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UK/Ireland/France holiday, 2009

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(Week 1) Saturday 8 August 2009
We are off - Saturday has finally arrived. Weeks of planning at work, and even more to finish off audits, etc for my other 'funtime' roles.

We had an uneventful flight to Kuala Lumpur, except that Anne's fully adjustable Business Class seat wasn't. They could not fix it mid air, so staff had to adjust it manually when required. Landed at KLIA on time. About 90 minutes before we were due to board for Heathrow, the airline announced a gate change. We discovered later that our 747 was grounded due to a fault. By the time they had reloaded all the baggage and stuff, and got us passengers on board, the pilot missed his allotted take-off window by ten minutes. It was another 90 minutes before air traffic control could get us off the ground. We managed about 6 hours sleep, but were awake at 2:00am London time.

Sunday 9 August 2009
Arrived at Heathrow 1 hour late; not bad since we flew four circles during the landing approach. We left our bags at the hotel just after 8:00am, and headed off to the markets. Strolled through Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane markets near the Liverpool Street tube station, and the seemingly hundreds of stalls on every road imaginable. We then wandered along to London Wall (they give their roads some funny names), and saw the remains of the old Roman Wall when Londoninium was fortified. Won't hold much back now.

After that, we visited the London Museum, and saw some of the history of London, including the history of the great fire. Came back about 3:00pm to check into our room, rested, and them went out for a light tea and some milk etc. Did I mention we were given far too much food on the plane? It was very nice though. I am too tired to sort photos, so that will have to wait.

First glimpse of Paddington station with our Heathrow train in the forground Not sure what the taxi did wrong, but he was being booked! Had to have another look at part of the old Roman walls that surrounded the city during Roman occupation

Monday 10 August 2009
Breakfast was a full English one; contributing to the severe over-eating regime we started on the plane. The Breakfast Conservatory in the basement was a bright, spacious room, but not many people were there at 7:15am. Our first activity for the day was to walk through Kensington Gardens, past the Palace and along Kensington High Street. I have a phone now - (+44) 07789 464 684.

We walked as far as Olympia, and caught the tube to South Kensington, for the Museum onslaught. First was the Science Museum. Discovered it was school holidays here, and every child and their parents were inside. Managed to see each level, but we had a fairly quick look around. Then it was into the Natural History Museum. To be honest, I only came back here to see the great hall. It was the highlight, but it also was packed with families. Remind me to come in June next time.

We reluctantly walked past the V&A, because we were museumed out by now. We walked along Brompton Road, lured by Harrods, but detoured into a little patisserie Anne found on her last trip. Yum! Spend an hour (at least) in Harrods. I saw the perfect stove for our next house, and thought the price of A$60,000 seemed reasonable!!! I thought I should give the technology section a miss though!! It was after 5:00pm by now, so in high spirits and with sore feet, we headed back to Paddington.

I could not resist this view of Kensington Palace. And I had to visit the main hall of my favourite Museum. Pity about the hordes of people - next time I will come in June or September. The little shop which only taxi drivers can use!

Tuesday 11 August 2009
Still have not got all parts of this blog working properly, but nearly there. Left for the tube station at Paddington a bit later this morning, but still managed to help cram our peak hour Underground train. I forgot how hot is is down there. Started at Piccadilly Circus, visited the great old stores of Fortnum & Mason, Liberty, Hamley's (toys etc), and the big book and CD/DVD stores. Checked out where the Queen's Theatre was, and then walked the length of Oxford Street. Still not much bought, but we had fun looking.

Came back to our accommodation early (about 3:30pm), to rest our feet and legs, before going back to Shaftsbury Street to collect our tickets for 'Les Miserables'. I am struggling to describe how fabulous the performance was. I have heard 'Going Home' many times but to see and hear it in context was magical. And probably the best rendition I have heard too. The staging was extra-ordinary; massive props and hydraulics that moved the barricade around effortlessly, a revolving stage that brought every scene something special, and the vocals were clear and powerful. We were 5 rows from the front and could see everything - a very intimate experience. The theatre was very ornate, but it is hard to describe after seeing the performance.

There were people everywhere at 10:30pm, and it was only Tuesday. A great day!

I love this image of Regent Street, curving away out of site. This was taken showing one of the light wells in the Liberty shop. Jan was too embarrassed to take this. The screen curtain just before it went uo. Could take photos inside, but not of the performance.

Wednesday 12 August 2009
Headed out early today to catch the train from Paddington station to Windsor. While waiting for the 'little' train from Slough to Windsor, we had our first experience of a fast train through the station. The noise was almost terrifying as the eight carriage diesel powered train whizzed by. I was told the fastest train was doing around than 200km/h through the station. Terrifying! But on to more sedate things. We obtained the tickets for Windsor Castle and followed the hundreds of tour groups. It is a funny shape complex, but the main royal rooms form one side of the very large quadrangle of lawn with the gravel driveway separating the lawn from the buildings. We noticed a gardener trimming the edge of the lawn with long handled clippers, slowly working his way around the edge. It looked really tedious!

We spent ages walking through the State Rooms, and seeing how matters of State ceremony unfold. These rooms were but one side of the massive Royal residence. Then there is the rest of the living quarters and work-places for staff that run the complex. Quite incredible. Spent about three hours in the Castle grounds and another two in the town having a look around. The whole town is a massive tourist trap, waiting for the unwary. Back to our accommodation by 5:00pm, so I can try to catch up with this diary.

The approaching train on the right went past a couple of seconds after this photo was taken. Very fast . .  Windsor Castle (just a snippet). I had to include this famous resident of Paddington.

Thursday 13 August 2009
Today we planned to catch up with a friend I met on my first trip to England. In fact, Janett was the catalyst for me getting the travel bug all those years ago. She organised a conference in Harrogate England in 2003 and somehow I found myself on the speakers' list. We went to St Pancras station and had a look where the Eurostar departed from, then got tickets to Luton. All the trains had been delayed but we caught one at about the right time, and got to Luton just after 10:00am.

Janett and Tammy met us and took us to get a package bought by Down Syndrome Society that was too expensive to post to Australia. Luckily we were in the area as it cost us a lot more than the postage to get to Milton Keynes to pick it up. The 'small' package will create transport issues but we hope to get someone else to carry it back to Australia. (more on this next week). Went to a very large shopping centre and wandered around for nearly three hours. The 'beach' was in the central atrium area for the school holidays. I doubt you could look at all the shops in a single day.

We went to a beautiful little pub for lunch somewhere nearby, in a very rural setting right next to a busy highway. Fab food and company, before catching the train back to Euston Station in London. A great day!

The roof over St Pancras station. We left fot Luton from here, and will be back in a few weeks to catch the Eurostar (on the upper deck), to Paris A rather large shopping Centre in Milton Keynes. The sandpit/beach was well used. This quaint pub served a terrific lunch. In spite of its location, it was well patronised.

Friday 14 August 2009
Today, we planned to visit Greenwich, and then to come back to see parts of the Thames. Managed to get on the Circle line by 8:30am, and quietly suffered in the hot and crowded carriage till we reached Tower Hill station. Surprisingly, it gave good views of the Tower of London. Changed to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and sallied forth towards Greenwich, or so we thought. Train was very slow, and we eventually got two stops where we needed to change for Greenwich. Needn't have bothered, because a train ahead and had broken down. The 'attendant' had to take the controls to get us into the next station (Westferry) where we were advised to walk to Canary wharf. We opted for this, but could have caught a bus to Greenwich - not sure how it would get across the river!!

Wandered around the shopping centres for an hour or so. Trains were running again so we continued on our way to Greenwich. Saw where the Cutty Sark remains were still under wraps from the fire two years ago, and wandered around the markets and the town. Opted not to climb the hill to the Observatory, and not to visit the Maritime Museum this time. Instead, we went back to the Thames and crossed under the Thames using a tunnel built 100 years ago, to allow workers to get to the docks to work. Fifty feet down (exactly 100 steps - I counted them), and then a tunnel under the river. I figured it must be safe, and lots of tourists were using it. We were pleased to discover a lift at the other end - only one was working today, and we walked in the right direction.

We caught the train to Temple and walked along the River to Embankment station, before detouring towards Charing Cross for a very late lunch in the Crypt of St Martins-in-the-Fields Church. It was still doing a roaring trade when we arrived at about 2:20pm. Took photos of the Church, Trafalgar Square and the hordes of people, and went to Charing Cross station to head back to Paddington. Discovered Charing Cross station was everywhere, and it had 13 entrances. Extraordinary! Got back to Paddington in time for a Krispy Creme donut(s) and drink, before Anne went for her hairdresser appointment.

A nicely decorated pub in Greenwich. This view up the Thames is very busy  . . .. The ceiling in the crypt of St Martins-in-the-Fields.

Saturday 15 August 2009
Had to wait till 7:30am for breakfast this morning, so left the hotel a bit later for Portobello Street markets. Saturday morning and it was even busier than weekday peak hour. Walked up and down the street and saw hundreds of stalls, all with very high priced goods. Anne found some collectible miniatures she wanted, but they were back at the stall-holders home. We hope to collect them later on our trip. Then we went to the Orangery in Kensington Gardens, next to Kensington Palace, for 'high' morning tea.

Walked to the High Street Kensington Tube station, and went straight to Kings Cross station. We managed to find platform 9 3/4, but lived to tell the tale. Onwards to Camden Town, to yet more stalls and markets. The same goods at about half the price of Portobello. We boarded a canal boat for a one-way trip on the canal (yes really!) to Little Venice. The trip was 50 minutes, and included a 300 metre long tunnel. We then walked around the locality before the short stroll back to Paddington station. We rarely mention the many stops we have for a coffee or snack, but we took advantage of the Krispy Creme shop (again). Back to the hotel to download photos and update Facebook and this blog.

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