26 July 2009

Exporing the Other Half of London - Expecting the Unexpected

It was going to be my second day of touring London. Unlike the first day when I had to travel all on my own, I had Nelda and her husband Mike to accompany me this time. Meeting up with the couple at the Waterloo Station, Mike had been smart by suggesting the giant clock at the centre of the station as the meeting point. “You can’t miss it”, he assured and he had been right. Despite the station being overcrowded, we managed to catch up with each other without much difficulty.

We began our tour of the day by giving my double thumb-ups, telling Mike that I was ready...

Since most of the London attractions would only be open at 10am, we had some time to have breakfast at a fast food restaurant in the station area. “Today’s trip is gonna involve a lot of walking”, Mike said. “There shouldn’t be any problem. I’ve been doing it since in Paris”, I assured him, hoping it was gonna prove right.
We started off the day by taking a series of Underground trains to reach our first destination – The Tower of London. It was drizzling and I was baffled by just how people in London didn’t seem to be bothered by it. They seemed to be so used to rain that you tend to see more people walking around without an umbrella than people with one. Entrance fees into most tourist attractions in London are averagely more expensive than in Paris. For instance, the entrance fee into Tower of London is £16. That is like more than RM 20 more expensive than the entrance fee to the top deck of the Eiffel Tower.

Tower of London still remains an important government office. Once being a prison and serving as an execution, beheading and torture place, it is said to be the most haunted building in London. Well, I should have been scared but no. I didn’t. Besides, it was so crowded with visitors that I couldn’t tell which ones of them were ghosts.

We were led into a series of displays including the ones with Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. One of them had been the one used by Princess Diana. Well, I’d never seen such a massive display of real gold collections stuffed together in one room – until I found it the Tower of London. They were dazzlingly glittering. But then again, photoshooting is not permitted anywhere inside the building.

Mike told me how the Tower of London had once been a tax collecting center to collect taxes from ships that passed by.

A few hundred feet off the Tower of London was the Tower Bridge. OK, may be it has been stated quite so many times that the Tower Bridge is always mistaken as the London Bridge.
Nelda told me how the US had made a deal with the British Government to buy the “London Bridge”, thinking that the London Bridge was the Tower Bridge. The real London Bridge was actually a very ordinary bridge a couple of kilometers away from the Tower Bridge.

The US had shipped the London Bridge over to America while the Tower Bridge had remained where it was. I had to be amused by how the Tower Bridge would open up at certain times of the day so that ships could pass through it. This is the answer to it.
The breaking point...

After taking some photos with the Tower Bridge in the background, we walked off along the edge of Thames River towards a giant ship called ‘HMS Belfast’. It used to be a marine warship but it had been turned into some kind of museum and had been gaining popularity amongst the tourists over the years.
Nelda told me how Mike as a little kid wanted to be in the marine army one day but ended up being an engineer. That had explained to me as to how Mike seemed to be so eager about bringing me around the HMS Belfast. I had my very first first-hand experience with a marine warship. I had to be thankful to Mike for bringing me there. It was a real warship with real turrets..
real naval guns and amunitions...
and even real warheads...
This is the closest I can to being a navy officer – one of my childhood dream jobs.
Or at least a navy cook.

The complexity of the engine room had left my jaws dropping in amazement.
On our way back to Guildford the day before, Mike had asked me something that had caught me quite off-guard:

Mike: How easily are you to get scared?
Me: Errrrrr, I’m not quite sure. But I intend to find it out myself.
Mike: OK. Good. Then, I’ll bring you to the London Dungeon.
Me: What is that place?
Mike: Well, the name itself says it.
Me: ………

So, that was our next destination – The London Dungeon.

The London Dungeon seemed to be a popular attraction. We had to get on a long queue before we managed to get in. Even when we were still on the queue, there were some actors coming up to us every now and then to scare us. They had that weird looks with heavy make-up on.

Once inside, you and your group would first be asked to pose for the camera. This is how ours had turned out to be.

OK. Fail. Me and Mike should look more serious and merciless. Nelda is supposed to have a terrified look instead of looking excited at the idea of having her head chopped off. Haha!

Then the tour began. It was dark inside. You would just have to follow the others. You would be led through a series of rooms with different scenes and surprises. Despite all the setting and lightings and terrifying sounds, they all didn’t seem to scare me enough. The only time when I got terrified was when one of the actors suddenly jumped on me and caught me off-guard. In one of those rooms, a narration on Jack the Ripper who had haunted London for a few years would be projected on a wide screen. I left London Dungeon knowing more about the infamous legend.

Leaving the London Dungeon, we were beginning to get hungry. We chose to have lunch at a restaurant on the riverbank of Thames River. From there, we walked off towards the latest bridge in London – The Millennium Bridge. I had come to realize that it was a pedestrian bridge and is so beautifully-designed. It adds on to the modern look of London which is full of centuries old buildings.

One the other side of the bridge was the St. Paul’s Cathedral. Since it was Sunday, a mass service was taking place, hence, free entrance. Taking photos were not allowed inside the cathedral and to make things worse, words can’t really describe how beautiful it was in it. I could only take photos of the building from the outside.

With an artisitic building as splendidly beautiful as the St. Paul's Cathedral, the outcome is always unbelievably terrific.

Much to my disappointment, the tower wasn’t open for public that day. Mike described how the City of London is best viewed from the tower. Hmmm. May be nex t time then.

I had always wanted to watch a musical theatre. And if I could ever get a chance to do it, I wanted it to happen in London, probably more than anywhere else in the world. I wanted quite badly to go for The Phantom of Opera – the theatre version of the TV series of the same title I used to watch when I was a kid. We have come to find out that Phantom of Opera didn’t play on Sundays. Another disappointment of the day.

To make up for the disappointment, we went to the world’s largest Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. Just like any other Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum, it deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that visitors might questions the claims. There were too many of them that it was impossible to read through everything without missing anything. But I just felt so glad that I had a chance taking a photo with the tallest man in the world..

And the heaviest..
And I had the privilege of meeting up with THE UGLIEST WOMAN in the world - in person..
Errrr, doesn't see look a little bit like Oprah?

But somehow, despite the fact that I'm currently single, I found this one quite romantic…

We later did a little detour by roaming through the streets of China Town..

From there where we took a train over to Harrods. Reputed to be the most expensive store in the world, I had expected it to be scarce with less visitors. How wrong I was. As we were making our way out of the nearest Tube station, we were swamped by people bringing shopping bags with Harrods printed across them. It was nearing the closing time when we reached the entrance and Mike had to talk to the janitor before he let us in. It wasn’t scarce – it was crowded.

I told Mike how I especially wanted to go to a memorial corner dedicated to the late Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed. By then, people were beginning to vacant the store and it was impossible for us to locate the spot when the time was running out. Well, I should have gone to the toilet instead. People do come to Harrods for its exclusive toilets. Hehe. Well, at least I could always say that I’ve been to Harrods. And I'll always have this photo as a proof..

Off from Harrods, we took a bus to what would be our last destination of the day – The World renowned The Prince Albert Hall. A concert by Phil Collins was to take place that night and there were people selling tickets at the entrance. As much as I wanted to watch it, I don’t think I could have afforded it. Not in this trip.

Ok. Just cut it to the chest. The Prince Albert Hall is a very highly-regarded concert hall, so much so that only certain individuals with highest privilege can be granted a chance to even perform here. Out of approximately 28 million populations in Malaysia, there are only two Malaysians known to have ever performed here. One is the late Sudirman Haji Arshad and the other one is Dato Siti Nurhaliza.

A part of me had adamantly refused to admit that I would never get a chance to perform here. Not in this life though.

Just across the road from the hall is the memorial monument dedicated to Prince Albert. Its statue sat facing the hall as if guarding the whole area.

We walked our way off to the other side of Thames River. Mike was very much in need of a toilet and what is good about London is that FOC toilets are everywhere. You only have to know where to find them. We took our time making a brief stop at the London Eye where Mike took me to the anchorage point of the gigantic Ferry wheel. He explained a little bit about the mechanism concept of the whole thing.

From there, we made our way back to Waterloo Station. It was time to say good bye to Mike and Nelda. “I could never thank you enough for all the things you did for me, but thank you, thank you and thank you”, I said as I bid farewell to this lovely couple. And I really meant it.

In fact, I did go back to London the next day. Being my last day in England, I just felt that I needed to utilize it to the fullest. Rambling unaccompanied, I refused to let myself succumbed to time restriction this time. I took almost the same route that we did the day before. I went across the Millennium Bridge over to St. Paul’s Cathedral and took photos to the best angles possible.

I even returned to the Tower Bridge – this time taking a few hours visualizing the whole structure from the best angle. It really was fun, relaxing and fulfilling.

I kept taking photos, ignoring all curious eyes from the passersby. I had come to realize that people in London were more conscious of things around them then in Paris. People in Paris don’t seem to care no matter how ridiculous you look when cam-whoring in public.

There’s a saying that if you want to have fun in a foreign country, do as the locals do. That was exactly what I did – literally.

Sunbathing.. even though I only did it for a photo shot. Haha!

I even returned to China Town and found this - something that I missed out the day before.

I ended the day by roaming the Oxford Streets. It really is a shopping magnate.

I'd never really been into shopping so I ended up buying nothing.

So, that was how my last day of touring Central London had turned out to be. It really is easy to fall in love with this multi-cultural metropolitan. London is so vibrant with people of all races and cultures and you would never run out of places to explore.

I don't mind visiting London again someday.

1 comment:

Hombidai said...

sioknya ko bosss... atuukoi orang bilang


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