Tag: london

Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath

Today I took the first of two full-day tours of areas outside of London. The tour today was a tour of Windsor castle, the primary residence of the Queen; Stonehenge, the oldest relic in the U.K., and the city of Bath and the Roman baths therewithin. If this entry is less than coherent, keep in mind that it has been a long day and I am writing it while sitting in the hotel lounge, having already consumed a shot of Jose Cuervo Gold (no Patron, I’m afraid) and half a pint of Old Specked Hen.

And for some reason, I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of the comments on this post, if any, will focus on my consumption of alcohol, and not the fascinating places I visited. But I could be wrong.

Come join me on this journey

The British Museum

It was supposed to rain today so I decided to spend my time indoors, and what better place to go than the world-famous British Museum, which has been around since the 18th century. It wasn’t raining when I headed out this morning, but it was overcast, with dark clouds. Nevertheless, I decided to walk to the museum because (a) I like walking, and (b) there was a strike on the subway line that takes you there from my hotel and this way I could avoid the crowds. It took about 40 minutes to walk there and I got there right about opening time.

It’s a massive museum, not as large as the Metropolitan Museum of Art of the American Museum of Natural History, I think, but still quite big, and then central hall they have is very impressive. There were certain things that I wanted to see: stuff from the Assyrian empire, Egyptian empire, to say nothing of all of the headstones and pieces they have from the Parthenon in Athens. It was really cool to be able to see all of these things up close.

One interesting thing about the museum is that many of the objects are placed right there where you can easily touch them. There are signs all over saying not to touch them, but you could if you wanted to and much to my dismay, many people completely ignored the signs right in front of them and touched the various artifacts, some of which were nearly 3,000 years old.

In fact, I have to say that I was rather disappointed with the majority of the visitors to this museum (most of whom must be visitors to this country, like myself). Adults and children alike seemed more interested in photographing themselves and their friends and family in front of each and every one of the objects, without any regard for what they were photographing. Rarely did I see people reading the display cards in front of the items (perhaps they all have some innate knowledge for what they were looking at that I lack). To most of the people surrounding me, getting their picture taken standing in front of a 2,700 year old Assyrian statue was just like getting your picture taken with Ronald McDonald. When I stood before these objects, however, I could feel their age. These were marvels of their time, so much so that we collect and preserve them today. Would the people who slaved away creating these carvings and statues have ever thought that their labor would have outlasted them literally thousands of years?

You can take pictures inside the museum, but they are for personal use only and they ask that they not be posted online. I only took a handful of pictures, which I can share with friends who are interested, via email. One object I did photograph was the first object I saw when the doors into the west wing finally opened: the Rosetta Stone. People crowded around it snapping thousands of photographs, but how many people knew what they were looking at, and how many were told that simply must see the Rosetta Stone without even knowing what it was. It was smaller than I had pictured it in my mind, but it was no less impressive.

Perhaps I’m just too sentimental over artifacts of history. I’ve read so much history that I have a sweeping sense of the continuity of it all, how we today who drive our BMW’s and watch our Sony HD TV’s, are linked to those men and women who, thousands of years ago, built the pillars of temples, carved their folklore in stone and told us what their lives were like. I wonder if there was someone back in those days, who walked among the relics of their ancients, and wondered at the marvels of their ancestors and the general lack of appreciation of their contributions to culture.

To Windsor, Bath, and Stonehenge tomorrow

It’s official. Tomorrow I will be spending the day (a long day, from 8 AM – 8 PM) touring Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge. I made one last effort at getting train tickets to Paris this morning, but was thwarted by a strike on one of the train lines. To be honest, I really didn’t try that hard this morning. Anyway, tomorrow and Sunday are both full touring days so I probably won’t be updating the blog as frequently. But I will try and get evening updates in before I go to bed.


On my way back from the British Museum earlier today (about which I shall have more to say later), I passed by a massive Waterstone Books in London, in front of which a hundred or more kids and teens had lined up for the last Harry Potter book, which goes on sale at midnight tonight. There were news crews there filming the line, and the kids were all singing songs.

Oh, did I mention is was raining buckets at the time!

I went into the bookstore to buy Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I have read only oone Harry Potter book, the first one. But I have seen, and enjoyed all of the movies, and between the latest movie, which I saw here in London a few days ago, and the fanfare behind the final book, I simply couldn’t resist. It will give me something fun to read on the long plane ride home on Monday.

Anyway, people were crowding under the awning of the bookstore to get out of the torrential downpour, and then amusing themselves watching these kids in line. They were getting soaked, but they seemed happy as clams. And then, in front of the news cameras, Waterstone’s pulled what I believed was a major marketing coup. One of the store managers came out with a bullhorn and standing there in the rain, announced that everyone in line who had been given a number (I presume they all had), was going to be allowed into the store to get out of the rain. A massive cheer went up and the kids in line began singing a song about how great Waterstone’s was. And all of it was caught on camera, of course.

For the next two days, I have all-day tours of England planned, but I’m curious enough to consider heading over to Waterstone’s tonight at midnight just to say that I was part of all of the hubbub. Oh, and if they haven’t sold out of all of their copied in the first 30 seconds, maybe I’ll even pick one up.

The Plan

I was up early this morning and worked out what I was going to do the rest of my stay. I worked with the hotel concierge, who was incredibly helpful, and who made many of the arrangements, but try as he might (and he tried three different places), all the day tours to Paris for Saturday were booked. So, I am still trying to decide what to do on Saturday. In the meantime, here is the plan for the rest of my stay:

Thursday (today): I am taking a bus tour of London. It’s The Big Bus and it is what the hotel recommended as the best of the bus tours of London. It’s one of those tours that you can hop and and hop off to see the various sights. Aside from doing the complete tour, the sights that I am definitely going to see are: The Tower of London, London Dungeon, and the London Eye. Depending on my schedule, I may also try the one of the three walks that are included. In the evening, I am probably going to do the “Sinister London” tour, which, among other things, includes Jack the Ripper and the East End. This tour includes a “supper” option at a riverside pub with a traditional British menu, so at least I’ll get to try some of the stuff.

Friday: the forecast is for rain tomorrow, so I was planning to make tomorrow a museum day (as I’m sure everyone else is). Museums that I’d definitely like to see are: The British Museum (since half of Greece and Rome is contained therewithin), the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum.

Saturday: as I said I was trying to go to Paris on Saturday, but all of the tours that I could find were booked up. I guess it’s a popular destination. I’m considering other options as this point, but it will definitely be something outside of London (Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge are one possibility).

Sunday: I have booked an all-day tour of Oxford, Stratford and Warwick Castle, the highlights of which include: visit to Shakespeare’s birthplace, extended visit at Warwick Castle, a walking tour of Oxford and a visit to Christ Church. I paid for the lunch option, which includes lunch at a traditional English pub.

Monday, of course, I head home. I arranged for a car to the airport. I have a noon flight out of Heathrow, business class, and I’m supposed to arrive at Washington/Dulles around 4 PM. I’ll let you know what I end up deciding on Saturday. In the meantime, I have a Big Bus to catch.

A walk in the Park

Last night at about 8 PM, I took a walk through Green and St. James parks and it was really quite amazing. I can’t quite put my finger on how these parks are different from, say, Central Park, in New York, but the difference is there. People seem more relaxed. Businessmen and women can be seen sitting in the park in their business attire, having completed the day’s work. There is a section of The Green Park where for 2 pounds, you can rent recliner chairs for 4 hours. These chairs are brought out in the afternoon and in the evening, they are virtually all occupied, with a single man walking about collecting the fees.

There is a pond in St. James Park with large ducks and people walking around and about. The park has a quality that I can only describe as Mary Poppins-eque. You could almost imagine people standing there in the evenings, flying kites high above the city.

It was really a peaceful walk and I plan on doing it again this evening.

221B Baker Street

Pretty much everyone figured out where I was going. 221B Baker St. is where Sherlock Holmes is supposed to have lived. Here are a couple of pictures:

221B Baker Street is now the Sherlock Holmes museum. Watson would be proud!

Incidentally, I estimate that I walked a total of about 6 miles today. That’s not too bad, and gives me a good excuse for skipping the gym today.

On the shoulders of giants

Today I visited Westminster Abbey. I walked there from the hotel, crossing the Green Park, passing by Buckingham Palace, and along St. James Park until I reached the Abbey. Those of you that have seen it know that you can’t miss it. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, but I did take some pictures from outside.

On the shoulders of giants

Early morning

Tried as I might, I couldn’t sleep much later than 7 AM, and for all practical purposes, I was really up at around 6 AM. I woke up around 4:30 AM at one point and the sky was already filled with daylight, another reminder of just how far north I am. (I am also reminded that my longitude at the moment is easy to remember: I’m very close to 0 degrees of longitude, being close to Greenwich.)

I cleaned up the room a bit, showered and had some laundry sent out. It is incredibly expensive to have laundry done here in the hotel (more than it was on the cruise ship), but I just have to take a deep breath and go with the flow. Besides, I need some clean clothes to last me the rest of the week. After that, I headed down to breakfast at Bracewells, the hotel’s breakfast restaurant. For 21 pounds, I had an overwhelmingly large breakfast and it was quite good, but it’s the last time I’ll do it. I just can’t bear to spend $45 on breakfast every morning. I very much liked the English-style bacon, which is a kind of American/Canadian bacon hybrid.

When I finished breakfast, I asked where I might find a pharmacy and was directed up Piccadilly a block or so past the Underground. There, I looked for plug adapter that had a level, instead of indented face so that I could plug my camera charger and cell phone charger into it. They didn’t have any U.S. to U.K. adapters, so I continued up the street until I came across an small Indian bodega. They had exactly what I was looking for: a “tourist travel adapter”. I brought it back to the hotel and it works like a charm. Now I don’t have to stress about my phone or camera.

I’m about to plan out what to see today, and then head out for the day. It’s beautiful out at the moment, by the way, although it looks like it may rain later on in the day. I’m hoping to get some good pictures.

Arriving in London: Cheers!

Today I flew from Italy to Munich and then Munich to London. I flew Lufthansa on both flights, and both flights were very good. We were served small sandwiches and Twix bars, as well as beverages, even beer and wine at no cost, which is better than what most American airlines do. I had to pass through passport control coming through Munich, as well as through London. Why is it that most of the passport control people seem very mean and cold? It is the repetition of the job? Well, in London anyway, the woman at passport control was very pleasant and was very glad to hear I was spending the rest of my “holiday” in London.

London, here I come