2005-11-20: London Eye sees all
This was another weekend of filling in time and doing some of the the touristy things that need to be done before we are gone.
On Friday I delivered the news of my immediate return to Australia. The employer was unhappy with this - especially as one of the other developers had turned up that day, said he didn't want to be in today and left immediately. The boss is off to Kuala Lumpur to drum up more business this week. When he returns the other developer may not be around for much longer, and with me gone in January the start-up will be shrinking back to just a couple. Of interest though was an offer from Ebor for me to stop in Israel to do a bit of work on the way back. Sounds like fun, so long as it isn't manning a check-point on the West Bank.
The cold that I enjoyed earlier in the week returned late in the week. And it hasn't left. There are some locations that are covered in ice and as the sun never reaches them, they will remain in ice till spring. The nights are cold and the mornings clear and a little too crisp. Still, it beats walking to work in wind and rain, and makes the place look like Narnia. However after a few days in it I can see why all the creatures wanted to kill the Ice Queen, I think I would strike her down too for a bit of real warmth when the sun is out.
On Saturday Edyta and I did some of the regular needing-to-live things, like grocery shopping. Money is a little tight so we didn't do too much else. I was planning to go into the White Knight gaming store to see if they had any Games Workshop products because it has been ages since I've found a place selling those goods and I wanted a new photo. However the place was locked up tight and hence doesn't get the chance to be captured on digital film. We did enter into a church in Reading centre. The inside was high ceiling and vaulted, like a lot of churches, but this one was cosier in that it used wood instead of stone. The outside is covered in scaffolding though. With nothing else to do in town we returned home and then went for a walk later to an area that would give some of Swindon a race for dingiest place on England. We entered into a ramshackle second hand store where the lady behind the counter smoked away and her grand mother sat on a chair that was for sale and watched the Ireland and Australia rugby match on a TV that was for sale. I was to find a DVD to buy but there didn't seem to be anything worth it other than some curiosity stuff (for all you GTA fans out there, did you know there is a movie with the same name made by Ron Howard?) On the way back we stopped in some other stores to see if there was anything else interesting. There wasn't; except the warmth that comes from being inside when it is 4 degrees outside.
That night we were treated to a fireworks display. This time we could actually see where they were going off instead of just hearing them around us.
Sunday we woke early (well actually at 7am it was late for me). The night had been cold and while Edyta loses clothes during the night I was feeling like I could add a t-shirt to my ensemble. We cleaned up and left to catch the 8:30 bus into Reading to go to London. At the bus stop a group of girls turned up and looked at the bus due times, then walked off. I found this odd considering the bus was due in 5 minutes and looked at the schedule. Seems we had remembered Saturdays schedule, our bus would be at least another 30 minutes away. As it was freezing we decided the walk would warm us (one degree is warmer at least). We did get to see spectacular display of frozen spider webs everywhere (and that morning I had squashed a spider inside the house, but now I live in fear of a John Wyndham style coalition of the poisonous coming after me).
In London we had to work around the fact that the Circle line, the tourists best friend, was shut down for maintenance. We took a tube line to Kensington and then walked around (in the still freezing morning) through Kensington Gardens to Kensington Palace. On the way through the park we spotted what looked like a statue of a dog painted to look like a real dog. The statue was dead still and very life like so Edyta and I went over to investigate. As we got closer we noticed that it was covered in fur. It was now either a taxidermists work or a dog that just froze in place. When we were very close Edyta could see it breathing. It's eyes slowly acknowledged you but still it kept it's unflinching stance. It stayed this way as we walked around and tried to figure it out. Then ever so slowly it started to creep forward to a bench full of pigeons. Then it was apparent that the animal wasn't dead at all, just hunting. It picked up pace and some of the birds flew away. Then it's owner called for it and it took off like a bolt of lightning. All we ever saw of that dog again was the black and white streak as it raced from hill top to hill top.
A cold, cold, park
The palace wasn't as impressive as the other rooms we've been in but it was at least nice to see that royalty can live in smaller accommodations. The Princess of Hearts, our beloved cover model of New Idea in the 80's, Diana, didn't have a display at the moment as her dresses were being cleaned (odd, given that she doesn't wear them any more - or is there more to a conspiracy theory about her death than Buckingham Palace is letting on?) One room in the palace was made to look like a Roman senate chamber but was done so with artwork and some cheesy wood panelling. If I was a king and I wanted a Roman senate style room I think I would have the resources to get one built. There was a dress in the palace that looked like a big hoop dress that got wedged into a vice, leaving it no more breadth than a human in it but the width of one laying down. A very impractical style of fashion. And one that cost young English lassies their sight and lives back in the day. So much better now that we outsource stuff like that to Cambodia. The best part of the whole trip came right at the end when we looked out at a security guard who had befriended a squirrel. It trusted him enough to let him pick it up and it sat on his arm happily (although it did look like it had nipped at his fingers a bit - be warned, squirrels can bite!). For Edyta who still has to stop and look at every squirrel it was a magical experience so we qucikly scanned the tourist shop and then went to see it up close. By the time we were there though there was a kid interested in the squirrel too. Naturally that meant a poor little animal fleeing the overzealous attentions of a bigger animal.
We went for a ramble about Kensington Park. We got a little lost in it due to it's size. We ended up walking to a statue that looked impressive from a distance (and through the misty fog) but on closer inspection seemed to be an n-power sponsored statue called "Energy in motion" and was a naked guy sitting on a horse. However from this statue we spied something else off in the mist and went to that. This thing was a bit more impressive, it was the memorial to Prince Albert. It was also a little slippery as the north side had received no sun and was still covered in ice. I watched one person slip ahead of me and then slipped in the same spot. As we came all the way back around a lady ahead of us actually slipped and fell on the ice.
Everything is clean in England
Sign posts directed us towards Princess Diana's memorial. On the way passed an art house. It had that tempting entry price - free! I can see why. The artist had decided the best approach to modern art was to grab a couple of cans of Dulex ceiling white and throw it around a symmetric set stage that had steps going nowhere and meditating rooms underneath them. Sheets hung from the walls to cover three more white beds on each side where you can meditate. To make sure everything remained pristine white (so white you lost focus on some things) everyone had to wear little surgical shoe covers on entry. It was truly bizarre, and even more so that they wanted donations to keep stuff like this running. I could think of several well known homeless people in Reading that could be better off with the money, or at least the art exhibit at night for a place to crash. But then again I'm not altruistic, more greedy, and a pound is a coin better left in my pockets.
Our final stop was Princess Diana's memorial, the eternally flowing fountain you are no longer allowed to walk in (I'm sure you were meant to do that the first time it was built - too cold today anyway). By now we had ended up in the middle of a very large park and were looking for the nearest McDonald's for food. This took us all the way back to Paddington station.
Picadilly sans ads
After we were fed and relived (travellers take note, McDonald's is the worlds best toilet stop) we went off to Picadilly Circus. We emerged into a crowded square looking at a building of billboards. Then we were distracted by some statues off in the distance and went to them. This was a statue of the Duke of York but from here we were distracted by something happening below in the Royal Gardens. It turned out there had been some Jewish march through here (as a policeman told us). We saw some kiddies standing in a parade ground but that was it. We moved on past Churchill's war chambers and came to Westminster. This is a place full of over the top size buildings and choking traffic. Being pedestrians though you just walk through stopped traffic (or run when the lights are green).
Westminster abbey was huge but closed because on Sunday they actually have services on there. From the outside the place looked so big you could have services in half the church and have the other half open for tourists and the two groups would never meet. Queen Victoria's tower on Westminster house was an obscenely big tower that must have said something at the time but now just looks impressive on scale. And the toilets at Westminster tube station still charged 50p for a use (but I knew that this time). There is a protest across the street from parliament, although the cold had driven the protesters away and just left the placards in place. One said that "Australians reject the war in Iraq", which is odd given we send troops there. How confused poor mister Blair must be.
A small part of the Abbey
Over the Thames and we were at the Tate and London Aquarium and London Eye and a McDonald's that seated over 250 people. That must have had a good bank of toilets in it. We had a waffle from a street vendor. The chocolate on it was pure runny chocolate and Edyta and my hands were covered in till we found a place to wash up. We purchased tickets for the London Eye and then killed time walking through a Manga display in the Tate. It seems there was an Anime competition on and people were submitting their entries. Some art ranged from good anime, some showed interesting new ideas and most were just the depraved sexual drawings of a 14 year old boy who likes to see the action ladies wearing sailor school outfits that expose parts of their underwear while their tops are typically anime dis-proportioned. There were some short sequences of anime made from people around the world (except the Japanese) but most finished before you knew what was happening.
We left and lined up for the London Eye. Be warned future tourists, this place is run by British Airways so much you even get scanned and bag searched going in. You are not allowed any nail files, scissors, razors or any other thing I couldn't understand you taking into a capsule. After you leap into the moving capsule a cheery hostess welcomes you over the PA system. Then you are left to enjoy the sights. As our book told us it is best on a clear evening and we had that. The lights were spread out but I remember them as being much larger in area when we flew in (horizon to horizon for hours that night). Still it is a nice place to be and is best when you don't have the summer crush of people packed into the capsules.
Eye over London
The eye at night
Off the Eye we walked back across the Thames. Along the bridge people were trying to take photos of themselves in front of the London Eye, but at night with the flash all they would see is themselves grinning in front of inky blackness with a few dots in a circle behind them (I know because I tested to see if it was worth a photo). Edyta commented on the duck-and-pull-a-face approach people have to walking in front of a pointed camera. How does the pulling a face avoid you being in their photo? Surely it would make you look even worse, not only have you ruined their shot, you look dopey too! At least these digital days allow you to make the shot again. Over the Thames we were in Trafalgar Square where they had set up a temporary snow-board competition. That brought back memories of Queenstown to me although this presentation was a little larger. We walked around trying to find Picadilly Circus again and instead found Leicester Square, home of the movie theatres (and a rogue street performer who had roped in a group of people to join her for some Indian dancing on the street and then had vanished a few minutes later when we returned by). After Pizza and Donuts for tea we found Picadilly Circus, took in some more sights of neon lights and then vanished back into the excessively warm and crowded Tube to begin the journey home.
The night ended with a stroll home in freezing weather due to the last bus running thirty minutes before we turned up.