Efficient Sightseeing (Day Two)
Trip Start Aug 16, 2012
23Trip End Oct 01, 2012
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But before that, I decided to book my ticket to Paris on the Eurostar. I walked to St. Pancras International and found the ticket counter. Because I have the Eurail pass, I was allowed to buy the ticket at a discounted price, however, there was a limited number of seats. The nice lady at the counter said I had three options: 5:40am, 7:30am, and 5:30pm. I opted for the latest time - partly because I didn't want to miss an earlier train by accident and also because check-in time at the hostel in Paris was 2:00pm and I didn't want to get there early and have to wait. So I paid the Passholder price of sixty pounds; my train will arrive in Paris at 8:00pm local time. I was really lucky because apparently I got the last discounted seat on that train!
After that, I took the tube to Hyde Park Corner to visit Buckingham Palace. I saw Wellington's Arch along the way and walked through a park to join the other tourists in front of the palace. It was still pretty early in the morning so it wasn't crowded at all, but it was already getting quite hot out - and it was only 8am. Sure enough, it would get a lot hotter as the day progressed. It's a good thing there are lots of small pharmacies around so that I can buy a cold drink and enjoy a short break from the heat.
I don't think it was the best decision to walk to Trafalgar Square from the Palace. The distance was quite far and it was getting hotter by the minute. I got a little lost and ended up in Picadilly Circus instead, which by day definitely does not compare to Times Square in New York. I'll have to swing by one night to see if it's more impressive then. I headed down to Trafalgar Square, only a short walk away. By now, the sun was definitely beating down, yet it was only 9:30 am. I waited around until the nearby museums opened at ten. Trafalgar Square was different from how I pictured it. It's actually quite small, and there were no pigeons around - just tourists!
I went to both the National Portrait Museum and the National Gallery. At the former, I saw the faces of lots of historical figures - all looking very stately and important. Since I got there right when it opened, I often had entire rooms to myself. I enjoyed the elaborate portraits of Queen Elizabeth I and Anglo-Saxon gold coins minted with the faces of the reigning kings. I don't think I can imagine a time without cameras. Back then, if you wanted a picture of yourself, you would have to get someone to paint it!
At the National Gallery, the paintings were a lot different. This was real art - dramatic, violent, and full of emotion. Enormous wall-size paintings that must have taken years to complete. The most famous piece that I saw would probably be Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers. It was neat to see the original, with the textures and paint strokes actually visible on the canvas. On my way out, I walked past a guided tour. I heard her explain some of the details and historical context of one of the paintings. I think it would have been much more interesting to have someone descibe the pieces. I'll keep that in mind for the next art museum I visit.
Next, I decided to go up to the Museum of London so I got off at Barbican station. As I neared the museum, I changed my mind and chose to go straight to St. Paul's Cathedral. So I walked south through the City and a short while later spotted the magnificent dome of St. Paul's. I stopped by a pharmacy to grab a couple of cold drinks and made my way over to a bench near the cathedral. It was now around noon and lots of tourists were out and about. I spent some time cooling off on the shady bench and watched people marvel at St. Paul's.
After that, I walked over the Millennium Bridge to Southwark where the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe are located. The bridge was packed with people and so was the promenade along the south bank. I decided to go into the Tate Modern (a modern art museum) to have a look around. I walked through the Surrealist exhibit and wasn't impressed by any of the art installations (if you've seen modern art, you probably know what I'm talking about), but fortunately it was nice and cool inside. I eventually got tired of the crowds and felt that it was time to go back to the hostel. I exited the museum and headed towards London Bridge station, a fifteen minute walk away. I packed in lots of sights today and was surprised at how much I could fit into one morning and afternoon.
Now, I think I'm starting to feel more like a Londoner. I've gotten the hang of navigating the Tube (plan beforehand what route you are going to take and be on the lookout for signage at all times) and can weave in and out of street and pedestrian traffic more easily. Londoners never wait until the walk signal turns green, and instead look left and right when crossing to make sure there are no cars coming. It takes some getting used to because cars drive on the left side of the road, hence they come at you from the opposite direction. This also applies to sidewalks - people generally walk on the left side and expect you to do so as well! These small things help keep London moving along quickly and efficiently. The city streets are definitely not the place for people that like to stroll!