Monday, July 20, 2009

Eurotrip Diaries - London

Day 1

7 am. Our plane has just landed in the UK – half an hour delayed. It’s so early in the morning here London time, and it’s now my bedtime Toronto time. Unable to sleep much on the flight, we are so tired – and I have a whole day’s itinerary planned! I wonder if we will get anything done.

9 am. The line for immigration control is taking forever. It’s a huge line that snaked its way through many turnstiles and we seem to never be moving. We amuse ourselves by reading out aloud the landing card form in attempted English accents.

11 am. Finally, we are home. The Tube seems complicated, and boy was it hot! London is going through a heat wave (35 degrees C!) and we are in the middle of it. I know the London Underground is a pretty extensive network, but you think they should be able to develop A/c! It is NOT air conditioned, and I was cooking there. I must look like hell – a shower and tea later, we are now ready to explore London. We head for the London Eye.
Mind the Gap

With a little help from my friend, I start figuring out the Tube map and network. It’s actually pretty easy once you understand that there are MORE than one lines and zones (no thanks to Toronto!).

12 pm.
The wife: “Hey, do you think we have the correct time on our watch? GMT is not BST you know.”
Me: “Why don’t we ask someone what the correct time is?”
The wife: “You want to ask someone for the time? You know, you are UNDER the Big Ben!”
Big Ben

1 pm. The Big Ben and Houses of Parliament was just too good. The scenery, their layout, the river Thames, all side by side, was like a post card. We had beautiful weather for photography, clear blue skies and puffs of clouds on the horizon.
London Eye

If only it wasn’t so freaking hot!
London Eye Line

The London Eye, though expensive, was also something worthwhile. The lineup wasn’t bad, 30 minutes long.
London Eye Up

It goes really up, and takes its time too, so we got a lovely birds-eye view of London.
Birds Eye View

I straightaway think three days is just too short a time to do everything in London.

2 pm. Where the HELL is that Cleopatra’s Needle? It SHOULD be here according to the Google map but no one here seems to know what I am talking about? Or maybe they are telling the directions but I just can’t figure out what they are saying.
Cleopatra's Needle

2.30 pm. Being in London is like living in Monopoly!

Those of us who were brought up on the British version of Monopoly (in the Middle East) will know what I mean.

3 pm. Lunch at Trafalgar Square. Man!
Trafalgar Square

London is an expensive city.
Trafalgar Square

Everything figure wise is same, only in pounds. A coke is a pound. A Chinese take away is 6-7 pounds. When you convert to dollars its double! Otherwise it seems like home. The same diversity of people, all cultures in one city, and halal places galore! Loving those red phone boxes. Met some friends for lunch and then went for a walk to Leicester Square and Picadilly.
Leicester Square

Leicester Square

I thought I was tired?

5 pm. We are home. Their recycling bin here is purple! As soon as we are home, it started to rain. And boy, did it rain! I am done for the day, I think.

Day 2

9 am. My friend tells me the Change of Guard is at 10 am, so we are out early. Had a good night’s sleep – well, we did sleep at 7 pm and woke up just some time ago! Once we are there we see that the Change of Guards will happen at 11.30.
Change of Guard

So that gave us some time to do some souvenir shopping, walk the Mall (the street beyond the Buckingham Palace),
the Mall

Mall Cyclists

take some great pictures in the early morning sun and before the crowds get here.
B Palace Not Crowded

We also surveyed and then occupied a great vantage spot atop a memorial.

11 am. The police constable comes and warns the crowd to beware of pickpockets and keep their belongings safe. The crowd is more interested in posing for pictures with him. My wife gushes out, “What language is he speaking? It isn’t English and I speak English and it sounds nothing like what I speak! These people don’t know how to speak English.”
Change of Guards

I am tempted to add “innit”.
Change of Guards

1 pm. After the Change of Guards, walked over to 10 Downing Street, which is now 10 Blocked Downing Street. I guess after their attacks they had to do this.

3 pm. They should give us an award. We finished the British Museum in 1 and half hours!
Rosetta Stone

To be fair, I was only interested in the Rosetta Stone and the rest of the museum was spent posing for funny pictures along old statues.

4 pm. Enter Harrods. The Diana-Dodi memorial is ho-hum. Question, do you smile for a picture when you pose beside a memorial to their death? Tried to hunt for the “Diana and Dodi, killed” statement but couldn’t see it. Makes for a great story though.

Lots of Arabs. Especially the women in abayas. You can smell their perfume a mile away. They move with their own entourage. I have never seen anyone shop at a diamond section of a department store with a trolley. Holy! Then there was this cake that cost, believe it or not, 5000 pounds!
Expensive Cake

Price tag - 5K pounds

At first I think, too bad it’s Sunday and it closes at 5, need more than hour to explore Harrods, especially their oyster bar! Then, after seeing my wife shop, decide its great it closes at 5.

Day 3

9 am. Today, we decide we simply have to do EVERY thing on our list. So that means early wake up plan. Which means we get comfortably behind our schedule from the get go. Women, apparently, need more than 5 minutes to get ready.

12 pm. Madame Tussauds was fun! Once inside there’s lines for practically every statue, especially Brad and Angelina. Our desi instincts take over. We cut lines, rush as soon as someone leaves, camera ready. So we do all. When in London, be a Londoner. Which nowadays means be desi.

Salman Khan was done well, Shah Rukh Khan was so-so and Aishwarya did not look anything like her. But man, was she wearing a lovely sari! The fun part was spotting the wax statues amidst the crowd!

1 pm. St Paul’s Cathedral is really, really huge.
St Pauls Cath

2 pm. Brick Lane. Lunch. I guess I should avoid any buffets that have a sign "Please use only ONE plate".

3 pm. The Tower of London enactments are childish but fun!
Tower of London

And the Tower Bridge should be renamed the London Bridge, because it is definitely the better bridge.
Tower Bridge

They have a castle in the middle of the city? Wow! Er, wait, don’t we have something similar? Too bad I never went inside Casa Loma. But I bet Tower of London would beat that hands down.

4.30 pm. Greenwich. Where is that Prime Meridian?

“See that hill, that’s about 10 minutes walk away? Once you are at the hill, the observatory’s at the top.”


Man. This. Is. Taking. Forever.

4.50 pm. Finally, at the top of the hill. Just in time.

It’s so cool standing on the Prime Meridian. One foot in the East, one foot in the West. Kind of like me.
Prime Meridean

What a great view from this hill. There’s London in the distance. There’s the O2. This HUGE area is London. And they have a subway that covers it all. Toronto’s subway just looks babyish in comparison. TTC = Take The Car.

6 pm. Done for the day. London – done. It starts to rain as we head back home. Perfect.


Anonymous said...

LOL, Mr. Prime Meridian. Enjoyed your narration!

(4999 EACH?!? Does that mean there were more than one of these gold stuffed ckaes?

Dude, that's as much as a CAR!!!!

Mine. Not the Arabs' obviously)

Aafke said...

Did you buy an AtoZ? If not I can strongly recommend it, you get them everywhere in London and you'll never be lost.
At the back is a simplified map of the tubesystem, brilliant, you will easily be able to plan your tube-trips.

Get a ''Time-Out'' for comprehensive information on what's going on in London, from concerts to walks, to museum exhibits, to markets. These walks are great fun btw. And they list the smallest, least know museums and much more.

I hope you are enjoying your stay!

Are you going to send me one of these cakes?

mezba said...

Specs: haha I didn't know how to spell 'Meridian' and was too busy/lazy to check.

Ya that was some expensive cake. Can you imagine eating it? I don't think any person can tell the difference between that and a 4.99 cake with a blindfold. Well, given the customer base they have from the Emirates - a fool and his money are soon parted. Kudos to Fayed.

Aafke: Oh we did enjoy our stay a lot - would love to visit London again. We went everywhere by tube.

Yawar said...

I went in spring of '02 and all the pictures just brought that back to me. I remember one afternoon we just walked through like 10 miles around the Thames bank, the Tate Modern, various parks and chillout spots. Definitely worth it strolling around with the natives on their holidays.

Most of your observations are almost exactly like mine at the time. Got the feeling of being in Monopoly--check. Madame Tussauds--check. Kylie Minogue was the hot item then, with Can't Get You Out of My Head playing in the background. Going into the planetarium afterwards was a mistake, my vertigo took over and just made it like a roller-coaster ride.

I also tried to find 221B Baker St but just ended up getting lost. Maybe next time.

Anonymous said...

I was 13 the last time I visited London. It's absolutely beautiful, isn't it? I didn't get to visit the Greenwich or the Eye because it wasn't even built then. I didn't notice the lack of ac in the subway but that was probably because it was pretty chilly when we were there. I didn't get to go inside Harrods :(.

Haha some lady got caught in the middle during the changing of the guards so we actually saw one of them smile. Bwahaha. If anyone else saw that he would've lost his job. To think Mr Bean had to try so hard.

And yeah, it was like living in monopoly :D

mezba said...

Yawar: I didn't do the Planeterium (did one similar one elsewhere) but we did visit 221B Baker Street. London is just full of history.

Athena: London is beautiful - it has a bit of everything. I didn't try to make the sentry laugh. But I did see other people try! :-D

Anonymous said...

Good stuff I loved London! Still think you should have spent more time at the museums though!

mezba said...

Geeki: Oh I wish I had more time in London. We had only 3 days - so had to prioritize into what we wanted to see. I think we will go back iA!

nadia said...

Love the thick fluffy clouds of London!

mezba said...

Nadia: Apparently we were really lucky with the weather , supposedly it rains there everyday and the weather is really depressing! We had three days of hot sun. And it rained when we were indoors!

Aafke said...

Not really, I lived in London for three years and I found the weather rather boring...
Ofcourse when it does rain everybody complained very laoudly, but on the whole I didn't think the weather in London was particularly shocking.

Now for really awful weather: depressing grey skies, cold temperatures and lots of rain you want to go to the Netherlands!
Although even at home we have been having a lot of sun over the last few summers....
What's happening?

mezba said...

Aafka: Now I don't know the exact science of it but I think global warming should be good for Europe! I mean, you would get warmer and warmer summers if the gulf stream shifted and took on more heat away from North America (we would suffer!).

Then again, I am basing my knowledge on Day After Tomorrow.

Aafke said...

Hmmmm, well, weather patterns ahve always changed... In the seventeenth century it was a lot colder in Holland, and in the thirteenth century it was a lot warmer...
Whatever: I enjoyed my summer very much, lots of nice days with sunshine, only a few I considered too hot, and some rain now and then as well for the plants...
And ice and skating in winter.
This has been a nice year up till now.

PS, it's really funny how all the Dutch go on and on about global warming when we are suffocating on a hot day (Hot weather in the Netherlands is generally not pleasant) but when we are having lots of ice and snow you hear nothing at all!

mezba said...

Aafke: So true! Here the last two winters have been really harsh (even by Canadian standards) and no one talks about Global Warming then!

Aafke said...