London - May 2006

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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.


Day 1
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.


Day 2
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 audience.
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 :)


Day 3
And the other half the next day? Well, not 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 flood-lighted!







UNESCO sites visited on the journey:

Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church

Tower of London




London's official website:

A good map of the city:




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