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London March 2008

Day One:
Tower of London, National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Trafalgar Square, and Westminster

1am: Hotel – Last Train to the City
View of the Thames from Tube Station Temple

By the time I got to the hotel, it was almost 1am. My flight from Amsterdam to London got delayed for about an hour, and it took forever to park even when the plane touched down in Heathrow. After getting some exchange, I got to the tube station and heard the announcement that the last train to city center leaving in 10 min. I was stunned. And there were people everywhere, trying to get tube tickets. All machines were lined with people, all machines except for the ones that take coins only. Fortunately, I had just enough change, thanks to the exchange, to get the ticket right the way. So I got on the train just in time; that was rather intense.

The hotel is in an area called the Strand, which is close to many tourist attractions. After an hour tube ride from Heathrow, I got out of the station with rain pouring down. On my way to the hotel, there was hardly any one on the street, mostly because it was Good Friday the next day.

8:30am: Tower of London
Tower of London - Beefeater Tour

Unlike my first time in London, I was quite determined and prepared to visit Tower of London this time around. I simply had no idea there could be so many people going this place, so this time, I went there first thing in the morning, with pre-paid ticket confirmation in hand. Well, the pre-paid ticket wasn’t so necessary, as there weren’t that many people before they opened. I didn’t really have a high expectation of this place, but I enjoyed the tour guided by the Beefeater (although he didn’t show up on time.) I also enjoyed the exhibits they have in different towers. There are plenty of stories and history here, so I am glad I got to visit this place.

12:30pm: Borders Bookstore – Finding Rick Steves
In all the trips I took in Europe, I came to rely on Rick Steves’ guidebooks to tell me what to see in a short period of time. I have been lucky to find his guidebooks for different European cities in the library, but not this time, not for London. So I decided to get a copy in Borders (since I had the 20% off coupon). It took me a bit of time to find the place (I thought it would be close to the hotel, but not quite) and when I got there, I couldn’t find the book. I ended up crossing the street to get it in another bookstore. I wasted a good hour to get this book, but it was all worth it; I would not have enjoyed the museums as much (and as quickly)

1:30pm: National Gallery – The Greatest Hits
In recent months, I was fortunate to visit some of the big cities in Europe, and had a chance to visit museums with collection of artworks local to the region. Now this National Gallery has a great collection of artworks from different parts of Europe. It has some of the best Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish paintings; it is like going through the greatest hits of paintings. When I saw a painting from one particular region, it just brings me to smile and reminds me of the city I visited. So fittingly, London being my last European city to visit, its National Gallery was a great recap for me.

4:30pm: Victoria and Albert Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum - British Galleries - Great Bed of Ware (for 7 or more)
After having some afternoon tea in the hotel lounge, I rushed to the V&A Museum, thinking that it would close early on Good Friday. I was relieved to find out that they close late as usual Friday nights. The things they have are quite interesting, and usually come with interesting stories and history.

8:30pm: Trafalgar Square and Westminster Area
National Gallery from Trafalgar Square

Day Two:
Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Courtauld Gallery, Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum, and Tate Modern

8am: Westminster Abbey
Westminster Area
This is another place I didn’t get to visit my first time around. So just like Tower of London, I got to Westminster Abbey bright and early, and to my surprise, there was a line up already. And just like Tower of London, it didn’t disappoint, another great place to visit.

Noon: St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral
One interesting thing I learned about St. Paul’s Cathedral is that this is where the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana taken place. Just as with all great cathedrals in Europe, its interior is impressive, and its dome provides a great view of the city.

3pm: Courtauld Gallery
Courtauld Gallery - Edouard Manet - A Bar at the Folies-Bergere (1881-1882)
This is one of the few museum/gallery in London that requires admission fee. While the collection is not big, it has quite a few paintings by well known Impressionists. This gallery is very close to the hotel, so I thought I could squeeze this visit in.

5:30pm: Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum
Cabinet War Rooms - Gift Shop
Like Tower of London, this attraction is unique in England. More great stories and history about the war. I really could have skipped the Courtauld Gallery, and spend more time in this place. When I got to the War Rooms, the ticket counter person advised me to come another day since they were closing in less than two hours. And you could really spend more than two hours there. Since I didn’t have another day in London, I just had to have a quick visit.

8pm: Tate Modern
Tate Modern - Turbine Hall - Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth (167m long crack)
Knowing that Tate Modern opens late on Saturdays, I planned this visit at night. I was actually prepared to skip it, if I got really tired. But then I really wanted to take some night shots of of St. Paul’s (which is right across from Tate Modern), so I ended up walking there. I have to say that I do not fully appreciate all the modern art it displays, but its specially-commissioned work in Turbine Hall is worth the visit by itself. When I was there the first time, it was Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment (a LOT of boxes). This time, it is Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (a LONG crack). It may not be art in the traditional sense, but it certainly got people talking.

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