London, England, U.K.

14 01 2009

London, England is quite possibly my favorite city in the world.  For me, it has just the right combination of history, culture, architecture, lore and good public transportation.  Where else do finance types get to have their after work drinks in the same gloomy pub that was frequented by Charles Dickens and has been around since the 1500s?  In what other city can you find the most beautiful cathedral in the world built by the venerable Sir Christopher Wren?  And what other country has spawned so many literary classics and wonderful authors, from Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling to Neil Gaiman to Diana Wynne Jones?  Not to mention the fantastic television programs!

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this group in Trafalgar Square! These actors were promoting Monty Python’s new DVD box set.


No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

As you may be able to tell from the photo above, I was in London this past November for about a week.  Although I have previously been to this historic city, it was over 10 years ago when I was a clueless student.  In that trip, I had done the typical touristy London in 2 days tour, where our school group sailed through all the major sites in one day on a bus, my friend was pickpocketed in Oxford, we trudged through a museum with no background, and it rained every day.  That is not how to do London and its environs and I do not recommend it.  


My first glimpse of Big Ben from Trafalgar Square.

What I do recommend is to take at least 3-4 days to really see London.  Even with one week, we felt we did not have nearly enough time to do everything we wanted.  I do feel that we were able to do the city a little more justice this time though.  We were able to just walk around Central London and explore, which is really the only way to get to know any city.  We still participated in tours and did the major landmarks, of course, but we did it on our terms, took our time, and had frequent breaks for tea.  It did rain, but it didn’t hold us back!


Big Ben is really beautiful up close.


Westminster Abbey


Covent Garden

I love how in London almost everyone calls you “love,” speaks with interesting accents, and likes to take tea and scones at 4 PM.  


Having a mini cream tea at TEA.

The fish and chips and Indian/Pakistani food are divine, and in fact the culinary world has improved immeasurably in the last decade.


Restaurants on Brick Lane, London’s Little India.


The best Pakistani food I’ve ever had in my life was at LaHore.

Lahore Kebab House is on Umberton Street right off Commercial Rd. The tube stop is Aldgate East.  The immediate area is deserted at night, so make sure you know where you are going before starting out!

When you travel on your own schedule, you can stop at places like this Cornish Pasty Bakehouse on a whim. Yummy!


One of several interesting things to see on Fleet Street.

I love the side streets of this old city.  I wish I could have walked down every interesting side street I saw.


Side street off Whitehall.


Side street in the Old City of London.


This quaint street is straight out of a movie.

In some places, it’s not difficult to imagine London in the middle ages, when rats and the Black Death reigned.


Anne Boleyn’s residence in the Tower of London complex.


A shop on Fleet Street.  We didn’t see any demon barbers though.

And where else can you stumble on the most surreal scenes? On one of our last nights, we were walking towards St. Paul’s Cathedral when we saw this eerily beautiful carnival.

 
St. Paul’s Cathedral


A carnival next to St. Paul’s Cathedral

In London, it’s as if every street name, street corner, and building has some historic or literary significance.  Since this is the city where so many things originated, this should be unsurprising. I cannot help being amazed, however, when I am standing in the tube stations of Richard Mayhew’s adventures in London Below, or listening to the angelic voices at Evensong in St. Paul’s Cathedral, or gazing at the London Eye, where the Nestene Consciousness took up residence in Doctor Who, or standing in the place where Anne Boleyn triumphed and fell in her quest for the throne.  I suppose for me the best part of London is that it stirs my imagination and brings to life so many novels and history lessons I’ve loved.

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