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UK 2

 
17 - 18 January

  Crystal Palace Caravan Park is on the site of the old 'Crystal Palace', a glass and steel Exhibition Hall built in Hyde Park for the 1851 London Exposition. In 1854 the building was transported to the (then) outskirts of the city and rebuilt in the area now known as Crystal Palace. Sadly the 'Palace' was destroyed by fire in 1936.  Today, Crystal Palace is an inner-middle London suburb.

Ten years ago, the journey out here would have been somewhat dangerous as the bus passes through Brixton, the scene of violent race riots. Today the whole south-east is mainly West Indian. Much of the housing is 'Council Estates' (public housing) but it seems fairly well maintained and rebuilding is going on everywhere, and public signs refer to making the area safer through "Neighborhood Watch" type schemes and video surveillance. After the racial homogeny of most European cities, London's 'melting-pot' is refreshingly different.

Twelve million tourists visit London every year. As the biggest city in Europe with 8-12 million people, depending where you stop counting, London takes this invasion in its stride. Even in the depths of winter, a cacophony of languages fill the streets. We all come to see a fairly standard set of attractions, the Tower, Westminster Abbey, the theatres, the shops, pubs, museums and galleries. They are all great and whatever your interest there is never enough time in London!

London is such a well-known city that it would be pointless to try to describe all the above. Suffice to say that over the almost quarter of a century since we first visited the city, it has continued to interest, captivate and excite us. There is always something new or a new slant on something old. At the Imperial War Museum for example a 'Blitz Experience' and a '1940s House' have been added to the extensive collection of war memorabilia from Britain and the Commonwealth.

A neighborhood air raid shelter has been constructed within the museum. Visitors enter the darkened shelter to the wail of the sirens. Recorded conversations capture the drama of the times as the bombs fall all around. When the all clear is sounded we exit into a simulated bombed-out London street. - Chillingly realistic and probably a very difficult experience for those who actually lived through the war years in London.

To our pleasure, the London house of the 1940s was much the same as our own house which we have attempted to maintain in the 30-40s style. A major TV series has been made around an English family who lived in this house (the English one, not ours!) and experienced a total 1940s lifestyle for some months.

We have commented previously on the numbers of European school children who visit important monuments and museums. England is no different. While they are far more boisterous than most other groups of kids we have encountered, the British education system seems to promote in them an understanding of history and culture to much the same extent as their continental neighbors. We overheard teachers speaking to their (primary) students of the Blitz and of Hitler's invasion of Poland. If we did the same, our students in Australia would rebel... What's that got do do with us? What year? Our students  - probably as the result of our system, and the relative youth of our country  -  do not have the same appreciation of  history and the global effects of historical events.

The weather  -- a constant source of discussion -- has been pleasantly cool, sunny and clear the last few days with minimums of -4  and maximums of +4 centigrade.  Hard frosts in the morning and the freezing fogs tell us that it is cold, but the electric heater in the van and the Drizabones on top of our normal winter gear (plus tights and spencers for the girlie crew) have made winter bearable  -- in fact enjoyable -- for us -- especially after the sometimes unseasonable heat of Eastern and Southern Europe.

London is reputedly the most expensive city in the world. Believe it! Forget all the stories about Paris, Rome and the rest. They are actually fairly reasonable. London is outrageous. On the 'beer standard', London almost doubles its nearest rival, Paris. A 500ml can of beer in London will cost you UKP 1.20. In Australian dollars, $2.80. In Germany, the same can would cost AUS$.70! In Paris AUS$1.50. A trip on the Underground, inner zone will set you back UKP 1.50 (AUS$3.90). On the Paris Metro a similar trip is 5.4FF, about AUS$1.25 If you can escape with a couple of sandwiches for lunch for less than AUS$14 you must have stolen one of them!

Fuel prices have dropped dramatically in the last month. Even so, one litre of diesel is 81p ($AUS 2.20). .... Oh well if you don't want to pay, don't stay.....

In a couple of days we will be on the ferry to Holland.

19 - 21 January

Only a few days remain of our 'great adventure'. Having left London for the third time without seeing all we wanted, we have a good excuse to come back.

Tonight we are camped on Harwich Docks in preparation for the last of our six major ferry trips, from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. It is Sunday evening (we think?) and our van has to be returned to the agency in Amsterdam on Wednesday. We fly out for Singapore and home on Thursday.  

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