I recently spent a few days in London on my way back to Paris from Peterborough. London is a historic, busy city offering many beautiful attractions for the average tourist.
My phone broke the night before I left for the city, what bad luck. I never realized how dependent I was on Google Maps and GPS until I arrived in a new city without them. Not knowing exactly where my Airbnb was located, not having a way to look up a public transportation route (or the nearest station), nor being able to order an Uber, I used a black taxi which was near the bus station. I had no idea my Airbnb was out in Zone 4 of the city, in the suburbs, and that the black taxi would cost more than my bus from Paris! I was shocked at the total, but, live and learn… I learned never to take a black taxi and double check location before you book a place to stay.
The Airbnb, nice and comfortable, was near an underground station on the Central line. Unlike Paris, London uses names rather than numbers for their underground lines. I thought this was interesting and gave each line a little British personality. Similarly, though, each line has its own color. London doesn’t have as many lines or stops as Paris, and, I found that the cars weren’t as nice or rode as smooth.
The city offers free WiFi in the underground. Another useful feature, especially for tourists, is the contactless payment method for the underground. As in most cities, you can use a one-time ticket or reusable card, which for London is the Oyster card. With the Oyster card, the fares are reduced. The fares are also reduced during “off hours,” and is free for children under 11. Fares are more expensive during busy hours and rise the further distance you go. For example travel in Zone 1 is less expensive than Zones 1-4. And now, thanks to modern marvels, if you have a contactless credit or debit card, you can use it like an Oyster card rather than buying an Oyster card you may only use for a week. Also, contactless payment is the same price as the Oysters, which is less expensive than normal tickets and then you avoid paying the deposit for the Oyster. At the end of the day, you will be charged one sum total. Also, there is a maximum fare, known as capping, by the day or by the week for contactless payment cards. Using my contactless payment card was easy and vert convenient. I just used the same card to touch in and out in the underground. Buses and trams you only have to touch in. Navigating the city became pretty simply after learning the system and using a map.
The first day I visited the London Tower, London Bridge and Tower Bridge. The London Tower is an immaculate medieval castle tucked in among the modern architecture of the city. The juxtaposition was beautiful. It sits near the Tower Bridge and river Thames. The London Bridge has not yet fallen and is still standing strong. It is a plain structure, diminished by the Tower Bridge next to it. The Tower Bridge is absolutely beautiful, even more so when lit up at night when the reflected lights trickle across the river.
The big Christmas area was at Hyde Park. I went my first night but left as soon as I got in line, it was extremely crowded and overpriced. There were pop-up Christmas markets across the city, with little vendor shacks. They sold every type of food and an assortment of merchandise and art. I enjoyed a curry dinner near the London Eye followed by mini pancakes topped wit Nutella and banana slices.
My second day, I visited the British Museum, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster, and Buckingham Palace.
The British Museum, free entry, had impressive collections throughout the establishment. The first exhibit is the extensive collection from the Enlightenment, mostly consisting of artifacts from the personal collections of founder Sir Hans Sloane. The collection is now displayed in a large hall, originally designed by Robert Smirke for King George III’s library, with cases on each wall and throughout the walkway. The sheer amount of artifacts is impressive; bones, animals, bugs, documents, books, art. The Enlightenment was a time during which people explored all aspects of the natural and ancient world. Travel and trade led to new discoveries of antiquities and new cultures. It is a beautiful time period of education and development.
The British Museum houses the Rosetta Stone, an artifact discovered by the French. The stone was the key to unlocking and translating hieroglyphs. Other attractions were the Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs and the iconic Parthenon sculptures from ancient Greece. The sculptures were larger than expected, though I’ve never been to Greece. It was interesting to have to perspective of the huge tablets next to you then to see them on models of the Parthenon, it puts them and the entire structure into perspective. It also causes one to think of the British invading cultures and stealing artifacts, an ancient controversy.
I personally enjoyed the mummies. There was a mummified head of a soldier with his helmet still on, his skull had been crushed. I enjoyed the exhibit of the unknown plaster skull. In the first case was the original skull, mummified with plaster and other materials. The exhibit walked you through the skull’s discovery and the reconstruction of the face. According to depression areas in the skull, the man would have worn headbands to stretch his head.
I also enjoyed the African exhibit area, mostly of modern art. The most interesting pieces to me where the Throne of Guns and the Tree of Life, both made with old guns. The material itself spoke loudly to me about the life in a war zone, a violent life in which guns are such common materials for artists to use. It was heartbreaking and beautiful. The museum also had interesting Native American, Oriental and Middle Eastern exhibitions.
My favorite piece in the British Museum: The Jericho Skull. See article for more about “The oldest portrait in the Museum.”
The most impressive art pieces were the boxwood mini sculptures. They were incredibly detailed, exasperating just to look at. It’s a shame I didn’t have a better camera, the technique is worth it.
My trip to London wasn’t very long but if I go back, I will probably invest in a London Pass. I only saw most of the main attractions but the pass allows entry into them all at a fair price. It also includes a hop on/hop off bus tour as well as optional Oyster Travelcard.
For more information: