Normally I leave the ''have my hair cut by a weird stranger in a foreign city'' part of the trip to later on. But all that changed walking through Soho in London today and coming across a barber shop offering £5 haircuts for men AND women. Well, why not? So a nice Portugese lady cut my hair quickly and efficiently, and now I have shorter hair. No big difference for Oz people, as it probably will have grown back by October! ;)
Anyway, what have we been up to? I'll go for dot points, and try to be brief!
*Got in at 6am (despite the hour delay leaving Singapore). Uncle Norman picked us up from Heathrow and we drove back to their new house at Twickenham. It's very nice, with a big backyard.
*It was still early even after we showered, so Greg and I took off for a walk. We walked about 5 kms in total...up the Thames to the Richmond Bridge, back through Richmond town and into Twickenham. We met Norman and Tessa at a pub called ''Pope's Grotto'' (named after Alexander Pope, the short and odd poet).
*After lunch we grabbed the cameras and headed to Hampton Court, convieniently located 4 miles down the road! It was built by Cardinal Wolsey in the 1500s, then seized by Henry VIII, when Wolsey couldn't get the big guy a divorce so he could legally bonk Anne Boleyn. It was significantly altered by William III and Mary II in the late 1690s, and the last monarch to live there a lot was George II in the mid 1700s. It's fascinating, and we had some great costumed guides. My favourites were the paintings in Henry's Long Gallery - most notobly the one depicting the family line, and the one of the 'Field of the Cloth of Gold', which is where Henry met the King of France for basically a big wrestling, eating and drinking celebration.
*We went through the Garden Maze, then headed for home. Greg and I were fairly jetlagged still so were in bed by 9pm.
*Up early to head in to London. Got a £5.40 all-day off-peak travelcard, which was a cheaper fare than expected. We got to Waterloo, then walked past the London Eye, across the Westminster Bridge, past the Houses of Parliament and into Westminster Abbey. As always, it big and imposing with large amounts of columns and memorials, and tombs to dead kings and queens. We paid special attention to the memorial to Isaac Newton, as it was mentioned in ''The Da Vinci Code''. Of course, there were no exciting art history adventures for us (except the joy of sculpture)!
*We walked back along Whitehall and had lunch opposite Trafalgar Square. We walked back after to visit the Banqueting House at Whitehall, the last bit left of that palace after a fire in 1698. It was built by Inigo Jones for James I and the ceilings were painted by Reubens for Charles I. It's pretty amazing, and only £4 to see.
*We wandered through St James' Park, saw Buck Palace, through Green Park, then up Piccadilly, through the Circus and Leicester Square. We decided to go see ''The Complete History of America (abridged)'' by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. The same people who do all Shakespeare's plays in 97 minutes. It was gaggy as hell, but a fairly good laugh. We got two for one tickets, so it was OK value.
*We got back out to Twickenham by about midnight and were soon fast asleep!
*Poor Greg. He ate a dodgy chicken sandwich leaving Waterloo Tuesday night and felt horribly crook this morning. He had to go back to bed for a while, but recovered enough so we could make our way into London around midday. We came to Camden to meet up with Deb and Tom, with whom we'll be staying with for a few days. We had lunch and spent the afternoon chatting.
*We took ourselves off in the evening to Tower Hill station to meet for a ''Jack the Ripper'' walk. It was really interesting but WOW! are people morbid. About 100 people showed up for the walk - they divided us into two groups each with our own guide. Obviously it's their bread and butter. It's funny that a mysterious serial killer gets people so keen. What was really funny was then people looked uneasy when they mentioned the WAY some of the women were killed and mutilated. You're like ''What did you expect? It's about Jack the Ripper! He wasn't called the Ripper for nothing people!'' It was funny.
*So a fairly slow and relaxing day. Lovely! We ended up playing poker with Tom and Deb, who, it turns out, are masters with expensive poker clay chips. Greg and I lost a pound each!
*We woke up to the smell of a full English breakfast - Tom had kindly cooked us brekky before we headed off to Oxford with Deb.
*The train ride was bizarre - it was quite full, and we were talking about what we were going to see. Deb mentioned Shelley, and the man sitting next to Greg interrupted us and said he was a great-great-great nephew by marriage or something to Shelley! Bizarre. Then it turned out his daughter's an actor in London and knows several people Deborah does! So really it's only two degrees of separation in London too! Brisbanites take heart!
*Got to Oxford early afternoon. It's lovely - old, and all about academics and Inspector Morse. ;) Seriously, a lot of murders happened there when you think about those books. It's like the English version of Mt Thomas, where Blue Heelers is set! ;)
*Deb showed us around her college, Harris Manchester, which only has 90 students!!! The whole uni, with 39 colleges, only has around 11 000 undergraduates. UQ at St Lucia has about 20 000! It's so small, and therefore, supremely exclusive. We learned that if you're expelled from Oxford, the term is ''sent down''. It means you're being sent from the haven of intellectualism that is Oxford back to the real, grimy world!
*We looked into Magdalen College, which, FYI, is pronounced ''Maudlin''. It's one of many things in Oxford designed to trick you into revealing yourself if you're NOT a student.
*We had tea and cakes at the Randolph Hotel - very posh and featured in Inspector Morse several times.
*Then we went PUNTING! Greg took on the challenge of punting - and well done too. He didn't fall in (phew!) and became very adept at steering the punt through the river. Deb read poetry so it was a very proper English afternoon!
*We had pub food at the Kings Arms, where Shakespeare is believed to have visited. Then we went back to the Turf pub, which goes back over 400 years. Thomas Hardy stood up and recited Latin in the Turf to prove he was worthy of being accepted to Oxford.
*The train back was so slow - we didn'tget home until 1am!
*Got up earlier to head our for another walk. We did ''Hidden London'', led by a lovely old lady named June. It basically was just a tour of lesser-known churches by Sir Christopher Wren! Dad will be pleased though - one smaller church called St Michael's is the home of the Mission to Seafarers, so I grabbed a brochure! We also saw St Bride's Church - its spire looks like a wedding cake. With good reason too, as the guy who first started baking wedding cakes was trying to imitate Wren's spire!
*We decided one tour wasn't enough, so head to Embankment station and met up for the ''Eccentric London'' tour. This one was fantastic. The guide knew HEAPS, and I learned so much quirky stuff. One example of many: In the 1600s, the streets around the Duke of Buckingham's house on the Strand were all named after him - Buckingham street, Villiers Street (his surname) etc. Well, there was one alley leftover which was renamed ''Of'' alley, after Duke OF Buckingham! They've changed it now to York Place, but the sign still says 'formerly Of Alley'! Very cool.
*That walk ended in Soho, after taking in Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and many other famous Monopoly-board type places. Greg and I strolled up and down streets which consisted of fabulous food and alcohol shops, and lots of gay bars and sex shops, Soho being the 'alternative' part of town! We had some dodgy Chinese for dinner, then I had my haircut, then we decided to come home, after being out walking all day!
That's about all for now - we've been relaxing at Deb and Tom's watching a video of a magician who's very popular over here called Derryn Brown. He uses psychological techniques to trick people. It's quite neat, but Greg is cynical!
Will write more soon no doubt. Tomorrow we'll check out the markets here in Camden and see what else we can cram in, before heading back to Twickenham then Ireland on Sunday. It shall be good fun!
PS. Thanks to the people who've posted!