London Day 2 – Museums

The breakfast at the hotel wasn’t too bad, though at first they didn’t have the record of us having prepaid. This was quickly sorted though and after checking out we were on our way to Buckingham Palace to start the day.

Buckingham Palace

As there were a few places we wanted to see we started at Hyde Park Corner and worked our way across Green Park taking photographs of Wellington Arch and the surrounding memorials. We then walked along Constitution Hill to the front of Buckingham Palace where we took some photographs of the palace and the Victoria Memorial before continuing down the Mall.

The security in the area was immense and there had been barriers put up everywhere. At first we weren’t entirely sure why, or whether this was just how it is these days. Apparently the following day was when Her Royal Highness, the Queen was scheduled to be opening Parliament.

Admiralty Arch

We did this walk relatively quickly as we wanted to be at the Palace for the changing of the guard ceremony but also wanted to see a few other places. Once passing through Admiralty Arch we spent some time around Trafalgar Square taking photographs of the fountains and Nelson’s Column. As we thought we’d made good time we’d have a quick look around the National Gallery. As we both found it pretty boring this didn’t last long so we headed back out and along Whitehall in the direction of Westminster.

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

It’s a fair walk down Whitehall, but we did stop briefly to try and take a photograph of 10 Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister. From there we continued on until we reached the Houses of Parliament. After a while we decided the best spot to photograph the Houses of Parliament from would be across the bridge. Whilst we were there a film camera set up next to us and starting videoing the Houses as well.

The Houses of Parliament

For those not familiar with the British Government, the Houses of Parliament is divided primarily into the House of Lords and the House of Commons and together form the Palace of Westminster. The clock tower is known as Elizabeth Tower and houses the famous bell commonly known as Big Ben.

Westminster Abbey

On the way back we stopped by Westminster Abbey as we were in the area. By this time we were cutting it quite close to the time for the changing of the guard and so couldn’t really look around the Abbey properly so had to take a few quick pictures as we went passed.

Unfortunately due to the unfortunate positioning of the sun it wasn’t that easy to get decent photographs so I wandered around until I’d got the sun behind one of the towers and then adjusted the exposure to compensate.

By the time we got back to Buckingham Palace the crowd that had gathered was incredible. I’m not sure if it was because it was a sunny day, or whether it’s always this busy at this time but I’ve never seen such a large crowd in once place before.

Marching Band

We worked our way through the crowd to the gate and managed to get a spot where we could just see the doors. Once there we saw the start of the ceremony and took photographs of what was going on in the courtyard. At this point we then realised that behind us a marching band were working their way down The Mall towards the palace. By the time they reached the Victoria Monument I’d been able to lift my camera high enough to photograph them without getting people’s heads in the foreground. It’s moments like this I wished the Canon EOS 5D mk3 had a swivel screen.

Changing of the Guard

Once we’d turned back around we found we’d lost our position and could no longer see through the gates. After a while we gave up and worked our way to the other side where we found there was a chance of getting photographs from that side. We then stayed there for most of the remainder of the ceremony, but we left before it was done so we could carry on with sightseeing.

Science Museum

For the rest of the day we would be looking around museums, starting with the Science Museum. I know it’s possible to spend a whole day in this museum but as I’d been to it once before (about a decade ago) I knew I wouldn’t need to spend the whole day in there this time.

Lunar Lander and Space Suit

The areas that interested me most was what was dedicated to space exploration. Even though it had been years since I was last there it was only the space section that I remembered well. The largest two items in this section is the BLACK ARROW, a British rocket used for launching satellites into orbit, and an American lunar lander.

Lockheed 10A Electra

The next section then covers transport and even has the famous Rocket built by the great George Stephenson, along with other Locomotive and steam engines. Suspended over this section is a Lockheed 10A Electra, the same model of plane that Amelia Earhart flew for her ill-fated flight.

We also looked around an area called the Chrome Lab which is a project sponsored by Google and uses the Internet for collaboration in different areas. It was an interesting project and probably one of the areas we spent the most time in. The remainder was then covered pretty quickly and by the end of it our camera bags were getting heavy and our feet aching.

Before moving on we stopped to have dinner at the restaurant there. The food isn’t bad but is a little pricey for what it is. I went for the meatballs option and it was certainly tasty. It was also a good chance to relax briefly before moving on to the last place on our itinerary – the Natural History Museum.

The Natural History Museum Interior

The Natural History Museum is easily one of my favourite places in London. Even from an architectural point of view it is a really great building, and it’s perfect for housing the UK’s best collection of skeletons and other pieces of natural history. I feel it would be amazing if it was possible to spend an entire day in the place with unrestricted access to everything; sadly this isn’t possible.

Young Triceratops Skull

It should not come as any surprise that the majority of the time here was spent looking around the dinosaur part. I’d got some very vague memories of having looked around this before and did remember the raised walkway. We did look around pretty much every exhibition except for the mineral ones and by this point we were very tired from the two days of tourism on foot.

Visions of Earth

On the way out we remembered that they had a section of geology where there is a lift up through a model of the Earth to an area where you can walk through an earthquake simulator. Sadly the simulator wasn’t operational that day.

Once done we then headed back to the tube station and went on to St. Pancras where we started our journey home.

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London Day 1 – We Will Rock You

As it was approaching my 30th birthday I wanted to do something different – I decided it would be a good idea to go and see We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre in London. With this in mind it made sense to spend some time looking around London as well as it had been many years since I last got to do any proper tourism there.

Winchester Cathedral

Over the weekend I’d been down in Poole with family so on the way back up to Leicester I got them to drop me off in Hounslow as a starting point. Before this though we had a brief stop in Winchester, the former capital of England. This city has had a long history that stretches back to prehistoric times. During the Roman occupation of Britain this became the capital of Wessex and was eventually was made the capital of England by King Alfred the Great. In memory of Alfred the Great there is a statue of him not far from Winchester Cathedral (the place where Jane Austen is buried).

The use of Winchester as the capital lasted until the death of King Canute when King William the Conqueror took control of the city during the Norman invasion and moved the capital city to London.

So we continued on to London and from there I got an underground ticket that would last for the day. My first destination would be Abbey Road; the world famous location of Abbey Road Studios where The Beatles once recorded their music. It was also made famous on the cover of the album “Abbey Road” where the Beatles can be seen walking across the crossing there.

Abbey Road

Once arriving at the underground station near Abbey Road I had to wait around for a few minutes for a friend who would be joining me for the day’s tourism. It’s not that far to walk from the station to Abbey Road and fortunately I already knew where to go from having looked it up on Google Maps the day before. Once there I could imagine what a pain the place must be for the locals – there was a crowd of tourists that were continuously stopping traffic to cross at the crossing (from the cover of the Abbey Road album).

Abbey Road Studios

I did try to take a photograph there but it was impossible to get a shot without people in, so settled for a photograph of the studios themselves. With this task done we then headed back to the underground and onwards to the Docklands Railway to get across to the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Although it had been cloudy when we were at Abbey Road, by the time we’d gotten to Greenwich the sun had come out with a promising sign that the remainder of the day would have pleasant weather.

Upon arriving we first headed to The Gipsy Moth pub located next to the Cutty Sark – it seemed like a good place to go for lunch. I was seriously impressed with the service there. Within 10 minutes of ordering our roast dinner was ready and waiting for us. Once done we then headed on to the Cutty Sark where it was £12 to look around.

Cutty Sark

Last time I’d been in Greenwich I’d seen the National Maritime Museum, but at the time the Cutty Sark was undergoing repair. In fact, last time I passed the Cutty Sark was a few weeks after a fire had seriously damaged it and set the repair back quite some time. It was a boat I’d wanted to see for a while so wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to look around the world’s most famous tea clipper, the fastest of it’s kind.

The hold of the Cutty Sark

As part of the restoration it was now permanently housed in a kind of dry dock, but suspended and reinforced in such a way that the ship’s own weight would not slowly damage the boat which is normal for boats in dry-dock long term. When you first enter the Cutty Sark you go in through a hole in the hull which takes you into the ship’s hold. Here you can see boxes similar to those they would have once carried tea in. Whilst in the hold we watched a brief video about the ship’s history before moving up into the ‘tween deck.

Captain on deck!

No sooner than arriving on the tween deck we were told that the last tour of the day was about to start on the main deck. It seemed like a good idea so we headed up on to the top deck and joined the tour. The tour progressed from bow to stern as we were shown around the different parts of the deck and told about the duties of the ship’s crew and what the ship used to do. This was all done by the tour guide that was role-playing as the ship’s captain.

The Cutty Sark

It was an interactive tour where you’d be asked questions as the tour moved around, and for those interested in learning more they were able to ask the “Captain” questions at the end. As the main deck was quite crowded we decided to abandon the tour towards the end so that we could go off and take more photographs before the crowds got there.

Before heading off the boat we went back down to the ‘tween deck but there wasn’t really a great deal to see. We then left the ship via the main deck which has a lift down below the ship where you’re then able to walk underneath it. I think it’s pretty cool being able to walk under a boat and it’s at just the right height to be able to reach up and touch it.

I was certainly glad that we’d gone out of our way to see the ship – they’d done an impressive job of restoring it and hopefully it will now survive as a lasting part of England’s history.

We then headed back on the DLR all the way to the opposite side of London, back in Hounslow where I’d started the tour of London. On the way though we stopped off to take some photographs of St. Paul’s Cathedral, but did not go in due to how short on time we thought we were by this point.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

We knew we had to get to the hotel to check-in and drop off cameras before we could head to the theatre so it was important that we took our photos as quickly as we could. We did however take the time to view three sides of the cathedral and make sure that we had at least got decent photographs of it.

The Dominion Theatre

After having dropped off our cameras and getting back across London, the first thing we could see when leaving the underground station on Tottenham Court Road was the massive statue of the great Freddie Mercury that is located atop the entranceway to the Dominion Theatre. It was still quite early though so we continued past it in search of somewhere to get lunch.

Fortunately not far from the theatre is a Sainsbury’s that sell sandwiches and does meal deals – perfect for what we wanted. Even after eating we were still quite early but we wandered back to the theatre anyway to find we were the first to arrive.

This is a show I’d been thinking of seeing for a few years. For a long time I’ve been a fan of Queen, but have never had the chance to see them live. I felt that seeing a theatre performance which used the music of Queen would be the next best thing. After all, the film Highlander used music from Queen and that was a perfectly good alternative. Obviously it’d always be better to actually see Queen, but I was happy with having seen this show.

Ben Elton and Queen have put together a really great show with a story that loosely ties various well known Queen tracks together. Our seats were a few rows from the front and it felt like the perfect position. We had seats towards the middle of the row and was just far enough back so that when they used this rotating platform we could still see them (the rows in front of us could not).

I enjoyed it so much that I went and bought a reasonable amount of memorabilia before we headed back to the hotel ready for another day of tourism.