London is the best gateway into Europe – especially for English-speaking holiday-makers like us. It feels so good to be back in London (since my last visit in 2008) with my wife and son. And I am so glad to make this as our first stop on our 10-day Europe tour.
Mother Nature has been very kind to us. I was expecting London to be grey, gloomy and wet at this time of the year. We were very lucky. For 3 consecutive days, we were blessed with blue sunny sky! It was superb for outdoor photography and sight-seeing. We had such a good time here – crossing bridges along Thames River, shopping at Harrods, chasing pigeons and squirrels at Hyde Park, boarding a battleship and intruding royal grounds. On our last day, we spent some quiet cozy time at Hyde Park.
3 days were indeed too short for us. It was difficult for us to say goodbye to London. We felt so comfortable here. We love the old buildings, the food and the people. London is home to many great World Heritage Sites. Grand, authentic and majestic are words how Felicia described about London. Old on the outside, new and modern inside. We met so many nice locals - that made me wondered why the Englishmen I know in Asia are so crude. The local English we met were so warm, chatty, helpful and kind. Elkan got teased a lot (on the bus, immigration counter, in the hotel). An old Englishman at a public pay-toilet insisted to refund me some pennes after I mistakenly slotted Elkan’s share inside the machine. I didn’t know it is free for children. He came out from nowhere to hand me the coins after we left the toilet. He must have seen us over the CCTV and came out to pass us the refund. I didn’t expect him to go all the trouble just for a couple of pennes. That’s remarkable.
Here are our Top 5 favorite Moments in London:
NUMBER 1 – BRIDGE-CROSSING ALONG THAMES RIVER
Spanning over 4.4km, passing 6 iconic bridges - We took a 3-hour walk from Trafalgar Square to the Tower Bridge. There are so much to see along the Thames River. On Southbank, I took a beautiful shot of the London Eye and Big Ben. A few meters ahead towards the Waterloo Bridge, there are a lot of small stores lining along Festival Pier. There is also a semi-underground skate park with lots of interesting graffiti arts.
Further up, we arrived at the world famous Millennium Bridge that connects Tate Modern and St Paul’s Cathedral. We then stop by Borough Market to grab some local bites.
London Bridge is disappointing for Elkan. He heard about the song and was expecting a different bridge. And when we got there, he didn’t believe that was the London Bridge. He was giving us the “huh-expression”. It was so comical!
Just before arriving at the iconic Tower Bridge, Elkan dragged me to board a battleship “HMS Belfast”. The nine-deck floating war museum is open free for kids under 16! For adult, it costs £14.00. Felicia didn’t board the ship as she is not a fan of “the boy’s stuff”. Elkan was so excited to board the vessel as he have seen them in action in the movie “Battleship”. It was like a maze inside. Climbing those small steps proved difficult for an old chunky man like me. I could never catch up with that little brat. All I heard was his yelling “Faster, Daddy! Wow…more holes and tunnels!”
After a tiring drill inside the HMS with my boy, we decided to go back to our original itinerary. However, we lost sight of Felicia and for a good 30 minutes, I couldn’t reach her on phone or sms. Elkan was getting so worried for his mum. In the end, Felicia texted us her location. Elkan cried when he saw his mum. He ran to her crying and gave her a big hug. He scolded her for walking away and smiled in tears when Felicia assured him that everything is alright. Such a charmer.
Finally, we reached Tower Bridge. This is one of the most recognisable and iconic bridges in the world. It is simply majestic!
NUMBER 2 – BRITISH MUSEUM
Free for the world – The British Museum houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive and important collection of Egyptian works - over 100,000 pieces outside Cairo. Amongst the 8 million collections, its most famous collection “The Rosetta Stone” was the most visited object since 1802. Well known for its inscriptions, the Rosetta Stone helped historians to unlock the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. There are 3 inscriptions on the stone - the upper text is ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the center is Demotic and the lower is Ancient Greek.
Elkan had his first mummy-encounter. This month, the museum showcases a 5.5 thousand year-old mummy. Thru modern CT scan, the museum revealed his long-held secrets, from his age at death to the surprising way that he died.
NUMBER 3 – THE TOWER OF LONDON
Tower, castle, fortress, prison, royal mint, palace or torture chambers – The Tower of London has many names and stories. Today, it is home to beefeaters and the Crown Jewels.
NUMBER 4 – BIG BEN (ELIZABETH TOWER)
Thanks to the movies and posters, this is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world – Big Ben (name of the big bell – the clock tower is now officially renamed as the Elizabeth Tower). Completed in 1858, it holds the largest four-faced clock in the world and is the third-tallest free-standing clock tower. Unknown to many, Big Ben has starting tilting since 2003 at a rate of 0.9mm/year. You can’t leave London without taking a photo with Elizabeth. Or her bells “Ben”.
NUMBER 5 – TRAFALGAR SQUARE / BUCKINGHAM PALACE
We couldn’t leave London without waving goodbye to the Queen. We decided to drop her a visit at her official residence – Buckingham Palace. A pity, her gates are closed and the side compound is filled with cars. What a grand royal carpark, I thought.
Our final stop – The Trafalgar Square. Named after Britain’s naval win over the French in the War of Trafalgar,the square is used today for political demonstrations, community gatherings and festive celebrations. At the square, I saw men setting up a big Christmas Tree. This is no ordinary Christmas tree. Since 1947, The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree has been an annual gift to the people of London as a token of gratitude for British support of Norway during the 2nd World War.