15 hrs to run around London

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March 11th 2006
Published: March 26th 2006
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Since it would have been very unfortunate not to pay a visit to London considering I was only two hours away, I decided that I was going to make a one day trip into the city and see everything I could in about 15 hours.
I had just moved to a new rental room, and both my classmates were French, one of which I was able to successfully pitch the idea of going with me to. Slyvain is a 23 year old civil engineering student from Lyon & Montpellier who is finishing up a traineeship in Portsmouth. He hadn’t been to London yet, so he didn’t take too much convincing. He was also game to see as much of the city in one day as I was. We lucked out the day before with a whole bunch of sandwiches from ASDA that were one day old closeout. I think we ended up with 11 gourmet sandwiches for ₤2.70. This kept us going all day, and I also brought along a can a red bull for that late in the day boost.
We took the direct National Express bus from Portsmouth at 6am. I had tried to buy tickets from the discount carrier Megabus (which would have saved me a grand total of about 5%), but the website would not process my card and the customer service was beyond worthless (generic e-mails about how the ‘other’ department processed the refunds, which was beside the point if I couldn’t purchase the ticket in the first place). If you are ever in the UK, avoid Megabus like the plague (I heard several horror stories from people after sharing my frustration). Why is it that people never tell you these things when you first arrive? Anyhow, the bus got us into London just after 8am, and we didn’t have to leave until around 10 that night.
We took the tube over to the Tower of London, starting over there in order to get one of the furthest sites checked off our list and to work our way back to parliament later. The tower was more impressive than I had envisioned. Instead of being a ‘tower’, it was a full fledged castle and had way too much history to take in within the context of a one day tour. In addition, the entry fee was ₤15 (circa $30). Therefore, we contented ourselves with the fact that we had seen the outside, and ventured on to see other things (Tower Bridge was next). I tried to get a pic of one of the Beefeaters (guards) before leaving, but they have succumbed to the spirit of global capitalism and only let you take pictures of them if you have an entry ticket. Not sure if it is legal to bar people from taking pictures of you without a ticket (I think Princess Dianna would have appreciated some legal restrictions in this area), but there were police close by and time was limited, so I let it go at that.
On our way back, we ventured into the financial sector, taking in the sites of the Swiss RE tower, exchanges, Banks etc. Because it was a Saturday, this part of town was deserted, but was worth venturing past anyway. After dropping by St. Paul’s Cathedral (again, exorbitant admission fee, so we just ventured in as far as we could without paying anything) we took the tube back to the other side of town to the triple museum block (Science, Natural History & Victoria and Albert). The three museums are free, and we had heard rave reviews about the Natural History Museum. We spit up to see the various parts of interest, and allocated 45 minutes for the place (this was Sylvain’s idea), after bumping into each other about 40 minutes later, he agreed that the place warranted a little more time and we spent a total of an hour there. Not that it didn’t deserve more, but we were on a tight schedule and couldn’t stay longer. Sylvain met a buddy of his (Pascal) there, and the three of us went over to the Victoria and Albert museum. To this day, I am not sure what category of museum it was. It had some British historical items, some ancient Greek items, and then lots in the miscellaneous category. Both of us realized that the place was not that terribly interesting, and we only spent a half hour there before jumping on the tube for a hop over to Westminster: Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey etc. We saw the London Eye, which is British Airways’ promotional attraction in London. Too expensive for us, and it was a cloudy day. So we skipped the ride. After a nice walk around the great attractions, we ventured over to Downing St, Scotland Yard (old home of the London police Detective unit) and the Royal Guards. Seeing Blair’s residence was a nice stop along the way, Scotland Yard was also on the road but not much of a site, and the Royal Guards were actually rather cool. Even thought he horses they ride much see thousands of people every day, the one in the picture started licking my jacket right as the picture was taken. After which, it started nuzzling me. Syvian and I were far more amused than the guard.
The national gallery was right along the way, so we stopped in for another 45 minutes. Yet another great free site! The museum has a staffer standing right by the ‘voluntary’ contribution box, giving all those who didn’t throw in some money (suggested donation was like two pounds) the evil eye. Well, for a poor cheap student like myself, it was going to take far more than a evil eye to get me to throw my money down the drain of government, so I walked right passed the guy looking at the free museum map. Hey, I’m a student: let the pensioners pay for their own sites. The gallery was very nicely laid out, and had top notch décor. But our schedule didn’t allow for meandering about, so we met up to head back to the royal guards for the 4’clock change. This whole process was moderately funny. All the guards seemed to have these ultra stiff movements that looked utterly formal and of no practical use (compared to my other experience in Sweden). I did appreciate the precise nature though. Unlike some Italian tourists to my right, I didn’t burst out laughing so hard that the whole square could here them. It is at moments like these that I am tempted to yell out something like “You know why you don’t have any cool military traditions? Because your army sucks!” However, standing behind three constables does have a quieting effect.
Speaking of military traditions, we had read in the guidebook that that Imperial War Museum was free after 4:30, so we ran over to take a look. I loved it. Totally cool stuff like tanks and bombers with a cut in the side so that one can peek in, a cool Special Forces exhibit, the best off-site holocaust exhibit ever, and a well done exposé on ethnic cleansing. It closed at 6, so we didn’t have too much time to watch all the video’s, but what we saw was great.
We shot up on the tube to check out Buckingham palace and the gardens around it, walked back to Parliament to see it at night, grabbed a cup of coffee and meandered back to the Victoria bus station. Exhausted, satisfied, and enamored to see more of the city, I don’t think I could have asked for more from a one day trip to one of the best cities in the world. A quick recap of the day’s events:
Tower of London
The Tower Bridge
London City Hall
Financial District
London Exchange
Bank of England
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Natural History Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum
Houses of Parliament
County Hall
Westminster Abbey
Downing Street PM residence
Scotland Yard
National Gallery
Trafalgar Square
Changing of the Guard Horse Parade
Imperial War Museum
Buckingham Palace
Hyde Park
Green Park

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