Day Twenty Two – the long journey home

Sunday 23 April

My very last day in England, time to find out if everything I bought (well actually all the Lego I bought) would fit in my suitcase.  Thankfully it did.

There was a “Last Supper” with all the friends I had stayed with and then it was time to go to the airport.

Thankfully the flight from Heathrow to Dubai was on time and I was on my way home.  This flight wasn’t packed like all the others and there was actually a spare seat next to me which was lovely.  I felt like a pro arriving in Dubai where everything felt very familiar but I still couldn’t figure out their infuriating departure board.  There seems to be so many flights that they flash too quickly and I had lots of trouble finding my flight.  I needed this info so I knew which gate the plane would be departing from and at what time.  

When we arrived there was a plane hogging our spot so we had to sit on the tarmac waiting for about 20 minutes and when the landing gear came down it sounded very broken but we landed safely so I guess it wasn’t.

I looked around the glamorous duty free shops but didn’t really know the exchange rate so I couldn’t tell if stuff was cheap or not, but when you see a pair of decent headphones selling for over 1,000 of their money, I figured things weren’t all that cheap in Dubai – the rich man’s paradise.  I splashed out on an iced coffee from Starbucks which turned out to be $9 New Zealand dollars.  (It wasn’t that great).

Boarding was on time but departing was not – turned out to be a slight mechanical fault with something that needed fixing before we could depart, so we sat there on the plane wondering what it was and waited and waited.  After about half an hour the problem was fixed and we were on our way – but I was most dubious as the landing gear once again made the most awful creaky noises as we taxied out to the runway and took off, I wonder if that was the mechanical problem or not.

Flying out over Dubai was quite spectacular and we could see all the famous buildings including the Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world.

  

After hearing all those creaky noises on take off I was quite scared of the landing in Sydney, but we landed safely and as I got off the plane I vowed never to fly in one of those awful A380s again, and never via Dubai again, it’s just too long a flight.

Sydney airport was cool – they’ve done it up very flash since I was there two years ago and there was lots of gorgeous shops to look in.


I also found a very practical coffee shop where each little bench had 4 plugs and USB connections for charging up all your devices while enjoying your coffee.


There was an indicator board near where I was sitting that kept telling me to “Relax”, so I did.  Even after the known boarding time it was still telling me to relax – then all of a sudden there was an announcement that they were boarding the plane starting with the people seated at the back of the aircraft.  So I had a rather hurried and slightly stressful walk to the departure gate which turned out to be 9 minutes walk from where I was “relaxing”.

Auckland airport was a breeze.  Passport control had no queue and the facial recognition machine actually recognised me instantly and I was through.  My suitcase made it all the way from Heathrow in tact and customs was very quick too and I think the whole thing took no more than half an hour from the time I got off the plane.  The biggest hold up was the little queue at duty free.

London Day Twenty One

Saturday 22 April

My last full day in London, so I made the most of it by catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen yet and visiting the Lego Store one last time.

I expertly navigated my way to the Lego Store all by myself, catching a train and the Tube just like a real Londoner.

There was a queue to get in to the Lego Store but it moved quite quickly and there were friendly staff chatting to people in the queue to take their minds of the fact that we were all queuing to get in to a shop to spend money.

  

If you look closely you’ll see something I find mildly amusing… there is actually only one child in the queue to get in to this toy shop, everybody else is an adult!


It was a sad visit in a way, knowing this would probably be the last time I ever visited this shop, so I needed to make the most of it – but I couldn’t buy everything I really wanted because there is only so much Lego you can fit in one suitcase.  It was cool though that I managed to come here on my first and last day!

After that I was really hungry and couldn’t wait till I met up with my friend to eat, so I popped in to a pizza place in Leicester Square right next to the last place I ate at 30 years ago (Burger King) after my big farewell with the people I worked with.


From there I got myself to the Tate Britain where I met up with a friend who is a member so we got to eat in the members’ lounge like VIPs and attend the Hockney exhibition for free.


I hadn’t seen this friend for about 5 years so it was cool to have a catch up.  The gallery and exhibition were very cool.  We have a David Hockney print on the wall at work which I walk past every time I go to the kitchen for coffee (so that’s loads of times) so it was awesome to see the real thing.  We couldn’t take photos so here’s a couple of pics of the fab light display at the entrance.

  
And here I am feeling very happy observing some cool taxis – they’re not all black anymore, although most of them still are.

  

From there we walked past the parliament buildings to get in the massive queue for the London Eye, even tho we had a ticket for a specific time booking.

  
That turned into quite a drama.  There were millions of people all hanging out around the area where you queue for the Eye and we could hardly move and then suddenly we were all told to turn around and head back to the bridge and go around the back of the building due to an incident.  This was quite scary as we didn’t know what was happening and nobody wanted to move and we were all being pushed backwards.  I’m was also aware that this is the very place there was a terrorist attack a couple of weeks ago adding to the whole situation.


Eventually we made it to the massive queue of people waiting to get on to the London Eye.  Some people had tickets, some didn’t and nobody knew where to go or what to do and none of the staff would tell us what was going on.  So we waited… and waited… and waited and then suddenly the queue moved and then shrunk and then stopped again.  Turned out they had closed the London Eye for some unkown reason and we were handed a form to get a refund.  We looked up at the Eye and noticed it wasn’t moving and half the pods were empty and some people looked very stuck in a couple of the pods, so we guessed it broke down and were very glad we weren’t actually on it when it broke down.  Imagine suddenly needing to go to the loo and being stuck up there.


So we decided the best thing to do instead of going on the Eye was to get a bottle of wine and sit on the grass enjoying the sun and make the most of our short amount of catch up time together.


After all the wine was gone we walked along the Southbank towards where my friend had to catch her train home from.  That’s where I noticed there was a beach!!! Right in the middle of London!!!


It may have had something to do with all the wine we drunk relatively quickly but on that walk in the sunshine – everything looked sparkly and stunning and we decided we shouldn’t wait five more years before we had another catch up, and as we met each other originally in Japan back in the 90s we made a pact to meet again in five years time in KOBE!!!

  
With that very exciting and happy warm fuzzy thought we said goodbye and I headed home.

London Day Twenty

Friday 21 April

Today the plan was to meet a friend for cocktails high up in a couple of the London skyscrapers, to enjoy a drink or two with a view.  To fill in time till then I booked an on-line ticket to Madame Tussaud’s and hoped there wouldn’t be the same long queues as on Monday.

After arriving at Waterloo station I caught the Tube to Picadilly Circus and walked all the way up Old Bond St for a spot of window shopping in the very flash designer label stores where all the “old money” goes shopping.

          
After that I caught the Tube from Bond St to Baker St where a queue-less Madame Tussaud’s awaited.

  
There were a lot of people inside it and it was a bit of a bun fight to try and take a photo without hundreds of people getting in the way or draping themselves over the mannequins for “selfies”, so in the end I just took photos of the random strangers anyway, don’t ask who the guy is standing next to the Queen, the Royal Family was a popular set and you had to queue up to have your pic taken by the professionals so I just took the photo and moved on.

  

There was a lot to look at and enjoy and there was even a 4D Marvel character movie experience which was very cool and a little taxi ride through the history of London (kinda like Toad Hall at Disneyland, or the Ghost Train for kids at the Easter Show).

                             
From there I walked down Baker St all the way to Oxford St and caught a Tube to Liverpool St to meet my friend who took me up to a bar called Sushisamba on the 38th floor of Heron Tower.  Fab views and very cool atmosphere. 

  
From there we went to Tower 42, which used to be called the NatWest Tower, we went up to the 24th floor to a bar called City Social on the 24th floor.  It was so flash and fabulous that I couldn’t possibly order a beer, it felt more like a coffee martini kinda place.

  
The views were awesome.


And the view from the toilet was so amazing I almost forgot what I went in there for.


Next we went down to the ground floor of the same building for more cocktails in a bar called Paul.  After that we walked round the corner to a restaurant called Burger and Lobster.  They only do burgers and lobsters – it was fab and yes I had a whole lobster all to myself.  After desert I looked at my watch and suddenly felt like Cinderella as I had a very short amount of time to make it to the station to catch the last train home.  But I made it.

London Day Nineteen 

Thursday 20 April

A nice lovely relaxing day today.  Usually when we go in to the city we catch the train to Waterloo and then we catch the Waterloo to Reading home and get off at Egham, but today I got to go the other way and find out what Reading was actually like – it was lovely.


First thing on our list of things to do in Reading was lunch.  Because we don’t have sit down Pizza Hut restaurants in Auckland anymore it was a real treat to go to one here.  They even serve alcohol!!!


After lunch we went to the big mall so I could see if there was anything in the Apple Store that I didn’t know existed but simply couldn’t live without.  There wasn’t!

I found a really cool retro Casio watch with the world time built in to it in a department store called John Lewis.  I need this watch for the long journey home because my Apple Watch has a minor downfall – you can’t manually change the time on it, it needs the iPhone to know the time and because I didn’t turn on data in Dubai as I had no idea of the cost, my watch permanently told the wrong time all the way to London.  It comes complete with a massive instruction booklet so that’ll keep me busy for some of the mega long 30 hour journey home.

After that we strolled around Reading for a bit and headed home.

      

London Day Eighteen 

Wednesday 19 April

Today I went on a Thames River cruise all the way out to Greenwich and the Barrier which was about two hours long and packed with information on all the best bits along the riverside, but the highlight was definitely passing through the Barrier and being right up close.

The boat departed from Westminster and while waiting for it to head on up the river there were plenty of great photo opportunities to get some different shots of “Big Ben” and the Houses of Parliament.

  

This was definitely one of the best ways to see the many stunning buildings and travelling under all those famous bridges was so cool.

        
We travelled past Canary Wharf the new financial centre of London, which looked more like New York than London.

  
We went right up to the O2 and learnt that it is a lot more than just a concert venue and you can actually walk on the roof.

  
There was so much to see including fascinating new buildings, works of art and even a cable car that takes you over the river to the O2.

    
Eventually we went past the Thames Barrier, something I’ve wanted to photograph for many years.  We were very lucky with our timing because one of the barriers was actually up so we could see how it actually works.

After the Barrier I got off the boat for a look round Greenwich and something to eat.  There’s a famous old boat permanently docked there floating on an ocean of glass – the Cutty Sark – it used to transport tea – so I imagine it was a very important ship to all those tea drinking English people.


Apart from the ship there was also some stunning buildings which I enjoyed walking round and photographing.

    

Then it was back on the boat to return to Westminster and enjoy some more stunning sights.

  
From there I decided to pop in on the Queen to see if she was home.  This required a walk through St James’s park where there was loads of beautiful flowers, fascinating birds and cute squirrels.

      
Eventually I found The Mall which looked awesome with gigantic flags lining both sides of the road.


I didn’t get to see the Queen, she didn’t even pop out on to the famous balcony for a quick wave, I guess she didn’t see me amongst the hoards of tourists also hanging around outside her place – oh well never mind, I’ve seen her being driven up Manukau Rd back in Auckland.

    

London Day Seventeen

Tuesday 18 April

This morning we set off to see the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral (where Princess Diana got married).

I’ve wanted to see this bridge ever since it featured in a Harry Potter movie.  Seeing St Paul’s standing out in the sunshine looking massive was a very impressive sight.

  
On the way to the bridge we walked past The Globe (Shakespeare’s famous old theatre).

St Paul’s was beautiful and I even climbed hundreds of stairs to go up to the Whispering Gallery in the hope of taking some spectacular photos, but you’re not allowed.  I don’t understand that – at Notre Dame you could go wild taking photos of absolutely everything, but not here, plus it was quite expensive to just go inside £18.  However… if Princess Diana did have a choice over where she got married I can see why she chose there.


After that we caught a bus to the Southbank Centre so I could see a Lego exhibition by Nathan Sawaya, a very famous builder who is commissioned to create works all over the world – I even have one of his books, that’s how famous he is LOL.  We had the whole bus to ourselves so we could sit upstairs and right up front giving me a great view of the old city and many beautiful famous buildings.

  
The exhibition was way bigger and better than I imagined and I think I nearly wore out my poor old camera.

              

After that we had lunch by the river where I contemplated my next move.  I was keen to do a river cruise out to the Barrier but I’d missed the last boat that would take me that far, so I decided to do that tomorrow and go shopping on Oxford St instead.  I had a great time wandering through all the big name stores, I ended up buying a few shirts, a DVD box set of a TV show you can’t get in NZ and I’ve waited ages for it to come out (well since November at least), plus a CD.  After all that shopping I needed to rest for a bit and had a drink in the top floor cafe of Selfridges.

        
After that I walked all the way to the end of Oxford St for a quick look at Marble Arch.


Then I walked all the way back to the Bond St station and headed for home. On the way I got to see Selfridges all beautifully lit up.

London Day Sixteen

Monday 17 April

Today’s mission was to see Madame Tussaud’s and revisit the first place I stayed in when I got here in 1987 plus see the old hotel used in the movie Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont as it’s in the same area.

As it turned out the day had some disappointments and some unplanned surprises.  The first disappointment was Madame Tussaud’s had 6 mega queues and none of them seemed to be moving and I really didn’t feel like standing around too long on my own.  So I jumped back on the Tube and headed for the British Museum to photograph the roof I have seen in many photographs.


There was a queue but this was only a security queue and it moved really quickly.  So it didn’t take too long before I was inside the museum and photographing the amazing roof.
    

From there I caught the Tube to Queensway to see the place they filmed the movie.  While walking alongside Kensington Gardens I thought it would be a nicer walk if I walked through the park, so I crossed the road, checked out a map and headed for the big pond in the middle of the park.  When I got to the pond I saw Kensington Palace and remembered that’s where Princess Diana used to live.  So I thought I’d get a bit closer to take some pics.  Once there I noticed there was no queue to go in and I could see the exhibition: Diana – Her Fashion Story, an exhibition of her famous dresses, this was a big happy surprise because when my friend looked up booking tickets for the exhibition they were all sold out.

  
  
  

One of the cool features of the exhibition was the large familiar photos of Diana on the walls and then opposite them were the  dresses in those pics.

  

After that I strolled around the garden which had a tribute to Princess Diana, full of white forget-me-not flowers.

    
  
Once I got to the place they filmed the movie I was very disappointed, it turned out to be a very abandoned building sadly in need of repair.


And as for the bed and breakfast I stayed in for a few days upon my first arrival it seemed to have gone – but it could’ve been this building, then again it could’ve been any one of the buildings on that street – they all looked the same lol..


After dinner we finished off our Audrey Hepburn trilogy with Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

London Day Fifteen

Sunday 16 April

Today being Easter Sunday most things were closed but the movies were open so that was today’s plan.

Back in the late 90s there was a funny TV character called Ali G and he was the leader of a gang called Da West Staines Massif, and I have always believed that Sacha Baron Cohen made up the town of Staines, but it’s actually a really lovely place and just happens to be the town next to Egham where I’m staying and that’s where the movie theatre is.  So I finally got to go to Staines.


Apparently Staines was famous for Linoleum before Ali G came along so there’s this big statue in the middle of the town dedicated to Lino.


One of the coolest things in Staines was the Pizza Hut restaurant.  There are no Pizza Hut’s left in Auckland where I’m from that you can go in and sit down to enjoy your Pizza, they are all just pick up or delivery despatch counters.


The movie we went to was Beauty and the Beast – loved it.

And following on from last night’s viewing of Sabrina, an Audrey Hepburn movie featuring Paris, we watched another Audrey Hepburn classic tonight: Roman Holiday.

London Day Fourteen

Saturday 15 April

Today my friends were hosting a BBQ so while we waited for their friends to arrive I had a chance to catch up on my blog and watch many episodes of the Streets of San Francisco.

Luckily the weather was great and even a squirrel came out to play in their garden.

I gave my friends Easter Eggs I had brought with me from NZ and in return they gave me the most fabulous Easter Egg I’d ever seen – it looked like something straight out of Harrods!


The BBQ was yum and afterwards we all got to hunt for eggs the Easter Bunny had hidden amongst the woods in their backyard!

London Day Thirteen

Friday 14 April

Even tho it is Good Friday and practically everything is banned from being open in New Zealand it’s the complete opposite here.  We went to the supermarket and it was packed – I felt like taking a video of it and sending it to the NZ government to show them all the lovely revenue they are missing out on by having such an antiquated law about not trading at Easter.

Then we drove out in to the country – Sussex – to have lunch in a very old 14th century pub in the little village where AA Milne is from.


Then we walked along the road to a quaint little cottage type shop called Pooh Corner where they have all sorts of Winnie the Pooh souvenirs, I scored myself a book called the Tao of Pooh which a friend lent me once and I’d been meaning to buy my own copy ever since.

  
From there we drove in to the woods in search of the famous Pooh Bridge where we even played a quick game of Pooh Sticks.

  
Along the way I encountered some really pretty little wild flowers I’d never seen before.

  
On the way home we stopped at a garden centre to buy a BBQ for tomorrow’s gathering.  It was a lovely garden centre with plenty of stuff to buy – even a huge range of gardening clothes.

  
What a lovely day out in the country followed by KFC for dinner, which is when I learnt you can’t get Potato and Gravy or bread rolls here!!!