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What Was That

That was my time in the UK whizzing past at a bit over the speed of sound.  I fly back in the morning.  I should rightly be in bed already.  I for some reason thought I had a flight back around 1pm but checked the print out when I got back in tonight and realized it’s 11am.  I don’t know what I was thinking, but hey, this is why I printed it out and checked.  All’s well.  I’m sure I can get up at a reasonable hour and make it.  I just won’t sleep a lot before!

Yesterday was day 1 with the arch supports and what a blessed difference it was.  My little arches felt massively better.  They still need a rest but that too shall come.  Every trip to London, I’ve taken several tours from a group called London Walks – in my opinion, the best walking tours of the city.  I’ve done a ton of them and have not nearly done them all.  This trip, I had not set foot on one.  Not sure what’s happening there!  Yesterday I saw they had an “explorer” tour – essentially a day out from the city with an afternoon and morning tour and they handle getting you there and back.  I’d done one to Leeds Castle and Canterbury a few years ago.  This one was to St. Albans, a wee city about 20 minutes by rail from London.  It was advertised as being quaint having started as a Roman Fort and having existed in one form or another every since.  It was dirt cheap as tours go, so I can’t complain.  The city didn’t quite fit my image of a quaint little place frozen in time as described but was sort of cool in that we saw a place where everyday folks live.  It’s sort of a bedroom community for the greater city.  It’s also the site of an ancient shrine to st. Alban.  He was a roman who was converted to Christianity and martyred for it.  I had never heard his name before as far as I can recall.  The interesting thing was that the tour guide’s accent sounded just like a lady back home who was an English war bride.  I should have asked but never got around to it.  It was uncanny familiar and took me a bit to place.  I kept thinking I’d heard it on TV somewhere.

Got back into the city and took the tube all the way to Aldgate, essentially now in the city’s business district and fair dead on a Sunday, but I have wanted for the longest time to get some photos of the “Gherkin” as it’s known – it’s this massive mod building in the heart of London – visible from the Thames near Tower Bridge.  I think it looks more like an elongated egg than a pickle, but it’s green colored glass earns its nickname.   I did get some photos.  The light wasn’t so great, so we’ll see what I got out of the expedition.  I was not surprised to encounter many other tourists at every vantage point trying their luck as well.

Afterwards, a quick meal and galloped off to bed.  I had high hopes of another early start today.  Today’s explorer day was to Cambridge.  I had almost written it off but several people on the St. Albans tour said it was a must.  And I noted it was being lead by the same guide from Canterbury in 2005.  So, I figured I could well rest on the plane ride back.

I was off the tube at Kings Cross train station well before 9am this morning.  I had a quick breakfast and waited for the guide to show up.  Kings Cross could not be a much more busy place to try to meet a group.  I had almost decided that I was at the wrong place, though it didn’t seem possible.  The landmark is a luggage cart half through a wall with the sign 9 3/4 over it (the track # from the Harry Potter films (the scene with the cart in the wall I actually recall).  I got to watch SO MANY people throw their bags in and get photos of themselves.  A large group of young asians must have been there for 20 minutes.  I even got roped into helping them with their photos.  But it was fun to watch.

The group finally formed and we were off to Cambridge.  It’s a fascinating little city.  I think as much as anything it was interesting to hear how the English college/university system formed and how different it is in structure than our typical system in the states.  Tons of gorgeous old buildings but all kind of piled upon one another such that I would have had to have spent a lot more time than I had hunting out good angles.  We toured in the morning, had a quick lunch and then continued in the afternoon.  At the end a portion of us spent our free time punting (boating) down the Cam to our final meeting point as a group before going back to the train station.  The weather was kind of drab (overcast) by the time it came time to punt, but who knows when one will ever be in Cambridge again with the opportunity to lay back in a boat.  The guy providing the power to the pole (the actual act of punting) was a college student at St. Johns College and told us a lot about the things we saw along the riverside.   And he did much better at guiding the boat than some of the folks around us who just tried it on their own!  One group was doing what I would have, basically just propelling themselves into each opposite bank over and over!  Funny to watch, probably frustrating to do!

Trips end, we all piled back onto the train to London.  Chit-chatted about where we were all from (a mix of locals, Aussies, Germans, and several Americans aside from myself – all from out west).   Back at Kings Cross we quickly bid farewell.  There were some with shows tonight, and myself I wanted to get back here to pick up my gorilla pod and tripod head and try to get some dusk shots of SOMETHING before I went back.  I dragged that thing from the states for heavens sake and had yet to find time to use it. It’s been past dusk every night I thought of it.  I got here, and dashed back to the train.  I started looking at the clock and realized that I was not going to make it to either Tower Bridge nor St. Paul’s Cathedral in time.  I had to adjust my plans and instead got off at Westminster so I could see Big Ben and Parliament at dusk.  I think those shots came out pretty well.  I was one of MANY on the bridge taking photos.  Tons had full on tripods with them.  Either locals or far more dedicated travelers than I am.  I may yet break down and find a tripod that is both sturdy and not only light but compact enough.  But I’m not yet convinced I need it.  I generally only take night shots when I’ve been somewhere enough to know what to expect about where the light will set, etc.  Parliament qualified, as do several places in London now, as I’m on trip 4 to this city…  Scary, eh?

Anyway, a bit of a wander there after and then a train to Picadilly Circus one more time.  Quick meal and some hand held quick night shots of the lights there (A LOT of light – London’s time’s square).  And finally back here.  I just finished arranging my bags.  Everything packed except what I’m wearing now, tonight, or in the morning.

Everytime I come here, there are tons of mixed emotions at the end.  There’s definitely a side of me that will be so happ to snuggle into my own bed tomorrow evening, a side that will be happy to see familiar places and definitely a side that will be glad to be able to actually rest.  But it’s conflicted with a side that would happily remain here, not per se just London but here being the road, meeting new people, hearing new words and accents and voices.  London is so fantastic in part because it’s a microcosm of people and places.  The history, the native cuture and the imported culture will always hold a little sway over me, but it also feeds the wanderlust.

Not sure where is next, but if tradition holds there’s a trip at year’s end.  Maybe Paris since I missed out.  Or maybe somewhere warm again.  Egypt, although cooler than I may have expected, was an awesome change.  And I’m well amazed how quickly I’ve adapted to the temps here.  I brought my hoodie with me, which has half the time been either left behind or tied around my waist.  I’ve dreaded every time I had to wear one of the two long sleeved shirts I brought!  I even though of wearing my one pair of shorts I brought along hopefully but finally decided to save them for the flight home.  I may roast at the Atlanta airport otherwise!  My body is not going to be prepared anymore.

Ah well, London photos and more to come at some point after I’ve had a slight relax – take care!

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