Most of the time I spent going around London was during the evening (read my post right before this one to know why), but I did get to see parts of it (aside from the route to the office) during the day. I was able to stroll around my immediate vicinity early in my first morning, thanks to jet lag which forced me awake at an unholy early hour. I was also fortunate that the cheapest airline ticket that I could book me gave at least half a day to roam during my last day there, and still leave enough time for a comfortable connection. Of course, I took advantage of that “half-day blessing” to the fullest, and so I now I show you…London by day.
ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
This imposing piece of architecture close to the banks of the River Thames is one of must-sees in the City of London. Its large dome and classically decorated exterior (appart from sheer massive size) gives it a commanding presence over its surrounding neighborhood, and fortunately for me, I could almost touch it the moment I step out of my hotel’s lobby. It has also played witness to various historical events, such as the funerals of the great admiral Horatio Nelson, and the war hero Winston Churchill, and the much celebrated fairy-tale wedding of Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana.
THE MILLENNIUM BRIDGE
Just around a hundred meters or so from St. Paul is The London Millennium Footbridge, or simply the “Millenium Bridge” – one of several pedestrian bridges that span across the River Thames. It is rather unique in its design, which makes it somewhat like a product of a cross between installation art and an actual civil engineering project. In essence, it’s just a suspension bridge like many others in the world, but the cables that support it are suspended on the sides rather than above, as in most such bridges. This gives it a futuristic look that would not be out of place in sci-fi movies.
Most great cities have great public squares – Beijing‘s Tiananmen and Paris’ Place de la Concorde for example. London has many of them, but perhaps the most famous one is Trafalgar Square.
Britain was a great maritime nation, and at one point in history the Royal Navy stood unchallenged as the “master of sea” in all parts of the world. The square commemorates one of the greatest victories of the proud navy – that naval battle off Cape Trafalgar in Spain, between the British under the command of Admiral Horatio Nelson, and the combined French-Spanish fleet serving Napoleon. The British commander died a hero during the engagement, but the battle ended Napoleons ambitions in the sea. He may have been the most brilliant commander at that time over land, but he could not win over water.
Connecting Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace is The Mall, and its not the type where you max out credit cards. The Mall is a long stretch of road, bordered by a large park on one side, and various royal buildings on the other.
I walked the entire stretch of it, from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace, and it was a good way to enjoy the cold but pleasant weather that prevailed throughout my stay. I had expected rainy days, with London’s reputation for wet, unpredictable weather, but it hardly rained at all and the sun was out most of the time. I guess the gods were with me that week.
What would a trip to London be without visiting the Queen, or at least her palace. Sitting at the end of the Mall and surrounded by well manicured parks, the palace exudes an elegance that rightfully befits its status as the residence of the reigning monarch.
My visit was blessed with fair blue skies, and though there were a number of tourists there taking pictures or just standing around to plan their next route, I could hardly call it “packed”. It was actually possible to take pictures without people intruding on you, or you intruding on people.
IN MEMORY OF THE FALLEN
Towards the west of the palace, on the edge of Green Park are the Memorial Gates and Hyde Park Corner, both of which contain monuments for those who fought for Britain in the various wars it had been through. The Memorial Gates were put up in memory of the people from the many corners of the empire who fought during the world wars. Hyde Park Corner on the other hand has several memorials. including the Wellington arch and a statue of the Duke of Wellington, who fought and defeated Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars.
The Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster (whew, that was long), or simply – The Westminster Abbey. People from this generation may recognize it primarily as the venue of the much anticipated, talked-about, televised and “internetized” wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the current Duke and Duchess of Cambrige. It had also been witness to many other royal weddings before this most recent one.
The first two words that came into my mind when I saw it were “huge” and “beautiful”. The structure itself is massive, and the exterior decor of the church is so lavish and grandiose, any other place of worship I’ve seen before would look like a mediocre piece of architecture in comparison.
I put it at the bottom of my itinerary for reason that I’ve seen many other churches before and I thought this is just another one. I actually decided to push through with it at the last minute, just before heading back to the hotel to check out, and how insanely wrong I would I have been if I let this slip. This is one building in London every visitor has to see.
The whole world knows England for Fish n’ Chips, but it seems that the most “English” dish is actually the sandwich. In most cities that I’ve been to, the McDonalds-type chains dominate the fast-food market, and other “healthier” players like Subway just serve a small niche. But in London, it seems sandwich chains like Pret-a-Manger and Eat outnumber McDonalds, Burger King and the like by, I guess, 10:1. It almost feels like a crime to get caught holding a burger there (although I did eat at McDonalds once, just so I don’t break the chain of meeting visiting McDonalds at least once in every country I have been to).
THE WAY OUT.
The London Heathrow airport is London’s main international gateway (though it also has several others like Gatwick and Stansted that serve a lesser number of airlines and destinations).
Though not really near (Heathrow is around 45 minutes by cab from central London, on a traffic-less evening), there is a convenient train service between the city and the airport from London’s Paddington train station. Paddington itself is also served by around 3 different “tube” lines, making transfers even more convenient (if you don’t have bulky luggage). When I arrived in London I took a cab straight from the airport to the hotel, but on my departure, I just took the cab up to Paddington and took the train thereafter. For just 9 GBP the Heathrow Connect train provided a very comfortable and cost effective ride to the airport, and it can get there in just over 20 minutes. There is also a faster “Heathrow Express” train that is twice as fast but costs almost twice as much too, and I thought paying twice as much is not really worth it unless you are in grave danger of not catching your flight.
* All photos taken last February 2012, with Panasonic Lumix LX5.