“You have to go to London!”
“Because you do! How can you be in Europe for over two years and not go to London?”
“I like smaller cities I guess….”
“Isn’t it just a two hour train ride away?”
“Well yes, but….”
“You’re stupid if you don’t go!”
Okay, I give up…I went to London. My decision was mildly influenced by the mock conversation above…how could I be in Europe for so long and not visit one of its major cities? I stayed in Bloomsbury…which is within walking distance to the St. Pancras train station, thus I had easy access to the underground transport system, which was almost as good as Germany’s. It’s hard not to recognize the ethnic diversity of the city right away. The three receptionists I met at my hotel were from Lithuania, Romania, and Bulgaria, and I think I’ve heard more English spoken in Bruges than I did here.
Bloomsbury is where the British Museum is located. On my way there, I stopped for lunch at a pub and heard three Beatles songs…yeah, must be in London. The museums here are great, as they’re all mostly free so you don’t feel bad about going in for just one or two exhibits. I went to the British Museum just to see the Egyptian exhibit. I’m surprised by how many artifacts are here rather than in Egypt, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some Egyptians soured on the British because of this. The exhibit was impressive, lots of gold artifacts and mummies….even mummified cats! I ended my first day with dinner and a beer at an Irish pub near my hotel, and interestingly met a bartender named Cameron David, the inverse of the Prime Minister’s name!
The next day I started at the Natural History Museum…again this was free so I went straight to the dinosaur exhibit, which was awesome. They had some of the oldest bones ever discovered, and they pieced them together into a really good showcase. I played around with the posterization effect on my camera to get some artsy dino photos, and left the museum thoroughly satisfied.
I went to the Victoria Albert Museum next, which was the highlight of the day. I started off at the wedding dress exhibit, which actually cost 10 euros to enter…and after paying I was told no pictures allowed! Something with the dresses having trademarks, and no one wanting their designs to be stolen. I took some iPhone pics discreetly in protest. I must admit I was very impressed with Gwen Stefani’s wedding dress, as I loved the white gown with the pink trail.
The sculptures here really won me over, especially the special section they had on religious sculptures…and one in particular, “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ”, which was beautiful. I finished up at a special display they had on altar pieces. “The Death of the Virgin” was the most moving, where it depicted Christ coming back to see his mother’s soul into heaven.
I then made the pilgrimage only epidemiologists would make, to Broad Street and the site of John Snow’s famous work, and proof that Sherlock isn’t the only detective in London. In 1854, with a cholera outbreak raging through London, Dr. Snow mapped the cases of cholera throughout the city. He discovered that most of the cases were in a specific area serviced by one of the two main London water companies at the time. He theorized that water was the source of the disease, and shut down the water pump on Broad Street, which eventually ended the outbreak. Snow is widely regarded as the founder of epidemiology, so of course I was obligated to have a beer at the ‘John Snow Pub’. The original pump is no longer there, and the mock one they had put up is now covered by construction work, so I had to settle for a picture of the commemorative plaque.
My last full day I started at Baker Street, famous for the Sherlock Holmes story. Of course Sherlock and Dr. Watson were fictional characters, but that didn’t stop London from capitalizing on their fame with a Sherlock Holmes museum. I didn’t go into the museum (overpriced admission and poor reviews), but I will say the pub next door served a great Bloody Mary…it was definitely spicy, not European spicy! I took a picture of the Baker Street sign, and a cool black and white shot of the Sherlock statue, and then headed to take the underground to Buckingham Palace.
When I got to the underground, however, there was some crazy delay and a mob of people angrily waiting, so I bailed and decided to walk. On the way I had a wonderful grilled cheese sandwich from a street vendor, and stopped into a travel bookstore where I picked up a couple books on the islands I’m going to on my upcoming Greece trip. The walk was nice, as it took me through some nice parks, which London is known for. I saw the list of unmissable sights…Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Big Ben (not as big as I’d expected), and the London Eye. They were all pretty much as advertised…imposing and picturesque, but maybe I’d heard so much about them that I came away not that impressed. I got my picture next to the Churchill statue…loved that guy, every now and then I still YouTube his speeches!
I’m glad I came here, but it was as expected. I liked it, didn’t love it, and if there’s a competition for big European cities I’ll take Paris over London.