UK 2 – Bristol to London……2011


Overcast and showery, Spain it ain’t. But such fine hospitality from the extended family and being introduced to ones I have only heard about, more than compensates. Besides, it gives me the opportunity to make all those jokes about English weather.

Idyllic England at the bottom of the garden-ish

The tourist trail:  Suspension bridge over an impressive gorge, the Downs, the floating harbour, the tobacco warehouses, a Banksey statue on the Art Gallery, the concrete Catholic Cathedral, a few country pubs in picturesque English countryside. I had forgotten how charming and embracing the English woods and meadows are. There is an impressive new Museum of Bristol at Mshed. I wanted to see more of the pre 18th century stuff though. Didn’t like the knowledge that Bristol ships traded half a million slaves.

Banksey came from Bristol…his girl is over the Art Gallery today

Impressions of the urban landscape: A  strange grey and  stone town as the old architecture is interspersed with not great post-war development (given the place was bombed mightily). Much on the eastern side is the quintessentially generic English two storey grey stone semi-detached housing; some estates are the ubiquitous pebble cast. Coming from a city with acre upon acre of bland new estates, who am I to pick at straws?The “high” side of town on the Downs is more your grander stone Georgian.

Traveling to the Centre

My English hostess found it weird that I was taking off on the back roads to London with no map. Just Penelope, the Satnav with the authoritative voice. I told her: “we Australians can do anything”.

I skirted Bath and was surprised at how shoddy it looked, not the patina of age, more the soot of smoke exhausts. Then Penelope seems determined to send me south so kind farmers did the usual: ” you take the A xx until it meets the B xxx and after 2 miles turn into the  B zz”.  It’s all Basque to me but does set you in the right direction.

The Avebury stone circles meander the village.

I finally arrive at Avebury where I had fond memories of the scones and cream. As charming as ever, thatched roofs, stones thought provoking. Through Marlborough with its Duke of Wellington tourist hype and then the M4 to London

“A Man who is tired of London is tired of Life”

It took an hour to get through Saturday afternoon London traffic but what an hour! The A4 goes right through most of the Monopoly Board . Traffic was so slow, I feel I’ve already seen most of the icons – the Natural History Museum, the V and A, Harrods, past the great white houses of Knightsbridge, the Mall, around the back of Buck Palace, past St James’s Park, over Westminster Bridge and then Waterloo station. Most of all, I see what looks like half a million people milling around everything? How festive it all seems.

I leave the rental car at an empty office and am too overcome to take to the back street looking for petrol. How much will they slug me to fill the tank?

Like Sisyphus, I drag 2 cases to the  hotel which is in the old London County Hall right under The Eye, near Waterloo bridge and opposite Horseguards Hotel which would have cost me more than $3.5k more for 6 days. I’m torn between my natural frugality and my love of comfort.

The theatre

What is London without a visit to the theatre? I walk to the Comedy Theatre near Leicester Square to see Kirsten Scott-Thomas in Pinter’s “Betrayal”. People are dressed in everything from jeans to formal watermelon pink rouched dresses to pin stripe suits. I notice the ornate ceiling is peeling above the 2 tiers of boxes.

Again it is an icon experience…..

On the way, I walk through a teeming Southbank Festival, then through Trafalgar Square with its hundreds of people; coming home I dawdle down Whitehall, past Drummonds and Scotland Yard. I love it.

I love my city, Sydney, for its colour and energy and harbour and trees and……… but Sydney is to London as say, Byron Bay is to Sydney. This is a great city chronicled in history and literature, with magnificent streetscapes and monumental statements.

I write this the next morning. Today will be hot. I’m off to the British Museum!

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