London Again

In keeping with my tradition of going to London every July, I went there last weekend.  This was a short trip-  I flew in on Friday night and out on Sunday evening.  However, I ran into some issues with Heathrow.

It seems that a 787 DreamLiner from an Ethiopian carrier caught fire, and the airport had to close for a few hours while this was being dealt with.  The delays snowballed from there, and my evening went like this:

  • My 9pm flight got into Heathrow an hour and ten minutes late.  I’m lucky it wasn’t cancelled entirely.
  • We waited twenty minutes for Heathrow staff to find someone to drive the jet bridge out to the plane.
  • We waited another twenty minutes for the little people mover that takes you from the gate to the arrivals area.
  • Lots and lots of people had no luggage, or had to go back throughout the weekend to try to get their luggage back.  I’m grateful I’ve taken to flying without checking a bag for short trips.
  • We got to the main arrivals area of the terminal after the last Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station had already left.  Luckily, they added two additional trains when they saw the delays stacking up.  One departed at 12:45, and one at 1:30.  I waited another 50 minutes for the 12:45 train.
  • If you’re doing the math from the bolded text above, you’ll spot that we got to Paddington after 1am, which means the London Underground was shut down for the night.  The picture below was the line at the taxi stand at Paddington.  I considered walking to my hotel, but that would have involved cutting through Hyde Park at night, and I wasn’t feeling up to that particular challenge.
  • After my first experience with a legendary London Black Cab, I reached my hotel and made it into bed by around three in the morning.  My weekend was off to a rollicking start.


Saturday morning, I went to The Shard.   The newly constructed tallest building in the European Union was not open to the public yet when I was in London last July, and I couldn’t resist a climb to the top.  Tall stuff!


The lobby has an entire wall covered in quotes about London; this was my favorite one:


The climb was actually one elevator to the 33rd floor, then another elevator to the 68th floor.  From there, a short stair takes you to the first observation level at the 69th floor, and another set of stairs takes you to the open observation on level 72.   There’s more above that, but only for private functions.

The elevators inside the Shard have video screens in their ceilings.  This is a picture of an elevator ceiling:


Stairs to 72:


This is the mostly-open observation level at the top.


…and three pictures of the View from the Shard, which is coincidentally the name of the tourist attraction portion of the building.  The first picture includes the London Eye, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.


The second picture includes St. Paul’s Cathedral.


The third includes the Tower Bridge and part of the Thames River.


After  I left the Shard, I went on the Tube to meet a friend for lunch.  My weekend of rough travel continued, as parts of the Tube were shut down for maintenance work and I had to go in a very roundabout way.


I made it, eventually, to the British Library to meet Neo for Lunch. That’s not code for anything, it’s just where we met before grabbing a bite to eat.  Hanging out with friends is always a delight, and I love lunching with people.


After lunch, I made my way to the DLR trains from Tower Bridge to go over to Greenwich.  When I was there last July, I couldn’t reach the Royal Observatory because of the Olympic Games, and I really wanted to check that out.  On a nice warm day like this, so did a lot of other people- the lawns of Greenwich Park were littered with sunbathers and picnickers.  The Observatory is waaaay up that hill to the right  It was a nice walk.


The Royal Observatory is great for people who like to geek out about time, clocks, telescopes, astronomy, and so forth.  There are a lot of nifty clocks about, like this one.


The museum section also had a lot of amazing telescopes and spyglasses and so forth.  I took a lot of pictures, but I’m not going to put all of them up here.  Instead, I chose this spyglass to represent the coolest of the cool:  It’s a walking stick/sword/spyglass.  So cool!


Of course the reason that most tourists go to the Royal Observatory is to stand on the Prime Meridian, with one foot in the East and one in the West.  There is also a monster laser in the Observatory that they light up at night- a bright green laser beam shows the path of the Prime Meridian for roughly fifteen miles on a clear dark night.  I’d like to see that some time.

The line to stand on the Meridian was quite long, but only for the picturesque part with the extra markings and a staff member nearby.  Right on the other side of that huge line of people, it was still the Prime Meridian, so I just did my thing off to one side:


After I was done at the Observatory, I doubled back to the hotel to change clothes for the evening.  When I got out of the Tube at Earl’s Court, I found this right outside the station.  The “Bad Wolf” and Clara Oswald notes were already scrawled into the dust; I didn’t put them there.


Finally, Saturday evening had arrived, and this is what brought me to London for this trip:  BBC Prom #2.  The 50th Anniversary Doctor Who Prom.

For those who are unfamiliar with the BBC Proms, a Prom (or Promenade Concert) is part of a yearly series of summer concerts.  Most are held in the Royal Albert Hall, and there are dozens of different shows.  There’s an entire culture built up around going to the Proms, and some fans like to go Promming:  That is, they wait in the morning for the final tickets to be released, pay five pounds for a ticket, and then stand in the center section of the Royal Albert Hall for the entirety of the show.   In the 2013 season, there are 74 separate Proms.  The Doctor Who events were Prom #2 (Saturday evening) and Prom #3 (Sunday afternoon.)

Doctor Who At The Proms has occurred twice before, in 2008 and 2010 respectively.  I had been waiting for it to come up again since I got to Germany, and I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.  The Proms were recorded live, and  will be aired on the BBC during the 50th Anniversary celebrations later this year.

In any case, here’s the Royal Albert Hall.


The walk between my hotel and the Royal Albert Hall went up a long street filled with various embassies.  At one point, I saw some guys taking a picture of a doorway, and I got a little curious.  This is what they were taking a picture of-  cue Yakety Sax!


But I digress…  this is what the Royal Albert Hall looked like from my seat.


You can see that the stage is large enough to hold the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Ben Foster.  There were racks of seats behind the orchestra for the London Philharmonic Choir.  I cannot begin to describe how amazing they sounded together live.  The acoustics in the Royal Albert are absolutely brilliant.


Matt Smith, the 11th (and current) Doctor appeared at this event, along with Jenna Coleman, the Doctor’s current companion.  Some of the introductions were handled by Madame Vastra and Strax, in character, along with lots of other people from the show.  The music was mostly from the current era of the show (2005 to the present), but some pieces of music performed were from the “Classic” Doctor Who, which is what they now call all of the Doctor Who between 1963 and 1996.   Plus, since this is a Doctor Who Prom, there were Silurians, Silence, Ice Warriors, Whisper Men, Cybermen, and a few others.  Here’s a Weeping Angel:


Here’s a Judoon:


…and here’s the conductor being harassed by a pair of Daleks.


The Proms were amazing, and if I lived in London, I would go to a lot more of them.  Some of the other Proms this year sounded really nifty.  After the show, I headed back to the hotel and had a nice room service sandwich to wind down.   On Sunday morning, I met Neo again, this time at Hyde Park, because there was a giant horse head statue I wanted to check out.  I had seen it from the window of the taxi two evenings before.  In the darkness, it looked like a giant glowing horse head, and I was pleased to find that it wasn’t that difficult to find in the daylight either.  This 35 foot tall horse head statue was sculpted by Nic Fiddian-Green, and it’s been there since around 2009.


Another set of statues, a wander past the Speaker’s Corner of the park, a quick lunch, and then it was already time to head back to Paddington for my trip out of London.  On the walk to Paddington station, we passed a hospital, and there were a bunch of photographers and television crews setting up.  I didn’t know until we’d walked past it what it was all about… there were ranks of ladders for photographers to stand on…


…and just past the already set up tv crews, there were squares of tape which dictated where other camera crews from different media outlets could set up.

We had stumbled onto the journalist area for the media crews covering the birth of Kate Middleton’s royal baby at St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington.  I didn’t even know this was going on, but there it is.


Tell me your favorite thing to do in London.  Have you ever been to a BBC Prom?  Have you ever accidentally stumbled across a major media event?  Have you ever stood on the Prime Meridian? 


One Week In The UK, Part One: London

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson

Ever since I was eleven years old, I’ve wanted to see London.    My fascination with the city started when I would come home after school, running from the bus stop to catch the second half of the day’s broadcast of Dangermouse on Nickelodeon.  For the uninitiated, Dangermouse is the world’s greatest secret agent, a mouse in a white jumpsuit with an eye patch.  His assistant, Penfold, is a hamster in a tiny blue suit.   The link above is part of an episode.  To date, Dangermouse is still my favorite cartoon.

As I grew older, the UK criss-crossed my personal pop culture landscape.  Many movies I loved were filmed, in part, in Pinewood Studios about twenty miles outside of the city.  Here’s a very short and in no way complete list:  Superman and Superman II, the original Harryhausen Clash of the Titans, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Legend, the James Bond movies, Little Shop of Horrors, Aliens, the first two Hellraiser movies,  the 1989 Batman, The Fifth Element, Stardust, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (the single finest movie adaptation of a stage musical ever made), and The Dark Knight.  Granted, most of these didn’t showcase London, but they were made there, and in my brain, that counts.  Sweeney Todd has an entire song just about London, though.

I read every Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy book as it came out.  Tom Baker was my Doctor until 2005.  I watch Love Actually at least once a year.  A hefty portion of my regular television viewing comes out of the BBC.  My favorite living author is British.

My point is that I was predisposed to love London even before I ever dreamed of traveling there.  And I did, of course-  dream of traveling there.  When I finally got my passport back in 2006, it was with the intention of making it to London.    I was just waiting for money, time off, and someone to travel with.

As I gained more seniority at Mr. Company, the money became less of a constraint, and the time off became easier to come by.  I was still waiting for a travel buddy though, but it never quite worked out.    Meanwhile, I went to other places.  I traveled widely in my own country, visited Canada, and spent two weeks in Hong Kong for work.   Then in late 2010, my life reached “Do-Over” status-  I found myself single again and temporarily without an apartment of my own.  In that time of upheaval, I made a promise to myself that I would reach London before my fortieth birthday.

Fast forward to April of this year.  I’d been in Germany for a scant five months, and I saw a link on Facebook to a Neil Gaiman post.  The surviving cast members of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio shows were doing a live touring version of the radio shows. Neil himself would be the voice of The Book in the Edinburgh, Scotland show on the 21st of July.  Twenty minutes after I read the post, I had already purchased tickets.    Thirty minutes after I read the post, I had compared the dates of the Olympics to the date of the show, verified that the week leading up to that event was a full week before the crowded Olympics began, and requested my vacation time.    The trip formed from that point forward.

On Saturday, 14 July, I flew into Heathrow Airport, with an Oyster Card, a LondonPass, and a very basic travel framework locked in.  I had a ticket for the London production of Wicked on Tuesday.  I had a rail ticket to go from King’s Cross Station in London to Waverley Station in Edinburgh by rail on Friday.  I had the aforementioned HHG Live ticket, and airfare to go from Edinburgh back to Munich the following Sunday.  And finally, I had a list of things I wanted to see, based on a lifetime of absorbing the UK into my soul like so much mercury on the skin.  I had a terrific time, and I took nearly a thousand photographs.  I’m only going to share about two dozen of them here.

London Just Being London: 

I started out my time in London by using one of those hop-on-hop-off tours on a double decker bus.  This is a great way to get an overview of a new city, and the tour guides are usually pretty interesting.  Right away, I saw London being, well, London.  Bowler hat.  Tails.  If this guy had a monocle and a walking staff, my day would have been complete.

As my hotel was in a slightly residential area near Westminster, I got to see a lot of types of living arrangements, and one of the threads that I noticed was that TARDIS blue (Pantone 2955C) is a very popular color for people’s doors.

The London Eye:

I don’t really know why I love the idea of this thing so much, but one of the things at the top of my “I MUST DO THIS” list was to ride the London Eye.  When the Eye went up in 1999, it was often referred to as “the London Eyesore,”  but people have warmed to it since then and it’s become a much loved part of the London skyline.  The Eye is basically a giant Ferris wheel, except that each of the cars is an oval shaped, sealed, and air conditioned compartment big enough for about 25 people to move around.  The compartments are rotated throughout the ride so that the compartment is always completely vertical, and a ride around the entire circumference takes about thirty minutes.   During the ascent, you get a pretty spectacular view of Big Ben, the houses of Parliament, and Westminster Bridge just across the River Thames, and once you reach the top, you have an amazing panoramic view of London.

Preparation for the 2012 Olympics Is Everywhere:

The London Bridge has a set of gigantic Olympic rings hanging from the upper level.  I wish I’d posted this before the Olympics started, since I took these pictures beforehand.  Now, of course, this picture has been done by every news agency in the world.  It’s interesting to me that the rings fold up when the bridge has to open.  I actually got to see this happen, as they opened the bridge for a passing boat while I was visiting the nearby Tower of London.

Wenlock and Mandeville, the Olympic and Paralympic mascots, are all over the city now, expecially along the Thames.  I saw and photographed at least a dozen different variants, with different “outfits” painted on.   This one is at one end of the Lambeth bridge, with his back toward Parliament.

The preparation was extending to areas outside of the city as well.  I took a boat to Greenwich on one of the days, and we passed an active ship from Her Majesty’s Royal Navy, which was docked for the duration of the games. I never found out the name of the vessel.  (Edit after original posting:  It was the HMS Ocean.)  Lots of military folk were wandering around Greenwich.  When one group of them wandered past…   What’s the word for a group of British naval officers?  A platoon?  Division?  Flock?  I think I’ll pretend they’re like dolphins and say it was a pod of soldiers.  Anyway, when this pod of soldiers wandered past, I heard one little boy say to his father, “Daddy, are those space marines?”  I had to fight very hard to not laugh.

Unfortunately for me, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich was closed because of preparations for the Olympics.  I was kind of bummed out by this, because I wanted to straddle the Prime Meridian so I was standing in two time zones at once.  Oh well, at least I got to see a helicopter landing on the deck of the Naval ship.  That was nifty.

There’s Lots Of Touristy Stuff, Too:

No first-time visit to London would be complete without checking out Westminster Abbey.  I was kind of entranced by how many famous graves were there.   I stood over the graves of Laurence Olivier and Charles Darwin, and I sat for several minutes in Poet’s Corner, which has graves and memorials for too many literary giants to list here.  There are so many graves and memorials in Westminster Abbey that there’s a separate Wikipedia entry to list them all.

Trafalgar Square has Nelson’s Column, and Piccadilly Circus has a lot of electric lights and a ridiculous amount of musicals.  They have now made musicals out of a variety of movies that I didn’t think were particularly musical.  One of the evenings, I didn’t actually have any plans, so I went to a second musical.  I bought tickets about an hour before showtime for “Ghost: The Musical.”  It was a week night, and it wasn’t terribly full, so when I picked up my ticket at the box office, my seat had actually been moved forward to about the tenth row.  I thought the idea was ridiculous until I saw that the music was from Dave Stewart (most people know him from Eurythmics) and Glen Ballard (most people know him from, well everything.  The dude has six Grammys.)   It wasn’t bad.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know the plot.  The transition to a musical wasn’t as jarring as I would have expected.

I quite enjoyed the London Film Museum, which had a lot of neat stuff, including Daleks, a TARDIS, the superman suit from Superman Returns, the Batman Begins batsuit, and a large variety of props from other movies.  There was an entire room of Harry Potter stuff, and a large exhibit dedicated to Ray Harryhausen, including a full sized original Bubo.  This was a highlight for me.

I saw The Monument to the London Fire, but I didn’t climb the 300+ steps to the top.  I walked to Cleopatra’s Needle, an actual Egyptian obelisk (a gift from Egypt) on the banks of the Thames.

I visited the British Library and viewed some of the collection in their so-called Treasures room, which included some of the oldest known bibles in many languages, original handwritten lyrics from the Beatles, very old folios of Shakespeare, and much  more.

The Yeoman Warder Tour (sometimes called the Beefeater Tour, although Yeoman Warder is the correct name) at the Tower of London was informative and interesting, and also free.  Plus they spit a lot when they’re speaking.  The front row needed rain slickers, Gallagher style.  There’s a separate tour to see the Crown Jewels, but that doesn’t really interest me as much.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has a pretty nifty tour, and if you time it right, you can see a play there as well.  I didn’t time it right, but I plan on going back sometime.

I went to the British Museum and checked out things like the Rosetta Stone (amazing) and the Egyptian collection from the tomb of Ramses II.   I especially like how everyone observes the ‘Do not sit on the steps’ signs here.

The gift shops had a lot of neat stuff, but I was particularly amused by William Duckspeare.

Another stop that was almost required viewing for a first time visit to London is the Changing Of The Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace.  Or, as I like to refer to it, the daily viewing of the umbrellas in the near constant rain.  I did get a few pictures of the guards doing their thing, however.  I read somewhere that there are four guards when the Queen is in residence, and two when she isn’t, so I could see that she was out that day.  Here’s one of the two guards who was on duty.

I made a point of stopping on Sunday at the Animals In War Memorial.  There are many, many statues, memorials, and the like in London, but this one is dedicated to all the animals that served alongside British and allied forces in all the conflicts of the 20th century.  The memorial has a bronze sclupture of a horse, a dog, and a pair of pack mules moving through a curved wall.  It’s a visually striking memorial, and the site I linked to up above has good pictures of it.  What I found most interesting, however, was that people are obviously visiting this memorial on a regular basis.  There were candles, wreaths, and even a horseshoe left behind in tribute.

London Has Character:

One of my favorite things about the city was that you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a pub with an interesting name.  (Well, you could, but it would have to be a very patient cat, and you’d have to be out in a field somewhere.)  One of my lunch choices was based entirely on where I was when I really, really had to pee one afternoon.  This is the Minories Pub not far from the Tower of London.  The food was amazingly delicious, and the staff was friendly and helpful.

London Also Has Characters:

There’s an area in the corner of Hyde Park nearest Marble Arch called Speaker’s Corner, and there is a tradition of people going there to speak their minds on Sunday afternoons.  My first full day in London was a Sunday, so I couldn’t resist stopping by to see the… let’s call  them outspoken people.  Most of them were religious, most of them were espousing some form of Christianity, several of them were condemning Islam, and all of them were fascinating to listen to for brief spurts.  I took a lot of pictures of people speaking.  This guy had the most eye-catching outfit of the day.

I walked up and down the Thames while I was there, covering several kilometers on both banks, and I really enjoyed some of the scenery and people on the South bank.  One day, while I was walking along the South Bank back toward my hotel,  I passed this fabulous fellow who was silently dancing his way in the opposite direction.  I’m burning with curiosity as to what it was all about, but he never stopped moving long enough for me to ask.

Mind The Gap:

My friends here in Regensburg have figured out already that I’m kind of a nerd about public transportation.  I love the crap out of good public transit, and London has an amazing collection of ways to get around.  I especially love the London Underground, often referred to as The Tube.  I love the Mind The Gap signs.  I love the subway cars.  I love the distinctive push of air that you can always feel coming up the tunnel a good fifteen or twenty seconds before the train appears.  I love that even when I was going the wrong direction and was basically lost, I could still easily navigate my way back to places I was familiar with on the Tube.

Don’t Forget To Go Outside Of The City:

There are a lot of places I wanted to visit in the UK that I didn’t have time for.  I didn’t manage to visit Stratford On Avon, the final resting place of Shakespeare.  I didn’t even get to see large swaths of London. I’ll hit Cardiff next year, for some of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who events.    I did, however, take some time on Wednesday of my week to hop a train from Waterloo Station in the morning out to Salisbury.  From the Salisbury train station, there’s a regular bus that goes every  thirty minutes or so out to Stonehenge.  It took me roughly two hours each way, but it was totally worth it to see this in person.

Next Stop, Edinburgh:

I checked out a lot of other things, much of which I”ll remember tomorrow or the next day that I wanted to get into this post.  For example, I went out of my way to see Fenchurch Street Station because I love the character that Douglas Adams created.  I also found Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross Station and got my picture there. (And as a result, couldn’t get the Pet Shop Boys song out of my head for the rest of the day.)  I ate Fish and Chips and Indian Food.  I had a drink in a pub off Carnaby Street.  I bought some underwear in Marks & Spenser, because everyone says it’s really good stuff.  I went on the London Eye twice.  I walked more in one week than I usually walk in a month.

And finally, I left.  From King’s Cross Station, I took the train up the coast to Edinburgh, Scotland.

But that’s another post.