Take it to the (South) Bank

Today, I met up with Christine and Tom, the last of my Ontario connections to visit London during my sojourn. The weather and sightseeing gods were apparently with throughout, because we had a wonderful time, despite having nothing concrete planned other than a meeting place.

We met at Trafalgar Square and decided to wander towards Buckingham Palace to see if we could catch a bit of the Changing of the Guard. On our way down the Mall, we encountered the Horse Guards regiment returning to their barracks. Very cool, and it got better.

Horse Guards heading home

The crowd near the palace gates was thick as we neared, so we decided to stay along the Mall, where we witnessed Grenadier Guards marching toward the ceremony and back again afterward.

Grenadier Guards en route to Buckingham Palace.

We moved along and were also lucky enough to see the day’s band, the Coldstream Guards, as they marched out of the palace gates playing martial music, followed by another group of Grenadier Guards. Wonderful to see them all up close – and lucky for them that the weather was cool, since their uniforms are a bit on the heavy side!

Coldstream Guards band leaving the palace

We walked back through Green Park to Westminster in time to hear Big Ben chime noon – a real treat, since he may be silenced until 2021 while the clock is refurbished. However, the announcement about his silencing brought forth a huge hue and cry from the British public, so there may be some negotiation on when he tolls and when he is silent. The bell tolled all through the London bombings of the Second World War, so people are outraged that he should stop now.

Big Ben chimes the noon hour

Next, a ride on one of the riverboats that take travellers from pier to pier. We opted to go as far as the Tower of London – St. Katharine’s Pier – and hopped aboard the front of the boat. Our waterman offered to provide commentary, even though it wasn’t really a tour boat, but he was wonderful. We learned that Waterloo Bridge is “The Ladies’ Bridge,” since women built it while men were off fighting during the Second World War, and we discovered that the Millennium Bridge is also called the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge, since it closed down hours after its official opening due to its tendency to sway. (It’s fixed now, never fear!) We heard this commentary delivered in a wonderful “Souf” London accent – I could have listened all day.

After lunch at the Dickens Pub at the nearby marina, we decided upon a walk across Tower Bridge – and what a walk it turned out to be. We were nearly across when we heard a siren, and it turned out that it was the signal that the bridge would be opening, something that happens only about three times a week! We backed into safe territory and watched the show.

Tower Bridge on the move

The ship coming up the Thames turned out to be a tall ship – a training ship for Naval cadets, and as they passed, the sound system on the ship blared, “Rule Britannina,” and the sailors hanging from the rigging in their spiffy uniforms waved to the crowd. What a sight!

Naval cadets approaching Tower Bridge

We continued on to the South Bank of the river, and it was a lively, bustling place. There is a promenade all along the waterfront, and there are shops, restaurants, buskers, the National Theatre, the South Bank Centre and more. A stop at Borough Market to look at the gourmet food stalls led to some yummy goat’s milk ice cream and a reminder of the terrorist attack there just months ago when signs thanked us for our support of the market.

Supporting Borough Market

Our wanderings brought us in touch with all kinds of street theatre: giant bubble wands, teenagers swinging from the underpinnings of the Thames Bridges on ropes (undoubtedly illegal), expert sand sculptures and singers plying their trade.

A wonderful way to spend a (partially) sunny day: exploring the city with friends and finding it full of life.

Here’s to sharing a lovely day in London with friends!

Tour de Torontonians

It has been quite the week. For some reason, all kinds of people I know decided to converge on London within a few days of each other, making this the most social stretch of time I’ve had all summer. In fact, when I looked back to Monday’s Science Tea, I couldn’t believe it took place this week.

Science Tea? Did I really write those two words together? Indeed! The lovely Ampersand Hotel, right near the bus stop for my Battersea buses in South Kensington, offers a science version of its afternoon tea, designed to entertain the youngsters who visit the nearby Science Museum with their parents. A client of mine, Nicolle, and her family, are science lovers, so I knew this was the perfect way for us to meet. It was a delightful afternoon of great company and fun food: Petri dishes full of jelly, dinosaur-shaped cookies, cheesecake Saturn with white-chocolate rings and dry ice to add some clouds to the sunny atmosphere. What fun!

Saturns, spacemen and spaceships ensure our tea is out of this world!

On Tuesday, Jemma, Virginia and Sandy arrived from Portugal for a week and settled into a hotel nearby in Battersea. We’ve been to the Tate Modern and a pub dating from 1549 together, and various permutations and combinations of us have met for lunch and dinner.

Foodie friends

We made a stop at Harrod’s, with its luxurious, deluxe offerings and its shrine to the late Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed. We toured Buckingham Palace and its ornate interiors in the pouring rain and saw some of the gifts the monarchs received from other countries, including Vancouver 2010 Olympic mittens from Canada!

Royal Carriage

We even helped Sandy locate the hostel where she stayed when she toured Europe at age 21. The fun continues Monday with a visit to the London Eye and a farewell dinner before we go in various directions.

Friday saw me boarding a train for Birmingham for the day to attend the Festival of Quilts, Europe’s largest quilt show. I met my new friend from Surrey, Christina, there for an afternoon of ooh-ing and aah-ing over amazing quilts by incredibly talented people.

One of the prize-winning quilts at the Festival of Quilts

I took an hour-long workshop to practise paper piecing and I – of course – purchased some fabric. With so many vendors around, how could I fail to support the British economy?

Today, another client, Barb, and a friend met me for an excursion to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, aka Kew Gardens. (It is one of only five Royal Botanical Gardens worldwide, including the one in Hamilton.) We saw a wonderful variety of exhibits: water lilies, orchids, the kitchen garden, cacti, temperate plants and a treetop walk above the fray.

Colour everywhere!

There was also a sculpture with sound and light that simulated a beehive, an amazing piece of creativity; and a peacock that roams free in the flower gardens. Everywhere we turned there was fascinating plants, lovely vistas and peaceful places to relax.

Kew Gardens delights visitors.

After all of this fun, I may actually have to sit down and do some work tomorrow. It will undoubtedly be a shock to my system, but I need to clear my calendar before a quilting pal from Waterford, Christine, and her husband blow into town on Tuesday. Never a dull moment, eh?