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Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

28 Jun 2006: London, UK

After a 13-hour long flight from Singapore to London, I arrived at Heathrow Airport at 3pm. Thank goodness I travelled on business class, which meant I get to clear the immigration on the “fast track”. I bought a “zone 1-6”, all day ticket and rode on the subway (commonly known as the “Tube”) to Kings Cross Station. This was my second trip to London and I stayed at the Premier Travel Inn Kings Cross, which is a new, modern hotel located in the heart of London with fantastic links to the rest of the city.

Temple Church

My first destination was to the Temple Church.  The Temple Church is 12th-century church, built for the Knight Templar. The church was made famous by an American controversial novel, The Da Vinci Code, written by Dan Brown. It was a wet day and there was a small crowd outside the Temple Church. Then, I realized that the church was closed! What a let-down for my “cracking the code” adventure.

Temple Church 02Temple Church 07

Temple Church 04

Temple Church 06

Dali Universe

I took the “Tube” to Waterloo station and bought a ticket for Dali Universe. Dali Universe is a gallery housing a comprehensive collections of the spanish, surrealist artist, Salvador Dali’s works. Here, you can see Dali’s pivotal works such as “The Persistence of Memory”, “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” as well as the sensual and much photographed Mae West Lips sofa.

Dali 01

Dali 02

Dali 03

Big Ben and the Palace of Westminister

The sky was still gloomy with a heavy overcast when I left Dali Universe. My attempt to brave through the rain by acrossing the Westminister Bridge was not very successful. Half-way through the bridge, I decided to step back and admired the Big Ben and the Palace of Westminister from a distance. 

Thames 11

Big Ben 02

The London Eye

In order to see the city in the rain, I hopped into the The London Eye (2000). Standing at 135m and located on the south bank of River Thames, it is still the biggest Ferris wheel in Europe. The wheel has 32 sealed and egg-shaped passenger capsules. Each capsule can hold up to 25 people and takes about 30 min to make a revolution rotation. The London view is still breath-taking despite the gloomy weather.

London Eye 01

London Eye 02

London Eye 05London Eye 03

 Thames 12

Thames 07

Shaftesbury Monument Memorial Fountain

My next stop is the Piccadilly Circus, a famous road junction in London’s West End and connected to the major shopping street of Piccadilly. There is a Shaftesbury Monument Memorial Fountain(1892-1893) at the south-western side of the Circus. It was built to commemorate the philanthropic works of Lord Shaftesbury, who was a famous Victorian politician and philanthropist. The monument has a winged nude statue of an archer, popularly (also inaccurately) known as Eros after the mythical Greek God of Love. The statue was the first in the world to be cast in aluminium, which is set on a bronze fountain.

Ero 03

Ero 01

Trafalgar Square

 Walking through Leicester Square, I arrived at the Trafalgar Square.  The Trafalgar Square is one of the most famous squares in the United Kingdom and a common site for political demonstration. At the centre of the square is the Nelson’s Column, which is surrounded by fountains and guarded by four lion statues at its base. You can see the National Gallery in its backdrop. The National Gallery (1824) has a rich collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. Entry to the main collection is free of charge, and I did visited it in 2002.

Da Vinci Code  Leicester Square’s Odeon

  Square 03

Square 01

Lion

Sherlock Holmes Restaurants

To satisfy my hunger pangs, I headed straight to the Sherlock Holmes Restaurants at Northumberland Street. This concepted dine-in  has a roof garden and the restaurant has an entire wall glass plated to give commanding views from where you are eating. Here, I ended the evening with a simple meal and a glass of traditional English ales.

Sherlock Holmes Rest 01

Sherlock Holmes Rest 02

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7 July 2002: Outside London

Stonehenge

Since today is a weekend, I am venturing outside London… to Stonehenge & Bath. Traveling 13 km north from Salisbury on a tour bus, we arrived at the famous prehistoric monument. Stonehenge is made up of earth work of large standing stones, arranged in a circular setting. Archaeologist speculates that the stone monument was erected around 2,500 BC.

There are several mysteries surrounding these rocks. First, the function of Stonehenge is debatable; but most theories pointed to it as an astronomical observatory or as a religious site. The greater puzzle is how did they manage to transport such heavy and big rocks to build Stonehenge?  Most archaeologist think that it is almost impossible for the builders to move these heavy rocks and suggested that they may be assisted by supernatural or anachronistic forces.

The human mind will continue to be intrigued by these questions for many years to come. Perhaps, it is all these mysteries that built up the beauty of Stonehenge; this is this very huge magnetic force drawing thousands and millions of tourists towards it, year after year.

 Stonehenge 100

Stonehenge 101

 Stonehenge 103

 Stonehenge 104

Bath

As we entered into the city of Bath, we stopped by the Royal Crescent to admire this magnificent residential road of 30 houses, neatly laid out in a crescent. Designed by the architect John Wood the Younger, the Georgian architecture was built between 1767 and 1774. The Royal Crescent is joined to a nearby circular building called Circus. From the air, the two buildings of giant circle and crescent together with Gay Street and Queens Square, forms a giant question mark (?)

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Gregorian Circus 100

It is a relatively unknown fact that famous author Jane Austen was residing in Bath from 1801 to 1806. Her intimate knowledge of the city is reflected in her novel Persuasion, which is largely set in Bath. A Jane Austen Center is set up to commemorate her stay in Bath.

Jane Austen Centre 100

Roman Bath

After noon, we finally arrived at the Roman Baths. This complex is a well-preserved Roman site, formerly used for baths. There is a legend that Bath was founded in 860 BC when Prince Bladud (Father of King Lear) caught leprosy. He was banned from the court and was forced to look after pigs. Prince Bladud found that the pigs with skin disease wallowed themselves in hot mud and were cured. He followed their example and was also cured. Later he became king and founded the city of Bath.

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Roman Bath 102

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Nobody knows exactly when the health giving qualities of Bath springs were first noticed. The Roman certainly knew it and built a Bath Roman Temple here around 50 AD, dedicating it to Sul, a Celtic god and Minerva the Roman goddess of healing. The museum inside the Roman Bath displayed a pediment, which is a triangular ornamental section of 7.9 m wide by 2.4 m from the apex to the bottom. It featured the very powerful central image of the Gorgon’s head.

 Roman Bath 107

They also built a public baths which was supplied by the hot springs.The hot spring water from the ground at Bath is about 46 degrees and powered by geothermal energy from the nearby Mendip Hills.

 

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Roman Bath 111

About 3 pm, we boarded the tour bus to return back to London. This trip had certainly taken a big place as one of my important sightseeings of my life.

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Mousetrap

7 July 2002: London

Mousetrap

I was an Agatha Christie’s fan since my secondary school days. My best friends and I would spent hours discussing the plot and each witness’ alibi. We even attempted to create our own detective and whounit.

Therefore, I took the chance to watch her Mousetrap when I was in London. Mousetrap is the longest running show of any kind in the world and it was celebrating its 50th year.

I remember I was almost late for the show that night. My return journey from Bath was delayed. I was frantic to catch up the lost time; and ironically, I lost my direction to St Martin’s Theatre. Fortunately, I arrived at the 11th hour but had to watch the play with an empty stomach.

Although I more than excited to disclose the plot here, I succumbed to the code of silence so this play will continue to run for the next hundred years… For some reasons, the verdict did not come as a surprise to me; somehow in my blood, my instinct had guided my hunch to the right murderer. 

Still, this was a sleepless night for me.

 Mousetrap

8 July 2002: London

Hyde Park

Real estate is extrememly costly in London. If you are planning to stay in a decent hotel, be prepared to pay through your nose. In my 3 weeks in London, we managed to negoiated for an affordable stay at Hilton London Hyde Park on Baywaters Road, next to the Central tube’s Queensway Station. It is a short walk to the famous Notting Hill, a chic place and home to many celebrities.

The rooms in Hilton are very confined (compared to Asia’s hotels) with little leg rooms. Fortunately, the Hyde Park is just across the street, which provided excessive open park areas of the Hyde Park, as well as the Kensingston Gardens. The royal park forms a big green lung in the centre of the city; and it is a great place to take a walk and enjoy the many statues, landscaped gardens and play areas.

At the south of the Hyde Park is the Wellington Arch.  This triumphal arch, and the Marble Arch to the north of Hyde Park, were built in 1830 to commemorate Britain’s victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The Wellington Arch is named after the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo. At the top of the arch is an enormous bronze sculpture showing a quadriga – a statue of a chariot drawn by four horses – depicting the angel of peace who descends on the chariot of war, led by a small boy.

Wellington Arch 100

Sunday is such good time to wind down and have relaxing strolls at the parks.

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30 Jun 2002: London

British Museum

On every Sunday, admission to British Museum is free. Since its establishment in 1753, the British Museum has amassed collection of more than 7 million artifacts that span the millennia. It is not an exaggeration to claim that you will need at least one full day to fully explore the vast collection of art and antiquities. Before entering into the museum, I was attracted to this gigantic mask,  neatly displayed at the entrance.

 British Museum 100

Once you entered the museum, you will notice the great space in the Grand Court, surrounding the round core Reading Room. Outside the Reading Room sat a solemn stone lion.

 British Museum 101

British Museum 102

A main highlight of the British Museum is the extensive and comprehensive Egyptian collections,outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It includes objects of all periods from virtually every important site in Egypt from the Predynastic Neolithic period (c. 10,000 BC) through to the Coptic (Christian) times (12th century AD).That’s a time-span over 11,000 years!
 
Besides the sarcophagi and statues, I was immediately attracted to the enormous Pharaoh Ramesses II…
 
Egypt01
 
… And the Egyptian mummies and warriors…

 Egyptian WarriorEgypt Mummies

Another of my favorite exhibit is a Sri Lankan statue named Tara, the Goddess of Compassion. She stole the lime light by occupying the central display position in the hall.

Tara (Sri Lanka)

And there is this a unique piece of sculpture of a large jade terrapin, carved from a single piece of green jade. It was said that the jade terrapin was found at the bottom of a water cistern during engineering excavations in 1803 at Allahabad in Northern India. It was later brought to England by Lieutenant General Alexander Kyd of the Bengal Engineers.

Terrapin (India)

The visit to the British Museum visit is really an eye-opener. It is an ideal place to spend your Sunday afternoon.

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29 Jun 2002: The BIG Bus Tour in London

I am on a 3-weeks assignment in London. This is my first weekend in Europe. I could still recall my excitement as I boarded the Big Bus Tour to see London. Often labeled as a “slave driver” by my colleague, I was as ambitious as a bee – and I had lots of grounds to cover today.

Buckingham Palace

The first stop was the Buckingham Palace. I was told to be there early to see the change of the guard. And they were right, there was already a big crowd outside the palace, forming several layers of human lining along the gate.  This coveted royal ground is located in Westminster, bordered by Green Park in the north and by St. James’s Park in the east. The statue in front of the Palace is the Queen Victoria Memorial. It was said that Queen Victoria was the first royal to reside in the palace. A part of the palace is still used by the Royal family. A flag is hoisted each time the Queen is in the Palace.

At mid-morning, the change of the guard finally started. These trained soldiers, dressed in smart red coats with an elaborated head dress, marched in precise rhythm and coordinated steps. It was worth the wait. 

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Buckingham Palace 105

Westminster Abbey

 The Westminster Abbey is an important historical site. Since 1066, almost all royal coronations took place in this abbey. It is also the burial ground of numerous politicians, sovereigns and artists, such as Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton. It was here that Princess Diana’s funeral was held.

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Westminster Abbey 101

Big Ben & House of Parliament

The Big Tour Bus took me to Big Ben, one of London’s most famous landmarks. Also known as the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster, it has the largest clock in the world and the clock face has a diameter of 7.5m(25 ft). The Big Ben was completed in 1858 and served as a clock tower to the Houses of Parliament.

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Beside Big Ben is the Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster. Situated at the Thames River, the entire complex (comprising of the Clock Tower, Victoria Tower, House of Commons, House of Lords, Westminster Hall and the Lobbies) took more than 30 years to complete.

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House of Parliament 103

London Eye

Across the river, you can see a popular tourist attraction – London Eye. This giant observation wheel is 135m (or 443 ft) tall and was built as part of London’s millennium celebrations. The London Eye was designed by an architectural couple, who submitted their idea for a large observation wheel as part of a competition to design a landmark for the new millennium. In the end, none of the entrants won the competition, but the couple pressed on and eventually got the British Airways to sponsor the project. Each egg-shaped capsule is 8m long and can take up to 25 passengers. A round turn takes about 30 minutes to complete.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral

Next, I moved on to see the majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Christofer Wren between 1675 and 1711. After Michelangelo’s dome in St .Peter’s Basilica, it has the largest dome in the world. It was here that Princess Diana and Prince Charles walked down the arisle and exchanged wedding vows. 

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St Paul Cathedral 101

London’s Millennium Bridge

Leaving St. Paul’s Cathedral, you can see the London’s Millennium Bridge next to the river. This  millennium footbridge, spanning 325m across the Thames River, was commissioned as part of the city’s millennium celebration. The bridge is 4m wide and can hold up to 5,000 pedestrians at any one time. At the southern end of this suspension bridge is Globe Theater and the Tate Modern Museum.

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Tate Modern

Britain has a comprehensive collection of international modern and contemporary art and Tate Modern is definitely a treat to the eyes.  The galleries of Tate Modern are housed in a building that was once a power station. Admission to the collections and exhibits at Tate Modern is mostly free. On level 3, galleries include Abstraction, Expressionism, and Abstract Expressionism. Just to name a few, you can view masterpieces by Matisse, Monet, and Jackson Pollock here. Level 5 exhibits works by Pablo Picasso and Auguste Rodin from movements such as Cubism, Futurism, Pop Art, Minimalism, Constructivism, and Conceptual Art.

  Tate Modern
 
Globe Theatre
 
Further down is the Globe Theatre, often associated with Williams Shakespeare. Opened in 1997, the theatre (designed by architect Theo Crosby) held plays during the summer months.

Shakespeare Globe

Trafalgar Square & National Gallery

Trafalgar Square is a place not to be missed while you are in London. This is the largest square in London and has been a central meeting place since the Middle Ages. At that time the site was called Charing. That’s the reason why the nearby underground station is named as “Charing Cross”. In the center of the square is the 52m tall Nelson’s Column. Erected in 1842, it is built to commemorate the victory of Admiral Nelson over the French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. On top of the column is a statue of Lord Nelson. Today, hundreds of soccer fans were gathering at the Square celebrating victory of a major match.

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Facing the Trafalgar Square is the neo-classical National Gallery. Built in 1838, it is the home to a wide collection of 2,300 paintings, including work from Vincent van Gogh, Renoir, Leonardo da Vinci and Claude Monet.

 London Art Museum

London Bridge vs. Tower Bridge

Boarding a cruise vessel, I finally saw the London Bridge. I was utterly disappointed by the plain-looking stone bridge stretching across river Thames; it was definitely a far cry from my fond childhood imaginations.  It was said that the bridge was pulled down by the Norwegian prince Olaf in 1014., inspiring the well known nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down”.
 
 London Bridge 100
 
The Tower Bridge is often mistaken as the “London Bridge”. Constructed in 1894, the Tower Bridge has become an icon for London. The middle of the bridge can be raised to allow large vessels to pass the Tower Bridge. It is raised about 4 to 5 times per week. You can climb up the 43m tall tower to gain a great view of the central London.
 
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Tower Bridge 103

My last stop for the day is the Tower of London. The construction of the fort was initiated by William the Conqueror in 1070 to defend London against intruders. The Tower of London houses collections of royal jewellery and the collection includes the Imperial State Crown, covered with no less than 3250 splendid precious stones. Another must-see collection in the Tower of London is the Royal Armories.  

Tower of London 102

 

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