Being touristy on a rainy day

As some of you may know, King’s students are now having a month of Easter break, during which we are expected to revise and prepare for our May exams. That’s said, but it is not healthy just sitting in the library and going through books. So today, my flatmate and I decided to become all touristy and went to various landmarks in Central London. The catch? We walked. Under the rain and the wind. Because this ‘walking tour’ was such a fun and different experience, I really want to share with you a few highlights of my little journey.

1. Imperial War Museum (IWM)

The two of us started here simply because we live in the area. The museum, unfortunately, is closed till July 19 for ‘transformation’. Although the museum itself is not available, the park surrounding it is still open and has become a favorite place for casual strolling for local residents.

This year, the UK, along with the rest of Europe, celebrates the 100th anniversary of World War I. Having lived in Berlin and now London, I  always get excited about how significant both cities are in modern history. Berlin and its Berliner Wall have become symbols of freedom while London witnessed the devastation of Blitzkrieg and the bravery of Britons in World War II.

2. Westminster Bridge (St Thomas’ Hospital, the House of Parliament, Big Ben, London Eye)

After walking for about 15 minutes, we reached this iconic location. This has to be the most visited bridge in London, probably followed by Tower Bridge in East London. Do you know that Big Ben is actually the name of the clock, not of the tower? Although it remains as the most famous time-keeper of London, Big Ben is not the largest clock. The biggest one, which faces the Thames, belongs to Shell Mex House on the Strand.

Also, you could attend debates of the Parliament and have a tour around the House of Parliament. For more details, check this link: http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/

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I was actually on the bridge on New Year Eve and saw the first ‘multi-sensory’ fireworks ever (granted, I did smell a faint scent of strawberry).

London Eye on New Year Eve

London Eye on New Year Eve

3. Westminster Abbey

Initially built as St Peter’s Abbey by Edward the Confessor, Westminster Abbey is now one of the must-see landmark in London (although tickets cost €18 for adults and €15 for students). The abbey is certainly worth visiting. It is famous for incredibly stunning and impressive statues and home of tombs of notable Britons. In addition, coronations and royal weddings have taken place there for hundreds of years. I was lucky enough to be in London just a few days before Prince William and his now-wife Kate Middleton got married. The preparation for the union excited the whole city. Britain’s tourism industry, being effective and business-driven, did not miss the chance to sell books, postcards, cups, hats and flags featuring the young couple.

William and Kate were everywhere!

William and Kate were everywhere!

4. Parliament Square

‘Trapped’ between the House of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and beautiful white-stoned government houses, Parliament Square features important individuals in modern history. I cannot name them all from top of my head, but I know for sure Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela are all present :D

View of the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey from Parliament Square

View of the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey from Parliament Square

5. Horse Guards Parade

According to http://www.royal.gov.uk, changing the guard occurs at 11:00 every day at this place. I always admire the guards here, since they apparently have to wear heavy uniform (I saw a guard walking around today) and must resist attempts by tourists to make them smile. Not to mention they are constantly photographed.

Look at the sign!!

Look at the sign!!

6. St. James’ Park

I always love going to parks. Before going to London, I was a bit worried because I thought the city would be full of skyscrapers and have no ‘green areas’ like Berlin. I could not be more wrong. In addition to small gardens in front of almost every building, London has several huge parks. Hyde Park, Kensington Park, Regent’s Park, St. James’ Park, just to name a few. Spring is coming. Wherever you are, you definitely should go out and enjoy the fresh air before summer kicks it with its heat.

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Flower bed in St James’ Park

So yes, that was the summary of my little adventure. My point is this: you definitely should spend time discovering the city that you live in. You will be pleasantly surprised :D

10 facts about London you might not know

After spending a lot of time walking in London (as a means to save money and do sports), watching several Youtube videos about the royal family (simply because I am interested in history), and googling cultural events, I have compiled a list of ‘facts’ that I think are interesting/ fascinating/ weird… about this great city!! Enjoy!

1. Westminster Abbey is the chapel of Westminster School, an independent co-educational boarding institution. It is located next to the Houses of Parliament and the Abbey itself. All students there are required to attend services at the Abbey twice a week.

2. Have you heard of the name Tyburn? (I would be very impressed if you have) Tyburn is the name of a stream running underneath Buckingham Palace!

3. Every year, St Paul’s Cathedral holds Christmas concerts presented by professional musicians. This year, I spent 2.5 hours enjoying Handel’s Messiah performed by Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral and City of London Sinfonia. The music was brilliant and definitely got me into the mood of celebrating Christmas. The tickets were free but sold out very quickly. Other churches in London also host various performances annually. Just make sure you look for them as soon as November! I guarantee you will have a memorable experience!

4. London’s annual fireworks display on this year’s New Year’s Eve was the first multi-sensory fireworks ever. It was expected that the audience would be able to ‘taste and smell’ seven fruit-flavored sweets. I was on Westminster Bridge and granted, I did smell a faint scent of strawberry (side notes on New Year’s Eve: the first few hours of the new year are the only time you could use the public transportation for free. But do not try to take the train home at any cost because chances are you will be stuck in a station full of hundreds of other human beings).

5. The Prime Meridian of the World (which is defined as ‘a north-south line selected as the zero reference line for astronomical observations’ and has longitude of 0°) is in Greenwich, London. It is actually not very far away from King’s Waterloo campus (32 minutes by bus).

An absolutely breathtaking view near the Royal Observatory Greenwich

An absolutely breathtaking view near the Royal Observatory Greenwich

6. London has Noses, believe it or not! The Seven Noses of Soho are scattered in marvelous Chinatown in Central London. Myth has it that if you find them all, you will be granted infinite wealth. You can locate them using google map or join one of the walking tours.

7. Greater London consists of City of London and 32 Boroughs. It is the area most people refer to as ‘London’.

8. When you go to London, you will probably visit  Marble Arch near Oxford Street and Hyde Park. It was originally constructed as Buckingham Palace’s gate and then relocated under Queen Victoria’s reign.

9. St Martin’s Theater (a 17-minute-walk from Waterloo Campus) is home of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, the play with the longest initial run of any play in history.

Home of The Mousetrap

Home of The Mousetrap

10. University of London has 18 self-governing Colleges and 10 research Institutes. Founding Colleges? Surprise surprise! University College of London (1826) and King’s College London (1829).

11. Bonus fact no.1: London has so many statues and sculptures. Here is one of the coolest.

Bizarre sculpture. Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I took this picture in London

Unfortunately, I cannot recall where I took this picture in London :(

12. Bonus fact no.2: London has one of the best system of buses in the world! Underground trains do not run overnight, but buses do (unlike in Berlin where it was the other way around. I was a tiny bit confused when I was told that the first time). And they do lock the stations when there is no train running :D

The iconic double decker bus

The iconic double decker bus