stay in the city.
Annie found us a small boutique hotel situated conveniently in the heart of the panel beating, sheet metal fabrication and industrial area of Singapore, within a brisk 10-minute walk from the MRT station. No swimming pool, wet bar or sauna to while away the three days, so we reacquainted ourselves with this wonderful city using an unlimited MRT and bus pass and walking a lot. This was a good way to regain our land legs.
Singapore was a frequent stopover in the first five years of visiting rellies in SA, when the kids were small and doing long-haul flights with them was difficult. In the subsequent fifteen years, the population in Singapore has grown exponentially and consequently the number of new apartment buildings grew apace. There have also been numerous new developments in the city, catering for every architectural taste.
Little India, Chinatown and the Malay quarter still have all their charm and one would hope they don’t fall prey to redevelopment of more modern tower blocks.
Two new structures that were quite amazing, were the Marina Bay development next to the white ArtScience museum and the Helix stainless steel bridge next to it.
After four nights, we boarded the British Airways flight from Changi airport to London. Our next post will report on the UK leg of this trip.