London, You Call This a Heatwave? Travelling With A Milestone Around My Neck – Part 1

Q. Why did the 50 year old mother of two cross the world?

A. To get to the other side of course and because there was absolutely no reason to wait for tomorrow to do something she was passionate about. The other reason was to follow the chicken to Budapest which had gone before her so they could have an encounter that involved paprika sauce and cucumber salad, after which one of them would not survive.

But more about Budapest later.

Turning 50 can be daunting. I think the lead up to the actual event was worse than the event itself and the aftermath. At least that’s what I found, but I realise I am only a fledgling when it comes to 50+ living. That said, I decided to celebrate this achievement, rather than mourn the passing of something and to do it in a way that had meaning for me.

This meant a recent four week family odyssey to Europe and the Middle East. And we all know what happens when you cross travel with a blogger. A blog series about travelling called “Travelling With A Milestone Around My Neck”.

Welcome to my first ever blog series outside the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Over the coming weeks I will regale you with stories of beautiful architecture, amazing culinary delights, delightful characters and possibly the odd travel tip or two as seen from the lens of an independent traveller. This series will be about experiences rather than facts and figures, so come and join me for the journey of a Milestone.

Part 1

Travelling from Australia to Europe is not for the faint hearted. From door to door it involved each and every one of the plane, train and automobile or multiples thereof, only to arrive in London at 6.30am. Who other than the cleaning crew and potential thieves can get into a hotel room at 6.30am?

Not us, not after 26 hours of flying. After catching the Tube from Heathrow to our Hyde Park hotel, we sleepily deposited our bags and ventured out to kill about 8 hours. We arrived to the wonderful news that London was experiencing a heat wave. Wonderful because we had left winter. The morning was cool, but then again it was only 7am, so we were anticipating being washed over with warmth as the sun revealed itself more during the day.

Image from Alberto Vaccaro Flickr phostostream

Image from Alberto Vaccaro Flickr phostostream

Somehow in our  travel world, killing time generally equated to eating and so we went in search of food. What we discovered was that generally London does not wake before 10am, particularly on a Sunday and that after 26 hours of flying one’s sense of adventure is not at its peak. So we settled for some local eminently forgetful offering and then set off towards the Shakespeare Globe Theatre. This was a special request from my eldest, who is passionate about writing and poetry.

The theatre is located on the bank of the Thames and is built in the style of theatre as it was back when Shakespeare was a playwrite. The performances are performed outdoors rain, hail or shine and there is standing room and seating depending on the price you are prepared to pay. We had a wonderful 90 minute tour of the theatre and watched as the stage was being prepared for that afternoon’s performance of Antony & Cleopatra. At various times, the actors would appear to familiarise themselves with the theatre acoustics and exercise their throats in readiness for that afternoon’s performance. Not being sure we would stay awake for the performance we didn’t buy tickets. Please be assured, dear readers, this had nothing to do with Mr Shakespeare’s writing prowess and everything to do with travel fatigue.

It was a beautiful sunny day in London and the sun starved Londoners were out in force along the Thames. Buskers, food vans, town, friends, lovers, families and tourists all contributed to an active, lively throng with a fantastic vibe. This was enough to lift our travel fatigue, which was a good thing because there was another 5 hours yet to go before our eyes would clap on a bed. We were seeing London at its jolly best. I have been to London before in Summer, but I had never seen it this carefree, this animated.

Strolling along the Thames it was inevitable that we would come to the Londoneye. The Londoneye is a mega ferris wheel for tourists where on a clear day you are treated to an amazing vista of London. On this day, there was a mega queue to ride the mega wheel so we settled into a mega wait, which thankfully didn’t turn out to be mega at all. I’m generally not one for pre-buying tickets, because that locks you in to being somewhere at a certain time and that’s not what holidays are to me. 40 minutes later we were in our hermetically sealed bubble along with about 20 others marvelling at the beautiful London landscape. At this point I would love to show you a picture of that vista, but I have to ask for a little patience as I sort through the technical glitch with the photos. In the meantime, here’s a stock photo.

Having safely reached terra firma once more, fatigue again set in and I could encourage the kids no more to keep going. The good news was that we only had half an hour before our hotel room would be eye view - wikimedia commons

And so we made our way back to the hotel via the London Tube. This has to be the greatest invention known to man. A train every 2-3 minutes to whisk you away to practically any point in London and so easy to manoeuvre around  even a 50 year old can work it out. Try as it might, Sydney just can’t replicate this sort of efficiency.

After retrieving our room key, we were shown to what had to be the smallest closet hotel room in London. For four of us, two of whom were teenage boys! Nevertheless, said teenage boys were asleep in 10 minutes. The Italian Stallion and I went in search of some shops to get the basics for our trip. 34 hours without sleep so far.

And the heat wave? A paltry 24 degrees Celsius (75.2 Fahrenheit). As Mick Dundee famously said in the movie Crocodile Dundee “You call that a knife” so I will famously say ” You call that a heat wave?” Bah, to an Aussie 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) plus is a heat wave.

Nevertheless, it was great to see Londoners out and frolicking about, even if they were tempted to sunbathe in a park in the middle of the city. A rather amusing habit to an Australian who along with most other Australians gravitates towards a beach for that purpose.

With the vision of bikinis and speedos in parks, I could fight the sweet siren call of sleep no more.

Next up: Pomp, circumstance and popping my B&B cherry in France


Have A Personal Olympic Story? Why Yes, I Do…

More than three decades ago, I graduated from primary school. Not sure what the North American equivalent is called, elementary school or middle school perhaps? Here in Australia, primary school is generally schooling between the ages of 8 and 11. In my State, high school starts at the age of 12.

We have only had one primary school reunion in all those years and to be honest, it was a little bit like entering the twilight zone. Not sure what made me feel like this, perhaps it was the amount of time that had passed since graduation, perhaps it was the intervening high school years and the notion that high school generally brings more memories or meaningful experiences. Whatever it was, it felt somewhat bizarre seeing my primary school mates after more than twenty years and talking about marriage, kids, divorce and careers. Perhaps because there were no blunt ended scissors, glue, coloured pencils in the middle of the table or dangerously low hanging projects strung up by pegs hanging from the ceiling.

As part of the festivities we were asked to fill out a questionnaire. Most of the questions were unremarkable, but there was one that I have carried with me. It is a fairly innocuous question, but I felt confronted by it. Coming away from the reunion, I felt under pressure to have an experience where I could answer the question in the affirmative. The question was:

Have You Ever Attended A World Event?

By that stage, I had given birth twice, had career success, was still married to my first and only, was a dutiful daughter and wife who almost brokered world household peace. Was this not enough? Did I have to attend a world event as well?

Well yes, because it would be memorable and fun and newsworthy and something that no-one could take away. It would also put me in good stead for any future school reunions with tricky questionnaires, not to mention future bridge parties with the girls (for when I get old – ha!).

It was therefore wonderfully fortunate that my city won the right to host the 2000 Olympics. I remember awakening at 3.00am to watch the then president of the IOC, Juan Antiono Samaranch utter the immortal words “and the winner is…. Sydernee”. Really, he said “Sydernee” and the expression has gone down in our city folklore. That announcement made sometime prior to 1995 heralded the start of my own personal Olympic story and journey to a world event.

We watched as Sydney Olympic Park was developed, the main stadium, satellite stadiums built and Olympic infrastructure installed. We heard stories about the supposed crowds and traffic and people renting their house for the Olympic period for exorbitant sums. We were inundated with cheap travel offers to exotic destinations to tempt us out of the city. We watched as they painted the blue line for the marathon runners in the next suburb and we watched the torch relay as it swept through. We saved money, entered ballots and queued to obtain tickets. Leave the city during the Olympics? Not this girl! The world coming to our laid-back doorstep and the prospect of watching Olympic events at a reasonable time, rather than in the middle of the night was an opportunity too good to pass up.

I can honestly say, attending the Sydney 2000 Olympics was one of my finest experiences. We ended up attending the opening ceremony, velodrome cycling events and athletics. But more importantly than the events themselves, for the fortnight of the Olympics our city was enveloped in a blanket of goodwill and cheer. The mood was incredible. Locals wanted to put their best face on to the world and exuded friendliness and tolerance. The city was clean and traffic almost non-existent. Public transport ran on time and business took a holiday. Carefree was in the air and the news was positive. The politicians stopped playing politics and everyone just seemed happy. In a word, utopia. And let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing like hearing your national anthem played on the world stage in your home city.

I can well imagine what London, Londoners and indeed all of England must be feeling right now. Five years is a long anticipatory haul, but the fruits of London’s Olympic labours are about to be laid bare for the world to see. And the world will watch and for the first time will Facebook and Tweet at unprecedented levels.

So yes, I have been to a world event, some would say THE world event. I have my sights set on a World Cup Soccer event, World Series Final (although it is debatable whether this is a true world event), a Rio Mardi Gras and perhaps the Tomatina festival in Spain in the future.

In the meantime, I have set my alarm clock for 5.30am tomorrow morning to watch the opening ceremony. I have reread my herding teenagers post and am armed and ready to wake them so we watch it together to continue a family tradition. Here’s to two weeks of this given our unforgiving timezone!

Would you want to go the Olympics? Have you been? Have you attended a world event? What Olympic moments are you looking forward to?