4 December 2012 – from Buckingham Palace to Bletchley Park and more

With the time change from Paris to London and a not very comfortable cot Astrid woke up early…….. hmmm 5.30am on the day we are flying out (at night), not a good start. Breakfast didn’t start til 7am so we kept her entertained in our shoebox of a room with some TV  The Royal pregnancy announcement was dominating news coverage in London so we got to hear (and read in the papers) in detail about how Kate’s change in hairstyle and slight double chin in a certain photo were clear indicators of the pregnancy……

Heading down to breakfast we weren’t  expecting the same level of luxury and quality as the previous day at the Sofitel and our expectations were not exceeded. Breakfast was the usual array of bread and pastry and some hot food. When Astrid was handed her croissant, she picked it up, inspected it and put it down again with a look as if to say ‘that is not croissant’. We would have to agree, the standard was far below what we had become accustomed to. The bread and butter also weren’t up to her standard. It seems our run of delightful food has finally ended. We did manage to find enough food to fill us up though. We were still wishing we had of ended our trip at the Sofitel as our Shaftesbury Hyde Park experience hadn’t been fantastic. Between the shoebox sized room that we couldn’t actually all fit in simultaneously and the constantly rude and surly staff it wasn’t much fun.

Before booking the Shaftesbury we had checked on whether we could have a late check-out so we could all have rest before our 9.30pm flight back to Australia. They had said it was possible (if we paid) and we had requested it. When we checked this morning about late checkout we were told they were fully booked and we couldn’t have the room beyond 1pm at the latest. This threw our plans into a bit of disarray and didn’t bode well for the long flight home. The staff weren’t even apologetic about the issue and as usual just wanted us out of their hair.

Anto was heading off to Bletchley Park for the day to look at the geeky boy stuff so Astrid and I were doing a bit of sightseeing in the nearby area. Since we now had to be out of the room earlier than expected, I thought we should head out and see if I could get back to give Astrid an early nap. At about 8.30am we headed out with Astrid in the stroller and attempted to locate Hyde Park. We were right near the Park but we hadn’t been in that direction the previous day. A bit of navigating through busy streets and only one local bike rider hurling abuse at me as I dared to cross the road, with a stroller, while he was riding down it, and we reached the park. It was a cool morning (although hardly Swedish weather) so I had strapped Astrid’s mittens to her hands. All warm and cosy she promptly fell asleep in the pram. Figuring some sleep was better than no sleep I let her sleep and headed through the park on our way to Buckingham Palace.

The park was full of cyclists and joggers and we had a pleasant walk through the cool morning looking at the fun-park they had set up (Winter Wonderland) within the Park and noticing the very large ducks everywhere. I’m sure Astrid would have enjoyed the ducks but I wasn’t waking her up to show her them. Just to add insult to injury horses and carriages appeared and clip clopped throughout the park. We headed out of the park past the Marble Arch and the Constitution (Wellington) Arch statue which Marine Commando’s were using to practice abseiling on which was quite an amusing sight.

After a bit of a look I headed down Constitution Hill and approached the Palace. Unfortunately during Winter the changing of the guard is only on every second day and we weren’t able to make it there the previous day so I knew we wouldn’t see it. We did still manage to see the Palace though and it’s impressive gates and lots of well dressed people outside and getting driven in through the gates. Obviously some people were meeting the Queen today.

I also saw some more horses and carriages arriving into the Palace. After a few photos, with a still sleeping Astrid we headed back the way we came to explore a bit more of Hyde Park and walk along the Serpentine. We managed to walk past yet more horses and carriages and I thought Astrid would be livid if she knew what she was missing. It was still a nice morning and we had walked through the Rose garden which was pretty despite nothing being in flower at this time of year. I also discovered cute little squirrels foraging for food (yes they are probably pests, but they were cute to me) and I watched them for awhile before heading down to the Serpentine.

Once At the edge of the Serpentine I discovered how many ducks, swans and other water birds were around. They seemed incredibly tame. After a few minutes I heard an Astrid proclaim ‘duck, duck, duck’ as she awoke to ducks (all water birds are ducks) around her. We walked along and chatted to the swans, ducks and other duck like creatures for quite awhile. Every time we left one lot Astrid asked for ‘more, more, more’ but helpfully there were lots to be seen and most of them followed us along.

We’d been out for a few hours so it was time to head back. Astrid wasn’t keen on leaving the ‘ducks’ but was distracted with lots more horses appearing and dogs to follow we headed out of the park, ‘chasing’ some dogs and horses and found our way back to the hotel without too much drama. Once back at the hotel I did a bit of a pack and let Astrid have a play in the half a square metre of floor space (and that was with the cot and stroller folded up). After I was pretty sure I had everything packed and Astrid had some morning tea of fruit and biscuits I rang reception to ask them to help me with the luggage since I was on my own and had Astrid, and a stroller to deal with. They helpfully refused and left me to negotiate my way through tiny doorways and narrow stairways with a stroller loaded with luggage and helping Astrid up and down the stairs behind me. It took me almost half an hour to get down and no less than two staff members tripped over me on the way there but didn’t help. On check-out I was chastised for not asking bringing back their power adaptor and was also in trouble for Anto not being their to resign the checkout slip he had already signed. At any rate, we left the luggage and I put Astrid in the ergo and headed down to Paddington station.

On the way I picked up a cheese and tomato sandwich for her lunch and we shared the sandwich while riding the tube back to Westminster. I had decided to go and look at the sights we had seen the previous day, but in daylight. We wandered along Westminster Pier and looked at the Thames, the London eye and Westminster in daylight. There were still just as many tourists out taking photos and Astrid was still as fascinated by all the buses.

We then walked around to the other side of Westminster and walked through Parliament square and around to look at Westminster Abbey. We didn’t go into the Abbey as the line was long and I was feeling a bit tired. We looked at some of the statues in the square and seemed to have to do loops of the area to negotiate the busy roads via the crossings.

We had received a message from Anto that he was on his way back from Bletchley so we headed back to the hotel. The tube ride back was efficient and I had no problems finding my way. Astrid still likes trains although the novelty was likely to wear off again by the end of the day. On the way back from Paddington station we stopped and took photos of St Mary’s hospital where one of favourite shows ‘Monroe’ is set. Very cool seeing it from the outside, even if people wondered why the hell I was taking photos of a hospital! (and no it wasn’t the hospital that the Princess was in!).

Meanwhile Anto was off visiting Bletchley Park – the ‘home’ of what was basically the ‘whole of Government’ code breaking service during World War II. Bletchley Park was the workplace of people who both massively advanced the science of crypto-analysis  and also managed to industrialise code breaking , with the creation of the bombe, a machine designed to automate the breaking of the enigma code(s). The work undertaken at the park is credited with saving untold lives and shortening the war by over two years.

The people working at Bletchley park were (fairly) routinely cracking the daily enimga codes allowing the British to pretty much know what the Germans were up to most of the time. For a period of time the British ‘lost access’ to the naval codes as the Germans made them more secure, and thousands of tons of shipping was lost to German U-boats. What was probably even more impressive is that even though there were around 9000 people working at Bletchley Park the operation remained a secret until fairly recently. Throughout the whole war (and into the cold war) the Germans never realised that all of their wireless transmissions could be (eventually) read by the British.

The site it’s self is rather picturesque with nice green fields a small lake (complete with the compulsory white swan) and a very well preserved ‘mansion’. The wooden huts where the original work was performed just before and at the outset of WWII are less well preserved – but a number are in close to original condition – providing an insight into just how difficult the working conditions would have been.

Back at the hotel by 2.15pm we commenced waiting for Anto sitting in the guest lounge, reading more about Kate and her awful morning sickness….. Astrid consumed/destroyed a selection of biscuits and rearranged all their magazines and papers but given how annoying the hotel had been I wasn’t that fussed about her destructive habits as long as it wasn’t bothering other guests (of which there were none in the lounge). Anto finally returned about 3pm and Astrid excitedly ran to greet him. A quick nappy change later and we collected our luggage and wandered back (again) to Paddington station. It was already starting to get dark and cold. Now commenced the long trip home, our holiday was coming to a close but there is lots of travelling to be done before we make it back to Australia!

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