London. I used to say 'I've been to the airport' lol now I can finally say I've seen the city! It is as rainy as they say. It is the most bi- polar weather I've ever experienced. It can be sunny one second, then raining the next. It rains several times a day... Or all day. Sometimes it pours. And yet some people still don't bring umbrellas along! I don't get it!
I had 6 nights in London and I didn't see it all. Granted I took a day trip for one of those days, but wow- there's just so much to see. So many museums, buildings, parks, gardens, different neighbourhoods in the city... The tube (underground) is really useful in getting around but you have to be really good at picking things in the same area (which I wasn't, so much) or else it takes forever to get to the different sights. Speaking of the tube, it's easy to navigate and the employees are really particular about checking fairs at entrance and exit gates. Mind the gap! Oh and one day they announced there was a delay on a line because someone was under a train. Uh ok thanks for being specific.
I saw a lot in London so I'll go day by day.
Day 1: I stayed in Camden town at a sub- par St Christopher's hostel. The people in my 2nd room (I had to change rooms once) were constantly coming back late at like 3 am, turning on lights and laughing while the rest of us slept. Sucky.
So i got to London a bit late, at like 5, so armed with my tube oyster pass, I jumped on the metro to Leicester square. This is the square where all the movie premieres are held. There was some construction in the middle and tons of people, so it didn't even look like a square to me! Lots of touristy things, the movie theatre and theatre ticket sales. Afterwards I took the tube to embankment, near the Thames river. What a view- the London Eye ferris wheel, Parliament, Big Ben... London baby!!!
I decided to check out the London eye- it's very popular for it's view of London. Plus it wasn't raining so the view would be decent. It starts with a 4-d movie of the wheel and a bit of the city... And they throw water and fake snow on you lol. The London Eye turns slowly, so that you go around once and it takes 30 minutes. I got a panoramic map too. On a clear day you can see Windor castle, but it wasn't that clear out. The coolest thing was swig parliament from above.
After the eye i walked to parliament, big ben and westminster abbey. Gorgeous buildings!!
I continued on my random tour to see London tower, tower bridge and to the monument erected to commemorate the great fire of 1666 that started in a bakery and burned 2/3rds of the city because they were made of timber and had thatched roofs. Riding the tube, i noticed that lots of people read the newspaper here, which isn't so much the case at home any more. There's even an ad in the tube asking people not to leave them on the trains. Top story of the week? Phone hacking scandal. It was everywhere!
I bought a 3 day London pass, so my aim was to see as many sights as I could in those 3 days- gotta make it worth it. My first stop was Westminster Abbey because I knew there'd be a wait and there was. It is a huge church with 2 amazing carved fronts. We entered through the one on the side, and Will and Kate entered through the one at the front when they got married at the abbey. It is gorgeous- especially the chapel at the back. There are many previous kings and queens buried there. The coronation chair is also in the abbey. It is still there today but man it looks fragile. They are actually undergoing renovations now. The King's Speech filmed in the abbey using the chair, although I wonder if they were allowed to use the real thing.
The abbey also had a special exhibition of will and kate's wedding in pictures.
Next I went to Winston Churchill's war rooms, the place where he directed Britain's part in WWII. It's an underground set of rooms where many people worked and some slept. Only after the Blitz started did they put some bomb protective measures in (lots of concrete and steel). Once that was done, Churchill spent a lot of his time down there. The museum has set it up to look like it did, including the main room where Churchill and the ministry of defense had their meetings. The audio guide said that Churchill had bad hearing... Or pretended not to hear when there was dissension in the meetings. He was a difficult man to work for, or so his secretaries said. The museum played a real recording of a Churchill speech, displayed his bedroom, as well as displayed the kitchen, offices and a map room. Apparently sugar was a luxury and a main officer used to hide his in a main office. It was found years later in his hiding space. It was a cool museum.
Next i walked through James' Park to Buckingham palace. Unfortunately the state rooms are only open a couple months in the summer when the royals take holidays, and that happens to be the day after I leave for home :( What i could see was the Queen's gallery and the royal mews. The palace itself is beautiful and quite huge with beautiful gates (where flowers for Diana were placed by the public after she died). You couldn't get much closer than that so I headed to the Queen's gallery. It was ok... More art lol and some broaches, statues and things. I really just wanted to see the palace. Next time!! The mews were actually really cool. It's where they keep the gold carriage, as well as the carriages that Princess Diana & Prince Charles used, as well as the one Kate and Prince William used recently. They have stables there, and we got to see some of the horses.
Then I walked to the Apsley house (Wellington family still lives there) and Wellington arch. The duke of Wellington fought Napoleon in the battle of Waterloo and won. (Speaking of Waterloo, half the reason I enjoyed the Wellington stuff is that on my last Europe trip a few of us basically broke into the war site at Waterloo- it closed too early and it was easy, it was a hill for goodness sakes! There is a monument at the top of the hill.. We wanted a closer look lol.) Anyway, there is a beautiful arch with the largest bronze statue in London, as well as a statue of Wellington himself. Across the street, his descendants can see the monuments from their house, called Apsley. It features a huge statue, once in the Louvre, as well as some beautiful state rooms. A table from the Czar of Russia, beautiful paintings, old swords and memorabilia etc. Actually they displayed a lot of Napoleon's stuff lol. They did beat him, after all.
It was getting late but i read that the market in notting hill was only Friday and Saturday (not true) so i headed there. Notting hill!!! Portobello road is where the Portobello market is (fancy that) and YES it's the market Hugh Grant walked through while the seasons changed in the movie Notting Hill. It was cute- jewelry, souvenirs, food, vegetables... Too bad it was pouring rain!! Because of the rain I didn't explore Notting Hill much but I did see a guy on the tube on the way back holding a "the travel bookshop" bag.
I went back to the hostel, met a couple of my roommates and ended up going out to a pub down the street for dinner. I ordered the bangers (sausage) and mash for dinner. It was pretty good, but I've had better sausage before. Then i got back to the hostel, saw that it was an awful rider game, and called dad. I was getting sick too, so it sucked. Damn London germs.. I blame the tube. It's hard to sanitize your hands all the time though.
I went straight to the Tower of London, a castle that has been around a very long time. It has kept the crown jewels for hundreds of years, it is where Anne Boleyn became queen and where she was imprisoned and beheaded just years later. It was not just a home to kings, it was very much a prison as well. Prisoners were kept in the towers- in one there were carvings that have been preserved. In the Bloody Tower, several people were imprisoned, including Sir Walter Raleigh. He ended up being able to bring his family in, and get the place redecorated. The Bloody Tower's name comes from several events, including the suspicious death of William Percy, the death of Henry VI ad the murder of the two princes.
The main building and most visible in the tower complex is the White Tower. Now it's a museum full of armor and other treasures. The White Tower is where bones of two young boys were found- when an entrance to the White Tower was demolished in 1674. They were supposedly the two princes who, as legend has it, were murdered so that they wouldn't make it to the throne. Who murdered them is still a mystery, and they set up an area describing the situation, who the suspects were, and their motives. Afterwards you could vote on who you thought it was. It seems strange that they disappeared in such a small community - they were last seen playing on the lawn by an employee of the castle. now there is a plague where the bones were found in remembrance of the princes.
After I went to see the crown jewels. There was a big line of people... They played a couple videos of previous coronations in order to keep you occupied. When you finally get to the jewels, there is a moving walk way to keep you going lol. And do not take pictures- it's not allowed and you get in trouble *cough* lol. There are many incredible crowns, rings, orbs an scepters, several of which are recognizable.
Nearby is the Tower Bridge, one of the most recognizable places in London. I went through the tourist stuff there, including taking an elevator to the top walkway, seeing the view, watching a couple videos about bridge, and seeing the engine room that was used to lift the lower part of the bridge to let ships through. I never got to see the bridge lift up, but apparently it happens a few times a day. Once a transit bus driver drove onto the bridge while it was lifting and he had to jump the gap lol.
Walking down the Thames on what they call the 'Queen's walk,' you reach where they've parked the HMS Belfast, the last remaining war ship in the UK. It was in Vietnam and WWII. Now it is a museum. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it exceeded my expectations. Basically I climbed around on its like 5 decks, learning about life on the boat and experiences of those go worked on it. I saw the engine and boiler room, where they slept, the wheel of the boat, the galley etc. They had lots of people and rooms set up to reflect what it would have looked like. It was pretty awesome- I went down below, up on deck... Everywhere really. As a war ship they also had shell rooms and a torpedo on display.
The next bridge along the Thames is the infamous London bridge. It is a very boring looking bridge. I saw a video of Queen Victoria opening the bridge, and her speech said that it wasnt the biggest or most beautiful bridge... And she was right. But obviously it is important and very busy. Back in the day, traffic on the bridge was so horrific that another bridge was necessary- Tower Bridge. Under it (on land of course) is the London Bridge experience and tombs. Basically it's a show with live actors acting out bridge history, and a haunted house. The actors were good but I distance get some of the scenes' importance. I could have taken it or left it. It's been years since I've walked through a haunted house and this one was pretty good. Dark, tight spaces, a guy with a fake chain saw, people popping out, and creepy robotic animals. We went in groups of 8 and held on to the shoulder of the person in front of you, which was good because it was so dark. It was fun! Something different.
First I took the tube to St Patrick's church, which sits on a bit of a hill thus it's dome is part of the London skyline. It is the gathering place during difficult events, like 9-11. It is also where Diana and Charles got married. The church is stunning- especially the mosaics on the ceiling. The dome is huge, and if you want to climb 500 steps you can go to the gallery. It also has a large crypt downstairs where several people lay to rest, including Duke Wellington.
Afterwards i went to Regent park, which has botanical gardens and the London zoo. It is quite large and there were many people enjoying the sun. The zoo was pretty cool- I saw giraffes and camels for the first time, as well as gorillas, penguins, warthogs, zebras, and many types of reptiles.
This was my last day of the London pass, so next was the Globe theatre tour. The original is long gone, but in 2007 the new globe theatre was built. It is not exactly in the same spot- it's a couple hundred feet closer to the Thames. It is built as close to the original as possible, based on what is known. Most of their info came from written notes or journal entries by people who saw plays at the theatre. It is all wood, open air, with a thatched roof. It's shape is almost circular and its not very big, so every seat is quite close to the stage. They have shows there a couple times a day. The one at the time was Much Ado About Nothing, starring 'Jeffery' from Fresh Prince of Bel Air and a chick from Nurse Jackie. Outside there are cement blocks with people's names on them. The place was built with no government money so they depended on donations, including the money from these people... Who wanted their names on the ground in front of the Globe. Famous people include John Cleese and Robert De Niro.
It was getting late so I decided to go to an art gallery for an hour- the National gallery. It is a beautiful building in Trafalgar square. It is big do i didnt see much of it... They had Van Gogh, Renoir etc. I got a free audio guide and tried to see as much as I could. Oh well.
In order to fit another activity on my london pass, i took a boat cruise along the Thames, from Westminster to Tower of London. It was raining so it was nice to see the sights id already visited from the river and hear a bit of their history.
It was pretty rainy that night and I was tired from a long day, so I grabbed food and called it a day because I knew I had an early start the next day.
This day was my booked tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. It was a packed day. A lot of fun.
On the way, the guide told us about important London sights as we passed, including the St James covert hotel where Wimbledon stars stay and #58 buckingham gate road, where white star lines worked from when the titanic sank. Apparently Charles I was executed in Trafalgar Square. There is a monument there, as well as a large gate. When we went by the Drama school, our guide told us he went to the dramatic arts school with Michael Sheen.
He was funny. Our first stop was Windsor Castle and he made sure to ask us to email Windsor castle, requesting that Will and Kate reign after the Queen, not "an aging prince and his horse of a wife" aka "Camilla the gorilla" lol!!
Our guide told us that Charles I's head (he was beheaded) was kept at Oxford. Now it is in his in casket but because they only made it big enough for a headless body, they had to put it under left arm lol. He is buried at the church at Windsor castle.
We finally arrive to the castle. I realize I am with a group when we are herded like cattle into a room with other groups. Security doesn't take too long. The audio guide was alright. You start with some of the grounds. The old moat was turned into a pretty garden. The castle looks like a real castle, which is awesome. The Queen was not in residence, as the British flag was flying. Years ago there'd be no flag, but they changed that after Diana died. When I entered the castle, they had Queen Mary's dollhouse on display. It is incredible- very detailed, with electricity and working switches. Rooms include a crown jewel room, servants' quarters, state rooms etc. It wasn't meant as a toy, but to show it's splendor and a collectable. Next was the state apartments. Of course no pictures were allowed :( When you first walk in, there is a grand hall with a staircase to a room full of weapons, many of which were gifts or used for hunting. There is also a large statue of queen Victoria and other special gifts from all over the world, including old crowns. The rooms were quite lovely, with the usual gold gilded ceilings and walls, chandeliers, and many beautiful paintings. There was a fire in 1993, which ruined a couple rooms. There is one large hall they use for dinners and special events that is lined with hundreds of coat of arms. Some are whited out- those belong to people who were traitors to the family.
It was almost 11 am, so i headed to watch the changing of the guard. It was pretty cool- there was a full band and it took a good 15 minutes. I didn't have time to watch it all. I left early to see St George's chapel - the church on the grounds that is built in gothic style, has beautiful stained glass windows, and where previous kings are buried, including Charles I.
Next was Stonehenge- a couple hours from Windsor Castle. Stonehenge is one of those incredibly famous, incredibly mysterious places that I've always wanted to visit. It was so cool to go! It is like what you've seen- huge rocks places in a circle ... For what? A calendar? The audio guide listed several theories. The crowd is not allowed to go very close, which sucks. We walk a huge circle around the monument. There are a couple arches that remain, a huge rock on top of two other huge rocks. The guide talked about how the rock stays up there- with a hump on each of the two rocks in the ground, which fit into subsequent holes in the rock on top of them. Nearby are many small hills- apparently they are all over the region- which are ancient burial grounds. Another thing in the region left from thousands of years ago are several large symbols of fertility in the landscape. The guide said there is chalky soil under the soil we see, which has allowed these symbols to remain. We passed two- one of which was a huge symbol on the side of a hill, the other was a horse symbol on the side of a larger hill in the distance. Really cool.
Next up was Bath. The city itself is a UNESCO site and I approve. It is *gorgeous* and I didn't see nearly enough of it. I found out on the way that Jane Austen lived here for a time, and wrote Pride and Prejudice in Bath. Awesome. We passed some cool stuff, including original art by Banksy (anonymous guy who draws graffiti on public buildings, he's quite famous now) and Jane Seymour's huge house in the valley. Johnny Depp and Matt Damon also own second houses there. The main sight is the Roman bath ruins they found, quite recently. There is a natural hot spring, and three baths: the main bath, a circular one and the 'west bath'... Made me want to go back to Budapest lol. They found artifacts- old statues, steps, altars etc... It was obviously a popular place to go. No one bathed in the main bath though- as it was seen as sacred. Now they have roman statues surrounding the main bath. It's pretty cool. There is also the beautiful Bath Abbey across the street from the baths. The Abbey reminded me of St George's chapel, with an ornate wood quire, beautiful stained glass and a similar ceiling.
If I had more time in Bath, I would have loved to go to the Jane Austen centre. But alas I had to settle for buying Jane Austen and "I love Mr Darcy" magnets lol.
All buildings in Bath are made of bath stone. Architects John Wood Sr and Jr built residential buildings into boulevards and crescents... so there are huge blocks of winding buildings made of bath stone- gorgeous. (that's the best I can do to describe it!)
We got back to London in good time. Although I was up at like 5:30 am, I still had energy, so I decided to see Hyde Park, Picadilly circle and London at night. Picadilly is what you always see representing London- big screens showing advertisements and double decker buses driving by. There is a monument in the middle, but there was a lot of construction being done, so I never got the full effect :( (London is doing all it's road construction now, to prepare for the 2012 Olympics) Still it was pretty cool.
Hyde Park is beautiful. There's a big lake, tons of people walking around... There is also a Princess Diana Memorial fountain. It's... Different. A large round circle. Not sure where thy got that idea. Near by is the beautiful Albert memorial statue- huge, gold ... A Stunning memorial. Queen Victoria loved that man... Across the street is the Royal Albert Hall- another absolutely gorgeous building. In the mood to see more nice buildings, I walked a dozen blocks to the museum district to see the buildings that hold the Albert and Victoria museum and the National Archeology museum. The Archeology museum is especially nice. Maybe I should have been an architect? I swear half my pictures are of buildings lol.
London at night is gorgeous. Of course I went to Westminster, seeing the parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye. Then I walked to Westminster Abbey. Afterwards I took my first double decker bus through the theatre district (so many lights and crowds!) down Fleet Street (no barbers, just another normal famous street lol) to St Paul's Cathedral and the interesting Court of Justice building. It was quite a day!
I had read good things about the British Library and since it was near my hostel I checked it out. They have a sort of museum set up. Needless to say I spent like two hours there. Some of their treasures include: the Magna Carta, Diamond Sutra, Jane Austen's writing desk and journal, an original Leonardo Da Vinci notebook and
Beetles original lyrics (on the back of a birthday card, on an envelope etc). What an incredible collection- and free to see!
Next was the British museum. Once again, free. Most British museums are. It is pretty impressive. Another lovely building housing Egyptian, Greek, Turkish and European items. Some cool things included a couple mummies and a lot of amazing Egyptian and Greek statues, a recreated temple, and huge egyptian gates. The highlight for me, which was also a full circle moment, was seeing the museum's Parthenon exhibit, including all the reliefs and original stone work taken by Lord Elgin a couple hundred years ago. They even had a pamphlet about the British versus the Greek government in terms of who deservedly owns the pieces. Greece believes Britain should return what is rightfully theirs, while Britain believes Elgin was taking precious statues and reliefs that were simply not being taken care of, therefore should stay in Britain. They also allow the exhibit to be seen for free, so in the spirit of British museums, they believe it should stay put. I understand both sides but it gets a little ridiculous when the British museum has part of a statue and the description reveals another part of it is in Athens at the Acropolis museum. I'm team Athens- in the end, it should all be together in it's rightful home.
Next i took the tube to the O2 arena- part concert arena, part mall, part exhibition hall. It's huge!!!! It is where the Titanic exhibit is. It was similar to the one I went to in Vegas. They had some artifacts from the ship, recreated passenger rooms, as well as the deck and coal room. They even had part of the hull that you could touch!! Really cool. Oh and they had a miniature Titanic of how it looks at the bottom of the ocean. It was cool and, as per my Titanic obsession, I had to go. Lol.
Considering it was my last day in London, i had to go to Harrods - its famous department store. And omg it didn't disappoint. Macy's in NYC may be bigger but Harrods is fancier... With an Egyptian staircase, tons of departments including women's designer clothes, sporting goods, children's and even groceries... meat and poultry, chocolate, baking, and fruits and vegetables... It's nuts!! And so busy! Many people were tourists though. I checked out a few floors including sporting goods- they have a whole section for riding! Of course they have brand name purses and women's clothing... A huge perfume section... I had to buy cupcakes from Lola's. They just looked so good. I bought two including banana with cream cheese icing and cookies and cream with c&c icing. Lola's advertised that they've made cakes for the Queen and the Beckhams. That's the whose who in London lol!
After I ventured across the street to a British bar where I had a plate of several types of shepherds pies. Interesting. I must say I didn't like the steak and kidney lol.
That's about it for London. This blog is so long and has taken me too long to finish, so I think I'll end it here.
London was pretty awesome- I did a lot. But i was getting sick (again!!! Ugh) and of course the thought of going home was enticing after being gone for 3 months.
I have to say, other than the bi-polar weather, there is tons to do in London and even a week wasn't enough. I had lots of fun!