Sunday, September 30, 2012

Revelling in nature and an Eye on London

Murali, Sindhu and Elizabeth in the
deer park at New Forest

For the last time I drove in Britain to the sunny shores of Southampton where I gave my car back to the rental company. We were in Southampton to visit our new friends Murali and Sindhu. We met Murali and Sindhu in Cappadocia in Turkey where they celebrated their wedding anniversary with one of those fantastic hot air balloon trips over the Martian landscape. They made their first mistake by asking me to take their photo while we were walking to the outdoor museum of ancient caves. Their second mistake was inviting us to stay at their place if we were ever in Britain, so, as is always the case with us, we took them up on their offer :-)








A bee at work

Southampton has many options for the traveller who needs to relax and get back to nature. It has a history as an important port with an ancient wall you can walk along that was built to protect the town from invaders as well as many old buildings and churches. But I think where it excels is in the scenic attractions that are so easily accessible and close.








Alum Beach
For instance we spent a day out at the Isle of Wight, a short ferry ride away, visiting Alum Beach that has multi coloured sandy cliffs all along it. Walking distance from Alum Beach are The Needles, a collection of white chalk rocks just off the coast that jut out of the ocean like a dragon's spine.
The Needles








We also spent a day at New Forest. This is a huge green belt with trees and lakes as well as a large variey of local flora and fauna including horses walking around wild. They are quite friendly, but if fed (signs say not to) they can become too friendly with several intances (not us) of people being followed by horses that would not go away. The forest also includes a deer sanctuary with a beautiful walking path through the trees with views of deer. There are several thousand now, after nearly being driven to extinction by a culling in olden times. A lovely place to come and explore and have a picnic, which we did.

On our last day there we visited Southampton Common, a large park in the middle of the city, and ate a traditional pub meal at 'The Cowherds'. This busy little pub had a separate gluten free menu so I was in seventh heaven with a chicken and chips meal (melted cheese and bacon on the chicken) and peas. Yum. All in all a terrific and relaxing time with our new friends and lots of home cooked authentic Indian meals. Thanks guys.

After the pub it was a race to the bus station to catch a coach to London. I must say that the hostel I found us in London was the worst we have been in. We were on the 4th floor, all stairs (no lift) and the shared bathroom and toilets were two floors down. Not very convenient at night for a person with a weak bladder. The reception demanded cash only before we could get our key (did not have that much cash on me) and the price was at the upper bounds of our budget. No wifi and paid brekkie that consisted of coffee, some bread and jam. It was chosen for three reasons: location, location and location. Down the end of the street was Hyde Park and this place was walking distance to most of the attractions we wanted to get to.

Buckingham Palace
London Eye
London itself was awesome. After one of those free walking tours we have grown so fond of, we continued walking to get our bearing on the major sites such as the London Eye, the ferry situation and to help plan out our next day.











The second day was an explosion of activities from start to end. We began at Madame Tussaud's. To give you an idea of how realistic these creations are just have a look at the photo of Patrick Stewart with the girl taking his photo. We waited here about five minutes for the girl to finish taking her photo before we realised she was a wax dummy herself (or maybe we are the dummies). Once we realised, I was able to take a photo with my Star Trek hero (points with finger and says 'engage' in a strong British accent). My mate Barack let me help him solve the world's problems and I nearly lost Elizabeth to The Hulk when he got a finger on to her backpack. The ticket included a 4D movie that was amazing with blasts of air, stabs in the back from the chair and 3D so realistic I was ducking.















We then took a ferry ride to Greenwich, home of 0 time and the line between East and West. It has a fantastic park where the astronomical observatory is housed and we saw many friendly squirrels in the grounds. Afterwards we hopped back on the ferry outbound to the end to see the Thames Barrier, one of the city's protection mechanisms from flooding, and stayed on it for the trip back to the London Eye.

Half in the west
hemisphere and
half in the east.

Thames Barrier








The London Eye is taller than it looks and I even felt a little apprehensive as we reached its zenith. The views are amazing. We took it at night as some travellers in Europe recommended. Then the underground back home to get some sleep before a 4:30 am wake up time to catch our flight to the USA and New York, New York.
Parliament from the
London Eye