Wednesday, January 13, 2010

London : The City (Part 2)

London: The City (Part 1)


Just opposite the London eye after crossing the Westminster Bridge, is the Houses of Parliament, another view of London you regularly see.
It’s a huge yellow building with huge spires and intricate architecture, sitting just next to Thames. One of the tower holds the Big Ben, the famous clock of London. It looks beautiiiiiiiiiiful at night, when its all lighted up, with the reflections showing in the Thames. The Parliament is a good view from the Eye too. You can’t go in the Houses though, and it’s very heavily guarded nowadays.

Also in front of the Parliament, you would always see a group of people protesting against something, Iraq war, global warming etc etc!

Also, just in front of the Parliament, is the Westminster Abbey, the royal church. Its serene from outside, inside I don’t know:) [The 9am, Sunday morning phenomenon again!!] Its also one of the locations which is talked about in the book, Da Vinci Code.

From there on walk towards the Buckingham Palace through huge gates lined with gardens on both sides.
The walk is gorgeous, and if you have time, walk through the St James park. Good landscaping, with ducks in the water and a good time to stop and have coffee at the café there.

At the Buckingham Palace, you will just get to see a view of the Palace from the outside and the white statues of Queen Victoria and others, along with the fountains, at the crossroads.
The Palace is open to the public for a couple of months starting in September, that’s the time you can go in, else you can just walk around. At the crossroads, in the summer, they have colourful flowers planted there.
If you wake up on time on a Sunday, 9 am (again!), you can even see the 'Change of guard' happening at the Palace, a 15-20 minute event complete with music and pomp and show! That I did manage to see once actually:). Also a very cute view at the Palace are the Queen’s Guard soldiers stationed there, with their red coats and bearskin hats. They look soooo cute, just like dolls, and completely unmoving.

From there on, you can walk towards the Trafalgar Square (if you are not tired by then). This area is the perfect example of the majestic imperial power that Britain was in those days!
The Trafalgar Square is a huge square with a tower in the centre, with Lord Nelson’s statue on the top! (Apparently he can see the sea from there!!). The tower is surrounded by four huge lions on all four sides. The square has huge fountains and the famous pigeons shown in countless movies. During summer, there is generally a festival of some sorts happening there all the time, may be a Chinese festival or Russian vodka festival or a Diwali festival. You will also see lots of people timepassing there at all times:).

Just in front of Nelson’s statue, is the National gallery, which has a huge collection of paintings from old times Europe and exquisite pieces at that!! And its free:).

Have been there a couple of times, but still the time was never enough to capture the treasure house of art there. Just next to it, is the National Portrait Gallery also, this one is not that impressive though!

From there on, you should walk towards Covent Garden via the Strand.
You will pass by the magnificent Charing Cross station on the way. Covent Garden is an old-fashioned market, which has the local wares being sold there during the day. Apparently, it used to be a flower and fruit market earlier but now the square has some small shops in the centre, with the Royal Opera House on one corner. A lot of the places here have open air seating, which is quite a positive.
There is a lot of vacant space around with artists playing music. There are many coffee and snack places at the centre, where you can sit and enjoy the music playing outside. There are also lot of street artists here, dressed up in innovative costumes entertaining the passer-bys.

And then onto Leicester Square just next to Covent Garden.
Leicester Square is the party place of London, strewn with movie theatres, plays, casinos, restaurants and happening clubs on all sides. Most weekends we would just land up there, and then decide what to do. Go into any movie theatre, tons of plays to choose from near and around, or just eat some good food and see people out all night partying! At the garden in the centre, there are generally artists sitting there who make paintings or caricatures of people. You can sit there for sometime and get a painting of yourself made too.

Just on a parallel road to the main garden at Leicester Square is a road with all kinds of Oriental cuisines, Chinese, Japanese, Singaporean, Korean etc. Soho is also just next to this area where there are a lot more clubs to party at.

From there you move to the Piccadilly Circus, which is a square with a fountain in between and some stairs to sit on and observe the traffic going all around you. There are always people sitting there enjoying the views around.
It’s a meeting point for 5-6 roads at the junction. Also, just at the junction, there are all these lighted billboards all around, something similar to Times Square but much smaller in size. There is also this sculpture at one of the buildings there, horses with water flowing behind it, a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. [Sorry for not enough photos of the place, somehow never thought of taking photos of places you frequent everyday!]

There is also the LillyWhites store at the Piccadily Square, to buy cheap sports stuff at throwaway prices. One of the roads from the Square is the Shaftesbury Avenue which has all the theatres. This entire area is so lighted up, especially at night, is fun to be there. Plus you get to see all the people going back home late at night, at different levels of drunkenness, as the hour increases, the levels of sanity keep falling too.
From there, you can move on towards the Regent Street which is one of the costliest shopping streets I have seen (other than Cannes that is!!). It’s a winding round street with huge shops on both sides. Take a walk here, and you will see some of the biggest brands shops here. I never entered them though, they were generally beyond me, but still they are a pleasure to browse through. Especially during Christmas, this whole street is decorated with lights, and Christmas characters, twinkling away in the cold.

I somehow always preferred walking this street, rather than going in a bus. It was just so grand, so alive, so rich, so magnificent. Some famous shops here are Mango, Banana Republic, Apple, Jaeger, Austin Reed, Burberry etc. At least these are the names I still remember!! One store to go to here is Hamleys. It’s a six floor toy store, the biggest in the world. Makes you want to be a kid again!! And even being an adult, you can spend hours in this shop just exploring the new kinds of toys and gadgets available to kids nowadays. I of course spent hours in the Barbie section:).

From Regent Street, you would reach Oxford Street,

the main shopping street of London. So many weekends have been spent time passing here:), I cant even remember. Good food stuff, awesome and stylish clothes, enough for good summer evenings. The shops shut down by 8 though. There are a couple of stores there that you should visit, Selfridges being one. Its huge and gives lots of opportunities to browse. Good to see, not to buy though:). [No photos available of the shopping district just proves am not a shopaholic:) ]
As you walk along Oxford Street , you will come to the corner of Hyde Park. You would cross a location called Marble Arch on the way. Hyde Park is a huge park in the middle of London with hajaar things happening there! Its also one of the most mentioned locations in London, if you read Wodehouse or the Jane Austen variety of books. Even before going to London, this place had a place in my thoughts, and I found it just like that!!

There are two lakes within the park: the Serpentine around which are a couple of good cafes, to enjoy the sun as well as boat in.

There are ducks around the lakes, as well as many such similar birds. The landscaping includes green grasslands, trees, slightly forested areas, small hills etc. Its so huge, the perimeter is more than 7 kms!! Gives enough space and opportunity to people to do what they want.

You can see people skating and running during summer,
playing football, taking their dogs for a run, kids playing in the playground and everything else people who’ve been deprived of sun for months would do. In summer, you would even see people sunbathing there! There is even a speaker’s corner near Marble Arch where people just take the stand and talk about whatever they feel strongly about. Funny thing is, there are enough people around to hear that too!

On the walls of Hyde park, artists display their paintings for passerby to appreciate and buy. There are many other smaller places to discover and explore in the park itself. Many a summer afternoons have been spent just walking through the park, soaking in the greenery and life around…

On the West of Hyde Park, is the Kensington Gardens as well as the Kensington Palace where Princess Diana used to stay.
Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are actually connected and part of the same green area. You can visit Kensington Palace, if you are a Diana fan, but I would say it’s not worth it. The gardens of the Palace are very well maintained though.

As you walk along in the park, on the south side, you would come across the Albert Memorial and the Peter Pan sculpture.
Just opposite that would be the Albert Hall, a grand structure where concerts and other shows are held regularly. Once you cross the park (and be sure to spend time there sipping tea/coffee on a cold day!) you would reach the Kensington area which is one of the most posh areas of London.

You can see the wealth there in the buildings itself!
Nearby in Knightsbridge, is located the Harrods store: a huge 5 floor shopping complex with everything and anything being sold there! You should definitely keep some hours aside to be able to do full justice in exploring all the treasures that Harrods has to offer.

Within the Kensington area are also located the famous Natural History Museum and Albert and Victoria Museums.
The Natural History Museum is located in an huge old building, and again is free. It has some interesting exhibits inside. The Albert and Victoria Memorial houses many of the treasures of the royal family, and would require a couple of hours again.

So that was my most favourite walk around London, visiting the most famous places, while soaking in the sights of the city. It’s a really long walk, am sure you can't finish in one day! And if you want to visit the museums and all, you definitely need more time! But its good to see where everything is located, so that depending on what you like and what you don’t, you can decide to spend more time at these places at leisure. Also, on the way everywhere you would see monuments with history and other interesting though not very famous places to see. I cant list them all, but they are a pleasure to learn about even if they are not as famous. Am sure you would enjoy, exploring it on your own too.

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