The Date: 15th - 17th March 2003
The Place: London
The Occasion: Sightseeing
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I've always been a bit wary of London; basically, I've never really liked the place. It always seemed polluted, full of busy strangers, no green spaces and it rained incessantly. Its only saving grace was that it had a lot of cool stuff happening. I have to admit that this opinion was not really founded out of fact or even personal experience, since I've only visited it properly a few times. Still, when the opportunity to visit London with my friend Katherine presented itself, and the weather forecast was excellent, I couldn't really pass it up since I was interested to see if it was really that bad.
As these things go, London turned out to be pretty good. So this first photo is from close to where we stayed, just looking out towards the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's.
The Tate Modern Museum is also right next to the Millennium Bridge, so we had a look inside; I was pretty eager to see the huge new installation called Marsyas, and it was indeed very impressive. We had dinner at the restaurant at the top of the building; pretty decent, but the highlight of the evening was playing around with the highly neat Mathmos glowing orbs they had there. I mused about how many people try to take the orbs with them, whether these thefts were amortised into our dinner bill, and thus whether we had the right - no, obligation - to avail ourselves of an orb. Or two. Alas, my dining companion was unyielding on this issue. Maybe another time, I told myself.
I was very pleased with the efforts that London has made to make itself look good at night. From the top of the Tate Modern you can get a great view with all of the riverside and bridge lit up; here's a shot from the front of the Tate Modern.
The next day, we decided to try and get some tourist information to figure out what would be good to visit. You'd think that London, being one of the world's major capitals, would make it relatively easy to get tourist information. Not so. We had to do a fair bit of travelling and asking around to finally reach a decent tourist information place, although once we did get there people were very helpful and we got a good stash of booklets and maps.
While there, we also tried to get seats for the theatre that night. Unfortunately there are only matinee performances on Sundays, and since the weather was uncommonly good, we didn't want to spend the day inside. I believe there was some talk about seeing some play called 'My Fair Lady' or some such, didn't make much sense to me, &c. &c. Oh, and we also considering doing a double-decker bus tour of London, and I must say that we hid our variously astonished and appalled expressions quite well when we were told it cost £15.
So anyway, the point of this story is that we eventually made it to the British Museum in the late morning, which, along with all other major public museums in the UK, is now free to enter. I recall having a good reason for wanting to go to the British Museum, but I forget what it was. In any case, we had a good time and caught a talk coinciding with the end of Science Week on Egyptian Mummies. I can't say that I learned that much, since it was aimed mostly at kids, but I was impressed by the speaker, who was evidently a master at keeping kids and their parents interested and awake.
When you first enter the British Museum, your reaction is first one of shock, then of awe*. An enormous glass structure has been placed over the entire inner court, and it looks magnificent. Definitely not something you were expecting. The contents of the museum are the usual stuff, things that the British Empire managed to pick up while gallivanting around the world. All very interesting.
* I use this term not in any attempt to be funny or topical given the Iraq war; you really do feel shocked, and then awed.
What was really interesting was the Rosetta Stone. When I remembered that they had it on show, it became my life's mission (albeit short-term) to find it. Which I did.
In the afternoon we visited Hyde Park, which was very pleasant. I have to admit that there are quite a few parks and green squares dotted around London; I must have missed them all on the other times I've visited. Afterwards, we checked out Covent Garden (deserted) and got dinner. Watched a bit of 'Rising Sun' with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes.
On Monday morning we made our way to the London Eye. A note to British Airways: you would do well if you made it easier to get to the London Eye from Waterloo tube station. Given the fact that you can't see the Eye from there, and there are basically no signs telling you where to go, I am willing to bet that a significant number of tourists never actually make it there and just give up. This is not a favourable situation, and you should do something about it. And while you're at it, go and put up more signs telling tourists how to get to the British Museum. It's all very well thinking to yourself, "Well, they'll find it eventually if we put one sign here," or, "Surely the tourists will know to keep on walking in a straight line for five miles after seeing one sign?" but remember this - tourists are in constant need of assurance that they are actually heading in the right direction. In conclusion, you're all incompetent.
So. We did make it to the London Eye in time for the tickets we booked, and here's a shot from the outside. Incidentally, whenever I see or think of the London Eye, I always end up calling it the Millennium Wheel, which is surely what it is?
The London Eye is a worthwhile use of half an hour, and I'm pleased to say that the whole boarding process and ride was very smooth. I was particularly pleased with the fact that they keep the capsule extremely clean. When we boarded, there was hardly anyone else around; in fact, the next capsule along was completely empty. Ours only had about half a dozen people in it. I also managed to pick up a 2003 calendar for the London Eye for the princely sum of £1, which is probably a lot less than what it originally sold for. Exactly why calendars drop in price so precipitously after the start of a new year is something I will never understand; it's not as if they immediately become useless just because you haven't possessed them for the full 365 days of the year. Plus, they have some really nice photos.
Katherine on the Tower Bridge, looking towards the London Eye...
...and then there's me.
Me again, at Horse Guards, which we visited on our way to the Palace.
And finally sitting on top of one of the lions in Trafalgar Square. I have to admit that I'm surprised at the number of photos I have of myself here - it doesn't happen often. Anyway, Trafalgar Square was unfortunately embroiled in construction work which is due to the closure of one of the roads there.
Just before I left to go back to Cambridge (which was a horrific journey of which I will never speak) we went back to the Tate for me to pick up a framed print (it was in a really, really nice bag, not that that influenced by purchase decision in any way whatsoever) and get some overpriced but very tasty caramel peanuts.
I had a very fun time in London, and my opinion of the city has risen much higher. Probably the excellent weather and lack of crowds had a lot to do with it. Mostly though I put it down to the ability to have a decent, unhurried look around what the city had to offer.