Sunday 6 October 2013

A Northerner in London Town - The Tourist Edition

A Northerner in London Town makes a brief return to Life in Northern Towns.  We took a weekend trip to London recently to visit my cousins from Canada and my brother and his partner who normally lives in Dublin.

It was my cousins’ first trip to London so obviously they wanted to do the tourist version of London.  When we first started to visit London we used to do all the tourist haunts.  However the more you visit London the more the city unfolds its secrets to you.  So it was a really nice change for us to see London again through the eyes of first time visitors.

The one thing a first timer needs to do when visiting London is not to use the Tube where possible.  It should only be used when you need to travel more than two miles.  Also you will not jump out of your skin at Chancery Lane tube station like I did when a rat scampered across the platform.  My preferred way to view London is on foot, however after four hours of constant pavement pounding this can be a chore.  My cousins decided to opt for the open top tour bus and whilst it's £28 for 24 hours access, I have to say I saw parts of London I'd never seen before.  Whilst it can be rather chilly on the top deck, it’s great to see London this way.  You can get to see the architecture of London and have some good photo opportunities.  My cousins liked the tour narration you get when you plug into the onboard sound system.  I liked how they gave you free headphones for it.  The tour bus we used also had a Thames boat trip as part of the deal, which my cousins thought was good.  Sadly we didn’t have the time to do this trip.

We decided to go up to the Tower of London on the tour bus, however the EDL decided to inconvenience us and we spent about an hour staring at the Shard as we inched ourselves towards Tower Bridge.  Unfortunately the bus had to turn back, so we jumped off the bus and headed toward the Southbank.

I really like the Southbank as you get some fab views of London and they have some good visitor attractions like the Tate Modern, Festival Hall and London Eye.  We walked along the Thames and the views meant that I went into over drive with Instagram - the Gerkin, City Hall and the melty car building. 

In all the times I've been to London I have never crossed Tower Bridge.  It really is an amazing and iconic structure in London.  Thankfully as there were some really dramatic clouds over London that day I got some magic shots of Tower Bridge and the Thames.  Unfortunately due to the EDL we missed out on visiting the Tower of London.  However my cousins managed to go there next day and they recommended the tour.

We also missed out on getting inside St Paul's Cathedral too as we were running late, but it is an amazing building.  I noticed one of the priest's stood on the steps of the cathedral chatting to one of his congregation.  It looks such an everyday moment, however the back drop of St Paul's provided a counterpoint to this scene.  You sometimes forget this is still a full operational church with masses and a congregation.

My cousins were staying by Westminster and it was great to see the epic Houses of Parliament and Big Ben up close and personal.  When I was a teenager I ended up going inside the building on a school trip and it really is a stunning building.  Nearby was Westminster Abbey and my cousins thought it was a really beautiful building.  I did have to remind them it used to be a Catholic church back in the day before Henry VIII started to get bored with his wives.  I always think Catholic churches and cathedrals really rock with their grandiose art, whereas Protestant churches are just a bit plain.

As my cousins are from Canada their history only goes back 200 years, whereas London goes back over 2000 years.  They came to London to experience the history this place has and I guess we sometimes take for granted the history, the architecture and the stories this place holds.

Covent Gardens is a must for tourists and as we wandered through it there was a  mass of humanity who had the same idea.  On a Saturday the crowds are mental and it's hard to push through the throng of people watching all the street entertainment.  We had a nice ice cream at Covent Garden market.  It has to be said Covent Garden is really intense on a Saturday and definitely more civilised to visit on a weekday.

Leicester Square turned out to be an excellent meeting place for everyone.  Whilst my cousins were staying in Westminster and my brother on the Southbank, we were staying at the Premier Inn next to Euston Station.  Leicester Square was a central place and is on the tube line.

We stayed at Premier Inn for a change as our usual hotel Ibis Euston was fully booked.  Whilst it doesn’t look much from the outside, inside the place was fine.  Check in was super quick as we had checked in online.  I like the fact you have to use your key card to access the lifts.  The rooms were functional, clean and comfortable.  Given that we spent the majority of our time in London sightseeing, I don’t see the point of booking anywhere extravagant. Safe, clean and functional in close proximity to Euston is fine.  They also offer luggage storage which was handy.

Neil and I ended up at Buckingham Palace on Sunday.  We'd been here before and witnessed the murderous antics of a vicious seagull cannibalising a baby moorhen in nearby St James Park.  Things were much more civilised this time round.  In this part of London you do get a respite from the hussle and bussle the city has to offer.  London is so built up with everyone on top of each other, however the parks and open spaces around London offer a real respite from this madness.  Buckingham Palace was still surrounded by tourists even on a Sunday.  Although there was no changing the guards ceremony that day, you could still see the soldiers in their iconic red uniform and black bearskin standing in their sentry boxes.  They must get really bored.

Eating in London can be hit and miss.  We are fond of Ed's Diner and we found a branch near Leicester Square.  This place was bright, clean and not too busy.  The menu has been updated to include pulled pork.  I had a burger with pulled pork - it was delicious.  The chips are good too.  Simply food well done - you can't fault Ed's Diner.

The trip was really good as I got to meet my family, however the journey back to Manchester was horrendous.  All trains were cancelled due to a fault at Leyton Buzzard.  So after a mad dash to Kings Cross we got back on the East Coast trains via Leeds.  Later we found out we were very lucky as most people got stranded in London for the night.

What I learnt from my cousins during this trip is that London is vast and sometimes it’s hard to jam in all you want to do in the limited time you’ve got.  If you are not an art fan, then don’t force yourself to go into art galleries as there is too much to see in London.  You need to prioritise what you want to see.  Bus tours rock as they make you see more of London than you would normally see on foot.  Finally they made me appreciate that London oozes history and not to take it for granted.


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