13th August 2022: Smoothness in Chaos {England, August 2022}

As rail strikes rolled out both in London and the rest of England, I was thankful I had found out in advance. The hotel internet was patchy and I would have had trouble booking a coach ticket for the airport. I decided not to try and cram more than I had already on my plate for the day, and stick to my booked tickets and original timing.

I took an underground line to Victoria railway station, from which I went to find out where my airport coach would leave from. After that, I walked from Victoria coach station towards Westminster, stopping at Westminster Cathedral, a rather out-of-place Neo-Byzantine building, which serves as the Catholic cathedral. Designed by John Francis Bentley, it was completed in 1903. It was closed for service, unfortunately.

Westminster Cathedral, a Chrsistian neo-byzantine building: a view of the exterior, in white and red brick, and the open doors showing the inner altar from afar

Due to the strikes and potential issues, Westminster Abbey had rearranged its opening hours, and waived all the “entry times”. So basically it was a bit on the chaotic side, though I arrived for my own timeslot, as I had calculated that would be all right for the tour I had signed up for. The abbey is officially called Collegiate Church of Saint Peter at Westminster. It was a originally a Benedictine abbey, and William the Conqueror, in 1066 made it the “official coronation ceremony” place, and many Royal Weddings have occurred there. It is built in the Gothic style, with Neo-Gothic towers. Furthermore, most British monarchs were buried there, along with a number of personalities that were either earthed there, or had memorials erected – Darwin, Newton, Hawkins, Shakespeare… The Abbey features a 19th-century wooden choir in the middle, and an outer cloister in early Gothic style. It was bustling with people fighting the audio guide and extremely hot though. However, this completed my tour of the UNESCO Heritage site of “The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church”

Westminster Abby, a Gothic Protestant Cathedral. Collage showing the towers and main entrance, the inner Norman altar in golden wood, the ceiling in the nave, and the cloister

Before the train strikes and the chaos in English airports, I had booked a 12:15 “Westminster Abbey hidden highlights” tour as my last activity in London before taking the Stansted Express to the airport. The change of plans meant I had to take the 14:00 h coach instead of the 15:00 h train to be at the airport by 16:00, to make sure that I would have plenty of time to go through security. That meant that I unfortunately had to cut the tour short. Event then, I got to see St Margaret’s Church, the old Medieval sacristy, the inner chambers of Samaria and Jerusalem, and got close to coronation chair. Not bad at all, even if I unfortunately had to miss the library to walk back to the station.

A collage showing an archaeological excavation (very professional holes on the ground, some showing a hint of brick foundations); the Coronation Chair and the hanging flag over it; ornate wooden ceilings; and a mythological-themed tapestry hanging from a wall

I have to say that the return was exhausting. Even with one hour difference, I got on the coach for the airport at 14:00 and did not land until 22:00. However, flying out of Stansted always has a good thing – goodbye sushi!

Tray of sushi and sashimi

All in all, this non-weekend weekend was an amazing mental break! Even if the last day did not work as originally organised, I had a heads up in order to prepare my contingency plans. I got to see something that I always wanted to see – and even if Stonehenge was smaller than I thought, it was not disappointing. Also, I checked that entering the UK after Brexit is pretty much the same as before, so I can organise more escapades in the future, because I still need to go to Jurassic Coast…

Walking distance: 11.27 km / 16672 km

11th August 2022: 21 hours straight of ups and downs in London {England, August 2022}

The first thing I had to do was waking up for a 6:30 flight – though considering I did not sleep very much that night due to the heat, I’m not sure if that it counts as waking up. The previous day, the airline had sent warning emails about arriving at the airport early – three hours before the flight would have meant being there at 3:30, so… not really. I arrived at the airport around 5:10, and I was at the gate by… 5:20, I’m not even kidding. While I normally do not queue to enter planes – the advantages of backpacks, I just kick them under the seat – I had been assigned seat 1A, which meant I had to put my luggage into the overhead compartment. I had decided to take a small backpack too, because I would be carrying it around for a while, and it would get searched in a couple of places.

Surprisingly, despite Brexit, the Ryanair strikes, airport chaos, and the fact that apparently the automatic passport reader cannot cope with my new look, I made it into the United Kingdom first and straight to London without a glitch. Not only that, I managed to get my Oyster recharged without any problems, and as soon as I had bought some food, I was on my way to the first stop of the day: Crystal Palace Park, for which I got to ride the shiny new underground line, the Elizabeth Line, then the Overground. Even though there are another couple of landmarks (that might warrant a visit when / if the restoration project finally goes through), what interested me in Crystal Palace was a collection of Victorian sculptures – the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

Though Ancient Greek already knew about fossils before the current era, it was in the 19th century when it hatched as a “science”, according to some spurred by Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. Fossil hunters ran amok, excavating and spoiling the North American badlands. In England itself, Mary Anning kept discovering cool things. There was a sort of a “Dinosaur fever” – the Victorians became fascinated with all things prehistoric. In 1852, a number of extinct animal reconstructions were commissioned to be erected in the gardens of the Crystal Palace, after the World Exhibition. Using the knowledge available at the time, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkings, a natural history illustrator and sculptor, who did his best according to scientific knowledge at the time.

Not all the animals represented are real dinosaurs, but the nickname stuck. From today’s standards, most of the reproductions are extremely inaccurate, with some exceptions, such as the ichthyosaur (discovered by Mary Anning around 1811), and the plesiosaur (of which Mary Anning also found a skeleton in 1823, and then another in 1830 – I love that woman). Today, the park is organised in several “islands” where you can see the sculptures, though the water was a bit down due to the heatwaves:

  • Amphibians and therapsids: Dicynodon and Labyrinthodon
  • Marine reptiles: Ichthyosaur, Mosasaurus, Plesiosaur and Teleosaurus
  • Dinosaurs and pterosaurs: Hylaeosaurus, Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Pterosaur
  • Mammals: Palaeotherium, Anoplotherium, Megaloceros and Megatherium

I have been aware of these sculptures for a long time – since I was a child and started liking dinosaurs. However, only recently did I find out that they really existed, and where they were. I arrived at Crystal Palace station a little after ten (making whole travel from the airport about two hours). I walked by a small farm with typical fauna such as… an alpaca, then I ate my sandwich overseeing the first island.

A collage showing differet statues of prehistoric creatures. Some try to be dinosaurs, and they look almost comically wrong, like giant iguanas or chameleons. There is one plesiosaurus looking rather acurate - it has a long neck and flipers. Finally, some mammals: a deer with huge antlers and a tiny horse-looking creature

I walked around for about an hour and then I set on my way back. Though I had planned to have a relaxed day at first, I had to adjust due to cancellations and train strikes. It was around that time that I calculated that I could actually cram my original Thursday and Saturday plans onto Thursday, plus the alternative plans I had made if I tweaked the time a little. So I back-rode for another hour towards the city.

Near Tower Hill stands the Sky Garden, on the 35th floor of the 20 Fenchurch Street building, designed by Rafael Viñoly. Sky Garden is considered the highest garden in London, and a fantastic viewpoint of the city. I almost accidentally came across the option to book a free access ticket for this – while I had not wanted to pay for any morning / early afternoon activities in case my plane was delayed, I figured out that I could book this for free, especially as they go stupidly fast! I made my 12:30 timeslot with a few minutes to spare, but I was let in after a queue, ID check, X rays and metal detection.

The Sky Garden features two terraces full of plants (landscaped by Gillespies), a couple of restaurants and bars, and an “open” gallery which has glass above your head so the feeling of opening dissipates – the glass is stained and scratched. It was one of the “must-do’s” in London I had never visited before, so I thought it would be a good opportunity. Fortunately, they have relaxed the rules on no bottles because of the unusual high temperatures.

After wandering around for a bit, I continued onto Saint Dunstan in the East Church Garden, the ruins of an old Wren church destroyed by The Great Fire of London and destroyed again during the Blitz (World War II bombings). Dating back to the 1100s, it was opened as a public park in 1970. Aside from being a very cute building park I wanted to see for a while, a music video by the band VAMPS was filmed there.

Ruins of a gothic church turned garden, with hanging ivy and bushes overgrowing the walls and windows

As it was lunchtime, the park was bustling with people, so I just had to move on rather quickly, and went back to the underground to get to the area of Westminster. I had originally booked tickets for Saturday (back in May) but then they were cancelled due to “repair work” going on that day (I do wonder if it was a security measure related to the strikes though).

But of course, first I feasted my eyes on the very new Elizabeth Tower clock tower aka Big Ben – though Big Ben is one of the bells in the tower, but nobody really cares about that any more.

Elizabeth Tower, shining gold with the restoration. It almost looks fake. The clock marks Quarter to two.

The Palace of Westminster or Houses of Parliament is the centre of the United Kingdom’s turbulent political life. The current palace was built after the previous one was destroyed by a fire in 1834. The new palace was erected in the Neo-Gothic style, and it was mostly finished by 1860, although it did open to be used in 1835. There was a competition regarding the design, which was won by sir Charles Barry. The Palace of Westminster holds the two chambers where the British government meets – the House of Lords and the House of Commons – alongside the Norman Porch, St. Stephen’s chapel, and the different corridors where the MPs vote or discuss state matters. I’ll forever be amused that “for security reasons, photography is not permitted in these chambers with dozens of cameras for TV broadcasting and Internet streaming”, but alas. The woodwork on the Norman Porch ceiling is fantastic, and some of the decoration choices, such as Churchill’s sculpture are… interesting. It is noteworthy that it is part of the UNESCO Heritage Site “Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church”.

Collage: a view of the houses of parliament (London), with the Elizabeth Tower on the left. Two shots of the Norman Hall, a huge ward with an intrincate design of wooden ceiling. A gothic corridor with a wooden door and some coloured glass panels

Afterwards, I just found my way to the hotel – though I had to wander a little to find the nearby supermarket, bugger those never-ending attached-house neighbourhoods, rested for a little and then went to the station to go to the theatre – I wanted some extra time to check out where my airport coach would leave, so I gave myself 45 minutes for a 22-minute trip. It turns out there was train trouble and I was barely on time, taking an alternative route instead of the direct one.

When I realised my flight timing would give a free evening in London, I booked tickets for the Apollo Victoria Theatre to watch the “Wicked”. This musical tells the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” from the point of view of the witches, and somehow gives the “Wicked Witch from the West”, Elphaba, an amazing personality and backstory that resonates a lot with me. For the same price as the ticket I was eyeing back in the day, I found a VIP upgrade just one seat over, so I was entitled to a drink and “snacks”, an early entry, along with access to the “Ambassador Lounge”, a tiny reception hall with access to a private restroom.

“Wicked” was great. The actress who plays the main character, Elphaba (Lucie Jones) came out a little yelly though in her solos. The duets with the other female singer (Glinda, Helen Woolf) were fantastic, and the male love interest’s (Fiyero, Ryan Reid) song was absolutely great, even though he is a character I have never cared for.

Apollo Victoria Theatre: the inner theatre, showing a dragon and a closed curtain showing a map of Oz. The outer theatre: there is a sign reading Apollo Victoria Wicked, and everything is lit green. The VIP lounge, with a glass of soda, and some chairs. The cast at the end of the show, taking their goodbye bows.

By the time I was out, the trains were running again, and one-to-three-minute delay on a line that runs every five minutes or so, and I was at the hotel by 23:00, absolutely beat. The room was extremely hot, because London is absolutely not ready for heat, so I had a snack in front of the fan, took a shower and then got some sleep – 21 hours on the go were over. Funnily enough, by the time I went to bed, I had that wobbly-world jet-lag feeling I have after my first day in Japan. It must have been the barely sleeping the night before. I fell asleep very fast.

Walking distance: 30.52 km / 46192 steps

23rd & 24th June 2018: London Express (England, Great Britain)

I took some family members over to London for the weekend, and they asked me to organise something so they could see a lot of things. We took the red-eye flight so we were downtown London something around 8:30. Our first visit had tickets for 10:00, so first spot was a Costa Coffee for breakfast! (≧▽≦)

Afterwards we saw the Tower Bridge over the Thames.

Then, at the right time, we walked into the Tower of London, where we wandered around visiting all the areas, including the White Tower, the dungeons, the Crown Jewels vault and the raven nests.

Once we were done, we took the underground to the British Museum for a quick visit through the most important collections, along with a few of the less known but interesting things – in the end we saw the Babylonian, Grecian, Egyptian collections, and had a glimpse at a few of the Chinese artefacts and the Hoa Hakananai’a from Easter Island.

We had lunch in-between and then went to the hotel to drop our things off. After that, we took off again and, via underground, we reached Trafalgar Square. We walked towards Piccadilly and on the way we stopped at Legoland and M&Ms shop. Then had dinner in an Angus steakhouse in Leicester square, and to end the day, we had a look at the lit Piccadilly Circus.

We got back to the hotel, and honestly, I had not realised how close to the centre we actually were until I looked out of the window.

The next morning we woke up early and headed off to have breakfast on the go – actually the weather was super nice so we got ourselves some Nero coffee and sandwiches and ate them in front of Westminster’s Abby. As it was Sunday we could not visit the Abby, but we saw the scaffolded Big-Ben, and walked around the Houses of Parliament.

We went to visit the Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst because the youngest person in the group needed to be told about a period in history in which she would not have been as free as she is today.

After that, we crossed over the Thames, then moved on to the London Eye. Half of the group wanting to go up, the other half being not fans of heights, we divided and conquered – two of us went to the London Aquarium while the other three enjoyed their VIP ride in the London Eye. I know you are not surprised I picked the side with the sharks instead of going up.

This guy judged us, very hard:

After our riverbank separation, we regrouped and headed off towards the Natural History Museum where we first saw the Butterfly carp that was installed outside it – they were extremely pretty and beyond friendly, because we were landed on quite often.

When we had finished the walk, we stepped into the Natural History Museum itself to wander through the dinosaur area for a bit, and then around the animal collection.

We decided to head out to the restaurant to have a bite to eat, and as we were walking through the marine invertebrate area (the room with all the crabs and so on), there was a nice lady showing items. And that’s how I ended up holding a megalodon tooth and fanbying like there was no tomorrow. Don’t judge me. Or do so, I don’t care ☆⌒(ゝ。∂)

As they walked into the insect / general creepy-crawler gallery, I walked around the gallery that held “less impressive” fossils, including the ones discovered by Anne Manning. We had lunch in the NHM, then moved on.

A short underground ride later, we were at St James’s Park, where we took a bit of a walk towards Buckingham Palace. As the weather was nice, we got to see a lot of the local fauna, even the local swans.

We hung around for a while as we saw Buckingham Palace, then headed off back towards the airport. Although we had a couple-of-hours delay, we made it home without further complication.

9th & 10th June 2018: Wicked London (England, Great Britain)

This will be the last work-trip, at least for a while. I might change my mind later, but for now I’m done with them (although there’s an upcoming family trip rather soon…). Again, we flew in early Saturday morning, and we went to walk around the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

Then we went to the British Museum. I left them for a couple of hours there and I went to visit some of the lesser-seen galleries.

We had booked tickets for the musical “Wicked” in the Apollo Victoria Theatre at 14:30, so we headed over there. Wicked is a parallel story to “The Wizard of Oz”, focusing on the story of the Wicked Witch of the West, who becomes a social outcast due to her tendency to speak her mind and the strength of her magic. I had really wanted to watch this for a long time, so I used this chance and convinced the group to get there. I absolutely loved it ♥.

After the show, we dropped our things at the hotel. The group wanted to get some rest, so we stayed there for a while, then got out again. We took the underground towards London central and we were in Trafalgar Square for a while.

Then, we went to Chinatown for dinner.

Later, we walked around Piccadilly Circus, checking out some shops and so. We even stopped for cake.

On Sunday morning we went to Saint James’s Park, where we got to meet the local fauna, especially a very adventurous squirrel.

Then we dropped by Buckingham Palace. Although we did not watch the Guard Change, we did see one of the relief marches.

We walked from there to Westminster, saw the Houses of Parliament and the Big Ben, along the outside of Westminster Abby.

We visited the Monument to Emmeline Pankhurst and stayed for a while in the Victoria Tower Gardens.

As a final visit, we went to the Natural History Museum.

Finally, we headed off to the airport, and the icing of the cake was that we got caught in a controllers’ strike, so we had like a three-hour delay on our flight and it took forever to get home (;¬_¬). All in all, this was a very… strange trip, and without a doubt the highlight was going to see Wicked, which is something I had wanted to do for a long time, and gave me a couple of hours of enjoyment to myself.

11th & 12th June 2017: Highlights of London (England, Great Britain)

As part of my day job, I took a group of customers on a trip to London. Not the best decision in my life, but one that I would repeat a couple of times before I had enough. This was a short getaway – we took off on a red-eye flight on Saturday and we came back on Sunday evening.

Our first stop was The Tower of London, officially called “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London”. The main Tower, “White Tower”, was built in the 11th century, and additions to it were made up to the 1400s. It was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The Tower holds an armoury, some treasure, documentation offices, a few shops and the Crown Jewels of England. And, according to the legend, quite a few ghosts.

After the Tower, we took a moment to see the Tower Bridge.

We had a hotel basically at the end of the world, and we decided to go to drop our things off before we continued on the visit. We saw the Wellington Arc in Hyde Park on the way to the royal palace.

Then we fooled around Buckingham Palace.

Finally we went to Chinatown to have dinner…

… and rounded up the day at Piccadilly Circus.

The next morning we headed off to the British Museum. We had breakfast outside because of course it was one of those times when it’s all warm in London. Waffles = ♥

The British Museum was established in 1753, and opened to the public, in its current location, in 1759. It focuses on human history and art, having branched the natural history items to the Museum of Natural History and all the documentation to the British Library. The museum holds the awe-inducing number of 150 million of artefacts from dozens of cultures of the world, both ancient and modern, with amazing Grecian and Egyptian collections (albeit having disputed ownership…)

Inside the British Museum we separated. I left them to have a walk around the most important areas and I walked into my favourite spots (although the Japanese galleries were still closed. I also got a ticket to see the Hokusai – beyond the Great Wave exhibition, which presents a number of Hokusai’s works organised in series or topics. One is waves, and it shows how Hokusai experimented with textures, shapes, swirls and foam until he found the “perfect” wave – his most famous work, the Great Wave. There is a series on people, another one on mythology, and another one on himself and his family.

After I was done and we had met up again, I helped them found some stuff that they had not seen but still wanted to. Then, we headed off to the Westminster area to see the Big Ben, and although there was some scaffolding already visible, we managed to see the whole thing.

Finally, we headed off to the airport to get back home.

28th & 29th March 2014: London (England, Great Britain) for VAMPS

A friend convinced me to attend this VAMPS concert in London by paying for the VIP upgrade in advance. I took a red-eye flight on Saturday morning to Gatwick and went directly to Camden, where the venue, Koko live house, stood.

Aside from the run to the hotel, I spent most of the day in the queue, which was rewarded when I got an autograph from HYDE himself on the Sex Blood Rock ‘n’ Roll album.

It was probably due to the high of the autograph, but this is one of the best concerts that I’ve ever attended, with lots of amazing songs, and I had a great time. I did not freeze during the Meet and Greet, and I shook hands with both members, mumbled something along the lines of “thanks for the autograph” to Hyde and “thanks for the pick” to K.A.Z, referring to the one I got in Barcelona. Then I bounced off the evening with most of the songs.

The next morning my friend went off to the airport first thing in the morning. I was not travelling back till the evening, so I took the chance to… Well, first things first, I took the chance to get myself to a Costa Coffee and get a vanilla latte.

Then I took the underground towards the end of the world, or more precisely the end of the Jubilee line – to North Greenwich. I took the O2 Arena exit, to say hi the IndigO2, where I had been once back in 2012 to attend the L’Arc~en~Ciel World Tour, the first and only time I’ve ever seen them.

I left the O2 Arena behind, and walked about 20 minutes towards the Cutty Sark, a tea clipper built in Dumbarton in 1869. It took eight trips to China to trade for tea and other items. Its history involved mutinee, murder, trampling of cargo and travels to Asia and Australia. In the 1880s it was considered one of the fastest ships if not the fastest sailing the ocean.

The Cutty Sark’s figurehead is the witch Nannie Dee, created by Robert Burns – in the poem a man falls in… love or lust… with a witch during a coven meeting that he’s spying, and the witch chases him away, getting away with the tail of his horse, that you can see in her hand.

The steam engines made sail-ships obsolete, but the Cutty Sark was active until the 1950s, when it was rammed by another ship on the Thames. In 1954 it was moved to a custom-dock in Greenwich to become a museum.

I wanted to see the exhibition inside, which turned out out be about Chinese tea and the history of the ship, which was not unexpected. I bought a pet-rat souvenir plush because I found it adorable. In 2007 it was ravaged by a fire, and extensive rebuilding works were undertaken, which included building a new support of glass and steel that would also become the new visitor centre when the museum reopened in 2012 (when I was there in 2012 it was not yet open. I guess this was an itch I had to scratch).

Oh, and by the way… here’s the binnacle!

I walked back towards the underground and by the Thames riverbank.

There stands the Old Royal Naval College, a UNESCO World Heritage site build between 1696 and 1712 – it was originally conceived as a hospital and it became the Royal Naval College in 1873.

Continuing on the riverbank, you can see the floodgates in the background.

I paid my respect to Admiral Lord Nelson Statue and went on.

I had to take a bus at Victoria Coach Station to go to the airport, and I got a very nice tour of the city, with the Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

… the London Eye

… and the Tower of London.

Once at the airport, I had some Yo!Sushi dinner – not the best, but hey I take sushi wherever I can find it because yay sushi.

Note: There is a longer commentary of the concert up on SemiRandom.

Flashback to 28th December 2010 – 2nd January 2011: New Year’s in London

  • Hyde Park
  • Piccadilly Circus
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum
  • London Eye
  • Houses of Parliament
  • Big Ben
  • River Thames
  • Tower Bridge
  • Tower of London
  • St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Globe Theatre
  • London Aquarium
  • British Museum
  • London Natural History Museum
  • Buckingham Palace

Note: This is a flashback post, which means it is just a collage regarding a trip I took before I started the blog in 2012. Tags may be incomplete or slightly off.