Journal: Donna & Sandy in London
"Arriving, Big Bus Tour"
PREVIOUS STOP: AMSTERDAM
Our flight from Amsterdam to London was just over an hour long. As we were making the approach to land, the plane suddenly dropped – enough so that we were lifted out of our seats. The plane quickly started to climb as the co-pilot came announced that we wouldn’t be able to land then. We’re not really sure what happened but we circled around the airport and finally landed safely.
After clearing immigration and picking up our luggage we got a taxi to our apartment. It was really more of a studio than an apartment – Vancouver Studios - a large room with a bed, small kitchenette, etc. It was located in Bayswater – a great area. We unpacked and then went to explore the area around the apartment. We were really close to two underground lines, a mall with movie theaters, and several restaurants including no less then 8 Indian restaurants within 4 blocks! There were also plenty of tourist shops, a few grocery stores, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Pizza Hut. We had everything within a few blocks of us.
The next day we took the Big Bus Tour. It was an open double-decker (hop on/hop off) tour bus. We passed by several places we would go back to but got off for a Thames River Cruise. It started at Tower of London pier and ended at the pier by the Parliament. It was absolutely freezing! There was nothing particularly special about the buildings we passed – or really most of the buildings in London. (There were some noticeable similarities to buildings in Mumbai.)
We walked around the Parliament – which is an interesting building with its spirals. It is one of London’s most recognizable buildings probably due to its clock tower which houses the bell, Big Ben. Most people think the clock tower is Big Ben, which is not the case. Foreigners are not permitted inside the Parliament so we made our way over to Westminster Abbey. WA is a church that contains the remains of many royals including Mary, Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth I, etc. It was not a beautiful church. Actually we both thought it was a little creepy. In recent years it was where Princess Diana’s funeral was held so some of you may recognize it from that.
"London Eye, Tower Bridge/Of London, Harrod's"
The next day we went to the London Eye. Sponsored by British Airways, it was built to celebrate the millennium. It is a huge Ferris Wheel with 32 capsules that hold up to 25 people each. At 135 metres high, it is continuously moving and takes 30 minutes to do one revolution. Normally I am not fond of heights but for some reason I hardly noticed how high we were. I’m not sure if it was because we were moving so slowly or because we were enclosed. The Eye is situated right on the Thames River diagonally across from the Parliament. We had fairly long views from the top but as I said before – the buildings were unspectacular.
We started walking from the Eye to the Tower Bridge. It was getting to be a really long walk so we hopped a bus and got off close to the bridge. We walked across the bridge. It’s not very long and strangely the cables and upper walkway are blue! A short distance from the other side of the bridge is the Tower of London which was both a fort and a prison. We went into the various buildings and towers including the Bloody Tower, the White Tower and the Queen’s Quarters. My favorite though was the Jewel House. Inside were fabulous crowns including the Imperial Crown of India. With over 6,000 diamonds- and other gems - it was commissioned by King George V, as Emperor of India, when he attended the Delhi Durbar in 1911. I also liked the Yeoman Guards and the resident ravens.
We took a bus to Harrods, London’s most famous department store. It is said that you can buy anything you want there; if they don’t have it, they will get it for you. We went to the food court which is quite amazing. We stopped for a cappuccino and a real Krispy Kreme donut! The store is so huge and since we already had enough luggage decided not to buy anything. (Harrods is owned by Mohamed Al-Fayed. His son Dodi, was killed with Princess Diana. MA-F has always been outspoken in his belief that their deaths were part of a conspiracy. Inside Harrods’ is a monument to Dodi and Diana and a large book where people have written messages to Diana. I’m sure in the 10 years since her death, there are dozens of these books. There is still a huge fascination with Diana and all over London her face adorns everything from postcards to coffee mugs.)
"Portobello Market, St. Paul's Cathedral, Pub"
Lining both sides of Portobello Road are antique stores and in front of them are stalls - most selling antiques as well. We walked and walked and walked. We ended up in other markets and flea markets – that sold everything from fruits and vegetables to Bollywood movies to “designer” fashions. The designer was the person at the stall selling the goods – and most of the fashions were really just weird. London, by the way really does have a style of its own. The fashions and hair styles are different than mainland Europe and/or the US. Many of the guys looked like they were stuck in the 60’s with their pointy shoes and skinny pants – and most had short hair.
After walking the markets for a couple of hours we headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is a really beautiful (and huge) church with several small chapels on either side. We climbed the 259 steps up to the whispering gallery. The whispering gallery is up in the first dome of the church. You are supposed to be able to sit on one side and whisper to someone on the other side – 107 feet away. We tried and tried but weren’t able to hear each other at all.
We walked a short distance to Ye Olde London Pub for lunch. We both had fish n chips. It, like almost all of the food in London, was not very good. I was so disappointed since I had been looking forward to F & C since we arrived in London. (By the way, not only was the food pretty awful in London, so was the service!)
"Oxford Circus, Buckingham Palace, Khan's"
After lunch we took the bus to Oxford Circus. (Circus is really a traffic circle. In this case it’s where Oxford and Regent Streets meet.) We took both bus and underground during our time in London. The underground was okay – not as good as Paris’ metros, but if you were traveling from one end of the city to the other it was the better choice since a bus would take forever!) We walked around Oxford Street – with its many, many clothing stores – for a short while. Then we headed to Buckingham Palace. From the outside the palace is really unimpressive - not an interesting building at all. Although it is open to the public for a few weeks in the summer, it was not open while we were there. We didn’t see the changing of the guard either, but did see a few of the famous guards in their guardhouses inside the palace gates. We walked from the palace to the closest metro station – by Westminster Abbey. This happened to be the procession route for Princess Diana’s funeral. I remembered seeing it on TV and it seemed so much longer than it did walking it ourselves.
We headed back towards our apartment stopping at Khan’s, an Indian restaurant in our neighborhood, to pick up some dinner. It is supposedly one of the best Indian restaurants, is always very crowded, and was actually pretty good.
"Kensington Palace, Brick Lane, Eurostar"
We got a late start the next day. We went to Kensington Palace, the last home of Princess Diana. Her face is used to advertise visiting the Palace, but there is so little of her inside. The only (very few) private rooms open to the public were from long ago royals. The rooms were not “original” and really weren’t very nice at all. While we were there, there was a special exhibit of photos of Princess Diana and about 8 of her gowns. The photos were taken shortly before her death and really were very nice.
We headed to Brick Lane. It was supposed to be full of Indian stores, restaurants, etc. It wasn’t in a great area and although we walked several blocks didn’t find anything of interest so we took a bus to Piccadilly Circus. Piccadilly Circus is known for its video displays and neon signs. It’s supposed to be like NY’s Times Square. It doesn’t even come close!! By the time we got there most of the stores were closed so we just ended up going back to the apartment to pack.
After breakfast the next morning, we checked out of our hotel, and – with all our luggage – took a taxi to the train station to catch the Eurostar – the (English) Channel Tunnel train – that connects the UK to mainland Europe - Paris - where we would catch our flight to the U.S. The high speed train journey took less than 3 hours with 21 minutes being spent underwater in the very dark tunnel.
Overall we had a great time exploring London and all of the rest of the places we had visited over the past 7 weeks. But there was still much more to see and do. Maybe next time....