Sunday, 30 October 2016

London, Day One

Ahhh, London. How exciting it is to be in London with my wife. Since it was a short trip to England and we had to share our eight days between London and Dittisham, we tried to make the most of our sight-seeing opportunities. Thus, we ended up with tired feet at the end of every day. And since I've written at length on what we had done in Dittisham, I shall simply concentrate on our time in London in the next few posts.

We arrived at Gatwick Airport at about seven o'clock in the morning, local time. At the airport, we picked up two Oyster cards for cheap travel and a pre-paid mobile card for the phone - two very essential items for tourists nowadays. As people have been asking me why I had chosen Gatwick over Heathrow, let me just set the record straight. The primary reason was because I had wanted to experience the Gatwick Express, which is the express rail link between Gatwick Airport and Victoria Station, London. A few days before our trip, however, I was surprised to learn that the Gatwick Express would not be running on the day of our arrival, 24 Sep, because of some maintenance work on the tracks. Darn it. However, there was still an alternative rail link using Thameslink. This wasn't an express service; the train made two stops along the way but hey, does it matter? Eventually, we arrived at the Blackfriars station from where we took the District line to Earl's Court station. The Manor Hotel was only about 200 metres from the station, at Nevern Place, possibly within a 10 minutes walk. The man at the reception counter was kind enough to let us check into our room at 11 o'clock.

The Manor was just a small four-storied budget hotel. It wasn't serviced by any lift and I had to carry our two big bags to our second floor room. Luckily, the staircase was wide. Our room did not have an ensuite bathroom and we had to share a common bathroom on the third floor. Now, this staircase was a bit more challenging as it was narrower and possibly steeper. If we had instead stayed on this floor, it would have been difficult for me to carry the bags up. I must say that although the bathroom was shared, it was clean, dry and not smelly. Only on one occasion did I find the floor wet but the housekeeping staff were very quick to tidy up the place again. Our room was small and there was hardly space to walk after our bags were opened up. There was a heater in the room but it wasn't turned on at this time of the year. Anyway, even with the windows opened, the temperature was quite comfortable even in the middle of the night. It wasn't an issue at all. Breakfast was served every morning in the basement but it consisted only of cereals, toast, butter, cheese spread and jam. Nothing elaborate at all. There was a wide variety of tea made available to us. Plus coffee. Would I stay here again? Maybe. Because of its close proximity to the rail station for one thing, and it was cheap enough at around RM270 per night. But I'm sure there are other equally good alternatives.

By noon, we were already out of the hotel to start our wandering in London. Back to the Earl's Court station, we caught the District line train to Westminster but suddenly, I decided to alight one stop earlier at the St James's station. Might as well see a bit more of above-ground London than underground London.


 Our first tourist landmark: Westminster Abbey.

 The 20th Century Martyrs which, curiously enough, included a Chinese missionary named Wang Zhiming.

 Souvenir store at Westminster Abbey.

 Although entry into Westminster Abbey required a fee during normal visiting hours, we considered ourselves lucky to have been allowed in at four o'clock to attend their Even Song service. Not everyone that stood in the queue was allowed in. At the gate, we were interviewed on why we wanted to enter the Abbey. I must have said something that made sense and that was how we managed to find ourselves inside the place. Listening to the organ and choir life was an unforgetable experience. Pristine sound. Clear and sharp with a slight background echo. Wow!

 Photography wasn't allowed but I managed to get a few shots of the interior. The ceiling was about 100 feet high.

 Memorial to Sir Isaac Newton. Waiting for the apple to drop, Isaac?

 Outside the gate of Westminster Abbey.


 Obviously, one of the most distinctive sights in London, the Elizabeth Tower or Big Ben.

 Statue of a most controversial leader of Britain, Oliver Cromwell.

 The Victoria Tower.

 That's us, with the statue of Richard the Lion Hearted in the background.

 The Burghers of Calais in the Victoria Tower Gardens

Big Ben sounding five o'clock.


The battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour". — Winston Churchill

 Memorial at the Victoria Embankment to the Battle of Britain, 10 July to 31 October 1940


 A monument to the role played by women during the Second World War. I found it strange that the women should be left hanging in the air.

 It's impossible to walk down the heavily-guarded Downing Street.

 I've always wanted to take a picture of the Mother of all Cenotaphs in the Commonwealth. So, here it is at Whitehall. I'm feeling pleased as Punch.

The Cabinet War Rooms museum was down King Charles Street but it was already closed by the time we walked here.


From Whitehall, we took a bus to Piccadilly Circus. We didn't stay there for long as the place was filled with people. Still, we managed to catch the final moments of a street act. After lingering there and going to Soho for a Chinese roast duck dinner, we took the Piccadilly line back to Earl's Court station. Time to rest our weary feet.

 Too bad we missed the Coca Cola display.

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