Monday, April 11, 2011

A Grand Day Out

Yesterday was yet another in an amazing series of beautiful spring days here in London (sunny, mid-60s), so we decided to enjoy it while it lasted and go for a walk.  Now, going for a walk is a much more serious undertaking here than it is back home.  Walking is a popular pastime in the UK, and the country is crisscrossed with public walking paths.  There are no shortage of books, maps, websites and other resources to help you find your way around on foot.

When we were walking around town on Saturday afternoon, we stopped by the library and found a whole wall of useful information, including a local cycling map and some brochures detailing local portions of the Capital Ring Trail, a 78-mile path encircling London that's divided up into 15 manageable day hikes.  Most walks start and end at tube stations, and the brochure lists points of interest, nice views, public restrooms, and food & drink stops along the way, as well as public transit options from various portions of the walk if you don't want to do the whole thing.  Since we had been talking about going to Richmond anyway, we decided to do Section 6, a 7-mile walk from Wimbledon to Richmond, mostly through parkland.

The walk officially started from the Wimbledon Park tube station, but we just packed ourselves a picnic lunch and headed up the hill through Wimbledon Village towards Wimbledon Common to join the trail there.  In the Village, we passed Eagle House, which was built in 1613 by one of the founders of the East India Co, served as a boy's school in the late 1700's, and now houses an Islamic heritage center.
We walked through Wimbledon Common and ate our picnic lunch on a sunny bench overlooking part of the golf course.  As we were about to emerge on the other side, we were passed by a group of young girls taking a riding lesson.
Not sure what the vest says that the mere sight of a horse and rider doesn't.
Horses get a special crosswalk across a busy street.
We were only out of the park long enough to cross the street before going through a gate into Richmond Park, which, at 2,500 acres, is twice the size of Wimbledon Common and is the largest Royal Park in London.  It is also full of wildlife.
On a gorgeous spring day, most of the wildlife we spotted was of the 2-legged variety, but even though it was clearly a popular destination for the day, there was plenty of open space for everyone to enjoy.
The trail took us past two massive ponds full of a variety of aquatic birds, including ducks, geese, and swans.

And whatever this is...
An odd duck...
We occasionally had to stop and refer to the map or consult our GPS, but there were helpful trail markers along to way to reassure us that we were on the right path.
The park is home to some impressive and ancient trees, which Josh particularly loved -- I think they reminded him of Ents from LotR -- and insisted on taking several photos of this specimen.
 But then the tree tried to eat him, so we hurried on our way.
We did encounter some four-legged wildlife as well, including a squirrel, a rabbit, and an entire herd of red deer, which are MUCH larger than the dainty white-tailed deer you see in the U.S.  The big males were the size of a moose!
 Eventually we made it to the other side of the park...
 Past a lovely-looking pub...
 Through a meadow with views of an impressive building...
 And finally to Richmond, on the Thames.
 The waterfront was packed with people out enjoying the glorious weather.  Richmond is clearly the place to be on a nice sunny day.  We were planning to spend some time exploring the town before hopping on the tube and heading back to Wimbledon (there was NO WAY we were walking all the way back!), but instead, we splurged on a boat trip down the Thames.  We just happened upon a ferry boat about to depart for Westminster, and decided we might as well take advantage of the splendid weather.  We can come back to Richmond anytime -- although we may not walk there next time.

The boat was nothing fancy, but we settled in to the plastic chairs on the front deck and cruised past the throngs of people along the Richmond riverfront.

 At one point, we went through a lock, where the water level changed by about 6 feet.
 We passed under about a dozen bridges, each one a different style.  This is the Hammersmith Bridge.
As we passed through Fulham, we noticed a strange statue outside their football (soccer) stadium.  Is that Michael Jackson?  Uh, yeah, it is.  Apparently, it was just installed last week, amidst some controversy.
 The Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park.
 The long-defunct Battersea Power Station.  If you are a Pink Floyd fan, it might look familiar...
 St George's Wharf - a huge apartment complex in Vauxhall.
 I just thought this was a cool-looking building, so I took a picture.  Turns out it's where James Bond works!  It's the headquarters of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service.
Parliament.  This building is incredibly ornate and quite shiny when the sun hits it.
 The London Eye and the London Aquarium.
We finally pulled into Westminster around 6 pm.  I suggested to Josh that we take a few photos to show that we really are in London.
By this point, we were hungry and a little chilly after 2 hours on a boat, so we headed off in search of nourishment.  Since we were in Tourist Central, the options were limited. We ended up at a place called Garfunkel's with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink menu reminiscent of TGI Friday's.  One look at the beverage section, though, and I didn't care about the food.  They had ICED TEA!!!  While the British are very fond of their tea, they are completely unfamiliar with the concept of iced tea.  I have never seen it sold by the bottle in stores or on a restaurant menu.  Asking for iced tea in a restaurant here would be like walking into a restaurant in the US and asking for a Coke, slightly heated and served in a coffee mug.  I find this frustrating because I don't really drink anything other than iced tea or water if I can help it, and if you order water in a restaurant here, it comes in a glass bottle and costs just as much as a Coke.  My iced tea at Garfunkel's was more like an Arnie Palmer (which was fine by me!), but I was so thrilled to have iced tea for the first time in two weeks that I made Josh take a picture.
After dinner, we headed through Trafalgar Square on our way to the Embankment tube station, and discovered the official 2012 Olympics countdown clock.  There's still a long way to go, but it's a good way to get people excited about it -- and remind them to apply for tickets.  The deadline here is April 26!
I took one last shot of Josh in front of Nelson's Column and the moon, and then we headed home.
That was a full day!  We didn't have any trouble falling asleep last night.

Today Josh headed off to work and I spent most of the day doing boring stuff like laundry, dishes, and grocery shopping -- and updating the blog.  I've improved on my previous laundry record -- two loads in 11 hours -- and managed to finish three loads of laundry by 4 pm by skipping the "dryer" phase and just hanging everything up.   Since the washer/dryer is sealed up, it can't exhaust the moisture like a regular dryer, so all it does is heat everything up and spin it around until it's a hot, wrinkly mess.  Whoever thought the washer/dryer combo was a great idea was clearly unfamiliar with how a dryer works.  I guess we might as well get used to it, as the house we rented only has a washing machine and a clothesline in the back yard.  I feel like I've gone back in time...


  1. I love your daily blogs, Naina. They have become my bedtime stories.

  2. I believe what you have there is an Egyptian Goose. Check photos here:
    In my searching, I came across a book entitled "Ducks of Britain"...

  3. I'm totally loving reading your blog and living vicariously in London through you. The pics are great. Thanks for sharing.


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