Day 20 - 22 (15 - 17 January): 69 hours in London

Why 69 hours? There was no specific plan. It was just how things panned out.

We spent a day retracing family footsteps. After a fruitless visit to the National Archives in Kew, the Navigatrix's internal GPS guided us to her childhood home in Chiswick. When it comes to things like this she is direct and precise - in other direction she is less so (stay tuned for an example of the lack of precision in future posts).

Rowing upstream on the Thames. The childhood home is on the opposite side, just behind the island.

Rowing upstream on the Thames. The childhood home is on the opposite side, just behind the island.

Kew and Chiswick are charming suburbs of London with rows of Victorian terraces laid out along narrow streets. We walk along the muddy tow path following the Thames and discover  the home of an endangered snail habitat. As we cross the river at Kew Bridge we get a reminder of home as a Qantas A380 flies overhead on approach to Heathrow.

Wheels down. Nearly there!

Wheels down. Nearly there!

In Chiswick we pause outside the old home and the Navigatrix rekindles childhood memories by mudlarking down at the waterline. She finds bits of Delft Victorian pottery, carved stone and interesting old bits and bobs. The Navigator is reminded of the scene from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' where Arthur visits the peasants from the anarcho-syndicalist commune: "Oi Dennis! There's some lovely filth down here!!". We finish our time in Chiswick at The City Barge - the pub next door to her old home. There is some irony in drinking a German beer in England whilst looking at the Thames but alas the keg for the local beer was broken. We revel in the winter sun so we sit outside on the tow path with our drinks and crisps.

We had ordered a Spitfire...

We had ordered a Spitfire...

We caught up with family for dinner at a restaurant near the London Eye with a fabulous view of the Thames and the Houses of Parliament. 

Moonrise over Big Ben

Moonrise over Big Ben

We are fortunate to be at the first Lumiere light festival in London - their version of Sydney's Vivid (http://www.visitlondon.com/lumiere). The displays are spread around town and we visit the installations at Picadilly, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Kings Cross. The exhibits at Leicester Square and Kings Cross are impressive. The festival certainly brought out the crowds and the clear skies (how very unlike London) made it even more enjoyable to stroll around town. 

The Light Garden at Leicester Square

The Light Garden at Leicester Square

The next day we head to St Pauls and take the challenge of the 528 steps to the Golden Gallery at the top of the dome. The Navigatrix was determined to do this after trying in a previous visit and turning back. Previously we had ascended a tiny stone circular staircase rising from near the High Altar and we now discovered this was the alternate route as the main staircase was being renovated. The main staircase is an easy climb, with wide wooden stairs having a shallow rise.

At the Whispering Gallery we are delighted by the acoustics. As we sit on the bench the gentle buzz of noise occasionally tunes into a specific conversation: "Kathy? Kathy, can you hear me? Say something!" "Oh my God! I can hear you!!" We try it ourselves and are amazed at how clear the slightest whisper carries around the wall. We climb further (this time through the narrow stone staircase) to the Stone Gallery and then higher again in between the exterior and interior domes to the Golden Gallery.

A vertigo inducing view 85 meters down to the floor of St Pauls

A vertigo inducing view 85 meters down to the floor of St Pauls

Once we tiptoe outside onto the crowded balcony we are rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views of the London skyline.

Iconic London

Iconic London

In the evening we head to the Adelphi Theatre to see Kinky Boots, a musical version of the 2005 film with music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper. Her style is immediately recognised but refrains from rehashing 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' or 'Time After Time'. Refreshingly the songs generally add to the story, in particular 'Not my Father's Son' a duet between the two male leads Charlie & Lola and also 'The History of Wrong Guys' for the female lead Nicola. Matt Henry (a finalist in The Voice UK) carries the show as Lola, the cross dressing ex boxer who demands the iconic thigh-high red boots which are the symbol of the show. It's a story about overcoming prejudices of all kinds, not only gender, race and class but also those put upon a son by their father. All the lead characters have an emotional journey to undertake and the audience cheered when each each overcame their gender illusions. This is an amazing show and fully deserves its six Tony Awards (the British Olivier Awards are announced in April). If you get the chance to see Kinky Boots you should make all efforts to go - you will not regret it.

The gothic granduer of St Pancras, directly across the road from our hotel

The gothic granduer of St Pancras, directly across the road from our hotel

On our way home the typical London weather reverts. Drizzle sets in as we make our way to Oxford Circus to see the last of Lumiere.  

Looking more like the Northern Lights over London

Looking more like the Northern Lights over London

Overnight there is 5cm of snow, mostly in the  western suburbs. The usual one hour tube ride from Kings Cross to Heathrow takes more like two hours after delays and train changes at Acton Green. At Heathrow, our flight to Paris is delayed by over an hour due to the snow, de-icing and other schedule conflicts.

We enjoyed our time in London. The clear weather certainly made a difference and the positive temperatures (which we had not experienced for over two weeks) were welcomed. London had a positive vibe, perhaps Lumiere also made a difference as it fostered a festival atmosphere.

All in all, a great 69 hours.