London Day 1 – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. James’ Park, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square & Tower Bridge

Glorious Morning @ Maida Vale

Boy, what a glorious morning it was!

As I suspected, Maida Vale was gorgeous. It is a residential district in West London between St John’s Wood and Kilburn. It is part of City of Westminster. The area is mostly residential, and mainly affluent, consisting of many large Edwardian blocks of mansion flats. In Maida Hill in the south, the Paddington Basin, a junction of three canals with many houseboats, is known as Little Venice. I was Little Venice was not really worth a visit when compared to all other touristy galore London has to offer.

Liping is sooooo blessed to be staying in such a beautiful neighbourhood. I was officially jealous.

City of Westminster

In the crisp cold morning air, I marched my way to take a bus to Warwick Avenue tube station, heading towards the City of Westminster. From the tube where I alighted, I walked along the really scenic Thames River, where I can see the London Eye and many government-like buildings. The scenery was beautiful and calm, surprisingly free from morning traffic. I was all calm as I make my way to the various touristy spots clustered together at the other end of my route that morning.

Big Ben of London

My first stop – Big Ben! Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the clock at the north-eastern end of the Palace of Westminster in London. The nickname is often also used to refer to the clock and the clock tower. This is the world’s largest four-faced, chiming clock and the third largest free-standing clock tower in the world.

It was with a surge of happiness for the realisation that, yes, I am in London, to sink into me. The Big Ben was right in front of me! I bought a cup of coffee and a hot dog bun from a roadside vendor, and ate at the traffic light junction, right in front of the clock tower. Oblivious to the swelling crowd of tourists around me. LOL.

St. Margaret's Church

Following my trust Lonely Planet, I made my way to the next stop. The Anglican church of St. Margaret, Westminster is situated in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, and is the parish church of the British Houses of Parliament in London. It is dedicated to Margaret of Antioch.

The entrance was free. The inside of the church was beautiful, but a polite notice stated that out of respect to others attending the church, photography was discouraged. So I didn’t take any photos in the building.

Westminster Abbey

In all fairness, the church paled in comparison to the nearby Westminster Abbey. This Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster is a large, mainly Gothic church. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English, later British and later still (and currently) Monarchs of the Commonwealth Realms. It briefly held the status of a cathedral from 1546–1556, and is currently a Royal Peculiar.

You’ll need to get a ticket to enter the Abbey. I wouldn’t have mind paying, but the hordes of queeing tourists really put me off. And you can’t even take photos while inside. So all I did was to admire the Abbey from the outside, which was enough, actually. The place was so grand and amazing, it simply awed me to no end.

From the Abbey, I walked around the area trying to figure out my way to Piccadilly Circus, which, according to my map, is within walking distance, having to walk through St. James’ Park.

St. James's Park

With its royal, political and literary associations, St James’s Park is at the very heart of London and covers 23 hectares (58 acres). With a lake harbouring ducks, geese and pelicans. St James’s is also home to the Mall, the setting for many ceremonial parades and events of national celebration.

The park was alive with many species of birds (ducks, gees and swans), squirrels and trees. There were many visitors to the park, but everyone was respectful to the other living beings there. People were jogging, walking their dogs, sitting down chatting with a cup of coffee to warm their hands… so this is what London-living is like. Well, at least part of it.

St. James's Park

As I walk through the park, I noticed that many of my fellow park-visitors stared at me… and it got to the point I started to feel paranoid that something about my face was out of whack. A stray nose hair? A strange pimple? What? So I took this photo of myself to check, LOL. Nothing was amiss, but the pics did bring out the nice jacket I bought in Athens (ahem) and the trees in the background.

Hence I include the pic here. Hehe.

Queen Victoria Memorial

After passing the amazing park, I arrived at Queen Victoria Memorial… although at that point of time, I didn’t know the name of the place as it wasn’t clear from the guidebook, and there wasn’t any sign board around. I just noticed the many great status in gold and marble dotting around the place, and ornate gates surrounded the “square” like a military fortress. It was only until much later, when I checked online, that I found out the name of the place.

Buckingham Palace

My actual destination was the Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British monarch. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is a setting for state occasions and royal entertaining, and a major tourist attraction. It has been a rallying point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and crisis.

One of the main attractions here was the changing of guards, which unfortunately already took place when I was there. But to be honest I wasn’t too fussed. The palace was not as grand as I thought it would be (I have seen better in Istanbul and Athens), so it was not with much regret that I made my way to my next destination.

The Guards Museum

It was a bit out of character for me to visit The Guards Museum, as I have absolutely zero interest in all things military. However, since I had some hour to kill before meeting up with James (an old friend of mine from Malaysia who was then working in London), I decided to pay a visit… only to discover it was closed for the day. In fact, they will remain closed throughout winter and will only open in February. The museum shop was open though, and I spent many amazing minutes here looking at the excellent figurines, toys and replicas on British soldiers throughout the years. It was truly awesome stuff.

Third Church of Christ Scientist

On the way to Piccadilly Circus to meet James, I passed by a couple of interesting sights, such as Green Park. One that really catches my attention was the Third Church of Christ Scientist. There was a building with their emblem on it, and the motto was “cleanse the leper… raise the dead… heal the sick”. I just think the motto was a bit strange. Don’t you think so?

The moment I stepped to Piccadilly Circus, the sense of euphoria and excitement infused me. The hordes of people thronging around, the many booths selling “best price” theater tickets, the familiar brand name shops… there was just something about this place that just made you want to sink your teeth into the juicy atmosphere.

At that very moment, I was so, so glad to have made the decision to visit London, even though it was only for a few days.

Anyway, soon I met up with James and his friend at Piccadilly Circus. It was good to see him again after so long. A pity that we didn’t take photos during the few hours we spent together. Had a few beer at a nearby pub to catch up and talking about many stuff, like how James is moving back to Malaysia, the economic situation in London, and whether it is possible (or even feasible) for me to consider life in London.

Trafalgar Square

And so James brought me to a few places. First stop was the famous Trafalgar Square, the very scene of the famous Trafalgar Square Freeze. Trafalgar Square is a square in central London, England. With its position in the heart of London, it is a tourist attraction; its trademark is Nelson’s Column which stands in the centre and the four lion statues that guard the column. Statues and sculptures are on display in the square, including a fourth plinth displaying changing pieces of contemporary art, and it is a site of political demonstrations.

The Norway Spruce (Christmas Tree) @ Trafalgar Square

In the middle of the square is a Norway Spruce (or sometimes a fir) is given by Norway’s capital Oslo and presented as London’s Christmas tree, as a token of gratitude for Britain’s support during World War II. As part of the tradition, the Lord Mayor of Westminster visits Oslo in the late autumn to take part in the felling of the tree, and the Mayor of Oslo then comes to London to light the tree at the Christmas ceremony.

Tower Bridge

We then took a bus to visit the Tower of London (which was closed to visitors by the time we arrived) and Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is often mistakenly referred to as London Bridge, which is actually the next bridge upstream. Remember the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down”? Well, this is not the bridge referred to in the song! Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London, England, over the River Thames. It has become an iconic symbol of London.

After that, we had dinner somewhere in Soho area (at a super cool restaurant where they serve fruit-flavored beer), and I went off alone to explore the place on my own. Theaterland, where there were so many musicals running I was in a daze trying to decide which one I wanted to watch. Covent Garden, where some of the hippest cafes and shops are located at, with live strolling performers playing all sorts of instruments, include a string quartet!

Soon it was way past midnight, and I had to figure out my way to the midnight bus back to Liping’s place. In no time I was under the warm duvet, and smiled to myself goofily for such a nice day spent.

I really, really like London!

Click here for photos taken during my first day in London.

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