April 25: Journey Begins

 

I set off for London, filled with a measure of excitement and probably an abundance of confidence given the lack of planning for the trip.  I was traveling with my friend Doug, and it was by chance that we met Adam (another Waterloo student and friend of Doug's) on our flight.

After checking into the hostel, the three of us went in search of a drink.  Adam and I very nearly lost our lives when trying to cross the road without noticing the oncoming cars from the right.  Welcome to the UK. 

Unfortunately, it was a weekday night and all the pubs seemed closed even though it was only 11pm!  More culture shock. 

Dejected, we went back to the hostel.   There we met a drunk alcoholic Irish man, Gerry, who was inevitably interested in another drink.  Armed with our newest weapon (Gerry), we set out again; and his persistence in stopping and asking every single person we passed (including flagging down several cars) eventually led to an open pub!

Gerry's accent was quite strong and many of his words were simply a mystery (or in some cases, hilariously misidentified).  The most amusing example occurred in the pub when Gerry told Adam "you have white teeth", but Adam heard "teats" and began to lift up his shirt for inspection...  Gerry let out a sequence of foreign curses that I long to remember.

My favourite part of the encounter with Gerry occurred on the way back from the pub when Gerry asked to have Doug's backpack (with the intention of selling it for booze).  This was ironic because on the way there Gerry kept warning Doug to protect the same backpack from thieves!

 

Round trip flight to London

$678

 

April 26: London

 

Wednesday morning began with Adam recounting more stories about Gerry (they were in the same hostel room).  Apparently Gerry kept waking up other people in the room in order to share his latest important secret.

Meanwhile, we were preparing for a 2-day blitz of London.  One of the joys of London was using the subway system; with a day-pass it was possible to get anywhere in central London in a matter of minutes.  But getting oriented when leaving a tube station could be difficult; you never knew which side of the station you were exiting from and the roads outside were poorly marked.  Also, it was hard to use landmarks (museums, etc) to establish a position because they just blended in with all of the other impressive looking buildings - I was very impressed with English architecture.

The British Museum had a wonderful collection of ancient artifacts, but the two that I liked most were the black stone Hindu carvings and the lifelike wooden Buddhist sculptures.

After lunch, we walked past Parliament (past guards with submachine guns as well as Iraq war protesters) on our way to Westminster Abbey, which was as spectacular as I imagined.  Afterwards, a short walk brought us to the Churchill War Cabinet, an excellent museum dedicated to Churchill and located in the secret bunkers under London where Churchill coordinated the Allied war efforts.  It was interesting to see the big maps on the walls, left as they were, including one map with a small graffiti cartoon of Hitler doodled in the middle of the Atlantic.

We saved Adam from a nasty encounter with the front of a double-decker bus and then entered the Imperial War museum.  The First World War exhibit was appropriately set up in the basement of the museum and contained a frightening recreation of the trench experience.  The Holocaust exhibit was also excellent, taking visitors back in time to 1933 and then documenting the rise of the Nazi party and the progression of the genocide.

 

Day-pass tube

₤4.90
British Museum donation 2.00
Westminster Abbey student admission 6.00
Churchill War Cabinet admission 8.50
Imperial War Museum donation 3.00
Food and beer 17.50

 

Chad and Adam outside the British Museum, London*

 

 

Westminster Abbey, London*

 

 

Imperial War Museum, London*

 

 

April 27: London

 

Visiting the Temple (Knights Templar) was Doug's idea, yet it turned out to be one of my favourite sights in London.  We arrived as it was opening at 11am.  One of the appealing aspects of the Temple is its location away from the main road, completely enclosed by tall commercial buildings (we actually buzzed a nearby office labeled "Outer Temple" because we couldn't locate the Temple at first).  This isolation helped enforce the notion of secrecy surrounding the society, while the church itself was a hidden jewel in the city.

It was a short walk from The Temple to St. Paul's Cathedral, which rivaled Westminster Abbey in beauty.  The unique part about St. Paul's was the climb to the viewing deck.

After lunch we visited the Tate Modern art gallery and then caught the views at Monument, a 60m tall staircase and monument to the fire of 1666.  From there we did a walk over Tower Bridge and then a short stroll through Hyde Park.  We ended the day over beer while Doug and I said our goodbyes to Adam.

In the tube on the way back to the hostel we were stuck waiting beside a man holding a 10-foot long 2x4 of plywood vertically an arm's length in front of him, while repeating "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright" over and over again...

 

Day-pass tube

₤4.90
Internet 1-hour 1.00
St. Paulís Cathedral student admission 8.00
Monument admission    2.00
Food and beer 20.50

 

The Temple, London*

 

 

The Temple, London

 

 

View from St. Paul's Cathedral, London

 

*photo by Doug