An August 2001 trip
to London by charolastra24
Quote: A week in London, for me at least, was not nearly enough to even scratch the surface of this delightful city. The perfect blend of preserved history and cutting-edge modernism, London is some of the best Europe has to offer.
It's really not all that cheap. I paid about £25 a night in mid-August, which I will grant you is the height of tourist season, but still, almost $50 for a room of this caliber is not a great bargain.
The staff is abysmal - some of the most unfriendly I encountered in Europe. The hostel is cramped and aged. The bathroom (of which there are NOWHERE NEAR enough) was skuzzy and two floors down from my top floor room, which was almost unbearably hot, and usually had long waits.
I don't expect Ritz standards from your average hostel, but I at least felt a clean bathroom and moderate temperatures for the price wouldn't be too much to ask. Also, be aware that rooms are co-ed, a fact which I thought was fairly common to hostels, but by which a female roommate there seemed surprised by when she arrived.
It basically felt like they were trying to sardine-pack as many backpackers as possible into a very small space.
I will say that the hostel is very conducive to meeting other travellers - the kitchen/common area is boisterous and friendly. And the location is literally unbeatable: walk out the front door, and you're staring at the British Museum. There are several tube stops just a hop away, and it's close enough to most major sights to be easily walkable.
All in all, not the worst place I've ever stayed, but FAR from the best. About the best you can expect in London without spending an arm and a leg.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 6, 2004
Astor Museum Inn
27 Montague Street Bloomsbury
+44 (207) 580 5360
Porters is what British Isles food SHOULD be - tasty, comforting, simple, the kind of thing you'd expect to be eating by a roaring fireplace in a boisterous pub in a town that was named something along the lines of Blank-upon-blank, maybe Yorkshire-Upon-Pudding, or Lamb-Upon-Pie. No "noveau" concoctions that try to disguise sausages as gourmand extravaganzas here, but don't expect bland either.
Skip an appetizer - portions are large, and the food filling - and head straight for the pies for which Porters is famous. The lamb and apricot is tasty and interesting, but the Steak, Guinness and Mushroom can't be missed if you're only gonna be here once. The flaky melt-in-your-mouth crust gives way to ridiculously tender chunks of beef, mushrooms, and that earthy, homey flavor that just makes you feel sorta cozy. Get it with the new potatoes as a side - they're delicious.
Whatever you do...no matter how much you want to gorge yourself on meat and potatoes...save room for dessert, and get Lady Bradford's Sticky Gingerbread Pudding. It's mouthwatering, and a perfect end to the meal. Try it with a glass of Fladgate 15 port.
You pay a bit more at Porters, but they do it all right. For quality British food, this is the place to go!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 7, 2004
Porters English Restaurant
17 Henrietta Street
London, England WC2E 8QH
Don't try to narrow it down to highlights, either. You may walk through the main entrance saying "First the Rosetta Stone, then the Elgin Marbles, then...," but I guarantee that you'll see the Easter Island statues in the lobby and stop for those. Then on your way toward the Elgin Marbles, you'll stop and meander through another exhibit, and another. By all means, walk in with a general plan of things you MUST see, but the best idea is just to wander and get overwhelmed by the things you had no idea were there.
That said! The bowling-over starts on the outside. The building itself is impressive enough, especially with the striking half-face statues in front. Now go ahead, walk through the doors,and, WHAM, you're in the Great Court, the largest, covered public square in Europe. Look up at the ceiling - it's striking.
From here, go where you will, but some of my personal favorites:
The Elgin Marbles - these make the highlights lists, sure, but to see them in person is really something. These are bits of the Parthenon, from the frieze. Take some time to examine the detailing - it's breathtaking. And once you're done seeing the Marbles, learn a bit about the controversy surrounding them and their place in the museum instead of Greece, a modern-day colonialist conflict.
The Egyptian Collection - this entire section is engrossing. It doesn't matter if you don't know anything about Egyptian history, because this exhibition will teach you what you need to know. This is the history of one of the most powerful civilizations ever to grace the face of the earth, laid out in a museum wing. Oddly, the Rosetta Stone, for all of its historical significance, doesn't have a whole lot of impact in person - I walked past it three times before I realized what it was, and I was LOOKING for it.
The British Isles, Viking, and Celtic Exhbits - I ended up spending more time in this area the second day than the first. This is Stone- and Bronze-Age history laid right out for you, in artifact after artifact. Especially interesting, I thought, was a large, tiled panel featuring an intricate design (see photo).
All in all, the British Museum makes a "Brief History of Time" under one roof, an experience to remember. Wander through slowly, take your time, and you won't regret it.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 8, 2004
Great Russell Street
London, England WC1B 3DG
+44 (207) 7323 8299
Since 1066, every Coronation of every Monarch of the British Empire has taken place within this church. It has witnessed the ups and downs of the Empire and weathered it all. The sights within are astonishing - endless tombs of famous monarchs, architectural astonishments, and history itself.
Some of the highlights within:
The Building Itself: A truly inspirational example of High Gothic architecture at its best, as the nave and vaulted arch ceiling can leave one breathless.
The Coronation Chair: The chair upon which every ruler of Britain and beyond for a thousand years has been coronated.
The Poets Corner: From Geoffrey Chaucer, to a monument to Shakespeare, the bedrock of the English language found their peace here.
The Stained Glass: The windows here are stunning. Take them all in slowly - don't dash around from one to the other.
Do note that photography, flash or no, is not allowed inside, and they MEAN it - I tried to sneak a shot of the ceiling in the nave and nearly got booted on the street, and my camera has no flash and a nearly silent shutter. I had to put it in my backpack, and then was watched like a hawk the whole rest of the time.
In a week spent in London, Westminster left the most indelible impression on me. Truly an awe-inspiring trip.
20 Dean's Yard
London, England SW1P 3PA
+44 (20) 7222 5152
Trafalgar is a bevy of important historical sights, monuments, art museums, and churches, not to mention a crossroads for heading off into other parts of London. Lord Nelson's Column is here, commemorating the brilliant naval commander, as is Admiralty Arch (same reason). The Academy of St. Martins-in-the-Fields is off to one end, and the National Gallery looms and stands watch over the Square. It's a fun place to stumble across, and even more fun to hang out at, to relax for a few minutes, and people-watch. It's boisterous, but not in a crazy way like Piccadilly - more like in a joie de vivre sort of sense.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 8, 2004
London, England WC2
You can reach Buckingham from any of about a dozen roads that converge on it, but the best, in my opinion, was to start at Piccadilly Circus, hike down Piccadilly, then take the turn onto the Queen's Walk and approach from the side along Queen's Park, ending up at the Queen Victoria Monument and the Palace itself. It's a nice way to really feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the imperial history of the city as you shed the raucous, rowdy, and modern (Piccadilly) for the relative peace and tranquility, and history, of Buckingham.
The Palace is not tremendously impressive visually, to be honest. It is not all that architecturally ornate, but it IS massive. What really impressed me more, to be honest, was the Queen Victoria monument out front.
I was there in August, the height of tourist season, and managed to hit Buckingham in the midst of about 750 Japanese people. Now this isn't that uncommon in London, except that I speak Japanese. So, whilst standing by the Queen Victoria Monument, I overheard a Japanese family (mom, dad, and daughter) talking about taking pictures in front of Buckingham, and arguing about who should be in the picture, who should be taking it, etc. So, in Japanese, I mentioned that I couldn't help overhearing, and perhaps they would like for me to take a picture of all three of them?
In hindsight, my mistake was raising my voice from a slight distance away in order to be heard over the crowd of people. Next thing I know, about five or six VERY excited Japanese families have clustered around this gaijin (foreigner) who speaks their language, cameras and arms flying everywhere, anxious to not only have ME take their pictures in front of the palace, but then to have the father (always the father) dart out and shove me in with mom and the kids, so that they could take a picture with me. So, somewhere in Japan, half a dozen families have pictures of mom and the kids and some random American guy (yours truly) in front of Buckingham Palace. It took me almost half-hour to escape - I should have started charging a few quid each!
Regardless, Buckingham is one of those things that you can't miss, but don't expect to be bowled over. I never went to the changing of the guard - a friend who went said you end up in a cloud of tourists and can't really see that much of a pageantry that really isn't that exciting anyway.