A Few Days in London

I landed in London in the afternoon and took the train from Gatwick into the city. My friend Otto from college was in Europe visiting his sister, Grace, who was studying abroad in Paris and they were coming into London later that night. I went to go check in to our hostel which was right near the London Bridge. Otto wasn’t getting in until later so I just got settled in at the hostel and got a bite to eat at the bar/restaurant in the hostel. Otto ended up not getting in until around 10ish so when he got to the hostel we just hung out at the bar in the lobby. It happened to be karaoke night which was pretty funny.

My first real burger in over 3 months

The next day we woke up on the later end and our first stop was to get food at Borough Market, a really cool open air market with tons of restaurants and food vendors of all kinds. We walked around there for a bit, I got a curry chicken wrap for lunch and then we walked across the London Bridge toward the Tower of London.

Borough Market (left), Paella vendor at borough Market (center), My curry chicken wrap (right).
The Shard from across the Thames (left), London Bridge (center), Tower Bridge (right).

After walking down the river we made it to the Tower of London. Originally a royal palace, the Tower of London is probably most famous for being a prison and place of execution, even though it was never designed for that purpose. It is now a tourist attraction and houses The Crown Jewels. We bought tickets and walked around the grounds for a little bit before going on a tour lead by a Yeoman Warder. The Yeoman Warders are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. They are all retired veterans of the armed forces and they live, with their families, in the Tower. Their main function now is serving as tour guides of the grounds. Our tour guide was amazing! He had such a classic dry, British, gruesome sense of humor. He showed us all around different parts of the Tower and told us a lot of stories about its history as a palace, armory, prison and place of torture and execution.

The Tower of London from outside the walls (left), The White Tower, the original palace around which the rest of the complex was built (center), Beefeater on duty at the Tower of London (right).
The Yeoman Warder who led our tour of the Tower of London (left), The space between the inner and outer walls of the Tower (center), Sir Isaac Newton’s apartment when he served as Warden of the Mint, which was housed in the Tower of London (right).
Traitors Gate, used to bring prisoners to the Tower of London. They would be brought down the river by boat, under the Tower of London where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes and through the gate into the Tower (left), The Bloody Tower named that as it is believed to be the place where the Two Prince, Edward V and Richard of Shrewsberry, aged 12 and 9, were murdered by their uncle, Richard so that he could take the throne for himself (center), The Bloody Gate (right).
Part of the Tower of London built as barracks (left), The Green inside the Tower of London with the Tower Bridge in the background (right).
The entrance to the Crown Jewels, pictures weren't allowed inside (left), View of the Tower Bridge from inside the walls of the Tower of London (right).
Prison “cell” of Sir Walter Raleigh in the Tower of London (left), A monument to the ten executions that took place on the Tower Green, inside the walls of the Tower of London. Most executions took place on Tower Hill. These executions took place inside the Tower as they were for people of nobility, like Queen Anne Boleyn (right).
Carvings in the stone walls in one of the areas of the Tower used to keep prisoners. Someone’s name was actually Pooper! (right).
Henry VIII’s armor (left), View of the Tower Bridge from The White Tower (right).
Block and axe used at the last public beheading on Tower Hill on April 9 (my birthday!), 1747. The axe is from the 16th century (left), Bronze Mortar used at the siege of Namur, Belgium in 1695. It weighs over 3 tons and can fire balls weighing over 500 pounds (right).
What used to be the moat surrounding The Tower of London
The Tower of London
The Tower Bridge

After finishing up at the Tower of London we were pretty hungry but it was too early for dinner so we walked around and found a cool bar to get a drink and some food. It was inside of a beautiful old bank building. Afterwards we headed back to our hostel to shower and rest for a bit before going out to dinner.

Bar that we went to in an old bank building (left), Wings, Fried Shrimp and Curry fries (center), Apparently the British have TK Maxx, instead of TJ Maxx (right).

After relaxing for a bit we took the Tube across the city and met up with Grace who was staying with some friends of hers for dinner. As London is supposed to have great Indian food, we decided to try some for dinner. We ordered a ton of food and it was delicious!

Our Indian food feast

After dinner we walked around the city for a bit before heading back to the hostel. The next morning we woke up to go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. We took the Tube across the river and then walked past Big Ben and Parliament and through St. James Park to the Palace where we met up with Grace We watched the ceremony before heading over to the British Museum.

Big Ben
Some more cool shots of Big Ben
Statue of Abraham Lincoln in London (left), The Supreme Court (center), Westminster Abbey (right).
St. James Park (left), View of Buckingham Palace from St. James Park (right).
Buckingham Palace and Victoria Memorial
Victoria memorial (left), Buckingham Palace (right).
Procession of Guards coming into the palace (left and center), Gardens in front of the Palace (right).
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace

On our way to the museum we walked past Piccadilly Circus and we stopped to grab lunch at a little block of street food vendors.

Piccadilly Circus (left), Steak wrap (right).

The British Museum has an unbelievable collection of artifacts from all around the world and it is free to enter. I guess when you have an empire that conquers so much of the globe you collect some pretty cool stuff! We didn’t even see a large portion of the museum but the stuff we saw was incredible!

The British Museum (left), The central hall of the museum (right).
Human-headed winged lions from Assyria, 865–860 BCE. They were positioned one either side of the throne room and were supposed to provide protection. They are depicted with five legs, two from the front and four from the side, so that they look correct from the front and the side but not from an angle.
King Amenhotep III of Egypt (left), Head (center) and arm (right) of Amenhotep III. The features were changed later by Rameses II to resemble himself.
The Rosetta Stone, a stela containing a decree from 196 BC, when Egypt was under Greek rule. The decree is inscribed in three languages, traditional Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Demotic, the everyday script used by literate Egyptians at that time, and Greek, which was used by the government. This stone enabled us to finally decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, unlocking thousands of years of historical information. You can see the three different scripts in the close up (right).
Statue of Tutankhamun (left). The facial features are his but the text on the back attributes the statue to Horemheb, who took over the throne, and statue, after Tutankhamun died. King Rameses II, from one of a pair of giant seated statues that were on either side of the entrance to his mortuary temple (right).
Hoa Hakananai’a, Easter Island Statue, 1000–1200 CE (left), Crystal skull, originally thought to be Aztec but now known to be European (right).
Turquoise mosaic of a double-headed serpent, Aztec, 1400–1521 CE

One of the coolest things collections in the museum is the Parthenon Sculptures. The Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens was a Greek Temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. It was richly decorated with sculptures on the friezes and pediments. In 500 CE, it was converted to a church and the sculptures began being removed. The building was heavily damaged in 1687 by an explosion of gunpowder being stored there by the Turks. In the early 19th century, Lord Elgin brought many of the sculptures to England, leading to them being called the Elgin Marbles.

From a statue of Poseidon on the west pediment (left), From a statue of Athena on the west pediment (right).
Scenes depicting the battle of the Lapiths versus the Centaurs
Part of the frieze showing the procession of the festival commemorating the birthday of Athena
Statues from the east pediment. The statues that stood in the center of Athena, Zeus and Hephaestus are now lost.
The room where the marbles are displayed. They are organized in the way they would have been laid out around the Parthenon
The Lewis Chessmen, carved walrus ivory chess pieces found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles, Scotland
he Sutton Hoo helmet: One of only four surviving helmets from Anglo-Saxon England. Found in a burial chamber inside a buried wooden ship. It dates back to the early 600s CE (left), Body chain, the largest piece of jewelry to survive from the Byzantine Empire (right).
Fluted bowl from the 4th century CE, the plaque read that the meaning of the star in the middle of the bowl is unknown and that its adoption in Judaism did not occur until the post-medieval period.
Burial assemblage of the lady Henutmehyt, containing the mummified remains of a woman from around 1250 BCE

After leaving the British Museum, Otto and I decided to use the bike share program and bike over to Hyde Park. It was a little scary to be biking through the streets of London on the left side of the street but after a little while it go easier. It was a beautiful day and the park was full of people when we got there. There were a bunch of police officers at the entrance to the park and a lot of signs about not doing drugs and Otto and I were really confused. It took us a while to realize that the date was April 20th, or 4/20 and that the huge crowd in the park was there to “celebrate”. We walked around the park for a while, which was gorgeous and then took out bikes again and rode around the rest of the park and then over to Harrods, where we walked around the awesome food section for a bit.

Bike share hub (left), Arch at an entrance to Hyde Park (right).
People “celebrating” 4/20.
Panorama of Hyde Park
Panorama of The Serpentine and the horseback riding path in Hyde Park
The walking and horseback riding paths in Hyde Park (left), The Serpentine in Hyde Park (center), The Albert Memorial (right).
Statue of Queen Victoria (left), Round Pond (center), Kensington Palace (right).
Panorama of Kensington Palace
Royal Albert Hall, mentioned in “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles
Harrods
Repurposed old phone booth that is now an ATM (left), Beautiful neighborhood in a fancy part of London (right).

We biked back to near Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and decided that we had done enough biking through the streets of London, so we walked the rest of the way back to our hostel. It was a long walk but we past a lot of cool things on the way, including the London Eye.

Big Ben (left), Westminster Abbey (right).
Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster
The London Eye from Westminster Bridge
The Palace of Westminster
The London Eye (left), The Lon Eye pods with Big Ben in the background (right).
The London Eye, Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster

That night we went to this American style burger and fried chicken place. It was great to have some good American food again! The milkshakes were really good too.

Milkshake (left), Burger (center), and fries (right) at Stax in London.

That night Otto, Grace and I decided to go out. Otto found some place online that looked cool so we started walking there. We walked through a bunch of suburban looking streets for a while until I definitely thought we were lost and then Otto said that we were there. Basically in the middle of an intersection there were some stairs down into what turned out to be a speakeasy style bar. It was really cool and we met a cool British couple who gave us some good ideas of what to do for our last days in London. I later found out that the bar was actually a converted old public restroom!

The next day we got up kind of late and decided to head down to Pop Brixton, which the couple had told us about the night before. Brixton is a neighborhood in the Southern part of London that is a little more grungy and ethnic. There was a large market that we walked through and lots of little restaurants with different ethnic foods. Pop Brixton is this community space built out of large shipping containers that houses independent retailers, startups, restaurants and some event and community space. When we first got there everything was closed so we walked around the neighborhood and stopped in for a small bite to eat at a Jamaican restaurant nearby. I got the curry goat with rice which was pretty good. Then we went back to Pop Brixton, and by then things had opened up so we got a second lunch, haha. I got ramen from this little stand that was really good!! It was cool to see a much less touristy side of London.

Curry goat with rice
Entrance to Pop Brixton (left), Inside Pop Brixton (right).
View from upstairs in Pop Brixton (left), Ramen from the place in Pop Brixton (right).

After finishing lunch we took the Tube over to Covent Garden and walked around there for a bit. We walked through a couple cool marketplaces, had some really good cookies from British chain called Ben’s Cookies and then ended up in Trafalgar Square.

Theres a Tube stop called “Cockfosters” (I know, I am immature) (left), Cookie from Ben’s Cookies (center), Covent Garden marketplace (right).
Jubilee Market Hall (left), A three way chess set for sale in Jubilee Market Hall (right).
The National Gallery at Trafalgar Square (left), Nelson’s Column, a monument to Admiral Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (right).

After walking around for a while we decided to get tickets to see a play that night. We chose one called “The Comedy About a Bank Robbery” which was a new show by the same troupe that had put on an award winning play called “The Play that Goes Wrong”. After buying the tickets we headed back to our hostel to shower and change. We got dinner at a pub called The Queen’s Head which has been around since 1736! We ate upstairs in the restaurant and I got a meat pie with mashed potatoes which was very good. Then we went downstairs to the pub portion and had drinks before the play started. When we looked up the play, it said that in fact that night was the opening night of the show! We were very confused as to how we could have gotten tickets that day and I’m still not sure if that is accurate or not. The play was hilarious! It was full of super dry, farcical British humor with lots of puns and plays on words. We were laughing literally the whole play.

Meat pie at The Queen’s Head
Otto and I in front of the theatre (left) and Piccadilly Circus (right).
Our obstructed view seats to “The Comedy About a Bank Robbery” (left), Famous “Mind the Gap” phrase painted on the ground in the Tube.

After the play we went back to our hostel as Otto was leaving with Grace early the next morning for Dublin. I woke up and had to check out of the room by 10. I had made plans to have lunch with a family friend who lives in London. I left my stuff in a locker at the hostel and met Selwyn for lunch at The Wallace Collection, which is a privately owned art collection which is open to the public for free. It is housed inside a beautiful manor in London and has a restaurant inside as well. He was running a little late so I looked around the collection while I waited. The collection was massive and had many beautiful pieces, including a few that were very famous and I had learned about before. Once he arrived we had lunch in the restaurant. It was really nice to see him and catch up.

The Wallace Collection (left), The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (right).
The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (left), The park in front of the Wallace Collection (right).

After lunch I went back to my hostel to kill some time before heading to the airport. It was great to explore London for a few days as it is such a cool city! That night I took the Tube to Heathrow I caught a flight to Iceland where my friends Julian, Michael and Sam were going to be meeting me the next morning for an eight day road trip around the entire country!

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