Although we had spent months looking at and talking about travel and tour options, dates and who of the Dutch family to try to look up this time, we are continually impressed with how easy international travel is.
We can only imagine how different it was for our parents to emigrate in the early 1950s, but it was certainly nothing like today. No writing of letters and waiting for 2 – 3 weeks for a reply: just the internet. No extended and wearying paperwork to satisfy travel, visa and health requirements: just make sure we had our booking and on-line check-in printouts, and our state-of-the-art passports.
Travel is also vastly different. When Fred made that migratory voyage in 1951 as a child with his family, the journey took 6 weeks; Helen’s took about 5 because they didn’t have to see through a few arson attempts.
Our 2011 flight took less than 24 hours, and because the Cathay Pacific flight path between Hong Kong and London took us via the Arctic Circle, we were outpacing the sun for a while! Leaving Hong Kong at midnight, we did a wonderful loop over the city and then headed north and then west. After a few hours the dawn caught up with us and then for the rest of that long night it became slowly lighter until (flying between Moscow and St Petersburg the plane’s GPS informed us) we started to head south towards London, where we landed just after 5 with enough dawn light to get an early taste of the sights of London, including Hyde Park and the Royal Albert Hall which we enjoyed more closely a few hours later.
What an exciting city London is! We spent two weeks there on our world trip in March 1976 and found it a rather dreary and homogeneous city. What a difference now – high summer, everyone in holiday mood, and foreign tourists, young people and worker everywhere. And that despite the lingering economic gloom and the race riots of the previous week which ended in 1500 arrests.
What else did we love about London? A lot, including –
The tour of the Royal Albert Hall – what a magnificent auditorium, and what a great story that led to its creation: the marriage of Queen Vic and her German Prince Consort Albert was very productive, although not of children. Albert died very young but not before setting in train some excellent transformations of London: the Crystal Palace and the Royal Albert Hall being two of the best known. No wonder the Queen was broken-hearted when her man died so soon and had the very “Victorian” Memorial in Hyde Park built to honour him. But the new multi-purpose Hall opposite the Memorial (although just as “Victorian”) has become her much grander and more recognised tribute to “Bertie”.
The fairly recently built Globe Theatre is part of the South Bank’s art, music and theatre area. Although I found it (perhaps almost inevitably) a somewhat uncomfortable mix of old and new, it gave us an excellent “picture” of the kind of theatre for which William Shakespeare wrote his plays, and of the city and people of London as they were in the 17th century.
We were able to join in a simplified service of “Evensong” at St Paul’s Cathedral; like countless Christian communities through the ages and around the world, St Paul’s brings God’s people together every evening to worship and pray. On Mondays it does this without singing, its choir and organ, but we had savoured the full service of evensong in this magnificent building in 1976.
The highlight of our 3rd day in London was undoubtedly a few hours in the Science Museum. We have always thought that Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum is very good, but were “gobsmacked” by the sheer size of its rather senior sister-museum in London, the comprehensiveness of its displays, and the size and obvious enthusiasm of the crowds. My brother Rick had recommended we include it and we were glad we did! After lunch in the cafeteria we restricted ourselves to see something of the displays of steam machinery, medical and veterinary science, computers, and (of course) shipping and maritime technology. A week or more would be needed to give it any justice, and then we could have gone on to visit the two other museums in Kensington (West London) which are just as large and devoted to the natural world and the human arts.
We also enjoyed catching up with one of Helen’s nieces, who has been working and studying in London for four years. After three full and fascinating days it was time to join our Trafalgar Tour group.
But first – Helen’s addition to our London Favourites…