Day 5 (December 4, 2009)   London: Westmisnter and Thames


Map of London zone 1   For the last visiting London we will visit what we haven’t seen on the previous days as St. Paul’s Cathedral or something missing in Westminster area. This is also a day for a cruise through the Thames taking advantage of the public transport and visiting the Shakespeare’s Globe, which has got a ferry stop in front.

   At afternoon we would go to British Museum and, if we didn’t go the previous day, the National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square. We could also pass by Picadilly Circus for seeing it by night.

   The points marked at map are:

0- Victoria Station
1- Buckingham Palace
2- Westminster Abbey
3- Big Ben
4- Trafalgar Square
5- British Museum
6- Picadilly Circus


   Our morning routine: bus and then train, it’s just this time we’ve done things well and we are in Victoria at 10:30 AM. As the change of the guard is at 11:30 AM we use the spare hour in visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral.

   For this, we go out from St. Paul’s subway station after changing lines in “Oxford Circus”. Then we can be in front of the impressive façade of this cathedral although, guess what, it has one of its sides covered by improvement works. This spoils the pictures of this frontal façade, so I’m putting here one from 2005.

St. Paul's CathedralSt. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral

   Notice that, as in Westminster Abbey, the symmetry is broken by a clock in one of the towers. What is the hidden message after this? Don’t know, and don’t mind about it.

   We walk around the cathedral amazed by its magnificent architecture. Then we walk St. Paul’s Church Yard down because my map is showing another underground station nearby: “Mansion House”, which fits better in our plans as it is in the same line that Victoria and even “St. James Park”. This will let us reach Buckingham Palace quicker. Besides, leaving the cathedral from this way let us get beautiful views of the building from its “poop” (a naval simile just to avoid using words like “butt”).

   Going to Buckingham Palace from St. James have the advantage – apart from walking less – passing by what seems to be the guard headquarters as we can see the guard getting ready for the change. Today, for first time since we’re here, the sky looks clear and I guess they already know this from the forecast when taking the decision of changing the event from yesterday to today.

Getting ready for the changing of the guardBuckingham Palace

   We can see from far the area in front of the palace crowded with policemen leaving the clear needed for the event. So it’s finally to be today, after coming here every morning, the last day we will be able to enjoying the changing of the guard of Queen Elizabeth II’s palace.

   We join to the tourists mass looking for a place in one of the doors they’re going to use. There are two of them: one on each side. The music starts exactly at 11:30 AM. Percussion and wind instruments are used, as in any march. Strings instruments like violin are not for strong men!

Changing of the guard in BuckinghamChanging of the guard in Buckingham

   After the instruments, the formation of guards are coming, with those hats seem to be designed by someone some centuries ago and, as these British institutions are not willing for changes, they’re still using. These hats must get the heads warm, but tell me about it in July.

   The guard formation split in two groups, one for each door at both sides. Behind the bars the guards ending their shift are waiting for them and all of them are forming squares, including the horse guard, wearing in red.

Horse guard in BuckinghamHorse guard in Buckingham

   Ten minutes later the incoming horse guard appears riding organized to join the men in the palace’s courtyard. When the doors are closed after them is time to go. There are still a looong and sloooow process of exchanging of positions. We watched it before and it is so tedious for us we want to spend the time somewhere else.

Admiralty Arch heading to Trafalgar SquareReaching Trafalgar Square

   So we take “The Mall”, a broad avenue ending in the Admiralty Arch, a huge gate with three arches which head to Trafalgar Square. We were here last night but now we can see the square at daylight and much less crowded, with the Nelson's column in front of the two fountains with the National Gallery building and St. Martin in the Fields church at bottom.

Nelson's Column from the National GalleryTrafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

   Here it is the Christmas tree which lightning ceremony watched yesterday. Although its lights are now off at daylight.

   After some pictures with the highlights of this square as the fountains, the column or the church, our idea is getting into the National Gallery. Admission is free, as in British Museum, but there photos are allowed and here they are not. National Gallery

   We’ve come for a quick visit, going to the main paintings. We see Van Gogh’s sunflowers and amaze with the naval Turner’s images. In the “Spanish” area I must show to my parents the “Rokeby Venus” overall. We explore Italian Renaissance and Rembrandt, but we cannot leave this place without seeing the best painting in this gallery in my opinion: Jan Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini portrait”. We go expressly to this masterwork to the furthest hall through medieval altarpieces.

   I’m far of being an art expert, but I’m an expert in myself. The best expert in the world about myself! And this is the painting more amazes me from all the ones in the National Gallery. I could spend hours just looking at the convex mirror in the center. The amount of details in so small area of the painting and the skills of the painter to transform its reflection to make it different than the one would come from a flat surface are the kind of things that make having feelings for a piece of art. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

   We leave the gallery around 1:45 PM. You can say “All that speech about art and you’ve visited the National Gallery in one hour and a half!?”. And I would answer: “Yes, it’s true. What can I say? I’ve visited Prado Museum in Madrid in a few more than two hours. I must be a quick art person”.

   We walk Northumberland Avenue down until reaching the river, it must be 300 meters approximately. We’re now in “Enbankment” area. We must pay for the ferry, but getting a 33% discount because of the Travelcard. With this, we have what I call “a Thames cruise” by 3£ per person.

Ferry in Thames RiverLondon Eye from Thames

   This trip takes us from Enbankment “station” to Bankside Pier, where the Shakespeare’s Globe is sited. Somehow, the ferry sails in the opposite direction to our destination at the beginning. The explanation is it needs to do a stop just under London Eye and then takes the right direction from there. This move gives us fantastic views of Parliament and wheel form the river.

Parliament building from Thames

   In the way we pass by St. Paul’s Cathedral area and we get the picture I talked about yesterday, when explaining the two seconds opening of every British TV series in the last century. Now I can put the image I was thinking about. If, after looking at the picture below, you still don’t know what I am talking about is because you’re probably too young.

Thames TV

   We get some views of Tower Bridge as well before the end of our trip.
Shakespeare's Globe
    The Shakespeare’s Globe looks as new and there are some objects in display inside. This is just a replica of the theater where Shakespeare’s work was played.

   When we leave this area it’s 2:45 PM and we must find a place to lunch. My thought after looking at the map is to walk to Waterloo area until the Italian restaurant we lunched the first day in London but, after a while walking, we get into a modern pub, which is restaurant too, we find in our way. It’s quite crowded and I think it is because it’s Friday today. It is located in Stamford St. and its name is “The slug and lettuce”.
Waterloo station
    It’s quite noisy due to the young people taking drinks in the bar, but food is good and price is reasonable.

   As our visits in London are completed we eat with no ruches and talk about the experience until leaving the place at 4:15 PM, at dusk. The only thing to do now is completing our visit to British Museum. As today is Friday the museum closes at 8:30 PM, so we’ve got time enough as per not missing a single thing on it.

   We repeat what we did the first day: taking the tube in Waterloo. We still have a lot of areas in the museum to explore after our first visit the day before yesterday. Among them, the most spectacular ones: with big Egyptian statues and entire Greek temples. Even the whole Parthenon interior is in one of the halls.

Egypt in British MuseumEgyptian sarcophagus in British Museum

Greek Temple in British Museum

Parthenon's boards in British Museum

   We don’t miss anything this time. We explore the halls about Africa and Asia, with Buda statues and a hidden room full of Chinese porcelain from different dynasties. Islamic art and etc… etc…

   My mother is still trying to bring the whole museum to home in photos, but today, with so many halls, it is a huge task.

   This time we see the real Rosetta stone. Among so many objects I’m surprised by one specific one: a crystal skull. What is this about? An Indiana Jones promo? The thing is this object is in display but it seems even the museum experts don’t know the story of the skull (maybe they should watch the movie), because the only information given says: “It was originally thought to have been Aztec, but recent research proves it to be European.”. That’s it! They don’t know anything about it!

Rosetta stone in British MuseumCrystal Skull in British Museum

   We seat for a while as my mother keeps getting pictures of every corner. When we finally are leaving we can see a concert is about to start in the Great Court by a teenager orchestra. We’re so tired after this visit of two hours in the museum as the end of a journey we’ve walked a lot.

   Underground, train and bus take us back to the hotel where the comfortable bed of this Hilton was waiting for us for a last time.