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Monday, January 13, 2020

Pinky and Scotto's European Vacation (Part One)

(Video above is clandestine footage taken of Pinky descending a castle staircase)

On looking back at our holiday photographs, I can honestly say that I don’t care if I don’t see any moss-encrusted turrets, Gothic spires or stained-glass windows for a while.

I don’t care if I don’t get to lug a suitcase along cobblestones in the rain, decipher the engineering of a hotel shower faucet or climb up and down a slippery castle staircase either.

We’re back from our trip abroad and had a fantastic time, but BOY is it good to be home.

On our first morning in London, we woke up at some ungodly hour full of dribbling, unbridled hysteria and left the hotel in the darkness at seven am. 

Spilling out onto the streets of Balham like a couple of Dickensian chimney sweeps, the shock of the cold almost killed us. 

Our first port of call was a coffee shop called Café Nero. It’s a franchise all over the U.K. and it became our frequent pit stop.

Cafe Nero

 I was so excited to be in London, I bought a gingerbread man and took a photograph of it and posted it to Facebook. I realise you can buy plenty of gingerbread men in Australia, but it was either that or a toasted cheese sandwich and I thought the former had a more English ambiance about it. 

The second thing I bought in London was an umbrella from Sainsbury's.

Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard was our first destination. Apparently, the guards don’t do the proper ‘change’ during inclement weather, so I think we missed it. We were there watching and waiting but nothing much happened. The guard kept stepping in and out of his cubicle and fiddling with his gun and at one stage a booming voice yelled out, ‘Get off the fence’. Scotto got a fright as he thought the voice was yelling at him because he was hanging over the railings trying to take a picture, but I think it’s all part of the performance. 

Next, we walked all the way to Harrods. "Look Scotto!" I shrilled in excitement and pointed to a distant wheel. "There's the London Eye!" We decided to wander over after our Harrods excursion. 

Whilst we browsed the finery on display in Harrods, Scotto spied a pen for sale.

It cost 20 000 pounds. Yes, I know. That’s quite a lot for a pen which I would probably lose after a day or two, so we didn’t buy it. 

Heading over towards the London Eye, we came across a squirrel in Hyde Park. It crept out from behind some shrubbery and started to beg for food but the only thing we had was my gingerbread man and I wasn’t ready to open it, so we gave it nothing. It was a long, damp walk to the London Eye so you can imagine how disappointed we were to discover when we arrived on blistered feet that it wasn’t the London Eye at all. It was just a lousy Ferris wheel set up in Hyde Park. We sat at a café and ate some scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream instead which were delicious but made me feel a bit sick.

After ‘tubing’ it across London, we met up with my daughter, Lulu, and had drinks with her and her workmates. The view from the pub afforded a panoramic scene encompassing the actual London Eye. It was quite a bit bigger than the Ferris wheel in Hyde Park I must say. 

Portobello Road Markets

The next day, as Lulu had finished her teaching term and was on holidays, she accompanied us to the markets. There was no Hugh Grant to be seen at Portobello Road and Lulu insisted we move on to Camden Markets instead. I’m glad she insisted because it was one of the highlights of our trip. Rambling along cobblestone paths surrounded by the aromas of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts transported us into the soul of Medieval Britain. There were buskers and Egyptian stalls galore and exotic dishes sizzling all around us. There was a shop specifically focussed on vaginas which wasn’t Medieval and which Scotto was reluctant to enter. 

“Do you think I should buy one of these vagina postcards?” I asked him as I gazed around at the statues, posters and vagina shaped lollypops. But he kept staring at the ground and shuffling his feet in an awkward fashion.

One thing I really admire about the British is their ability to briskly walk down a street, en masse, carrying umbrellas, and not bump into anyone else. I hadn’t developed this skill and was constantly jostling people and having to apologise.

The rain was annoying but we saw a double rainbow and we knew that signified a magnificent holiday to come. 

Lulu took us across London Bridge to the Eye (finally) and then on to the British Science Museum. It was dark when we left so we got to see the Winter Wonderland skating at Leicester Square. This was part of the reason we warm-blooded Aussies travelled over in winter; to see the Christmas lights. We weren’t disappointed. 

There are no leaves on the trees in winter, so the best scenery is at night. The sun doesn’t rise until 8am and it sets at 4pm which meant we had to squeeze a lot into a short time.

The things I was most nervous about on the trip were firstly, feeling the cold, but my coat was like a down-filled quilt and kept me so warm I didn’t even need gloves.

My second fear was getting pickpocketed, but my coat had an interior pocket so I knew where my credit card was at all times.

My third fear was getting stabbed by a lunatic. I just had to get over that one myself.

On the whole, I felt pretty safe in London and the only time I ever felt in any danger was the day Scotto and I decided to walk to Wimbledon Common. Scotto had his heart set on buying a Womble from Wimbledon. I know. Most men want to go to watch the tennis. He particularly desired a stuffed toy figurine of Great Uncle Bulgaria or something and he’d read that Wombles could be purchased from the Windmill gift shop at Wimbledon Common and NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD.

It was only an hour and fifteen-minute walk according to Google Maps so we set off early in the morning.

As we meandered along through a suburb called, Tooting, we came across three young men urinating on a building. We passed them but they soon overtook us and then stopped, loitering on the corner and going through rubbish cans. There wasn’t much traffic on the deserted road and I became a trifle nervous. They looked like they might hassle us and even though I was with my roguish Womble-loving thug of a husband, there were three of them and only one of him.

“Why don’t we take a side street to avoid those guys,” I suggested to Scotto.

We did, but somehow Google maps took us on a different route and our gentle one-hour amble to Wombledom turned into a three-and-a-half-hour uphill odyssey which left us with trembling quadriceps and wheezing asthma.

After dodging muddy puddles and wild and woolly hounds running loose on the common, we finally arrived at the windmill to find it was closed for the season, so Scotto failed to collect his Great Uncle Bulgaria after all. 

Wimbledon Common: Wombles: Nil

The café was open though and I plunged my choppers into the most delicious Lemon Drizzle cake I’ve ever eaten. I don’t usually eat cake but at that stage I would have eaten a five-day old Womble carcass I was so hungry.

We caught an Uber home.

On reflection we should have caught more Ubers than we did. We’d caught a taxi from the airport which cost us $150 and had felt bitterly remorseful ever since. Getting off a plane after a 13-hour flight, in the dark, in a strange city, lowers your defences. There was no way we could have dragged our luggage onto the Tube in that situation. 

Overall though, the Tube was excellent value but the journey during peak time made my hair stand on end. All those people crammed into a sardine tin hurtling through underground tunnels… shudder. 

On the Tube

Christmas Day was fast approaching. The plan was to breakfast at Lulu’s place then move on to a full Christmas dinner in Tooting. We had bought our daggy Christmas jumpers and were ready to party.