Exploring London with my friends

Dear friends

It has been a while since I have updated my blog. Being on the road all the time – although it sure is exciting! – does mean that I don’t get much time to write, or even to sort through all my photographs.

Luckily, I have now found some time to finish writing about my visit to England with Paula and Morton in May this year. I hope that you will enjoy reading all about our experiences together.

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16 May 2013

Oh my goodness, London is such a big city! I was so grateful that I didn’t have to find my way around it on my own, as I would have gotten quite lost.

We had a wonderful time in London. There was so much to do there.  Sometimes I had to stay snug inside Paula’s backpack, as the weather was cold and damp. But there was always enough space for me to peep out and look at the view.

When I was outside, I often had to wear my protective rain-jacket to keep me dry from the drizzle and the rain. Now I know why England is so green! It rains a lot! And on more than one occasion, too, the wind was blowing so strongly, that I was fearful that I might go flying off into the clouds!

This is the view from Roy's flat in Uxbridge - isn't it pretty, with all the cherry blossoms on the trees?
This is the view from Roy’s flat in Uxbridge – isn’t it pretty, with all the cherry blossoms on the trees?

My friends took me to see the Royal Albert Hall.

Paula, who is a great tour guide, explained that this huge concert hall just south of Kensington Gardens was opened in 1871, and named by Queen Victoria, as “The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences”, as a dedication to her deceased husband and consort, Prince Albert.

Here I am - in front of the Royal Albert Hall
Here I am – in front of the famous Royal Albert Hall in London

She also told me that this is the venue of the hugely popular annual summer concerts known as “the Proms”, or Promenade Concerts presented by the BBC. For about eight weeks in summer, orchestras play classical music here every day; other related musical events are held in various other venues.

Throughout the year, hundreds of events are held here, including rock and pop concerts, ballet and opera performances, award ceremonies, banquets and sporting competitions, and school, community and charity events.

It was rather tricky to get a photo without a tour bus!
It was rather tricky to get a photo without a tour bus!

We visited Regent’s Park to look at the beautiful flowers.

Laid out in 1812, this cultivated and formal 410-acre public park includes open parklands, both formal and informal gardens, a lake with a heronry, a boating area, sports pitches and children’s playgrounds. It also houses the London Zoo, and an open air theatre.

Such lovely flower borders in Regent's Park
Such lovely flower borders in Regent’s Park

There were many pigeons flying around in large flocks; ever so often, they would all swoop down and land on the lawns, flapping their wings and squabbling over the bits of bread that passersby were throwing on the lawns for them.

Oh! Look at those colours!
Oh! Look at those colours!

Can you see the man in the photo below, with the pigeon on his head?

When I waved at him, he smiled at us in a friendly kind of way. Paula and I walked as close as we dared, then I asked him: “Are you not afraid of the birds, when they get so close?”

“Oh no,” he laughed, as another bird narrowly missed his head, causing the one already sitting ontop of his head to leap up in fright. “I feed them as often as I can. I love it when they sit on my head or on my hands.”

Personally, I thought he was quite brave!

The pigeon man
The pigeon man

From Regent’s Park, we also made our way to 221B Baker Street to say hello to Sherlock Holmes, the world-famous detective. Morton pointed out to me that the Sherlock Holmes Museum was actually not located at No. 221B, but beween the numbers 237 and 241, near the northern end of Baker Street in central London.

I was surprised to hear that he was a fictional character created by a writer called Arthur Conan Doyle. I had always thought that the highly observant and intelligent Mr Holmes, and his loyal friend and biographer Dr John H Watson, were real people! Their stories are so compelling and realistic that it is strange to think that someone made them up.

Sherlock Homes Museum in London England (Photo from Wikipedia)
Sherlock Homes Museum in London England (Photo from Wikipedia)

We stopped in front of a large building in the middle of a broad street.

“This is Admiralty Arch,” explained Paula. “On the other side of it is Trafalgar Square. We are standing on the big ceremonial road known as The Mall. At the faaaar end of the Mall, behind us, is Buckingham Palace, which is where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, and several other members of the royal family live.”

“What does it say on the top? I asked. “I can’t read it. Is it English?”

“No, it’s a Latin inscription, which reads: ‘In the 10th year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910.’ The archway was commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his mother, Queen Victoria. I believe it was sold in 2012 to a Spanish real estate developer, who is planning to turn it into a 5-star luxury hotel. It needs extensive renovations inside, because it’s in a state of disrepair at the moment. Now, Flat Kathy, can you see that there are three archways?”

This is Admiralty Arch from The Mall
This is Admiralty Arch from The Mall

“Yes, but the middle one is closed. Why?”

“The middle gate is only opened on very special ceremonial occasions, when Her Majesty the Queen drives through it, or when there is a really important procession that passes through,” she said, “like royal weddings, funerals, coronations … oh, and the 2012 processions at the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games also passed through here.”

The central gate is closed at the moment.
The central gate is closed at the moment.

“And can you see what it says near the top of that house, Flat Kathy?”

I peered upwards. “Something about Afrika, I think.”

“Yes, it says ‘Suid-Afrika’, which is South Africa in Afrikaans,” explained Paula. “It’s the offices of the South African High Commission, which is the diplomatic mission from South Africa to the United Kingdom. When Nelson Mandela visited London in 1998 during a state visit, he stood on the balcony of the house, and waved to the crowds.”

“What is that statue in front of it?”

“It is King Charles I on a horse; the bronze statue was cast in sometime in the 1630s, so it’s really old.”

South Africa House in London
South Africa House in London

“Oh – and look up at the top of that 50-metre tall column, Flat Kathy,” indicated Paula. “That is Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square.”

“Nelson Mandela?” I asked, incredulous.

“No no,” she laughed, “A very different Nelson – it commemorates Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. At the Battle of Trafalgar, off the south-west coast of Spain, the British Royal Navy fought against the fleets of the French Navy and the Spanish Navy – and defeated them quite spectacularly. Unfortunately, Admiral Nelson was killed during the battle.”

“Oh, and incidentally,” added Morton, “remember your visit to Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town, Flat Kathy?”

“Yes, I do,” I nodded earnestly.

“Do you remember meeting the ferocious lions there?”

“Oh yes! I definitely do! Though I must admit, the one I spoke to was a very friendly lion.”

He looks quite ferocious, doesn't he?
Do you remember the ferocious lion at Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town?

“Yes,… well, there are also four large lions guarding the base of Nelson’s Column. For many decades, tourists used to climb all over them, and as a result they are in a bad state now, and rather damaged.”

“Are they not very ferocious lions then?”

“No-o-o, I suppose not,” said Paula, chuckling. “Perhaps they just politely cleared their throats, when someone climbed on their backs, to signal their disapproval of such behaviour.”

“Perhaps I should go over and tell them about the lions I met in Africa,” I suggested, getting quite impassioned. “The African lions were very ferocious, and would’ve roared and eaten anyone who dared to climb onto their backs!!”

Morton and Paula looked at me in surprise. “Gosh, Flat Kathy, that is quite brave of you! But – oh! look at the time! I think we should get going to our next destination…”

Admiral Nelson's Column on Trafalgar Square
Admiral Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square

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