London & a Little Bit of Brighton

London: 18-20 December, 28 December to 2 January, 5-9 January

Brighton: 2-5 January

London is a lot different to the city I was introduced to in 1970 and in fact it has grown up further from our more recent visit in 2005. You can’t help but notice how the skyline has changed. The horizon is made of glass towers of all shapes and sizes. Even the massive Cucumber of 2005 is now dwarfed by its towering neighbours.

And that is just the external perspective of London. It is a more confident city. Construction is everywhere. The city is clean. Buildings, even Buckingham Palace, have been spray cleaned. The streets are clean. The underground doesn’t leave you with grit in your eyes and black silt in your nose, and it is efficient and the staff are friendly. It is as if the station masters have had elocution lessons. Toilets in restaurants and pubs offer branded hand wash and often hand cream.

London is still a busy city, with a feeling that you must keep going, can’t sleep, can’t even stop.

We spent a couple of days before Christmas taking in the festive lights and decorations.

We spent a substantial time in Harrods, examining the many gift options on offer. A hamper, a massive soft toy or an original, signed Picasso. Take your pick. We ate there, had trouble choosing which of the 20 or more eateries to choose from. The ground floor food hall was much too crowded, but as you rise through the building and explore the floor area there is an eatery at every turn.

We also discovered the Christmas Market in Hyde Park, surely competing with the famous German Christmas markets. It was huge with eating, drinking, riding opportunities as well as shopping.

After our time in Iceland we returned for new year celebrations. This time we explored the waterways along the Thames River and the Camden Canal with Denis & Martine. We took lots of opportunities to try another coffee or beer as an excuse to rest weary legs that carried us 14km or more a day.

We then escaped to Brighton for a weekend. School was still out so it was as busy as London but we loved our tour through King George IV’s folly of the Brighton Pavilion (no photos allowed) and resisted cockles and Brighton Rock on the Brighton Pier.

We returned to London again to renew our passports. Never had we anticipated that our Silk Route journey would require so many pages to support those countries’ bureaucracy. We fast tracked the passports and took the opportunity to see two photographic exhibitions. One a moving essay on the aftermath of war at the Tate Modern and the other a delightful record of a young Bertie’s travels from Cairo to Constantinople, in preparation of his royal duties as King Edward VII, at the Queen’s Gallery.

We managed one more slot of time with Ev & Steph before they headed home to Australia to start planning the next adventure in their lives. Of course it was with a meal – breakfast in the Angels, an area we had not previously explored.

London was expensive and cold, so after three disjointed visits we were happy to head south to a more relaxed Barcelona to plan our activities for 2015.