When we organized the last-minute trip to London, we also decided to cross the channel and to visit my parents in France for a few days. It just made sense: we had already flown 5,600 kilometers to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, may as well travel a few more hundreds kilometres and stay with my family for a bit.
In London, we took the time to check out a few main places after dark, including the Jubilee Gardens with the picturesque London Eye and views on the River Thames, Carnaby Street, Piccadilly Circus and the Palace of Westminster.
In London, we spent quite a lot of time in a few tourist spots, including Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Victoria Embankment and Piccadilly Circus, all within walking distance from each other.
The Tube is an international icon for London and its graphic elements, such as the station logo, have become easy-to-recognize pop culture symbols. There is even a popular London Transport Museum at Covent Garden, and its busy shop sells tons of Underground-branded souvenirs, such as stylish travel card wallets, prints and toys.
Parliament Hill is one of my favourite landmarks in Ottawa : it’s a scenic place with great views on the Ottawa River, and there is always something going on in front of the Canadian parliament. So naturally, in London, I was drawn to Parliament Square and Westminster, the local “equivalent”.
Even though we quickly realized that we wouldn’t be able to attend any Olympics events, we still soaked up the London 2012 Olympics Games atmosphere. Indeed, it was impossible to ignore the Olympics fever around us.
I have good memories of both St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tate Modern from our…
For a district that is after all mostly office space, the City is less boring than its sounds. First, the skyline, best seen from Tower Bridge across the River Thames, is quite unique. Easy-to-recognize skyscrapers such as 30 St Mary Axe (nicknamed “the Gherkin”) or The Heron Tower (the tallest building in the City) pop up from otherwise old-looking streets with historical buildings, such as the Royal Exchange.
The first morning in London, we went out wearing our usual summer outfit: shorts and t-shirts. We took the Tube to Victoria Station, and as soon as we stepped out of it, we were greeted by a torrential downpour. Welcome to London!
Even though we were not in London to attend the Games, we were kind of hoping to have the chance to do something Olympics-related, such as going to a low-demand event. Well, no such luck. Sorry to say London 2012, but I found Beijing 2008 was much better organized.
I speak American/Canadian English, not British English. It always takes me a minute or two to tune to regional accents, such as Kiwi, Australian or British (for Scottish accent, it takes me a bit longer… ever watched Trainspotting? I need subtitles!).
In London you pretty much have to walk by Buckingham Palace—the official London residence and principal workplace of the British monarch—at least once. That’s what we did, after a torrential downpour (hence the dark sky in the pictures).
On a quite stormy day (more on London weather later!), we got off the Tube at London Bridge and took the Queen’s Walk along the River Thames. The skyline is quite nice there, with the famous Tower Bridge in the foreground, as well as the HMS Belfast (a permanently moored museum ship, originally a Royal Navy light cruiser), the City Hall and the Tower of London.
After a busy first day in London and good night’s sleep, we woke up feeling somewhat refreshed and eager to explore the city. The weather was nice, so we decided to head to Camden Town to shop at the famous Camden Markets. I don’t care how tacky and touristy these open-air markets can be, I like the place and the people.
After landing in Heathrow and convincing the immigration officer we were dutifully employed, we headed straight to the hotel we had booked just a few days earlier. While we are not picky when it comes to accommodation, we wanted to make sure we actually had a room—finding one had been almost too easy, especially considering the Olympic Games.
It is 10 a.m. London time and we are standing below the huge blue “UK Border” sign at Heathrow Airport. Our plane just landed minutes ago and we sprinted to immigration control, expecting a long queue—the whole Olympic thing, you know.
In France, I bought a bunch of beauty products. In London, I found a t-shirt mecca at Camden Market. Originally a craft market, the Camden Lock Market is now a thriving shopping area and hundreds of retailers sell clothes and souvenirs. You can find pretty much anything, from your basic “I love London” t-shirt to trendier vintage clothes. I fell in love with the Funky Chameleon brand and bought a few embroidered tank tops.
It started as a joke: Feng wanted to take a picture of the London Eye reflecting in my eyes. After a few trials (try opening your eyes as big as you can without blinking for several seconds!), we got hold of it. We then decided to do the “eye picture” for a few major landmarks during this trip.
Aren’t cities at night truly beautiful?
London didn’t disappoint. Lots of lights, lots of sights, lots of amazing skylines coming alive before our eyes after sunset. Next, Paris and Nantes again…
Coming from a country which executed Louis XVI, the last king, by guillotine, I tend to consider monarchy a custom somewhat obsolete and old-fashioned although harmless if a Parliament is in place. We don’t hear that much about the Queen in Canada and I’ve never been very interested in gossip about the Royal Family.
The many bridges crossing the River Thames are all different. The Millennium Bridge is a modern footbridge steel suspension bridge leading to the Tate Modern, while the Tower Bridge, with its two massive towers, leads to the Tower of London. The architecture of the London Bridge is more straightforward but it is interesting to watch all the throng of office workers making their way from The City to London Bridge Station at the end of the day.
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London, is actually more a castle than a tower. It is among all famous for being the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
The castle is made of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls, and a moat, which is now dry. Currently stored in the Waterloo Barracks, the Crown Jewels are one of the main attractions.
London was a great surprise to me. I had been to England many times as a teen, first by taking the ferry across the channel and later by the Eurostar train. England to me was buying “crips” with vinegar at Woolworth, taking double-decker buses across small cities, listening to Oasis (I liked them better than Blur) and bitching about the overall gloomy weather.
While the Louvre in Paris may be more famous, London also has awesome museums. We took the opportunity to visit the British Museum and the Tate Modern and I must said I was amazed by both.
One really cool fact: these national museums were both free, although small donations were encouraged. How cool! In Paris, museums are quite expensive and it adds up pretty fast.