Praying to Allah to get to London
Before my plane to London took off from the Sultanate of Brunei, prayer phrases appeared on the display of each passenger to solicit a good flight from the great Allah. Well, nothing could go wrong then! "Just" 17 hours later I reached the old continent of Europe after one year of being abroad. But before I really returned home, I had included 5 days to explore the British capital London for the first time. My 10-month stay in the strongly British influenced Australia and New Zealand, aroused the desire in me to discover the origin of this culture. Where else could this be better done than in the capital London, which is packed with history.
A world city full of history
London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is considered one of the most important global cities in the world. Nearly 9 million people of many different nationalities call the city home and contribute to its immense diversity of people and cultures.
Founded by the Romans in 50 AD as the settlement "Londinium", the city became the capital of the Kingdom of England after the Norman conquest in 1066 and subsequently the seat of the British royal family. Already in the Middle Ages, London became an important trading centre in Europe. With the beginning of the industrialization in the 18th century, the population of London grew rapidly and increased sixfold until 1900. In this time, the city developed to an important centre of culture, technology, trade and industry as well as politics, wherewith it belongs to the world cities until today.
Today, the city accommodates numerous universities, colleges, theatres and museums with a glorious past. Historic buildings such as the Palace of Westminster or the Tower of London are among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In addition, the London Underground deserves fame for being the first underground in the world. With over 19 million tourists a year, London also ranks among the most visited cities in the world.
Staying with a cool Jamaican mum
London is also one of the most expensive cities of the world, which is why I deferred my visit for a long time. Already during the search for the hostels I noticed the high prices. Lousy hostels in the best locations cost sometimes more than 30 €/night. From my British buddy I got the good tip to look for Airbnbs and indeed found a room for me there a little out of town, but with good access to public transport. It even cost less than some hostels.
Before I arrived there from London airport, another hour passed by. With the London Metro, the Tube, I just hit the London rush hour.It was Monday morning, 9 a. m., and the people squeezed into the subway. Fortunately, my stop was the initial stop and I could sit the whole trip. My Airbnb was located in North London near the Archway station.
There was an elongated block with small narrow brick houses, each with its own entrance. At first nobody opened the door for me, but after a phone call my Jamaican host Jasmine opened the door for me. She was a lady with a Rasta hairstyle and youthful spirit who was about to turn 60. She displayed the typical Jamaican casual attitude to life and lived there with her 2 sons; her husband was working back in the homeland. In all my time there, I never watched her sleep. Not even when I had to leave the house at 4 a. m. on the day I left. Her TV ran all the time and she was busy doing something. There was stuff all over the floor because she was selling stuff. It made the house look a little untidy, but it was sufficient for my standards. The house was very narrow, but had 3 floors and therefore several rooms. My room was on the top floor and was already cosy and warm. Luckily, the previous guest had checked out early, so that I could already enter the room and rest a little.
Tower Bridge & platform 9 3/4
Still a little fatigued, I wanted to utilize the good weather. London has a reputation for its rainy weather, but during my stay, almost the whole time, only the sun showed up. First I drove to the London Bridge, where a few days before an Islamist idiot stabbed 2 civilians to death with a knife. There, memorial wreaths and declarations of condolence at the side of the road commemorated the accident. From there I walked further along the Thames to Tower Bridge, the famous bascule bridge in neo-Gothic style.
I tried to keep moving all the time, as despite of the sun, the cold got into my bones. After a short detour to the Bank of England I went to the Kings Cross. There you will find many Harry Potter devotees who want to emulate their idol and dive into the magic world of the sorcerer's apprentice through the famous platform 9 3/4. I didn't queue up for that because there were too many people in the line and you had to pay money.
Buckingham Palace & Trafalgar Square
When visiting London you should also not skip the Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the British monarch in London. The building in the City of Westminster district serves, beside its function as the residence of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, also for official state occasions. Foreign heads of state are received there during their visit to Great Britain.
From there, I walked through the royal St James Park to Trafalgar Square, the biggest public square and since the Middle Ages a central meeting point that is also considered as the actual centre of the city. In the centre of the plaza, a big column reminds on Admiral Nelson, who led the English to the victory over the Franco-Spanish alliance in the battle of Trafalgar in the year 1805. In the proximity there is the Horse Guards building that is guarded by 2 soldiers of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment that appear in the traditional style with sabre and helmet and are therewith a popular motive for tourists.
London Eye & Big Ben
Inaugurated in 2000, the London Eye is already one of the most iconic buildings in the city, rising 135 metres above the south bank of the Thames. A ride on the biggest big wheel of the world costs at least 28 £ (32 €). By combining it with other attractions as Madame Tussauds or the aquarium, you can save money, but for me, the price was too high and the weather did not allow some good views.
From there you can look to Big Ben, the famous bell tower, to which I was specially looking forward to, Unknown to me the tower is undergoing renovation since 2017, which will not be finished until 2021. Thereby, the nearly 100 meters high tower was hidden behind a huge construction scaffold. Adjacent to it is the Westminster Abbey, traditionally the kings of England are crowned and buried here. The Victoria Tower Gardens behind it and the autumnal atmosphere made for a great image.
Harrods, one of the most famous shopping malls in the world, is worth a visit even for shopping grouches like me. It is one of the most famous, largest (almost 100.000 m² sales area) and most exclusive stores in the world. Especially well known is the food department on the ground floor with its Food Halls and their different furnishings in art nouveau style. Also famous is the illumination of the façade, which consists of about 12,000 light bulbs. Even as the shopping centre belongs to the most expensive shopping possibilities in London, its doors are open to all people. But an adequate exterior appearance is a prerequisite for this. As a common man, you cannot afford most of the goods offered there, but it is still fun to get an insight into this luxurious world.
I concluded my tour with a short walk through the Hyde Park, that together with the other royal parks forms the "green lung" of the city and is considered as one of the biggest and most famous inner city parks of the world.
For the next morning I acquired tickets for the visit of Madame Tussaud, one of the most visited attractions in London. There, wax figures of historical figures and persons of the contemporary history are exhibited. It is definitely recommended to order the tickets online in advance. The museum is rather small and due to the big demand, it gives time slots to the visitors when they can enter the museum. And even this does not protect from waiting. When I arrived there, I already spotted a huge queue, where I could not determine neither beginning nor end. Somewhere I tried to stand in line. It was chaotically organized.
At some point I realized that I was just standing in the queue of those who did not have a ticket yet. This shortened my waiting time considerably. But also inside the museum there was a lot of people. There were sometimes so many people in front of the wax figures that it was impossible to recognize the star, let alone take a picture. I walked through the museum in a rush in order to escape from the crowds of people. Nevertheless, they did a good job, the sculptures seem to be very lifelike. Especially the British Royal Family, Alfred Hitchcock or Britney Spears appear as if they were made of flesh and blood.
Many more visitors come to the Tate Modern, a museum of modern art that supposedly ranks as the most visited museum of the country. The best thing about the museum is that the entrance is free. Otherwise, I do not consider a hung tangle of leather straps or a jumble of black iron as art. I found the light installation by Olafur Eliasson the most interesting. If you walk through it, you see only shadows of yellow and black due to the monofrequent yellow lights. Definitely worthwhile is also a visit to the upper floor, where you can enjoy one of the best free views of London from the terrace.
Death Metal concert
Also I indulged myself in some cultural activities, albeit in a form that probably few of the millions of tourists would enjoy. Just 2 subway stops from my accomodation a great metal concert was taking place at the Electric Ballroom in the Camden district. Already the local British death metal band Dyscarnate kicked off a strong and groovy start. Afterwards the Italians Fleshgod Apocalypse put on an impressive performance, combining complex symphonic music with furious brutal death metal. The next band to appear was the modern death metal band Whitechapel. With a young band like this one I expected cocky announcements, but the guys also played a super professional show. Finally, everyone was feverishly anticipating the headliner Kataklysm. The Canadians kicked off their fast death metal paired with melodic elements and stimulated the metalheads to some moshpits. It was a very enjoyable concert in a venue with a full sound.