14 Aug 05:
My first morning in London. I had breakfast at the Fitzroy Doll restaurant in Russell Hotel. The breakfast tastes good. I had continental breakfast. It would cost me an additional 2 pounds to have my breakfast upgraded to the full English breakfast so I decided to make do with continental breakfast which was already fully paid with my room charges.
Breakfast tasted good though I still love the variety and the breakfast at Conrad Centennial Singapore's Oscar Cafe. I helped myself to cereals, fruit juices, bread and yogurt. The choice of food was similar to the breakfast that I had at Aberdeen's Hillhead Hostel, but the ingredients were definitely of better quality. Pardon me, I am a critical person where it comes to food. I was offered to tea or coffee but I decided to decline it for the day. I was hoping to avoid caffine for the day.
It was Sunday. I would meet my new-found temporary travel mate XR at about 8 a.m. or so. She is an undergraduate of the university and one of my fellow orchestra-mate. Just a few days before I left for London, I found out that she would be in London on 14 Aug 05 so as to catch a flight back to Singapore. Her travel schedule was much different from the rest of the other orchestra members. She took Royal Brunei Airlines from Singapore to London. Along the way, the plane would stop over at places such as Dubai, if I had remembered correctly. Then she would get a coach to take her to Aberdeen. On 13 Aug 05, when most of the rest of the orchestra-mates took KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, she took a coach from Aberdeen to London and would continue her journey back to Singapore in the reverse direction that was above-mentioned. She was scheduled to leave London on the Royal Brunei Airlines in the early morning of 15 Aug 05. I heard it was much cheaper to travel like that. I doubt I would wish to try. I prefer time-saving and convenient methods of travel.
Whatever it was, I arranged to meet XR in the lobby of Russell Hotel. She arrived at about 8.30 a.m. I showed her up to my room in the hotel so that she could leave her baggage in my room. Thereafter, we walked to a nearby convenient outlet called Tesco Express so that XR could get food for her breakfast.
We then proceeded for the British Museum. The travel guide said that the opening hours of the British Museum is from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. However, I did not notice that the galleries would only open from 10 a.m. So when we reached the museum, most of the galleries were closed and we found ourselves walking quite aimlessly along the corridors of the British Museum.
The British Museum
The British Museum is fascinating. There is just so much diverse exhibits to be seen. In the same building, houses exhibitions under these main themes: Ancient civilisation, ancient world, Britain and Europe from prehistory times to present, Asia and the Islamic world, and Africa & Americas. I wished I had the time to view everything, but it was not possible for a visitor who wishes to spend time to appreciate and look at each of the exhibits.
The Great Court has appealing design, and left me a sense of astonishment. I particularly like the galleries on ancient civilisations. The ancient world somehow intrigued me, but I still have difficulties understanding it. I also got to see the Egyptian mummies. I saw the Rosetta Stone too!
The Rosetta Stone caught the attention of a lot of the visitors. It may seem a worthless piece of stone to ignorant visitors, but it is a stone of historical significance. The Rosetta Stone is a stone with writing on it in two languages (Egyptian and Greek), using three scripts (hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek).The Rosetta Stone led to the modern understanding of hieroglyphs.
I was also drawn to the Easter Island statue that was excavated from a sacred house in Rapunui in 1868. According to The British Museum Visitor's Guide, Rapanui was first sighted by Europeans on Easter Day in 1722 and was later visited by Captain Cook. The islanders had carved the statue which is now exhibited in British Museum from basalt. Later, this statue was presented as a gift to Queen Victoria, and somehow, it ended up in the British Museum. Even the story behind how it ended up in the museum sounds interesting.
I would have wished to spend a bit more time in the museum, but I reckon I would do my travel companion more justice if I could go with her to other parts of London. Afterall, she had only that very day in London, but I had a few more days in London to do sightseeing.
Close to noon, we decided to head for Leicester Square because XR had wanted to visit the Chinatown of London. I must thank SH and JY for the information that Leicester Square was the Chinatown of London. I had met them before I left for Aberdeen and this was one of those useful information that they left me with. Leicester Square is a lovely place. I decided to buy myself a day-ticket which would allow me unlimited travel on the tube, buses and trams within the London's Zone 1 and Zone 2 districts on non-peak hours. That cost 4.70 pounds but was worth it because I had foreseen we would be doing a lot of travelling about.
We reached Leicester Square. XR had better impression and liking of Leicester Square than the Chinatown of Singapore. She felt that the Chinaotown of Singapore did not seem to attract many teenagers and young adults but Leicester Square was able to do. In fact, Leicester Square felt as if it was a cosmopolitian district.
We looked around for affordable place to have Chinese food. XR had been missing Chinese food for some time. For me, I reckon I was still alright with Western food. I love Western breakfast especially, if you have yet to realise. Anyway, we settled for a Chinese-style buffet lunch. It was alright, edible but not the most delicious of food around. But well, life is a matter of taking risks to find out what is good, and so was eating lunch at Leicester Square.
After lunch, we walked about the district. Leicester Square is so full of life. The rain fell and we had to rely on umbrella and shelters to keep ourselves not too wet. Along the way, I realised I was nearby Coventry Street where I was supposed to pick up my ticket for the Phantom of the Opera for the show held the following day. Since I was already near Coventry Street, I did not see why I should not pick up the ticket there and then.
Along the way, we bought a few postcards. XR liked the image of the Trafalgar Square that she saw on one of the postcards, and wanted to see it in real-life. We walked to the nearby tube station which was the Piccadilly Circus, and we saw the Eros. From the Piccadilly Circus tube station, we took a tube train to Charing Cross tube station which was near Trafalgar Square.
Trafalgar Square and National Gallery
Once we set our foot out of the Charing Cross tube station, we were welcomed by the magnificent Nelson's Column and the four giant lions at its base. I read that the Column itself is some 170 foot high , with the statue of Nelson himself being some 18 foot high. Then I realised from the map that the National Gallery was nearby. The travel guide recommended the National Gallery as one of the top ten places in London to visit. I have heard that the National Gallery houses a few of the works by Monet and Vincent Van Gogh. How could I miss it?
We headed for the National Gallery after taking photographs of the Trafalgar Square. The trip to National Gallery was fruitful. I particularly like the gallery containing paintings from the years 1700 to 1900. I saw some masterpieces there. Now, I could boast myself to have seen the following paintings:
- Leonardo da Vinci: The Virgin of the Rocks
- Van Gogh: Sunflowers
- Cézanne: Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses)
- Seurat: Bathers at Asnières
- Monet: Houses of Parliament, Sunset
Marvellous. I wish I could spend more time there. Anyway, I graciously obliged to move on. Our next stop was the Victoria & Albert Museum. We took a tube to South Kensington station from Charing Cross station. There were a lot of magnificient exhibits in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The only pity was that it was already close to the end of the day, and we hardly could have enough time to view even the highlights. Anyway, we could proudly said that we have set our foot there and saw some of the exhibits.
Thereafter, as if life was meant to be a mad-rush, we rushed to the Natural History Museum which was about five minutes walk away. Unforunately, while the Natural History Museum opens till 5.50 p.m., last admission is at 5.15 p.m. We were refused admission. We could only take photographs of the exterior of the building of the museum. It was disappointing. So the lesson learnt was that if you were to visit a place of interest in London and if you do not know the time of its last admission time, please make sure you visit the place at least an hour before its closing hours to avoid disappointments.
Then we headed for the Science Museum which was also nearby, less than five minutes away. We managed to enter. I was intrigued by the hologram exhibits. Since it was close to the Science Museum's closing hours when we were there, we were forced not to have much time to view around the museum.
After an entire day of walking and travelling on the tube, our spirits remained strong. We decided to head from Covent Gardens Piazza. It was less crowded that I had thought. Everywhere on the tube trains along the Piccadilly line were posters that reminded commuters that Covent Gardens would be crowded on weekends. But it was really not as crowded as the posters had claimed. Maybe it was our lucky day that Covent Gardens was not crowded that day. I hate crowds. Most of the shops there were closed by 7 p.m. and we reached there too late to check out most of the shops. XR paid for a ride on the Merry-Go-Round. It looked fun, but I had no delight in Merry-Go-Round then. But I know it was fun. Quite a number of adults also took the ride on the Merry-Go-Round.
After feeling that we have combed enough of the Covent Gardens, we tried to find places for cheap dinner and we ended up eating Mac Donalds. After dinner, we took the tube back to Russell Hotel.
XR took her luggage and left for Heathrow Airport after having a shower in the bathroom in my room. The least I could offer her before she were to board the plane for Singapore. As her flight was very early the next day, and that the tube services end before midnight that day, she had to head for Heathrow Airport by the tube before midnight in order to reach Heathrow Airport in time before the tube services end for the day. She said that she would be staying overnight at the airport. Not something pleasant in my humble opinion. I recalled that Heathrow Airport does not have many comfortable seats to sit on, and one cannot check in until about two to three hours before one's time of departure.
After XR left, I took time to look at the map of London and the travel guide to plan for my trip the following day. I was enjoying my stay in London. The following day, I would be travelling all on my own. It can be delightful to find joy in travelling alone and enjoying the company of oneself. Of course, I would miss out on having someone to exchange pointers with.