Sunday, 11 November 2007

A Long Weekend in London

The other weekend I took a long weekend in London. The Eurostar really is awesome, and I think from the 14th of November it should be even better. Apparently on that date they move the English end from Waterloo to King's Cross, and hopefully give the train it's own dedicated line through England. It's meant to cut 20 minutes from the journey, and that is all on the English side, ahh English public transport and infrastructure, I could spend pages bagging it out :). Though to be fair to the English, they don't seem to have the strikes which the French do, probably because they would all just be sacked if they even thought about it.

Next week is meant to be a bad week for strikes here in Paris, and not just the transport workers, but possibly researchers and the power workers as well. The first Eurostar, on the 14th of November, is meant to arrive in Paris at 11am, and there will probably be no trains running from any of the stations to take the tourists anywhere. I suppose now it is only a 2 hour 15 minute trip back to London, so you could just hop back on the train. The English papers have said November could be a black month for Sarkoszy, and after seeing the chaos of 2 days of striking, I'm not really looking forward to next week.

But this was all in the far future when I visited London, and all I had to contend with were "Engineering Works" which knocked out 5 of the underground lines (with no replacement bus services either). My first sight-seeing stop was the Tower of London, they have set this up well for the tourists, in my opinion anyway. It is really expensive, but then everything in London is, but you get a guided tour with a beefeater, ie a Yeomen Warder, dressed up in costume. Those are well worth it, and they give you a bit of the history of the Tower. You also get to see the Crown Jewels, but unfortunately you can't take any photos of those. I wouldn't say they are particularly pretty, more a display of just how rich the English royal family is, the size of the diamonds on their crowns and sceptres is just immense! They have actors dressed up in period costume inside the tower too, and they give a bit of an insight as to what life was like back then, at least that is the idea anyway.

To the left is one of the yeoman warders (in full costume) followed by his hordes of tourists, a lot of whom were French, because of the public holiday we had I guess. These guys have to have something like 20 years military service and to be a Sergeant in the Army before they are allowed to apply, even then it involves 6 months of study and testing before they are allowed to take tours around. As part of the job they get to live in the Tower of London, they all have little houses inside the outer wall, so I suppose the perks aren't too bad.

This next photo is of one of the houses where people live, I think someone important must live here, maybe the mayor of London?, as they get their own soldier guard. Though he must have really pissed the wrong person off to get such a boring job, holding back the crazed photo-happy tourists.

There is some rumour that the Tower of London will fall if there are no longer ravens at the Tower, which supposedly means that the monarchy of England will fall. The problem is that due to the urbanisation of London, ravens are now very rare. This means that the ravens at the tower are basically prisoners themselves, their wings are clipped so they can't fly away and a few are even kept in cages, so that there will always be ravens there.

They had one display on the methods of torture used back then, but they also had this machine asking people to give their opinions as to whether torture is ever ok. Their responses make me a bit worried as to the type of tourists they are getting here.
There are almost equal numbers for "yes, to punish" and "no, never", but at least there are slightly more numbers for "no, never". I would at least have expected the "sometimes, for information" to be more popular than the "yes, to punish".

This is the White Tower, it is right in the centre of the Tower and the walls are something like 15 feet thick. This was where the kings and queens lived, when they still stayed at the Tower of London.

To go along with the Tower of London we also have the Tower Bridge

After the Tower of London I headed off to the Tate Modern, I really liked this gallery, it is all modern art, and I think they change the exhibits around fairly frequently. It is basically across the Thames from St Paul's cathedral, in an old power station. The foot bridge across the river is the Millennium Bridge, but I think everyone in London calls it the wobbly bridge, as when it was first built it apparently wobbled quite a bit, unfortunately they have since fixed that, so no wobbles for me.

They normally have exhibitions in the main entrance gallery, but at the moment there is only one piece there, called Shibboleth, which is a giant crack running the full 167m length of the entrance hall. It is supposedly 3 feet deep at some points, and I have heard some people have managed to injure themselves on it, though there are heaps of attendants around warning people to watch their step.

Finally that evening I took some shots of St Paul's cathedral and the skyline of London

The next day I decided to go to Madame Tussuad's, the wax museum, for a taste of the ultra-tacky. It is a pretty odd place to visit, as people were going completely crazy over these wax statues of famous people. They seemed to forget a bit that they weren't actually the famous person, just a copy of them. What I found surprising was how small they were, particularly the famous women, they were tiny! Short and ultra-skinny. For some reason I also expected the guys to be much bigger, that could be a combination of things, I guess these famous guys are always being photographed next to these tiny women, which makes them seem bigger by comparison. But I think the other thing is that these people are put up on a pedestal and are always in the news and getting their photo taken and everything, that you just somehow expect them to be larger-than-life, or something special, when really they are just average people.

I did take a photo of Lance Armstrong. Madame Tussuad's really knows who their audience are though, you can see here there is a bike next to Lance so you can pretend that you are riding with him. They did that with a lot of their wax people, you could play golf with Tiger, or give a speech with George Bush, that sort of thing.

They have obviously also taken over a planetarium next door and so they now show a little film there, in which they tell us all that it is right to worship celebrities, that they enrich our lives and make us better people. Which I guess is the necessary attitude to ensure that Madame Tussuad's continues in business. They were very well organised though, that is one thing you miss in France, there it was almost military precision, there was only one way to walk, one way to queue, that sort of thing, so no confusion and not much pushing.

Finally I'll leave you with a photo of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, complete with terrorist-proof fence, or maybe that is an anti-Iraq war protester-proof fence, it's hard to tell them apart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Annabel
I only just started reading your blog (today). It's funny! I especially like your photog of the English afternoon tea. I like tea.
I agree with your top ten list for Paris. I enjoyed visiting the city very much. You are looking tres chic mademoiselle. My favourite thing was the skinny gargoyle on top of Notre Dame. And the Musee d'Orsay. Anyway for now au reviour,
keep up the travelling and the blogging!