I’m writing this on a train leaving London. Also figured out what minding the gap means: some stations are round, the trains are not round, and therefore a gap is created. New York and a couple other places have the same problem, but have created gap filling devices. I have also noticed that some lines do not have gaps at all. I think almost all of the major lines were covered in various journeys across the city, including these lines: Bakerloo, Central, Circle, Hammersmith and City, District, Piccadilly, Jubilee, Northern, and Victoria lines. According to my phone, despite all of these Underground trips, I still managed to walk 106,000 steps or 20 hours in London.
Thursday, 4th of June
We kicked off the morning by heading to a series of museums. Looking at a map, it was clear that the Natural History Museum, and National Science Museum were located very near to each other.
The first museum of the day was the Natural History Museum. It was pretty grand in scale, but rather boring as it felt like a large Science City, and it was clear that some parts hadn’t been updated for more than a few years. I guess we made it through the natural disasters section. Since we can learn about earthquakes and volcanoes in America, I realized that the museum probably wouldn’t offer too many interesting insights into anything. We did not even go through more than a floor or so before giving up and heading for another museum.
On the way, I had seen another large museum across the street called the Victoria and Albert Museum. It wasn’t on the itinerary, but was free and looked massive from the outside so we decided to go in and check it out. Immediately became clear that it was far more exciting the Natural History Museum. It seemed to have a bit of everything. Part of it was art, part of it was classic sculpture, part of it was “antiques”, basically random artifacts from any culture that has existed the last few hundred years, and they even had a whole wing dedicated to ironwork! This museum had over half a dozen large works from Raphael and the front of an entire house from the 1600s!
After lunch was the National Science Museum, which was just as massive as the other museums. Plenty of things from space exploration to machines to interactive exhibits. Once again, it was too big to see it all in one visit, especially after seeing parts of two other massive museums in the same day. Highlights included a massive steam turbine and the machine that operated the Greenwich Time Service for a few decades. On the creepier side was a computer operated euthanasia machine used in Australia during the 1990s. This museum was particularly overrun with school kids. Many other places were overrun with school kids, but this place especially. It is also apparent that a good portion of the school groups are not speaking English. We have run into a few large groups of obviously American kids, but they tend to be older, high school aged at least, compared to the European groups which are probably no older than 10 years for most of them.
From the last museum was a hike across Hyde Park. London has many parks, but this seems to be the crown jewel of them. Nice landscaping everywhere, a lake full of people using pedal boats, a couple of rose gardens, etc. The coolest part was the fountain for Princess Diana. It was a big ring set into a hill, and shallow enough to put your feet into the water that was moving pretty quickly. It had an uneven surface in some areas to create rapids, and the sides varied in width and height so it wasn’t just a plane ring. Plenty of kids of all ages were playing in the water. I also saw a Bugatti while waiting to cross a street near the edge of the park.
At the far end of Hyde Park was Piccadilly Circus. The area around it seemed to be the British version of Times Square. I guess we headed up the main shopping street, which was full of stores. It seemed to have the European flagship stores for a lot of brands. We went in a few of them, including the five level Nike store that had a live DJ. That’s another thing, nearly every store along there had two or more levels! Dinner was at a nice pub at Oxford Circus, which appeared to be a continuation of Piccadilly Circus except that it had food conveniently located one block off of the main drag.
Friday, 5th of June
It was a bit soggy in the morning, with a fifty percent of showers for the rest of the morning. We decided to brave the wet weather and head for the Tower of London. The tower beat my expectations. The tour guide was very witty and full of information. The tour guides are veterans – they have to have at least 22 years of military service, a certain rank, and a good conduct medal to even be considered for the position. I think they called them Yeoman Warders. They get some perks as part of the job, like living on site in a row of houses tucked against the outer wall of the Tower site and them and two generations of their children are eligible to be buried in the chapel onsite, along with hundreds of unidentified graves. And they get to wear cool suits with the queen’s initials on them. Just kidding, the suits look like they belong in a time period a few hundred years ago. There was plenty to explore at the Tower. The interior of the main tower itself had obviously been redone many times but it looked authentic from the outside. They were working on the front doors (because the tower only has two I guess?), so the only other entrance was through scaffolding set up to a 2nd story window on the side of the building. A weird entrance, for sure. Inside the tower was a museum of sorts set up to recognize everything that had gone on at the tower grounds over its very long history.
And as I write this sentence, the train has officially entered into French soil.
Back to the tower: besides the main tower and chapel, there were small towers built all along the inside wall. A couple were restored to ancient appearance. They started to look the same after a while. There was a large building for the crown jewels. So many ornate things were in that room with it! Finally, there was a little torture dungeon at the castle. Kind of contrasted with everything else. Hiking around the Tower the entire morning had worked up quite an appetite. I had my first fish and chips experience. I got a piece of fish so big that it didn’t fit into the tray. Think of a slightly larger than normal hot dog tray, and then a piece of cod that does not fit into that. It was also a bit strange as it was the only place that did not include VAT in their advertised price. That is one of the major differences over here in pricing: no guessing on how much tax is going to add to the cost because it is already included in the sale price anywhere from the pint of milk at the grocery to buying London Eye tickets. After lunch was a rare break.
Mid afternoon was a trip to Trafalgar Square. It was one of the more bustling places in the city, and that is including Piccadilly, which was packed for blocks and blocks. There were street performers everywhere on the north side of the square. Along the Thames and in the Underground there are musicians, some of them decent. Trafalgar was full of people doing illusions and wearing unlicensed costumes. One magician had a huge crowd. Behind the performers was the National Gallery, once again a huge free museum full of treasures, like a bunch of Monet’s work, and once again too large to take in with a single visit. It was also far more crowded than any of the other museums. The main part of Trafalgar Square outside of the performers and gallery is also cool. There are two fountains with a very large statue in between them and it is pretty easy to climb the base of the statue to get a better look of the area.
Next was a service at Westminster Abbey, supposedly to hear the organ being played. They did not play the organ, sadly, but the choir made good use of the church acoustics. They also advertised the church service as being an hour long but had everyone out of there in forty minutes, which was also good.
I am not sure why, but we thought it would be a good idea to walk from the Abbey to the Eye along the Thames. I guess maps of London must not often be scaled accurately. It was a long walk, not to mention the fact that we were still about an hour early even after having dinner at a sit down restaurant. There was a festival going on at the time along the bank of the river near the Eye so there were even more people than normal. The Eye may seem like a tourist gimmick but it turned out to be really neat, especially because of a strategically chosen ticket time to avoid the glaring sun but still allowed time to see everything before dark. There are many tall buildings in London but not many skyscraper type buildings so even a relatively short ferris wheel allows a view of pretty much everything in the city.
Next, it was back to Piccadilly Circus to see what it was like at night – even more vibrant than during the day! Walked along the main drag until it took us back to Trafalgar Square where the street performers had been replaced by a few groups of people dancing. The fountains were lit up with LEDs that changed color a few times a minute.
Saturday, 6th of June
This was a day where we had run out of major things to do in the city. After getting breakfast at a cafe at one of London’s many morning markets was another trip out to Westminster Palace for the changing of the guards. Not sure if something special was going on today, but the ceremony started late and was very elaborate. Probably a 300 piece band and at least that many more on horseback but segmented into a number of groups. And every single person was in uniform. There were only four guards at the door, so that seemed a little excessive. There was a carriage that went by, not sure if the Queen was in it, which could have explained today’s elaborate ceremony. There were also probably 20,000 or more people in the crowd around the plaza outside the palace. Hard to tell how many were tourists.
Made a stop at St. Paul’s to see it. Saw the Tate Modern across the Thames directly south and decided to go visit it. Very interesting to see what is considered art now. Among the highlights were a mirror (yes, just a mirror), and the highly technical piece that was making a spontaneous, but premeditated cut into a canvas. Not multiple cuts, just a single curved cut. It was also rather unclear why there was a huge open space on one side of the building that spanned all of the levels.
With that, the time in London came to a close. Just a tube ride back to St. Pancras, and a wait to the train where I wrote 95% of this post (outside of the pictures).
I am now in Paris finishing this post. The internet is intermittent here, so it looks like there will not be any pictures in this post. If the computers in the lobby are faster, I may use them in the next couple of days and put the pictures out as a separate post.