Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wednesday, 27th September – London

Having done some big tourist hot spots yesterday (along with a gazillion tourists) we were keen to avoid the crowds today – not an easy feat in London but we managed (mostly). Our flat is close to Regents Park, so we headed for a spot called Little Venice (at this rate we won’t need to go to the real Venice – although the only thing they have in common is some water), at one end of Regent’s Canal. There’s a huge network of canals in Britain built during the Industrial revolution as a cheap form of transport, but now mainly used for pleasure. The boats are called narrowboats (for obvious reasons), and we caught one along the canal to Camden Lock. It was a lovely trip, and not a tourist in sight – just locals out for the day. The canal is lined by trees, and we passed dozens of moored narrowboats which people have converted to houseboats. The canal goes through London Zoo and you get off at Camden, just before the locks (I was hoping we’d go through one). At Camden is a famous market, which we wandered for a while, though we were fish out of water – lots of punks & Goths, people from all nations, lots of shops selling very way out stuff, but also lots of character. We really enjoyed it; it seemed to be a very “London” place. We bough lunch (Indian and Moroccan – both yummy) and enjoyed some people-watching while we ate.

Back to the West End to get theatre tickets, then to Sir John Soane’s Museum. A very unusual place, and well worth a visit (and it’s free). Sir John was a brilliant architect, well ahead of his time, but also an eccentric who collected antiquities and turned his house into a museum with hundreds of sculptures, casts, drawings, and even an alabaster sarcophagus from 1290BC. The design of the house itself is interesting, with lots of skylights and mirrors, and clever use of space which was pioneering in its time (18th century) and the collection is incredible. We had to leave our bags at the front door, which is very unusual (as a rule there are very few cloak rooms in London, because of the constant fear of bombs), but when we got inside we saw why – there is so much ‘stuff’ the walkways are quite narrow and everything is very accessible. A veritable treasure trove.

We filled in an hour traveling the tube to Paddington Station to collect train tickets for later in the week. We put our Oyster Cards (I don’t know why they call the travels cards that) to good use today – despite all the stairs and corridors, and the rushing masses or humanity, it is very easy to travel around the city by public transport. The signage is good, the station announcements are in English (!!) and we have never had to wait more than 30 seconds for a train.

In the evening we went to see Mary Poppins the musical, which had been highly recommended. And it was a rollicking good show – great singing, wonderful dancing, fantastic sets, impressive special effects, and, of course, a happy ending. It is based on the Disney film but also the original books by PL Travers (who is an Aussie, did you know?) so the story is a bit more real and less silly than the film – well apart from the magic. We didn’t manage ₤10 tickets this time, but we got the cheapest seats (₤25) which were way up the back – they provided binoculars with the seats! But we had a full view and really enjoyed the show. When we emerged from the theater (the Princess Theatre, lovely art deco style) the streets were full of life – happy theatre-goers dodging swarms of cycle rickshaws all with their bells ringing – so we walked down to Piccadilly Circus with its famous neon advertising signs before heading home to collapse into bed.