Sunday, August 1, 2010

London, U.K. July 15 - July 22, 2010

I stopped by London for 23 hours in 2008 before moving on to Amsterdam. It was my first time visiting. Obviously, that's not enough time to see this busy and bustling city. I told myself if I get to come back, I'll have to visit the Tower of London, go inside the Westminster Abbey (it was a Sunday when I visited in 2008 so it was closed), and take a flight on the London Eye. I was elated when I found out that work would send me to London this summer.

After arriving, I immediately went to Trafalgar Square. I was very happy to be back. It was a clear and cool day. People were hanging out enjoying this Friday evening.

Of course, I had to visit the National Gallery, which is free and opens until 9pm on Fridays (love it!), and say hello to my second van Gogh Sunflowers painting on display here. (I'm on a mission to see all 5 of them in public display in museums around the world.) Here's looking at Trafalgar Square from the National Gallery.

Then, I went to say hello to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

It was 9pm and I was getting hungry, so I decided to go to the famous Oxford Street shopping area to have dinner. I walked into this random restaurant called Cafe Bella Italia and decided to try their "Penne Marco Polo" pasta. It's duck meat, mushrooms, and caramelized onion in a sweet plum sauce with a kick. It was very good! I recommended this restaurant to our Chairman and his daughter. They had pizza and Spaghetti Bolognese and told me they were very tasty as well.

Our hotel was right by the Thames River. I walked along the riverbank on my way back to take in the stunning night view of London.

The next day, I went to the Tower of London.

I took a Yeoman Warders tour. The Yeoman Warders were originally established in 1485 as King Henry VIII's bodyguard. Now they give tours of the Tower of London telling us the history of the Tower. Our Yeoman Warder said to the Americans, "If you guys had paid your taxes, then all this history could be yours!" :D

The Tower London is where they kept high profile prisoners and executed many Kings and Queens. I was scared by this executioner!

The Tower is still active today because it keeps the Crown Jewels. I got to see the Royal Scepter where the world's largest perfectly cut diamond, First Star of Africa, is mounted. It is 530 carats!!! Its sister, the Second Star of Africa, rests on the Imperial State Crown and weighs 317 carats. All other rocks I've seen (Cartier collections, Hope Diamond, Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond, etc.) pale in comparison.

There's a special exhibition going on in the "White Tower" standing in the center of the Tower called "Fit for a King." It displays armors all the Kings and Queens wore.

I wandered around the grounds some more. Here's the Queen's House.

Next, I went to see the beautiful Tower of London Bridge (not to be confused with the London Bridge).

After walking on the bridge, I went over to the Westminster Abbey. I learned that there are hundreds and hundreds of people buried in the Abbey (you literally walk on their tombs inside). There's a memorial for Shakespeare opposite the tomb of Handel, the famous composer. Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton were also buried here next to each other. I got in at 3pm and wandered until 4pm, when the Abbey Choir started practicing. I lingered around the Nave admiring Newton's tomb adorned by Maxwell and Faraday (two great physicists) memorials with the heavenly voices of the choir. I was nerding out BIG TIME. I was in geek heaven and wanted to cry!

Then, I went to say hello to Big Ben and the London Eye.

Next, I went over to Regent Street, another shopping area close to Oxford Street. It was very crowded and unfortunately, the bus hit a pedestrian. The windshield of the bus was shattered and there was blood on the ground in front of the bus. :(

Saturday evening in London. What a lively scene.

Later on, I met up with my friend Katrina, whom I met in Sydney, Australia last summer, for dinner. I told Katrina I wanted to try traditional British food. We met up in Victoria where I stayed at 2 years ago and found a restaurant there. I had the Irish Stew. It's lamb with veggies and dumplings. It was yummy!

Katrina and I. She's going to Prague with me after London for holiday. :)

Work started the next day. We went to check out the restaurant where we'll have dinner one night. We walked along the Thames riverbank to get to the restaurant. Our UK temp person told us this building was used as Pink Floyd's "Animal" album cover.

The beautiful Vauxhall Bridge. The famous British Secret Intelligence Service building, MI6, is right next to it (and I was standing right by it). I walked by and said I wanted to meet 007 and ride in James Bond's car. Haha! MI5 building is across the river from our hotel.

After work, my colleagues and I decided to venture out. One of our UK clients told us to go to Hoxton. It's supposed to be a hip and trendy borough, but when we walked around, we realized it's more like a 20-something crowd. He overestimated us apparently. Haha! Nonetheless, thanks to my iPhone, I found a restaurant on Yelp for us to try called Albion on a quiet little street with no tourists. A colleague and I shared the Kedgeree (curry, chicken, rice, egg) and chicken and crayfish pie. They were so good!

We had such a fun time exploring and ending with a fantastic dinner.

While looking at the Tube map figuring our way back, we noticed that my name is on the Tube Map. How cool is this?! :)

Our conference started the next day. I had the honor of meeting Dr. Michael Gunton, the Executive Producer of BBC's Life series (like Planet Earth). Mike sat right in front of me at the conference. After introducing myself to him and telling him how big of a fan I am of Life, he told me with excitement that Life was just nominated with 6 Emmy's. I'm sure people come up and tell him how much they love Life all the time, yet he was still so very enthusiastic with his response. During his presentation, he showed us clips and behind the scene footage of making Life, and I had a big smile on my face the whole time indulging myself in his amazing work. He's such a humble and grounded person, and patiently answered everyone's questions.

After the grueling work schedule ended on Thursday, I went to the London Eye to take a flight...FINALLY!

What a view!

Since this was my last night in London, I had to run over to Harrods and get something for my Mom.

I'm glad I got to see the things I promised myself to see 2 years ago, but now I have even MORE things on my list that I didn't get to see on this trip. So, the next time I'm back in London, I'm going to the Tate Museum, Tate Modern, the British Museum, St. Paul's Cathedral, Windsor Castle, and the Hedgestone. Also on this trip, I got to run outside of Central London to see other parts of the greater London area such as Hoxton and White City (I found out there's a big Westfield Mall there!). Despite the short time that I was there (because I was working most of the time), I still got to see a lot of London.

My holiday officially started after London. The next day, I went to Prague with Katrina from London, and Vicky from Amsterdam.

See the complete London photo album here:

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