I visited London before when I was around twelve years old, which is twelve years ago now. I visited London again a month ago with my father just like then, he likes to do city trips as well. Back then I visited the most popular places of interest, such as Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London. When I started studying History I learned about the British Museum and it’s location in London much later and I was anxious to visit London again to see it. So we decided to catch a flight on Thursday the 14th of July and return home again on Sunday the 17th of July. Effectively this amounted to a stay of three days, because of the flights the day of arrival and the day of departure count for half. I would have preferred a longer stay, but that was not possible for my father. With today’s knowledge of hindsight I’m glad we visited before London was broken down by rioters. We visited the following places:
- Thu 14th: Kew Gardens
- Fri 15th: Hampton Court Palace and the British Museum
- Sat 16th: Canterbury Cathedral and Canterbury Roman Museum
- Sun 17th: British Museum
I had never heard about the Kew Gardens before I started planning the trip. I noticed it when I was searching Wikipedia for UNESCO World Heritage sites the United Kingdom. It’s easily reached with the subway. We expected that we could see everything in a two hours or so, but it took us a whole afternoon because it was far larger than expected. The Kew Gardens probably have the greatest variety of flora I witnessed in a single place. Because of the greenhouses they can even grow tropical plants. They even have sequoias which I witnessed in their native habitat in California during my holiday in the USA. The state of the greenhouses, built in the 19th century, shows that it’s not easy to keep it well maintained. We were fortunate to experience nice weather with sunlight during our visit, we were not so fortunate during the rest of our stay, especially with all the rainfall in Canterbury. While it’s a beautiful place, I think Japanese gardens would be even better, judging from the photos seen on the Wikipedia article covering those. I’d highly recommend Kew Gardens for a visit to anyone going to London.
The Hampton Court Palace requires a train ride. I expected to visit a palace which remained close to the state in which it was originally constructed, but after reading the Wikipedia article I learned that it saw quite a lot of change in later centuries. Most of the interior wasn’t what I expected it to be, it didn’t look, how should I put it, authentic? That is with the exception of the Chapel Royal of course, which is gorgeous. The kitchens were very interesting by contrast, those did look authentic and they even had a huge fireplace in operation. The the very large and old grapevine was also remarkable. I like the elaborate chimney designs characteristic of the Tudor architecture which can be seen at the Palace.
Then we went back to the centre of London to visit the British Museum. The afternoon wasn’t enough to see everything in the museum, so we later visited again on Sunday morning, but even then I had to rush through the museum at the end to see a large amount of the remaining exhibits. There is a lot to see and it will take a long time, especially if you like to read a lot about what you’re seeing like me. One of the highlights of the collection are the Elgin Marbles. In the explanatory text the Museum emphasizes that Lord Elgin was such a nice guy to save these marbles, which come from the Parthenon in Athens, from vandalism. While I agree with that to a certain extent, what’s important is that Greece was at that time occupied by the Ottoman Empire. I think they should be returned to Greece considering the current situation. While the Elgin Marbles may have been acquired in an honest way just like many other works of art, we wondering how much of the art was robbed during the days of the British Empire. A good example of that would probably be the Koh-i-Noor. The Parthenon Marbles are certainly one of the most beautiful sights in the museum, but they were also slightly disappointing because they are so damaged. Some of my favourites are in the rooms showing Assyrian art, specifically the siege of Lachish and the hunt of the lions and onagers. My favourite Egyptian art would be Nebamun hunting in the marshes, because it so colourful. The East and South(east) Asian art present in the British Museum wasn’t as good as the collection I had seen in the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco however, possibly because I became spoiled after seeing all the beautiful jade objects there. I also spent a lot of time looking at the Greek pottery at the Museum, it has a large collection of those.
On Saturday, the last complete day, we went to Canterbury with the train. Canterbury Cathedral is another UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s well deserved. Even on such a rainy day there were still a lot of visitors. The cathedral is massive, with plenty of decoration on the walls and with a lot of stained glass. The Roman Museum in Canterbury is a small museum which is not spectacular when it comes to it’s collection but which still manages to give an interesting reconstruction of what Roman Canterbury had been like.
We were staying in a hotel in Tooting which is south of London’s centre, close to the subway station Tooting Broadway so that we would be able to travel to centre of London fast. It cost us £ 160 for three nights including breakfast, which was cheap compared to other hotels. But wasn’t exactly a hotel, it was an ordinary house repurposed to house temporary occupants. Bathrooms and a living room had to be shared with other guests and the house also had a kitchen. Other guests included Indian expatriates, a British and an Australian couple who were tourists too. It was nice to have a short chat with these people and our stay was satisfactory. One night we were disturbed however when the loud lovemaking of the Australians woke us up. Since then my father tells about this incident to everyone when he talks about our visit to London. He does this with so much enthusiasm and employs a comparison with the grunting done during tennis matches which cracks up those listening to his story time and time again.
While the hotels in London are expensive – London is one of the most expensive cities to live in – the restaurants are relatively cheap. The first restaurant we visited in the neighbourhood was Sree Krishna. This restaurant serves nice food but the personnel was not interested in us at all and I couldn’t understand their English when they gave an explanation about the dishes when I asked. Another restaurant called Radha Krishna is closer to the subway station and had more hospitable personnel and better food. What I liked about these restaurants is that main dishes are priced at less than £ 5. The Netherlands doesn’t have as many Indian restaurants, and a good one in Utrecht charges € 15 on average for a main dish. Most Indian restaurants I know of in the Netherlands focus on North Indian cuisine, while the two restaurants in London are South Indian. Sure, they also had a lot of North Indian dishes on the menu, but it was very interesting to taste those South Indian dishes which we don’t find in the Indian restaurants in the Netherlands. I’m impressed by the use of coconuts in South Indian cuisine. These two restaurants also had a lot more vegetarian options than in the Netherlands where Indian restaurants tend to have menus leaning more towards meat dishes. We also ate at an Italian pizza restaurant called Franco Manca in Brixton after reading a recommendation in the blogosphere. Don’t be scared off by it’s location next to a fishmarket, the food is worth it.