Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Day 8 - Part 2 - Docklands, The Thames, tower and Dinner at Rosemary Lane

Tuesday 3rd April 2012
We're safety settled on the train from Peterborough to London. The scenery isn’t too fascinating and I have a bit of a kip along the way.  We arrive at Kings Cross just after 1pm.  OMG! St Pancras station is more elaborate and grand than anything else we’ve seen so far, but we're weighed down by luggage and don't stop to play tourist.  Hubby expresses the view that this is a strange thing to do for a train station- It’s like a cathedral. Well, I guess it is in a way. At the time it was built it would have been like a place for the worship of this miraculous modern technology.
It is an easy business to follow both signs and people out of the station and we quickly locate a handy map of the area.  Very very easy to head across to Argyle St and The Alhambra Hotel is not far along.  It is in a fabulously convenient location for train travel.  We book in. We’re on the second floor. I go and do a reccie while hubby waits with the luggage. It’s a narrow stairway so it’s one bag at the time and quite a climb to our room.  We’re glad we’re here for 9 nights. While hubby does the heavy work, this gives me a chance to chat with the owner.  As we’re running late we don’t do a lot to get our gear organized, but it quickly becomes apparent that the eccles cakes I quickly stowed in Sid (the carry on luggage) have escaped their confinement and deposited flakey crumbs in great quantity in amongst my various possessions.  Oh &#$%.  Contents of the bag are quickly flung across the bed and finally, satisfied that the bag is otherwise empty I commence vigorously shaking Sid over the toilet. Not much in the way of crumbs falling out. KERKLUNK.  #$@# what was that?.. Oh @#$# the iphone.  Ick. Quick retrieve.  Great. Yes I do the stupid thing and once I’ve dried it off I try to turn it on.  Iphone no longer critical. Iphone now dead. $%T#.
Oh well. Not really an issue over here and I can sort that when we get home. Shaking continues.. KERPLOP.. oh $%$#$%# %$#$ what the #$#@ was that?  A luggage padlock.  We go toilet dipping again.  Eeew.  Where’s the soap….
OK NOW I’m learning that shaking bags over toilets is a pretty bloody stupid thing to do.  Rest of the shaking is over the floor of the shower!
We consult the manifesto and retrieve those things I think we will need as we explore.  We’re running dreadfully late on getting to the Museum of London Docklands but are not deterred. It will at least provide a first foray and dinner is already reserved.  We adjust our attire so that we’re not looking too shabby for dinner. Ballet flats in the manbag. Rainwear in the manbag.  Love that manbag.  Off we go.
First stop is the train station to buy an oyster. About 10 mins or so queuing.  We briefly considered using one of the machines on the wall, but they are quite busy and we are quite stupid so we decide to give the competent people a break and just line up for human assistance.  We are assisted by an older man who is quite a character and it makes the whole experience rather fun.  Well, as fun as buying a train pass can be at any rate. Once we’re equipped with our Oyster we’re in good shape. We easily make our way down to the Northern Line.  We evidently look more comfortable with our surroundings now and we are approached by a young Asian girl asking for directions! She seems very shy and I am sorry that I can’t help her with how to get where she needs to go. Another easy change at Bank to the DLR. Easy peasy.  TFL said get off at Westferry.  Museum website said get off at West India Dock.  We get off at Canary Wharf.. we didn’t stop at West India Dock.  We’re looking lost again. We consult our little map guide. We wander outside. Raining. Don raingear. Feeling smug and well prepared.  We walk along in what we think is a likely direction.  Canada Square. Ah. Clearly we’re suffering the disorientation symptoms again.. but again this is lucky because I had figured we would need to skip Canada Square and it is beautiful.  Not just beautiful, perhaps it is the shower of rain, but Canada Square may just be the most immaculately presented public space I’ve ever seen. The green swathe of grass looks like velvet, so even and fine is its pile. Flower beds planted with golden restraint compliment shining sculptures.
Canana Square is also frequented by Docklands Security officers who provide us with excellent instructions for getting to the museum. 
As we wander we find that Docklands is beautiful.  We arrive at the water and are in sight of the green bridge we were told to look for. We walk alongside some wood framed windows looking into classy looking restaurants and bars.  I stop on the bridge to try to get a picture of the beautiful building we’ve been passing which has what appear to be celtic designs carved into the stone.  This area is going to go OFF when the Olympics are on!  To hubby the place reminds him quite a bit of Sydney and the rocks area with its eateries overlooking the water.  Whatever we see or don’t see at the museum we’re really glad we came over here today.

We head into the museum.  I figure we need to leave by about 4:45 or so, which doesn’t give us much time at all.  None-the-less we’re hungry so we do take a quick stop at the cosy café and share a bag of crisps and a tuna melt Panini.  It served a purpose.
The map provided on entry is handy and the museum is laid out chronologically. The idea is you start at the top floor and work your way down through galleries that focus on this time period or that.  Given the time constraints we get the lift to the second floor. I’m really most interested in the first part of the 19th century when my.. hmm what is he… great great great grandfather was a shipwright in this area.  He emigrated as a bounty immigrant to Sydney with his wife and eldest children in 1832. I’m hoping for information about his trade or the context of his life that might give me a better idea about why he made the choice to relocate.
Coming at it as we are, in quite the wrong way, we find we need to quickly pass through a range of fascinating galleries.. the docks in the war/s… sailortown (more about that later) and finally we get to the beginning of this floor.  We quickly learn that with the volume of trade passing through the docks, and the inadequacy of the port facilities leading to massive costs.. (for example an estimated £500,000 worth of theft). There commenced a huge redevelopment project.  This required the demolition of a lot of houses. Rents soared. There was a war on with France, so the cost of living also soared. Even a skilled artisan would have found it next best thing to impossible to survive or to keep his family in reasonable accommodation.  Not only that, but the area was ridden with crime and the link between cholera and sewerage was not made until the late 1840s.  Raw sewerage flowed into the Thames in huge volumes, so the whole area would have been a poverty stricken, stinking, dangerous disease ridden hole.  I can well imagine that if someone came to you and said. “Hey, we’ll pay you £20 (or whatever) and give you free passage if you’ll hop on a ship and come work in the new colony”  you’d have some powerful motives for taking such a long and hazardous journey. Hazardous though it may be, home is probably more so.
As we’re admiring some artwork of the docks of the period I comment to hubby about the image of a convict hulk and we are approached by an attendant who proceeds to tell us about them.  “I have an ancestor who was on one of those” I proudly boast.  We have a very enjoyable conversation about a range of things.  The attendant is keen that we understand that for many people there was no choice but to commit crimes to survive.  He asks me how we felt when we discovered that our forebear was a convict. He seems a bit surprised to find that most Australians with convict roots are now extremely proud of them.  “You know that is what Waltzing Matilda is about” I explain “it’s about having no choice but to steal to survive”.  Like so many people we talk to, our friendly attendant has close family who have emigrated to either NZ or Australia or one and then moved to the other.  Clearly the ties between our countries remain very strong and personal.
With time for departure approaching, we say our thanks and farewell and proceed back in for a better look at sailortown.  This is a magnificently well done recreation of a dark and dangerous area of the period. Dim lights in rooms with doors slightly ajar. Muffled conversations going on in there. Smells: Horse manure wafts here and there. A child visiting complains to their parents in a disgusted tone about the stench.  We think the smells are the crowning glory that really make the whole thing seem real.  I turn gingerly down a narrow alley and meet hubby coming the other way.  We’re loving the Docklands museum.  We really have to go now though.  We have learned that we really do need to allow more time for getting lost!  Hubby comments that the museum is great and perhaps we should come back another day.  We may just do that rather than the national gallery or something.
We consult our map. OK need to get to Westferry Circus. Hmm. Follow likely signs. Finally we find a sign that points vaguely towards the pier. A likely route peters out. Hmm. Then a young black woman comes walking purposefully in the general direction that the sign to the pier is pointing. It leads down along a busy traffic route that heads underground…but there she is in her white coat… we follow. She seems to know where she’s going. Perhaps she’s heading to the pier..  She’s ahead of us and getting further away.  We are waved across the street by a lady driver.. we round the corner. Where is the lady of the white coat… there.. up ahead. Everything is weird and wonderful around us.  We feel quite disoriented. We must hurry our we’ll lose sight of her.. I feel like Alice in Wonderland chasing the white rabbit. Eventually we lose her. Just as Alice lost sight of the rabbit.  We’ve got not a lot of clue where we are but between us and consulting our map we conclude that we’ve come too far. We head back… This time I can see the road signage. Westferry circus up there via that off ramp.. Hmm.  I find a set of stairs that seem to lead to the circus.  We head up. I don’t care at all that it’s not a public right of way… how the #$%$ else are we supposed to get there?  Ah. Now we’re cooking with gas. I appreciate the nod to history that the curved buildings around the circus give. It’s well done.  Walk on. Gasp.  There’s the Thames… and the pier. Time is short, but quickly snap a photo. We wander down to the ticket office and use our Oyster. £5.40 with Oyster discount for the Thames Clipper service.
I snap photos of the river from the pier, thinking all the while about the time when my forebears knew this area. They wouldn't recognise it now.
It’s only about 8 minutes until the vessel turns up and we board, making our way out the back to the “tourist zone” where the camera wielding visitors are sitting.  We zoom up the river.  We round a corner and Tower Bridge looms large. My heart skips a beat. THIS, THIS is my pinch me moment. I’m in London. I can hardly believe it.
We travel under tower bridge and alight at Tower Millenium within sight of the entrance to traitors gate.  It’s a really fabulous area. The tower is fantastic. We exclaim and I point my camera. The tower is so large I can't get it all in the frame. I end up just taking a video.  Tourists abound and we’re only two of many awed people photographing and admiring this World heritage site. Then we have to move on. Can’t wait to visit the tower, but it's the last thing on the London Itinerary!
It’s a fairly slow process finding Rosemary Lane and it involves much contemplation of our little map but we find our way without needing to backtrack.  Things are looking up!  We wander in to Rosemary Lane restaurant. It was very quiet and only one other table even when we left at 8pm.  When we arrive at just after 6pm the place is empty. Tables are set with white linen.  1940s tunes are playing.  Slight damp smell which I can sense but hubby is oblivious too. We are shown to a cosy corner table.
To start they supplied complimentary bread with very tasty dressed olives.  To start I had Fresh Courgette, mint and spring onion flan (garis of mint leaves and baby leaves, lemon and olive oil dressing) £7; Hubby went for Parma Ham roulade, cream cheese, figs and herbs (creamy mustard mayo dressing) £9.  My spring onion flan was light and fresh and delicious, but hubby’s choice won the round.  Delicious!
Between courses we are treated to a shot glass with freshly squeezed orange and mango juice. Just a hint of mango. Nicer than the usual orange /mango combo. Light and fresh. Mango can be a bit cloying when it’s overdone.
For mains I went for the Pan roast corn fed chicken breast supreme (zingy parsley, lemon zest garlic cream sauce, sautéed tender greens and vegetables with truffled pommes puree £16; hubby’s choice was Rich Lobster bouillabaisse, white wine, chervil (sea bass, prawns shrimp and mussels, cherrystone clams and French bread crouton £18.  Both are very good, but we each like our own the best. You expect a little bias of that sort.
Would we like dessert? You bet. I have bagsed the elephant ear plums, fresh ginger, brown sugar crumble with vanilla icecream boule £6. Hubby takes what is really the only comparable option and has Venezualan chocolate fondant with caramel core, Valencia orange ice cream. £7.  Hubby’s is accompanied by a tasty little orange globular fruit with decorative browned off… ah.. sepals?? Very attractive ornament and a very fresh vaguely passionfruity flavor.   Desserts come up a draw. Both were great. We ask what the little fruit was, but the waiter can’t tell us with any certainty. Something greek? “Fisalis”?
Oh yeah, hubby had a Peroni beer which was about £3.  All up, including optional service charge our bill was £73.92. Talk about value for the standard of food! I done good finding that one.
We take our time heading back past the tower. It’s been raining. Everything sparkles with the light bouncing of puddles in the road or droplets on walls and railings. Moonlight setting is employed on the tower, on tower bridge and the lights dancing all about.
Aching legs and feet are not enough to stop us walking across to the other side of the tower to take in the castle under lights. Hubby requests this angle or that.
Back in the underground at Tower Hill there are service disruptions. We’ve just missed one train, but the next arrives in less than 10 minutes and we’re back home at Alhambra at 9:30.  Loving London!
God help me we’ve discovered there is a whole channel of war documentaries.. sweet torture having to turn it off.

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