Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mind the Gap!

February 6th - February 19th. If you saw news showing most of Southwest England suffering floods of epic proportion - the stories were not exaggerated. It had been raining steadily all over the UK since early December. And once the huge storms hit - the southern coastal waters and rivers just couldn't take anymore. It was sad for us to arrive during that time since we owned a home in the Thames valley near London when we lived here 23 years ago. Our village, Sunbury-on-Thames was definitely affected.

We did not escape the wind, heavy downpours and chilly conditions in London either. But we managed to stay afloat and revisit a city we love. It was great to be back!

Leaving Seattle had it's own challenges. We arrived at the airport to find our flight delayed by 3+ hours. Then we were stuck on the plane itself while a bag had to be off-loaded  due to a passenger not showing up to board. That was another hour.

We arrived in London much later than planned only to discover a general strike on the Underground. It was rush hour so the few trains that were running were crammed full of grumpy (but of course polite) rain-soaked commuters. Our very large suitcases and back packs were unwelcome additions ... but hey, a taxi from the airport is almost $100. and we pride ourselves on using public transportation. Maybe this could have been a day to break that rule - however getting a taxi on a dark rainy night at rush hour with a strike on isn't easy either. Anyway ... two trains and a cab for the final leg got us to our destination. We felt like we'd been run through a long wash with an aggressive spin cycle  at this point.

We staggered into the lobby of a very modern building where our airbnb apartment was located  to collect keys from the concierge. Unfortunately, he did not have notification from the owner of our arrival so he couldn't give us the keys. Really?

At this point we were as fried as a British chip. Michael rallied and found enough paperwork to prove we had, indeed rented Apt. 33 and left a pleading message to the owner to contact the concierge. After a half hour wait, and threats to collapse on the lobby floor, the poor man reluctantly handed over the keys.

We threw our bags down and headed for the nearest pub! We had a great meal and watched a little football on the telly. Things were coming right. We sloshed home and slept for 12 hours!

The next morning (afternoon?) we took stock of our surroundings. Things look different in the light of day and a after a good nights sleep. The apartment was fine - https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1701111 The Battersea location, however, was a little further from central London than we thought. Not as the crow flies - but because of a lack of a tube station nearby it would require a lot of bus travel to get around - but who doesn't love sitting up top of a bright red double-decker? The bus stop was right outside our front door so we could easily get to Sloane Square and  Knightsbridge so we could grocery shop in Harrod's Food Hall (in my lottery winning dreams) and on from there to Oxford Circus. A bus in the other direction took us to the West End, The City, the Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral. The only challenge was the day to day, since we were in no-mans land when it came to real-life grocery shopping, dining out, etc.

Give Mr. Campbell a newspaper and he is happy anywhere
The construction around us was robust and in a few years time this will be the hippest place to live in London. Gordon Ramsey has just opened a new restaurant nearby. Currently a bus ride away of course. http://www.batterseapowerstation.co.uk

The view of the power plant from our window
We did walk from central London to our flat on the rare day it wasn't pouring. It was about three miles and it was fascinating to see observe the infrastructure and new condominium towers being built along the south side of the Thames in the shadow of the old Battersea power plant.

On the walking tour in St. James Park
This would be a good time to note that London has just been rated the most expensive city in Europe for good reason - a bus or Underground trip one-way is about $3.00 On our Senior Nomad's budget it's at least a $12.00 decision. I know that doesn't sound like much if you are on vacation, but on a daily basis with several trips planned it adds up. The Oyster Card frequent travel card helped.  Happily museums are free and there is so much to see and do once you are in the center of London it all evens out.

We loved the 156 to Sloan Square and beyond!
Highlights include: the free walking tour of course, strolling twice through the National Gallery, church service at St. Paul's (I remember getting up at 4:00 am years ago to watch Charles and Diana's wedding here), a visit to Michael's ProServ office on Craven Street just off Trafalger Square, a free concert rehearsal at St. Martin's in the Field, a visit to the Tower of London and walk across the Tower Bridge to the Bourough Farmer's market, dinner with Seattle expat friends Brian and Elaine Kabasnick and a matinee performance of the one-man-show 'The Only Way is Downton' - a whirlwind, cheeky performance by a very talented actor that impersonated every character of the Masterpiece Theatre production that so many of us love. And a sunny day trip to Cambridge by train. What a beautiful city steeped in history and a good cuppa tea.

The commons at Kings College, Cambridge in front of the Cathedral

A different twist on street music in Cambridge
We also watched a good share of the Olympics on the BBC- Curling anyone? That seemed to be the event that was on no matter the time of day ... but there was a lot of 'posh' coverage of all the other events as well.Michael had a chance to visit our first London home in Fulham. We didn't row out to Sunbury.

Michael at 65 Winchendon Road. Our first home.

Chris (4) Kelly (8), Mary (6) against our garden wall in Sunbury in 1988!
The two weeks went by quickly. Next up Nice, France where we will host daughter Mary (due in late May with the third baby), and Colette, 3 1/2 and Marcel almost 2. Should be fun. Maybe not relaxing, but definitely fun. See you there!

The Nomads off at dawn for the next leg to Nice
Thanks for reading - we'll catch you up on Nice soon. Debbie and Michael

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