Just Back From… London

It’s a funny old world. I lived a little more than an hour away from London for 7 years, but in all that time I’d never spent a day there other than for attending meetings for work. So a train in, a tube to the location and back again, sometimes with a glance at some interesting architecture, thinking I really should bring a camera with me next time. Never spent any time in recent years exploring the city. I didn’t like London you see. I found it dirty, noisy and too busy so all I wanted to do was get in and get out as quickly as possible.

I have ‘done’ the tourist things years ago – Buck Palace, the Mall, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Camden Lock, Greenwich Market, but never been interested in what else it has to offer, until now, when I decided that I should at least visit the splendid museums that lie within the centre and are free. I like free. And Kew Royal Botanical Gardens. I like gardens.

So last week I accompanied the OH who was going there for business purposes and found myself in a reasonable hotel a spit away from Earl’s Court. With three days at my disposal. And a tube strike for two of those days. I dislike the tube at the best of times but at least it gets you to where you need to go, usually. Now buses, not only are they complicated, but also they are slow. On account of all that traffic you see.

Tuesday

On my first day I spent an hour and a half going round in circles as I attempted to get across to Chancery Lane tube station to go on a London walk.  Eventually it dawned on me that there was no way I was getting anywhere close to the centre as Circle, Central and Piccadilly lines were not running. Had I realised that at the start of the journey I could have made my way differently, but by the time I’d sussed out an alternative route it was too late. Frustrated now, by all the hopping on and off tubes going nowhere, I opted for some fresh air in Kew Gardens, but even that was a challenge as it involved a tube to Turnham Green, a walk to a bus stop, a bus to Kew Gardens Station and a walk to the gardens. Phew! I was quite exhausted before I even got there!

Kew is big. Really big. And although I walked for four hours I only covered half of it.  I got to see the Palm House, which was closed on a previous visit, but not the Temperate House, which is closed for restoration. I was enchanted by the peonies, the Woodland Garden and the Rockery. I loved the Princess of Wales Conservatory with the pelargoniums, the succulents and cacti, the jade vine and the chameleon. I was irritated by the number of school children on a day trip (usually Primary age) running around, screeching at full volume, getting in the way of a shot. They were everywhere!

I hear leaves drinking rain;
I hear rich leaves on top
Giving the poor beneath
Drop after drop;
‘Tis a sweet noise to hear
These green leaves drinking near.

~ from ‘The Rain’ by W H Davies

Getting away from them I discovered the lovely Davies Alpine House, the Waterlily House and further away, the Secluded Garden where I sheltered from a heavy April shower beneath the canopy of a Prunus tree.  Only to find another small glasshouse just around the corner! Oh, well.

Just when I thought I couldn’t walk any more my eyes glimpsed a shock of colour across the park, and I headed for the Azalea Garden, getting attacked by a crazy squirrel en route. I spotted him in the grass and thought about getting a photo of him, but he just kept heading straight towards me. Next minute he is clinging to my thigh and staring up at me, no way could I get a photo, I was too busy trying to encourage him to get down without being bitten!  After a couple of moments like this I did manage to take his picture and then quickly hurry away before he decided to have another go. Anyway, the azaleas were well worth being attacked for.

bluebells

Admitting defeat just before I found the bluebells and knowing that I still had to make my way back to the hotel as we had a dinner date at 7 pm I reluctantly left Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, footsore, but happy, and both camera batteries exhausted, like me.

Wednesday

Today I decided to head east and go to Tower Hill as I wanted to find a secret garden hidden in the ruins of a bombed-out church near there. I wasn’t interested in the Tower of London, nor the bridge, although had I realised how close I was to the latter I may have gone closer to get a few photos of the famous Gothic Towers. My rather vague plan was to wander back along the Thames to visit the Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern Gallery and then possibly Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.

It was a reasonably successful trip, but far too ambitious. I discovered St Dunstan’s Garden, a real oasis in the midst of the city.

I passed a couple of interestingly named pubs, the Monument itself – a tribute to the Fire of London that started in Pudding Lane close by in 1666 – and had a good Bratwurst sausage from Borough Market for lunch, eaten in the grounds of the lovely Southwark Cathedral.

By now though my feet were beginning to protest and I was wondering how much further I could walk.  A busker at Southwark close to the Clink Prison (no I had never heard of it either) amused me as he was set up directly opposite a No Busking sign! Not sure he was amused by me taking his photograph though. I didn’t go inside the Globe as you can’t take photos and it was for that reason I wanted to visit it.  Also I was getting tired.

The Tate Modern is big. And confusing. The Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition is running, but as I am not a huge fan of modern art I decided against paying the £16 entry fee. Instead I visited a couple of other floors, but was so underwhelmed by some utterly pretentious crap that may make you wish you had not ventured in. A shame, because I thoroughly enjoyed SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) a few years ago and imagined the Tate Modern would be similar. It’s not.

Millenium Bridge

Defeated again by sore feet, I headed for the tube and back to the hotel for a rest, fully intending to head back out to photograph Brompton Cemetery. Didn’t happen. Instead I listened to the continual banshee wailing of police sirens as van after van screamed its way to Fulham for the football match that evening.

Thursday

And rain. But the tube strike is over so I can at least head to Holborn and the British Museum which seems a good place to while away a few hours in bad weather, and if I get bored with that then I can always visit the V&A Museum. Or so I thought. Of course, if you have visited the BM you’d know instantly that one can not possibly see everything this has to offer in ONE DAY! Little did I know what was in store. Suffice to say that several hours of tramping around this huge building I was once again footsore, but happy, and this time with a dead camera card. You may wonder how anyone can fill up an 8 Gb card? So did I, considering I’d only taken about 100 photos. It appears that the OH doesn’t format the card after he removes photos and somehow the thing keeps folders and indexes so believed itself to be full. Changing the settings to web-sized photos helped me squeeze a few more shots out of it, but to be honest I was rather more interested at browsing through some of the most interesting objects in the world and avoiding the hideous crowds in some rooms (Rosetta Stone) and finding an empty bench where I could rest before setting off for another period in history.

P1090574

Discovered a good pub around the corner from the hotel which served good food and even better wine (I nearly refused to finish the bottle of Malbec we had in the hotel – and I never do that!) to end a good, though utterly exhausting  three days. Though the pub was so packed and noisy when we entered I wondered if we’d made a big mistake. A good bottle and a half of NZ Pinot Noir later, we conceded we hadn’t 🙂

Things I have learned about London

  1. It’s awfully difficult to see any stars at night due to light pollution, plus fog or possibly smog?
  2. it is noisy. I have not heard so many sirens since I left Surrey 3 years ago. So. Much. Traffic. So. Many. People.
  3. Ugly, ugly concrete tower blocks.
  4. Overcrowded tube carriages. Actually during the strike at Earl’s Court we had an Irish driver who said ” Now now folks, ye don’t all need to crowd in the one carriage, ye know, we don’t charge extra for y’all to use the rest of the train” which brought a smile to my face.
  5. People avoid eye contact. Read a book, a Kindle, a free paper, a phone, the adverts, the tube map, anything but look at someone else. Or smile.
  6. People are so rude. If you happen to get in their way – or even when they get in your way  – they glare at you as if to say “what are you doing standing there?” And they never say sorry as they barge into you or step on your foot. It’s as though it is a sign of weakness to admit they are in the wrong.
  7. So. Many. School. Trips! See Kew Gardens! They are everywhere you go, snake lines of young children running amok, getting in the way, teachers shouting, everyone making Too. Much. Noise.
  8. Free Museums – a good thing – though by being free they are also very crowded. A bad thing.
  9. Unexpected green spaces. I’d love to explore the green bits of London, but suspect I’ll need a lot of time to do that.
  10. Black Cabs (or even the odd yellow one) with drivers who actually know where they are going.
  11. Shoes. You need very comfortable shoes. I thought mine were, but I hadn’t reckoned on walking on hard pavements for hours at a time. Should have worn my hiking boots. Maybe. Or buy a pair of those Sketchers with memory foam insoles. Has anyone got a pair?
  12. Don’t try to do too much. 2-3 hours at a stint is more than enough.

I’m sure many of you have visited London, and I know at least one Londoner who follows my blog who might have a different opinion about the city, so tell me please, what is your view of London? Love it? Hate it? Why?

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Heyjude

I now live back in the UK, but spent several years travelling the world and then living in South Africa. I look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

76 thoughts on “Just Back From… London”

  1. Here’s that one Londoner!
    I should have warned you about Tate Modern. Great building, awful exhibitions. Shame you missed Brompton Cemetery. It is quite special, and very near your hotel! Tower Bridge is great. Even though I was brought up within a stone’s throw of the south side, I never tire of admiring it.
    All tower blocks are ugly, except Trellick Tower, which is fascinating.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trellick_Tower The sirens are something I don’t miss since moving away, nor the light pollution, the main reason you can’t see stars.
    This took me back though Jude, and mostly in a good way, so thanks for posting.
    Regards as always, Pete. x

    1. I wish I’d known about Tate Modern, I wouldn’t have wasted my time visiting it, and I’m a bit annoyed about not going to the cemetery, but my feet were so sore! Anyway, there’ll be a next time. My daughter lives in Surrey so we’ll be back down there and maybe stay in London next time so I can do a bit more exploring 🙂 I shall ask you for some ‘insider’ tips!
      xx

      1. Hi, Jude and Pete,
        this I found most interesting reading. I haven’t been to London for years and have the museums on my bucket list, foremost Tate modern. 🙂
        Dina xo

    1. Yes, there are lots of little hidden parks and gardens apart from the huge parks like Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Did you discover anywhere special?

      1. We with our day and a half really stuck to the main sights and parks. The restaurant in the crypt of St Martins of the Fields really was something 🙂

  2. The idea of London is great, but you do need to get into training, don’t you – all that yomping on hard pavements and up and down tube staircases. St.Dunstan’s looked a wonderful find though. It’s those unexpected oasis moments that are the best. I have the Horniman Museum on my list should I summon the will to get on a train to the capital.

      1. The Horniman is some distance from the centre, between Dulwich and Forest Hill, so another train from London Bridge. Not a lot around it unfortunately, but you could tie in a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery http://www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/, and the surrounding school buildings of Dulwich College http://www.dulwich.org.uk/, and Dulwich Park http://www.southwark.gov.uk/info/461/a_to_z_of_parks/1296/dulwich_park itself are nice to look at .
        I would always suggest a visit to Sir John Soane’s House, one of the oddest collections in Central London, and free admission!
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_John_Soane%27s_Museum
        Just a start! x

  3. I must’ve been just around the corner from you as I was near Earl’s Court too! Lovely photos of Kew Gardens – one for my London to do list still. I like London in small doses these days, after moving away I found the crowds and the rudeness affects me so much more than when I loved there – I must’ve lost my Londoner’s immunity to it all!

    1. That’s true, you get used to a place so you don’t notice so much as you go about your every day business. I have never lived there and always hated the crowds. Where do Londoners go for peace and quiet?

  4. Oh Jude, you really packed it in!!!!! You must have blisters on your blisters 😉 Great post, great photos and I’m still chuckling about the crazy squirrel! There are LOTS of hidden green spaces in London which is always a blessed relief. St Dunstans is great 🙂 I like Bernie Spain Gardens on the South Bank.

    1. No blisters, fortunately, just aching soles! Now I have to visit Bernie Spain Gardens if only for the name! I was planning on visiting the Garden Museum you told me about, but it was closed that week! Just my luck. I still have a few gardens to hunt down though so must return!

      1. Look up the Coin Street Community Builders! The Bernie Spain gardens are part of their project. It’s right next to the OXO tower building and just provides a nice break to the walk along the Southbank 🙂 Shame about the Garden Museum but you did loads!! Lots of the old London Cemeteries are now nature reserves and I really want to check out a few of them sometime.

        1. Ooh that looks good too! I think the quietest time in London is late Jan, early Feb, when it’s cold, wet and no one’s got any money 😉 Of course that’s rubbish for most gardens! Failing that, 5am before the commuters start rolling in. Not very helpful either though is it!

  5. Do you think you were on overload, Jude? I love London but I’ve only ever gone for one day at a time and have always been pleased to get back out to the sticks again! You made me envious talking about Kew. I took my mother there when my son was in a pushchair. He’s 33 now! I need to go back. In the meantime, I enjoyed your lovely pics.

    1. There were a lot of things I’d have liked to see, but obviously I wasn’t going to do it all in 3 days and the tube strike didn’t help! I hadn’t realised that walking was going to be such a problem as I walk a lot when I’m away, but probably not on hard pavements and stairs. Any decisions on where you are headed Carol?

        1. Just a text! That’s all we seem to do these days except for the grandchildren who still receive cards 🙂
          I’ve four, the eldest is 39 – almost as old as me 😀

  6. I’ve never been to London but hey, I’m wearing Sketchers with memory foam right now! They truly saved me during our last trip to Disneyland. Three days of standing and walking on hot pavement can be so painful and this was the first trip my feet didn’t hurt. 🙂

    1. Quick! Tell me the name of the shoes – there are so many different ones and I can’t find any with the memory foam inlay here. I think I spelled it wrong too – should be Skechers?

  7. Seething Lane made me smile! You could be, Jude! 🙂 In the 4 years I lived in London, I wandered high and low but I don’t remember St. Dunstans, so you’re one up on me there. I loved the place, but then I was just a 19 year old and still sparkly eyed.
    If I go back now I prefer to stay in Holborn or South Bank because wandering is so much easier from there. And believe me, my shoes are ragged by the time I’m finished. Pity about the tube strike though- it gives you more options. I can never be bothered going all that way down and acting like a bad tempered mole before finding my way back to the surface. And I hate elbow to elbow, without a smile. I venture on the buses sometimes and waltch the hubbub go by.
    Paula, from Lost in translation, was spending a few days in London, too. I hope she didn’t fall foul of the strike. I’m off now, to see 🙂
    Incidentally- there were hordes of school children and teens on trips in Krakow and Szczawnica. 🙂

    1. Nah, not seething Jo, I’m no longer in a hurry to get anywhere so I just go with the flow. The kids were annoying, but just being kids, shame there were so many of them though. And the one bus I took was OK – at least now they have route maps at the bus stops and stops info on the bus so you know when to get off, which is much better than it was. The trouble with buses is knowing where to change and which stop to change at for another route. And they are slow! I used buses in San Fran and didn’t have a problem, maybe the grid system in US cities makes it so much easier than over here.

      Hope you are enjoying Poland 🙂 And have a walk for us on Monday, if you are back by then.

  8. Dear Jude,
    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your London report and seeing your fine impressions of the big, crowded city. I arrive outside London quite often and go straight to Norfolk or Cambridge. My last proper stay in the capitol goes back many years and I have London and the museums and the surroundings gardens on my bucket list. I must admit, your list “Things I have learned about London” put a smile on my face and strengthened my reluctance to swop the tranquility in Norfolk with the fascinating city.
    I didn’t know the “The Rain” by W H Davies, what a gem! 🙂
    Best wishes to you from Norway,
    Dina, Siri and Selma xo xo xo

    1. Hi Dina and girls, hope you are all enjoying the lovely Norway. I think a day trip to London every now and then is suffice. I tried to pack too much in the 3 days there and even after the first day my feet ached. Still lots more to see though and next time I shall consult The Wise One from Beetley 🙂

  9. Agree with some things/ disagree with others. I love the Tate, perhaps the building more than some of the exhibitions but I have seen great things there too – and got some great pics.
    Used to work near Tower Hill and know St Dunstans – actually had a whopping argument with my current husband in there moons ago.
    London is exhausting but I still think worth it – in small bites. I want those Sketches!!!!
    Looks like you made the most of this fine city and faced off the strike in style.

  10. Oho Jude, you’ve opened up a can of worms here! I love London. I’m not actually a Londoner but have always lived less than an hour away and the thought of moving somewhere less accessible gives me anxiety attacks:)
    Yes, the people appear rude – but no ruder than the Parisians, New Yorkers or countless other city inhabitants that I could list: it’s how folk survive. When I commuted (for 15 years) I learned quickly how to get through the rush hour, how to avoid eye contact and use my elbows to secure a seat. Now when I visit, these old learned patterns soon helpfully emerge.
    I’d agree that 2-3 hours at a time is probably the way to go – any more and it’s saturation point when sightseeing.
    I’d take issue with you about the Tate – I love modern art and find it fascinating to wander around the floors there. The exhibitions do change so there’s always something new to see. The exhibitions do get annoyingly crowded – I’ve already secured my Matisse tickets for later in the summer – and am hoping to have chosen a less busy time slot.
    Kew Gardens are beautiful – I haven’t been for a while but your pictures make me want to revisit. A friend and I will be doing a London bus top tour soon – tourists in our own town – and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the old city as that’s an area that I’m not so familiar with.
    But you know what they say – once a man’s tired of London, he’s tired of life … I’d tend to agree with that 😉

    1. Haha, I thought I’d cause some controversy Jenny 😀

      As I said, I have NEVER enjoyed London, except the thought of living there when I was 19 years old and it seemed so exciting compared to ‘up North’. I think some of us are city dwellers and some of us aren’t. I’m definitely not. Though I do enjoy exploring a city, I’m also glad to not have to live in one. London is so BIG though. Some cities are so much easier to move around in as their centres are more compact and I don’t think I have ever been in a city where the people rush and push so much. I can understand it when you are trying to get somewhere in a hurry, but it doesn’t make it any more pleasant to be on the receiving end of it. Even the OH who lived and worked there for 25 years wouldn’t return.
      I look forward to your take on the city after your tour 🙂

      Maybe I need you or Mrs C to take me to the Tate Modern. I just didn’t get it!

  11. I loved your post, fabulous photos. I love London and hope to go again soo. I am lucky enough to have a friend who lives near Tower Bridge so I can stay with her and spend days just wandering. She knows the mosts obscure museums and places which are away from the tourist trail.such as the Soane Museum
    see my blogpost
    http://wp.me/s2gGsd-london

    1. Thank you HH – I think that is what you need to do in London, explore the off-beat parts, which is what I wanted to do but the tube strike scuppered some of my plans. Shall hop along to your post in a second 🙂

  12. I lived in London for 15 years (1990-1999; 2004-2009) and will always in part think of it as ‘home’. I really enjoyed this post, though I had to chuckle at just how much you thought you could see in one day! You highlighted some of the things that I dislike — the traffic, the noise, the sheer press of people everywhere you go — and also those things I like, such as the unexpected oases of greenery, and Kew Gardens. My mother would love the bit about avoiding eye contact: she still tells the story of how horrified I was when on the Tube she not only looked at people but she — gasp! — spoke to them, too!
    This really makes me want to come back for a month or two. Not likely, alas!

  13. I love the green spaces. In fact I want a garden just like them 🙂 The first time I did London was I forgot how late it gets dark in summer and after an entire day on my feet, flopped down on a pavement outside a Wimpy and couldn’t walk another step for ages. The city is vast! Second time around I had Dylan with me and used busses and a taxi. It was July and quite hot and all the sales were on in Oxford Street. Needed the taxi for all the shopping 🙂 I don’t think I’ve touched a tenth of the city in two visits and yes, that smog/pollution is something else.

  14. Arrived via Pete! I hate London for all the reasons you mention. And it’s so unfriendly if you’re disabled. If you visit Kew Gardens again (for the other half!), it might be best to get the District Line to Richmond and the bus from there to Kew Green for the main entrance. St Dunstan’s garden looks divine. I must get rid of my hatred to explore the area.

    1. Nice to see you! Unfortunately on my trip the District Line wasn’t running to Richmond 😦 hence the convoluted route via bus and walking. But I shall definitely go there again. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to get around if disabled. I think I’d probably not even bother!

  15. Fantastic. Next time you are in London you should visit Ye olde Cheshire cheese pub, it’s near to St. Paul’s. Check out our blog about it and other places we visited.

  16. I was in London briefly with some girlfriends back when I was 20 – I thought I had seen everything I cared to see there, but after a lot of these comments about the places off the main tourist path, I think I would like another visit!
    I live outside of Houston, and we have about 6 million people in the greater metropolitan area, and most people are pretty friendly, in person anyway (not so much when driving). Maybe it’s because we’re so spread out – the Houston area is bigger than the whole state of New Jersey.

  17. What an ab. fab. time you had Jude. I chuckled as you fought off that randy squirrel and loved walking round the Kew Gardens a place I would LOVE to visit. St Dunstans gardens sounds the ideal place to rest weary feet for a while before it is on-on…As you say so much to see and do. but you did very well in the short time you had.

    1. I reckon the squirrel was after food, but I wasn’t taking any chances! Kew is gorgeous, but I still say if there is one garden to visit in England then go to RHS Wisley in Surrey. Easier to get around and stunning planting in all seasons.

  18. I really enjoyed your report of three days in London. I’ve lived a short train ride from London for years and years, yet still only seem to have done the main tourist areas (usually when we have had visitors) or theatres. Recently I went to the British Museum though, for the first time, and agree with you that it is impossible to see everything in one day. I also agree about All. The. School. Trips… 🙂

  19. Hi Jude – I’m so sorry that you didn’t enjoy all that London has to offer – I’m with Beetlepete above – you need to come to South London next time, I think – sounds as though the big city is too much all at once… come to enjoy the charms of the South next time – there’s beautiful villages, parks, architecture – and smiling people too… but not too many of us!
    Give it a go – there’s so much on offer – and as you found out, a lot of it is free
    Emma 🙂

    1. Thanks Emma! Small bites of the city are probably enough for me. I wish I’d made more of the opportunity to visit when I only lived an hour away. Now it has to be overnight at least. I’m sure I will be back to explore another chunk of London Town 🙂

  20. I know your feeling exactly, I lived in London for just more than a year and hardly made the effort to get out and see the city! I wish I had made more of it now. I think it’s a great place to visit, but to live there was very tiring and could be stressful in ways I didn’t even realise at the time.

    The noise, the pollution and the crowded public transport are things that are just part of every day when you’re living there. Certainly not something I thought about at the time. But now it hits me in the face every time I visit. And don’t even get me started on the commute! Great for a weekend, but not for life.

    1. Funny how we don’t explore what is on our doorstep – butI think you are doing rather better in Geneva, though I still have to see any images of the old town 😉

      1. I’m definitely doing much better here! Haha, I have plenty of photos but haven’t got around to processing them yet 🙂 Planning to get over there at night some time over the next week as well.

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