The London Week

[Citeste acest articol in Limba Romana AICI]

Probably the last of the great capitals that I have not been able to visit until now. It was in my plan to visit for a long time and I even had the plane ticket to London bought in the past but due to unfavorable circumstances I could not go. We left from Marseille, where we are now, and with Ryanair, we paid for 2 people return tickets just 97 EUR! Long Live Ryanair! The plane drops you at Stansted Airport which has a direct train connection to London. The train journey takes about 40 minutes and cost us 30 pounds (2 people). We arrived in London at Liverpool Street Station, one of the many giant train stations of this 10 million-strong metropolis. Getting out of the train and crossing the central corridor of the train station at rush hour, the atmosphere is simply overwhelming. Thousands of commuters traverse in a hurry between the subway and the numerous platforms that serve the suburban trains. But fortunately, the many signs, screens and information points make your life easy. We found our way to the subway entrance, we only had to find the platform of our line, which is not easy considering the fact that there are 4 subway lines serving this station.

The use the public transport, you will need an Oyster card, which is a universal card that is valid on the subway, train and bus, and prices for it may be shocking. The city is divided into 9 zones, and rates vary according to the number of zones you will cross. Avoid as much as you can buying one-time use tickets, they are the most expensive with rates starting from 5 pounds per trip. Better buy daily or weekly passes. To reach our hotel located in zone 4, we bought 2 weekly passes with unlimited trips valid in areas 1 to 4 for which we paid “only” 108 pounds (54 pounds per person). Fortunately, this is the only big expense you will encounter,  during the rest of the holiday I had the pleasant surprise to discover that everything is cheaper here than in the South of France.

To reach our hotel near the Wembley Stadium, we used the Metropolitan Line, which is one of the newest line. It has large spacious trains lines and runs in express mode with few stations along the way. But even so, to get from center to area 4 to Wembley, we rode the train about 40 minutes across 20 kilometers (and just think the city has 9  areas just to make an idea of ​​how big it is). All trains in the London underground are clean, have air conditioning through which fragrant air circulates and come with upholstered seats, small details that make other underground subways networks such as Marseille Metro look like buses in Africa.

When we arrived at Wembley, we were welcomed by a huge construction site, the whole area is under construction. A whole new city is built around the stadium with residential and commercial high rises. On our way to the hotel, we could not notice that the area  is full of Indians residents and Indian shops and boutiques. The second population present by numbers are the Romanian residents and Romanian shops. The rest of the top is filled by Poles, Russians and Africans, not so many English folks, looks like they prefer  living in the center of London or in it’s luxury suburbs. I was quite amazed at how many Romanian shops, restaurants and cafes were on the main street. In any coffee shop and supermarket in the area,  Romanian language is spoken.

By the time we left the luggage at the hotel, it was almost evening so we headed for a pub to have a beer and grab a snack. I heard rumors that England is expensive and being used in Marseille to pay 7 Euros for a pint of beer, we were mentally prepared to see their menu. We chose a large spacious pub on the main road that looks great, and at the bar we saw the many draft beers at 2.5 pounds! Yes, just 2.5 pounds for pint of beer (560 ml). Very good, ok and let’s also eat something: Burger with fried potatoes 7 pounds, 3 generous portions of your choosing between shrimp pan, grilled Chicken, Halloumi cheese, grilled chicken fins, cheese potatoes, or Cheese Nachos and sauces for just 10 pounds. We found out later that the Pub where we landed by chance is priced a bit lower than the rest because it is part of the Wetherspoon pub chain specializing in prices below the market to be accessible to anyone. Not like the other pubs would be too expensive: 3.5 pounds for a pint of beer.

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The next morning we went back to Pub to have breakfast before heading to central London to visit. Traditional English breakfast with unlimited coffee 2.9 Pounds and Eggs Benedict with coffee 3.5 Pounds. The Traditional English breakfast  I can say it was very satious and generous. With the full batteries we headed for London. First stop: Baker Street Station at Sherlock Holmes House Museum. The house is just a replica with costumed staff. Nothing special, we move on. We make our way through the many beautiful streets lined with brick buildings and reach Oxford Street, one of the main shopping streets full of shops and tourists. Like the rest of the central area, the street is bustling with people who are always in a hurry to get to work and tourists of all possible nations. At the end of the street we reach Hide Park, where we find peace and quaiet, an oasis of 142 acres of green space. As far as the eye can see see only green space, people lying on grass and children playing. In the center of the park there is a lake and beside the lake numerous forest areas where you can see playful and friendly squirrels, foxes, gangs, swans, parrots and a large variety of birds. Like any English park it must have a horse riding area, the English love their horses and come to see them in the special stables where they keep them and walk them on every occasion. Of course I quickly found the beer stall in the park πŸ™‚ We walked out of the park though the museum area near ​​South Kensington Station. We were interested to see how much it cost to enter the most beautiful and famous museums in London, such as the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, and saw a big sign on all the museums that read “Free Entrance”. The British state encourages the children and the population to open up to culture, so any state science museum in London will be free to visit. We decided to leave the museums for the inevitable rainy day so we moved on.

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Half an hour and a pub later we reached Chelsea’s exclusive neighborhood. This quiet neighborhood with streets lined with elegant white Regency houses, in front of which are parked only luxury cars. The area that used to be reserved only for the royalty and nobles  kept it’s prestige and exclusivity, being one of the most expensive in the whole country. At the opposite end of the neighborhood we reach the Thames River. The river is very quiet nowadays, all the commercial and port activity has moved downstream where large ships have access. The only boats you can see nowadays through London are the small cruise boats that tourists ride. We tried a pub in this area also, there’s nothing to be afraid of: a 4.5 pounds for a pint of beer.

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The next day we started at Piccadilly Circus, the English version of Times Square, a crowded crossroads lined with tourists and shops. Very near it you will find also China Town. Do not miss the Legoland Market and the M & M Museum Store. We continued through the crowd of tourists to Trafalgar Square, a large open plaza dominated by the National Gallery Museum and  Nelson’s Column built to commemorate the Trafalgar naval battle victory where the English defeated Napoleon and the Spanish armada, a pivotal moment to overthrow the balance of power in the war.

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We continue through St. James’s Park to Buckingham Royal Palace, which was unfortunately closed due to an event. The royal wedding madness was still hot, the whole area around ​​the palace was extra crowded with curious tourists so we quickly left the area. We have found a little quiet time in a traditional pub near Victoria Station that is in renovation and modernization. The old pub building as many others, resisted heroically between the new glass and steel towers that surrounded it. We also found here Westminster Cathedral that is simply huge. We were lucky to arrive in during a religious service, the acoustic of the pipes organ, and the atmosphere inside is really something special. Entrance to the cathedral is free but to visit and enjoy the view from the top of Cathedral tower you have to pay 6 pounds per person, it is worth it.

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We continue our adventure to the Westminster Abbey, another gorgeous cathedral situated in the central area of ​​the capital, 2 steps away from Big Ben and Parliament House. Unfortunately, we found the beautiful Big Ben in renovation, being covered up with scaffolding. But fortunately, the Parliament House also has a smaller twin tower on the opposite side, called the Tower of Victoria. We tried to visit the Parliament, but all the entrances were closed, the many military helicopters flying around and dignitary cars parked in the area probably had something to do with it. A short time later when we reached Westminster Bridge and passed beside the memorial of the victims we found out the reason for the agitation in the area: the ceremony to commemorate the terrorist attack on the bridge in front of the House of Parliament, which was exactly one year ago was due to happen and the authorities were extra cautious during this period. We cross the Thames on the other shore and walk along the river promenade near the London Eye Wheel, Sea Life Aquarium and Shrek and London Dungeon Theme Parks. The entrance to each separate attraction cost 20 to 25 pounds per person, but you can get a pass for 3 attractions at 50 Pounds. None of these sight really appealed to us, if you want beautiful views of the city, I recommend that you keep your money to get to the top observation platform of The Shard tower (the tallest building in Europe) . We crossed back to the historic bank and stopped at one of the many pubs in the Leicester Square area. I hardly found a free table in this area during the evening, all the pubs were full and the people were standing outside the pub with the drinks in hand. A very beautiful area of London, I especially recommend it in the evening.

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A new day, a new area to explore. We stop first at King’s Cross Train Station to collect our train tickets bought online, we are due to spend a week in the North of the country, but that will be another story told in a separate article. King’s Cross Station, made famous in the Harry Potter series, has successfully capitalized on it’s fame and arranged a 9th and 3 quarters platform where tourists can take their paid picture of themselves walking into the wall and collect their picture at the Harry Potter store nearby. The train station is big and great but it is nothing compared to her huge sister next door: St Pancras International Rail Station. This railway brick palace easily beats many airports. From the entrance you are greeted with wonderful view, a huge open space with a multi-level glass roof, and at the center of it is a 3 story tall soldier’s  statue that kisses farewell his wife before he heads to war.

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From the train station we started walking to St. Paul’s Cathedral, but on the way realized the distance was a bit to much to walk so we got on the bus. Although Saint Paul’s is very beautiful from the outside, she disappoints in the interior. The weather attempted to ruin our day, being cloudy and  light rain, but fortunately it did not take long until the sun came out. We head to the Millenium Bridge pedestrian bridge, and continue on the river promenade to Borough Market. Here, under the junction of trains and bridges, there is a cramped market on small cobbled stone streets, with many pubs and terraced stores that delight any traveler. The historical area is wonderfully conserved in it’s original brick buildings, many alleys under the bridges look the same as 2 centuries ago. The preserved historical area continues to Tower Bridge, probably the most famous bridge in London, and is in contrast to the new skyscraper area of ​​the financial district across the river, The City of London. A crossing on foot of the Tower Bridge is mandatory, on the opposite side you will find The Tower of London museum complex. The museum did not really appeal to me, especially after seeing the 23-pounds  the person ticket fee, so we stopped at a pub and went on to the area that I find attractive, the new financial district. We find here The Gherkin tower, which unfortunately we arrived to late to visit.

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On the last day of our holiday in London, we went back to Tower Bridge, hopping off in another giant train station in the area: the London Bridge station. A railway jonction complex that is at the end of a  rail highway that cuts London and at the base of which was built The Shard Tower. The 95-storey and 309-meter high building is the tallest building in the European Union and fortunately has an open deck for visitors at the top.  Access to the deck costs 25 pounds per person but it was worth it. The view from the top deserves every penny, and fortunately the sun came out exactly when we were up. On a clear sky day you can see almost all of London.

Once back with our feet on the ground, from the station near the tower we took a train to Greenwich Park. In this more exclusive quiet  suburb, we find the Greenwich Park that connects the National Maritime Museum to Greenwich Royal Observatory, the place where the world is cut in the Western and Eastern hemispheres and the place where all the Longitudinal distances are measured and  from the rest of the world get it’s time zone reference. From the top of the hill where the observer is located, you also get a great panorama and admire the entire Financial Center of London in the Canary Wharf area. In this direction we started walking until we reached the Thames River. My GPS shows a pedestrian way straight ahead but I only saw the water. After a short while, we found in a metallic structure stairs that descended to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel that connects Greenwich with Canary Wharf. This area full of suits, that used to be only port basins and warehouses was converted into the high rise office area and now Canary Wharf is home to many multinational corporations such as HSBC or Citibank.

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With special mention, do not miss Camden Town’s bar and entertainment area. In conclusion, a great holiday, a must see destination for any traveler who respects him self. London is indeed one of the capitals of the world, an imperial capital with Vienna, Istanbul, Madrid or Paris, which has preserved its prestige and magnetism long after the empire disappeared.

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