As the first stop in our 2 week whirlwind tour of Europe, London didn't fail to impress. My last visit to London was even shorter, a mere few hours spent in the hotel before waking up early in the morning to catch a flight back to the states. This time, the length of stay has at least been doubled -- which is not saying much, but definitely headed in the right direction.
Climbing out of the St. Paul tube station, we had no trouble finding our hotel -- Club Quarters St. Paul's
, which is just 50 feet away from the grand cathedral and exactly where Google map showed it to be. The hotel is nice, very clean and contemporarily furnished. The staff is friendly and helpful. The room is...uuuughh...shall we say, cozy? ;) but again, it's all very modern looking and nice. And, for roughly $100 a night, you can't do much better than this centrally located hotel that's a brisk 2min walk to the tube -- so yes, I'd recommend it (thanks, TripAdvisor :)
After freshening up, we headed out to find Millenium Bridge -- it's only a few blocks away, but perhaps I was still a little disoriented from the 12 hr flight, we ended up taking quite a detour before we finally arrived at the river bank...but nevertheless, we found it. The bridge connects the City and Southwark, which used to be the industrial part of the town and nowadays is home to places like Tate Modern. Our Knopf pocket map guide (which I love) recommended this Anatolian (Turkish) joint called Tas Pide
right across from the Globe theater, so we headed straight there. It turned out to be a really cool place, nice ambiance, packed and great food. For £18, we had a wonderful dinner with 6 tapas style dishes from one of their set menus -- even though it was basically vegetarian, I actually loved it.
Again, I would highly recommend it. After dinner we took a stroll inside Tate Modern
. I've always been fond of modern art, though not too knowledgable, it interests me and for the most part, I enjoy it -- Wei, on the other hand, is not a big fan of it. She went along with it for a good while, bless her heart...but when we got to this strange lil piece called 'double no' -- she finally cracked. After staring for a good five minutes at these 2 tv's stacked on top of each other, top one inverted, both displaying the same clown jumpin up and down shouting 'NO, NO, NO, NO...' repeatedly -- she bursted out into laughter. I can't blame her, it was really a strange lil thing...on the way out, we tried to avoid eye contact with the guard.
We had originally planned to go to Ministry of Sound
for a night of hardcore disco boogie but soon realized that it was too ambitious of a goal. Tired and with a full day ahead of us, we headed back to the hotel to get a good nite of sleep.
In the morning, we woke up bright and early to go see what every tourist must see when they come to London -- Changing of the Guards. We arrived at the Buckingham Palace shortly after 10am, since the event doesn't start until 11:30, we strolled down Mall Street to Trafalgar Square only to see Nelson's Column is under
rennovation -- but they did cover it up nicely with a rendition of what it will look like when the work is complete just like all the other under-construction projects in London. Odd but kinda cool. With a couple of croissans and coffee in hand, we made our way back through St. James park towards possibly the most elaborate 'clock-in, clock-out' ceremony. The event started right on time, and for the next 30min or so, the soldiers walked back and forth, shouting indistinct things, every now and then, the band played, and then, they walked back and forth some more. I got in quite a few good shots after I climbed up on the Victoria Memorial, but to be honest, it was kinda over-rated. But oh well, we had to see it.
We left the ceremony before it ended, partly because we were bored and partly because we didn't want to face the mass crowd trying to leave the event all at the same time. We walked down towards Big Ben, took a few post card shots and marched onwards to the Eye. The London Eye
was built by British Airways and it's currently the tallest wheel in the world at 443ft, although my peepz back in China is already working on beating this meaningless record by erecting a 525ft high Star of Nanchang -- I know, I'm so proud of them. Anyhow, after about an hour of wait (getting tix and waiting in line to get on), we were finally 'flying'. It was a beautiful day and you could see all the way out the edges of the city, which made for some great photo opps. The ride was relaxing and quite satisfying -- much like my last BA flight. (word of advice -- if you are on a tight schedule, buying tickets in advance might be a good idea)
After coming back down to earth, we headed to Convent Garden
-- an old fruit and vegetable market with cool arched gallery that dates back to 1832, of course, now it's actually a shopping center with crowds of tourist from all over, street performers, street vendors and punk kids...but it made for a nice spot to sit down and enjoy lunch after walking around all morning.
To burn off some calories after lunch, we strolled down to Piccadilly Circle and Chinatown (cleaner than the other Chinatowns I've been to) before hopping back on the Tube to head towards Tower of London. We didn't actually step foot inside the famed tower...with a few photos outside, we contiuned onto Tower Bridge -- as much a symbol of London as Big Ben, the bridge was quite impressive but I must say I was a lil bummed that we didn't get to see the movable bridges in action; but since it didn't look like any big boats were about to come rolling down the river any time soon and
we were getting hungry, it's onwards we go. LondonTown.com recommended this lil place called FishClub
for some classic fish&chips, which is just what we needed to wrap up our event-filled day. It was kinda hard to find since the directions weren't very clear and we had to navigate between subway and bus, but we finally found it and it was well worth the trek. The chef, who's also the owner, gave his recommendations and they turned out just perfect. A cold beer, some perfectly fried battered Haddock and thick fries, uughhh, I mean...chips -- just superb.
Well, that's about it...tomorrow, it's onto Paris -- I will blog pending internet availability. All in all, I'm quite fond of London, I would even go as far as saying I could see myself living here at some point. Despite the weather that can be dreadful, the city is great, historic yet modern, laid back and energetic, the people are friendly and polite, and you just get the feeling that you will never be bored here.
p.s. We are doing pretty well on our $40 a day (per person) plan. Breakfast=£3.50, Lunch=£10.05, Dinner=£20.10 -- Total (for 2)=£33.65. Even with the horrible exchange rate, we are still well under -- Not bad for a notoriously expensive city like London.