Yen's Blog

Lens, Wheels, Skates, Keyboard

London

London is one of Europe’s and the world’s premier metropolises with a wealth of history and culture. A comparison with Paris immediately comes to mind. Both exude old-world mystique and charms. Yet whereas Paris feels cool, distant and, dare I say, aristocratic, London feels warmer, friendlier, more down-to-earth, more comforting. Perhaps that’s because its culture is more contemporary and familiar to my own. Perhaps I’ve only visited the city during nice weather :) No matter, London is still my all-time favorite city (Editor’s note: amended to second favorite after I visited Prague).

The obligatory picture of Big Ben. Did you know that Big Ben is not the clock, but actually the bell inside the clock? Well, that was news to me :) The clock itself is large enough for a bus to drive through!

If anything manages to be both industrial and elegant at the same time, it’s the London Eye. This ultra-modern structure has been a pleasing addition to the London skyline. It’s a lot of fun to boot, and inspires a certain child-like fascination in everyone, young and old.

It’s fitting that British Airways is the sponsor of the London Eye. Riding in the bubble cockpit of the largest Ferris wheel in the world is the closest thing one can get to flying over the city. And its complex framework offers infinite creative photographic possibilities.

London Eye bubble suspended in mid-air.

This view of Westminster Abbey in the fading light is one of my favorites of London.

As is Tower Bridge.

The intricate Westminster Palace.

We arrived at Buckingham too late to see the changing of the guards, which takes place around 11:30am.

Buckingham palace itself isn’t very remarkable. However we enjoyed the impressive monument to Queen Victoria which occupies the center of the plaza in front of the palace. For the most powerful woman in history, I’m surprised her depiction looks rather dour and unattractive. I guess one can have beauty or power but not both :)

Regina Imperatrix. Queen Victoria stares down on the tourist kerfuffle.

Nearby St. James’ Park is a pleasant oasis in the middle of the city.

Exotic monument to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort.

The eponymous hall.

Harrods, the one and only.

Rumors that half of the museum is in ruins when Brendan Fraser battled Imhotep in The Mummy Returns are unfounded. Its most well-known possession is the Rosetta Stone.

Rotunda of the British Museum, designed by Norman Foster.

The Museum of Natural History is one of the few rare places where the outside is more interesting than what’s inside. The building was designed by Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1881. The theme of biological diversity is revealed by its very appearance. The variegated pattern of earth tones and cobalt blue and intricate reliefs of plants and animals give the appearance of an organic “skin”. The entrance is surmounted by spectacular round arches. The building is a feast for the eyes, and you’re not even inside yet!

The reddish lobbies and balconies of the main hall are stunning. When I was there, a large dinosaur skeleton occupies the length of the hall. You get the feeling that you’re inside a palace and a cavern at the same time.

The museum’s collections are interesting, but not as large as the Smithsonian’s. I enjoyed the gemstone exhibit the most.

London is an architecture lover’s all-you-can-eat buffet. At first glance this may appear to be a highly decorated entrance. But actually it’s part of the north wall inside the Museum of Natural History, one of the many architectural gems that abound in this great city.

The details and historical significance of the Battle of Trafalgar may be lost to many tourists. Nevertheless most people chose to congregate here thanks to its central location, large expanse of open space, and proximity to nearby attractions. Atop the column, Admiral Nelson looks towards his fleet at Trafalgar.

The flying army of pigeons is thankfully absent.

Cute and uniquely English red phone booth, near St. Paul’s.

The double-decker, another English invention. This is one of the “Brown” tour buses  I took, here passing in front of the National Gallery which is very worthy of a visit.

The cathedral of London and one of the most famous in the world. This hallowed place will imbue you with a sense of awe and veneration. Climb to the very top tower of the cathedral for a wonderful view of the city.

The London Zoo is rather small and unremarkable, but I’d recommend it because I think it deserves more attention. If anything, wouldn’t you want to see the boa cage in which Harry Potter trapped his cousin?

Hampton Palace in the outskirts of London.

Favorite thing: Take your pick. St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, Westminster Palace, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, St. James’s Park, Harrods, London Eye all bring back fond memories. Don’t forget the museums: the Museum of Natural History, National Gallery, Tate Modern, and the grand dame of them all, the British Museum. These venerable places remind you of the burgeoning history that lies behind every facade, on every street, around every corner. And as if it isn’t enough, the younger, lighter, hipper side of London is no less fascinating: the open markets at Covent Garden, the theater district, Notting Hill, Leicester Square — day or night, the ever-crowded pubs, the relentless party crowds, the throngs at Piccadilly Circus, I can go on and on. Maybe it’s because I have an impressible mind, but maybe it’s simply this: London is the most exciting metropolis in the world!

My fondest memory is a toss-up, either eating outdoors on the cobblestone sidewalk at Covent Garden while a rocker crooned 80’s hits, or sitting by the lit fountains at Trafalgar Square while dusk fell around us. Riding the London Eye ranks up there, too, but for a completely different reason :)

Not so fond memory, hmm. Maybe I’m eccentric (grrr…) but unlike the British I don’t have much patience for long queues. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is recommended by virtually every tourist guide out there, but personally I don’t think it’s worth the wait and the cost. Every sights and sounds outside are better than dumb and deaf mannequins, albeit very life-like ones. Save yourself some aggravations and skip this one. If you absolute must go to one, check out the ones in Amsterdam and Las Vegas, much shorter queues :)

Last visited: 2001 Pros: Superbly photogenic Cons: Streaky weather In a nutshell: Love at first sight