The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

More impressions of London, and sights in a day

I am really liking London. It is full of old historical buildings yet not in a dingy decrepit way. It is pretty easy to get around on foot (better than the underground tube especially with a toddler and stroller), and the streetscape is lovelier than Hong Kong's. In addition, the people are quite amicable and a high proportion of the population is good-looking. Now, that might seem like a superficial thing to say, but it's true: most everyone I encounter of all races, genders, sizes and ages – whether on the streets, at the supermarket or on the tube – they are blessed with natural good looks. I would love to know the reason why. Taking the underground tube is an experience on its own (especially with a toddler), and last Thursday I took the underground tube to the Natural History Museum. On my own, with Zak and the stroller. Both stations at either end had no elevators or even escalators, just lots of stairs. Fortunately, the stroller is pretty light and easy to collapse, and Zak can walk the stairs fine so it wasn't too bad, and I had a few passers-by offering to lend a hand. That's the other nice thing about the people in London – strangers offering to help when they see that help may be needed, and I often saw people offering a seat on the tube to someone else who needed it more. At the museum, we saw lots of dinosaurs, but the boy's attention waned really quickly so we didn't stay very long at the museum (I also didn't fancy Zak falling asleep in the stroller on the way home which would make it rather difficult to do the stairs between street level and underground).

(Images are unedited, taken from both the dSLR and the point-and-shoot)

The Natural History Museum (which is an architectural beauty itself), and the stairs we took from the underground tube to street-level:

Since we only had one weekend in London, we had a full day planned for Saturday: to see most of the sights of central London on foot (the Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace) and to squeeze in afternoon tea at Sketch (because having afternoon tea is such an English thing to do, and Sketch is one of the best places in London city to go for afternoon tea). Shortly after arriving at Westminster by the underground tube, I made the unfortunate discovery that my dSLR AND my point-and-shoot cameras were both running low on battery power. To make matters worse, we realised from seeing the large number of police presence on the streets together with people holding banners and handing out flyers that some huge protest was scheduled to be held that day. Since this was our only weekend in London, we had no choice but to go ahead with the plans and to put up with the craziness that was happening around us.

The sight of the famous London clock tower that greeted us as we exited from the underground level at Westminster station:

The beautiful and historical Westminster Abbey:

The wide tree-lined road leading towards Buckingham Palace. The gorgeous St James Park is on the right:

Encounter with a cute squirrel in St James Park on the way to the palace:

More cute animals in St James Park:

Buckingham Palace and the golden statue of the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of the palace just beyond St James Park:

The ornate gate shutting off the public from the palace grounds at Buckingham:

One of the most boring (but probably well-paid) jobs – a palace guard on duty:

Takeaway lunch at Inn The Park (yes, that is the name of the restaurant/cafe) in St James Park included a butternut squash and vegetable pasty which would have been nicer if it had a meat filling. Smoked salmon and cream cheese made for a simple but good sandwich filling. The salads were about as exciting as salads can get, and nothing special really:

Heading out to the palace and having lunch at St James Park kept us away from the main areas of the protest, but we couldn't avoid it because our route coincided with the protest march route. I personally thought the protest would be relatively civil and low-key (having no previous knowledge of what it was), so imagine how I felt when we stepped out from our arvo tea at Sketch to be greeted with the sight of police squads decked out in protective anti-riot gear (complete with helmet and shield) marching out to Regent Street where some riot had apparently been happening while we were enjoying our quaint little afternoon tea experience. Police vehicles and many businesses in the area were the target of unsightly paint-bombs. Not very pleasant, especially when you have to consider the safety of your 2-year-old, but it certainly added an interesting dimension to our London sightseeing experience.

Cops in anti-riot gear, standing at the ready for more riots. Permission was asked and granted to take a photo of them (Rob informed me that I could get my camera confiscated otherwise!):

At one end of Regent Street, which would probably be buzzing with traffic had it not been shut off to motor traffic for the protest march. Love the way the building curves so gracefully along with the road curvature:

We also paid a visit to Hamleys Toy Store, which is heaven for the little people (and big people who are young at heart):

We then walked home via Oxford Street, which took us about 1 ¼ hours. All in all, it was a good day. I was pretty pleased with how much we managed to fit in one day. I just love exploring new cities on foot because I would miss too much if I took the train, bus or taxi everywhere. You can even feel the vibe of the local culture and atmosphere just by walking through the area. This method of travel is not for everyone, and needless to say, I slept very soundly that night. We looked at a bit more of London on Sunday too, but that will be another post for now.

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