London, Bristol, Bath and Cardiff

Leaving the beautiful weather in Madrid I flew into Gatwick airport and got a train to see my friend Ruki in East Dulwich. Her boyfriend introduced me to darts – the board of which I’ve seen in a few garages over the years, but in England they are often in pubs and many people have them in their houses I was told. I quite enjoyed it once the rules and various games and scoring were explained, and decided I might get myself a dart board when I get home.

I did the usual touristy things in London, walked along the Thames (it was raining and grey that day); saw St Paul’s Cathedral (just another church by that stage of my travels) and Leicester Square (booths offering discount theatre tickets); browsed through Camden Markets (got a cool handmade jumper from Nepal); walked up Oxford Street (way too many people for my liking) and through Hyde Park (big green space..); saw Buckingham Palace (that was kinda cool – to see where The Royal Wedding cars had travelled and The Kiss had taken place); saw Big Ben (not really that big or impressive) and Westminster Abbey (from the outside only); walked through Soho (more shops); went to the Portobello Road Markets (great selection of different foods on offer and had a waffle but it wasn’t as good as in Belgium); and saw the Tower Bridge (pretty bridge).

All in all London didn’t impress me all that much. I’m glad I saw ‘the sights’, but I won’t be rushing back in a hurry. I was pleased to catch up with Ruki, but London was so expensive, had stupid locations of barriers at train stations and if you entered the wrong one and needed to exit and re-enter within minutes it charged you the price of another train ride (I’m hoping Melbourne’s MYKI doesn’t follow the rules of London’s Oyster Card system..) and was too crowded and busy. Their tube system (underground trains) were easy to understand after having travelled on similar systems in Barcelona, Madrid and Berlin, but those trains were small, claustrophobic and way too hot.

I left London the day after the riots started, when everyone just thought it was a once off night of madness, and caught a bus to the west of England, to Bristol, to visit my friend Jo.

Transport in general is super expensive in the UK, with bus and train fares rising the later you book them. I find that system stupid and unfair, but to save some money I’d booked all my bus trips weeks in advance – locking me into dates and times I couldn’t later vary. I like the fact Australia has set prices for buses and trains and it doesn’t matter when you buy them the price stays the same. Exactly how it should be.

Jo took me all over Bristol, and we visited a number of her favourite pubs and bars. I experienced my first Yorkshire Pudding, which was a nice cupcake shaped, dough based, soft bread type of item, and learnt the true meaning of a CHAV – someone similar to the Australian dole bludger I guess. It stands for Council Housing and Vulgar, and many people were often referred by this title. We discovered Bristol had individually painted gorilla statues dotted around the city, similar to the Asian Elephants in Copenhagen, and Jo photographed each one we came across.

I bought a jumper for £5 that was made for 14-15 year olds yet fit me perfectly, and a pair of jeans from a charity shop (same as our Op Shops) for another £5. Considering the Australian dollar was about $1.60 to the British Pound, I wasn’t keen to spend too much and had to keep reminding myself to add 50% and some to the prices advertised. I tried the PIMMS alcoholic drink, which was about as close as I could get (even though it was still quite different) to a Lemon, Lime and Bitters in the whole of Europe.

There were a few police cars around one night and I mentioned it to Jo but she shrugged it off as normal. Little did we know the riots had continued and had moved to Bristol – hence the extra police on the streets. I felt a bit like the riots were following me across the country, and more than one friend jokingly asked if I’d started them!

Jo and I went to Weston-super-Mare to try the local fish and chips, and I was aghast that they only sold oily battered deep fried fish. I asked for a piece to be grilled or crumbed and was abruptly told that wasn’t an option. Wow. I soon learnt that you can buy almost anything deep fried in the UK, including Mars Bars (which I know we have in AU but I’ve never tried), pizza’s and skewers of meat. Ugh. No thanks.

After Weston-super-Mare we went to Bath. Bath reminded me of Salamanca in Spain, with the similar old style and same golden sandy coloured buildings. It was very pretty, but you even had to pay £1 to walk through the main gardens/park, which I declined to do. We went to the fancy Royal Crescent Hotel and being a tightarse I opted for a glass of water (which still cost me £1.25) rather than a glass of wine at £8.50 – about $13). I was starting to feel the effects of too many days of drinking and needed a break. I’d drunk more in the week I’d been in the UK than I had for the whole rest of my time in Europe and my skin nor my stomach were enjoying it.

We headed to Cardiff for two days, and I bought myself a Welsh flag patch – the second last one I’d collect on this trip. I loved the Welsh flag, it had a white and green horizontal stripe with a red dragon in the centre to symbolise bravery and victory. The city of Cardiff was quite small, but was interesting and lively. The language was quite different also, with lots of double letters in their words. All signs and buildings had the Welsh and English versions and it was interesting to compare the two. I learnt that Welsh does not have a letter ‘V’, for an ‘F’ is pronounced V unless it is a double ‘FF’ in which case it is pronounced F, as in Cardiff. I bought some delicious Apple and Blackcurrant Brandy from a small market stall – after sampling each whiskey, brandy and liqueur he was selling.

I’ve been eating less on this holiday than I do at home and feel much better for it. I prefer kids sized meals or entrees when I’m eating out, and have been conscious of how much I consume. I think most people eat far too much and I am happy to eat the little that I need, it’s just a matter of convincing others that I am satisfied rather than starving! My first task of this would be while visiting some relatives in central England, near Derbyshire. Knowing they would likely be putting on a big spread as a ‘Welcome’ gesture, I was hoping to find a balance between not eating too much and not offending them by doing so..

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