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Yes, I’m back, in fact we’re all back from gallivanting around Europe. Survived the crossing the street in Rome, dodged the pickpockets on the Metro, minded the gap in London, missed the Paddington rail disaster by about two hours, and even somehow flew there and back without the kids sending us completely insane.

Legoland or bust

This was something of an eventful day. Quite apart from being our last day in Europe, it was to be a day of plans, problems, revised plans, revised plan problems, revised-revised plans, revised-revised plan problems… and so on.

The first bit went reasonably smoothly: We said goodbye to Uncle Hew (since he was going to work early) and finished our packing. Then we called a minicab and locked up his house and caught the cab to the station.

Minicabs are something of a curiosity to someone like me who comes from a city where all the cabs are pretty well regulated. Minicabs basically consist a person and their car. You ring them, or go to their office, they drive you somewhere, you give them money. Simple as that.

Well, this minicab was a slightly grumpy old bloke with an ageing Ford, which was well-kept, apart from the rust and the fact that the whole car was overwhelmingly crappy. He got us to East Croydon station for a couple of pounds less than a normal cab, but by golly I think next time I’ll spend the extra money.

So, from East Croydon station, it was on to plan A.

Plan A:

Catch a Thameslink train into London Farringdon, then the tube to Paddington station. See if we could con the Heathrow Express people into accepting our Britrail SouthEast passes, or otherwise buy tickets. Check-in our luggage at Paddington. Then catch a train to Windsor, go to Legoland, come back to Paddington, have some dinner with Josh and Cathy, then catch the Heathrow Express to… you guessed it, Heathrow! Get on board our 10pm-ish flight, and head home.

Problem with Plan A:

We got to Farringdon around 10am, and being the eagle-eyed person that I am, I noticed a scribbled message written on the noticeboard. Something about an incident at Paddington, and that there were no trains, though the tube was running normally. I found an Underground man, who told me two trains had collided near Paddington. "There’s one person dead and hundreds injured." And no other trains running.

[The sobering headline on our last night in England. Click for enlargement]
The sobering headline on our last night in England. Click for enlargement.

We would find out later that it was considerably more than one person dead. We had missed by about two hours, stumbling into what would become known as the Paddington disaster to most; or the Ladbroke Grove incident to the rail officials.

Thankful that we were only inconvenienced by it, and not involved in it, we started to formulate plan B.

Plan B:

Catch the tube to Heathrow. Check-in our baggage there, then catch a cab to Legoland, and one back that evening for our flight.

So we caught a tube one stop to Kings Cross, and changed to the Piccadilly line to go to Heathrow. When we got there, we lugged our luggage up to the correct terminal. 

Problem with Plan B:

It was now about midday. But for our flight, we couldn’t check-in until 4pm.

Plan C:

Put our bags in Left Luggage at Heathrow. Easy peasy. Then we could go and get a cab to Legoland.

Problem with Plan C:

We got to the cab rank, and found a sign with estimates on how much various destinations might cost. Windsor estimate: £35. Add the trip back (another £35) plus the admission to Legoland (another £46.50), and it was starting to look like an awfully expensive outing for what would probably be only about four hours worth (if we were lucky) looking around the park. Work it out in Australian dollars… go on, I dare you.

Plan D:

Catch a bus to Windsor instead. The price should be more reasonable at least.

Problem with Plan D:

(a) The buses were only every hour. (b) Time is still running out to have £46.50 worth of fun. (c) We have absolutely no idea where we’re going. It’s all too hard.


Jeremy enjoys another ride on the tube
 

View from the park in Hounslow – yet another plane goes in to land at Heathrow
 

Heading home at last

Plan E:

Kill time, find a park for the kids to play in, and relax, like you’re meant to do when on holiday. Call Josh and Cathy and arrange dinner somewhere on the Piccadilly line (well, not in a train or station, but somewhere not too far from one). Promise the kids we’ll go to Legoland as the number one priority when we next come to England. And when we get home, buy the kids some Lego with just a fraction of the money we would have spent getting there today under Plan C.

The success of Plan E

Plan E worked a treat. We caught the tube back towards London, and spotted a suitable park in Hounslow. The kids had a play with some of the local Londoner kids in the playground there, and we relaxed, munched on chocolate, read the papers, and watched the planes going into land at Heathrow flying right over our heads every minute or two.

We also phoned Josh and arranged for him and Cathy to meet us in Earl’s Court for Italian, which they did some hours later. We drank a couple of bottles of wine, chatted happily, and in the end Josh kindly offered to pay, since he said we earned Australian dollars, which in comparison to the English pound, "aren’t worth pissing on". And fair enough too.

We promised them a meal next time they were in Melbourne, then got back on the tube, collected our luggage, checked-in, got on the plane, and headed for home. We hadn’t done what we’d started out expecting to do, but we’d had a fairly hectic day.

And as the plane jetted off heading back towards Asia, and ultimately, Australia, I sipped on a glass of water, and as the others slept, put my glass down, and slowly drifted off too.

I woke several hours later with damp jeans. I thought for a few seconds I’d embarrassed myself, but it was just the glass – it had toppled over, and water was soaking into my lap. 

The joys of Croydon

Being our second last day in England, we took things pretty easy, as apart from embarking on a 22 hour flight home the next day, we were also planning a whirlwind trip to Legoland. So first of all we gave Hew’s washing machine a good workout, while the kids ran around his back garden, and then accompanied me in exploring around his estate. And when I say his estate, I don’t mean he owns the whole thing and that it’s a massive mansion plus grounds in the Surrey countryside – it’s a (very nice) semi-detached house in an estate of about thirty like it.

Then we strolled down to the main road and caught a bus down to Croydon, and posted all our postcards before proceeding to explore the multitude of shops. Croydon may not be as vibrant as central London, but it’s quite nice in its suburban way. The main street is closed off to traffic, so you can stroll at leisure, though we made sure to stay out of the way of the (mostly) bright red trams which occasionally hurtled through, bells dinging frantically, but not actually carrying passengers, apparently just being tested.

We found ourselves lunching at something called BH’s, a department store restaurant, the origins of the acronym having now been forgotten, at least by me. For UKP 3.99 we scored a main meal, a drink and some dessert, which seemed to be a pretty reasonable deal considering it was England. Even more impressive was the fact that the food was not only edible, but quite tasty!

A little more browsing, a nose around Sainsbury’s, and we were ready to head back to Hew’s house to begin the arduous task of attempting to pack all of our belongings into our backpacks and assorted auxiliary bags.

Elementary

After some consultation with the Lonely Planet guide about what else we could see in London, we headed into Victoria and wandered around the multitude of bus stops trying to find where the 24 to Camden Town went from. We found it, and the bus, just starting to depart. We dashed up waving our arms, and he stopped. In the blink of an eyelid we had folded the stroller, whisked it and both kids on board and waved our Travelcards at the driver.

"You might have said thank you", he said, a little crossly. Maybe he hadn’t been on his customer service course yet. "Thank you", I replied.



Camden Lock.
 

A statue of Sherlock Holmes, and an actor pretending to be Sherlock Holmes.

The bus ambled its way past Big Ben, along Whitehall and slowly up into Camden Town, where we got out and wandered among the huge crowd, looking at markety things, though my memories of this area are a little hazy because by this point we had started having a huge argument about… well, I’m not really sure how that all started. We stopped on a little bridge with a view of Camden Lock, just as a couple of barges came in, and the occupants set to work opening and closing the gates. It looked like hard, though enjoyable, work.

Argument finished, we found some lunch in the shape of some exotic looking hotdogs, then continued looking at stalls until we found ourselves at the tube station. Being a Sunday afternoon, London Transport had (probably wisely, given the crowds) made the station exit-only, and we continued walking down Camden High Road towards the next station, Mornington Crescent, where we caught a train down to Leicester Square.

Ice-creams and wandering around looking at buskers kept us entertained for a while. Especially one busker, covered in silver paint,  who was eating French fries and watching another busker. Then we went back to the tube and caught a train to Baker Street. Yes, Baker Street, home (though only fictionally) of Sherlock Holmes. And home (in actuality) of a bloke dressed as Sherlock Holmes, evidently pointing tourists towards a Holmes museum or other attraction of some kind.

Back to Victoria, where we experienced Unfamiliar Tube Station Exit Syndrome, which sent us walking around the block looking for the Sainsburys, which we eventually found, purchased food at, and before scurrying away back to Hew’s house for dinner.

Unfortunately…


Tower Bridge does the traditional thing.

We set out once more to explore central London. This time the first stop was Soho, because we wanted to sample the wares at a market, and the Berwick Street Market seemed as good a place as any. After inspecting and purchasing some of London’s finest fresh fruit and vegetables, we carried on to Chinatown, and found the famed Lee Ho Fook’s, as mentioned in the song "Werewolves Of London". They have obviously realised that the connection might be worth some serious money to them, because a picture of Warren Zevon and a sign with the words on it can be found in the window.

From there we strolled on to Leicester Square, for a look around at some of the buskers. I was due to meet yet another net.friend, Catherine, at Euston Station at 12:30, so we hopped onto the tube and spent a few minutes in the gigantic hall out the front waiting for her, watching the arrival and departure boards flicking over. She turned up with her entire family in tow, all the way from Stoke-on-Trent, and while a couple of them merrily trotted off to explore London for the afternoon, the rest of us went and had some tea and/or lunch in the food court.

We’d decided to head for Tower Bridge, and it seemed that the Circle Line would be our best bet, so we strolled down to Euston Square tube station. The train got as far as Aldgate when the driver came on the PA and announced, with repeated use of the word "unfortunate", that the train wouldn’t be going any further.

Aldgate was only one stop away from the Tower anyway, so we left the world of disrupted tube services behind and stepped out into the sunshine. A quick inspection of the map revealed that provided we didn’t get lost, it was only a short(ish) walk to the bridge. We didn’t get lost, and before we knew it, found ourselves moseying over Tower Bridge.

Then we went down and walked along the river next to the Tower Of London. To my utter surprise, because it’s only meant to happen in movies these days, the bridge opened to let a tall sail boat through.

Then we said our farewells to Catherine and family, and headed up to Tower Bridge tube station and boarded a train bound for Earl’s Court. Ah, Earl’s Court, supposedly London’s Australian quarter, though apart from the occasional Australian-themed pub, you couldn’t really tell. We had a walk around, and started looking for something to eat.

We settled on an unimaginative choice, primarily because the kids wanted it: McDonalds. I found a table and L got the order. At first I asked for a McFeast, then we realised they didn’t have them. Hmmm. Despite being Earl’s Court, they probably wouldn’t have a McOz either. I settled on a Big MadMacCow burger instead, and afterwards we got back on the tube and headed for Hew’s house via Victoria, where we encountered the same beggar as the day before, still using the same pathetic "I’m sorry to bother you sir" line… then he looked into my eyes and realised he’d tried it with me already and walked away with some speed.