At 8:00am, I realized that nothing opens in London other than the tube and places you can eat breakfast. So I stopped off at a placed called Eat. and had a hazelnut filled croissant and an Americano. On today’s itinerary was the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and other things.
The walk down to the South Kensington area was about fifteen minutes down Brompton Rd. It was good to get the lay of the land, as well as see that the South Kensington tube station is a sprawling area that mirrors the above ground world with tunnels and sidewalks and multiple entrances to the train as well as all the museums in this area. Above ground, there are a lot of food vendors, shops and conveniences. Lots of young people being active because there is a college nearby. I very much liked the vibe of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, none of the museums opened until 10. So, I walked back and went back to bed.
Knowing now that there was a tube station so close, I decided to try my luck on the underground. The fifteen to twenty minute walk turned into a ten minute walk to the station, ride one stop south and then five minutes back up to the surface world. But I did it. It was easy. And this was the beginning of turning me into a monster for taking the tube literally everywhere I wanted to go. Which would have been very expensive if not for the Oyster card.
The V&A was an amazing museum, and in many ways different than the British Museum. It seemed to be more about local artifacts and history than world-wide, although the collection did have a lot of ancient Roman and Greek statues, Japanese and Chinese artifacts, and such. It had some of the most beautiful sculptures I saw on the trip as well as glimpses into London’s past.
The Natural History museum had a lot of fossils, as well as early history, which I remembered from childhood. Mary Anning’s Icthyosaurs were there, which were the subject of the kids’ book, “Mary’s Monster” which I read when I was my son’s age. There it was. The real Mary’s Monster. I do have to say that the skeleton of a grey whale suspended from the ceiling was impressive, the Natural History museum didn’t compare to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, or the Smithsonian in the US.
I hopped on the tube and headed up to the National Portrait Gallery. Which held my interest in museums for a while longer. Funny that the most impressive of these sights was the Gainsborough of George Washington every schoolkid in America has seen on the wall of their elementary schools. This was the actual portrait.
I stopped off at a Waterstones and purchased a better map. This one listed the city as well as all the tube stations in one map. It truly made all the difference. I hate to knock Lonely Planet, but really, their map was garbage. I spend $20 on a book with tiny print, a lousy map, and suggestions of places to visit throughout England that were probably only in there because the person writing the section had some buy in from the shopkeepers. Not saying I’m biased, but I would rather buy a great map and just get some ideas from blogs or Instagram for my next trip anywhere.
I stopped off to eat at a crypt.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields had converted a subterranean catacomb into a restaurant and a chapel. The floor still contained many gravestones. And unfortunately the more disappointing fish and chips I had on the trip. They did have afternoon tea, which was the only time I encountered that antiquity on the trip. I think it must have been mostly for the tourists’ benefit. For nearly £20 you would get a pot of tea, a few finger sandwiches, biscuits, and I think crumpets on a neat little tiered tray.
I decided to see Big Ben, Parliament, and all the rest, so I started walking again. I saw the 10 Downing Street area, where the street was blocked off. Protesters across the street in a fenced in area, peacefully protesting.
The police in London were interesting. I rarely saw the constables we are used to seeing on television. The police I did see were in body armor with helmets and sub-machine guns. It was strange being an American around someone so heavily armed. The only time I have seen police decked out like this has been SWAT or tactical police on a call. Nope, these guys were just walking around like this. The Londoners didn’t seem all that used to guns, and so it was strange to see how aware they were of the police yet never once did they really ever look in their direction. It reminded me of pictures of sharks that are parting entire schools of fish.
Big Ben and Parliament were being worked on, as was a lot of the city. But I did get to see the clock face, if not the tower. I crossed the river, saw the Coca-Cola London Eye (which man, I just hate the global sponsorship there). By the way, UK Coke is bottled by the Carlsberg Brewing Co. Coke, Fanta, and other drinks don’t taste much at all like American Coca-Cola products. Orange Fanta is like a mix of Orange Fanta and Pineapple Fanta here. For £2 (about $3) you get about 10oz. of pop. After trying UK soft drinks, I decided to stick with coffee.
That night, I set up my coach (as in stagecoach) tickets to Bath. Luckily I’m a little paranoid because I thought the bus left from Paddington Station. Turns out, it left from Victoria Coach Station, which isn’t the same as the Victoria Station you would use to take the tube. Nope. It’s about ten blocks away. I figured this out at about 2am, unable to sleep because Bath was my first day trip away from the city.