In a city that has seen centuries of culture and history leave its mark, our generation demands recognition. London’s grounds are covered in ancient buildings, all marvels of architecture at their time. Jutting through the well-preserved art are momentous skyscrapers with innovative designs stealing the surveying tourists eye. The conflict between old and new is viewable in every street. This is London, and it is astounding!
Rob and I were in London for three nights and four days. It was an exceptionally educational trip. Rob is really a magnificent travel buddy. He is very organized and very skilled at finding places to go. We had an itinerary for the entire trip that not only gave an outline of each day, but included the history of places we would visit and a map for each day.
We took a coach into London and arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon. From the coach station we travelled through the London Underground to see the Monument to the Great Fire of London. This is a free standing column. It happens to stand 202 feet tall, making it the tallest isolated stone column in the world. It was impressive, but I was ready to move on to a coffee shop when a lady stopped us. She told us it was worth the 3 pounds to go up the column, just for the view. So we took her advice, and on the way up, I regretted it. Inside the column is a spiral staircase all the way to the top. You can’t just stop to rest on your way up, because other tourists are waiting behind you. We finally made it to the top, and the view absolutely made it worth it. An ancient and modern city stretched out on all the sides of the column. Everywhere we looked was breath-taking.
After the column we made our way to our first of many museums. The first museum was actually a gallery. On the way to the gallery, we stopped at the London Stone. It is said that as long as the London Stone is safe, London will prosper. I wasn’t too impressed. It was just a regular looking rock inside a gate in the middle of the sidewalk. I am sure people (and tourists) walked past it daily with out realizing what it was.
Something I instantly appreciated about London was the free admission to most museums. This included the Guildhall Art Gallery. I love art galleries, so this was the perfect place to start. In addition, Rob loves Roman history. It just so happens that in the basement of the gallery are the remains of a Roman amphitheatre that once stood in London. The gallery itself was beautiful. There were endless paintings, some of which I recall learning about in high school. The centrepiece of the largest gallery is John Singleton Copley’s huge painting The Defeat of the Floating Batteries at Gibraltar.
Below are some of the larger art pieces that I found interesting. The last one is depicting the trial of William Wallace. I thought it was interesting because of how little he looks like Mel Gibson. Rob and I had a good laugh about that.
After the gallery, we walked through a really new/modern part of London, toward the Museum of London. The streets were so clean, lined with glimmering glass skyscrapers. On the streets, everyone was dressed in expensive suits and formal clothing. I was still wearing my travel clothes (sweatpants and a hoodie), thus I felt very out of place. I also had just finished my snack and was walking around with an apple core for 10 minutes. I could not find a trash bin anywhere! It was pretty frustrating and ironic considering it was the cleanest place I have been to in all of England.
Anyway, when we arrived at the Museum of London, we didn’t have a lot of time. It was mostly full of Roman artifacts. Knowing we were going to the British Museum and, a few weeks later, Rome, we rushed through the exhibits. Our main point of going to the museum was to see the remains of the Roman walls that once surrounded London.
When the museum closed at 6, and we left, we made our way to see some of the sites around London. We continued to walk through the new part of London, which I think is called the City of London. We walked past some iconic sky scrapers, including 30 St Mary Axe (widely known informally as “the Gherkin” . I happened to get a great picture with a red bus in it! At first I thought this was such an incredible circumstance. This is not the case. These red buses are literally everywhere. By the time Rob and I left London, we never wanted to see a red bus again!
As twilight was setting on London, Rob and I made it to the Tower of London. It was closed by this time, but we still enjoyed viewing it all lit up. Just past the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge (also lit up). All around us buildings and monuments were lighting up to keep the sky awake as the sun retreated. It almost felt as if the city was putting on a show just for us. We appreciated it by walking around three sides of the Tower and across the Tower bridge. On the other side of the Thames was a view of London that I never thought I would experience. The photos we took, don’t do it justice. No photo will do it justice, but I will share the ones I have anyway.
As the darkness began to take over, it brought a cold with it that we couldn’t ignore. After gazing at the city for a few moments, Rob and I walked back across the Thames, this time using the London Bridge. That children’s song was stuck in my head for the rest of the night. The one that is something like, “London bridge’s falling down, falling down, falling down…”, and that’s all I can remember. Once we got to an underground station, we spent 30 more minutes taking different subways to our hostel. The long day of walking ending in the best night of sleep I have experienced in England.
On our second day in London, we woke up early and made our way to Greenwich (which they pronounce gren-which). Greenwich is famous for the Royal Observatory, the Queen’s House, and the Royal Naval College. The Royal Observatory is on top of a hill that looks out over Greenwich Park. We started our day by walking through some of the park. In this park, the equestrian events of the 2012 Olympics took place. The weather was very cooperative for us, as we strolled through the park. At one point, Rob climbed a tree. After we had our fill of exercise, we climbed the hill to the Royal Observatory. I have been in many places such as this. They tell you about the solar system and the galaxy. It is a great effort to educate the population, but boring if you already know about it. The most interesting point about the Observatory is it’s location. It is located directly on the Prime Meridian. This is the line that divides the Western and Eastern Hemispheres. Because of this, we got to stand with our feet on both sides of the line, being in the East and the West at one time.
After fulling appreciating the impact of standing in two places at once, Rob and I walked back down the hill to the National Maritime Museum. The museum was in a beautiful building and everything was very modern. In the beginning, we were really impressed by paintings of boats and miniature complex models of historic boats. After a couple hours and a few hundred boats later, I was done with boats. The sea is no longer interesting.
These photos represent the coolest part of the museum’s collection. Exhausted of all things maritime, we moved on to the Queen’s House. We did not know that the Queen’s House had become a Naval paintings art Gallery. In short, we left a boat museum for a boat gallery. The house itself was gorgeous and full of history. It has a uninterrupted view of the Thames. During the history of the house, the Naval Academy was built. Upon the Queen’s request, the building did not block the view of the Thames. So as one looks out from the house on one side, they would see the Thames flanked my impressive architecture and courtyards. On the other side is a wide view of the park and the Royal Observatory. The gallery’s most impressive piece in the Queen’s House is the original painting of Captain James Cook.
We stayed in the Queen’s House until they closed. After we walked around the Royal Naval College and down the board walk next to the Thames. During that time, we decided to walk to the river to touch the Thames. At a very inopportune time a wave approached that soaked my entire left leg. It was worth being cold for the next hour or so. I can say, I have touched the Thames! The city centre of Greenwich was blessed enough to have a Starbucks. I let the warmth of a cappuccino warm me up while we planned the rest of our evening. Greenwich was a much more pleasant town. It was quiet and sunny. Like a paradise placed in the middle of the chaos of London.
Before we returned to the hostel, we made an additional stop in the London Undergound system. Like most of my generation of tourists, we got off at King’s Cross Station to take a photo at the famous Platform 9 and 3/4. It seems that most of my trips here are connected to Harry Potter. I hope most of my readers will understand the significance of this place. I took the Pottermore quiz and was sorted to the house of Slytherin. So I took a moment to pretend I was heading Hogwarts with a green and silver scarf wrapped around me. The magic of the moment I had hoped for, did not exist. We had to wait in line for quite a while just to take the photo, and we were rushed past the platform quickly after our turn.
For your amuzement, below if my obviously staged photo of my temporary exit from the muggle world.
We dedicated almost all of day three to the British Museum. We spent 5 hours there and still did not see everything.
To get to the museum we took a route filled with more London architecture. We visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was once the highest point in London, has been a church since 604, the current church was built in the early 1600’s. You could tell it was built between two architectural periods. It was oddly domed while still containing the two old fashion towers. Unlike older churches, the towers of St. Paul’s Church stand at one end. It was strange and almost unappealing. We also stopped by the St. Etheldreda’s Church, the oldest standing Catholic Church in England. Built in the 1200’s. They were setting up for a wedding so we weren’t able to go in. It was very quaint. Standing amoungst new corporate buildings and cafes, it looked very out of place. At this point, I have seen many, many churches and cathedrals. For a church/cathedral to impress me now, it will have to be exceptionally and incomparably magnificent.
The British museum is the museum of the world for the world. The most capturing artefacts in the British Museum are the Rosetta Stone, pieces of the Parthenon, and Egyptian mummies. The hours we spent there were mostly focused on Mediterranean history. Some of the things we saw were over 5000 years old. This was incredible to me. To see how people lived so long ago. We tend to think of ancient things as being only 500 or so years old. It was eye-opening to see how little I knew of truly ancient civilizations. A lot of the artefacts from these civilizations, that still survive today, are pottery. The age of pottery really climaxed in Greece. This probably brings to mind a lot of pictures of hero’s or geometric designs on massive pots. It makes me think of the animated movie, Hercules. At the British museum, they have the original Greek pottery displaying the acts of Greek heroes and gods. In fact by the time you reach the marble statues area of the museum, you have been overloaded by pottery. The same occurs with the statues. They were unbelievable works of art in the beginning, but by the end of the day, I was becoming a great critic of them.
The British Museum is a highly visited location. The people in those rooms are from all over the world. All over the world, students learn about mummies and the Rosetta stone. Because of this, I had to fight crowds to get a picture of them. Other items were only interesting to me. Due to my studies in math and its history, I have experience with heiroglyphs and cuniform. As other tourists passed the numerous clay and marble tablets covered in ancient languages. I read about their origins and tried to recall what I learned, in hopes to read them. I felt like the things I’ve learned finally became real. The mysterious items teachers have been telling us stories about for years became tangible.
These pictures don’t even begin to touch the surface of the things I saw in the British Museum. I only went through half of it! The museum also has many artefacts that are not on display. This includes the Rhind’s Mathematical Papyrus. This is a powerful key for modern mathematicians to learn about the math of ancient Egypt. To see the Rhind’s Papyrus, one must make an appointment at least 6 weeks in advance. I did not have enough advance time for my trip this time, but I will be returning to London in May. When I return, I will have an appointment to see the Rhind’s Papyrus, and it will be the most magical moment in my mathematical career!
After the museum we walked around London. As it got dark we made it to Trafalgar Square and the Picadilly Circus. In Trafalgar square are many monuments. My favorite monument is a big blue/purple statue of a chicken. I don’t understand it or why it is there, but it was unveiled on my birthday last year. So obviously it is dedicated to me ;). Picadilly Circus is similar to Times Square in NYC, though I have never been. Basically there are hundreds of people and handfuls of street performers surrounded my bright screen covered buildings.
Our last day in London was filled with museums and parks. We had a morning walk through Kensington Park. It was so beautiful and the sun came out to greet us. In the park is the statue of Peter Pan, so, of course, we went to see it. It might be the best statue that I have ever seen. I like book characters a bit more than war heroes, I suppose.
After the park, we went to a couple museums, the National Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The goal in going to the National Science Museum was to see their math exhibit. I was overly excited about this, because I had taken a whole class on the history of math. The exhibit was a bit disappointing. It was more of the history of modern mathematics. I did not know much about it, but it was nice to learn a little about it. They did have copies are some famous notebooks by mathematicians.
Our next museum, the V&A museum was full of artifacts and arts. We stayed in the Renaissance era. Most of it was remains from Roman Catholic churches. There was also some famous art from artists like Donatello. In fact there were a lot of Donatello statues all over the room. At one point, I was stuck in a crowd and ran into the base of one of Donatello’s statues. The bruise still hasn’t gone away, but who can say they were injured by a Donatello?
Below is the Victoria Albert Museum
Quickly after our museum visits, we had to catch our bus back to Bradford. Before leaving we stocked up on treats at the Sainsbury (a convenience store that is EVERYWHERE in England). Our bus back was a long one but made tolerable with intermittent snacks and sleep. You may have noticed that I did not mention seeing any of the typical London things, like Big Ben or Westminster Abbey. Don’t fret! I am returning in just a few weeks to take in the rest of London!