Oxford xoxo

On Sunday evening, after the Search Party, I caught the bus to Oxford to visit my former yoga teacher and wholefood guru, Harriet of www.harrietbyhand.com .
I had a restful bus ride through the countryside, watching The Muppet Christmas Carol on my iPad because it was viewable without requiring streaming. I’d also been thinking about the opening sequence from this movie as I was travelling around London. The skyline is almost unchanged from Jim Henson’s interpretation of Dickensian times.


A smiling Harriet met me in Oxford and together we caught the bus to Abingdon, where she and her husband Adam now reside. Abingdon is the oldest, continuously settled town in England and the birthplace of MG. It also kind of looks like a village from Midsomer Murders and incidentally, the area has quite a high crime rate. Apparently, someone was stabbed at the one-pound shop around the corner from Harriet’s.


 #jonestip – Surely “Scarlett” would want you to see her home town…? You’ll have to come to Abingdon and stay with Harriet. Her B&B is 6 stars and she makes mince-topped pizza and curry with dumplings!

It’s difficult to determine whether I love Harriet more for her calming and wise influence or her penchant for feeding me incredible homemade food. But I got ample of both this trip!
For dinner we had amazing homemade pizza, and blueberry and plum cake, and then I curled up to sleep in the kitchen next to the heater, like a spoilt cat.


  
  
On Monday, Harriet had taken the day off, so we had plenty of time to have a leisurely breakfast of pancakes and (my contribution) Croatian hazelnut spread.


We started out our day by walking around the village, through the market and around the historic ruins. I was also ridiculously excited to see local ducks, rats and squirrels.


  
  
  
  

  
  
Then we caught the bus to Oxford, continuing the excellent good luck I’d been having with being able to get the front seat on the top storey of the bus each time.

We walked through the high street, then through the covered market, looking at cakes, boars and other fresh fare.

After all this hard sight-seeing, we had to stop for a coffee at The Missing Bean, where Adam works in the back room, cooking, not the cakes, but the books!

Being caffeinated meant that we had the energy to get some more touristing done. I bought some secondhand books from Blackwell‘s, saw Tolkien’s favourite pub (The Eagle and Child), saw Inspector Morse’s favourite pub (The White Horse), and had my photo taken with the doorway and lamppost which inspired C.S. Lewis’s Aslan and Mr Tumnus.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

I also delighted in taking in the incredible architecture of the colleges and libraries around the area – and purchased an official Oxford hoodie!



 We stopped for burritos for lunch, then headed to the National History and Pitt Rivers Museums.
The National History Museum has some impressive dinosaur skeletons, but I was most impressed with the dodo, who was surrounded by other taxidermied, Alice in Wonderland characters.


  
  
Adjoining the National History Museum is the Pitt Rivers Museum, home of an enormous anthropological artefact collection. In contrast to the way usual collections would be displayed by culture or by time, this museum is organised by function with all of the reed instruments in the same cabinet and all of the shrunken heads on another cabinet. It would be impossible (and foolish) to attempt to enjoy it all in one hit. Harriet’s suggestion was to pick a theme and do that in detail. I looked at the musical instruments and requested dispensation to look at the second category of body modification, where I managed to see some tiny, lotus flower shoes and lament the effects of the oppression of the Chinese patriarchy on the owners of the shoes.


  
  

 Unfortunately, the History of Science Museum wasn’t open on Mondays so we commiserated with a piece of courgette and lime cake.

I know Harriet because she used to teach me yoga in Brisbane. She now teaches on weekends at Oxford’s Yoga Quota. This is a cosy little studio tucked up above a restaurant, where they run a class for an underprivileged group for every 50 paid class attendees.
#vosstip – If you find yourself in Oxford, do a class with Yoga Quota. You can pre-book here.
We did the Flow at Tea Time, which was a really dynamic class. It was great to salute the sun while looking out at the leafless trees and historic bell tower. It was so good to do some proper yoga, rather than my very very yin self-led practice. I was also chuffed when Harriet commented how strong my practice was getting. She hadn’t seen me since about August last year so I was really happy that the progress was noticeable, even if it wasn’t to me…


 Harriet and I did our après-yoga at The Bear, the oldest pub in Oxford and home of a impressive (but weird) tie clipping collection.


  
We bussed home and had a beautifully clean dinner of tofu, rice and veg.


The next morning, I had a very leisurely sleep in curled up in the morning sun. Harriet woke me briefly for a healthy brekky, but I continued to doze until about midday.


Eventually, I caught the bus into Oxford for lunch at Pieminister in the covered market. I had a Deer Stalker – venison, bacon and lentils, topped with fried shallots, cheddar and gravy, with sides of creamy mash and mint mushy peas. It was amazing! I found it enlightening to enjoy my pie and coke while listening to Oxford intellectuals talk about Russian literature patrons of the 17th century. Such a British experience!


  
 I spent the afternoon wandering around shops, visiting the History of Science Museum (particularly to see Einstein’s chalkboard) and then stopped for tea and scones at The Beefeater.
  
  
  
 Then, it was yoga time again. This was the second day in a row that I managed to have sweets before quite an active yoga class, but I endured for the hip opening benefits.
In the evening, we ate delicious curry with dumplings and I did a little watercolour postcard of Harriet and Adam’s house while Adam, very generously, drew me a squirrel to colour in. (I still haven’t had time to sit down and do it justice, but I shall post an update when it’s done.)


   


In the morning, it was time for me to leave Abingdon. I did so reluctantly, because I had had such a beautiful, relaxing time seeing Harriet and Adam, and getting to know Oxford. I really loved seeing places of historical significance, without being shoved by crowds!
Love you, Oxford xoxo

Search Party with the Mighty Morphin Flower Arrangers 

Sunday was the day of the Search Party, a scavenger hunt organised by the Mayor of London in the aim of encouraging locals to explore their own city. Through Huggies, I was invited to join a team, the Mighty Morphin Flower Arrangers! 
  
Our registration was at the Guildhall Gallery. This was the first clue.


It led us to the basement of the gallery where there were the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. The likely structure was highlighted by Tron-like, viridescent lines. At the amphitheatre, we went into battle against another team, playing thumbs up or down with Roman trivia. We were tied, but eventually went away defeated due to the last round, where the quizmaster just picked a winning team at random.




We were awarded this clue.


This led us to Love Lane, where the Beatles‘ lyrics (which I sang out loud for the benefit of my team mates) directed us to Postman’s Park. In this park, there were ceramic plaques dedicated to those who had died in the line of duty or in the process of saving others. Our challenge in this park was to find someone who had perished in a gas explosion and report back to the volunteer to receive a clue. We selected PC Edward George of the Metropolitan Police, who died in 1917 saving lives during an explosion.




  
After having a “butcher’s hook” in this window, we were directed to a delightful Punch and Judy show, which revealed the next destination, St John’s.


  
At St John’s, we sang with a monk and then completed a crossword, briefly getting stuck on 1 down – “a land full of holes”. Eventually, we realised it was the Holy Land – Jerusalem! The crossword gave us our next instruction and we walked through Jerusalem Passage to Clerkenwell Green, site of many significant protests.


  
  Our challenge here was to protest against the abolition of fun, and we did so very enthusiastically:


The clue we were awarded by protesting led us to The Apple Tree, a quaint little pub where we tried out some apple juice and had a proper drink stop.


  
Our next stop was also a pub, where we had to convince the beautifully dressed, but disgruntled, Edwardian lady to hand over our clue.


This led us to a park where we played games to win our clue – limbo, duck fishing, coconuts and quoits. I was the victor at quoits, presumably due to receiving this game as a Christmas present from my cousins last year!


  
Looking at my watch, I realised it was time to return to Guildhall to retrieve my bag from cloak check-in, so I left my search party team. They went on to the final party location, which was a fifties-themed party in a large church hall, complete with music and dancing lessons.
I, on the other hand, attempted to catch the tube back to Mansion House and found the Circle Line completely suspended. I managed to get to Bank and run the rest of the way. I arrived, sweaty and wheezing at the gallery three minutes before closing, only to find they had already closed. However, I was determined to retrieve my possessions as they were the belongings I needed for my trip to Oxford, so I talked to three different security guards using various “negotiation techniques” (being on the verge of hysteria, being eternally grateful and allowing one of them to call me “babe” without my usual feminist tirade response).
So, although I didn’t manage to make it to the Mayor’s party, I did manage to reach my final destination for the evening, Oxford, with my essential belongings, so the day ended up a success!

Super Market

On Saturday morning, my blood pressure was once again in the realm of hyper-hypertensive, so I made the decision to forego the hectic sight-seeing for a leisurely day. Instead, at the fervent insistence of my host, I went to the Maltby Street Markets. Apparently, people come from other European countries to experience this market, so given that it was only a few hundred metres from my door, I thought I’d better check it out.
I wish I could have bottled the delicious aromas that wafted down the street. They were salty and warm and welcoming. If they were visible, they’d be a yellow orangy colour, like a tea bag first infusing.


I was overwhelmed by the amazing choices, but, as recommended, I sought a take-away Little Birdie gin. Before actually purchasing said gin, the bartender invited me to try a shot just straight. I’m not really one for quaffing gin, but I quaffed this one. It tasted like flowers and cucumber. So I took a cocktail to keep me company as I wandered the market and a bottle to keep me company when I return to oz.

#jonestip – You have to go to this market.  In addition to gin, there are also boutique beers and a deli.  Several stalls feature pulled pork.  You will be drunk from the atmosphere before anything actually touches your lips!


  
  
 I also partook of a cherry brownie, regretting that I hadn’t seen the Guinness ones earlier, and a flat-ironed, cheese sandwich.


  
  
I took photos of the food I missed out on, then stumbled home, giddy with gin and overstuffed with food.


  
  
  
  

Saturday was the last night I was spending in Bermondsey, so I made Emma and Iain a little watercoloured postcard featuring their home and their cats, which is today’s featured image.

Get Lost and Ye Shall Find

I started my Friday with a spot of cat-supervised yoga.

  
  

Then, I began my day out by wandering towards Bermondsey Street in search of breakfast from the famed Fuckoffee coffee shop, via a grave yard. The maps on my phone got somewhat confused, so I ended up at a different spot to the intended destination, but it was warm and they had breakfast burgers so all was not lost. 
  
After breakfast, I continued getting lost by confusing London and Tower Bridge, ending up at the Tower Bridge Engine Rooms instead of the London Bridge Experience. I did, however, love the steam engines, and made friends with the ticket attendant who was also an electrical engineer.


  
  
  
  
  
I continued my Tower Bridge tour by ascending the bridge and walking over the glass-bottomed walkways. I also saw a number 78 bus cross the bridge, the same number bus which infamously jumped the bridge while it was opening. The driver of the bus, named Albert, was rewarded 10 pounds for completing the feat without injuring any passengers and continued his career without incident.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
 After returning to bridge level, I crossed the bridge to the Tower of London. I was just in time for a Beefeater-led tour. Our Beefeater’s name was Clive and he was incredibly entertaining and very knowledgable. I was the only Australian on the tour and Clive made a point of welcoming me “home”. We saw the mint where Isaac Newton worked, the prison tower which held Sir Thomas Moore and Anne Boleyn (amongst others) and the two gates which Anne Boleyn used to access the tower, first as a queen and later, as a traitor.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
 I threw a coin into Traitor’s Gate and made a wish as instructed by Clive.


We were treated to more Anne Boleyn anecdotes, including the particularly gruesome one where her lips kept moving as she prayed after she had been decapitated.
We also spent some time in the chapel, above the traitors’ unmarked graves, listening to more stories such as how the Duke of Monmoth had his head sewn back on after his execution upon the realisation that a portrait hadn’t been painted and they needed a portrait. At least our current obsession with selfies would have yielded some benefit in this situation…
I had a wander around after the tour, saw the crown jewels (which I had always thought would be high in a tower, but disappointingly were actually on the ground floor) and treated myself to a pair of Princess Diana earrings, using the excuse that I had only brought two pairs of earrings with me and I had lost one of the first pair and the back of one of the second pair.


  
After the Tower, I caught a Red Rover boat in the wrong direction, ending up in Greenwich instead of Westminster.


  
  
  
  
  
I made the most of my mistake, wandering around the area and stopping at a little market before trying to catch the tube home. My misadventure trying to find the Jubilee Line from Canary Wharf’s light rail led me to Sweaty Betty, my favourite active wear brand which I had never actually had the opportunity to visit in person. I walked away with less spending money, but more Sweaty Betty gear.


  
  
  
  
 I hadn’t actually planned to have such a long day given that I was still feeling quite ill, but my curiosity got the better of me each time I thought I was going home.
I spent the evening watching QI with the cats, while drawing and blogging.

Tram Tramp and The Maids

I had another slow start on Wednesday and headed out around midday. My first stop of the day was Chinatown. Being restricted by luggage limits and customs, I didn’t venture into any of the shops but, based on the picture menus, selected a lunch destination. 
  
  
I ordered far more yum cha than I really needed. I was pleased to find that my order was actually misinterpreted and I got black bean and chilli rib pieces instead of pork buns, which I’ve eaten hundreds of times.


  
  
 After lunch, I walked to the London Transport Museum in the least direct route that my phone had selected. (I have a feeling that not only am I misinterpreting the distances, the GPS positioning seems to be much less accurate here, taking a while to decide where I actually am.)


  
  
I was in my element at the London Transport Museum. Upon entry, you step into an elevator in which the “floor number” counts backwards from 2016 to 1800, where upon you emerge to find yourself surrounded by nineteenth century carriages, omnibuses and sedan chairs. I was particularly excited by the sedan chair after having completed a research assignment on it as a 10 year old. (Contrarily, I had attempted to find a form of transport that no one else had heard of.)


  
The next level down had the beginnings of the railway, complete with a steam loco and passenger carriages!


  
  
  
  
  
  
 On the lowest level, there were more train carriages and trams for me to pose in. I was really embracing my solo traveller status by taking as many indulgent selfies with the public transport artefacts as I could get away with. I have decided to call this concept #tramtramp. It’s like traditional pin-up, except you do it with public transport if you don’t own a car.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
I got lost a little more with Siri’s unhelpful directions, or perhaps more correctly, her indecisive interpretation of north.

As it was Saint Patrick’s Day, I had been given the mission to drink a pint in a proper Irish pub. I found one called Waxy O’Connor’s which allegedly has six levels. I found the back entrance and asked the bouncer if he wanted me to show ID.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Hah! Don’t worry then.”

I’m sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
I found myself in an incredibly dimly lit, church-themed bar, complete with confessional and religious relics. I ended up ordering only half a pint of Guinness (to match my size) from a really lovely green-glittered barmaid and tried to find somewhere to stand. After three failed attempts to stand somewhere which didn’t result in a security guard telling me I had to move, I skulled my drink and ascended back into the light.


  
  
  
I made several mistakes when visiting The National Gallery: I went too late in the day, I didn’t predetermine which paintings I actually wanted to find, and I was a touch tipsy (I’m largely alcohol-free these days after threats of high blood pressure from my doctor, so my alcohol tolerance is not what it once was).
Of the small proportion of art which I actually had the time to examine properly, my highlights were seeing the paint daubs on The Water Lily Pond, discovering a new Van Gough favourite (The Crabs), sitting in the dark to observe Leonardo’s Burlington House Cartoon  – the inspiration for today’s featured image, and remembering my deep interest in biblical art which I had developed as a tween after being awarded a book on the subject by my art teacher.   It was interesting to see which stories were the most popular with artists, especially those that allowed for the portrayal of female nudity, which was perfectly acceptable  because it was a religious context.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
It was at this point that I recalled that Mr Bean used to work at the National Gallery.  The reason my memory was jogged, was because I used to own a book in which Mr Bean “annotated” particular works of art.  This one he captioned, “Dear Mum, Had a horrible time at the barber’s today…”

One of the other things I learnt, was that a lot of landscape paintings were “jazzed up” with some mythological characters painted by a separate artist, so that they’d have wider public appeal.  This is one such painting:

And I saw my favourite of The Doctor’s lovers, Madame du Pompadour!  She even ranks higher in my esteem than Rose…


And it was amazing to see The Ambassadors “in person”, and especially to view it from the side.  I had a strange look from the other people in the room when I examined the painting  from the side until they reached the point in their audio commentaries which instructed them to look for the skull which can only be seen from the side.

  
And I really was drawn to this painting.  Apparently, this was the artist’s wife.

During my whirlwind tour, I took a stack of selfies of my favourites to prove I was there, if only briefly.


  
  
  

  
  
  
  

I had pre-theatre dinner booked for 6pm, as a package deal with the ticket. It was an Italian restaurant, with Italian staff who struggled immensely with my Australian accent requesting soda “wardah, broosheddah and spageddee”.


I had booked tickets to see The Maids at Trafalgar Studios. It was a strange venue with winding corridors that couldn’t possibly meet fire regulations with quite a lecture hall feel due to the very steep, seating gradient. The play was staged both front and back and had an incredibly clever set that had all the props stored in cubbyholes under the stage which had parquet trap doors as access points.

The actual play was amazing. It began in a somewhat farcical style and was punctuated with realistic moments. The play is based on a French version, which echoed a tragedy in 1930s France where a pair of sisters who worked for the same mistress, murdered the mistress and her daughter, possibly due to a mix of insanity and class struggle. It was actually much darker than I was expecting and was even more disturbing as I remember what I saw knowing the origin of the play’s content. All three actors were brilliant, but I had come to see Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith from Downton Abbey. Her nasal, New York accent was as over the top as it could be without actually being over the top. I also loved her outfit of silver heels, black and white Tim Burton tights and grey fur.
After the show, I waited at the stage door to see Lady Edith, with a handful of other die hards, but she never emerged. I did get Chereen Buckley’s autograph though, and made friends with an English psychology student who had just been signature gathering at the Baftas!
By this time, it was incredibly late so I took the tube to Waterloo, took some photos of Waterloo, and then Ubered home. I say “home” because Woodmill Street is really starting to feel like home!

Tram Tramp and The Maids

I had another slow start on Wednesday and headed out around midday. My first stop of the day was Chinatown. Being restricted by luggage limits and customs, I didn’t venture into any of the shops but, based on the picture menus, selected a lunch destination. 
  
  
I ordered far more yum cha than I really needed. I was pleased to find that my order was actually misinterpreted and I received black bean and chilli rib pieces instead of pork buns, which I’ve eaten hundreds of times.


  
  
 After lunch, I walked to the London Transport Museum in the least direct route that my phone had selected. (I have a feeling that not only am I misinterpreting the distances, the GPS positioning seems to be much less accurate here, taking a while to decide where I actually am.)


  
  
I was in my element at the London Transport Museum. Upon entry, you step into an elevator in which the “floor number” counts backwards from 2016 to 1800, where upon you emerge to find yourself surrounded by nineteenth century carriages, omnibuses and sedan chairs. I was particularly excited by the sedan chair after having completed a research assignment on it as a 10-year-old student. (Contrarily and typically, I had chosen as my assignment topic a form of transport that few other students had heard of.)


  
The next level down had the beginnings of the railway, complete with a steam loco and passenger carriages!


  
  
  
  
  
  
 On the lowest level, there were more train carriages and trams in which I could pose. I was really embracing my solo traveller status by taking as many indulgent selfies with the public transport artefacts as I could get away with. I have decided to call this concept #tramtramp. It’s like traditional pin-up, except you do it with public transport if you don’t own a car.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
I got lost a little more with Siri’s unhelpful directions, or perhaps more correctly, her indecisive interpretation of north.

As it was Saint Patrick’s Day, I had been given the mission to drink a pint in a proper Irish pub. I found one called Waxy O’Connor’s which allegedly has six levels. I found the back entrance and asked the bouncer if he wanted me to show ID.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Hah! Don’t worry then.”

I’m sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
I found myself in an incredibly dimly lit, church-themed bar, complete with confessional and religious relics. I ended up ordering only half a pint of Guinness (to match my size) from a really lovely, green-glittered barmaid and tried to find somewhere to stand. After three failed attempts to stand somewhere which didn’t result in a security guard telling me I had to move, I skulled my drink and ascended back into the light.


  
  
  
I made several mistakes when visiting The National Gallery: I went too late in the day, I didn’t predetermine which paintings I actually wanted to find, and I was a touch tipsy (I’m largely alcohol-free these days after threats of high blood pressure from my doctor, so my alcohol tolerance is not what it once was).
Of the small proportion of art which I actually had the time to examine properly, my highlights were seeing the paint daubs on The Water Lily Pond, discovering a new Van Gough favourite (The Crabs), sitting in the dark to observe Leonardo’s Burlington House Cartoon  – the inspiration for today’s featured image, and remembering my deep interest in biblical art which I had developed as a tween after being awarded a book on the subject by my art teacher.   It was interesting to see which stories were the most popular with artists, especially those that allowed for the portrayal of female nudity which was perfectly acceptable because it was a religious context.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
It was at this point that I recalled that Mr Bean used to work at the National Gallery.  The reason my memory was jogged, was because I used to own a book in which Mr Bean “annotated” particular works of art.  This one he captioned, “Dear Mum, Had a horrible time at the barber’s today…”

One of the other things I learnt was that a lot of landscape paintings were “jazzed up” with some mythological characters painted by a different artist, so that they’d have wider public appeal.  This is one such painting:

And I saw my favourite of The Doctor’s lovers, Madame du Pompadour!  She even ranks higher in my esteem than Rose…


And it was amazing to see The Ambassadors “in person”, and especially to view it from the side.  I had a strange look from the other people in the room watching me looking at the painting until they reached the point in their audio tour commentaries which instructed them to look for the skull which can only be seen from the side.

  
And I really was drawn to this painting.  Apparently, this was the artist’s wife.

During my whirlwind tour, I took a stack of selfies of my favourites to prove I was there, if only briefly.


  
  
  

  
  
  
  

I had pre-theatre dinner booked for 6pm, as a package deal with the ticket. It was an Italian restaurant, with Italian staff who struggled immensely with my Australian accent requesting soda “wardah, broosheddah and spageddee”.


I had booked tickets to see The Maids at Trafalgar Studios. It was a strange venue with winding corridors that couldn’t possibly meet fire regulations with quite a lecture hall feel due to the very steep, seating gradient. The play was staged both front and back and had an incredibly clever set that had all the props stored in cubbyholes under the stage which had parquet trap doors as access points.

The actual play was amazing. It began in a somewhat farcical style and was punctuated with realistic moments. The play is based on a French version, which echoed a tragedy in 1930s France, where a pair of sisters who worked for the same mistress, murdered the mistress and her daughter, possibly due to a mix of insanity and class struggle. It was actually much darker than I was expecting and was even more disturbing as I remember what I saw knowing the origin of the play’s content. All three actors were brilliant, but I had come to see Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith from Downton Abbey. Her nasal, New York accent was as over the top as it could be, without actually being over the top. I also loved her outfit of silver heels, black and white Tim Burton tights and grey fur.
After the show, I waited at the stage door to see Lady Edith, with a handful of other die hards, but unfortunately, she never emerged. I did get Chereen Buckley’s autograph though, and made friends with an English psychology student who had just been signature gathering at the Baftas!
By this time, it was incredibly late so I took the tube to Waterloo, took some photos of Waterloo, and then Ubered home. I say “home” because Woodmill Street is really starting to feel like home!

Victoria & Albert & Me

Despite waking up ridiculously early, I had a pretty slow start to the day, dawdling along by washing my hair, blogging, sort of hanging out with Mocha and face timing Amy. I had another tough choice for breakfast and so had both savoury mince and my newly purchased Croatian Nutella.


  

My annotated tube map said it was Kew Gardens today, but I rebelled against the plan and headed to South Kensington to see, firstly, the Victoria and Albert Museum which has a subterranean path leading directly to it. I was a bit overwhelmed by the volume of art I had to process, but my favourite pieces were in the casting court. I felt even more dwarfed than usual amongst the massive, intricate pieces.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  

I also particularly loved the stained glass windows, which reminded me of home, where I have a medieval Viking ship (a souvenir from another exhibition).



And the rest –  it was all amazing!


  
  
  
  
  
  
  

With my London pass, I was able to get a complimentary cream tea (what would have been deemed Devonshire tea back home). I enjoyed my tea in opulence in a beautiful space with mystical orb chandeliers.


  
  

I loved the pattern of the tea tray so much it was today’s watercolour of the day!


Also got to catch up with my mate, Al!

Given that my free scone was my lunch, I was able to spend my allocated lunch money on a vintage look V&A bag!

I walked across the street to the Natural History Museum to continue my museum excursion.



The collections were brilliant! I think my favourites were the reconstructions of early human faces and the bird collection with annotated feet and wings, and my favourite NZ birds – a kiwi and a kakapo!


  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

I was also particularly fascinated by the animatronic dinosaurs (as were some small children visiting the museum too).


I wish I had spent more time at the museum and had brought my sketch book, but it was very crowded with a large group of obnoxious French teenagers who arrived and left at the same time as I did.
I walked to Harrods next and contemplated whether I would be able to afford to eat at the food hall. Alas, I could not. Everything was beautifully ordered and presided over by staff in aprons and boaters. If I was going to fork over a stack of cash, I would have eaten at the Rotisserie which had a rose gold coloured range hood and fittings. I left the building via the tea and chocolate section and was offered a sample of hot chocolate, which was incredibly sweet, but at the same time had a hint of salted caramel.


  
  
  
  
  
  
  

My mentor, Jenny, originally from Finland but who has also lived in London (amongst countless other cities), recommended seeing Sloane Square instead of Carnaby Street as the quintessential high street experience. It started to get quite cold as I walked from Harrods to the square, but it was worth it to see the “Upstairs Downstairs-esque” houses and quaint little shops.


  
  
  

After my walk, I stopped at a brasserie for some soda water and olives until Huggies finished work and I caught the tube to Clapham Common to meet him.



Huggies had selected a charming burger joint, which served their delicious burgers with a pickle on the side. It was wonderful to see Huggies, although we had had a catch up over Christmas. It was wonderful to see that the stressful hours and cold winter hadn’t dampened his perpetually sunny disposition. And this was the whole point of the trip. To reunite with those of my friends who had followed their dreams overseas.

Despite it being absolutely freezing (so much so that an English woman in the WC started up a conversation with me to complain about the weather and expressed disbelief at my selection of London as a holiday destination when I lived in Australia), we had gelato ‘cos sometimes you’ve just gotta tough it out!


  
  

I made it home, after having walked almost 20k steps and almost fell alseep in the bath watching a Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman period film about French gardening. (Totally my kind of film, but I was just incredibly tired.)

All the Globe’s a Stage…

This morning’s weather wasn’t quite as cheerful as Monday, but this didn’t stop Mittens from enjoying being outside.

 

Mittens in the garden

I still wasn’t quite 100% and my blood pressure was through the roof, so I decided today would be one of taking it easy.  It seems all this leisurely living in a luxury townhouse is stressing me out. I ate some comforting soup while transcribing all the attractions on my wish list onto a tube map and reluctantly whittled today’s itinerary down from Westminster, Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern, Borough Market, London Bridge, the Shard and Canary Wharf to just Shakespeare’s Globe and the Borough Market.

 

My crazy high blood pressure

 

Soup and annotated tube map

 

Being stressed in the luxury living room

I had the choice of walking all the way to the Globe or taking the tube and I chose the former.  I was so glad I did.  Although I was absolutely freezing (delighting in my visible breath), I adored exploring Bermondsey, Southwark and Bankside up close, randomly encountering gorgeous architecture, art installations, river views and archeological sites of significance.  And every few steps, there was a pub or cafe that I desperately wanted to patronise, but I kept walking determined to get to the Globe before the crowds became insurmountable.

Bermondsey

 

Reproduction of war telegrams on Maltby Street

 

Telegram closeup

 

Cafe to add to the wish list

 

More war telegrams on the corner of Millstream and Maltby

 

Closeup

 

Shard in the distance

 

Shard closer but still in the distance

 

View of Tower Bridge from the Queen’s Walk

 

London Bridge (evidently not falling down)

 

London Bridge and my fair lady haha

 

Another Fuller’s pie and ale house

 

#jonestip This is the Barrowboy and Banker and it’s on Borough High Street

Rampant lion at the city limit

 

Southwark Cathedral, randomly sandwiched in between pubs and offices

 

Desperately wanted to stop for the pulled pork here

 

Two of my favourite things

 

Almost at the riverbank again

 

The Francis Drake

 

Another pub for the wish list

 

The front of the Francis Drake from the Old Thameside Inn

 

The namesake of the canal housing the Francis Drake

 

The ruins of Westminster Palace

 

Detail of the rose window of the palace

 

Another historic pub, claiming to be one of London’s oldest

 

A selfie to prove I was there

 

Pesky cybermen in disguise, biding their time

After about 40 minutes  of wandering, I made it to the Globe, which looked more like a record store or pizza chain.  But, it turns out that I simply had the wrong entrance.

The wrong entrance

 

The right entrance

I wandered through an exhibition while I waited for my theatre tour to begin.  I loved the little theatre reproductions and it took all my willpower not to touch the costumes.


  
  
  
  
  
  

Then, it was time to see the theatre.  Our tour guide’s name was Heather and she was incredibly enthusiastic.  Unfortunately, it was at this point that I remembered how much that I hated other tourists.  This time it was due to their inability to follow instructions and their obsession with the perfect selfie at any cost whether it be sacrifing other people’s enjoyment of the tour, or their fellow tourists’ safety.

So, despite being shoved behind a post in the gallery where I had far less than a tuppence view, I took a stack of photos while listening to Heather tell us about the architecture of the twenty-sided polygonic space; the cashmere hair in the walls’ plaster; the input from contemporary actors to the layout of the stage; the sound room above the stage; the significance of the demonic trap door and angelic door in the ceiling;  various incidents resulting in damage to the original; the Burbages’ financial troubles; the notoriousness of Bankside and its heavily taxed dens of debauchery, violence and sin; and the slightly bittersweet tale of the reproduction’s completion mere years after its benefactor’s death.  As much as I was amazed to see the wooden galleries, I was absolutely in awe of the sumptuous set dressing for the afternoon’s Twelfth Night.  The colours and textures were just incredible!


  
  
  
  
  
  
  

The sound room

  

Thatching installed with special permission and fire protection systems

  

130 animals made by 130 international blacksmiths


I really loved being at the Globe. It reminded me of my teenaged obsession with Shakespeare in Love and my adolescent Shakespearean acting career, playing Juliet’s nurse, Mistress Page from the Merry Wives of Windsor, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and Portia from The Merchant of Venice, culminating in being the Townsville Juvenile Eisteddfod’s Shakespearean Champion in 2003.

After the Globe, I walked through the Borough Markets, as suggested by my host, Iain. It was delightful. So many things I wanted to buy but knew I couldn’t take them back through customs! I did, however, buy some hot apple juice, Croatian Nutella and some green olives. I also got to try a sample of a delicious venison burger!


  
  
  
  
  
  

I was getting a bit cold, so I stopped for lunch in the closest pub.  I got a bit of a strange look when ordering vegetables with my  bangers and mash, but was redeemed by the sticky date pudding.

  

I caught the tube home and had a relaxing afternoon because I was still a bit ill.  Emma and Iain made me tacos for dinner and I spent the rest of the evening watching Midsomer Murders and dreaming, through watercolour, of being on the stage of the Globe.


  

Happy Pi/e Day

I had quite a confused sleep, having a break between midnight and 4am to write emails and watch “quality television”.

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Despite this, I was awake at about 6am, with plenty of time to have a relaxing bath, set my hair, hang out with Mocha, meet some canine locals and have a leisurely breakfast. I couldn’t decide whether to have peanut butter or a poached egg, so I just had both.

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The first stop of the day was to pick up my London Pass from an underground information booth in Leicester Square. This was one of the several times where I overshot the mark when walking somewhere after looking at a map. The block sizes here are tiny! And I keep thinking little lanes don’t count as proper streets on the map, but they always do.

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After picking up my London Pass from a particularly gruff woman with a Slovak accent, I made my way past the National Gallery and around the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields several times until I found the Hop-On Hop-Off bus stop (matching the particular company listed on my ticket). I was unusually excited to see the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields. It is the home of the musicians who are responsible for my favourite recording of the Peer Gynt Opera! I wonder if Sir Neville Mariner lives in the crypt…

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#vosstip – The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus tour that comes with the London Pass only turned out to be for one day. However, this didn’t worry me too much because I had a 7-day, two-zone pass on my Oyster Card. I think this will be significantly cheaper than actually having each journey charged separately. And I will be able to get everywhere I want to go without having American tourists’ heads in my photos and their accents ringing in my ears. This isn’t the first time I lost my patience with the tourists on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus (remember Singapore?). Can someone remind me next time that I never enjoy it?

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I started to feel really ill on the bus so I only saw (and heard commentary for) a few monuments – The Savoy (the first public building in London to be fitted with electricity), Saint Clement’s (of Oranges and Lemons fame), Covent Garden (which was once a convent garden – typos!), Saint Paul’s (in the style of Florentine cathedrals) and the HSBC building which appears to be gothic revival? (It wasn’t mentioned on the recording.) I desperately alighted somewhere in the financial district and spent more than a penny in an underground water closet, although I was calculating the risk of being sick on the street after seeing someone questioned by police for the same offence in front of the National Portrait Gallery earlier in the day.

I was feeling pretty rotten so I thought some hot food would cheer me up, despite still feeling bloated like a pregnant hippo. I feel it was serendipity that led me to the Hung Drawn and Quartered, a picturesque British pub specialising in pies and ales on this Rounded Pie Day (3.14.16). I ordered a Steak and London Pride pie with chips and gravy, but sensibly and reluctantly avoided an ale.  The pie had the perfect balance of crisp, shiny, outer crust, chewy inner crust and tender beef, succulent mushrooms and thick gravy.  Note that London Pride was one of the beers on tap.

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It seems that Voss is not the only one of my colleagues who might find himself in London at some point. So I’ve added a #jonestip for Adam.

#jonestip – If you go to the Hung Drawn and Quartered website, you can sign up to a mailing list which will give you a free ale when you visit, in addition to the three you’ll try when you inevitably purchase a pie and ale tasting platter (as pictured in this Victorian-esque diagram).


After spending as much time as possible in the Hung Drawn and Quartered, I left before I was tempted to order an ale.

It had turned into a beautiful sunny day with clear skies! I took some rare and enviable blue sky photos around the Tower of London (and some selfies, obviously) and then made my way back to Bermondsey, taking some more unusually summery photos.

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When I arrived home, I found that there was someone sleeping in my bed! I used this opportunity to get a sneaky selfie with Mocha, who is a little skittish after being rescued from intentional drowning as a kitten.

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imageMocha and Mittens kept me company while I did a little watercolouring of my favourite “attraction” of the day.

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I had another bath and had a very relaxing, unsociable evening. Huggies tells me that this is what Londoners do on Mondays because they are “tired and poor”. If that’s the criteria, I’m a local already!

The Long Haul

In about October last year, I made the decision to go on a Grand Tour to celebrate my 30th year on this planet, by seeing more of said planet.  I decided to minimise trip costs and maximise trip experience by travelling to locations where my ex-pat friends resided – London, Oxford, Stockholm and Edinburgh.  I also added in a northern lights tour of Iceland while I happened to be “in the neighbourhood”.

I spent a frazzled week undertaking last minute preparations, with help from my very dedicated travel agent, Siobhan, and a packet of highlighters that I found in our stationery cupboard.
  
I had originally thought that my journey would begin on Saturday morning, but it turns out it was to be Saturday evening.  I was granted an additional bonus 12 hours of prep time, which was much appreciated.

My mate, Adam, spent the last precious few hours of his 20s driving me to the airport, after not being fortunate enough to score a free trip, this time, and I attempted to con (vince) Singapore Air into giving me an upgrade, armed with a letter from my physio.  Alas, I was unsuccessful!

My consolation prize was a lime and soda at the departure gate.


After watching Mr Holmes and a documentary in which Stephen Fry beat, amongst other things, a minion-shaped piñata, I arrived in Singapore at about 5am their time.  Changi was absolutely deserted!


  
After a shower and some breakfast bao, it was back on the plane for another 14 hours.


This flight, I was delighted to discovere that I had a spare seat beside me!  This allowed me to watch Sherlock and The Danish Girl, and to nap in relative comfort, much to the disapproval of the guy in the seat on the other side of the spare.  You snooze you lose, or perhaps you snooze, you don’t snooze in comfort.  Whatever.

I was rudely awoken from a dream by our landing at Heathrow.  After my first British experience in a lengthy queue, I was interrogated at length by immigration (this was after being frisked in Singapore for a reason still unknown to me).  The immigration official was eventually satisfied with my reason for wanting to enter his country – visiting the ex-boyfriend of my best friend from high school and my yoga teacher.  I was assured that next time, there would be less questions.

My colleague and his wife are going on almost the same trip very soon after me.  I have been requested to “test out” the trip, so to speak, and provide tips.  Due to Voss’s reluctance to actually read my blogs in their entirety, I have helpfully tagged the information for his trip with “#vosstip”.  This is the first one…

#vosstip –  You can pre-purchase sim cards from 3 mobile which can also be used in Sweden (amongst other countries).  I didn’t pre-purchase mine, but there are actually four sim stores at Heathrow, so it wasn’t actually a problem.

#vosstip – If you are a visitor to London, you are eligible for a visitor Oyster card.  Unfortunately and illogically, you can’t actually buy one when you turn up in London.  They can only be pre-purchased online and shipped to your home address.


 I was very proud of my excellent tube riding skills, arriving at Bermondsey without any issues (quite an improvement from the Malahide incident of 2006 where I ended up at the wrong terminating station in Ireland whilst travelling with my mother, before the ability to use mobile phones overseas without declaring bankruptcy).

I was welcomed by my Air BnB hosts, Emma and Iain, as if I were an old friend or a relative they actually liked.  I was served a cup of tea on a London underground coaster on arrival. In my room, there were fresh yellow roses waiting for me and the very same Picasso print, as in my own apartment at home, was hanging on the wall.  Emma also cooked me a delicious dinner and didn’t mind me cuddling her ragdoll cat, Mittens.


  
  
 There is also a bathtub.  I may not ever leave…

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