A Few Days in The Great Smoke
Beatles, Bears, Holmes, and Much More.
After we left Stratford we drove toward London. We weren't really looking forward to drivin in the city proper, though, and through JustPark (a sort of Airbnb for parking spaces), we found a place near Heathrow Airport where we could park the car for about $7 U.S. a day. Once the car was secure, we took Uber (on of our 26 Essential Apps for World Travelers) into the city—and I'm glad we did. The traffic in parts of London was quite thick.
We were staying with my brother, which was mighty cool of him. This saved us a ton of money. He lives right off Abbey Road, not too far from that spot made famous by the Beatles.
There were always people standing around at this busy street crossing, trying their best to re-recreate the cover of the Abbey Road album. Watching pedestrians make a mad dash out into the street for a quick pose and photo between passing cars. You can watch this madness live on the Abbey Road Crossing Cam.
Anyway, our time in London was a little relaxing. We were there for ten full days, and while we did quite a bit and saw many things, but we didn't do a lot on each day.
Our first full day in London all we did was walk around and check out some cool stuff, and one of the first things we saw was London's Egyptian obelisk on the bank of the Thames, which is called Cleopatra's Needle (even though it has nothing at all to do with Cleopatra). It dates back to 1450 BCE and has been in London since around 1819.
The plaque below the obelisk tells us that this relic from the sands of Alexandria was given to Britain in 1819 by the Viceroy of Egypt and is a worthy memorial to "distinguished countrymen Nelson and Abercromby" (more on those gentleman a bit later). There is a twin obelisk in New York City and both of these are similar to the one we saw at Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Not too far from the Cleopatra Needle, we visited an old Victorian era gaslamp, standing by itself on Charting Lane.
Of course a London gaslamp isn't really a strange thing—there are plenty of others not too far away in Covent Garden—but this one is special. It is the last gaslamp that runs on gas from London's sewer system.
Charing Cross & Trafalgar Square
Charing Cross is a square (well, a roundabout, really) that marks the exact centrepoint of London. This spot has special significance for London taxi drivers—in order to be issued a license to drive one of London's famous Black Cabs, a cabbie must know every street in a six-mile radius from Charing Cross (commonly referred to as "The Knowledge").
The centre of Charing Cross is noted by the equestrian statue of King Charles I, which dates back to around 1633. Trafalgar Square, Just to the north (and slightly west) of Charing Cross, is home to another famous statue, that of Horatio Nelson, he Hero of the Battle of Trafalgar, which rests atop Nelson's Column. But we'll learn more about him and the battle that cemented his place in British history in a future post.
From Charing Cross, we took a stroll down Whitehall toward the Palace of Westminster and the iconic Elizabeth Tower.
This tall spire, one of the most recognizable towers in the world, has had many names over the years, like St. Stephen's Tower, Victoria Tower, Clock Tower, and Jubilee Tower.
Hold on a moment. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hey, that's Big Ben." While it's true that a lot of people call this tower Big Ben, it's important to note that those people are wrong. Big Ben refers to the great bell which has hung (and rung) inside the tower since 1859.
Paddington Bear in PAddington Station
Since the year 2000 there was a bronze statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station. Recently, however, the original bronze version was replaced with a colorful fiberglass model that resembles the Paddington from the 2014 film. But, if you know where to look, you can still see the previous edition.
But why were we at Paddington Station, anyway? It was Father's Day and the gals were treating me to dinner—so we were traveling by train to Southall for Indian food at Brilliant , recommended by Andy Hayler, a gent who's restaurant opinion we'd come to respect. It was our first Indian food since we'd eaten at Indian Accent (another Hayler recommendation) in Delhi. It was the first time we'd actually felt like eating Indian food since we'd left India, and it was pretty good.
Our friend Robert was in town during our stay there, so we arranged to meet up with him at Speedy's Cafe for a late-ish breakfast before we'd set out to explore a little bit of the London made famous by fictional consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.
Of course the character of Sherlock Homes has been linked to the London address 221B Baker Street since his first appearance 1887 in A Study in Scarlet. But, like Paddington, he's gotten a bit of a popularity jolt with the recent BBC show starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. And in the show, Speedy's Cafe is next door to 221B Baker St—in reality it's about two kilometers away. So after breakfast we walked that two kilometers to see 221B Baker Street, which now houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum is pretty expensive (£50 for our family) and pretty cheesy. It's filled with elaborately decorated rooms, watched over by friendly docents sporting period dress.
There were also quite a few (creepy) mannequins representing some of the more notorious events from the casebooks of the illustrious Mr. Holmes, like this one from The Adventure of the Speckled Band.
Although some of the rooms, like Holmes's study (above), were pretty cool, I can't really recommend this place. I do appreciate the attention to detail of, but it was way too expensive for what it gave you.
By contrast to the Sherlock Holmes Museum is the Wallace Collection. It's a crazy vast collection of all sorts of unusual and interesting artifacts that at one time captured the fancy of a rich member of the landed gentry. Upon this fellow's death, the whole thing became the property of his illegitimate son, a gent by the name of Sir Richard Wallace (which is how the collection got its name, naturally). Upon Wallace's death, the whole collection was passed to Britain, which is a good thing for us.
First of all, and this is important, access to the Wallace Collection is free. Second of all, if you want to see real arms and armor that was used by real knights in real battles, then this is the place for you—there are rooms full of this stuff.
But There's so many other things here to see—religious artifacts, paintings of all kinds (but espeically of dogs), illuminated manuscripts, statues, tools, figurines—that we didn't even get through the first floor of the place.
A lot of the exhibits were behind glass so they didn't photograph well, so you should go and see the place for yourself. The price of admission is right and there's quite literally something for everyone to enjoy. Take a look at a few of the things on display here.
After that, we were getting a little hungry. It was, fortunately, tea time, so we headed over for afternoon tea at the Reform Social & Grill, which was quite the civilized way to end the day.