Week 4 July 2009:
On the first day of our stay in London we travelled, by train, to Hampden Court Palace beside the Thames. The Palace was closely associated with Henry VIII and other British monarchs. The Palace buildings and gardens are magnificent. We were particularly interested in the subterranean Tudor kitchens. A guided tour gave an insight into the logistics of feeding Henry’s court in the 15th century.
The gardens are well maintained in the style of those far-off times. The most interesting plant was the Great Grape Vine. This 230 plus year old plant is the oldest grape vine in the United Kingdom. The vine is 40 metres long and still produces 500 to 700 bunches of grapes each year.
On the way back to the hotel we bought a punnet of strawberries. These were the best tasting strawberries we have ever eaten.
The next day we realised another ambition. We took a ferry trip down the Thames to the Barrier. This is a large flood control structure on the Thames downstream of central London. We have seen the Barrier on television many times and have now had an ambition realised when we saw the Barrier close-up (see image).
The ferry passed through the Barrier then turned around and headed back upstream. We alighted at Greenwich and walked to the Royal Observatory. Very interesting displays including the Greenwich Meridian Line, Longitude 0°. This is the centre of world time.
We also visited the National Maritime Museum whilst in the Greenwich area. This Museum deserves a full day’s visit as there is so much to see.
We caught a ferry from the Greenwich Wharf back to central London. On the way we were fortunate enough to see Tower Bridge open and close. The Bridge opened to let a tall ship through. We alighted at Westminster Pier just below Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
On the third day of this week we travelled on the marvellous Underground to Baker Street Station. From there we walked along Baker Street, passing the Sherlock Holmes’s Museum, and arrived at Lords Cricket Ground. There was a guided tour just starting so we were privileged to view this hallowed cricket ground.
We walked through Regent’s Park with its gardens and water features and caught the train to Knightsbridge Station. From here walked to Harrods perhaps London’s most famous department store. The store is large and sells everything from haddock to handbags. We resisted the temptation to buy anything but did use their palatial toilets.
The next day we visited the Covent Garden Market. This is a large covered area with many stalls. There were some interesting items for sale, particularly hand made goods.
We also came across the Bow Street Police Station and Magistrate’s Court. Both appeared to be deserted. In the time of the Sherlock Holmes’s stories the Bow Street Runners were the predecessors of the Metropolitan Police Force.
It was only a short walk to the Thames where we walked along the north shore of the river. We crossed to the south side over Westminster Bridge and were fortunate to hear and see Big Ben strike twelve (noon). Further along the Thames we came across the Museum of Garden History. We spent some time wandering through the Museum which was the former St Mary-at-Lambeth Parish Church. The Museum garden contains the tomb of the Tradescant family. John Tradescant and his son John junior were gardeners to Charles I and adventurous plant collectors. They introduced many of the exotic flowers, shrubs and trees grown in gardens today. There is also a connection with Australia, in the garden. William Bligh, of Bounty fame, has an ornate tomb in the garden. We returned to our hotel after a tiring but stimulating day.
The next day we visited the Science Museum. Crowds of people were visiting. There were very interesting displays. We concentrated on the steam engine displays, space craft and displays about the history of medicine. The afternoon was spent strolling around Hyde Park.
On our final day we visited the British Museum and were overwhelmed by the huge number of visitors. Interesting displays of ancient Egyptian relics and the Elgin Marbles. These are now euphemistically known as the Parthenon Sculptures. The Greek government is pressing the English authorities to return the Marbles/Sculptures back to their place of origin.
In the afternoon we travelled to Heathrow and said farewell to England as our plane took off at 10.30pm.
We arrived in Singapore, for an overnight stay, in the early evening after a lengthy flight.
The next day we walked to Little India. This is an enclave of mostly Indian people with many small shops selling a range of goods. We found this area had more life and interest that the rather soulless shopping centres in the rest of Singapore. We had a rest in the hotel and then took off for Sydney at 8.20pm.
After a six hour flight our plane landed in Sydney at 5.10 am on a cold winter’s morning. After clearing customs we caught a train to Central railway station. After travelling on the spotless London and Singapore trains we were shocked at the condition of this local train. Graffiti on almost every surface, scratched windows and broken seats made us rather ashamed.
We caught another train, in better condition, to the Central Coast, north of Sydney where we stayed at our daughter’s place for a couple of days.