London, England (again)
We are now at the stage where we hope to sell our van. If we can't it's going to put a huge spanner in our remaining travel plans. We listed it on eBay, the same place we bought it 10 months ago, with three inspection dates in London. In preparation for any potential viewings, we stopped at a car wash for the first time this year. Our car suddenly looks white again, not a greyish tinge that we had become accustomed to. Hopefully we have polished it up enough to get at least some of our money back.
First inspection day: no one came. We received a few calls but not a single person turned up to the caravan park we were staying at. So we just relaxed, sorted through a few things, threw out some junk, and sheltered from the wind and rain that picked up in the afternoon. Overall a fairly quiet day.
Second inspection day: no one came. It was a beautiful day outside and we were stuck in the van, waiting to see if anyone turned up with an amazing offer. It was a massive waste of a day. We did get away for a while to walk down to the local store for more cleaning supplies, and Danny sneakily stopped in at a pub for a drink or two. That was our whole day.
Third inspection day: no one came. We thought at least one potential buyer would make an appearance, but it wasn't to be. It was surprising after having so many phone calls about the van. This time we didn't bother hanging out at the caravan park. Instead, we sat ourselves in the pub, which was warmer than our van and had free WiFi. For hours we were glued to our laptop screen, watching the bids on eBay steadily increase, before finally hitting a total well above what we were hoping for. With only a few hours until the end of the auction, nervous energy ran through both of us, resulting in us splashing out on carrot cake and a bottle of Cava to celebrate.
After dinner, we impatiently watched the last 10 minutes of the auction online. Often on eBay a flurry of bids come through right at the end, yet ours stayed it exactly where it had been for the last few hours. It was anticlimactic, but the main thing was that it was sold! We were hoping to get half of our money back, however the final offer was closer to two thirds - we were thrilled! The cake and Cava went down a treat.
Now that we didn’t have to hang around for any inspections, we could finally get on with our sight-seeing. Here's a rundown of our second tour of London.
A brief walk past Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square
The National Gallery, skipping everything pre-1850 and concentrating on the Impressionists. It was a maze, but the artwork was superb.
The National Portrait Gallery, split into modern, early 20th century and pre-20th century sections. My knowledge of famous British was subpar, it turned out, and not nearly as comprehensive as Danny's.
A stroll along Strand, via the Savoy Hotel and Somerset House (a working arts centre), the latter of which was overflowing with Christmas decorations.
Covent Garden (a district in West End), which happened to have a market on today. The interior spaces were also festively decorated, with gigantic red baubles hanging from the ceiling. Free food samples were the highlight, plus a tasty spinach and ricotta empanada.
Les Misérables, on West End. Neither of us have been to many musicals but everyone insisted that we see at least one show while we were here. I had read the book earlier in the year so I was familiar with the story, however it was completely unknown to Danny. It's odd to say, but we had forgotten how much singing there is in a musical – you would think they could speak some of the lines. Overall, though, it was quite funny and very entertaining.
It was raining a little when we woke up this morning, but it didn’t take long for the rain to turn into snow. Our first snow fall of the winter! Initially I didn’t believe Danny when he told me – it appeared to be more like sleet than snow. But the droplets became bigger and whiter, and eventually I couldn’t deny that they were actual snowflakes falling from the sky. It stopped after about an hour (not long enough to blanket the ground), and then the rest of the day was fine and sunny.
St Paul’s Cathedral. It didn't feel as colossal as other churches we had visited. A children’s choir singing Christmas carols made a pleasant soundtrack. I climbed up the dome and walked out onto the roof for views over London (I didn’t even know that was a possibility before I arrived).
A modern art gallery at Somerset House. Okay.
A walk along the Thames to Westminster Abbey. It felt like a huge crypt, with tombs for every famous and semi-famous person in Britain over the last 1000 years. There was even a tomb for a plumber – I guess anyone can be buried there. It's weird that the Royal Family have weddings here, surrounded by dead people.
Caught the sunset behind the Houses of Parliament – at 3:40 in the afternoon.
Spent the night at the pub, as it was too cold to sit in the van. We were a little worried about the van getting snowed in.
We caught up with my Australian friend Nat at the Borough market for lunch. It was overwhelming how many food options there were. In the end we grabbed burgers, mince pies and a small quiche, which was way too much food but well worth it. We even spotted lamingtons, the first time we had seen them outside of Australia. The rest of the afternoon was spent in a pub, reminiscing and comparing travel stories.
After our drinking session we caught the train back to the car and drove out east to Essex, to visit Danny’s friend Steve and his wife Jayne. They had a lovely home and graciously allowed us stay in a warm, comfortable bed for the night. Yet more food and wine was consumed - it was clearly an indulgent day for us.
Steve had leave early for work, but Jayne took us out for breakfast along the seafront. There was a long strip of tiny cafes that all offered similar menus, so we picked one at random and happily devoured a hot, cooked breakfast (a luxury for us). Jayne then led us on a walk along the coast, showing us the amusement parks and nightclubs that are popular in summer.
Back at Jayne’s place, we had settled in the living room when we saw snow falling outside – more snow! The flakes were huge and fluffy, but again they melted as soon as they hit the ground. It seemed surreal looking at the Christmas tree in the lounge room and seeing snow falling through the window.
Back in London and headed over to Kensington Palace, which was half under construction and therefore not overly impressive. We slowly meandered through Kensington Gardens and up to Hyde Park, passing dozens of fountains, lakes, birds and squirrels. Eventually we arrived at a German Christmas festival, which resembled a mini-Oktoberfest (minus the big beer tents). Just like the real Oktoberfest, it was so crowded we could barely move. There were rides, an ice rink, sausage and beer stalls – it would have been fantastic if there weren’t masses of people squeezed up against each other. When we finally reached the exit we discovered there was a line to get in, so I guess we were fortunate we didn’t have to queue up to gain entry in the first place. From there it was back to the van, and onwards to our next destination.