Monday, July 24, 2006

The Lewis's visit London

We've been having the best couple of days while we have Brisbane friends Carmen & Matt here from Brisbane, at the end of a long tour of Europe they have been doing. It's been fantastic to have some people from home staying with us in our current flat, and its also given us a great excuse to get around town and do a few of the tourist sights we still haven't seen.. It's amazing that when living in a city like this one (and also Brisbane) that you tend to take things for granted and don't get around to seeing some of the bigger attractions while living your normal life.

They arrived at West Kensington on Saturday morning with very loaded suitcases after their long 6 week European tour, and the previous week around London visiting other friends living here - so after a brief catchup we headed across to North London on the Tube and went for a walk through Hamstead Heath and up to Parliament Hill to see the amazing view of the City and West End skyline from up there. On the way from the tube to the Heath, I stopped Matt and we grabbed a couple of cans of 'Stella' from an off-licence (offie) for the walk, and he was somewhat shocked that we could hapilly walk along the streets and through the park drinking our beers in public.. it seems no-one else had told this liberal UK attitude to licence and public liquor consumption, so he was very impressed and kept laughing at the strangeness and common sense of it! I could tell he was a little jealous of the more liberal laws over here..

After getting to the top of the hill a rain storm broke what had been a hot and humid summers day so we then walked through the trees in the drizzle to visit the nearby 'Ye Old White Bear' pub for a pint. That night we went up to Angel for dinner with some of their friends (one of which was celebrating a birthday) at one of the three great Gallipoli restuarants on Upper Street, giving us a chance to relive some of the amazing food we'd had in Turkey a few months back. Carmen was not impressed when we got caught up in a Tube sugnal failure on the way home and we were forced to walk from the next station to home - all part of living in London I told her.. at the time I don't think she wasn't satisfied with my excuse....

Yesterday, their visit gave us the perfect excuse to finally visit the world heritage listed Tower of London. Everyone who goes there says the same thing - it is an amazing fortress, steaming back 900+ years of Royal history and still houses the Royal Family Crown Jewels, which includes the bioggest cut diamond in the world.. We took the obligatory 'Beefeater' Yoeman Warden introductory tour around the Tower which as everyone had told us was very interesting and amusing - our Warden told us that to get the job they had to serve 22 years in the British armed forces, acheive the rank of Warrant Officer 1st Class, and all the while receiving some commendation medal for a perfect record over 18 years of that service. Our Beefeater was fairly young and had only joined the ranks in 2005, and while serving for the Army had the (dis)pleasure of guarding Nazi Rudolph Hess in a German prison in the 1980's (he mentioned it because Hess had been imprisoned at the Tower for a few days during the 2nd World War).

We spent most of the day walking around the site touring all of the individual buildings, rooms, and towers that make up the impressive complex - the amrouries in the original 'White Tower' were fantastic, with all of the old suits of armour and weaponry on display where it was once stored for use and some of it made at one stage. The display of the Crown jewels was the most spectacular thing to see there, and the size of the jewels making up the royal crowns, septors, and other ornaments involved in the coronation of the Queen/King were mind boggling. No photos allowed of course. Despite streams of tourists filing past I found myself a spot behind them and gazed at the cabinets until Carly made me move on with a phone call from outside.

We finally left the Tower satisfied that we'd seen the lot, and hopped on a restored Routemaster bus to find a pub near Covent Garden to get a late lunch/early dinner pub meal as requested by Matt - but it had to sell pies! We stopped at a pub on The Strand and had a great meal (Matt got his pie), before we headed up to a favourite of mine at the top of Drury Lane: The Lowlander, to show Matt what a quality Belgian Beer Café should be like, as opposed to the poor version we used to visit in Brisbane. Matt loved his glass of Brugse Zot, carefully selected from the long list of Draught and bottle beers on the menu, most of which he'd never seen or heard of before, while Carmen followed Carly's lead and got a Strawberry Frulli beer.

Beers finished, we headed home and had a bottle of red up on the roof, having a good laugh while the sun set over the rooftops and the rows and rows of old chimneys.

Tonight, Matt is in for a special treat - he is going with my mate Pete and I to the British International Motor Show out in the East London Docklands for several hours of oogling very shiny, polished, and very expensive automobiles.. Since greeting them at out front door on Saturday, Matt has been pretty excited to know that we'd be going to the Motor Show, and he hasn't stopped raving about how everyone in London seems to drive Lotus Esprits, Mercs, BMW's, and Maserati's - I only hope that it doesn't make him disapointed to visit the Brisbane 'International' Motor Show in the future..

They're heading off for Ireland tomorrow morning and then home not long after that so it'll be sad to see them go - but like we all said last night on the roof, 2007 is going to be a fantastic year for all of us to be living in Brisbane with so much going on - can't wait!

-shane

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