For a collection of photos, please feel free to click here.
I do plan to upload more pics. However, my camera died halfway through the trip, and I need to download the rest from my iPhone.
We had the good fortune of staying at a flat in Kensington, which seemed to be a fairly well-to-do part of London. Having had never been to London, I didn't really have any expectations, but found it easy enough to navigate and appreciated the local insistence on telling you which direction to look for oncoming traffic at each intersection.
Inside the city, we either walked or took the tube, with one quick trip on a river boat.
To get it out of the way, here is a brief itinerary:
7:00 AM arrived
Natural History Museum
Princess Victoria Pub
Dinner at an Italian Place
Princess Victoria Pub
Forbidden Planet Cult Entertainment Superstore
Dinner on High Kensington (I had fish cakes)
Ran into crowd of Indian nationals celebrating India's win in the Cricket World Cup Championship at Piccadilly Circus
Saw the comedy "The 39 Steps" at the Criterion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus
wandered around Piccadilly, etc...
Thames, Parliament, Westminster, Eye of London exteriors
Tower of London with Yeoman Warder Tour
Westminster Abbey tour
Churchill War Museum tour
National Gallery and Jason's strategic strike on important paintings (funniest bit of whole trip - mad dash to see 5 specific paintings before the museum closed)
Garfunkel's - the Bennigan's of England
Get on a plane at 9:30 AM
- London has the finest public restrooms I have ever seen
- Virtually every exhibit in London should be subtitled "Get Rich or Die Tryin'"
- I would guess maybe 50% of the people in London are actually English by ancestry
- the curators at the British Museum are very against you seeing a carving of a man's dick. The ancients are very about including dicks in their statues. This causes a sort of queasy feeling in the Greek/ Roman section of the museum where the curator never met a dick he was not going to knock clean off a statue.
- I have never been anywhere short of a library conference where I was certain I could take everyone around me. I did not see anyone I wasn't sure I could take anywhere in London.
- Big Ben is more impressive than you think its going to be
- Every place you think you're going to visit in London as a perfunctory visit is way better than you think it will be
- The wedding of Prince William and Kate is going to be a total riot if the number of collector's plates, flags and mugs displayed in windows is any indication
- Piccadilly Circus is remarkably short on trained elephants
- US Public Spaces got nothing on London
- Judging by the ratio of pub to "American Italian" places... Londoners apparently love pizza
- The British comic market is virtually identical to the American comic market (and Austin Books is a World Class comic shop if Forbidden Planet is any indication)
- Nobody working in the service industry has been in their job longer than a month, and many are not clear on what street they are working
- Apparently there is a dress code in force for 20-somethings in the parts of London I visited. Only 3 looks per gender are approved.
- I dress, look and act very much like an American. Indian ex-pats will find this amusing.
- British police see no problem with their visitors and locals climbing all over public statues (in Texas, this will get you in trouble).
- Henry VIII had issues.
- The London Eye is kind of ridiculous.
- When architecture is from every era, it kind of works crammed altogether, but I wouldn't want to draw a cityscape of London.
- You do not need to put on the "replica hat" at the Churchill Museum just because the docent suggests you do so.
- You should do whatever the docent tells you to do at Westminster Abbey.
- Newton and Darwin are buried at Westminster. The UK is playing by different rules. I'm just saying.
- Also buried there: Dickens, Handel and others. We can learn from this.
- Public transportation is what you make of it, America.
- The number of products the US and UK have in common is shocking.
- My dad, left to his own devices, will watch the same kind of "true life crime" shows on basic cable that I tend to watch when unemployed.
- The only major disagreement you will see the Steans Men have while travelling is over which beer is appropriate for this particular moment (the answer is: always start with Stella)
I'm not the first American to get bowled over by London, but in some small way I am glad that I didn't wind up there until I had a bit more life and travel under my belt than I might have had when I was, say, 18. Through reading, movies, documentary TV, etc... I have an extremely rudimentary working knowledge of British history today that I didn't have at all until the end of college, and so I suspect that much of what I saw would have been wasted on me then.
It strikes me that we in the vast, vast majority of the geography of the US do not have memorials to those who died more than 200 years ago, and the further west one travels in the US, the briefer our sense of history as much more than an abstraction of something left behind somewhere else. A lack of living history, of being surrounded by those who've gone before (some winning, many not winning) may be what gives us an inflated sense of destiny, like a teenager who sees only a future as a rock star ahead of them when they pick up their first guitar and who can't be bothered to learn more than the chords of their current favorite songs.
And as hard fought as democracy has been here in the US, it was also the first step we took as a nation. Everything prior to the French-Indian Wars is buried in a sort of promordial soup of witch-hunts and Indian killing that we'd rather not discuss. In England, this period is just short of current events. You can see the change from one-thousand years of feudal clashes to the rise of democracy in the stones and monuments, and there's something to that, I think. We're a blip on the continuum, it seems to say, and what we do while we're here is important, but it will also pass, and those who are remembered are remembered as either good or terrible souls, and history will look back on you with an audio tour that will speak frankly about your deeds as people walk on your grave.
Anyhow, I'm not telling anyone anything they don't know, especially those of you who've been to London.
It was good to go, its good to be back. I will definitely return for a longer tour of England at some point, and I'd like to see all of the UK at some point. But I should likely see more of the US, too.