Archive | July, 2010

Thames or Tems?

7 Jul

The upside of passing out really early is that I woke up at 5am.  Braving the scorn of my fellow backpackers, I got my stuff together and went downstairs for breakfast.  They provided toast, cereal and coffee which was decent of them.  The White Ferry is very recommendable.  With no real idea of what I planned to accomplish today, I ventured out to the Thames and walked up it.  All the while thinking, is it Thames or Tems?  I was preparing myself for an encounter with another traveller and didn’t want to come out of it like a dumbass tourist!  It was dreary English weather, just on the brink of raining down I reckon.  When I needed to go to the loo I happened to find a free one at a train station!  Hoorah!  Paying to piss is beyond my principles and I vowed to hold out.

As I walked I did some noticing.  I noticed that there are a lot of coppers walking about in their funny helmets, even in sections where it’s very quiet.  Security seems to be a big issue here, proven further by the masses of CCTV cameras lurking at every corner.  It is beyond a joke!  I also noticed that the English walk very damn fast, maybe its just me on my tourist stroll but it seems that everyone was passing me today.  But I had good reason to stroll: on the opposite bank were the Houses of Parliament (not sure whether they deserve capitals) and Big Ben (he does).  Most impressive, and I even sat down and waited for the hour to strike so I could set my watch to it.  Further along is the more artsy suburb of town where theatres and street art ruled.  The London Eye, that big ferris wheel, was here and there were already queues for it.  It only does one slow loop and is fairly expensive, so I won’t be ticking it off this time round!  I was satisfied with my walk so far, I’d come a lot further than I thought I would have managed.  I decided my turn around point would be just past the Globe theatre, at the tower bridge.

The Globe theatre – definitely a place for me to visit after my namesake.  The historical Globe was placed in between some ordinary-looking buildings and would be hard to find without the sign posts.  I stickybeaked in the souvenir shop and was overwhelmed by all the Shakespeareness, it seems they’ve gotten any old tea towel and printed some quotes on it.  The plays themselves weren’t too expensive, only 5 quid to view at groundling level (which is a must, I wouldn’t sit in the stands!) however the only thing playing was one of the Henry IV parts and would be incomprehensible for me.  Next time.  Before I crossed the Thames (Tems I decided) I visited the Modern Tate art gallery, and only because its free.  The good thing about London is that everything is free to get into!  Inside I waltzed around, bothered by the point that there’s no price tags on the works to be astounded by.  Saw Monets waterlillies (tick) and a Salvador Dali piece with a reflective river (tick).  Both were cool but I couldn’t help thinking – there is nothing between me and this near-priceless work!  I kept wondering what the fine would be…

From here I came across the Tower bridge and was shocked – the bridge is blue!  Not all of it, the railings are, but enough to give a surreal view.  Is it just me or has it always been blue?  Not sure.  Equally as shocking, but far more expected, was the Londoner wearing his socks and sandles.  Sneaked a few photos.  One of the highlights of the day has to be when I was crossing the bridge and just as I was stepping onto the other side an alarm went off.  Made me jump a little, and then I realised that the bridge was going up!  And I had front row seats!  Too good.  Didn’t even plan it.  On the other side of the bridge is Londons most preserved tower, complete with dungeons and tour guides dressed up in ye olde English clothes.  It looked pretty interesting and was recommended by the Lonely Planet as one of the places to pay for.    Unfortunately I didn’t get to make it here, so its the first priority on my next visit.

It was getting late in the day and I’d started earlier than most.  More collossal old buildings and cathedrals around every corner too!  I started heading back towards the hostel, but through the main part of the city.  It was here that I realised just how close everything is to each other.  The houses of Parliament were basically on the same stretch as Buckingham palace, so I really wasn’t far off having landmarks for all of central London.  At the front of parliament was like a tent embassy, though more for hippies protesting the war.  Seemed a bit disrespectful to be camping around statues of Churchill and Mandela though.  Also came across the theatre with a giant Billy Elliott out the front of it, and a similar one for the We Will Rock You show.  Very busy around these parts!

Back in the hostel I couldn’t believe it but I was starting to come down with something.  My nose was a tap and my head was spinning but I committed myself to having a pint and watching the football final between Germany and Spain.  Felt like a real man drinking from a pint glass – why did Australia choose to ditch these?  Made it to the end of the game, but I wasn’t in a good state and quickly retired to bed.

London – Tuesday

6 Jul

It was hard to fathom that it really was 5 or so in the morning, as the sky already had that mid morning grey tint on it.  Passed through customs with no dramas, we in Australia are obviously far more concerned about letting foreign items into our country than the Europeans.  I did have to tell the man my reasons for coming to Europe but he seemed more interested in what I was studying than in inspecting me further.  And then I was in England!  Someone from the plane was already downing a half litre can of beer in the terminal.  I got stung at the currency converter, 45 pounds for $100 isn’t good at all!  But the Bureau de change agency has a monopoly in the airport and I had no other choice.  From there it was relatively easy to find my prebooked bus, sorry, coach to take me to Victoria Station.  The London-Stansted airport for low cost carriers was definitely inconveniently located because it took nearly 90 minutes to get into town.  Not that I had any worries with that, because my hostel didn’t let you check in til the afternoon.  The first changes I noticed about the countryside was the different road signs and the shapes of the cars.  Very European, and as I know will become a constant feature of my diary, reminded me of several British films.

Got dropped off at the side of the road on a busy street.  Where the hell am I?!  Felt too much of a tourist to whip the Lonely Planet out right then and there, so I ducked around the corner and tried to get my bearings.  This was a bit difficult as Victoria Station is an oddly shaped building with many roads running in and out of it.  Took several gambles until I pretty much accidentally came across the right roads and before I knew it the White Ferry Inn was on the corner!  Made me very happy.  The guy behind the counter told me I could ditch my pack beneath the stairwell until I could check in, so I had a bit of time to explore London.

My first place I went into was, for better or for worse, a Texaco express.  Like a mini supermarket.  It was good to see what they had on offer and I also picked up an almond croissant, raspberry muffin and a bag of apples for breakfast.  Five quid, $10!  Blimey.  Almond croissant was worth it though.  From here I ventured down Buckingham street and, lo and behold, there was Buckingham Palace in all its boring glory.  Very unimpressive, a large creme building with little architectural interest, although the big-hatted guards out the front were cool.  And as it was some incredibly stupid hour in the morning, I was the sole tourist.  The grounds in front of the palace were better too, there were three large arches depicting Canada, South Africa and Australia.  A fountain in the middle held some massive bronze sculptures donated by New Zealand.  Nice to know we’re all thought of!  Green Park was over the road and I went in.  This park is quite big and really makes you think you’re out of the bustle of London.  Through this I discovered a war memorial to the ANZAC troops which had the various Australian suburbs on it.  Spotted Towradgi.  Past this memorial was Hyde Park, and if I thought that Green Park was a prime piece of real estate then I was wrong: Hyde Park is quadruply as big.  In the North Eastern corner was the fabled ‘Speakers Corner’, where our soap box idea in Campus East came from.  I walked many kilometres, sorry miles, to get there, expecting to see crazy bearded men ranting about society to a crowd of onlookers.  But no, nothing!  I even had to look at a map to make sure I was in the right place.  Apart from a kiosk with ‘Speakers Corner’ written on it, there was no activity at all.  And I’d come all this way.  Now I had to hot foot it back to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard.

It wasn’t my fault, I got there exactly when the festivities are supposed to start.  It was the crowds that I hadn’t been expecting.  People were swarmed up to the gates, with police directing traffic and pedestrians.  Amongst this marched a group of red-uniformed soldiers with either guns or instruments as they went about changing the guards over.  Apart from a few stretched out photos by myself I didn’t see too much and retreated back to the shade to watch what I could of the proceedings.  I should mention that by now the jet lag had well and truly settled in, and I was becoming sickly on a mix of lethargy and adrenalin for the exploration.  I went back to the White Ferry and checked in.  The dorm room was huge, but definitely seemed far smaller with the 7 triple bunk beds thrown in.  I had managed top bunk, which turned out to be ok as I could go to sleep without a) being disturbed by others and b) being seen as the party pooper going to bed at 4pm in the afternoon!  I had planned to wake up around 7 for the Holland versus Uruguay semi final.  That didn’t happen – I was out for the entire night.

Same same, nothing different

5 Jul

Daz was at work, so I was left to my own.  I had an argumentative call to a taxi company (they wanted me to leave a phone number?!) but finally got through to them and got dropped off at the Peronis towers.  Huge!  Walked around like the lost tourist that I was (had no map) and pretty much walked up and down streets.  Found a mall food court to eat at (realised I’d missed cheap Asian food very much) and did the whole wandering of air conditioned malls and such.  Nothing too new for me, but better than being inside a condo all day.  Saw a Croc shop – disgusting. 

Ate a Portugese tart to piss off Dad!  Got a taxi back home and showered off the days sweat.  Packed my gear up until Daz came home and drove me to the bus terminal.  Got to the airport with no hassles except I had to wait in line for dinner for ages, which made me scared of missing my boarding time!  But no worries, I got on fine, in between two smallish women so it wasn’t all terrible.  Didn’t have to think about getting a movie player as I was engrossed in ‘Shutter Island’ (book) and slept for 12 of the 14 hour flight.  Barely used my iPod! 

Kuala Lumpur

4 Jul

Dazza and meHad a very smug look on my face as the baggage carousel spat out my bag with all of its Asian flags stitched onto it.  Experienced traveller right here!  Smoothly found a currency converter that had the best rates – didn’t go to the first one I saw like most people.  Swapped $50 Australian into ringgits, think it was paying 4 to the dollar.  Got on a bus that took an hour to get into KL Sentral, where I found a pay phone and called Dazza up.  I stood out the front waiting for an Asian in a black car…I think a thousand passed before the right one showed up!  He was excited to see me and we went to eat some roti’s and coffee while we caught up.
“What TV shows do you guys watch in Australia?  I really don’t know what to watch without you guys.  Glee’s pretty good though.”  Darrel Lim, 2010.
Relaxed in his condo for the first half of the day, which I was happy to do because I was a bit buggered from the flight and I used his internet to find a place to stay in London.  Out side his window, monkeys played in the trees, so it wasn’t entirely dull!  In the afternoon he said he needed to go buy a washing basket from Ikea, so I tagged along.  Never in my life have I seen such a busy shop!  It was my first time at Ikea and it was impressive, but what won me over was that Daz travelled an hour in traffic and queued behind hundreds of people to walk the entire Ikea store just to get a simple washing bag that cost like 12 ringgits.  Fascinating.
Daz had to work the next day so we didn’t have a big one, instead we went to a market type area (Bintang Bukkit) and ate some food and shared a beer.  Nothing new to me – this Asian scene is all the same to me now.  Crashed in bed.

Saw the Swans – Saturday

3 Jul

Left after a deliciously satisfying Indian meal in an indie hipster cafe. Had a crappy check in with Qantas – we had checked in online but the counter I was waiting for was doing a group booking, without letting me know. Said goodbye to Mum and Dad and Chris, who got to enjoy me getting beeped by the security sensors. Made it with no dramas to Melbourne airport, where I sat on a hard metal seat for a couple of hours. Saw the Sydney Swans arrive. Boarded my plane to Kuala Lumpur with no hassles at 10pm. Slept for most of the journey.