22.08.2010 - 23.08.2010 19 °C
Dear readers, if this entry sounds mournful, it's because I'm writing it as I'm sitting at my laptop at home, unpacked and unfortunately ready to go back to work tomorrow morning. Nonetheless, this retroactive entry will match the mood I was in when we disembarked the cruise ship Sunday morning in Southampton. Haven given our luggage to the porters the night before, all we had to do Sunday morning was to get up, eat and exit. I spent a long time out on the balcony the night before just listening to the sea, memorizing the feeling of the salt air on my face and the sound of the waves against the hull of the ship. Once morning came, all was still in Southampton port, and all was dark since we had to get up at 4 am...we had a 6:30 am disembarkation slot. My vacation wasn't over, but leaving the ship was the first step back to reality, so that one last taste was well savoured.
Note to future cruise travellers: disembarkation is relatively easy - you give the majority of your luggage to the porters the night before and they take it down to be offloaded the next morning in port. When you leave the ship, all the luggage is waiting in the terminal organized by the color codes of the individual's travel plans (if you're going to Heathrow you get a yellow tag, if you're going to the train you get a red tag, etc.). All you keep with you the night before is the toiletries and clothes you'll need the following morning, medications and valuables. They are very efficient.
Anyhow, we left the ship and got on the bus to London's Victoria rail station. I spent most of the two-hour trip sleeping. When we got to London, we had our first encounter with a paying public washroom...we have to pay to pee? It's a good thing I had change, cause mum and dad would have had to barter to get in! 60 pence later, we hired a minicab from the station to bring us to our hotel.
Quick safety tip about minicabs and taxis in London: Make sure to call ahead or reserve a liscenced minicab company. The travel guides, both paper and online, warn about the dangers of unliscenced minicabs, called tenters (I think). They can rob you blind, and there have been cases of women getting attacked after hailing an unliscenced minicab off the street.
The Hyde Park Towers on Inverness Terrace is a 3-star hotel with small rooms (by North American standards) but they're clean with free Wi-Fi and a good continental breakfast. Mum booked it specifically for me due to its proximity to Hyde Park...I'm a regency novel junkie and all of the heroes and heroines take their morning stroll in the Park! We were walking along Bayswater Road, unsure of what to do when we saw a Hop-On, Hop-Off tour bus so we bought tickets and hopped on! To those who have not done the tour busses, these busses are the best, since you can choose to either stay on the bus or get off the see the sights. Your ticket is good for 24 hours, so once you're done at the museum or cathedral, you just have to wait for the next bus to come along. We did it in Liverpool and liked it, so we decided it was the best way to see the most of London in a day. We saw the Marble Arch, the Statue of Eros and Picadilly Circus, Nelson's Column and Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. There were too many sights to mention, but if you're interested, we were on The Original City Sightseeing Tours...they have a few different routes that allow you to see most of the major sights and the tours (either live or recorded commentary) give a good history of the city. Did you know that the gates and street railings have been painted black since the death of Prince Albert in 1861? At the time the public did it as a sign of mourning and it's been done ever since.
Around lunchtime we got off at the Southwark Bridge and, thanks to my well-known sense of orientation, we got lost looking for a pub I'd come accross in my research, The Anchor on Park Lane. The only problem with all those tour guide books is they don't mention that roads like Park Lane run under the bridge and not level with it, so we found The Anchor once we figued out that we had to walk down the steps to the quayside. It's a great pub established in 1615 with an upstairs restaurant and a second-floor patio. The restaurant's food is supposedly good, but we wanted to sit in the patio by the River Thames, which limited us to the carryout menu that consisted of overbattered fish & chips and overcooked sausages. Still, the beer was good; they were out of the Hobgoblin Ruby Ale, but you can always count on Guinness!
We walked off our lunch before hopping back on the bus to get to the Tower Pier for a River Thames cruise. Another good thing about the City Sightseeing company is that you get a free river cruise and three free walking tours with the ticket (25£ per adult). The river cruise guide took us from the Tower Bridge down (or up?) the Thames to the Westminster Pier. It's a nice ride about 30 minutes long with good commentary from the guide and a history lesson about each bridge as we pass along. The Millennium Bridge is supposedly nicknamed the Wibbly Wobbly bridge because started wobbling a few days after it opened...I say it's because of the Death Eathers (Non Harry Potter fans ignore the last comment). We hopped off the boat cruise and hopped on the bus one last time to the Marble Arch, then we walked in Hyde Park until we reached the hotel. I had a nap while mum and dad went and had a pint around the corner. They went to the underground station to get an idea of the fares and the time to get to Heathrow the next day. To Dad, 4£ each and a 50 minute ride on the subway was better than 45£ and a 30 minute taxi ride. I was against it due to the volume of luggage we had, but I went along with it knowing they would probably change their mind the next day. Sure enough, fatigue and dad's head cold convinced them that a taxi was a quicker and stress-free way to go to the airport.
Okay folks, I'll give you a break and end this long entry here. I'll continue with London tomorrow before wrapping up this blog in a final thoughts entry. For now I have to get ready to go back to work tomorrow morning (sob!).