England in November

Although the main reason for going to England was to visit a conference in Exeter, we decided it would be nice to spend some time in and around London to visit friends. We took the first flight out and arrived at London City Airport at 7:30 am. The airport has a single runway surrounded by water and it’s a interesting experience to land there. We dropped our bags off at Paddington Station and after saying hello to Paddington Bear, we made our way into the city. While on the plane I had made a plan of what we would do that day. Obviously London can’t be seen in a day and we had to concentrate on a single thing. I decided walking along the south bank of the River Thames would be the best thing to do.
It was the first time in 18 years that I had been to London and although parts of it I could still remember, everything else was like walking into a new city. When I was there last, the area south of the river from Tower Bridge to Westminster Bridge didn’t exist the way it does now. At first, I had hopes of visiting the Tower of London as I did when I was there last but when we saw the lines for people waiting to get tickets, we decided against it. Instead we spent our time in the Tower Bridge marveling at the view and enjoying the exhibition.

From high up on the bridge, we could see all the new buildings and construction still going on in the city. How the skyline had changed in 18 years! The panorama maps had us pointing at all the buildings, most of which are given nicknames: The Walkie-Talkie, The Gherkin, The Shard, The Scoop, etc. We spent all day walking along the river, but I never tired of it, soaking in the views and enjoying the modern architecture.

Originally warehouses and a wharf where the ships could sail into, Hay’s Galleria is now a small shopping center with shops and cafés. Further on is the Golden Hinde, the reconstruction of the ship Sir. Francis Drake used on his travels between 1577-80.

Walking along the river, you duck walk directing along the river, duck into side streets and see things you’d never think to stop and see. I originally wanted to go to Borough Markets, but instead be ended up visiting Southwark Cathedral. It has been a place of worship for over 1000 years and a quiet place right behind the bustling Borough Markets. The small excavation beside the cathedral shows the layers of London.

We walked on and the next thing that came, which was finally something I remembered visiting on school exchange, was Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Although I remember the inside, I couldn’t remember what it looked like from the outside. Too much has changed. And right behind it, Millennium bridge which leads right to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Under bridges, there were musicians playing, above some tube stations and almost everywhere amazing design features.

We walked past the London Eye and finally made it to Westminster Bridge. My feet were hurting and I was looking forward to sitting quietly in the pews. We reached the bridge and finally something I could vividly remember. Big Ben. Then it was a sunny and hot day and while my school friends sat and talked on benches after a tour of the House of Commons, I was busy taking photographs. Some things never change…

Unfortunately Westminster Abbey was closed due to a wedding. We lingered a bit walking around while I kept an eye on the ladies with their fancy hats and as we moved on, the bride drove up in an old Rolls Royce.

By this time, I was barely able to walk one more step as my feet were hurting. I made it to St. James’s Park near Buckingham Palace before seating myself on the first bench I saw and watched the squirrels rustle around in the leaves looking for food. Once I could walk again, we walked past Buckingham Palace and through the Green Park before heading to Paddington Station again to collect our bags.

That one day in London left me yearning for more, and I decided I must return asap!
The next day we visited Windsor Castle. Not only were we interested in the castle itself, but I especially wanted to see the exhibit of dresses the Queen wore for certain occasions. The exhibit was superb and the castle much larger than either of us ever imagined. The only downside was the noise the airplanes flying overhead on their way to Heathrow Airport made. Luckily the thick castle walls blocked out the sound inside. It pays to go early. We didn’t have to wait in any lines at all. Unfortunately we went on a Sunday and on Sundays St. George’s Chapel is closed. It was a cold and wet day and after the castle we found a cute café where we warmed up with a bowl a soup. Then we walked across the river into Eaton and back.

Before and after the conference, we took some time to walk around Exeter. Days before we arrived, a fire started in the Royal Clarence Hotel and most of the city, including the famous Cathedral were closed off. The city smelled of the fire but the day before we left, the area around the cathedral was open again and we were able to go inside. The day we arrived as sunny and we headed down to the quayside for a walk.

Exeter Cathedral has been on my list of places to visit ever since studying Gothic architecture in school and I was sad to hear I may not be able to visit while there. But we made it in just 30 minutes before closing. Reconstruction of the building was started in the Norman Style but then redone in the decorated Gothic style with what you see when looking at the vaulted ceiling, the longest stretch of unbroken Gothic vaulting in the world.

After the conference, we had a day to explore and we took the train along the beautiful coast to Paignton where we caught the steam train headed for Dartmouth. We stopped along the way at Greenway to visit Agatha Christie’s summer home. On the train ride to Paignton, something went click and I finally understood the “mouth” in various towns such as Exmouth, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Portsmouth. These towns are situated at the mouth of the river, hence their name. E.g. Dartmouth is at the mouth of the River Dart.

We walked to Greenway through the woods and once we saw the house, we decided yes, we could live here. The house is filled with things the family collected, some beautiful others quirky, all interesting. I especially liked the dishes on the dining room table printed with Audubon birds which reminded me of the yearly Audubon calendars my mother used to have.

After visiting the house, we walked around the property, down to the boathouse (which is featured in her book “Dead Man’s Folly) and to the greenhouses.

After Greenway, we continued the train ride to Dartmouth, took the ferry across the river and braved the cold before heading back to Exeter.

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