A September 2005 trip
to London by GB from Devizes
Quote: Well, it was finally here: the long awaited 2005 get-together. Three days of fun and sightseeing, plus the chance for us all to meet and get to know each other. I used the spare time to do some exploring for myself and the entire three days are chronicled here.
Friday featured a ride on the London Eye, which affords stunning views in all directions of central London. Having completed our ride, we retired to the late summer delights of St James’ Park and spent two enjoyable hours sat on the grass under the very warm sunshine. With entertainment supplied free-of-charge by the legendary "Tomato", we relaxed with drinks and ice creams, sandwiched between the bustling Pall Mall and Whitehall. With batteries recharged, it was then off to 80 Strand for the Rough Guides tour and to enjoy the view from their 10th floor balcony.
We met up later at The Pillars of Hercules pub in Greek St, Soho for some beers and lively conversation. Big applause for Cia and Cameron, who sat outside the pub, pints in hand, looking like the archetypical beer fanatics. Steven, who admitted to "not being all that keen on British beer", astonished us all by downing his first two pints in Olympic qualifying time. Well done that man, an honorary Brit if there ever was one.
Saturday, I was up with the larks and down to Spitalfields prior to meeting the guys in Folgate St, E1, which turned out to be an eerie and surreal experience. More about that later.
Stomachs were rumbling by now. Various people went their separate ways leaving Steven, Tony, Joanne (Rough Guides from Ireland), Chris, and me. A quick poll was taken, and Chinatown was the unanimous choice. Here we spent a couple of hours in the Golden Dragon restaurant, swapping travel stories and resting five sets of very weary feet.
Having dined like kings, thanks to Tony’s linguistic skills, the "Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy" exhibition beckoned, followed by a couple of hours wandering the seven floors of this venerable institution. By now, I must’ve walked 15 miles in two days and the feet were suffering. Knowing that unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for Sunday breakfast, I said my goodbyes and set about the journey home having enjoyed a truly remarkable, rewarding, and informative three days.
Be aware that the Routemaster buses that feature conductors to take your fare are being phased out in favour of single man operated vehicles and that on the majority of bus routes now, tickets have to be purchased in advance from machines situated adjacent to the bus stops.
On the Friday and Saturday mornings, I went early to both Whitehall and Spitalfields to explore prior to meeting the group. At 8am, the streets are virtually deserted of pedestrians making walking a pleasant experience rather than having to battle through the crowds.
Security around central London is remarkably tight. You may be asked to have your bags checked by the police, but they will always be polite and courteous. We were checked prior to boarding the London Eye and upon entry to the museums, so be aware of this.
Buses are okay but are just as prone to the traffic as cabs making it quicker to walk smaller distances. Mini-cabs can only be booked in advance and can be even dearer than black cabs as they aren’t metered. Many of the vehicles are privately owned and can be poorly maintained with the drivers having nowhere near the "knowledge" of the proper cabbies.
Forget driving yourself; the congestion charge is now £8 per day, a couple of hours' parking (if you can find it) will set you back at least £5, and the traffic is just unrelenting. Parking wardens lurk at every corner, and even a 30-second wait on yellow lines will often result in a very hefty fine.
Having checked in, I arrived at room 219 and entered via the magnetic strip key card. I had opted for a single room, rather than share a dormitory with anything up to a dozen other people. For this, I paid £35 per night, an absolute bargain for this or any other area of central London.
The room was certainly spartan with a double bunk, a wash-basin, two plastic chairs, and a small table, plus a large window with an uninspiring view of the fire escape. But I suppose you get what you pay for, and with a trip to Greece looming, the budget was a bit tight.
The rate does include breakfast, this is a self-service affair on the ground floor and is essentially cereals and/or toast, but you can eat as much as you like.
The Generator features a late-night bar, open until 2am, a restaurant, and a nightclub. I was certainly 20 years older than the average guest here, which didn’t bother me but might be off-putting to some. Contrary to some reports I’d heard, the place is well run, with a minimum of noise at night. It is situated in a residential area, and the staff try to ensure that any racket is quickly silenced.
There are male and female showers and toilets on each floor. These are, again, a bit cell-block-like but nevertheless were clean and tidy, and there were ample facilities for all, without any waiting around. Towels are provided, but these have to last you for your stay.
The reception service is woefully slow. I came back on Friday evening to find my card wouldn’t open my door. The queue for reception was four deep, and I waited almost 30 minutes for them to reactivate the door card.
There are security staff on the front door and you might be asked to show your card upon entering. The front doors are locked after 11pm and you will then have to enter via a first floor door accessed via part of the fire escape. It was rather warm in room 219, but I was fortunate enough to have an extractor fan that kept it cool at night.
The Generator essentially caters for the 16-30 backpacking age group for whom budget is everything. They no doubt view staying here as a bit of fun. It was okay, but I would seriously consider whether or not to stay here again.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on September 12, 2005
The London Generator
37 Tavistock Place
020 7388 7666
Restaurant | "Chinatown and The Golden Dragon Restaurant"
Needless to say, all the shops here sell Chinese food and goods, and of course, the only problem we had was which restaurant we should choose to have lunch. We perused a few menus until Tony’s nose began to twitch outside of the Golden Dragon restaurant at 28-29 Gerrard St. As it appeared to be full of "locals", this was a good sign, so in we went: Tony, Steven, Chris, Joanne, and myself.
Dim sum was order of the day, and within a few minutes, various small plates of very appetising food began to appear at our table, none of which I know the names of but which nevertheless were delicious. Prawns, beef, chicken, vegetables, rice, noodles, and goodness knows what else were all washed down with some Chinese tea.
It was a good opportunity to talk about our travel experiences, and this was kicked off by Tony, who told us that he had been to Greece last year for his honeymoon.
We sat, talked, and ate for almost two hours, and a great time was had by all. The restaurant was certainly busy, but we weren’t rushed and finished the food courses off with some delightful and very tasty custard tarts, Chinese-style.
Of course, chopsticks are order of the day here, and try as I might, I couldn’t (and never have) master the art of using them. I did feel a bit of an nerd using a fork as my four table partners were at ease with the more traditional utensils, but no one cared, and it certainly ensured that my lunch ended up inside me rather than all down my front.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable meal in truly authentic surroundings.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 12, 2005
28-29 Gerrard St.
020 7734 2763
It is one of those very few places anywhere in London that is a reasonable distance from the tube, so I met with Tracey at South Kensington station and shared a cab with her to Lawrence St.
Its current owner and designer is Rudy Weller who has also designed the facades and interior decors of two other famed public houses, namely the Horses of Helios and the Three Graces, both in Piccadilly Circus. The building has four rooms, these being the downstairs bar, the Conservatory restaurant, the Gallery (where we met) and the Room at the Top. It is all very Art Deco but done in a tasteful style and this is where we all convened at 6:30pm.
Tracey and I were the first two guides on the scene, giving us the opportunity to meet Brian, Tony, Jill, Cameron, and Cia before the place started to fill up. We were all given name badges with our guide name and real name, hopefully to enable quick recognition in the somewhat dimly lit interior.
By 7:15pm, most people had arrived, so we were treated to some words from Tony, Richard Trillo, and finally Rob Humphries, distinguished author of several Rough Guides covering many diverse locations, including London.
Guides present by now included Steven (ssullivan), Jim (SFPhotocraft), David (Drever), Chris (Mutt), and Tracey (UK Flower Girl), as well as many from Rough Guides, along with their guests. The drinks flowed, and food was brought round at regular intervals as we all stood in various enclaves, talking to these friends who, in most instances, we only really knew from their passport pictures.
It was great to see that all the IgoUgo staff here took the time and trouble to come around and introduce themselves to everyone and to participate in the many lively conversations taking place. Goody bags were given out to all, containing the invaluable Rough Guides "London Directions" (written by Rob), an Igo umbrella, and a sweatshirt. My sweatshirt was unfortunately sized XL, meaning that I could actually take my wife camping in it. Brian, when you get back to NYC, please can I have a medium?
All too quickly, it was 10:30pm and time to make our ways back to the various hotels we were all staying at. It had been a great, fun evening, with the opportunity to talk to as many people as you wanted to and the eager anticipation of the forthcoming events over the next couple of days, along with the appearance of a few more guides.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 12, 2005
The Cross Keys
1 Lawrence St.
London, England SW3 5NB
+44 207 349 9111
Attraction | "An Early Morning Wander in Whitehall"
St Margaret’s Church is now ahead of me, sitting as she does in the shadow of Westminster Abbey. St Margaret’s is unusual in that she has a sundial on her spire rather than a conventional clock. With Big Ben so close by, I guess another clock wasn’t deemed necessary. Across the way now to the Abbey, resplendent in the morning sun, her honey-hued stone reflecting the rays that accentuate every detail of her remarkable masonry.
Skirting back around the side of Parliament, it’s now onto Whitehall, this broad expanse of tarmac that leads to Trafalgar Square, and is peppered with imposing statues of all the great leaders from both World Wars as well as a touching memorial to "The Women of World War Two", positioned as is the Cenotaph in the centre of the wide avenue. Whitehall also houses most of the UK’s ministry buildings such as Richmond House as well as the Banqueting House and several more very imposing structures.
Walking past the entrance to Horseguards, one of their elite is opening the high iron gate to let a delivery truck out. "Would he mind if I took his picture?" I ask tentatively. "No, but you must be quick," he responds, whereupon he draws his sabre and stands there for me as I snap away. How fortunate am I today?
Nearing the top of Whitehall now, and the first glimpse of Nelson atop his lofty perch, protected by four ebony lions and surrounded by fountains and of course, The National Gallery to his rear. After pausing here awhile to savour the sights, it’s a sharp lefthand turn into Pall Mall, another glorious wide avenue that runs from the Square to Buckingham Palace and is headed by the rather over-the-top Admiralty Arch through which the traffic must pass, assuming, of course, that it is actually moving here today.
Not having the time prior to meeting at the Eye at 10:30am, I feel it’s time to use the new telephoto converter for the Fuji in anger for the first time. So on it screws, I take my life into my hands by standing in the middle of the Mall and zoom in on the Palace, all the way at the other end of the Mall. That will have to do for now.
Feeling rather pleased with my early morning meander, I stroll back down Whitehall, cross Westminster Bridge, and await my fellow guides who should be here any moment for the trip on the Eye.
Whitehall Walking Tour
At almost 150m tall, it is the largest ferris wheel in the world and offers unrivalled views of central London and the river from its highest point. It is situated on the south bank of the river, close to the Aquarium and almost opposite Big Ben. Nearest tube stations are Charing Cross, Embankment and Westminster from where you may cross the Thames via the Millennium footbridge or Westminster Bridge.
There are 32 cars, each capable of holding around 15 persons. The cars all feature reinforced glass windows that stretch from floor to ceiling. The wheel doesn’t stop during its daily routine; it moves so slowly that you embark and alight whilst it is moving from the platform. A full rotation takes about 30 minutes allowing ample time for those shots of London you always dreamt of.
As you approach the final phase of your "circuit", a pre-recorded voice asks you to stand in the north-west corner of the car where a photograph is taken automatically just prior to alighting. The photos can be purchased from the souvenir booth, along with a fridge magnet and key-ring both featuring the picture for a very pricey £10 and are a bit tacky to say the least.
The London Eye has rapidly become one of the top ten attractions in London for its twin roles of providing superb views with an exhilarating, albeit peaceful ride. It is rather expensive at £11 per person, although it allows you a stunning vista of the city matched only by Canary Wharf or the Natwest Tower.
A must for any trip to London.
The London Eye
South Bank of the River Thames
London, England SE1 9TA
+44 (870) 500 0600
I was the first on the scene as I had a relatively short hop on the tube to get to Tottenham Court Road station, from where it’s a 5-minute stroll down Charing Cross Road to the Pillars. Within a few minutes, other guides appeared along with Cameron and Cia who occupied a space outside the pub, pints clutched in hand. I was pleased to find a wide range of real ales on offer along with several lagers, including one of my Cornish favourites, Tinners Ale. Chris (Mutt) turned up with a couple of pals to join us and Brian materialised at 8:15pm.
For a central London establishment, the beer prices are very reasonable at £2.40 per pint and the few I sampled were well kept and just at the correct temperature, which usually indicates a well looked after cellar. It was still very warm outside so we all elected to stay there, watching the various life forms meandering up and down Greek St. In fact, the Pillars is very much an "outside" pub for this is where all the entertainment is, namely the people.
It was good to see Steven supping some real ale as it isn’t always to the taste of our American friends. Cia and Cameron, however, looked like they’d been bottle-fed on it since birth!
The atmosphere of the pub is superb and you didn’t need to be inside to experience it. It seemed to attract a good natured crowd who liked their beer and the only noise inside was that of a hundred separate conversations--no jukeboxes or fruit machines clanking away in the corners.
Everyone was certainly feeling the pace of the day and started to drift off around 10pm. It had been a great informal gathering and one that I sincerely hope will feature on any future trips to London.
The Pillars of Hercules
First port of call was the old Spitalfields Market, dating from 1893, positioned between Lamb St and Brushwell St. This was London’s principal wholesale fruit and vegetable market until 1991. Much of the original market is undergoing massive redevelopment but the essence of the place is still there with every type of ethnic food stall imaginable, although I was there a good hour prior to them setting up shop.
The original gates are still in situ as is the vaulted roof. The amount of building work taking place does detract from the experience but when I revisited a couple of hours later, all the stalls were open for business and the smells of a dozen different cuisines were wafting around the market.
Having been weaned on Ben Truman ale as a 16-year-old whippersnapper, I wanted to see the old Truman brewery in Hanbury St, once the largest brewery in the world. It started life in 1666 and brewed ale until it closed down for good in 1989. The buildings have been saved although like many in London, are now being redeveloped as swanky apartments for the local arty brigade. It’s original chimney is still to be seen halfway down Brick Lane along with the archway decorated with the brewery’s emblem that crosses the lane.
Brick Lane itself is now home to a large Bengali population and is affectionately known locally as Banglatown. The lane (and many adjoining streets) are alive with curry, balti and tandoori houses, all offering authentic cuisine at very reasonable prices.
Walking back now through the market, an imposing building marks the site of the London Fruit and Wool Exchange and turning right here will lead to a warren of narrow alleys full of character pubs and old shops, many retaining their original head boards above the doors.
It’s hard to believe that just 200 yards from here is Bishopgate, a massive commercial office development whose southern end adjoins Threadneedle St and the Bank of England.
At this point in time I bumped into Chris and Joanne and headed off for a well-deserved cup of tea before the short stroll to meet the crew for the next part of the organised tour.
The house was owned by Dennis Severs, an artist who died as recently as 1999. He used the house as his canvas, recreating the lives of an 18th-century family of Huguenot silk weavers, the Jervises. To enter the house is to enter one of his paintings.
The house has a cellar and four floors, with every room decorated in an 18th century style that is authentic right down to the last detail. It is as if you are interrupting the lives of these people; the beds have recently been vacated with indentations still visible on the pillows, there are half finished cups of tea with scones and jam on the table. Church bells ring quietly in the background, recreating a "Sunday morning" feeling in one of the rooms.
Quiet voices can be heard by the dressing table, no doubt discussing the day’s business or simply what to wear for the day. In one room, you are met with a cluttered table with a chair on its side; look above the fireplace, and the picture there is of this room, with a rather drunken chap having just taken a tumbled from that very chair. You are in that picture--the room is that picture, the picture is this room.
The essence of pomanders wafts through the house. In another room, there on the wall is Mr Jervis’ picture, with him wearing his best wig. Look to your right, and on the adjacent chair is that very wig. So maybe Mr Jervis is attending to his morning ablutions prior to dressing?
Floors creak, clocks tick, a cat can be heard impatiently trying to get at the canary in the cage by the window. The sights, the smells, the sounds all combine to make a truly surreal experience and one never to be forgotten.
There is no "tour" as such here; Michael, the curator, for lack of a better word, will welcome you, then leave you to it, for it is up to you, the individual, to experience what you want it to be. As Michael succinctly put it, "You either get it or you don’t."
The Exhibition takes the story in chronological order from Arthur’s first inkling that this particular Thursday is going to be even worse than any other; his girlfriend has dumped him and the developers are queuing up to demolish his house. Arthur doesn’t "do" Thursdays.
We enter through Arthur’s kitchen only to see a huge hole in the wall with an excavator bucket scooping up the bricks and blocks. From here, the story continues and tells of Arthur’s amazing experiences on his trip around the galaxy.
Many of the displays on show are the originals as used in the recently released big screen version including huge, electronically animated Vogons complete with authentic voices. All manner of Vogon hardware and weaponry is on show as is a full size model of Marvin, the manically depressed android who accompanies Arthur on his travels.
Interactive displays also enable you to see the making of the film and to give an insight to the science that inspired Douglas Adams to create this epic journey. You can also pose a question for "Deep Thought", the most powerful computer ever built and view the Improbability Drive Button, the key to intergalactic travel.
All in all, I found this a fascinating and hugely enjoyable exhibition to the extent that on Sunday afternoon, I went out and bought the DVD of the film. You can’t say fairer than that.
I also recall as a small boy how much my feet hurt after spending all day here with my folks and still not having seen all that was on display despite having walked for what seemed like miles.
So, being here today in September 2005 with the Igo crew and guides, some thirty-five years older than I was last time, I was looking forward no end for a chance to re-explore this Aladdins Cave dedicated to mankind’s ingenuity.
Having already spent an hour or so sampling the delights of the "Hitchhikers Guide" exhibition, Jay, Mutt, Joanne and I decided we’d have to be rather choosy about how we spent the remaining time here. Two departments were chosen; firstly, the "Health Matters" rooms to satisfy Jay’s requirements to see the development of medical machinery over the years (being a bright lad, Jay has a degree in biology) and the department on the ground floor that houses what we christened "the big and fast department" this being spacecraft, aircraft, cars and such like.
The "medical" department had all manner of machinery on show including early "iron lung" beds that these days resemble something out of a horror movie, more akin to torture than cure. Other devices on display included blood type matching machines and full size mock ups of operating theatres, showing the observer just how many skilled personnel are necessary to perform relatively minor procedures.
I have to be honest and say that most of this was not really of interest to me. The upper floors of the museum are what I would call there for the "specialists" in certain fields. Glass case after glass case full of medical, surgical, veterinarian, astronomical, geological, marine, mathematical and meteorological instruments detailing the history of their specific fields are certainly worthy of inclusion but not particularly exciting to kids or to folk not interested in those specific sciences.
So, having indulged Jay for an hour or so, it was with some excitement that the four of us headed for the "big and fast department", a couple of floors below.
This area pretty much details the history of the mechanical world from early steam-powered beam engines and agricultural machinery to the development of the rocket engine and includes the command module from one of the Apollo flights to the moon back in the early 70’s. Such oddities as the original "Flying Bedstead" are mounted upon the vast walls, this crazily shaped device depicting British aeronautics’ initial research and development into VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft that culminated in the design of the Harrier in the late 60’s.
To one side is an area very much of interest to me, this being the development of the rocket engine by Wernher von Braun following his defection from the Germans after WW11. An original motor from a V2 buzz bomb is on show, looking somewhat simple next to a massive booster from the second stage engines of a mighty Saturn V rocket.
Ancient bi-planes hang suspended in the air, another experimental Fairey jet plane lies on it’s side, half way up a huge wall, stacks of cars depicting the design development of motorised, personal transport are against one far wall along with steam locomotives from the heydays of the railways and traction engines dating to the beginning of the 1900’s.
This is what we came to see and were not disappointed. All-too-soon, with some of us having trains to catch, it was time to say "adieu" to our friends. Having made firm promises to definitely be at the next get-together, wherever it might be, we went our separate ways, minds buzzing from the delights of the last three days here in London Town.
Entry to the Science museum is free. Opening times are 10.00am – 18.00pm daily. Closed 24-26th December. Most areas are freely accessible for visitors with mobility problems. Nearest tube station is South Kensington on the District, Circle and Piccadilly lines. A subway leads from the station to the entrances of all the museums in Exhibition Road.
GB from Devizes
Devizes, United Kingdom