Trip to London - June 2000

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At first I didn’t know if I wanted to write much about London. I mean, everyone knows about London and there is so much information about the city on the Internet. But hey, every experience is unique so here is a bit about our trip to London.

A view up the river as we cross Lambeth BridgeI have been in London one time before but that was just for one day. At that time we came in from Houston in the USA and it was quite a change to go from a “typical” American big city to a European big city. Houston is a smaller city that London but I was fascinated by the fact that London still has the narrow streets and the feeling of history. But that time I was jetlagged and tired so I didn’t really pay attention to all the things I saw and I really looked forward to going there again.

The hotel room was quite boring but it was nice to get back after a long dayThis time we landed in London about noon on Wednesday 31st of May 2000. Our flight came to Gatwick airport and from there it is easy to go by train (The Gatwick Express) straight into Victoria Station in London. Our hotel was called Monopole and is located in Sussex Gardens near Paddington Station. The hotel itself wasn’t much to brag about. I guess it was cheap according to London standards (about 40 a night for two people). But the room we got had a hard bed, a small TV with few TV station (not that we stayed in much) and in the bathroom there were no shower curtain around the shower so by the time we finished showering the entire floor was wet :-)

This is what two dorks look like on a week long Underground passThe first thing we had to do was get a way to get around London. And I feel there is only one way to do that and that is by the underground. We normally travel around quite a lot so we found out that a weeklong pass was the right thing for us. It cost us about 18 each to get zone 1 and 2 covered. We had to take a picture first but that was no problem since there are photo machines on most of the tube stations.We just love riding on the underground A single trip was about 1,5 so I think it was a smart investment during our 6 day visit. I think that the Metro in Paris is better than the underground. We did run into some problems when taking the tube. The trains were delayed, we stopped on the tracks many times and had to wait and one day we had to take detours because District and Circle line was not running at all. But the staff at the underground seemed very friendly and helpful and I think they help out tourists a lot.

One of the first things that we did was to take a bus trip in London. There are many companies that have sightseeing tours and we went on the Pride tour bus. We took the grand tour that took us around Trafalgar, parliament, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus and so on.

Gard on the front deck of HMS BelfastI just had to visit HMS Belfast. HMS Belfast is an old navy cruiser that has been put up as a museum on the Thames. It was about 5 each to get into the boat but it was worth it at least if you have an interest in navy ships. We could walk around in the different zones of the boat from bridge to boiler rooms. I was once in the navy and it was fun to see how a WW2 boat looks like. The boat is located near London Bridge station so it was easy to get to it. We combined it with the visit to the London Eye (www.ba-londoneye.com). A view to the 135 meter high London EyeThis is a huge Ferris wheel that has been put up by British Airways in Jubilee Park (across the river from the parliament). The tickets have to be bought in advance and it seems to be very popular. When we came to buy tickets for the next day they only had free tickets at 9 am and 9 pm. So we bought two days in advance. According to our guide in the coach (each coach can take up to 25 people) the wheel opened in early March this year and it cost something like 35 million. When we reached the top of 135 meters we had a very good view of the city. It is strange looking down on Big Ben. The trip took about 30 minutes and we had to queue up for like 30 minutes to get on it but it was worth it. Each ticket costs about 7,5.

The London Dungeon. Notice the line to get inNot far from HMS Belfast you’ll find the London Dudgeon (www.thedungeons.com). I guess this is the wicked version of Madam Tussaud. The place has a lot of things to show how London was back in the good old days...how people were tortured, burnt and so on. There is also a bit of information about Jack the Ripper and The great fire of London in 1666. The line outside the place was so long when we got there. I decided that time is money so I went 100 meters up the street and I bought tickets at the tourist information booth. It was a bit more expensive than usual but we got in pretty fast because we could get in using the line for people with pre-paid tickets. Our tickets were 11 each.

Gard next to a Yeoman Warden at the Tower of LondonWe also went to the Tower of London (tower-of-london.com). There is one great thing about this place and that is the crown Jewels. The crowns and swords and so on were just amazing to look at. But I’m not sure that it was worth the 11 it costs to get into the place because there is really not that much to see in there. We did walk through the white tower but it got a bit claustrophobic because there were so many people in there and we had to walk in line around the whole place.

We had a quick stop at the British museum. Major maintenance work is being carried out at the museum so it looks like a big construction yard. We only stayed there for like an hour and we focused mainly on the Egyptian exhibits.

St. Paul during a visit to London in August 2003Every time I visit a big city it feels like a lot of the attractions are being refurbished. It was the same in Paris (Notre Dame and Pompidou centre) and it was the same in London. We discovered that parts of St. Paul’s cathedral were closed due to maintenance. We were thinking about paying to get it when we heard an American come out of there complaining that he had paid a normal ticket and then it turns out that the whispering gallery was closed.

It is almost time for Big Ben to tollWe did our share of walking in London (like we always do). We walked from the parliament (we even got to hear Big Ben toll) to Trafalgar square, onto Piccadilly Circus and to Covent Garden. We walked in Hyde Park and on Oxford Street/Regents street to check out some of the shopping facilities. And I must say that I was impressed with Selfridges’s on Oxford Street. Walking along the river. Tower Bridge in the backgroundThat store is really huge! We walked along the river from London Bridge past HMS Belfast across Tower Bridge past Tower of London and to the Monument. The Monument is a 62-meter column and it was made to commemorate the fire of 1666. If you pay 1,5 you can walk the stairs to the top of it. We also walked around Leicester Square and into the little Chinatown near by. It was quite amazing to all of a sudden come over a store that sold fresh Rambutan and fresh Durian. Durian is a fruit that is loved in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. And if you go to these countries during the Durian season you’ll smell it :-)

Outside the Millennium DomeOne of the places that I really looked forward to visiting before we went to London was The Millennium Done. The first time I got aware of it was when I went to see the last James Bond film and he ended up on top of it. The Dome is “ a whole day of inspiration, excitement and entrainment” and it will only be open this year. It is easy to get out to the Dome by using the tube. Nikki inside the DomeIt is located near Greenwich so it takes a bit to get out there. We bought tickets at a newsagent in London because everywhere I read it said that tickets could not be bought at the Dome. I think they have changed that because it looked like there were ticket lines at the Dome. Nikki is ready to fire the gun in the Timekeepers area in the DomeIt was quite expensive to get in (20 each) but we spent all day at the Dome and I must say that it was worth it. The Dome is divided into zones and some are better than others. It got a bit crowded as the day went by especially after the show in the central arena. The show in the central arena wasn’t that great by the way. We ended the day by seeing Blackadder Back and Forth on the cinema located right next to the dome.

A walk in Hyde Park. If you watch closely you can see the smoke from the coronation day saluteI think that the best advice I have to other visitors is to not try and see too much at the time. Some days we ended up traveling a lot without getting to see much. Like when we wanted to see the coronation day salute in Hyde Park. We were going to Hyde Park but then we decided to stop by some stores first. Because of this (and because no one we asked knew were the salute would take place) we ended up getting there as they fired the last salute. Then we decided to go to the Tower of London see the salute there but because of problems on the tube we missed that too. So it felt like we wasted a couple of hours.

Outside Buckingham palace after the changing of the guardsOne of the most impressive things in London is the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. I thought that it was just a simple change of guards and I never really understood why there is so much fuzz about it. But I understand it now. First of all there was a “parade” of guards and a band that walked up to the palace. The bands played several times during the changing and then there was a parade of guards and band leaving the palace. We got to hear Bohemian Rhapsody (original by Queen) and they played it so well and we got to hear a couple of songs played with bagpipes and I just love that. But if you want to see it all you better get there early. We came there like 10 minutes in advance and the place was just packed with tourists.

We just had to try the national dish: fish and chipsWe decided that we had to try fish and chips one day since this is the...eh...national dish. We tried in a place near Convent Garden and it was pretty good. Most of the time we just ate breakfast at the hotel and then we grabbed some fast food during the day. We went out to eat on an Asian restaurant one night. It was not expensive and the food was good (and very hot). Being an ice cream lover I did find my way to the Haagen Daaz place on Leicester Square. Try the cookies and Cream...it is wonderful :-)

Inside the coach going around the London EyeThe days past so fast in London and all of a sudden it was time to go home. We returned from London on the 5th of June. We did want to see a musical, we wanted to go to a movie, we wanted to go to a marked but we never found the time for this. Most of the times we were pretty exhausted when we came back to the hotel after a day of sightseeing. So if you are going to London stay there for as many days as you can so you can see it all without having to rush through it all. It will be expensive but it is worth it.

But I still have to confess that I do like Paris better than London.


Nikki and Gard and
 London bridge

Nikki in front of the house the contains the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London

Nikki is walking inside the
 Tower of London

This South African flag taxi was driving around. We just had to get a pic of it.

A very nice
 monument
 on Trafalgar

"Use the force Gard"
Inside a toystore on
 Regents Street

We are walking towards
 the 62 meter Monument

Nikki is testing her strength
at the Dome

"Don't hurt me Lara"...
visiting HMW on Oxford
 Street

On Trafalgar Square

Nikki together with her
 friend Gayle

Having a South African "braai" (barbecue)  in London


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