Planes, Trains & Stuff

Our new flat is relatively close to Heathrow Airport which is one of the reasons why we chose it. The narrow streets and people traffic in this city mean hauling heavy suitcases around is not very easy and we liked the idea of being close to a train line which leads directly to an airport.

Something that has struck me since we have arrived is the amount of travelling that goes on in this part of the world. One of the huge talking points when people in NZ discuss Europe is how easy it is to travel between places for short trips. Even though I knew about this, I am still astounded by the how relaxed people are when discussing “maybe” popping over to Greece for a week because a friend is there and they can meet up. Or flying to Croatia for four days to enjoy a long weekend with family. Air travel truly comes to life here.

The other way that the frequent travelling has manifested itself is in the sky. Never before have we seen so many planes zipping around and often quite close to the ground because they’re coming in to land at one of the three major airports in London. Since we have moved to Acton, there are even more since Heathrow is the busiest airport in the world. The planes often leave white fluffy trails in the sky which blend into or shape the clouds so the summer sky is a constant reminder to hop on a plane.
Richard and I hope to soon be in a position to get away on our first trip!

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On the ground, we have experienced our second tube strike since we arrived. The negotiations between London Underground and the unions are obviously tense. I am reliant on the tube to get to work and it usually takes me about 1 hour. During a tube strike this can extend to hours and hours. One colleague usually has a 1.5 hour commute to work and during a previous tube strike, that journey took 4 hours! FOUR HOURS! The journey itself isn’t even as bad as the realisation that you have to go through that AGAIN to get home! So naturally productivity slumps on these days. I was allowed to stay home because the commute would really not make it worthwhile given the distance I have to travel. In addition you have loss of productivity once people arrive at work because they spend time complaining about how long it took and then they’ll probably leave early to hopefully arrive before sunset (which is about 9pm these days). I have tried to remember back to the NZ Bus strike some years ago in Auckland. The main thing I remember is Ritchies bus drivers taking over main routes and commuters commenting about how friendly the Ritchies drivers were. I think people who caught the bus that day preferred the temporary drivers over the regular ones! Unfortunately due to the population here in London, the tube strike means hundreds of thousands of people who were underground are now above ground trying to cram into those iconic double decker buses.

I’d like to back track a little now and return to one of the first tourist destinations we visited in London, Kensington Palace. At the time we didn’t explore the gardens so last week we went back to check it out. It is such a vast expansive and flat area which looks ideal for picnics. We started at the Italian garden with its pools of lily pads and cool stone seats. There was a lot of moss growing around the water features but from a distance it all looks rather picturesque.

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We saw a quaint cottage which was in fact a private dwelling. (Whoever owns it also had a really nice McLaren – nice!)

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We also went to see the Albert Memorial. This memorial commissioned by Queen Victoria for her husband Prince Albert, is absolutely magnificent. Something like £12,000,000 was spent on its restoration so it looks pristine and perhaps rather a lot like it did when first opened.

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The golden sculpture of Prince Albert looks onto the Royal Albert Hall which I think was intentional. The rest of the memorial had a similar air of being well thought out. Around Prince Albert are rather detailed sculptures of composers, architects, poets, painters and sculptors. And then branching out from them at the four corners of the memorial were more sculptures of people representing agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacturing. The outer part of the memorial had each of the four corners depicting a different continent; Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe. There are other memorials to Prince Albert around but this one certainly is the most spectacular. I really enjoyed walking around it and looking at all the marvellous detail – it really showed how much Queen Victoria loved him!

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My fingers are crossed that I will have some out-of-UK travel tales to relate to you soon!

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