London is one of my favourite cities in the world. Stepping off the plane at Heathrow and taking the tube into downtown London felt refreshingly familiar.
The flight from Tokyo went pretty smoothly overall, with the exception of the last hour. The plane dipped and rolled so much that when we finally touched down I spent a silly amount of time just hanging out at the airport to let my stomach settle before taking the long tube ride to Swiss Cottage. Eventually I reached my destination – Palmer’s Lodge, a hostel in the former mansion of Samuel Palmer, of Huntley and Palmers Biscuit Empire. I had stayed at the hostel a few years ago and enjoyed my time there then. This time around…. well, I think I’m getting a bit fussy in my old age! It was fine for a hostel, but the lack of plugs, misfitting curtains that did little to block out the light, hard beds and the constant smell of mildew made me a little disappointed. On the positive side though, it has a lovely common area that was really nice to just chill out in and the hostel felt very safe, which is the most important thing when looking for somewhere to stay solo.
While there were a few places I wanted to go back to on this visit, I was keen to explore areas I missed last time I was in London. My fist stop was Camden, where I spent the morning wandering around the market and Camden Lock. Stopping at Pret a Manger for breakfast, I managed to dump a croissant on the floor before I’d even made it to the counter. D’oh! The cashier was so nice though, he said not to worry about it and just grab another one. A recurring theme of this trip was the sheer amount of lovely people I met. Sure, there were a few creepy dudes, but overall the people were incredibly friendly.
After wandering around Camden, I headed over to Trafalger Square and the National Gallery, which has always been one of my first stops on all 3 visits to London. Now when I think London, I think Trafalger Square. I spent an enjoyable afternoon looking at the collections of the National Gallery and the nearby National Portrait Gallery. My favourites are the Italian masters in the former, and the Tudor gallery in the latter. There was some affirmative action going on at the National Gallery when I visited, so some rooms were closed. I made it back to see them the following week, and also revisited the British Museum. More on that in an upcoming post.
Finally that night I took the tube over to Oxford Street and popped in to the Uniqlo store (surprise, surprise) and Primark. I would explore the Oxford Street shops a few more times on this trip. A girl can’t go to London and not shop right?!
The next day was quite full-on. I began visiting the British Museum, which like almost all London museums on this trip was full of screaming kids on a school trip. They were mostly confined to the Egyptian art area (which is the area I’m most interested in) though, so at least it was easy to escape to a quiet spot when the noise got a bit much. The British Museum is one of the reasons I love London so much. When I was growing up I wanted to be an Egyptologist. I even went to University to study classics (the closest I could get in my hometown). Someday I hope to go back to school and study Egyptology for real…. once the travel bug ceases and I don’t need to work to pay for it all!!
The other reasons I love London are…. all the other museums! And the history – London has such a rich archaeological heritage – something we don’t have much of here in NZ which is such a young country, comparatively speaking. After a good few hours in the British Museum I wandered over to University College London to see a small museum I hadn’t been to before and didn’t know too much about – the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie was a British archaeologist at the turn of the 20th century. He’s been called the “Father of Egyptian Archaeology” due to his thorough examination of archaeological sites. Prior to Petrie, Egyptian “Archaeology” was little more than plundering. The Petrie museum is mostly full of pottery, jewellery, broken steles and statues. For this reason, it’s off the radar of most visitors to London, but it’s a fascinating to explore if you’re interested in ancient history. And they have students from the University there to meet visitors and discuss the collection which is a really lovely touch. A much more intimate museum experience than you’ll get at the big national museums..
After fulfilling my quota of museums for the day, I took a walk over to the British Library where I toured their small, um… museum display…. It’s a collection of some of the most important works of literature, and even music, in British history. They even have audio units on the walls where you can listen to sections of the works read out.
I was meeting an old friend for dinner that night so rather than head back to the hostel I decided to stick around and wait at the library, reading a book. What better environment to read in than one of the world’s most impressive libraries eh?
Part 2 of London coming soon.