After a quick squizz in the Liberty and Schott Music shops, we ended up spending the rest of the day in the British Museum. The Rosetta Stone is the first thing you are presented with in the Egypt halls, yet we didn’t see it because it was surrounded by people which we mistook for simply a group of tourists. We wandered around admiring huge granite Babylonian lions, Assyrian friezes, marble chunks of the Parthenon and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, vaguely wondering where it was. Luckily there was a guided tour at 5pm that led us right to it. There was also red figure Greek pottery, bits of a marae, bronze age jewellery, coins from the Thames, cuneiform tablets, mediæval clocks and mechanisms, and Roman mosaics. So much history!
Today we went to Andover to visit a special music shop, and then on to Salisbury Cathedral, via a quick rubber-neck at Stonehenge off the A303. We arrived in time for Evensong to hear the Leighton Magdalen service. The cathedral is huge, nearly 800 years old and beautiful, and the history of its construction inspired Follett’s novel, Pillars of the Earth. The Magna Carta document (or at least, one of the surviving four) hangs out the back on display in the 13th century chapter house, behind the cloister.
Then we went to a nearby pub, called The Chapter House, for tea, then back to London.
An hour on the No. 3 bus takes us to Westminster, alighting outside Parliament Buildings. From here we can have a look at Westminster Abbey, the new Supreme Court and then hang around until 11am for Big Ben to go “bong”.
Then we leg it down Birdcage Walk to Buckingham Palace to join the ten thousand other tourists massed around the beautiful gilded Victoria Memorial, to watch the changing of the guard. One of the Royal Army bands played (among other things) arrangements of “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and the theme from Game of Thrones. It’s also always a treat to hear cornet players wailing Birdland Maynard Ferguson style.
From there we had lunch at the Lodge Café by the Queen Elizabeth gates to Hyde Park, and strolled around Hyde Park for the afternoon. There are deck chairs out on the grass by Serpentine Lake, and they’re £2 an hour to sit in, which is… an odd thing to charge money for. I’d also forgotten that it’s 20p to use the loo!
We found a massive weeping elm that doubles as a house.
After that we went to Marble Arch and along Oxford Street to sort out SIM cards and suit fits for Hamish & Louise’s wedding, a bit of shopping and then to the pub on Kingly Street round the corner from Steve’s work, and catching up with some of the usual London suspects for curry.
After 30 hours of flying in sealed metal tubes breathing other people’s coughs and farts, we’ve finally arrived in London.
The flight from Shanghai to London flies a great circle over Mongolia and northern Russia, Finland, Denmark, across the North Sea, and then along the Thames River estuary. The West Siberian taiga is dotted with remote oil and gas rigs, and pocked with a zillion circular lakes that look like ancient impact craters. They’re not craters; they’re thermokarst lakes, formed from the melting of permafrost.
Circling Heathrow we got a nice aerial overview of some important landmarks. Heathrow Terminal 3 itself however is a cramped Soviet-era concrete affair, replete with peeling vinyl wallpaper, worn-out door latches, leaking refrigerant and blown fluorescent lights; but bright burned-in plasma screens with cheery signs intrude on the squalor, promising to ease your immigration check with speedy e-passport stations. They weren’t working however, which meant that it took 70 minutes to queue and get our passports rubber-stamped.
Steve picked us up and we went home via Hammersmith and Earl’s Court, past where he used to work; it was nice to see bits of London I haven’t seen for nearly 15 years, and try and (mostly fail to) regain my bearings. Much of the way was noticeably leafy, and being summer, all the trees are in full greenery; elms, alders, oaks, planes, sycamores and chestnuts, deciduous trees that immediately invoke “English countryside” for me. I haven’t actually seen a conifer yet.
Today we went for a walk around Dulwich where we’re staying to figure out where the shops are and buy some bread. Otherwise a quiet day in to recover, ring the bank, get UK SIM cards sorted out so we don’t get charged $10 a megabyte, and maybe have a nap. More soon.