More London Tourism
Today is different. Today I'd taken a vacation day and I spent the day in London as a tourist. I've been making a list of places to see and today I got to check some off my list. And I did bring the camera so I have pictures to share.
I started my day as usual by taking the 5:53 train to London, but got off a stop early in Stratford. From there I took the Docklands Light Rail, a sister of the London Underground, down to Canary Wharf, a business district that houses a cluster of some of London's tallest buildings, including One Canada Square, the UK's tallest. However, it's further downstream on the Thames and not in the central City (I see it in the distance as my train enters the City), so it takes an extra trip to get there.
The site is unusual. There are two levels: an upper for pedestrian and some auto access, and lower, where there's more auto access and some waterfront (the site is mostly surrounded by canals from the Thames). The towers cluster around a few plazas, and there's a large shopping centre beneath one of the plazas.
I had breakfast watching everyone else going to work. Then I took the Underground across town to South Kensington. I hadn't really planned it that way, but the rest of my day turned out to be on foot.
I made my way to Brompton Road, which has some high street shopping. On the way I passed the Victoria and Albert museum and considered dropping in - there was a show on surrealist furniture, and another on Kylie Minogue's show outfits - but it was about 9 am and the museum wasn't yet open. Further down the street, I'd hoped to visit Harrods, but they didn't open until 10 so I was once again out of luck. I did see window displays, though - they have a rock theme with mannequins posing with some famous instruments including one of Jimi Hendrix's guitars.
From there I walked to Hyde Park, one of the larger city parks, similar to New York's Central Park. The Live 8 concert was anchored here, as soon will be another global concert, this one organized by Al Gore for environmental causes.
I walked across to Park Lane, whose buildings again reminded me of New York - tall tenements facing the park. I started seeing some in-building auto dealerships - MINI, BMW, and later Porsche, Bentley and Rolls Royce. (This is the Mayfair neighbourhood, one of London's priciest.) The first time I saw a car dealership without a car lot was in the Yaletown neighbourhood of Vancouver and I thought it was a great idea. But now that I think of it, I haven't seen a single petrol station in all of London, though of course they must exist. And you never see parking lots, either - it's all underground. I even see free spaces on the street. I don't think anyone in our office drives to work. It just isn't practical, especially given the transportation alternatives.
Walking through Mayfair, most of the parked vehicles I saw were exotics or other uncommonly expensive rides. Housing is terraced but must be really pricey. I walked past Berekeley Square (where I understand a nightingale once sang) to Old Bond Street, then down to Piccadilly and, behind it, Jermyn Street, a slightly lower-rent sibling of Saville Row (which is only a few blocks away). Many of the shops on Jermyn are now chained out around town. I once bought a £25 shirt at the Liverpool Street train station from a store based in Jermyn Street. This statue of famed dandy Beau Brummell honors the street's sartorial history.
I also wandered through the Piccadilly Arcade, connecting Piccadilly and Jermyn streets. There are a few other arcades nearby also.
A bit down the street I encountered Fortnum & Mason, which I suppose could be called a department store as it sells a variety of goods, but much of it is focused on select foods. Margo would enjoy seeing it, and as such I picked up some marmalade for her and Sarah.
Next was Piccadilly Circus and its famous signage.
And from here it wasn't far to Leicester Square. There are several cinemas in the Square, and I was pleased to see that one of them was showing Hot Fuzz, today being the premiere, so I got a ticket for the 12:00 show. (I don't think this has come out in the States yet. Nyeah nyeah.) I had time to get the lunch (fish and chips, what a surprise) before the movie.
I laughed until I cried. I haven't been to the cinema much but I was looking forward to this one. It was even more enjoyable since I now have a better understanding of small-town English life. I especially loved the sound effects, the silly woofer-moving whumps they put in to make Dramatic Moments out of silly things like slapping change on a counter. They definitely raided the Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer book of tricks and made them look even sillier.
From Leicester Square, it's a short walk to Trafalgar Square, and in passing the National Portrait Gallery, I noticed there was a showing of portraits of the Pet Shop Boys, so I had to drop in and see that.
And from Trafalgar, I did the Strand, walking it east and through the Covent Garden high street shops and past the Savoy Theatre.
Strand became Fleet Street as I continued on. Ever heard of Twinings Tea? Here's their storefront, which they've been using since about 1706.
I actually walked past it at first without even noticing it. And a few doors down is The George, a historical pub that hosted famous drinkers including Samuel Johnson, who temporarily used it as a mailing address.
So of course I had to stop in.
Still further down Fleet Street I saw The Gherkin and St. Paul's Cathedral, so I knew I was nearly back in the Square Mile, my familiar work neighbourhood.
From St. Paul's I followed my path last night through the Barbican. I have to take a moment to try and describe it, because it's an unusual site. It's a few square blocks, with some residential towers and blocks (I'm guessing at least some is affordable housing). There's also a performance centre, a school for girls, an art gallery, and at least one restaurant. All in a massive concrete environment, with large water features, that reminds me of the lair of a James Bond villain.
By the way, much of the walkway around the Barbican and nearby is elevated, and some follows the path of the London Wall, the wall that once surrounded the city of London. Nearby neighbourhoods like Broadgate, Moorgate and Bishopsgate were once gates in the wall.
And from there I continued to Liverpool Street station, where I noticed, replaying the walk I usually take at the same time each day, that today I wasn't feeling as spent as I usually do, and so I enjoyed it.