London, you have so much to see and do. Even with almost a full week here I’m not going to go all the places I want, but after a busy few days I think I’ve ticked off a fair few of the big sites aid the city.
I’m going to start off this post by addressing the recent terrorist attacks at the Brussels Airport in Belgium. Those of you who have a copy of my itinerary will know that I am planning on heading to Bruges in a couple of days. I am not changing this plan at all and will still be traveling to Belgium. For anyone out there worrying, this was always going to be a risk traveling to Europe (or anywhere) and the probability of being anywhere near something horrible like this is still the same as ever (barely just over 0%). I’m not going to let these acts of terrorism stop me from traveling and seeing the world.
Now that I have covered that, I can write about some of things I’ve been getting up to in this enormous city. First off we went on a walking tour through the main sites in Westminster, it was run by the Sandeman company who have quite a few other walking tours throughout Europe. If they are all as interesting as this one then I’ll be doing a lot more of them. We got to see a lot of the stuff we wanted to through the area, and then had a nice lunch in a pub which the tour ended in. We stopped by a couple of the sites later in to have a closer look.
One of my favorite sites was Westminster Abbey, this huge Gothic church stands at nearly 70 meters tall and the intricate detailing around the towers is almost mesmerizing.
I went back to the area around Westminster Bridge twice over the next two days. Hearing Big Ben ring while sitting on a bench watching the London Eye is a funny feeling. I can see why Big Ben is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world, it’s a very unique design and towers over everything else in the area.
As we left the Slug and Lettuce after lunch I spotted this scene which I found quite interesting. It’s a small typical London pub squished in between two massive modern glass buildings. Reminds me of the the house from Up.
The next morning we went out to the Camden Market to have a look around. There are so many alleys and side streets that I have no idea if we saw everything. There are two very cool and interesting shops which stick out in my memory. The first was an antique toy shop which was unfortunately closed when we went there, the other was called Cyberdog and contained everything you would need to attend a rave. Seriously strange walking from the old cobblestone streets of London into a basement full of strobe lights, techno music and glow in the dark clothing. It took a long time for us to decide what to get for lunch, there are just so many different types of food all proudly displaying their nationalities. After wandering in circles for half an hour trying samples we both decided on a giant Polish sausage, which was delicious.
As I had the afternoon to myself, I decided to go to my first ever art gallery, the National Gallery right next to Trafalgar Square. Definitely worth paying the £4 for the audio tour, since I would have had no idea what I was looking at otherwise. While I did find some of the paintings and stories interesting, I probably won’t be going into too many of art galleries throughout this trip. Although I did enjoy seeing the two paintings below, particularly Van Gogh’s in which you can see the individual brush strokes and imagine him painting it.
I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Piccadilly and Westminster, and as I walked into Leicester Square that afternoon I stumbled onto a big red carpet and cameras in front of the Odeon movie theater. Apparently the Batman v Superman European premiere just so happened to be occurring that night, cool! I decided to spend the next few hours walking up to St Paul’s Cathedral (more on that below) then come back later on once the red carpet stuff has started. It was unsurprisingly very busy when I got back later on, but I was able to watch the red carpet interviews live with Ben Affleck, Hans Zimmer and Henry Cavill. Very awesome experience!
As mentioned above, I walked down to St Paul’s Cathedral and spent a bit of time there. By the time I got there it was closing in about 30 minutes so I didn’t really want to pay to go inside (although I’ll definitely do it if I come back to London before I finish this trip). Again, the design of the architecture is a marvel to look at and I spent a lot time sitting on the steps just looking at it. I then went over to the Starbucks over the road, ordered a Pike Place coffee and sat where I could see the cathedral. Not a bad way to spend an hour in London.
This next bit is going to get a bit technology focused, so feel free to skip it if you are just here for travel stories. About half an hour walk down the road Currys PC World have been running demos of the upcoming HTC Vive virtual reality headset, I turned up right as the doors opened and managed to only have to wait 45 minutes (as opposed to the 3-4 hour wait when I checked in last Saturday). I was given a 15 minute demo consisting of Space Pirate Trainer and Job Simulator, and wow, what an incredible experience!
A lot of your probably know how sold I already am on VR, even after only trying a GearVR. This is on a completely different level, the room scale tracking worked pretty much perfectly, as I walked to the edge of the tracked space a blue grid appeared in my view to stop me walking into any walls. My favorite demo was the Space Pirate Trainer, where you use a shield and gun to destroy flying robots who are trying to shoot you. Playing just three rounds of this really has proved to me that this is a completely different way of playing games. Being able to duck and pivot around while blocking shots with one hand and firing with another is a feeling which I’ve never had in gaming before. It really feels like your physical coordination and awareness are being tested. Now I just have to try and decide between an Oculus and Vive, the room scale tracking and motion controls are a compete game changer for me now.
Alright, back to the travel stuff, I paid the British Museum a visit today using the Rick Steves audio tour which narrates the Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek exhibitions. Once again I’m glad that I went through with an audio guide, being able to listen to the stories behind certain exhibits really adds to the experience and lets me lose myself in the history. It was all very fascinating but some of my favorite pieces were the Lion Hunt relief sculptures of the Assyrian area. These remarkable sculptures tell the story of a lion hunt embarked upon by an Assyrian King, they are amazingly detailed and yet very easy to follow and understand. The Parthenon Gallery was also a great area to wander around, the sculpting on the Elgin Marbles is masterful. The flow of the robes and the expressions of the bodies (even without heads) clearly show that these were created by a truly gifted sculpter.
Then on my way back to the hostel, I stopped and had a full English breakfast for lunch from a little cafe. For £5 this really filled me up!