Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chunnel to France

Just about to board the train to France, sorry for slow posts but will write a quick update to wrap up London this evening.


Sent from my iPod

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Between Two Lungs..

Before I update you all, today is my brother’s birthday, so a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you, Liam. Hope you have a fantastic day today, and look forward to Skyping with you at some stage =D

After getting the wrong day yesterday for the changing guards yesterday, I thought I’d try again today. However during breakfast the dark grey clouds opened up and let out a torrent of water, no guard change today L. The silver lining was that that I could just take the tube straight to the Science and Natural History museums. I decided to have a nice cruisy day, taking the morning to just relax with a cup of tea while I finished my updates, and then would meander round the quiet museums in the afternoon. I left the hostel just before 12 and took the train across town, starting at the Science Museum.

A stone from the Moon

Floating World

Main Entrance

This was quite a nifty museum with many areas to explore. I mainly checked out the space travel, model ships, and aviation sections and darted through many other areas just enjoying looking rather than reading. The museum had a swarm of young school children running around pushing buttons, screaming and generally just getting in the way, which was really quite annoying so I left and walked down the road a bit to the Natural History Museum. Along the road I read an engraved plaque on the neighbouring building (the V&A Museum). The museum had holes and chunks taken out along the wall, which was damage caused by bombs during the raid in WW2. It was incredible! Pretty amazing to be able to see something so real and so raw just by walking down the street. A great reminder of what the city endured.

The Natural history museum was much more peaceful and manageable. It still had several areas to explore including, Mammals, Dinosaurs, Minerals, The environment, Scott’s last expedition, and many others. Walking around was pretty tiring, and some of the rooms you walked into were massive. I usually had to stop and take a few deep energising breaths before continuing. I arrived at the ecology department and was intrigued by its displays and information. Only hours prior I had been asking myself what it is I actually really enjoyed doing and looking at, what is something that I could spend hours talking/thinking/reading about and what subject would I voluntarily learn about. Little had really grasped my attention at the other museums I had already visited, but this ecology section had me stopped in my tracks reading every bit of information. Perhaps a career path? Maybe!

Entrance to the Museum

A Large herbivorous dinosaur skeleton 

A very long room with probably every type of rock and mineral on this planet.

Main Gallery

T-Rex Robot 
Great Whale display

A couple of hours later I head up towards Kensington Garden and Hyde Park, known as the Lungs of the city. The sun was peeking through the clouds casting the claw like shadows over the path, a typical sunny 
winters day. 

Albert Memorial (Queen Victoria's Husband)

I came across the statue called, “Physical Energy”. Excellent, just what I’m in desperate need..

"Physical Energy"
Looking at the statue, touching the statue, talking to the statue...the inanimate object was not obliging to my requests for an energy boost. I followed the pathway through the park soaking up the afternoon sun as I went.

Passing the famous Peter Pan statue...

The Pan himself

I had now arrived at the top of Oxford Street, known as the shopping street in London, which I intended to window shop. 20 meters down the street I’ve already convinced myself to have a quick peek inside this large clothing store, Primark. It was clothing galore spread over 2 floors, with about 24 checkouts per level. There were people pushing and shoving grabbing clothes and queuing for the changing rooms, clothes were carelessly thrown away from where they should be, and falling off hangers. ‘Window browsing’ quickly turned into ‘trying on’. I grabbed a navy blue V neck sweater and tried it on, “3Pounds, yeah I’ll just get this one” I thought to myself, “Chino’s 10Pounds!?, I do need some more pants, oh, 3Pound T-shirts, and oh look, 6Pound shoes!!”. The statue from Kensington Park had delivered! I was so excited by all these cheap clothes, and was darting between racks converting to NZD as I went to find the best deal. Within a few minutes I had 2 pairs of pants, a cardigan, sweater and pair of shoes. I remembered I still had to carry everything I bought in my backpack and began un-justifying my items. 

“The cardigan isn’t very durable and will stretch easily, that will go, the shoes are bulky and I already have casual pair back at the hostel, the sweater is acrylic and may not be very warm”. I returned them to their racks and lined up to pay. I stood looking at my chino’s and my other pair of pants which were 100% Linen (ultimate summer - ultra lightweight casual pants) just as the cashier called next I made a split second decision and ditched the chino’s on top of the sock rack. One item, 10Pounds later, I know these linen pants will be useful for lounging around the hostels or keeping the mosquitoes at bay during the warmer months. If you’ve ever been shopping with me, you may know I get buyers remorse and/or buyers regret, however I’m pleased with my purchase and my decision to leave the others behind.......... 3Pounds for a sweater though...might got back tomorrow. 

Shopping makes my ears glow
I continued along Oxford St, Running across to various shops, River Island, Top man, Zara all of my favourite brands I swooned over back home, now I was here I still couldn’t purchase. The clothes are all a mid-range price, had London been my home I would buy them, but as I was a traveller looking for practicality over fashionable, it would be silly to waste my money. Still nice to have a look.

I finally got back to the hostel, (a little later than originally planned!)
 I think today was the largest day for walking (so much for a quiet relaxing day) so I made myself a nice hot meal and I’m now in the lounge at the hostel with another cup of tea. Tomorrow i'm switching accommodation and hopefully catching up with Michael, my second cousin(?) 

Will fill you all in later..

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Royal Disappointment..

Many apologies for the late post, writing these take a bit of time and effort, and if you don’t have either, you fall behind a bit. I’ll do my best; some posts may become less writing and just more photos as the writing takes the longest!   Here is yesterday’s:

Yet again, I started the day far earlier than I would have liked. 4am and I’m wide awake, mentally planning my day while everyone else is off in the land of nod.
 At this unnatural time I get very excited about the day and ready to jump into my packed itinerary, but what’s open at 4am?! I end up quite frustrated because tiredness doesn’t come back again till just before I need to get up. Feeling average isn’t the best way to start the day. Oh well, I guess that’s what happens when you cross multiple time zones, all in good time, I’ll come right! 
My plan for the day was just to head over to Westminster to see the Buckingham palace and to watch the changing of the guards which would start at 11.30. During the off season, this ceremony is only performed on certain dates, while in summer, it’s an everyday occurrence. The receptionist and prior research had stated that it would be on unless it rained. Marcus, a young German guy staying at the hostel recommended getting there at 10.45 to get a good close position so you actually see what was going on.

 11am and I’m still brushing my teeth at the hostel. I snatch an umbrella and start at a break necking pace towards Holborn station. (Today was the coldest day so far. It wasn’t windy, just very grey and freezing) Many of the other travellers in the hostel have Oyster cards, which allow you to quickly scan your card to access buses and trains for a discounted price. I decided to quickly purchase a card I could load money onto. The great thing about this card, (apart from the 50% savings on the cost of a standard fare), is that you can return the card at the end of your time in London for a refund of any remaining credit on the card, plus your 5 pound deposit made when you get it, Awesome!

 Within a few minutes I’m running up the escalators and doing that awkward run/walk across Green Park. There is a crowd of people around the front of the palace I trot along trying to find a gap so I can see through the fence. I find a spot right on the fence with a few minutes to spare, stoked!  However, there’s a sign a meter in front of me saying, “Next Changing of the Guards – Tomorrow 11.30am.” Noooooo!!!!

The Guards

Me in front of the palace, the flag is flying, the Queen is at home. 

 Never mind, there were still other things to see, places to visit, so I zig-zagged my way up The Mall,

The Mall

Through St. James Park....

Looking across the Lake in St. James Park

Made some friends along the way....

...of the animal variety..

and back across again to watch a practising marching band.
The trees in London’s Parks are all very bare and sad, but lively flowers and blooms are slowly making their way back. 

Horse Guards Parade

What a boring job..

I crossed Horse Guards Parade, passing beside the horse guards and followed along the Thames to Big Ben and parliament houses. Standing right in front of Big Ben, I wonder what the time is and proceed to fumble through my jacket for my iPod........duuhh!!

Big Ben

I continued towards the Westminster Abby and strolled through what I think was Westminster Abby School. The old stone buildings completely enclosed a lovely grassy square keeping out most of the traffic noise. It was peaceful and silent and I took a moment just to enjoy the tranquillity.  

Westminster Abbey 

I decided not to go in, but enjoyed sitting across the road mentally adding in Prince William and Kate Middleton leaving the Abby in their open carriage.

I popped into the gift shop attached, why bother trying to imagine William and Kate when you can just by life sized cut-outs? Overwhelmed by the wedding memorabilia, I just tuned out and aimlessly went round and round the shop enjoying the warmth.  

National Gallery

I munched down my cheese and salad sandwich on the steps of the National Gallery art museum. It was a spectacular view looking across the bustling square with Big Ben in the distance. The gallery was fantastic, filled with a variety of famous paintings from different eras.

Personal favourite by Van Gogh

Me, looking over Trafalgar Square with Big Ben in the background

Walking back to the hostel I stopped in at the supercharged M&M shop in Piccadilly Square. 4 floors of just M&M merchandise, which was probably a bit excessive, but still fun to look around!!

All the colours of the rainbow..

And so ended another day in London, I will try the changing of the guards tomorrow, but not hopeful as the forecast is for rain!

Till next time...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Walking, Walking.....flag, I'm taking the Tube

I managed to stay up a little bit later last night, 9.30pm to be exact. Didn't help to much, as I ended up wide awake at 2.30am and didn't feel sleepy again until 9am when I had to get up for breakfast. I was speaking to a couple of German travelers over breakfast. "Where are you going today" she asked. "I'm not sure yet, I'll decide after my shower". That's the beauty of being right in the middle of London, you don't have to rush away, you can just start walking in a direction and then decide what you'll stop and see.

I decided I'd start at St. Pauls cathedral. I looked out the dorm window to determine my attire. (Yeah right! Nylon zip off pants, a t shirt, a down jacket and a packed away polar fleece no matter the weather) It was sunny with some cloud and a bitter freezing wind. (Think winter southerly in Christchurch). Map in hand I headed in the direction of St. Pauls. It's hard to miss, what a massive cathedral!!! Quite blow away by the sheer size.

St Pauls Cathedral
Couldn't quite fit the entrance all in. 

I knew St. Pauls cost to enter, and I stood there pondering whether it would be worth it or not. 14 Pounds! - 28NZD! ouch. After hearing raving reviews from Jimmy and Jess I decided what the heck. I'd spent next to nothing so far, I'll splash out. I quickly joined in on a tour group which was run by a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer. He ran us through the main points of the cathedral including general layout, history, building materials, and significant points of interest. Photo's weren't allowed, so I've pulled the one below from  Google. It doesn't capture the detail or size perfectly but gives you an idea. 

Looking along the quire to the high alter. 

All the pictures on the roof and the colours are from giant mosaics. These are made of glass and are set at different angles so the sunlight pouring in the windows make it sparkle and come to life. I find its history during the war very interesting. Men volunteered to protect the cathedral from incendiary bombs (bombs that started fires) as it's wood frame made it vulnerable. Men can't stop exploding bombs though, and the cathedral was hit twice; in the north (far end of the photo) and west. After the tour I picked up an audio tour and walked around with my headphones listening to a guided commentary. I climbed up to the whispering gallery (the biggest dome in the cathedral) where you could look down to the main floor. Called the whispering dome because of its amazing acoustics, just by whispering into the walls people on the other side of the dome can here you. Totally worth the 14 pounds, I spend several hours just wondering around this mammoth place. I left and crossed across the Thames on the Millennium bridge towards Tate modern. 

On the Millennium Bridge

Tower Bridge In Distance

Tate Modern
Tate modern is a modern art gallery. The building used to be the Bankside power station, until it shut down. Tate needed a new location and moved it's gallery to this old building. Old on the outside, new and quirky on the inside. I love the fact it's a converted building, but James you were right, modern art can be quite bizarre. 5 floors of exhibitions and I must have been done in about 20 minutes. After realizing I has just wasted 5 minutes of my life watching close up video footage of street litter being blow in the wind, I left and wandered along the river towards tower bridge.

Modern Art

The walkway along the River wiggles in and out of little alleyways with small pubs and cafes. 

Very, very windy, and very cold!!

Tower of London
I started feeling pretty tired, by now and my feet were a wee bit sore from all the walking. Going through the castle didn't really appeal to me, but was able to read plaques dotted around about the history. I worked out I was about 45 - 1hr walk from my hostel, without hesitation I justified the 4 Pound train ticket and headed to the nearest Tube station. Soon I was flying through the underground network. A quick change over onto the Piccadilly line and I was back at Russell Square. 

So here I sit, 7pm, downstairs in Starbucks opposite the British Museum, with an empty cup of peppermint tea. I think I'll head back to the hostel for a light dinner before settling in for the night. Tomorrow I hope to head over to Buckingham palace (I think the changing of the guards is on, will have to check) but weather dependent of course.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

A very large Update....feel free to Skim

20 Hours ago I left you at Chch International, and currently still travelling. At this point in time I’m about 8 hours into the KUL-LON leg, soon to be flying over Poland and Germany. Let me fill you on on the flying details.

After leaving you at security I went through into the main departing hall, quick peek through duty free and a 1.25L bottle of water I was set to go. There’s been a bit of talk about the quality of AirAsia, sure it’s a budget airline, but the seating wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
When booking my flights a couple months ago, I also registered with this little side company that works with AirAsia called optiontown. For a tiny bit extra money I could have the possibility of being assigned an entire row to myself (3 chairs to sprawl out on). When checking in at Chch airport however, they had spaced out the seating so much they couldn’t accommodate my request, but they made sure there was a free seat between me and the other passenger. The seats are very basic, a dirty sand colour with splashes of red on the head rest and seatbelts. When I sat down and put my water, tissues and bag of med’s there was virtually no room between my knees and the pouch. If you’ve ever flown domestically, that’s basically what it’s like, no in seat tv (or any tv in the entire plane for that matter), no radio on arm rest, just basic basic stuff. I made myself comfortable and was soon joined by a young girl from Finland called Elscy (not sure about spelling but sounded like eel-sea) She reminded me a lot of Danielle (of Danielle and Amy for those Richardsons who know what I mean). First meal was served 2am NZ time, why the heck would I want to eat at that time. But ate I did. Bean sprouts, carrots and salmon with hollandaise sauce, served with a 350Ml bottle of water, polished it off in less than 5 minutes. Was pretty decent.

The lights were dimmed and began the restless nice of tossing and turning, Elscy and I used the middle seat to stretch out legs and took turns awkwardly collapsing our heads into the middle seat. I must have slept a few hours, but certainly not solidly. Waking up to strong turbulence, limbs going numb, and being generally uncomfortable. I naturally sit quite squished up or in awkward positions, so I was able to fit my feet; into the magazine pouch, through the chair infront of me and onto the empty hand rest, or squished up in the fetal position. People unable to peform such manouverous should invest in the premium seats.
I felt very dazed and confused, and generally awful while trying to sleep, I felt like I was always in a semi state of concousness. Soon the harsh flurescent like lights were back on and breakfast was being served, Chicken and Gravy, with spuds, carrots and courgettes. (some breakfast!!) I ate a carrot, and half a piece of courgette before wrapping it back up and pushing it away. Nausea had taken hold very strong, the smell of the asian rice meals people were receiving were making my stomach churn. Elscy and I chatted for ages, she had been away for about 6 months working in Australia and travelling New Zealand, and was about to spend a week in Kuala Lumpur and the Philipines before heading home. We had an amazing landing in Kuala Lumpur, what a beautiful place it looked like. Rivers  meandering  between vast green forests, and rolling hills slightly hazed by the humidity and the sun slowly peeking out. We landed in KLIA – Low Cost Carrier Terminal (Yay no Sinus Pains!!) at about 7am local time. All of the planes just line up along the tarmac, and passengers must walk between the terminal and the plane. Wow it was hot, it was like walking into a very hot green house, or straight into the bathroom after someone has taken a shower. The air was thick with moisture. Within minutes sweat marks were appearing on my blue cotton shirt, and sweat was running down my shins under my track pants.  It looked like 3 other planes had just landed and swarms of people were walking along the tarmac towards the terminal. Elscy and I ended up at the back of the huge que that snaked out from the terminal and were standing outside. With only an hour to connect to my next flight, I was getting nervous. We couldn’t see where the line went, but people were barging passed us obviously knowing where they were going. As we got closer we saw the signs. One pointing towards transfers, which was the line I was in, but Elscy was at her final destination and could by pass the lot and go on. We said our farewells and bid each other the best of luck on our travels. Before she left she gave me her travel blanket and a book to read on the next flight. A quick wave and she disappeared over the escalator. ‘We’ was now just me. I felt very sad saying farewell, as now I was alone again, but what a wonderful person she was, and was kind of glad I didn’t get the row to myself and got the chance to meet her.

The issue of getting onto my next flight was still there.  I overheard a young couple mention London. I quickly butted in with ‘Are you connecting to London?’ they were, and were concerned about actually catching the plane. The guy ran up the line to where the desks were to see what the deal was. He came back saying it was final boarding call for London. We decided to push ahead of this huge line. I was trying to avoid eye contact with anyone as they seemed annoyed us pushing in. Just as we made it into the room where the line’s met the desk, the lady at the counter shouted, “Anyone going to London?!” We quickly shouted in return and raised our hands and were pulled to the front of the line to be processed straight away. The other two went straight ahead through security, and the Malaysian wearing a pale pink head scarf processed my tickets.

-“Hi how are you” she said
“Good thanks”
-“What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“Sorry?” I laughed
-“What’s wrong with your eyes?”
“I don’t know, they might be a little red from the flight, I’m not sure” Still kind of laughing, but also slightly offended. (My first thought was, ‘oh dear she’s not going to let me on because she thinks I’m on drugs’)
-“Oh maybe you had to much sleep” this didn’t make sense but I knew what she meant.
“........oh okay, yeah didn’t sleep much.....”

A little more self conscious than before, I threw my bags through the x-ray machine and was forced to throw out all my water. Quickly making my way into the packed transfer hall, I scanned the room intently to the couple I had just met. They waved from the line. I joined in, wondering if I had time to buy water as I had nothing to take on. No time. I checked through and was back walking the exact path I was walking 20 minutes ago along the tarmac. I had done a complete loop. I stepped onto the plane, it was already extremely full, with virtually no free seats in sight. People were staring at me as I walked along. ‘Damn, my eyes must be really bad’ I thought to myself, and averted my gaze to the floor. After kicking a man out of my seat I sat down. At this stage I had the whole middle row to myself! I noticed everyone looking at the spare seats, then at me. When I saw the doors close, I realised OptionTown had pulled through and I had the row to myself!! I quickly shuffled into the middle seat. Moments later a man stands up from the row next to me and goes to sit down in the free seat.
“Sorry Sir, I’ve paid for these extra seats”
“Oh no worries” he said, and went back to his seat.
Moments later a young girl on the other side of the plane turns around;
“Scuse me, are you sitting there by yourself?”
“Would it be okay..”
“Sorry I’ve paid for these seats” I cut her off, as I knew exactly what she was going to ask.  She was on the previous flight to and had used the same line about stretching her legs and sleeping when he had the row to himself also. I needed a stick to bat everyone away, I could see what they were thinking in their eyes; “Space, is that extra space, is that 2 free seats?”I felt a little greedy having the seats while everyone else was bunched up, but I did pay for the extra seats so I may as well actually make the most of it.
The plane ride was sooo much easier to deal with. Being able to lie down (and thanks to Elca, pull a blanket over myself) and sleep seemed luxurious. 13 Hrs certainly dragged on, but I felt pretty energised and calm and devoured my onboard meals. Mum, the blow up pillow was a god send on both flights, so insanely comfortable and versatile.

Arriving in London, 

I departed the plane and proceeded through customs with my British Passport, didn’t take to long and within minutes I was grabbing my bag and heading to the trains. I bought a ticket to London, Victoria from Gatwick and boarded the train that was located in the terminal. I was feeling nervous now as I had a bit of a journey ahead of me, with my bags and looking rather weary. It was quite a nice train trip, weather was clear and sunny, but was getting dark quickly. Arriving at Victoria, I wondered back and forth back and forth with contradicting information from the rail information staff, useless I tell you! Eventually I had to take the underground subway to Russell Square. What an experience. I’m hoping it was a busy time to be travelling, but the stairs were swarming with people. My bags seemed to take up so much space! I arrived at the platform and saw people running to get on, I decided to run to and jumped on the train, 95% sure it was the right train. It was so full you just had to stand bunched up, shoulder to shoulder. Literally. Even when the train was full people would still get on and just squish in, to the point where they had to stand about 5cm from the edge of the train doors. I switched trains and finally arrived at my destination. I walked for about 10 minutes with my bags and arrived at the hostel which is nice and cosy, and has really nice staff.

Now I know it sounds like it was an easy trip from Airport – Hostel. It wasn’t. I only had directions from Kings Cross, not from Victoria station. So I was completely on my own to find out how to get there. Asking people just had to be done and boy did I ask. In sequential order:

-At the airport, asked security how to get out of baggage claim (was actually a kiwi, could tell before he even spoke)
-Train Ticket office “where do I board the train?”
-Ticket machine security guy “how the heck do I use these machines, and where is my platform”
- Platform controller “Is this my train to Victoria?”
- Random man on train. “How do I get from Victoria to Russell Square (this guy saved my life, pulled up the rail network map on his iPhone and gave me instructions and which trains to take. I also have this app on my iPod so was really helpful to refer when I got off)
-Rail information at Victoria station, “where is this train departing from” (both booths gave different directions. After 15minutes of walking back and forth I found out where to go.)
-Random man on subway, “does this stop at Russell square?”
-Ticket security “the machine at my train ticket, can you let me through?”
-Random Italian couple on the street – “is Russell square that way?” (Lovely people, giving me clear directions and wishing me safe travels”)

From what I had seen on Google street view I found the bright blue door and checked in (and got my new camera I had sent to the hostel, but had to charge it overnight). I went for an evening stroll to Leicester square and China town looking for cheap grub. However the comforting familiarity of ‘Subway’ (the sandwich place) was hard to bypass. Back at the hostel, completely exhausted and feeling like I was just going to fall asleep standing, I went to bed at about 8.45pm. I woke up at about 11.30pm. My dorm room was still empty, as everyone was out at pubs/clubs. I thought, it was going to be a loooong night but after 30 minutes of IPod touch games I was tired enough to sleep again through the night until about 6.30am.

Anxiety has given me so much grief and has been making things difficult. Thoughts such as “What have you got yourself into”, “just book a ticket home now” and “how are you going to cope”. After today (Sunday) however it’s been a bit better. I think just being so overly exhausted had a lot to do with how I was mentally feeling.

First Full day in London.

Piccadilly Circus

Hostel Kitchen
Proud of my shopping
Map Posts
I lay in bed just resting from 6.30am – 8.45 before pulling on my track pants and heading to breakfast, which is included in the accommodation. Toast with vegemite, marmite, peanut butter, jam, or nutella; cocoa puffs, corn flakes, muesli, and the always free tea and coffee. Not bad at all I thought. After stuffing as much as I could into myself, I had a quick shower and got my day pack ready for a shop at the local supermarket, Sainsbury’s. I got there at around 10.45am to find it didn’t open till 12pm on Sundays, so had some time to kill. London has these map posts located everywhere, which show you where you are and the surrounding area, so just exploring and getting completely lost is not a worry. I wiggled my way through lanes and small streets landing up at Covent Garden Market, followed Leicester square and somehow ended up in Piccadilly Circus. Quite a cool area, lots to see, but it was almost 12 so I headed back towards Sainsbury’s.  My first grocery shop in London.  I had prepared a shopping list back in NZ, so I pulled out the scrunched up envelope I had written it on and proceeded to check things off. It was tiring browsing the prices and finding what I needed, (this store was pretty tiny, probably half the size of New World, Merivale) Finally I had my list, and now was  feeling super proud of myself and full of confidence now that I had food available to eat whenever I’m hungry. It started bucketing down on the way back to the hostel, and before long I was running to stop my down jacket getting too wet.
Back to the hostel and put my food away, grabbed a free umbrella from reception (could have been useful before), and headed to the British Museum. 30 Seconds later, I was at the British Museum. It’s a fantastic neighbour, and will be heading over again, as a short afternoon is not enough to really explore all of it's amazing exhibitions. 

Inside the Museum Entrance

Please excuse the size of this update, the lack of photos, spelling, and weird layout (I'm running out of internet I ran out of internet and I still haven't worked out how to arrange them effectively) I promise my posts from now on will be more organised and straightforward. 

Thanks for all your kinda messages, missing you all already. =) I will update again shortly.