Greenwich isn't that mean after all

by CameronM Sun, September 07 2003 06:19

The day started as per usual with the 4am body clock alarm. As per usual there was stuff-all to do at 4am, so I played on the computer and gathered my research from yesterdays travels. Still no clear idea of where I'd like to stay, there were several places that seemed OK but whether the prices and availability would agree was another matter.

After breakfast time finally arrive (you'd never believe how long it seems between 4am and 7:30am when you're hungry), I packed my bag and headed out to grab the Sunday edition of Loot hoping to clarify some of my questions. As a reflex action I checked my mobile phone and was surprised to see 2 missed calls registered. I had only been for a jog and breakfast, how could I have missed any calls? It was a message from my sister Tracy saying that they had information about accommodation in London.

Since I had spent most of yesterday scouring London and still couldn't make head nor tails of where to stay, this came as quite a surprise. The accommodation scoop came from Greenwich so since nothing was yet open in Bayswater, I decided to head there and take a look around.

I headed to Tower Hill (haven't I been here before) on the Tube and boarded the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) to Greenwich. After about 15 minutes I arrived in a quaint English village - What the? - was that really only 15 minutes, where's the asian/african/mid-east shops/people? It's so English, I didn't know if this can be true or if I've fallen asleep and been transported to an alternate reality.

Just a short stroll from the DLR station (about 5 minutes) through the town centre is Greenwich Pier, complete with an old sailing ship the Cutty Sark. The area around the pier, as with most of Greenwich is extremely well maintained and appears to be a popular stop for groups of tourists riding bicycles.

The Cutty Sark Greenwich

I returned to the city via the National Railway, with the station situated a little bit closer than the DLR. The trip to Charing Cross took a little over 15 minutes, but I'd have to say the scenery was truly miss-able. The railway seemed to pass some of the dodgiest areas in London, with more than its fair share of crumbling buildings and low-budget apartment buildings. Once at Charing Cross station it was a short walk to the Embankment tube station where I could rejoin the Circle line back to Bayswater.

After a disappointing Sunday roast at the local pub, I reboarded the Tube and headed to Victoria station with the intention of doing a quick walking tour of the inner-city sites. After a few minutes of confused map reading, during which time I fear I may have further confused two guys who had less of a grasp of their whereabouts, and English, than I did, I headed to Buckingham Palace.

I had timed my arrival well, arriving late on a Sunday afternoon the crowd was smaller than I would otherwise anticipate and the roads around the front of the palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial are closed to traffic.

Buckingham Palace

Following The Mall I headed past the Duke of York Memorial and onto Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson's Column, what is the deal with all these guys standing on columns. This must have been the inspiration behind David Blains first stunt where he stood for 36 hours on a column in New York, before jumping onto a pile of cardboard boxes.

FREDERICK DUKE OF YORK 1763 - 1827 Second Son of George III Commander-in-Chief of the British Army 1795-1809 and 1811-1827

Next stop was Leicester Square, which was alive with activity as people enjoyed the last remaining hours of the weekend, sitting outside the numerous restaurants, cafes and pubs. The Square and surrounding pedestrian malls seemed somewhat smaller than I remembered. That may have been because although there was still plenty of people today, it was nothing like the crush of humanity I expected. It's amazing how little things like being pressed against hundreds of other bodies can slow down your progress and make time stand still.

It seemed that just as I was soaking up the atmosphere and contemplating buying a slice of pizza I was unrepentantly facing Charing Cross Road and leaving the square behind. I was so disturbed by this that I did a quick trip round the block just to try and recapture that sense of awe, but alas I had seen the outside world and any hope of return was dashed, so I continued wandering towards Covent Garden.

Covent Garden too was moderately busy with people enjoying a vast selection of street performances while they ate and drank at some of the many food vendors. As I strolled through the covered shopping area, which during trading hours would no doubt be a place to hide your credit card, I was attracted to a crowd of people intently looking down into a lower courtyard.

As I approached I could hear what sounded like opera music, a suspicion confirmed as I took my place along the balustrade. A lady was sitting on a bar stool performing a scene from an opera (don't ask me which one) accompanied by music from a stereo. A few minutes later the ladies partner, who had been reclining against the wall stepped forward to conclude the scene with a string duet. I was amazed, I mean this was good. I know we've all heard those buskers in the mall, some are OK while others must surely be doing it as a dare, but these guys were great. As they finished the entire crowd applauded and many ventured downstairs to contribute to increasing pile of coins.

I was still rapt as I pulled myself away and left Covent Garden. My plan was to head towards one of the stops on the Central line so I could return to Queensway. After a slight detour (which way is up on this map?) I was on my way towards Holborn and soon discovered that the distances on the London Underground map are not to scale. Holborn was at least 10 minutes walk away, while on the map it appeared the same distance as Leicester Square and Covent Garden, which had taken only a few minutes.

The area near Holborn was a far more business orientated area and many of the old buildings had been fitted out to accommodate the corporate offices. The overall effect was quite good and the area, although currently empty had a clean and modern feel about it. Soon enough I reached Holborn and boarded the tube to Queensway where I rewarded myself with a tin of minestrone soup (yummy!).

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