Date Added: 23.04.2008 Language:
In the beginning there was...Egypt?
This trip came up without long planning
beforehand, for a change. A BBC series about ancient Egypt
led to a sudden desire to visit the British Museum,
which houses several real artifacts found there in the 18th
and 19th century. Ancient culture is thrilling and
interesting (in my own book), so it was time to pay London a
visit. No books or maps were purchased beforehand this time,
but various internet sites were instead visited, mostly for
getting an overview over what to visit in a rather short
time (2 1/2 days) and knowing how to get here and there.
This trip report will not be very extensive, as the trip was
a short and impulsive one.
The flight to London was over in around 2
hours, but Heathrow airport still is far from the most
impressive one to see (my view hasn`t changed since my last
visit in 2002). From there, the Heathrow Express train left
quite often, going directly to Paddington station. It didn`t
take long to get there, but the speed was obviously less
than what is usual there, since a polite voice on the
speaker excused over and over again for this due to
maintenance work. It was still travelling at nearly twice
the speed of the one in Rome ;)
The best time to learn a new subway system is definitely not
when one of the lines is partly closed, and there is
re-routing going on. After a bit of waiting at Paddington
station, we decided to take the District Line instead of the
Circle Line, since the yellow coloured Circle one never
showed up going in the desired direction. Apart from that,
the subway system (or `The Tube` as the locals call it) is
really easy to get around with and very efficient, as well
as frequent (reminding of the impeccable system in Vienna).
A total of 12 lines are in existence, with lots of
crossings. For short stays, one might consider using a
single-day pass, which doesn`t cost much (around £7 or
so), and allows you unlimited travel within the network.
Just remember to keep on to the ticket, as you will need it
both to get in and out as well as cross between lines.
The downside is of course that using the subway is a great
way of not seeing London, so to speak - but you may want to
choose an open-air double-decker bus or walk around on foot
to see various sights. Use it for getting around quickly -
and with this available, you may even choose to stay
somewhat less centrally located.
The choice of hotel was the Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt,
which is situated in Knightsbridge, near Kensington Gardens.
The hotel itself has a neat facade and a nice lobby which
definitely reminds you of where you are (Victorian style).
Having read brochures from local travel agencies which
warned about the standard and size of rooms in London
accommodation in relation to the price, this did indeed seem
to be right. For a Radisson hotel, the room wasn`t overly
specious (including the bathroom), and the cheap package
price at £119 per night seemed to result in a room
which cannot have been used overly much. The airconditioning
seemed somewhat weak, but the alternative of opening up a
window was not viable, as the room was right next to a
ventilation shaft which sounded like an F-16 before takeoff.
After one seriously bad night and waking up with a splitting
headache the next day due to lack of fresh air, it was time
to call for maintenance to check if something was wrong.
Indeed it was - the guy who came to check it (they were fast
though) found a 1-2 inch thick carpet of dust covering the
actual outlet into the room, almost suggesting that the room
was never used, a theory backed up by a broken minibar. My
impression was therefore `expect to pay a lot for a little`
when considering hotel standard..breakfast buffet was ok
enough, one continental side and one english side which was
way too heavy for starting the day with.
The corridors in the hotel were quite narrow, definitely
suggesting the origin as a private house/villa.
The afternoon was spent visiting the Musem
of Natural History, a mammoth building which was only two
blocks away from our choice of hotel. It was quite an
impressive building, matching the posh neighbourhood and all
its Victorian style buildings. A free entrance doesn`t hurt
- but the point of going there would be to satisfy my old
interest in (which still hasn`t disappeared) dinosaurs, and
we were indeed greeted with a life-size replica of a
Diplodocus Carnegii skeleton once inside the lobby.
The various dinosaur halls were lined up
with a lot of skeletons mostly, but also a few life-sized
animatronic ones, and it was fun to see them move and
`roar`. The highlight of the exhibition was an animatronic
T-Rex, where lighting changed to suit the atmosphere..and he
did look a bit hungry :)
Finding the exit easily was another matter
entirely..after walking around various rooms, hallways and
stairs, an unplanned visit was paid to the zoology section
with a huge blue whale in the middle, and finding the way
out from there was even worse as there was only one way to
go - around the entire room in search of the next exit but
in the end..the shortened museum trip was completed.
We had already decided beforehand (as
usual by now) to look up some Chinese dining, and Soho has a
bunch of them, so after a `Tube` trip and a hop off at
Leceister Square, it was but a short walk to get there.
`Imperial China` was the choice of restaurant, and it seemed
to be one of the better in the area, as it was more
retreated from the busy, narrow street, and had its own
small pond and fountain. As always, the food is great in
such places, so it is hard to really go wrong anyway.
Half of London in one day! The day started
with a walk towards Kensington Gardens. On the way there, a
building which might resemble Hogwarth`s School of
Witchcraft is passed - this is the University of Music, and
is quite a cool looking building. Next to this is the well
known Royal Albert Hall, a concert hall. Directly opposite
from this across the street, and marking the entrance to
Kensington Gardens stands the Royal Albert Memorial, which
doesn`t look that big until you get near it. A short trip
via Kensington Palace (Lady Diana`s mansion) was done,
before crossing over into Hyde Park (the two are nearly
one), a very pleasant stroll and a chance to get away from
most of the traffic noise - only the constant sound of
airplanes bound for Heathrow can be heard. In the park there
is also a pretty large lake called The Serpentine, which
gives a lot of life to the landscape. Right after the
eastern exit of Hyde Park one crosses over to Green Park,
and next to this is Buckingham Palace with its contingent of
strict looking Beefeters (not beef-eaters) with their
characteristic headwear. The flag was up showing the Queen
was "home", but we decided not to seek an
A bit of a walk further to the south, and the city part
called Westminster was reached - the centre of most of the
important on-goings, at least politically :)
The Houses of Parliament was actually a lot more impressive
looking when up close than one is used to seeing on the TV
or on pictures - the structure is very large, and Big Ben
also looked nice and shiny.
We decided to get a bird`s eye view of the
capital, and right across the bridge from Westminster stands
one of the more modern additions to the skyline - the giant
ferris wheel known as the London Eye. Financed by British
Airways, it was finished for public right after the turn of
the millennium. It is visited by 3.5 million people
annually, and once inside a capsule, it will bring you 135
metres up in the air, giving a very good overview of the
city itself for around half an hour. Some structures look
different from up here, while others come into view that
aren`t easily seen from down below. One of these would be
the building known as `The Gherkin` - a cuecumber-shaped odd
structure which is quite advanced power consumption wise,
and houses a company which is `insurance` for insurance
companies, or a reinsurance company (Swiss Re to be
precise). At 180 metres, it is the second tallest building
in the city itself.
After a walk along both sides of the river
Thames along the Houses of Parliament, the return trip to
the hotel was made, as by this time, it was already late
afternoon and time for Soho-dinner :)
And the other half the next day? Well, not
quite..it started out by going to the British Museum, the
actual reason for going in the first place. After visiting
several sarcophaguses and mummies, we were beginning to
wonder where the other artifacts were, then we discovered
there was a large exhibition on the first floor as well. The
statue of Ramses II was found there, at least as impressive
looking as it appeared in the BBC series, and it must have
been quite a challenge to transport in the 1800s.
The tale of the Rosetta Stone deserves
special mention as well. Not only was it to be the source
for deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs, but there was also
a race going on between a young French genius named
Jean-Paul Champollion and an English guy named Thomas Young.
Much to the dismay of the British, it was the French who won
the `race`, but the original Rosetta Stone is on display in
the museum, and attracts quite large crowds.
From here, a return back to the wharf area
along the Thames was done, including a stop at the portico
of St Paul`s Cathedral, then along narrow twists and turns
to the Tower of London (much less impressive looking than
other castles seen on previous journeys), across the famous
Tower Bridge (quite impressive looking), over to the other
side, which was definitely more modern in look, housing the
battleship HMS Belfast, and another peculiar looking
building which looks like a giant globe made of glass and
steel - a typical bank-structure, one might be inclined to
think - but surprisingly enough this modern building is
actually London`s City Hall.
The end of the day was marked by a quick
stroll for some night shoots - both the Royal Albert Hall
and the Museum of Natural History looked marvellous when
UNESCO sites visited on the journey:
Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret`s Church
London`s official website: http://www.visitlondon.co.uk/
A good map of the city: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/colourmap.pdf