Our first foray into the Underground having been diverted before it even began, we set out from Paddington station on foot. I relinquished all directional control, and happily took in the London sights around me while occasionally glancing upward to make sure Ol’ P’s cream colored cap was in sight.
The only hard part in the beginning was picking the correct exit from Paddington Station. As we would experience during our stay, the weather was best described as “changeable,” and at this moment it had opted for being totally cloudy. This meant that the directional aids of sun and shadows were currently unavailable. Still, with 630 acres of greensward to shoot for, I liked my chances.
We managed to leave the station at the correct spot, and started our march in a southeasterly direction down Sussex Place. So far, so good.
Soon, we were in what appeared to be a residential neighborhood featuring quiet streets and stately homes.
The presence of several mews, as well as a half-dozen appropriately costumed riders mounted on huge horses, hinted that a large park suitable for riding might be nearby. I expected Elizabeth R to wax poetic at the sight of equestrians, but instead her attention had been directed to a different sort of rider.
My conversation with Ol’ P took the following form:
Me: Omigosh, look at the two guys on that tandem bike. What odd shaped helmets – they look pretty professional.
He: Well, sure. They’re probably on their way to the Triathlon.
Me: Ah, so we must be going the right way, then.
He: Dead silence.
Sometimes silence equals befuddlement. The obvious racing uniforms and aerodynamic helmets reinforced my belief that we were heading toward Hyde Park, but the tandem bike gave me pause. Can you use a tandem bike in a triathlon? Subsequent research has taught me that, yes, you can, if you are participating in a paratriathlon. Such was the case on this day, when heats for the 2013 ITU Paratriathlon World Championship series were being contested as part of the World London Tri Series. I didn’t know this at the time, or I would have stayed longer to watch these inspirational athletes. So instead of our report, I can only provide a link to a YouTube video which says so much more than our words could.
I am theoretically very inspired by all sorts of athletes, including the triathlon and paratriathlon type, but I must confess I was most impressed by a cell phone conversation snippet I overheard – spoken by an American dressed in his snazzy bicycle competition uniform. It was “Now I know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” The Albert Hall is adjacent to nearby Kensington Gardens. Ol’ P was aware of this fact, but was clueless as to the reason for the huge grin overspreading my face. Ah, Beatles fans – we are everywhere!
We soon reached Bayswater Road and the entrance to Hyde Park. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are contiguous, and form the northwest links of a chain of four parks that reaches to Westminster, home of Parliament, Big Ben, and numerous other historic attractions. With so much to choose from, I had to limit our midday stroll to that portion of Hyde Park that would feature the triathlon. Knowing that the first event in the tri was swimming, and that the participants would be doing so in the cool waters of the Serpentine, we headed down West Carriage Drive. After passing the Italian Gardens on our right, I noticed a man throwing a boomerang that actually came back to him almost every time. Though this was impressive, the amazing thing to me was that his dog lay perfectly still at his feet, never once tempted to chase the thrown object. This was the first example of many that I would observe of incredibly well behaved dogs in England. I wondered if I might bring a couple of them home to instruct our cats.
As we neared the Serpentine, our progress was obstructed by numerous barricades intended to keep spectators off the triathlon course. Whether intended or not, these barricades sparked a game of “find the crosswalk,” which we eventually won, the prize for which was being able to stand on the banks of the Serpentine. To my great delight, the waters surface was being churned white by energetic swimmers, the sound of whom reached us long before they did.
Gliding silently alongside were several kayaks, no doubt on safety patrol, and I had to stifle my jealousy for their access to these athletes. Fortunately, I spotted a refreshment area across the Serpentine, and I was quickly and suitably distracted.
We stopped for the obligatory tea and scones at the Lido on the Serpentine, an indoor/outdoor café mobbed with triathlon spectators and participants. As we waited in line, a family group was carrying their sandwiches and drinks to one of the terrace tables when they were attacked by a huge flock of pigeons which made off with pieces of sandwich before they had even hit the table. Waiters ran over shouting and waving linen napkins. Children shrieked. We ate inside.
I have to say that I wasn’t too worried that a pigeon would be able to wrest any part of my scone from me. I was concerned, though, that one of these flying fertilizer factories might inadvertently contribute its own form of “clotted cream” to my late morning snack. Thus the indoor seating.
Soon after, as we prepared to explore adjacent Kensington Gardens, I found Ol’ P crouched at the side of the Serpentine, aiming his camera at – a swan?
“Damn, I missed it!” I heard him cry. Confused, because he has never before expressed much interest in swans, but ever the supportive spouse, I snapped a quick shot of the graceful creature and told him so.
What I was trying to do was take a picture of another gaggle of swimmers, but make it artsy by including the swan in the foreground. Kind of a juxtaposition of swan and swimmer type thing. But the swan moved and I messed it up. Stupid swan! I also interpreted this as a signal that we should keep moving, so we crossed the invisible line that divides Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens.
Our first stop in Kensington Gardens, requiring no navigation because it was in sight as we walked inland from the Serpentine, was the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. With its thousand plus year history, England must finally have run out of ideas for fountains, because this one was entirely horizontal – a vaguely circular streamlet of shallow water flowing, propelled by a hidden something because it flowed uphill at times, over a variety of uneven surfaces.
Tasteful signs encouraged visitors to refresh themselves by “hand and feet bathing” at several different spots. A charming idea – until you realized that the fountain was evidently the home of a large population of peculiar looking geese, which we promptly dubbed “vampire geese.”
A glance at the stream bed made it all too evident what one would be bathing their hands and feet in.
We decided to pass on the bathing and moved on.
My intrepid leader led us on a merry chase through many areas of Kensington Gardens. Some I had encountered on previous visits without Ol’ P, and some were new to me, but all were lovely.
I had only once before been to Kensington Gardens, and that occasion was little more than quick walk through along the southerly edge. This time, I wanted to see more, but once again I had to be realistic because of our limited allotment of time. After quickly perusing a map of the park, I chose to explore the south and west portions.
As we changed from Hyde Park to Kensington Gardens, the weather changed from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny, and the atmosphere transformed to absolutely park-like. We strolled casually across grassy areas of various geometric shapes, inspecting “park-art” along the way, until eventually we found ourselves on a tree lined avenue that took us to the Albert Memorial. Wow! Talk about ornate.
There isn’t much I can say about Queen Victoria’s tribute to her husband other than I expect Elizabeth R to erect a less lavish offering after I’ve been promoted to glory.
The Albert Memorial can be intense on the visual senses, so we afforded our pupils an opportunity to dilate by walking down the flower walk. This is a quiet, peaceful area in a park that otherwise seems to invite activity,
I knew that we were nearing the end of the park portion of our perambulations. It was nearing the time when we should be moving back into the city.
That’s the palace, way way off in the distance. Probably a good thing that our walk was nearing its end,,,,,,
We strolled up to Kensington Palace, soon to be home to little Prince George and his mum and dad, and Ol’ P heaved a sigh of relief when I showed no signs of wanting to go inside. There was an impressive hedgerow maze leading to nowhere in particular, and the formal gardens, looking much the same as they had in my previous July visit, but with subtle alterations in color.
Kensington Palace Gardens, in July and September.
Across from the palace was the Round Pond, covered with all sorts of waterfowl (including more vampire geese) and the grassy verge surrounding it alive with tourists snapping photos and young families riding herd on energetic children.
A park bench to rest and reconnoiter seemed like a fine idea at this point, and we found one on the path to the Orangery, an elite restaurant not far from the palace. Ol’ P was most impressed by the majestic two story tall shrubs (can a shrub be that tall?) lining the pathway.
Okay I may have been impressed by the shrubs, but what I really wanted to know was this: who had to trim these things, and how did they do it?
As we relaxed and contemplated our surroundings, little kids on scooters took advantage of the long, smooth surface, squealing in delight as their mums took a breather on other benches. Meanwhile, on the veranda of the Orangery, the participants in what must have been an extremely formal business luncheon had emerged for a smoke and a chat. Dozens of black suits, only black, including the very few women, milled about looking serious as the kids hooted and giggled, and occasionally shrieked as the result of the inevitable skinned knees. What a contrast. It was great.
It was also time to go. We had a dinner appointment to keep, and we still had to find our way to the restaurant. This would be more of a challenge, but buoyed by our afternoon success, I figured that we were up to it.
Next – we find our way to the pub, and back home again (almost) without incident.