These photos are from our stroll along the Thames back in February of 2016 (we were in London for my sister-in-law’s wedding). It was a cold, but nice night–I was happy to finally have my wife with me on a trip abroad. Sadly, it would turn out to be our last bit of fun before I became deathly ill for the rest of the trip, followed by my wife a couple of days later. We had been planning to take a train to Bath the following day but instead I spent it in the hotel room, with my poor wife wandering the city looking for medicine. Then at the end of the trip, she had it worse than me to the point where we had to stay an extra night just so she would be well enough to fly home. Good times. Anyway, I got some cool photos out of the experience…
It’s been a long time since I posted something, a combination of a trip to England, a lengthy illness, and being super busy, but it’s time to get back in the saddle. Here’s a photo from my recent trip to England, taken during an evening stroll along the Thames.
Since I’ll be returning to London in three weeks, I thought it might be a good idea to actually try and finish the journal of my previous trip, which I began writing oh so long ago…
July 9, 2014: After our visits to Leeds Castle and Dover it was time to head to Canterbury, home of the famed tales by Chaucer. We parked and walked through the charming pedestrian market area to get to the cathedral. Unfortunately, we were denied access to the cathedral because the BBC was shooting some TV show there, so that was a bummer. We had to settle for the crypts, which we only had 15 minutes to explore before they closed. The crypts were really neat, but the feeling of being rushed did not make for a pleasant visit.
I then headed back into town and ate a late lunch at an outdoor French café, enjoying a dish of beef bourignon. Later I would discover that I had left my umbrella at the café—and an umbrella is not a good thing to be without in England. Oh well, stuff happens when you travel. Luckily, it didn’t rain before I was able to buy a new one back in London the next day. Anyway, here are some photos from my visit to Canterbury.
The next stop after Canterbury was Greenwich, London, home of Greenwich Mean Time, at zero degrees longitude. We waited here to catch a boat that would take us along the Thames back into central London. In the meantime I walked around and snapped some photos:
I also tried unsuccessfully to use a bathroom in a restaurant. I’m well aware that most places in Europe either charge you for the bathroom or will only allow patrons to use it. However, a large restaurant along the river had a sign on the outside advertising bathrooms, so I thought this place was an exception, especially since I had just watched one of my fellow tour members head upstairs to use it. So I headed up, figuring if anyone said anything I would just buy a soda or something, but as soon as I began ascending the stairs a restaurant employee came running across the restaurant to yell at me. I would have offered to buy something, but this person’s behavior irritated me so much that I just left.
Speaking of bathrooms, here’s a travel tip: never ask for a ‘restroom’ in the U.K. because nobody will know what the hell you’re talking about. One person thought I was looking for a place to rest. 🙂
Eventually the boat arrived and we were off. Here are some photos from the cruise:
I was disappointed to discover that it was a simple commuter boat rather than the cruise with tea, wine, and scones that had been promised on the web site through which I had booked the tour. This, on top of the denied Canterbury Cathedral entry and arrival to the crypts at closing time, as well as other missed itinerary points in Dover, left me feeling a bit ripped off, so I complained to Premium Tours. As it turns out, my booking was secured through a third-party web site that contained outdated itinerary information, but Premium Tours still made good on my disappointment by giving me a 25-percent refund, which was much appreciated.
Overall, I booked four tours through Premium Tours and found them to be a very good tour company. Although this tour was somewhat disappointing, I very much enjoyed the Bath/Stonehenge tour (worth every penny), and the Paris tour allowed me to see a lot of the city in just one day.
In the end, however, I felt as if I booked a couple of tours too many and did not spend enough time in London itself, so one bit of advice I would give someone coming to London is not to overbook yourself on tours that take you out of the city . . . unless you don’t care about seeing that much of London, then book away!
I decided to depart the cruise near the London Eye ferris wheel since I had pre-purchased a voucher to ride it and this would probably be the last day I would have a chance to do so. I waited in line for a half hour only to get to the front and be told that my voucher was no good, that I needed to go to the building nearby and exchange it for an actual ticket. I had naturally assumed that I could simply present my voucher to the ticket taker, just as I had done with my voucher to enter the Tower of London, both of which had been purchased from the same tour company: The Original Tour. The tour company should have made it clear that the London Eye voucher did not work the same as the Tower of London voucher, so this was partially their fault.
It was also the fault of the ticket takers at the London Eye, who should never have allowed me to enter the line with just a voucher: the attendant confirmed this, but she was completely unsympathetic that their screwup caused me to waste a half-hour of my time–she refused to allow me to go get a ticket and return to the front of the line; I would have to go to the back of the line and wait all over again. So I left the line (which was even longer now than when I had first queued up), and entered the building to get my ticket–until I saw how long the line was there. At that point I was so fed up that I said “screw it” and left; I had better things to do with my life. I ended up not using the voucher at all.
To be honest, once I realized the London Eye cars were enclosed and that any photos would be taken through glass, I wasn’t too upset about missing the ride (I had already gotten a bird’s eye view of London at The Shard anyway); I was just annoyed about wasting my money on the voucher. The lesson here: if you purchase vouchers in advance from ‘The Original Tour’ company, make sure you know which vouchers are good for entry, and which must be exchanged for a ticket.
After that debacle I decided to just do some more walking before heading back to my flat. Here are some photos from that walk.
I freshened up in my apartment and then decided to venture back out since I hadn’t really had a chance to experience London at night. I made my way to Picadilly Circus and snapped some photos before taking a stroll through Chinatown, where I planned to eat dinner. It was my first visit to any Chinatown, despite living halfway between Philly and New York (a few days later I would also visit Chinatown in Amsterdam, and a few months after that I would visit San Francisco’s Chinatown, so I made up for lost time). One thing I discovered about Chinatown is that, with so many similar restaurants to choose from, it’s hard to pick one place, so I found myself walking around in circles.
I eventually settled on a Vietnamese restaurant, where I had a funny (and somewhat humiliating) experience. The waiter brought out a dish of greens and I thought he said the word “salad,” so I poured what I thought was dressing on it and started eating. After a couple of bites I thought to myself, “This tastes like pure cilantro.” That’s because it was. I was supposed to put the cilantro in the soup he later brought out. So I threw the rest of the cilantro and “dressing” into the soup when it arrived, but this was also a mistake because the “dressing” was actually dipping sauce for the spring rolls and meat that the waiter would be bringing out next. Oh, and the spoon I had used to ladle the “dressing” on the “salad” was my soup spoon. I’m sure the owners had a good laugh at my expense. I’ll just chalk it up to being the end of a long and exhausting day. 😉
After dinner I headed back to my flat. Tomorrow would be my final full day in London, so I thought I should at least go have a look at Buckingham Palace. That will be covered in the next installment. In the meantime, here are some night shots of Picadilly Circus and Chinatown.
July 7, 2014: It was my first day back in London after spending three days in Scotland and I was still recovering from lack of sleep, so I got a late start after allowing myself to sleep in. I didn’t have any excursions scheduled during the day (just a play I had tickets for in the evening), so my plan was to take it easy, meandering about the city and taking a couple of pilgrimages to iconic rock locations.
First on the list was Abbey Road, site of the famous Beatles album cover of the same name. I took the subway to the closest station and made my way to Abbey Road Studios.
The crosswalk is actually in a busy intersection with no traffic light, so I tried to respect motorists by crossing as quickly as possible, but many people were quite a bit less courteous, stepping in front of cars and spending long periods of time setting up their photos. The locals are used to this, so they’re patient in allowing people to cross and take their photos, but when people linger in the middle of the road to take multiple shots and exaggerated poses, then the motorists understandably start to get irritated.
I wasn’t about to hold up traffic by asking someone to take a photo of me as I crossed, but I was still able to get footage of my crossing via the web cam trained on the crosswalk. All you have to do is go to the Abbey Road Studios web site and grab the shots of your crossing, and if you time it right, your friends and family back home can actually watch your crossing live via the video feed. Here is a shot from the web cam:
I then headed back to the subway station, and as you can see from the photo below, a nearby shop knows how to capitalize on Beatlemania.
My next destination was the Battersea Power Station. If you are a Pink Floyd fan, this is the building featured on the cover of their Animals album. I made my way down to the Thames and walked along the bank for about 30 minutes before realizing that I had turned in the wrong direction, so I was forced to backtrack. Here are some photos from that stretch.
By the time I began to see the station it had started to rain—because you can’t walk for an hour in London without encountering rain—at least I couldn’t. 🙂
I was surprised at how massive the station is; it completely dominates the landscape of that portion of the Thames. Here are a couple of photos (I liked these better than my attempts at recreating the actual album cover, and I’m pretty sure the album photo was shot from the other side of the river anyway).
I thought about checking out the Tour de France, which was wrapping up its London leg today, but decided I didn’t feel like braving the crowds, so I settled for snapping this photo of a biker who may or may not have been part of the race.
I then made my way back toward the center of the city and ducked out of the rain into an Italian restaurant for an early dinner. Inside they had the end of the Tour de France on television, so I sat and watched that with a glass of prosecco and a ravioli dinner. I don’t remember much about the dinner itself, so it couldn’t have been great, but it wasn’t bad, either.
After dinner, with the rain still beating down, I decided to just head back to my apartment and get ready for my evening trip to the West End, where I would be seeing a play called Let the Right One In, an adaptation of an excellent Swedish vampire film. I had bought the tickets online ahead of time for something like ten pounds—shocking that you can see a show in London for a fraction of what it would cost on Broadway, or maybe I was just lucky with that particular show.
While getting ready for the evening I watched some TV—an interesting aspect of TV in Britain is that American television shows seem to be played at a faster speed. Perhaps it has something to do with British television broadcasting at a different frame rate, but the effect was that every cast member of The Big Bang Theory sounded as if they had just inhaled helium. Thus, I can’t help wondering if everyone in England is under the impression that Americans talk like chipmunks. 😉
Instead of riding the subway to the theater district I decided to take the long walk from my apartment and enjoy the newly emerged sun. I did not bring my camera with me since I wasn’t sure what the theater rules were regarding cameras, so there are no photos from my walk through some interesting neighborhoods.
Along the way I stumbled across a hotel that serves afternoon tea. To this point I had not had a proper British afternoon tea and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to remedy that. For my tea I chose an excellent Earl Grey, which was served with savory sandwiches, tasty sweets, and delicious fresh-baked scones with clotted cream (also known as Devonshire cream). The low-quality cell phone photo below does not do the spread justice.
Needless to say, I am now a huge fan of British-style afternoon tea—I had always been a big tea drinker, but the Brits take it to a whole different level. Now, whenever I go on a trip here in the States, I keep my eyes peeled for a place serving afternoon tea.
Unfortunately, I had to kind of rush through my tea because the show would be starting soon, so I finished up and made my way to the theater. The Apollo is a nice, historic building, lending the play some additional atmosphere.
All of the seats in the theater appear to be good. Here was my view of the stage:
During the first act, the person behind me kept kicking my chair while a couple sitting directly in front of me kept making out (or snogging, to use a British term) throughout the entire show like hormonal teenagers in a movie theater, so after intermission I moved to a relatively empty section where I could watch the second act in peace.
As for the show itself, the play was outstanding, really well-conceived, and every bit as affecting as the film. The overall tone was sufficiently eerie, the performances were great, and the music and choreography during transition scenes was stunning. All in all, I was glad I decided to spend one of my evenings in London at the theater.
After the show I walked around Picadilly Circus, which is very cool when it is all lit up at night (I would return later in the week with my fast prime lens to take some night photos). I then headed back to the apartment. In the morning I would be venturing outside London on a trip to the Cotswolds.
July 3, 2014: Today was the day around which I had planned my entire two-week trip: the Monty Python reunion concert. But first, I toured the Tower of London and walked across the Tower Bridge.
The day began with a bit of a subway misadventure—I got on the tube heading in the wrong direction. I had done pretty well to that point navigating the London Underground, but the Circle line was a bit confusing. However, righting my course was simple enough once I realized I was going the wrong way—I just had to hop off at the next stop, make my way to the other side of the tracks, and hop back on.
The Tower of London is an interesting window into London’s medieval past, and definitely a must-see when you visit the city. There is a lot to see among the various buildings, so plan on spending a good portion of your day there, especially if, like me, you read all of the plaques describing the exhibits and the history behind them. Here are some photos from my visit (click on any image to open a gallery):
Freaky Dragon Sculpture
One of the main attractions of the Tower for many people is the chance to see the Crown Jewels. To be honest, I really didn’t care that much about seeing them, but since the line was relatively short, I decided to head in. The wait to get in can reach astronomical portions at peak times, so you need to decide how badly you want to see them. As I said, my wait was fairly short, about 20 to 30 minutes, so in my case it was worth it. It can be a bit claustrophobic as you’re herded through the exhibit, and at one point you’re moving through on one of those conveyor belts like they have in airports. There is much more on display than just the Crown Jewels: all manner of crowns, scepters, and similar items, but no photography is allowed inside so I don’t have any photos.
After finishing up at the Tower of London it was time walk across the Tower Bridge. You can also pay to walk on the upper level of the bridge for a bird’s eye view of the city but I decided against it since I had already gotten a similar view during my visit to The Shard. If the view had been unobstructed, I probably would have gone up, but the upper level is enclosed in glass, so my photos would have been no better than the ones I had gotten at The Shard. Anyway, here are some pics from my walk across the bridge (and also a couple of the bridge taken from the Tower of London).
I then headed back to my apartment to do some packing (I would be checking out in the very early morning) and grab some dinner before heading to the Greenwich peninsula for the Monty Python concert. There wasn’t enough time to head back into the center of the city so I found a small Chinese restaurant near the apartment and ate there. The pineapple chicken fried rice was a bit bland, not one of the most memorable meals of my trip, but not the worst, either (that was still to come).
The subway ride to the O2 (the concert venue) was long, probably about an hour if you count walking to and from the stations and changing lines. The O2 is a massive stadium complex containing multiple venues, restaurants, and other facilities. Although I didn’t take any pictures that night (I chose to leave the bulky camera in my apartment), here is a shot I took of the stadium from down the river the following week:
My seats were much better than I was expecting. I had a great view of the stage and the show itself was splendid, everything you’d expect from Python, ending, of course, with an entire arena full of people singing and whistling to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Here’s a bad cell phone photo of the stage:
Afterward I went directly home to finish packing for my three-day trip to Scotland. It was around 11 p.m. by the time I got back to the apartment and I had a 4 a.m. wakeup call, so I would not be getting much sleep, but Scotland would prove to be more than worth it.
And with that, my first week in London had come to a close. One big regret is that I never made it out to Wimbledon, which had been in its second week when I arrived. I had just crammed too much activity into all of my days so I never had the time. Oh well. That aside, my first week in London was a blast and I looked forward to seeing more of the city when I returned after three days in Scotland.
June 30, 2014: My first full day in London began late in the morning after allowing myself to sleep in (I needed to recharge the batteries after being awake for most of 32 hours). Today was the day I had set aside to do the touristy double-decker bus thing, so I walked ten minutes down the street to a pickup point and hopped on. The company I chose was called The Original Tour. For this leg of the tour there was no live guide so I listened to a recording via headphones. Here are some pics (click on any photo in this post to open up a gallery).
What’s nice about these tours is that they stop at most of the major attractions and you can hop on and off wherever you please. I took advantage of this by jumping off at Picadilly Circus. I needed to transfer to a different bus line and this seemed like as good a place as any. Here are a few shots from my brief walk around Picadilly Circus.
The white building in the distance is the Apollo Theatre, where I had tickets to see “Let The Right One In.”
I found the bus route I was looking for and hopped back on. Photos from this stretch include Trafalgar Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral, among others.
I jumped off again near the Tower of London because I had an appointment with a famous serial killer: a guided walking tour through Jack the Ripper’s old haunts in Whitechapel. The walking tour was included with the price of my tour bus ticket. But first, I snapped a few photos while I waited for the tour to begin.
I’ve always been fascinated with Ripper lore; I even featured it in my novel. The tour is pretty cool as long as you know what you’re getting: you’re walking through a modern city in the middle of the afternoon, so don’t go in expecting spooky atmosphere. It’s not the Whitechapel of the Ripper era, though there are some spots that give you an impression of what it must have been like. The main draw of the tour is listening to the stories of the guide, who did a good and enthusiastic job. Another plus of the tour is that it gives you an excuse to walk through a portion of London that you’d be less likely to visit on your own since it is a bit off the beaten path. Here are some photos from my walking tour.
It is speculated that Jack the Ripper could have lived in this building.
Old workhouse with separate Women’s entrance.
Narrow alley similar to how streets looked in the Ripper era.
After completing the Ripper Tour I headed toward a dock near the Tower of London and hopped on a boat for a cruise along the Thames. This was also included with the price of my tour bus ticket. By this time it had started raining but I found a spot on the outside deck under a little overhang where I could take some photos.
At the conclusion of the boat ride I headed for a bus stop to rejoin the bus tour. This wasn’t the most pleasant experience. In addition to the aforementioned rain, I couldn’t understand anything the guide was saying. It appeared that he was holding the microphone too close so everything came out sounding muffled—either that or the speakers were shot. Here are a few photos from that stretch.
I stuck with the tour bus for a little while but between the rain and the unintelligible guide I’d finally had enough and decided to jump off near Parliament. From here I walked around, taking photos of Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.
At this point, after two days in London, I figured it might be a good time to have my first proper meal. I walked around looking for a place where I might have an authentic English dinner but wasn’t having much luck. As it grew later and I grew hungrier, I settled for a Spanish restaurant. That’s right—my first English dinner was Spanish food. 🙂
I then made my way to the Underground and headed back to my apartment, hoping to catch a few winks ahead of my 4am wakeup call. On the morrow I would be heading for Paris!