David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part VI

Since EY is a normal person with a real job, I am left on my own on the last day of my London tour.

Arrived at the Tower of London at 09:30 (I didn’t manage to get in, remember?), only to find that the Tower does not open until 10:00 on Mondays, so I had to wait a bit before I can get in. I visited most of the points of interests in the time that I spent there, including:

-the White Tower: once the former Royal Armoury, it has a lot of historial weapons and firearms on display. It is worth noting that there is an exhibit that was dedicated to the historical struggles between British Protestants and Catholics, including the Gunpowder Plot. And then when I got back to Vancouver, I read about the news that the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church are planning to merge. I find that kind of ironic.

-the Crown Jewel: probably the must-visit place for visitors to the Tower, the real and still-in-use Crown of the British monarch is on display there

-prison cells where a number of high-profile prisoners were once imprisoned

All in all, the Tower is a decent historical site to visit, if one wants to learn a bit about Medieval Britain.

At around 12:30, I rode the tube to Russell Square Station and had a one last brief visit to the British Museum and visited the Enlightenment Exhibit again before heading back to the hotel to pick the luggage. It’s too bad that I did not manage to spend enough time there (since it was kind of close to the hotel that I stayed in, I did not really planned for a specific point of the trip to visit it, thinking that I could go there as a “time filler”).

I took the Circle Line train from King’s Cross/St. Prancras to Paddington. The walk from the Circle Line Paddington station platform to the Paddington rail station (where I would board the Heathrow Express) is noticably longer than the walk from the rail station to the Hammersmith and City Line platform. One really have to know the way around the London Underground system in order to find the shortest path to any place.

There were long line-ups at the British Airways counter at Heathrow, even the “fast” baggage drop off had a long queue. The flight from LHR to YVR was delayed due to the late arrival of the aircraft (what else). Otherwise the flight back home was uneventful.

London is truly a fascinating place to visit. In many ways (e.g. the dirtiness of the streets), it reminded me of the Hong Kong of old (i.e. 1980’s to early 1990’s). Thanks to the expert guidance of EY, my tour of London covered most of the prominent points of attractions in Central London, and the tour is very fulfilling. However, there were still a couple things that I would like to do but did not do:

– attending a football match: it was FA-cup 4th Round weekend when I was in London, and I thought about going to the Arsenal vs Blackburn match at the Emirates Stadium. However, the tickets were restricted to fan club members only. It might have been a good thing since the match was by all accounts a snooze-fest

– watching a West-end musical: it is listed as one of the to-dos in Wiki Travel. I should’ve made plans early for that.

London in pictures: http://www.davidmak.net/album/v/london/london2007/

This was my first-ever trip to Europe, and actually my first time venturing out to places where English or Chinese is not the main language (although a lot of people that I encountered in Austria and Germany spoke very good English). Although the trip was a little bit short, it gave me a taste of what Europe is all about. I would love another visit again in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future.

On a final note: sometimes I would associate certain songs with the trips that I took, even though the lyrics or the song itself has little to do with my destination or even the trip itself. This time my “theme” song for the trip was Nana’s (starring Mika Nakashima) 一色. When I was on the train from Innsbruck to Munich, I found the song really fitted into my mood during that time, even though I don’t know what the song is about (I am one of those who don’t know any Japanese but listen to J-pop).

David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part V

Day three in London coincided with the Chinese New Year, and EY and I celebrated by going to… Cambridge, which of course is known to the world because of the University there.

We met up at King’s Cross Station at 10:45 and took the next train to Cambridge. The ride was short, just under an hour. The most memorable thing about the ride is the changing air pressure (while the train enter tunnels and etc.) affecting my ears.

We took the bus to the town centre after getting off the train. Cambridge is a more vibrant town than I originally thought, as it serves as a hub to the surrounding areas, according to my guide, EY.

A few of my friends know that I love visiting university campuses, and Cambridge is certainly a worthwhile visit for people like me. We went around several residential colleges, including St. John’s, King’s, Queens’ and Trinity. Highlights of the tour included the Bridge of Sigh, the River Cam, and the King’s College Chapel.

Although the environment at Cambridge does not have the grandeur simiilar to Stanford (another great campus that I have been to), it does give out an aura of history and temperament (is that the right word?) of a prestigous education institution.

After touring the colleges, we sat down at a tea house and had tea (a visit to the UK would not be complete without this). It was all very relaxing, even though the weather was not the best.

We headed back to London in mid-afternoon. Since it is too early for dinner, I dragged EY to the British Museum again (sorry!). The great thing about free admission is not only that I don’t have to pay, but I can choose to go whenever I want and any number of times I want. This time around, we visited mostly the Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) exhibits.

To me, the Chinese Exhitbit was a little disappointing, as I didn’t find anything strikingly impressive (so where are the booty from the 19th century wars?), and the organization of the exhibit is somewhat disjointed and lacked meaning. Afterwards, I read that some of the British Museum’s Chinese Collection went on display in Beijing shortly after I returned to Vancouver. So I wonder if the “better” things were shipped over to China already by the time I was there. The Jade Exhibit is probably my most memorable exhibit within the Chinese Collection.

The Japanese Collection, on the other hand, was very well organized. The exhibit halls are organized in a chronological fashion. A large variety of types of items (e.g. clothing, painting, everyday household items) are displayed to show the various aspects of life in different eras. The captions are well written and expressive. The exhibits are intended to educate people about how Japanese culture has evolved over the its history, instead of just a static collection of artifacts (e.g. pots and porcelain) that hold little meaning to observers, as displayed in the Chinese Collection.

After spending a couple hours at the Museum, we walked down to Chinatown for Japanese curry (yes, again!) at a different restaurant as the night before. I thought the curry there is better than the one I had on the previous night. After studying photographic evidence, Mr. Fung concluded that the second Japanese curry was more authentic than the first one. Nonetheless, my craving of Japanese curry is finally satisfied!

EY and I took a brief walk around some malls after dinner, but then she needed to leave early to tend for other businesses. Before we part, she recommended me to go down to Charing Cross Station and experience the Thames at night. It was not the last time we see each other that night though, as we thought it was.

I followed EY’s instructions and walked on the Golden Jubilee Bridge to cross the Thames from Charing Cross. I was walking along Belvedere Road until I discover that there is a riverside walkway (The Queen’s Walk). Even though it was a Sunday night, there were still a lot of tourists along the riverside area. The night scene along Thames is fantastic, comparable to the night harbour scene of Hong Kong (not sure if that is an appropriate comparison). The London Eye looked big when I was walking beside/underneath it. I didn’t get on it though. What is the fun of going on a ferris wheel alone? Although I think the view would be nothing short of magnificent up there.

I was under the London Eye when I got a call from EY. It turns out that she left the things that she bought from Cambridge in my backpack. I guess we both are quite forgetful. :p We agreed to meet after I finish my night tour of the Thames. Moving on, I walked across the Westminster Bridge and observe the Westminster Palace and the Big Ben at night. Overall, it was a very pleasant walk and I was quite pleased.

I took the tube to Finchley Road and met up with EY to gave her back her things. We said good bye for real this time, but I’m sure we’ll meet again some time in the future.

David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part IV

So why is the London part of the trip broken in several entries? That’s what happens when a lazy guy keep procrasinating and keep putting off writing his travel log. If he waits until he finishes the whole thing before posting it, people won’t get to read it until 2010, or something.

But then, is there really people who would read this self-loving guy’s so-called travel log, with all the petty little details written in?

Anyway, let’s move onto day 2 of the London trip.

After a brief visit to the British Library (it was right across from the hotel). I got to the Westminster Station at 10:30, met up with EY and start our tour from there.

The weather was simply fabulous at that point in time. The blue sky was quite Vancouver-esque (during the summer), but still not quite California-esque though, if you know what i meant. :p

We walked along Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square and passed by the entrance of the National Gallery. We then passed through the Admiralty Arch and walked along the Mall at St. James’s Park. We stopped at the lake area to look at some goose and pelicans (those are Royal properties) and tried to guess which pelican was the one that swallowed a pigeon and made it on youtube and bbc.co.uk.

We got to Buckingham Palace at around noon, just in time to see the changing of guard. There was a ton of tourists there (being a Saturday), and I had to hold my camera up high to take pictures. For the first time I realized that the work of a photographer can be quite hard. To a lot of people, the changing of guard might been be seen as a show. However, I think rituals like these signifies the importance of the British Royalty, even though they have become increasingly low-key politically.

After the change was over, we moved on along Constitution Hill in Green Park. The weather really did make the walk in the parks much more pleasant (duh). The series of Royal Parks (St. James’s, Green, Hyde) in the area are different than the parks that I visited in Canada in the way that it gives a much more “artificial” feel (I don’t mean this in a negative way). The park outside of Rideau Hall in Ottawa actually is in some ways similar to the Royal Parks, for obvious reasons. In Canada, a park is more of a designation of a natural area instead of something that was built by humans.

After walking past the Wellington Arch, we moved onto Hyde Park, walked along the Serpentine, and visited the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. We got to Kensington Palace at around 13:30.

Compared to the glamour and luxury of Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace is much more modest. In the tour of the Palace, we got a glimpse of Royal life during the pre-Victorian times. I usually don’t like audio tours (I usually find the speaker talked too slowly), but I managed to go through the one at the Palace, partly because it was well made. The audio guide provided a lot of small, fine, but interesting details throughout the tour.

After finishing the tour, we then headed to the Natural History Museum. There were a lot of people there, with parents bringing their children for a Saturday afternoon visit, but there were very few tourists though. We spent some time lining up to get into the dinosaur exhibit, and walked through some others. The architecture of the Museum is quite beautiful. It was worth the visit just to see the building itself.

Afterwards, we walked to Knightsbridge to take the Underground to Piccadilly Circus and went to a Japanese restaurant in Chinatown. I finally was able to satisfy my unexplainable craving of Japanese curry rice (which had gone on since I came back to Vancouver from Hong Kong in January). The curry rice was pretty good, but somehow my appetite wasn’t great that night (being stuffed at the Natural History Museum and then on the tube didn’t help).

After dinner, we took a brief walk around Leicester Square and Covent Garden before parting for the day. We were actually quite proud of the distance that we covered and the number of places that we’ve visited for the day. :p

David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part III

Whether they admit it or not, a lot of Hong Kong people have some kind of emotional/sentimental attachment to Britain (although memories of the pre-handover days are starting to get fuzzy now, I’m sure). This is demonstrated by the English National side’s popularity in Hong Kong, and the number of Hong Kong tourists in London when I was there.

I arrived at Heathrow at 8:30am (the plane had to circle before landing again, is that really common for Heathrow?), waited 30 minutes for the luggagage, and took the Heathrow Express to Paddington (Note: buying Heathrow Express tickets online, namely from the JAL web site, saves 1 pound per trip). From Paddington, I took the Hammersmith and City line to Euston Square. This was a mistake, as the walk to the hotel was 20 minutes, while walking to the hotel from King’s Cross/St. Pancras (the next stop in the line) was 5 minutes. I guess tube maps that failed to clearly show which line goes where did not help, but it did show that I lacked preparation (i.e. not pinpointing where exactly the hotel is beforehand).

I got to the hotel at 10:30 and was told that the room is not ready yet. So I had to change my plans slightly – originally my first item on the agenda is the Tower of London – and headed off to the British Museum.

With more than 200 years of history, the architecture of the British Museum itself is a wonder to a “culturally-deprived” person like me. I went through a number of exhibitions, including Enlightenment, Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, and Middle Ages. I only browsed through the Chinese exhibits, knowing that I will return for another visit for sure. I saw a number of Cantonese-speaking tourists around in the museum (as well as a couple pretty Japanese female tourists…), and I suddenly came to realize that it was the start of the Chinese New Year holiday.

The collection is all in all very interesting, as the captions are well written, and there are a lot of things that I cannot see anywhere else in the world (e.g. the Pantheon Marbles).

I had a Krispy Kreme donut for lunch. I was surprised that Krispy Kreme is so readily available in London, as I found one in Paddington and another one in Euston. But then there are Subways (no, not the tube) around too…

I went back to the hotel at 14:00 to take the room. The room was really big and well furnished. Perhaps I got lucky and got one of the bigger rooms, since small room size is a common complaint for hotels in London.

Afterwards, I rode the Underground to Bank/Monument, visited the Monument, and walked towards the Tower of London. However, by the time I got there (15:30), it was too late for admission. I walked around the exterior walls of the Tower and took some pictures. I then proceeded to walk across the Tower Bridge and onto the south side of Thames. After walking past HMS Belfast and the Hay’s Galleria, I took the Underground again to Westminster.

London’s Underground system is the most complicated public transit system that I ever encountered (Munich’s S-Bahn and U-Bahn look pretty complex too, but I was only there for a day). Transferring from one line to another in a station, or to exit at a particular exit can be quite different than it was with the MTR in Hong Kong. Not all walkways have access to all the platforms and exits, therefore when I got off the train, I need to pay attention to the signs to see which way I should go in order to get to where I want to go. More often than not I found myself walking the wrong way.

The main attraction around the Westminster station is of course the Westminster Palace. I took several pictures of the Big Ben, and walked around the fences of the building along Millbank, and then along the Thames in Victoria Tower Gardens and all the way to Lambeth Bridge. I finally walked back to Westminster Abbey along Millbank and right about that time the battery on my camera went out (and my spare was charging at the hotel room).

I headed back to the hotel at around 17:30 but got lost around the King’s Cross Station and the Pentonville area (I didn’t know I needed to walk to the St. Pancras side of the station when I was inside the Underground station) for about 15 minutes. That’s what happens to people who rely on intuition and “feel” (instead of being prepared and observant) to get around places that they are not familiar with.

Went to Mornington Crescent at 18:45 to meet up with EY. We then went to a nearby Japanese restaurant. The dinner that we had there consist of teriyaki chicken and beef, plus the usual a-la-carte items (e.g. rice, miso soup). The restaurant was ran by Japanese people, so it was more or less authentic (at least more authentic than the Chinese-ran joints in Vancouver).

I told EY about my craving of Japanese curry. She told me that there are a couple of places around Chinatown that makes good Japanese curry rice, and we can go try it out the next day. I was absolutely delighted. :p

David’s Not-so-grand European Tour: Part II

The day that I spent in Munich is more of a by-product of flight schedules, as opposed to a planned stop. In order to get a lower-priced ticket, I had to take the 7:00am flight from MUC to LHR. Since I cannot make it to Munich from Innsbruck at 5:00am, I will have to stay a night in Munich (well, maybe I can, but either way I will have to stay in Austria/Germany for another day, so why not go to another place). I am glad that I did, and I will surely visiting Munich again if I get the chance.

I arrived at the Munich Hauptbahnhof at around 12:30 and proceeded to walk to the hotel (a 10-minute walk, contrary to the advertisements). The hotel that I found was probably the cheapest hotel near the main station, stopping short of staying at a hostel. Predictably, the room was small, the furniture is simple (with a “Hong Kong-style” single bed) and of course there’s no view (it does have a balcony though). However, it was clean (my primary requirement), therefore it was perfectly suitable for a night’s stay.

The elevator of the hotel was one of those old manual-door style elevators. It reminded me of the elevator at the primary school that I went to in Hong Kong (except that the one at my old school features a manual inner door). Later, I was told that a lot of European buildings still uses these older elevators. When I was moving into my room, there was no light in the hallway. It turns out that I needed to press on the light switch in the hallway (obviously I’m not a curious person) and the light would turn off after certain period of time. This would save energy I guess?

I didn’t really have much of a plan as to where to go in Munich. I thought about going to the BMW Museum, but it is kind of far from the main station/city center area, and I am not sure if their new museum is ready yet. So, I just bought a all-zone day pass (I can still use it to go to the airport the next day morning) and trot down to Marienplatz, the city center area.

One thing that I liked about the S-Bahn is that some of the more busy stations (e.g. Marienplatz, Hauptbahnhof) have platforms to both sides of the train. Passengers on the train are asked exit on one side, and people will enter on another. Hong Kong’s MTR should really consider doing that.

The general area of Marienplatz is a mix of heritage buildings and commerical district. The central square is surrounded by the old and new town halls, as well as various shops and department stores housed in three of four storied buildings. It is a good example of how traditional-style architecture can work in a modern setting. A lot of people automatically equates old with dispair and think that old buildings are useless relics of the past and they should be demolished to make way for new buildings, for the sake of “progress.” Of course old buildings would fall into disrepair if people don’t cherish it and give it life.

For some stretches in the afternoon, I basically just walked along the streets, not really having somewhere in mind. I passed by the Viktualienmarkt Food Market, as well as Promenadenplatz. It was funny that no matter where I walked to, I’d end up back in the central square of Marienplatz. Later in the afternoon, I went to the Deutsches Museum, but it was too late to look at the exhibits in detail, as well as walking around the Royal Residence in Odeonsplatz.

As lunch, I had a currywurst from Im Restaurant. It was good (it’s kind of obvious that I’m not a good food critic). In fact, I love it so much that I went back there for another one, and a hamburger + potato salad for dinner (and it’s cheaper than sitting down in a real restaurant).

In early evening, I went to Königsplatz (basically just for the sake of it), the Staatliche Antikensammlung (State Collection of Antiques) and the Glyptothek (Greek Museum) did give a mysterious feel at night.

I rested early that day, since I will have to get up at 4:00am to catch the flight to London.

The one-day (or rather, one-afternoon) trip in Munich is a general overview of the central part of the city. It would take days to actually visit all the museums and royal palaces. Munich will certainly be on my list to city to visit when I am going to visit Central Europe again.

Munich in pictures: http://www.davidmak.net/album/v/munich/munich2007/

Next stop: London