London Calling Part III – The Good Life

london

 

” Woke up in London yesterday
Found myself in the city near Piccadilly
Don’t really know how I got here
I got some pictures on my phone

New names and numbers that I don’t know
Address to places like Abbey Road… ”

 

If there was a soundtrack to my time in London, this would be it.

Click to read from the beginning of the travelogue

London

Day 19/Monday

I began the morning with the free continental breakfast at the hostel. Continental is just a fancy word for cereal, bread & jam with coffee/tea/orange juice. Nonetheless, I loaded up on breakfast. I was running low on cash and there were still a few things I wanted to cross off my checklist.

Trafalgar Square

I headed back to the Emirates Stadium to grab some last minute gifts from the armoury. I could visit the stadium everyday and still not be bored. After some shopping, I took the tube into the city centre. Found myself in the city near Piccadilly…. Alright I’ll stop breaking into song but true enough I did alight at Piccadilly. After walking past numerous London gift shops, I reached Trafalgar Square.

The name of the square commemorates the historic Battle of Trafalgar, a key naval victory for the British during the Napoleonic wars. The iconic Nelson Monument rises from the middle of the square, its base guarded by four lions at each corner. Similar to the Nelson Monument atop Calton Hill in Edinburgh, they commemorate the efforts of  Admiral Nelson during the war. Admiral Nelson’s military genius was behind many victories including the Battle of Trafalgar.

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Nelson Monument

Trafalgar square is a perfect place to people watch. You get to see a diverse mix of people from tour groups to locals going about their activities.

The National Gallery

London is expensive but it still does appeal to the budget traveller in some aspects. One of them is that you get free admission to world class museums and galleries. Unlike other museums/galleries in other countries which only showcase primarily local art, the collections here in London are much more global. This is no doubt down to the British’s status as a colonial power in modern history. If you’re not a museum/art buff too bad! Once you’re bored people watching and admiring the monument, head next door into the National Gallery.

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The National Gallery

The National gallery is an art gallery as its name implies. Spanning three floors, it showcases a diverse range of art from early British to the Renaissance. You get a sampling of some of the greats in art history – Rembrandt’s self portraits, Bellini’s Doge, Michelangelo’s Entombment and of course the famous Sunflowers by Van Gogh. The visit to the National Gallery effectively took up my entire morning.

Chinatown & Soho

Chinatown is just a short walk from Trafalgar Square. I never thought I’d miss Singaporean/Asian food. 3 weeks away left me craving for the familiar taste of home. Even though I was returning home in a few days, I gave in to my cravings. There are numerous Asian eateries in Chinatown, all offering food at affordable prices.

Chinatown
Chinatown

I decided on a small eatery slightly off the main street after circling around. The 4.99 pound buffet sign up front won me over. This eatery was rather peculiar. An old Chinese lady sat at the front of the shophouse behind a counter, chattering away in Cantonese while counting money. A bald Italian man decked in a sharp suit took walk ins and led customers to their tables. He was fluent in Cantonese too, shouting my drink order in Canto to the Chinese kitchen staff. Interesting.

The clientele were mainly Chinese with the occasional Caucasian. The food was average but when you’ve been away from home for so long, average automatically transforms to a gastronomical delight. You get a decent range of dishes including traditional Chinese classics like fried rice and stir fried dishes such as black bean sauce pork. There a few other eateries in Chinatown which operate on a similar concept so take your pick. If you can’t decide, just look for the bald Italian man in a sharp suit.The buffet is a good value for money option.

The West End

I idled the afternoon away window shopping around the area. England is really a football crazy nation. All sports shops have a whole level dedicated solely to football. When evening arrived, I took the tube to Leicester Square. Leicester Square is the tube station for the West End. Tickets to a musical do not come cheap. To save money, head to the TKTS booth located at the chalet-like building overground. TKTS is run by the theatre society of London and offer discounted tickets to West End shows.Turn up on the day of the show itself to enjoy a larger discount or the day before if you want to play it safe. Some popular shows might sell out especially if they just opened. Unfortunately, I was unaware of this and bought my tickets at the booth inside the tube station. They do offer discounts but I have an inkling that TKTS would have offered me a much better deal.

There are so many shows everyday that you’ll be spoilt for choice. After some deliberation, I settled on Les Miserables.

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The West End at night is a show in itself. Massive neon billboards surround you. Flashing lights. It was quite a spectacle.

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West End

 

I found Queen’s theatre in no time. The massive illuminated billboard with young Corsette on it certainly helped.

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Queen’s Theatre

The crowd was slowly filtering into the theatre hall when I arrived.

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Even though I was seated in the last row, I still managed to get a decent view of the stage. A Japanese girl soon joined me and we started talking while waiting for the show to begin. As it drew nearer to the start of the show, the theatre reached full capacity. A full house on a Monday night. The musical must be really good.

It wasn’t good, it was fantastic. I watched the movie back home but the musical eclipsed it completely. Certain segments of the musical left a majority of the audience in tears, including my new found Japanese friend who took out a packet of tissues. It certainly helped that the theatre was small.The cast was barely an arm’s length away from the front row. This allowed for a very intimate performance. The live orchestra and dynamic sets elevated the performance to a whole new level. Mesmerizing. The entire audience rose to offer a standing ovation at the end of the play.

I grabbed yet another microwave dinner from Marks & Spencer on the way back to the hostel and called it a day.

Day 20/Tuesday

Halfway through my breakfast, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around and was greeted by a familiar face. It was Carla! She mentioned earlier on when we met on the walking tour that she was considering moving to my hostel. This was due to “naked men” in her dorm as she put it. It was still a surprise to see her. Coincidence seems to be a central theme in the past few days.

Carla and I decided to explore the city together. She had a few stops to visit and I had a few places of my own so we both created an itinerary on the spot.

Camden Market

First up was a visit to Camden Market.

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Camden Market

Camden Market is massive. Food shops, souvenir shops, clothes shops, antique shops – They have it all! Carla needed to get a new carry on suitcase and some gifts so we surveyed the area. I spotted a lot of interesting handicrafts. A wooden carved phone cover, hand made organizers and clocks made from recycled melted beer bottles. Too bad I was broke and all I managed to get was a 2 pound ” I LOVE LONDON” t-shirt( thanks to my awesome haggling skills). After Carla bought her suitcase from a Chinese seller, we went in search for lunch. She wasn’t too hungry so I bought takeaway from a Thai food seller and we settled down at one of the riverside benches.

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Camden River Canal

Abbey Road

We returned to the hostel to put down our stuff before heading to our next stop – Abbey Road. This ordinary pedestrian zebra crossing rose to international fame after it was featured on the cover of The Beatles Abbey Road album.

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Album Cover

 

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Abbey Road

The studio in which they recorded the album is just down the road.

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Abbey Road Studios

Abbey Road is still a functioning road these days so be careful when you’re trying to imitate the album cover. Drivers in general are cautious and polite. They’ll patiently wait for you take your shot. Carla, a huge Beatles fan was bursting with excitement. We took turns taking shots of each other making the crossing. Do expect a few crossings before you get a decent picture!

The newest member of the beatles!
The newest member of the Beatles!

221B Baker Street

A short 5 minute walk north from the main entrance of Baker Street tube station lies the famous 221B Baker Street.

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In search of Sherlock

Immortalized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary masterpiece Sherlock Holmes, 221B Baker Street is the protagonist’s official residence. The building today serves as a Sherlock Holmes museum.

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Baker Street

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Admission to the main building is free. This is the office/lobby cum gift shop.The museum located adjacent to it on the right cost 10 pounds.You’ll enter the building through the iconic front door complete with the unit number embossed in gold lettering.

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221B Baker Street

The museum exhibits a wide range of Holmes memorabilia such as the pipe. We didn’t visit though. The main building does showcase a limited range of the memorabilia. Take home a Sherlock Holmes name card as a souvenir ( It’s free).

Natural History Museum

Located in the upscale Kensington district amongst numerous diplomatic embassies is the Natural History Museum. The Victorian architecture of the building itself should be placed in a museum.

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National History Museum

Admission as with all English museums & galleries is free. The centrepiece of the Museum is the gigantic reconstructed replica skeletal Dipodoclus in the main hall.

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You  could easily spend a day here exploring the different sections of the museum. They have a dinosaur section, science section. mammals section amongst others.

A real skeletal reconstructed dinosaur
A real reconstructed skeleton of  a dinosaur

The museum was the final stop for Carla. She was tired and had an early flight the next morning so she headed back to the hostel to rest. I on the other hand had another tour planned. We bade goodbye to each other and parted ways.

The grim reaper tour was part of the tour package I signed up the day before. The meeting point was at the sundial beside Tower Hill station. The main focus of the tour was to retrace the steps of storied serial killer Jack the Ripper. Bill, our guide for the night introduced himself to the group and the tour commenced. We were first treated to a magnificent view of the London skyline from the banks of the Thames before we delved into the darker side of business. Here are some of the highlights of the tour in pictures:

The Iconic Shard
The Iconic Shard
2000 year old wall from Roman times
2000 plus year old wall from Roman times

And that concludes my last full day in London and marks the end of my Eurotrip.

Solo Traveller

Click to read from the beginning of the travelogue


 

Photo Credits

Title image taken from http://blogs.adobe.com/echosign/adobe-echosign-at-salesforce1-tour-london-recap/

National Gallery taken from http://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/place/427197-national-gallery

Chinatown taken from http://www.london-chinatown.info/

West End taken from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destination/uk/england/london/56109/West-End-London-city-break-guide.html

Les Miserables Queens Theatre taken from http://gemma-doyle.com/west-end/

Camden Market signage taken from http://www.hilondonbrentcrosshotel.co.uk/leisure-breaks/local-attractions/attraction.html?id=3332

Camden Riverfront taken from http://www.worldcityguides.net/london/activities/shopping/camden-market

Natural History Museum taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_History_Museum,_London

Dipodoclus taken from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/4411057/Dinosaur-dung-stolen-from-Natural-History-Museum.html

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