Wednesday, 21 January 2015
Despite waking up with a slight headache, I took some painkillers, snoozed for a bit, went for a shower and my head was much better by the time I headed out. Got the Tube (which was very quick) to St John’s Wood and visited Abbey Road. The crossing is smaller than it looks on the album cover! I managed to stand roughly where I’d assume the photographer was standing when they took the picture that became one of the world’s most iconic album covers.
From here I walked roughly south onto Baker Street and popped into the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The wax figures of various criminals were incredibly creepy, and the museum itself is quite a cool window into late-19th Century London. The head of the Hound of the Baskervilles is mounted on the wall. It was well worth the £10 admission. Another museum followed — the Wallace Collection. It’s an interesting assortment of things from different periods, and entry is free! Paintings from various eras, and rooms with massive mirrors from the 18th and 19th Centuries. There is also an impressive collection of arms and armour from the late-15th to 18th Centuries, including European, Middle Eastern and East Asian items.
On my way to get lunch at a recommended café I lost my bearings and wanted to get out of the cold. I’m a pretty good traveller, but I do get nervous when I am disoriented. I spotted the irresistibly-named Cock and Lion pub, and popped inside for a pint. Sitting down and having a drink and a think is a good way to keep calm. Worked out where I was and that I was in fact heading in the right direction. So after trying a pint of Landlord (which was enjoyable), I continued along Wigmore Street, and had lunch at the Little Portland Café on Little Portland Street, just south of the corner of Wigmore and Regent Streets. Got myself a full English breakfast for under £6 — bacon, sausage, hashbrown, two eggs (done just right), baked beans, mushrooms, two slices of toast and a cup of tea.
Afterwards I walked over to the British Library (quite a long walk) and poked around. They’ve got lots of neat stuff: early medieval music manuscripts, handwritten Beatles’ lyrics, the “original” Beowulf, religious texts from all religions (including the oldest-known New Testament, from 4th Century Palestine I believe). Couldn’t take any pics though, so I settled for buying a book on Magna Carta and a pen as mementos.
Got the Tube nearby to Baker Street because my legs hurt and I didn’t want to walk. Met three Pirates at the Metropolitan Bar — Stephen, Harley and Chris. They were good company, and I got some good ideas regarding project management that might help us realise a few projects and improve member engagement. It would work a bit like a wiki where each project gets its own page and mailing list and volunteers are funnelled towards projects. I parted ways with Stephen at Green Park, and Harley at Victoria.
Thursday, 22 January 2015
I took the short walk from my hotel to Buckingham Palace — I was staying a street or two over from Buckingham Palace Road. Buckingham Palace is enormous, and it was packed: every other place has had far fewer tourists. I think it’s interesting that they carry on doing what they do. It seems mostly for the benefit of tourists, a sort of “irrelevancy-as-spectactle” where tourists go because they continue to do the traditional things, and they only do the traditional things to attract tourists. However, it is definitely worth visiting.
Next I walked down to the Regency Café on Regency Street and had another full breakfast. I highly recommend it, though it is very busy, and the woman who took my order (you have to order before sitting) asked me quietly “What would you like dear?” before shouting “TWO SETS, ONE WITH BEANS!” and then resuming normal volume while asking if I wanted tea or coffee with that, and then again in her loud voice “TOAST TO GO WITH A SET.” Only one egg and no hashbrown or mushrooms (unlike the Little Portland Café of yesterday), but delicious nonetheless. Another breakfast for under £6. Oh, but don’t try the mustard. Trust me. Just don’t. I walked across the road to a pub called the Royal Oak and had a pint of London Pride. The drink was a bit bubblier and cheaper than the other pubs I’ve been to, and the barmaid let me sample a few beers so I could decide what to have.
I went to Middlesex Guildhall next — where the Supreme Court of England and Wales is housed. The building itself was completed in 1913, but it was renovated at a cost of £60 million (I was told) just before the court took up residence there in 2009. The security was a bit weird, much like getting on a plane. Metal detector and my bag had to be scanned. But I had a nice chat with one of the guards in what was courtroom two or three I think.
Right across the road is Westminster Abbey. The building is enormous and is literally the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Although expensive to get inside (£18), it’s well worth it and I spent over an hour in there, looking around. If I thought the outside was amazing, the interior is even more so. The ceilings are incredibly high and it just reeks of history. You’re not allowed to take photos inside unfortunately! I bought a book about Westminster Abbey to make up for this.
Across from the abbey and Supreme Court is the Palace of Westminster where the Houses of Parliament sit. I decided not to get up close because I was tired and too much in awe of Westminster Abbey. I did take lots of pictures of Elizabeth Tower (not Big Ben, as anyone with a basic knowledge of the history of London will know that Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the tower).
From here I walked up Whitehall, past Downing Street, and on to Trafalgar Square. Unintended innuendo ahead: Nelson’s Column is MASSIVE (hurr hurr). But seriously, I was not expecting it. Nelson himself is this tiny figure overlooking London atop a pillar that is easily the tallest thing in sight. Trafalgar Square itself is just as I remember it from playing the London level on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4! It’s uncanny, but they really did replicate the area well. Ironically, for all its reputation, I’ve only saw one pigeon in Trafalgar Square! My last stop for the day was the nearby Admiralty Arch. It’s enormous and beautiful also. I got there as the sun was setting behind it and took a few pics!
Friday, 23 January 2015
Woke up a bit earlier today and started sorting out my plans. Checked out of the hotel after making sure I had everything (I generally tend to unpack and repack when I’m done with something to save having my belongings scattered around the hotel room). Left my luggage at the hotel for a small fee so that I could collect it once I’d finished sightseeing.
My first destination was the Tower of London. It’s massive: a great old castle in the middle of London. It’s quite a sight! The tower inside is surrounded by a fairly large enclosure and what looks to be a moat. The enclosure comprises tall, thick stone walls. After that I went a little way west to the Monument to the Great Fire of London, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and simply referred to as “the Monument” (it even has an underground station named after it!). It’s a pillar, but, unlike Nelson’s Column, it doesn’t clear the horizon. It still looks quite imposing, but I’m certain it’s not as tall.
From here I walked across London Bridge, crossing south over the Thames. There’s a great view from London Bridge of the iconic Tower Bridge and I took lots of pictures. I really need to get myself a better zoom lens for my next trip! Going west along the Thames, I saw the replica of Francis Drake’s Golden Hind and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which appears to be a fairly faithful reconstruction. Bought a small trinket (a little ship in a globe bottle) for my little brother, because I’ll miss his birthday and want to bring him back a bunch of stuff — sadly I’ve not found much worth getting yet!
Stopped in at the Anchor, a nearby pub, for my routine lunchtime pint and to get out of the cold. One thing I’ve noticed about pubs is that the selection of beers is remarkably inconsistent. Back home, every pub has the same lowest common denominator beers: Carlton Draught, Victoria Bitter, Coopers, Tooheys New, and increasingly often I can find Matilda Bay Fat Yak on tap. Here it’s very hit and miss. Not everyone serves London Pride or 1730 or Landlord (which are the best three that I’ve tried so far). Usually though they offer you a small taste of everything if you ask them to recommend you an English ale.
After all this I crossed back over the Thames via the Millennium Bridge, which looks just like it does in Harry Potter — especially as it’s winter. St Paul’s Cathedral looms up as you cross the bridge. It’s iconic, and impressive outside, but inside is nowhere near as interesting from what I could see as Westminster Abbey was, so I decided against paying the £20 entrance fee.
Around the corner is the Central Criminal Court — better known as the Old Bailey. I couldn’t help but picture it blowing up as in V for Vendetta. After taking lots of snaps, I spotted a souvenir shop, and yet again was disappointed. Same old trinkets that you can pretty much get at home: clocks, pencil sharpeners, mugs, tins, etc. A bit old hat. However, a block down I did find something of interest: Hardy’s Original Sweetshop. The salesman was incredibly enthusiastic to all customers, and offered us samples of whatever we wanted. Decided to bring back a variety of sherberts (boiled sweets with sherbert in the middle), including sherbert lemons. Hopefully my sister gets the Harry Potter allusion. Only £5 for 400 grams!
I Popped into Temple Church next (if you’ve read or seen the Da Vinci Code you’ll know of it), and they offered me the student discount even after I said I wasn’t a student in the UK. It’s cheap anyway — £5 regular admission, £3 students/pensioners. Temple Church is very pleasant, despite being a Templar Den (Assassin’s Creed anyone?).
A short walk down Fleet Street and onto the Strand took me to the Royal Courts of Justice, an architectural masterpiece! Now I’m sitting in the Cheshire Cheese — an old pub just down a side street. From Wikipedia:
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is one of a number of pubs in London to have been rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of 1666. There has been a pub at this location since 1538 … The literary figures Oliver Goldsmith, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton and Dr. Johnson are all said to have been ‘regulars’.
I’m sipping a pint of Tribute, staying warm until I can collect my luggage and get the train to Oxford where I’m staying with Gefion and Markus.