Days 22-26, Sep 27-30, Exploring London Pt 1.

Musty, dank and smelling a little of mildew, the family room that I stayed in for the night wasn’t quite what I expected but at least it was clean. Then again, at only £35 a night, and located in the centre of London, one can’t complain.

Julian’s House Hotel, and the rest of the hotels on the same street, were typical of old English town houses — tall, narrow and deep, and even going below street level to maximise the space, and that was where the room I was given for the night was located.

It was quite a task negotiating my way down the narrow stairwell, especially when I had 4 panniers, a handlebar bag, a tent, a sleeping bag, the thermarest and, my Surly, which Yamar, the manager was kind enough to allow me to bring into the room.

It was just as well that I wouldn’t have to lug my bike up and down the staircase; I was pretty much done with serious cycling for the trip. Rather, I was looking forward to exploring the city by that most endearing of London’s transportation icons — the red double-decker bus. I mean, what’s more fun than sitting on the top deck of a double-decker bus taking in the sights as it makes its way across the Monopoly streets of London?

Yamar was in more chirpy mood this morning. Another colleague of his, Munir, was just as friendly. In between cups of coffee from a machine in the reception, I asked them the usual questions tourists asked and they were very kind to give me maps, advice and instructions on how best to get around.

Yamar then told me that if I wanted to stay on, he would only charge me £30 instead, and after tonight, he would move me to the Globe Hotel down the street (which turned out to be a much nicer room, one with a nice view as well), and at the same rate.

Well, everything was turning out great. So it was time to explore London.

Note: If you’re in London, the Argyll St area is a very strategic place to stay, especially if Paris is in your plans. Eurostar trains to and from Paris depart and arrive at St Pancras station which is just a few minutes walk away. As well, King’s Cross station is just opposite St Pancras.

The family room where I stayed in for 2 nights.

At Globe, I stayed at the 2nd floor, with a view of greenery and the street below

The simple but clean room at Globe. My bike is in the corner on the right.

From the window, I could see St Pancras station

St Pancras is somewhat of an icon

As my first stop, I decided to visit another famous London icon, Trafalgar Square. There were plenty of bus options from Kings Cross

To retain some old-world charm, more likely for tourists, old double-deckers are still in service

.. as well as charming old conductors (this one was rather effeminate) who have to swipe Oyster Cards and season tickets the good old fashioned way. New buses only have one driver, and passengers are supposed to be honest and swipe their cards themselves. I did see some dishonest Londoners who pretended to swipe their cards but when the driver wasn't looking, they would keep their cards instead.

Britain's greatest war hero, Lord Horatio Nelson, stands high and proud ... immortalised on this column in Trafalgar Square overlooking the city, and the country he defended with his life. But today, it is a totally different scene below.

It was the London Week of Peace, and a talentime, among other activities, was being held.

Today, the ubiquitous pigeons had to roost elsewhere ...

... in a deserted corner. Birds of a feather do flock together after all, like these ones here. The homeless vagrant and his displaced feathered friends finding solace in each other.

Nearby, there were stalls selling stuff related to the theme and I was particularly drawn to this one -- young black kids from the London ghettos who took things into their own hands, urging other kids to better themselves. I bought 2 of their T-shirts in support. They were definitely more worthwhile souvenirs than the ones that proclaimed the wearer's love for London.

After I bought the T-shirts, they insisted I took a picture with them. Nice kids.

Another must-photograph icon, but I decided I wanted an altogether different way of capturing Big Ben 🙂

The London Eye was just nearby and it was doing roaring business.

The august Westminster building where the country's lawmakers meet.

A short distance away was 10 Downing St. I'd always thought it was a very approachable place...until I saw the extreme security measures that went into protecting the Prime Minister.

But today, he was fair game for the press which took potshots at him for his party's dismal performance of late. Nothing is sacred to the British press...not even their own PM

As I made my way along the streets of London, I came across this theatre promoting the other famous Queen of England. It was a musical portraying the colourful leader of the band -- Farrokh Bulsara, better known as Freddie Mercury.

I loved Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid, so when I came across Baker St, I was surprised to find that there really is a 221B address, where according to the stories, was where he lived. It turned to be more of a tourist attraction although the furnishings do depict the Victorian era very faithfully.

Oxford St, shoppers paradise.

The biggest disappointment for me ... after years of singing about a certain bridge in London that kept falling down, one would have thought it looked more romantic. Nope, this was it; a bland-looking structure across the Thames. I'd have walked by without a second glance if I didn't know better.

The buildings nearby were more interesting, including this one where it was used as a bomb shelter in WW2 and now reconstructed as a tourist attraction.

Now that's what I call a bridge -- Tower Bridge, where heads used to roll at the whim and fancy of the King. It is also reputed that should the crows in the tower, which are pampered to no end, ever desert it, the kingdom would fall. And these 'ang mohs' laugh at us for our silly superstitions?

London has many great (and free) museums. The Tate is one such place. An absolute gem for its art exhibition.

The other freebie -- the British Museum. You need a week to fully appreciate its contents.

An anomaly (or not, depending on how you look at it) in the British Museum -- all the male statues were missing a very important appendage ... well, almost all.

Outside the museum, I decided to take a break and have a go at London's pride -- Fuller's London Pride to be exact, an 'outstanding premium ale' fresh off the tap.

I have to admit it was outstanding for an ale.

No, I'm not filled with too much London Pride, just a self-shot pic while I was talking to an American couple next to me. I can never not talk to people in such conducive surroundings. In any case, at £2.50 a pint, I couldn't afford to enjoy too many.

Hyde Park. A huge green lung in the city. Actually, the main reason I came here was to visit Malaysia Hall which was located nearby. I was dying for some curry rice and teh tarik, a taste of home after almost a month on the road. I was not disappointed ...

One of Hyde Park's idyllic lakes filled with majestic swans.

At the edge of Hyde Park is Kensington Palace, ex-abode of their royal highnesses, Princess Diana (until her death), the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, Princess Michael of Kent etc etc and other luminaries. I couldn't bring myself to part with £8 to look at some rich person's home so I just walked around its impressive gardens. I made friends with one of the many squirrels scampering around the garden. Very friendly fellows.

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