Friday, March 3, 2017

U.K. Visit: London

Fun times in London

Like Tokyo, London is the kind of place you could spend years exploring and still just scratch the surface of things to see and do there. I've only spent about 4 days there total so far, so I'm far from being very knowledgeable, but here are some of the highlights from my recent trips there.

First some of the big touristy ones:

Buckingham Palace is sort of the quintessential London tourist hot spot, but it is undeniably impressive, especially when it's lit up at night. We visited just before Christmas so the guards were wearing different colors than you'd expect to see, and there were Christmas trees all over.

Buckingham Palace at Christmastime

Right next to the Palace is Hyde Park, a nice place to go for a walk, with paths following a central lake. Just watch out for swans the size of people that will chase you down if you've got anything edible on your person.

Beware the giant swans!

Hyde Park at sunset

In the opposite direction from the Palace is the River Thames with some more of the most famous landmarks like Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye (a large Ferris wheel). 

Big Ben

The London Eye across the River Thames

On one of our trips we stopped at the Tate Modern along the river, which had seemingly endless floors of exhibitions of modern art, most free to the public.

Inside the Tate Modern

We visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum as well, both of which were enormous and I could've spent the entire day wandering through just one of them. The amount of (pillaged) artifacts and the quality of them is absolutely mind-boggling, especially after just having visited places like the Parthenon where some of those treasures originated from. While I genuinely hope many of those things will be returned to where they were taken from someday, it's hard not to take advantage of the opportunity to go see so many amazing things all housed in one place. The highlight for me, having studied linguistics, was definitely the Rosetta Stone. 

THE Rosetta Stone!!

I also loved seeing the paintings of Kabuki stars in the Japanese art section at the British Museum and the fashion throughout history display at the Victoria and Albert Museum was fascinating. Not to mention all the incredible stuff from Egypt.

Kabuki actors backstage

A mummy at the British National Museum

The fashion throughout history display at the Victoria and Albert Museum

As a Harry Potter nerd I of course had to get the obligatory photo taken at King's Cross Station in London, where they've created a little "Platform 9 3/4" spot for tourists. We probably spent about 45 minutes in line waiting for a photo, but it was worth it to get this cheesy picture that I will cherish forever.

King's Cross Station

Off to Hogwarts!!

One thing I didn't know about London before visiting was that it's full of green spaces. We visited one of the largest parks, Hampstead Heath, with a friend who is a London native. It's also one of the highest spots in London, where you can get a great view of the city on clear days. Unfortunately it was anything but clear the day we visited - but to be honest, I really enjoyed the cliche London fog. Very close to the park is the house where George Orwell lived.

A very foggy day at Hampstead Heath

You're never too old for tree-climbing
George Orwell's house in Hampstead Heath

Our friend also took us by the Broadway Market, which was crowded with stalls selling all kinds of mouth-watering food. You can also find used books and records. It was cool seeing some of these places that were a little more local and less touristy, to round out the London experience.

Probably one of my favorite things about London was the food. The pubs were amazing (more about them coming soon in a post just about the best pubs), and the Asian food was fantastic. We had dinner at a popular Pakistani restaurant one night and some of the best Vietnamese food I've ever had another evening. I once had a Vietnamese roommate that cooked for me all the time, so that's really saying something.

Vietnamese chow mein with shrimp, yum!

We had a fun night out in SoHo as well, at a little Karaoke drag bar that was tiny but absolutely packed even on a weekday night. On the way over we walked through China Town, which looked even more impressive with all its Chinese New Year decorations up. 

London's China Town

I could keep going about London for quite awhile, but I think it's time to stop here with the highlights of my trips there. Can't wait to go back again soon!

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