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A wonderful walk along the Thames and boo to British Airways

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LONDON – A sunny November day in this city is a glorious thing.

I had the good fortune to be out and about the other day and explored a bit of south London for the first time, wandering the glorious south bank of the Thames from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge and back again.

I knew they had done some work down this way but wasn’t prepared for the fabulous light I had for photos or for the joys of one of the great urban walks on the planet. Not only are the views amazing of Westminster and Big Ben and the London Eye and St. Paul’s, but the whole walk is filled with fun places to stop and shop or take in various activities or museums.IMG_5752

You’ll pass the Tate Modern art museum, the London Aquarium, the Vinopolis wine museum, The Globe Theatre, The London Eye, The Clink Prison Museum, the Golden Hinde Museum (dedicated to Sir Francis Drake and featuring a ship outside where kids can play at pirates or sailors) and far too many other attractions to mention as you make your way along the Thames.

I had a nice coffee at Caffe Nero, one of many in the city, and admired the lovely Southwark Cathedral as the bells rang out on a sunny Sunday morning. And I stopped at the Tate and admired some interesting Picasso’s and at least one work from Miro, an artist I love. They also have works from Salvado Dali and Man Ray.

One display had a pair of dead birds pinned on a white wall with arrows next to a line drawing of a factory. It’s said to symbolize the death throes of imaginative freedom…

Another work was a painting a statue of a woman’s torso, like those carved in ancient Greece or Rome. Next to her legless and armless body was a bunch of yellow-green bananas. Oh, there also was a train going by behind her in the distance and what looked like a sail. So it’s probably a very important work of art.

That said, the Tate is a beautiful facility and it’s free, although they do ask for donations. And special exhibits cost extra, including one on now by famed artist Paul Klee.

IMG_4410-001There also are a ton of cafes and restaurants along the way; many offering smashing views of the river and the increasingly crowded London skyline. There’s a pretty shopping mall called Hay’s Galleria with a giant, glass roof and creamy, yellow brick buildings. And you’re right along the fabulous Borough Market, which isn’t open every day but offers incredible, fresh produce and features lots of great restaurants. I stopped at a nearby Spanish tapas café and had great Cumberland sausage on a ciabatta bun for about $5. Marvellous.

My first night’s stay here was at the Ibis Blackfriars in south London, which is quite small but clean and efficient in its use of space. It’s got a bit of a plastic/Ikea feel to it but the staff is helpful and they do a pretty good breakfast and it’s in a GREAT area; just a one-minute walk to the Southwark underground station on the Jubilee Line and an equal distance to a great street called The Cut, with a ton of great bars and restaurants and shops. The Old Vic theatre is a five-minute walk from the hotel at the most, and so is Waterloo Station.

Rooms are usually around $150 a night; pretty good for London.

What I really loved is the feel at The Athanaeum Hotel across from Green Park. You’ll pay considerably more than the Ibis, of course, but it’s a lovely part of Mayfair and very close to the Green Park tube station.

My room was a combination of old-school and modern; tough to pull off but quite successful in this case. The walls are a patterned paper in a light sand colour and there are brown and deep orange accents. There’s an orange-coloured headboard surrounded by giant mirrors, and next to my bed is a small display case with colourful British toy soldiers. A very cool touch that gives a most definite sense of place, which I love in a hotel.

There’s also a nice print on the wall of an old map of London with various tourist attractions on it, and a photograph of Mick Jagger. Plus a nice flat-screen TV and a Bose sound system and a couple of funky chairs with giant, bulbous bits on top that look a bit like those old chairs women used to sit in at the hair salon. Good work space, too.IMG_5837

The lobby bar is a beauty; one of the most seductive and welcoming I’ve seen. There’s lots of dark wood and quiet corners and reddish sofas with beautiful striped cushions in front of a huge rack of whisky bottles in a pretty display case. They do lots of whisky tastings here and the restaurant looks lovely, although I didn’t have a chance to try it out.

The lobby area isn’t large but it’s got style, with a nice area to sit and relax and a wall that’s covered with tens of thousands (maybe more) of shiny, silver buttons.

What I really loved was the bathroom, which is decorated in black and white marble with a bit of an Art Deco feel. The bath is great and fills quickly and there’s a great shower with thick towels. On top of that, there’s plenty of storage space for your toiletries and the thickest body lotion I’ve ever witnessed and, bizarre as it sounds, the softest, thickest toilet paper on the planet.

I have to say, while I’m on the subject of London, that British Airways really ticked me off. I spent $550 for a one-way ticket from Rome to London Heathrow so I could cover and attend the World Travel Mart in London this week. It was a huge price to pay. But when I got to the check-in counter, after waiting a half hour for the BA people to deal with three customers (while others BA workers simply stood around chatting), I was told my bag was 2 kilos overweight and that I’d have to repack.

First of all, the limit is 23 kg, I think. And I was at 25.1 kg. That’s LESS THAN TEN PER CENT over the limit; surely enough to let slide. But, no, I had to go and take out shoes and a book and some shirts and stick them into my carry-on garment bag. WHICH WENT ON THE PLANE ANYWAY! They gained absolutely nothing by the experience except pissing off a passenger and making me carry a bag around the airport that weighed 2 kg more than it had to.

The flight was fine, barring a very rough and awkward landing at Heathrow, and the service decent. But not worth $550.

On the plus side, I landed at Heathrow and everything went great. Yeah, it took 35 minutes for my bags to arrive but the customs experience was quite short and easy and there were free trolleys and free Wi-Fi and as soon as I exited customs there was a woman selling tickets on the Heathrow Express train. I took my trolley on the elevator and took it right to the train platform before having to carry my bags all of 10 feet to the train, which got me to Paddington Station in 15 minutes or so for about $25. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. And I had a great cab driver, to boot.

So thanks London. And no thanks British Airways.

MILK IN YOUR COFFEE? YUCK

Apropo of nothing, why is it impossible to get good creme in your coffee in this country? I mean, they INVENTED strawberries and creme, right? But they only put milk in coffee, not creme. And milk in coffee is DISGUSTING. It turns the coffee a horrible shade of brown and does nothing to make it go down more smoothly, which is the point of the whole exercise. I’ve asked twice in the last three days for creme in my coffee and people look at me like I’m daft. Which, come to think of it, ….

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