Day 26: London

Day 26: London

Often the best laid plans get thrown into chaos.

This morning I knew I wanted to get back to Tower Hill to resume the Yellow line tour before using the hop-on-hop-off bus tour to get around to all the places I wanted to see. I figured if I used the buses for the morning to get around, I could have lunch at Borough Market then make my way out to see Lord’s and Abbey Road.

The circle line of the tube would get me to Tower Hill easily enough, I figured I could walk around the base of Tower Bridge for about 20 minutes and then make my way back to the bus stop to continue the tour. When I arrived there was a tour bus already there so I confirmed with the driver the next bus would be in 20 minutes. He confirmed this so off I went.

10 minutes later the bus went past while I was still on Tower Bridge. Perfect, guess I’ll have to wait the 20 minutes for the next one. So I slowly started making my way back to the stop. Made it back there at around 10am. By 20 past I was asking the rep when the next bus was as several buses from other companies had turned up and by this point it had been over 30 minutes since I had seen the last Tootbus from on the bridge. He said to me there was a holdup near Victoria Station due to a protest.

At 10:45 I was still there, at least three other buses from each of the other companies had turned up and gone, one had even had as many six buses come and go in that time. Growing increasingly impatient as I only had today to complete my sightseeing I asked again where the next bus was. He opens up his phone and checks the tracking app, it says there’s a bus 8 minutes away. Great. Almost an hour lost.

10:55 he says to me the bus is 5 minutes away as they had divert around the protest and the traffic was chaotic. I say to him that I’m now going to have lost an hour of my day because their operator was not able to redirect any buses around the protest like all the other companies seemed to be able to do. He then shows me the app where aside from the one bus that was coming to get us, the rest were all clumped in around Victoria Station in the traffic caused by the protest.

I should have abandoned the bus there and then, but jumped on it when it finally turned up. After 30 minutes I had only made it one stop due to the amount of traffic. Luckily that stop was Westminster Pier so I jumped off there and started my own walking tour.

I managed to get to Westminster and Elizabeth Tower, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, the Australian High Commission (it was closed to non-appointment visitors though), the Admiralty Arch, Millennium Bridge, and St Paul’s Cathedral among others. I’ll make a map one day to plot where I walked similar to the Chur map from a few weeks ago. The only places I didn’t get to properly were the exterior of St Pancras International, Kings Cross Station, and Buckingham Palace. Simply because I was running out of time to get to things.

Conscious of the time I jumped on a tube train to Baker Street and made my way up to Lord’s Cricket Ground. Unfortunately it was closed for an event so I couldn’t actually go in but I wandered around the outside while making my way up to the iconic Abbey Road pedestrian crossing. I didn’t walk across it myself (there was enough people causing traffic bedlam there already) but did help a family get a group shot of the four of them crossing when there was no traffic.

At this point it was almost 9pm so I made my way back towards Baker Street station and took a photo of 221b, the iconic Sherlock Holmes apartment with a museum and store on the ground floor. Unfortunately that was also closed for the day.

So that was basically that for the day. I managed to scrape in a light dinner at one of the pubs before turning in for the day after a mammoth 28k steps. I might have overdone it a little…

I’ll be emailing the company for a refund on the second day as I didn’t end up getting anything out of it. We’ll see what comes of that.


3/6 Update: Got an email this morning notifying me they’re refunding the difference on on the day 2 pass.

Day 25: London

Day 25: London

This morning started with an impromptu video call with Mum and Dad, and eventually also Lauren to give them a bit of an update on how things were going and to get a file sent through that I needed for an important reason.

That took a little longer than anticipated but no harm today was bus tour day anyway. This morning I caught the tube to Edgeware Road, the closest stop to Shephard’s Bush on the tour company’s Blue Line. This line at the moment (for this summer at least) is running as a Coronation Special with extra bits added to the tour as part of King Charles’ coronation.

It turns out there are at least five different London Tour Bus companies operating around London, with many crossing paths as they see similar sights along the way. As I had caught the TootBus in Brussels, I figured I knew their service and would jump on again for the London tours.

It was kind of funny to hear the same voices on the pre-recorded commentary. One went from being a comic book artist in Brussels to a banker in London.

The Blue Line focused more on the west and south areas of inner London. While the yellow line, which I would be catching in the afternoon, looked at the eastern and central areas, with some overlaps to the Blue Line so people can change between the routes. There is also a Green Line that looks at the north east but that was a shorter route and nothing really of interest to me on the map, it is also newer so it doesn’t have as much in it yet.

One of the better parts about the Blue Line tour at the moment is the running of live commentary. Tim was absolute blast to have on board as, for pretty much the whole journey, I was the only person that expressed interest in the live commentary so I basically had the guy all to myself telling me all kinds of quirky stories you don’t get on the pre-recorded audio. An example was talking about the size of windows on some of the older houses, the further up the house levels you got the smaller the windows were. This was typically due to the living areas being at the bottom, parent’s bedroom windows on the first floor, children on the second, and butler/servant at the top. So while they got the space that would get the best views they typically didn’t get them as they had very few windows to look out of, and the ones they had were very small. Often these high floor windows were also blanked out to avoid paying window taxes (households would get charged based on the number of windows they had).

The groundskeepers and servants of Buckingham Palace also had onsite residences. Once they finish at one end they have to go back to the start and begin again because they have so much ground to cover so the palace provides them with on site residence. The Palace also provides ongoing residences to staff that have retired in return for their services, especially the ones that worked for the royal family for many years or even decades.

The crossover between the Blue and Yellow lines worked out well as Tim had jumped on at Victoria Station, the stop after I had jumped on, so I carried on around the extra section with Tim’s commentary to the Victoria stop and changed to the Yellow Line after a quick bite to eat.

This line took us along the riverfront of the Thames, with the London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Shard, and Waterloo among others. As we got closer to Tower Bridge the temperature started to drop as the wind had picked up. Assuming it was going to be warm day I had worn shorts and was starting to feel the pinch of the cold wind. Analysing the map I saw the upcoming stop at Tower Hill linked up with a tube stop that was on the Circle and Hammersmith lines I would need to get back to the hotel. So I jumped off the bus here figuring I could pick up the last quarter of the route tomorrow.

I made my way back to the hotel on the tube, changed into a pair of pants and headed around the corner to one of the pubs for dinner. Took a bit more of a stroll around the area that night but basically called it a day.

Day 24: Hello England

Day 24: Hello England

The time has come to leave mainland Europe.

A relatively short one today as it was mostly preparing for, and then catching, the Eurostar through the channel tunnel to London.

I started the day by rearranging my luggage layout, things were just getting out of hand in that case and the weight distribution was way off. I’m genuinely starting to think I will be buying another small case to carry some of this stuff home in because while it all fits in the big case right now I’m not sure I want it to be busting at the seems mid-journey back to Australia. Of course had I operated on that being an eventuality I would have made slightly different purchasing decisions earlier in the trip… Maybe that’s a good thing?

The train was due to leave at 12:57, and being an international train (especially now that the UK is no longer part of the European Union) means it is the first time a train trip has felt a little bit like a plane trip. I had to be at the station an hour and half to an hour before departure. Check in closed 30 minutes before departure (apparently, the arrival of several people at the last minute has me doubting this) and boarding started 20 minutes before departure. While it all felt very airport-esque with the security screening and passport checks, the process was much easier than dealing with a flight. Plus it brought me to the centre of London so even with the time spent waiting for the train I still came out ahead of a plane.

The train ride was mostly smooth, there were a couple of rough bumps along the way but it was the first time on this journey a high speed train actually clocked 300km/h. A Eurostar went past in the opposite direction and it honestly felt like a passing blur even with the length of these trains.

There was an immediate difference in landscape between the France end and the England end of the tunnel, flat fields of crops lined the approach to the tunnel in France and when we exited in England it was replaced with smooth rolling hills and trees.

We arrived in St Pancras International station just before 2pm as scheduled. I would share a photo of the horse we rode in on but it had a bird strike somewhere en-route so that’s not an image worth sharing. I tried to get a photo of the train next to it as it was the same model but just couldn’t quite fit it in. There was a super long previous generation Eurostar on the far side platform though. Looking at the roofing on Google Maps I’d have to estimate the train was at least 250m long, probably even 300m. I could probably work it out if I could be bothered to look up the stats on the carriage lengths as I got video and photos of the whole length of it. But I can’t be bothered, at least not right now.

Had fun figuring out the tube system for the rest of the day. Got to the hotel just before 3pm and won’t be taking that train back to Paddington Station on Thursday. Three flights of stairs and this time there’s no ramp at the other end of the platform like there was in Stuttgart. I’ll probably have to take the centre line as the route up from there has lifts and it’s equally as long of a walk from the nearest station there as it is back to Shephard’s Bush Market tube station.

Although I don’t know how regular travelers of the Centre Line are not deaf. There is zero sound proofing on those tube trains and holy shit is it loud with wheels grinding around corners in the tube. I’m going to try to get video of it tomorrow to compare the difference between the Circle Line and the Centre Line.

I scoped out where I need to go on Thursday to catch the train out to Bristol from Paddington, which is also good because I think I need to transit through there again on my way back to Heathrow unless I can find another connection closer. On a quick investigation it looked like I had to come back to Paddington to get either the Elizabeth tube line or one of the National Rail services directly to the terminals. I’ll have another look at that at some point.

That’s pretty much it for today though, I’m off to find a pub to have dinner.


Day 23: Brussels

Day 23: Brussels

Last day on the European continent. England-bound tomorrow morning.

Since it was looking like a self-guided tour kind of day I decided to make my way to the visitor centre to acquire a map and use the pencils I purchased the other day to chart my course so I new where I was and how to get back to where I wanted to be (since I have no internet access outside the hotel).

To my surprise when I reached the visitor centre I asked if the tour buses were running today as I’d seen they were closed and she said they were only closed for the morning while the Brussels Marathon happened but tours were restarting at 2pm. Awesome, no need for a self guided tour. Picked up a map anyway (it cost 1 Euro here, everywhere else they’ve been free!) just in case I needed it.

It was still early at that point, around 11am so I wandered around the Brussels old town section. Had a moment where I thought I’d rolled my ankle (the same one I had trouble with in Lucerne) but luckily the cobble pavers caught the side of my foot before it went all the way over. Still a ping of pain as the ankle still hasn’t fully recovered from whatever happened in Lucerne but avoided doing more damage (so far, let’s see how it is in the morning). Found a couple of city squares and took some photos of some very stylish and expensive looking buildings (there’s a lot of gold), wandered through a couple of markets (didn’t buy anything as I’m running out of space in my case), and found myself back at Central station. Turns out it’s only a 20-25 minute walk between the two stations, but I wasn’t doing that yesterday with the case in tow.

By this time it was 12:30. Time for lunch. When in Belgium!

For almost an hour there was a duo playing a set of guitar + saxophone music. Amazing that they were able to play in the sun for over an hour (they were there when I got there and I could still hear them from the tour bus stop 15 minutes after I left). Not a single repeat and no paperwork aside from a set list. They earned 7 Euros from me (initially I gave them 2 but after lunch threw them another 5 for their efforts). I think they played 10 songs in the time I was there and probably would have been nudging 20 by the time I was jumping on the tour bus.

There were actually two routes. A north (blue) and south (red) line. I ended up catching the blue line first as it seemed to be the quieter of the two. I caught on to a winning strategy that I should have thought of sooner. Mind you I think I should just give up on the idea of taking photos on these buses, I either miss what I’m supposed to be taking a photo of or middle a fucking tree or a pole in the photo instead of what I’m actually trying to capture. The bottom level of the bus was empty so not only was I able to sit out of the blistering sun (it was actually 24 degrees today and the upper deck was like a glass house with the clear glass roof), but I was also able to sit at the back and get easy access to both the left AND right side of the bus.

That was until a family jumped on board at the Atomium stop and blocked my access to the right side. It was okay though, after the Atomium stop we were mostly retracing our steps back to the departure point so we were seeing a lot of things we had already been past.

The red route took us through most of the core of the city where the blue route took us through the northern suburbs. The red line was busy, a large group actually decided to wait for the following bus as the top deck filled extremely quickly. I wasn’t able to deploy my back row strategy here because the lower deck was also pretty much full by the time I boarded.

There was a lot of focus on the European Union and European Commission on this line as the path took us past the European Council building. The EU actually has four capitals, Brussels, Frankfurt, Luxembourg, and Strasburg. Each overseeing a different branch of the European charter. Brussels’ focus is on the European Council, and the European Commission, basically the legislative branch. The financials are handled in Frankfurt and houses the central bank, Luxembourg has the auditory and justice branch, and Strasbourg houses the European parliament. The Commission is made up of 27 representative members, one political representative from each member country usually the leader, to guide on the direction of the entire EU in a non-legislative capacity. As of today there is only one member nation that has ever left the EU, pretty easy to tell which one that is. There are currently 10 nations applying to join at various levels the most recent applicant being Moldova just after Ukraine, some have been in the application process for over 10 years! Interesting to note that while Switzerland is part of the European Single Market it is not a member of the European Union, having withdrawn their initial application to join (likely due to EU getting involved in things that threaten Switzerland’s position of neutrality), a 2001 referendum on re-opening the application was rejected with 79% disapproval of joining the EU. Interestingly though, Canada has been proposed as a potential candidate if they were willing due to regional proximity and aligned goals.

That was a bit of a tangent. As the tour rolled through most of the city it ended up being almost three and half hours across both buses so by the time I was headed back towards the hotel it was basically dinner time. The Belgians are known for four things (well, at least four). Waffles, Fries, Chocolate, and Beer. I have tried all four in my short time here and enjoyed each of them.

Tomorrow it’s time to leave mainland Europe and the EU. It’s Eurostar time! Also hooray for being back on schedule with my posts.


Day 22: Departing Germany

Day 22: Departing Germany

It’s the half way mark of the trip, I guess it’s fitting to have a pretty quiet one today.

It was all about getting from Düsseldorf to Brussels today. The only eventful part of the trip was my own doing. Breakfast is becoming a standard fare of Corn Flakes, berry yoghurt, and a croissant. Every hotel I’ve stayed at has had at least those on offer as part of the included breakfast. Something, something, routine?

A quick trip back to the room to grab my stuff and it was off to the platform to catch a train. With the hotel being in the station (which made it difficult to get a photo of Binny the Wandering Ibis outside the hotel) it was only a short walk to the platform. Something I wish more German stations did is redeveloped and employed the stair and ramp system Switzerland uses. I think I’ve got a photo of it somewhere. German stations don’t have ramps though, it’s stairs, lifts, or occasionally escalators (though often they’re all going in the wrong direction). So I had to carry my case up the stairs, and I’m pretty sure the horizontal handle might be breaking as it sounded like there was a rip noise. Hopefully it holds out for the trip and I can get it to a repair centre to patch it up.

I think it just makes sense to do it like this and have escalators or lifts on the other side

I had changed my plans to catch an earlier train so I would get to Cologne with plenty of time to spare. Turned out to be a good thing as the scheduled train ran five minutes late, and I’m not running with a 20kg case in tow again.

The ICE trip from Cologne to Brussels Nord (North) was uneventful, the rolling fields and occasional wind turbine once again. Crossing into Brussels I was surprised to receive a message that I was in a country that was not supported for international roaming. I was sure I read that Belgium was a supported country. Alas I just have to go back to Switzerland mode for a little over a day. Very hard to do though as there’s no free wifi at the stations here.

This was where I made my mistake though, I misinterpreted Brussels Central as Brussels Midi (Central, Midi, sounds similar) but they’re two separate stations. So I jumped out at Central and started walking where I thought the hotel was, only to find no hotel. With no internet I had to fumble around the station until I happened on a network map that showed me Central and Midi were two different stations. That was stupid but a financial impact of 2.5 Euros to get another ticket and I was on my way.

Brussels Midi looked more like the station I wanted, it had an almost airport terminal feel to it, which makes sense given the far end is where all the intercity/international trains are booked and depart from. I’ve scoped that out for Monday, I need to get there early as I will have passport and customs checks to go through as well as baggage check. I’ll have to sort through my case and do some weight redistribution too, it’s handling like a shopping trolley at the moment.

That was pretty much it for the day though, late lunch at a take away Asian restaurant at the station (wish I’d found the Belgian waffles place sooner, that’s lunch tomorrow I think). Scoped out the Eurostar and walked up and down the street the hotel is on. There was nothing interesting to photograph though.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a whopping 23 degrees. I’m going to need the hat!