Travel and Culture

Briefly London

Some of you will have been to London.  Isn’t it a fabulous place?  It is overwhelmingly exciting and there is so much to see and do. However, if you haven’t been there yet and you do intend to go but your visit will be brief because of limited time, please let me tell you a few of the things I did in two days when I recently visited London for the first time with a friend.

Wow! What a city! It has a buzz, a vibe, heaps of people, a sense of history, culture, business, art, science, a fascinating combination of new and old architecture, busy streets and the flowing Thames – all this and more. With limited time, it can be bewildering as to what to see and do.

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An excellent, reasonably priced way to see the main sights of the city is the Hop On Hop Off Tour Bus. As the name implies you can get on or off the bus as you wish. These classic, red, Double Decker buses are continually driving through the streets of London passing famous places such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben – the huge tower clock (which is being restored but its face was uncovered when we were there), The London Eye (a huge Ferris wheel apparently giving spectacular views across London), Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and interestingly the very back garden area of Buckingham Palace where the horses are kept and composting done – but not the actual Palace itself.  You must visit that separately if you want to see the Palace. We found two Hop On Hop Off Tour bus companies. I suggest you choose the slightly more expensive one. It has more buses and they go to more places. If you can, climb up to the upper level of the bus and if possible, grab the seat in the front so you can see more of London. I strongly recommend the Hop On Hop Off buses.

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Trafalgar Square in the centre of London is an absolute must-do. It impressed me as the hub of London.  Here is the famous Nelson’s Column – nearly 60 metres high and protected at its base by four huge bronze lions, The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. The square was full of people – buskers, street artists, tourists, political demonstrators, local commerce and business workers. I sat down on a concrete edge fascinated, absorbing everything.  This is the place to people watch and that’s exactly what I did.  I also visited The National Gallery awed by the art works of Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet and other famous artists. Regretfully I didn’t have time for The National Portrait Gallery.  That’s a place I’ll be visiting next time.

A five-minute walk away from Trafalgar Square is Convent Gardens with its restaurants, shopping and the world renown Royal Opera House where Dame Kiri Kanawa was a principal singer. There are also the Convent Gardens Market where we ate (affordably), bought gifts for family and friends and where I bought myself a beaut lime-green woollen beret, and listened to live music (a fantastic funky four string quartet – I purchased their CD).

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In the opposite direction is Pall Mall, the famous street on the Monopoly Board game.  This leads to Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace which is about a 20-minute walk from Trafalgar Square. It was great to see the Palace even though the Queen wasn’t there at the time although apparently there’d been a garden party the day before.  How did we miss an invite to that? In Hyde Park I felt a sense of poignancy as I strolled along the Princess Diana Memorial Walk, enjoyed seeing picnickers and walkers, and excitedly took photos of a friendly squirrel.

One other thing we did was to meet up my beautiful niece and her lovely partner for dinner in a classic English pub in Paddington where we were staying. Both the food and atmosphere were wonderful. Do go to an English pub for dinner or a drink if you can.

I saw London in the proverbial nutshell, but I reckon I got a good taste of the ‘nut’. How did I feel about London? Quite honestly, I absolutely and totally fell in love with it.  As the Terminator said, “I’ll be back”. Soon. And next time . . . I’m staying longer.

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