15 June 2009

London - The Day I Met Up With Mr. Big Ben

I began my London tour by disembarking myself from a train at the Waterloo Station. Minutes later, I was out in the open, breathing the air of London – one of greatest cities in the world! London is like a celebrity city. It is mentioned in magazines, newspapers, books, movies – everywhere. Now that I was actually there, it just felt so unreal that I had to convince myself again and again that I was really there!

Thanks again to the research that I did through google maps, I walked confidently off towards what I believed would be the Royal Festival Hall. And there it was, just the way I’d imagined it would be.

In a city with so many world renowned landmarks, it really was nothing except that it was featured in a book that I had had just finished reading a few weeks before – The Road Home. The book had really gotten into me that I even dedicated a blog post writing of it.

It was there in the Royal Festival where Lydia had taken Lev to to watch the great musician Maestro Greszler perform. Things went disastrous for Lev anyway when his mobile phone suddenly went off when the whole auditorium was in a complete silence and in anticipation of the very first hit by the musician. Things went even worse when he couldn’t find the mobile phone (while it kept beeping) and everybody was looking at him in anger. He ran out of the hall and off to the Waterloo Station. I believe this is the way that he had gone.

Off from Royal Festival Hall, I made my way to The London Eye. It is a giant ferry-wheel opened back in 2000 to usher the coming of the new millennium. It had since gained popularity among the visitors to take the bird eye view of the sprawling metropolitan from one of its ‘capsules’. Somehow, it didn’t really interest me especially now that we have our own Malaysia Eye, Singapore has its own and so is Shanghai of China.

I was taking photos of my own when a black man came up to me and asked me to take a photo of him with the London Eye in the background. Somehow when I was handing the camera back to him, my camera slipped out of my hand and in attempt to save it, I got this.

The black guy winced when the camera hit the asphalt ground. Luckily, the camera was alright. Phew!

I took some more time taking photos of some funny looking artworks that were scattered on ground of the ferry-wheel. Some of them didn’t make any sense to me at all. If it was art, then again, I could never understand art.

Walking further up the South Bank, I got my very first glimpse of the House of Parliament and of course it’s dominating watch guard – Mr. Big Ben. I’d just love to mark the time of a historical moment like this. The day I met Mr. Big Ben. I quickly set up my tripod and took some photos before a security guard came up to me and said “You know, you’re not supposed to do that here. You must unfold it now”. Giving him one of my apologetic expressions, I said “Ohh. I didn’t know that” and quickly unfolded the tripod. But I he was too late, I already took a number of photos. I hastily walked away with a smile on my face.

I walked over the bridge to the other side of Thames River – and had my closer look of the House of Parliament and the Big Ben. If the architectural superiority of the French is well-presented by the likes of Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it is well-presented by the House of Parliament and Big Ben Buildings for the English in London.

A large crowd of people outside the House of Parliament had caught my attention. They seemed to be doing some kind of mass demonstration. Some of them were holding banners and red flags in their hands and chanting, among others, ‘UN!UN!UN!”. I had come to find out that they were British Tamils trying to pressurize the British Government to do something about the allegedly atrocities against the Tamil people in Sri Langka.

Mass demonstrations are quite common in London. The police don’t even bother to interrupt as long as they are done peacefully. But then, Britain is one of the countries that are known to uphold democracy in just about every aspect of their systems. Of course the police were they standing on-guard around just to make sure the situation wouldn’t slip out of control. I could see at least two choppers hovering over where the demonstration was taking place. I was told that they’d been doing it in the past few days. In fact, some of them were doing a hunger strike.

Walking away from the mass demonstration area, I walked off to the adjacent Westminster Abbey. I’d had no idea it was actually a church. Just like most touristy churches in England, some entrance fee did apply. The building looked amazingly beautiful but I wasn’t interested enough to spend some money on it. Besides, church is one of the things that when you see one of them, you’ve seen all of them. I’d spare the money for some other attraction.

I do admire the Parisians for keeping up with healthy life by jogging and exercising just about anywhere in city area. But I do admire them more for they know where to do it – in the parks. The Londoners do their runs in the crowded streets that they then tend to run you down in any of your ill-fated moment. I almost got knocked down by one of them. Jeez.

Walking along the edge of St. James Park, I eventually reached the queen’s residence - The Buckingham Palace. Apparently I had missed the changing of guard ceremony but then I’d seen quite too much of it on TV and youtube so it wasn’t really my priority anymore. But then again, the Buckingham Palace is a place that shouldn’t be missed in any of your London trip. I spent quite some time trying to figure out if the toy-like guards with their high furry hats wouldn’t wink their eyes at all. I mean, toys don’t wink their eyes. I wished I had brought with me a binocular to verify it. But then, it is ridiculous to think that they wouldn’t move at all. I saw one of the guards did some little marching steps, probably to shake off the numbness in his legs. I mean, come’ on. They are human being. They do eat food like we all do.

If you have the slightest intention of sneaking into the palace to see Prince William and Prince Harry in their shorts, you better forget about it. You have to get through this piercing stretches of spears and barbed wires along the wall fences before you can even proceed to whatever next obstacle waiting for you behind them. It was just amazing how a number of ‘royal stalkers’ had managed to get through them at least a few times in the past.

I was walking along the edge of Green Park when I arrived at a giant arch – one that what quite similar to Arc De Triomphe in Paris, only in smaller scale. It would be the Wellington Arch. Its construction was commissioned by George IV in 1825 to commemorate the Britain’s victories in the Napoleonic Wars. It had also become the grand entrance to the central London from the west. Less than fifty yards from the arch was the Wellington Memorial Statue. OK. The name says it all. The Duke of Wellington was one of the leading military and political figures in the 19th century and is best known to have led Britain to victory over the invasive Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo (1814).

I then wandered along the Piccadilly Road, knowing that it would lead me to the Piccadilly Circus. What I saw by the road later was a purely luck thingy – i bumped into the Hard Rock Café of London! One of things that I’d really had wanted to bring back to Malaysia was a London Hard Rock Café’s T-shirt. The Hard Rock café restaurant and bar and the store are located quite next to each other. I came into the store to find an assortment of things such as T-shirt, jacket and jeans all branded under the Hard Rock Café London. One lame black T-shirt was enough for me. After all, it was priced at £18.25, or almost 100 bucks in Malaysian Ringgit! Jeez.

As I was walking along the crowded street of Piccadilly Road, my stomach was beginning to groan in hunger. I couldn’t find any restaurant with foods that could suit my taste well until I found this.

At least they look quite Malaysian. In fact they look very much like the ones that I could easily find at Chinese restaurants all over Sandakan. Apparently, they were tagged as Japanese Foods and I was forced to believe that they were Japanese foods after I had tasted a cup of the Chicken Yakisoaa. Our mee goreng ayam is way much tastier. At least it was spicy though. I had been missing spicy foods even when I was still in Paris.

I was later at the Piccadilly Circus. It really is nothing but merely a circular open space at a major street junction.

Its status as a major traffic intersection has made Piccadilly Circus a busy meeting point and a tourist attraction in its own right. It is located quite nearby to some shopping and entertainment areas including a number of cinemas and theatres.

Piccadilly Circus is also located very much close to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum. Little did I know that I’d enter it a few days later.

After taking a seat at one of the benches in the Leicester Square to regain my energy, I walked off towards the Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar Square, like how I had read of it, was crowded with both locals and tourists. It was even more crowded because another mass demonstration was taking place. From what I understood, the mass demo was staged to fight against the introduction of parking tax for motorbikes in London. Jeez. How I love London. People here really seem to know their rights.

Overlooking the Trafalgar Square is the National Gallery. It was nearing its closing time when I got there so I had to forget about entering it. Coming out fresh from Paris, I just thought that I had had enough of paintings and artistic stuff that my interests had diverged into something else.

Trafalgar Square seems to be a place of some display of emotions and thoughts.

I walked away from Trafalgar Square as a different person.

I just had to trust my sense of direction to get back to the Waterloo Station. And it had proved to be good because I managed to get to the Charing Cross Railway Station before crossing over the Thames River on the Hungerford Bridge and later back on the South Bank. There was some particular spot on the South Bank that I needed to look for.

Here came the most emotional part. I took out the tiny postcard that I bought from a bookstore in my hometown of Keningau almost 20 years ago. I had bought it as some kind of a vow card for my 12th birthday, vowing to myself that one day, I’d come to the place in the picture. In fact, I told myself that if I’d ever go to that place, I’d stand right from where the picture was taken.
Of course, 20 years is a very long timeframe. I’m sure the trees had grown out of shapes and had been undergoing a lot of pruning and trimmings within that period of time. But somehow, they had stood there all along as if waiting for me to come so that they could still witness how the dream of a 12-year-old kid was finally fulfilled.

20 years!! I just let myself cry. I didn’t come to London for nothing.
It’d be a moment that I’d remember for as long as I live..

Half-running my way to Waterloo Station later, I hastily took a train back to my boarding place in Guildford. I had some more important trips to look forward to...

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