The London entry is way overdue. I’ve been so tired lately at the lab trying to finish off some experiments before I head back to France, that all I want to do when I get home is lay there immobilized. I have been slightly worried about the progress of my work, but there is really no point in worrying about it at this point. I have a little more than a week here, so I’ll do what I can. After all, I will be coming back, eventually.
So, London. This is the second city that I visited without anything prejudgments or expectations, the first being Berlin. I anticipated grandeur and romance in Paris, peace and modesty in Bruges, simplicity and mystery in Luxembourg. Indeed, nothing ever turns out exactly as expected. When you set your expectations low, you may be pleasantly surprised by hidden gems – great! However, when you set your expectations too high (either due to public hype or a typical image that has been implanted in your head for way too long), there is often disappointment, the best example being Paris, for me.
Of course, because I had friends in both Berlin and London to show me around, I saved the time of researching where to go when I got there. As a result, I had absolutely no idea what to look forward to before I arrived, which was a good thing because it rid my mind of certain points of bias, and everything was a surprise.
I took the Eurostar from Brussels to London, my third experience with high-speed trains after TGV and Thalys. Getting into the UK was a hassle, even as a Canadian with a French residence permit. I thought it qualified me as a “EU citizen”, but I was sadly mistaken when the border patrol asked me to fill out a form on the side and re-enter the line up. The entire process of passport and security checks is longer and more thorough than if I were at an airport. However, I did get my passport stamped, the first time it’s happened, in fact, after my first stamp in Iceland when I entered Europe for the first time last September.
I’ll be honest and say I liked London, for the most part. A lot of it reminded me of Hong Kong, but it really should be the other way around. It is not surprising that Hong Kong is very similar to London in many aspects, seeing how it was under British rule for almost a century. It is also interesting to note that London is the first city I’ve been in (I can’t remember if South Bend was one) where absolutely everything was in English. Even in Canada you have English AND French everywhere. I grabbed a bottle of ketchup in London, looked at the label, and saw nothing but English. Grand.
Well, let’s go on with the photos and I’ll explain some details of the trip as we go on. More pics on Facebook.
My friend and I headed here as soon as I got off the train at 9pm, because of course she knew I loved city night views. No, this is not London Bridge. It is the Tower Bridge of London, something straight out of a fairy tale. Walking on it during the night gave me a feeling of being truly in a story book, where princes and princesses live in castles, happily ever after. I guess that’s what the whole royal wedding thing is trying to portray, though I never understood what was the big deal…
THIS here is London Bridge, the one everyone thinks is falling down for some reason. It’s rather a normal bridge, at least compared to the fantastical and more adorn Tower Bridge. The river running through London is the famous River Thames, a name which I’ve heard in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. There are lots of bridges, in addition to the two we’ve already seen, that connect the banks of Thames, at least from what I’ve seen. Each one is in a unique style, one of the reasons that the riverside was my favourite place in London.
Here is a view of the buildings in London from the top of the Monument. I don’t know what most of these buildings are, but I was almost sure that the one with the black, pointy tip on the left is London’s secret rocket ship to take over the world.
The Tower Bridge as seen from the Monument. We were actually standing on “The Monument to the Great Fire of London”, but everyone just refers to it as “The Monument”. The fire of 1666 was one of the prominent events in the history of London. Devastating fire spread all over London city and burned for some 3 days, destroying much of the city at that time. Interestingly, this event was included in the plot of the anime Kuroshitsuji (or Black Butler), which was how I learned about it in the first place. Seems like my limited knowledge of this huge city came only from sources of entertainment…
The Tower of London on the opposite side of the river, complemented by the many boats and ships on the Thames. Again, the Tower of London looks like the castle or palace from Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. There is certainly not a lack of water vehicles on the Thames, as every moment there seems to be a moving boat in sight as we strolled along the river.
I believe this was taken while standing on the Tower Bridge.
Open-air concert with some great musicians!
A show put together by a Brazilian dance group.
More around the Thames. Boy, it was windy nearby the river. Along the bank of the river were many lively festivities, including an outdoor live concert that we happened to stumble upon and the performance of a Brazilian dance group. The shirts of the dancers say “Maculelê Capoeira”, so it is only reasonable to assume that the dance they were doing was the maculelê.
Going further along the Thames, we end up at the London Eye, perhaps the most well-known landmark in the city. I personally didn’t find it all too impressive; it’s just a gigantic Ferris wheel that goes round and round and round and round. However, the area around the Eye had a lot of fun stuff going on a street performers all over the place!
My favourite street performers would have to be this group of break dancers. Not only did they bust some amazing moves, the leader (guy with the red hat in the third picture) was super energetic, not to mention so hilarious and so passionate about what he does. After the break dancing session, one of the performers transformed into Michael Jackson and his fans (the other performers) went wild and screamed like 12-year-old little girls! Of course, the audience enjoyed the show and joined in the fun as well. It was a pleasant surprise from this bunch of young men.
A street near Embankment metro station that reminded me a little bit of St. Catherine’s in Bordeaux. Londoners refer to their underground system as ” theTube”, apparently because the shape of their trains are cylindrical and look like tubes. Hmm…should the TTC be called “the Box” then?
WHAT IS THIS? Annie in London with BUBBLE TEA and an Asian pose?! My friend and I passed by a place that sold bubble tea, and as I haven’t had any in ages, we decided to share one and let me judge whether the one in London is authentic enough. I’d give it a pass since the texture of the tapioca was pretty good (not rock hard like some others I’ve had) and the mango flavour came out alright. Then again, I would normally choose the original milk tea flavour; so simple, yet still the best!
Just wanted to include this photo because I liked the design of those green buildings in the distance, especially the way they’re layered and stacked. I wonder if they’re residential buildings and how much it costs to live there…
Houses of Parliament at dusk, right across from the London Eye. We were waiting for the dark parts of the buildings to light up, as we thought they’d gradually illuminate as it gets darker, but they never did, unfortunately. Still, the parliament glows in the waning blue sky proudly, declaring its glamour and splendour. The clock tower to the right is the Big Ben, and it was one of the earliest impressions I’ve had of London when I was a kid.
Entrance to the Natural History Museum. Great thing about London is that most of the museums are free! Out of the three museums visited – the other two being The British Museum and The Science Museum – this one was my favourite as it showcased everything there is to see in nature which includes….well, everything. I quite liked the styles of columns on the outside of the museum as we were about to enter – they were quite elegant in a way.
Looking back at Regent Street as we worked our way to Oxford Street, the main shopping street in London. The only thing I liked about this part of the trip was the curved buildings seen here, giving us a sophisticated and mysterious feeling. This area was filled with people. Too many people. Everywhere. I could only imagine the crowd on Boxing Day, but really, I don’t want to imagine it. That was one turn-down of London, but I can’t complain because every big city I go to will be the same in this aspect. Perhaps a nice place to visit on a short trip, but I’m not sure if I’d want to live in the hustle of the city…just like downtown Toronto.
Here’s the last part of the trip and perhaps the most interesting. I didn’t know about this beforehand as it was planned as a “surprise” for me. Get ready for…Icebar London! Basically it’s a bar completely made of ice, and for a price, you get to enjoy a 40-minute session inside the sub-zero bar. Very cool, literally! The price also includes a drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) served in a glass…made of ice! Of course, one must be prepared to enter. A thermal cape with thick gloves is supplied upon entry, and when everyone is ready, in we go to the ice cave! I was glad I wasn’t wearing shorts that day and that I had my jacket with me – I wouldn’t even have had the chance to prepare myself since it was a surprise! The average temperature inside was -5 degrees Celsius. Okay, maybe it’s not THAT cold compared with Canadian winters, but you certainly don’t want to be in there without proper clothing! We sort of look like Inuits, don’t we?
As a final reflection, I was glad to be finally in a completely English-speaking city for once. The British accent wasn’t as strong as I had expected, and for a big city, London does a pretty good job of maintaining its image. I certainly felt that I liked London more than Paris…I don’t know how many visits it’ll take for me to really LIKE Paris, or if I ever will.
At the end of the trip, I said I would probably go back to London for a second visit if I have the chance again before my friend leaves in September. After all, there were a lot of places we had to skip due to our tight schedule, as we only had two days for such a big international city! I’ll have to see how feasible that idea is, though. London, maybe I will see you again very soon!