London: It’s a jungle out there! 14-15 January

After an enormous English breakfast complemented by yoghurt, fruit and two cups of coffee, I made my way to Portobello Market for an early start. I had been told there was a good selection of antiques and art deco homewares at reasonable prices so was hoping I might find something special for a certain house in Carnegie, but all I found was overpriced crap that wasn’t particularly interesting. The market is quite amazing though: it’s not at all like the Queen Vic in Melbourne; rather, it’s stall after stall lining Portobello Road with vendors flogging everything from cheap made-in-China souvenirs to jewellery and clothing, to kebabs and over-ripe fruit. The strangest thing I saw was a ‘bureau de change’ that, although legitimate, looked rather unofficial. I’d even go so far as to call it completely dodgy.

I battled the late-arriving tourists to return to Notting Hill Gate and jump aboard a hop-on-hop-off tour bus. It’s a great way to see the major attractions in central London, although I would have preferred to combine walking with catching the Tube so I could follow my own plans. My hip had other ideas though. Consequently, I missed several places I wanted to visit, so I’ll save them for my next trip! We drove past Marble Arch where there was a rally taking place. Apparently events like this occur frequently at the arch, so the average Londoner doesn’t pay too much attention, but a strong police presence was evident.

I took leave of the bus at Baker Street station and queued up for Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. At the entrance we were told to expect a wait of ‘up to one hour’ but after 45 minutes and having progressed by only about ten metres, I decided I didn’t want to waste my day standing in line when there was so much else to see in London.

The bus took us on to Oxford Street where thousands of people were bustling about to take advantage of the sales. I couldn’t take two steps without having to change direction as the footpaths were absolutely jam packed. I bagged a bargain of my own at Gap: three long-sleeved tees and three pairs of socks for just £24.95… great value as they have certainly come in handy! After another short bus stint, I hobbled past Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament where a small crowd hoped to catch a glimpse of PM David Cameron, but to no avail. I felt absolutely miniscule standing in the shadows of Big Ben and the glorious Westminster Abbey. A brief walk along the Thames and through Victoria Tower Gardens revealed statues of Emmeline Pankhurst and the Burghers of Calais, as well as the humungous London Eye.

As the sun began to set, I boarded a bus for the final time and sat back in the icy wind of the open top deck, to enjoy a recorded commentary about St Clement Danes (of ‘Oranges and Lemons’ fame), the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. I learnt more about Jack the Ripper as we passed the London Dungeon and the Great Fire of London as we travelled close to Pudding Lane.

With the day coming to a close, I desperately wanted (correction – NEEDED!) a great Indian meal. Mughals Restaurant, just ten metres from the hotel, had average reviews on Urbanspoon but it looked inviting and I didn’t have the energy to look further. If you’re in London and you like curry, go there! The lamb korma was divine, the rice fluffy and the Magners cider washed it all down perfectly.

Sunday morning was a lazy affair with a lengthy breakfast and the train to Slough to meet up with Maddie and Imran. The drive to Dover was uneventful but we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the cliffs as we were ferried away from England and toward the shores of France.

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