City trip London
Youngsters sit at Piccadilly Circus, watching people
Some highlights: Piccadilly Circus, Leicester and Trafalgar Square, the Brixton and Portobello Road markets, the London Dungeon, Madame Tussauds, Tower and Tower Bridge, Speakers Corner, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and shopping at Selfridge's, Liberty's, Harrods and in Carnaby Street.
Travelogue & photos: Angélique Woudenberg
From Piccadilly Circus we walk to Leicester Square, a pretty and cozy square without traffic at the center of the entertainment district Soho. Lots of souvenir shops, theaters, places to eat and a small park.
We're looking for a theater ticket office. On the day of the performance, tickets are half-price. We have a choice between "Fame," "Les Miserables," "We will rock you" and many other shows.
From Leicester Square we walk to China Town in Gerrard Street. There are lots of restaurants and Chinese stores, but we don't like the atmosphere and walk on via Leicester Square to The Strand, a long street with again (expensive) souvenir shops and places to eat.
We almost get hit by a black cab. We have to get used to traffic driving on the left side: first look right and then look left.
From The Strand we walk to Trafalgar Square. We see the large Admiral Nelson statue from far away. It's crowded, many kids are playing in the water of the fountain. Nice, but the chlorinated water gets us all wet, so we walk around the square and then take a bus to Piccadilly Circus. We have a drink in the cozy, crowded pub of the Regent Palace Hotel.
By 9:30 PM it gets dark and we enjoy the neon signs at Piccadilly Circus. The moving Coca Cola ads are fun. It's very crowded and youngsters and tourists sit beneath the Eros statue talking and watching people.
There are lots of white stretched limousines. Are there celebrities inside, or can you rent a limo? Probably the latter.
Brixton Market and Portobello Road Market
Pakistani and Caribbean products, fruit, meat and vegetables
We forego the typical English breakfast and have just toast and tea. White beans, eggs, bacon and lard are not for us early in the morning.
We visit the colorful market in Brixton, the multi-cultural neighborhood. On leaving the subway station, we almost immediately find ourselves at the lively market on Electric Avenue with mainly Pakistani and Caribbean products: fruit, meat and exotic vegetables.
Next to the market is an indoor bazar where we see pigheads which remind us of our vacation in Tunesia some years ago, where we saw goatheads. A woman strokes the pigheads.
From subway station Notting Hill Gate it's quite a walk to Portobello Road Market. This neighborhood has the largest Caribbean carnaval of Europe during the last weekend of August (Sunday to Monday). We walk hilly streets with pastel-colored houses and antique stores.
The market in Portobello Road is nothing special: vegetables and fruit, antiques and for the rest it's a flee market.
Scared, crying children seek shelter with their parents
When we leave the London Bridge subway station, we are shocked to see how long the line (the "queue")is for the London Dungeon. But there is a stall with tasty pies and hot sandwiches, so we eat until we reach the entrance. To scare the visitors in advance, zombies walk around the line.
Inside the dungeon we find ourselves in a dark cave with tombstones and scary noises. At the ticket box we are placed on a scaffold where our heads are fake chopped off for a picture we can buy later.
After we get our tickets we immediately walk into a room with bloody wax bodies on scaffolds and bodies with bags over their heads hanging from ropes. A sign tells us not to touch the "people" because they bite.
It's dark and we're already scared. We walk carefully, but often get scared by screaming skeletons or walking zombies (actors) who try to frighten us. There's a lot of screaming and we don't think it's fun at all. Lots of frightened and crying children seek shelter with their parents and want to get out of here as soon as possible.
We see how the great majority of people lived in the Middle Ages. Bitter poverty, horrible diseases like the plague, which killed millions of people.
In one of the dark rooms a man on a screen tells us that the plague is devastating his body and many people around him are dying. In 1664 thousands of people in London died of the plague.
A screen is lowered which represents a body with big red lumps and holes in it. It looks like a real body. We're also told - to scare us - that we should watch out for rats. All (gullible) tourists jump.
In one of the other dark rooms an actress tells us that people have to flee the big fire of 1666. Together with other tourists we have to run accross a bridge. It seems real, because of the provided heat and smoke.
In another room an actor tells the story of Jack the Ripper and how many women he murdered. They show pictures of (I think) the real women and the men who were suspects. The pictures are horrible. The man talks about Jack the Ripper murdering and ripping up women and then taking the kidneys from their bodies. Jack the Ripper was never found.
Next we arrive in a court of law where we are sentenced to death.
This is followed by the "boat ride to hell." We board a small boat which takes us to hell via the Traitors' Gate. We sail through a dark space and are scared by the atrocities we see on both sides. Luckily the boat ride doesn't last very long.
Tower Bridge and Tower of London
The Tower of London used to be a prison
After our visit to the horror museum with witches, victims, hanged convicts, skeletons, scaffolds, bleeding and sick people, we take the subway to Tower Hill to visit the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.
The Tower Bridge was built in Victorian style. It only opens for very large ships. On the upper deck is an exhibition about the construction of the bridge.
From the stairs we have a great view of the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
The red Beefeaters who guard the crown jewels in the Tower of London have left, it's after 7 PM.
We walk along Traiters' Gate. Via this gate convicts were taken to prison by boat on the Thames. The Tower of London used to be a prison.
Not just the Beefeaters have left; the seven ravens who live here don't show themselves either. According to legend the British monarchy will fall when the ravens fly away. In our travel guide we read that their wings are clipped on one side, so they can't fly away.
In the evening we visit Trocadero between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, it is a complex with a mall, arcades, movie theaters, bowling lanes, a Moroccan restaurant and a bar. It mainly caters to youngsters and we leave soon.
Madame Tussaud's and Speakers Corner
A ride through 400 years of London history
Today we visit Madame Tussaud, where there also is a long line. The rooms are filled with wax sculptures which more or less resemble pop stars, movie actors, politicians and of course members of the royal family. I have my picture taken with the Hulk, the green monster from the tv series I was afraid to watch as a child.
The Chamber of Horrors reminds us of the London Dungeon. Here also murder and death are the central themes.
In the "Spirit of London" we take a tour of 400 years of London history in (half) a black cab. We see William Shakespeare, people dying from the plague and in the great fire of London. By the end of the ride we're back in the present.
On our way to the Planetarium we pass by Spiderman in a giant cobweb. In the big cupola of Madame Tussaud's we watch a nice show about the universe and the stars.
Outside we take the subway to Marble Arch where we first have a bite and then walk to Speakers Corner to listen to what people have to say.
There's a huge crowd. Several groups are standing around one or two speakers who are venting their opinions. It's mostly about religion and racism and everything that's being said is extreme.
One person stands on a beer crate in silence; he thinks he's Bob Marley. The next one stands on a crate and reads from a paper: rules about how the world should function and yet another considers himself a messenger from God.
There are passionate and serious discussions between the speakers and the audience. We don't always agree with everyone, but we wisely keep our opinions to ourselves.
There is a remarkable number of veiled Muslim women, dressed in black; only their eyes are visible. The atmosphere is grim and tense, but we wouldn't have missed this for anything. There is police, in case things get out of hand.
In Hyde Park it's pleasantly crowded. There are green-and-white beach chairs for rent.
Changing of the guard in front of Buckingham Palace
In Oxford Street we take bus #12 to Westminster for a visit to London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey.
Unfortunately it's overcast today, so we skip the giant ferris wheel, the London Eye. It looks like an enormous bicycle wheel with spokes, and it moves tantalizingly slow. On our way to London we had a great view from the airplane of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.
Our last day already. We packed our suitcases yesterday night, so we have all afternoon to explore London.
We take the subway to Westminster and walk along Whitehall and Downing Street 10 to the Horse Guard Parade. Ever since the attacks of September 11, 2001 the Prime Minister's house can no longer be seen from close by. We can watch from behind a fence, guarded by "bobbies."
From Downing Street 10 it's only a short walk to the Horse Guard parade. There are many tourists, armed with video and photo cameras. Two lines of horses stand facing each other and after 15 minutes nothing has happend yet.
It takes us ten minutes to walk via St. Jamespark to Buckingham Palace where the changing of the guards begins at 11.30 AM.
Cars are still allowed around Queen Victoria Memorial. Then the Guards come marching in, accompanied by music.
Unfortunately we can't find a place in front of Buckingham Palace. It's too crowded and when you try to cross the street, a bobby whistles and you have to go back. We miss a large part of the ceremony.
The horses we just saw at the Horse Guard Parade gallop by and that's it. The changing of the guards in front of the palace takes 40 minutes, but we've seen enough. The Union Jack is not waving, so Queen Elizabeth II is not home.
We walk to Trafalgar Square via St. Jamespark and enjoy the quiet and the big, quacking ducks who beg for food.
Selfridge's, Liberty's, Harrods and Carnaby Street
We visit Selfridge's department store on Oxford Street, a fancy, expensive store. We try some perfumes and then take the subway to Oxford Circus.
The next department store is Liberty's on Regent Street. The outside looks like an Austrian building with wooden beams. Inside there are wooden balconies and a wooden elevator ("lift"). Pretty and pricy. There is a sale with 70 percent discounts, but the prices are still steep.
Behind Liberty's is Carnaby Street. In the "Spirit of London" at Madame Tussaud's, Carnaby Street is portrayed as a young and trendy shopping street. It's nice for window shopping, but that is enough for us.
We stroll on Regent Street for a while and then take the subway to Knightsbridge for our last department store today, Harrods.
The outside of the famous Harrods is as impressive as the inside. We first look for the "Egypt Hall" on the ground floor. Officially you're not allowed to take pictures, but there's no guard at the moment, so we take a clandestine picture.
The hall is beautifully decorated with Egyptian columns, pharaos, hieroglyphs and a large leafgolden pharao statue.
In glass cases sits expensive jewelry and bags. There is not a lot of interest in the merchandise. In the past one could buy anything at Harrods, even an elephant, but that has changed. Nowadays there are more tourists than customers.
A little farther, also on the ground floor, is a sushi bar, a big hall with cold cuts, a hall with pies, candy, cakes and tea. When we see the prices, we get nauseous. We limit our visit to the ground floor, we need to get back to our hotel to pick up our suitcases.
One thing we won't forget easily: the words "Mind the gap." In almost every subway station we hear it when we are boarding or leaving the train. On the platform floor it is also written. So we buy a souvenir with this text.