Thursday, July 25, 2013

Asian Eyes' UK - London Big Bus tour


THE PLACE: 
News :
At Buckingham Palace. Well, I did not
 tease the Bobby.
           London is the capital city of England and the United Kingdom, and the largest city, urban zone and metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for 2 millennium its history going back to its founding by the Romans. London's ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its square-mile medieval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, the name London also referred to the metropolis developed around this core. The bulk of this conurbation forms the London region and the Greater London administrative area, governed by the elected Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
          London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport all contributing to its prominence. It is one of the world's leading financial centers and has the 5th or 6th-largest metropolitan area GDP in the world depending on measurement. London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries. London had an official population of 8.2 million, making it the most populous municipality in the European Union, and accounting for 12.5% of the UK population. The Greater London Urban Area is the 2nd largest in the EU, while the London metropolitan area is the largest in the EU with an estimated total population of more than 15 million.  

THE ROUTE: 
         Flying in from Shannon (SNN) using Aer Lingus to London Heathrow (LHR), It was a short 1 hour flight. No immigration entry needed when one travels in from Ireland to UK. I took the Piccadily line of London Underground from Heathrow to downtown London and surfaced at Hyde Park station.
http://www.aerlingus.com/en-US/home/index.jsp

MY STAY:
London Hyde Park Hotel by Hilton
150 Bayswater Road, London W2 4RT, United Kingdom
http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-london-hyde-park-hotel-LONHPHN/index.html
TEL: 44-207-2291212
FAX: 44-207-2292623
           London Hyde Park Hotel is located opposite Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and just 400 meters from either Queensway or Bayswater Underground stations offers close proximity to popular London attractions including the West End theater district and Madame Tussauds. One can enjoy fantastic shopping opportunities at nearby Oxford Street or hire a pedalo at the Serpentine boating lake in Hyde Park. One can enjoy easy access to an array of fantastic shopping, dining and entertainment venues when you stay at our London Hyde Park Hotel. Discover famous Hyde Park and the historic landscapes including the Princess Diana Memorial fountain. Hire a rowing boat on the Serpentine or walk through the park to Kensington Palace and explore the gardens. Visit Buckingham Palace or spend the day discovering London’s biggest shopping district, Oxford Street. Explore the iconic luxury department stores Selfridges and Harrods or catch a musical in the West End theater district. Immerse yourself in the vibrant social scene of Soho, Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus or attend an exhibition or event at one of London’s famous arenas like the Royal Albert Hall, Olympia, Earl’s Court or the O2.
          
INTERESTING FACTS :
1. The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world.
2. London had the largest population of any city in the world from around 1831 to 1925.
3. London has been described as a world cultural capital. 
4. It is the world's most-visited city as measured by international arrivals.
5. It is the world's largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic. 
6. London's 43 universities form the largest concentration of higher education in Europe. 
7. In 2012, London became the first city to host the modern Summer Olympic Games 3 times.

THE DRAW:

Big Bus Tour of London, which offers more than 50 hop-on hop-off stops with free river cruise and walking tours.
http://www.bigbustours.com/eng/london/custompage.aspx?id=london_sightseeing_tour
I took the tour at the 1st stop i.e. Green Park Underground stop and cost me £30 (Tips: If buy online you can get a 20% to 30% discount). It was an open top bus complete with live commentary along the designated route. It was early and rather chilly, and I had to curled up the in sheltered portion of the bus as we make our way through London streets. A map was provided free with marking of all the famous tourist attractions along the way. The attractions being: Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, The Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, The London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, Horse Guards, many others that I previously only see it in movies, shows or books. Here are some of the pictures I took in London.
Bye bye Ireland. I took an Aer Lingus London bound flight from Shannon International Airport, some 45 minute west of Limerick city.
One hour later, I arrived at Heathrow International Airport. After retrieving my bag, and no immigration gate, I proceed to take the tube to Central London.
I took Piccadilly Line which connects directly between Heathrow International Airport and Hyde Park, my hotel location. 
I bought a day pass for 8.90 pound, thinking I will do some sight-seeing via the Tube after I check in my hotel. Good choice indeed.
The unmistakably London's Underground red round Tube logo, with the station location across the circle.The London Underground (also known as the Underground or the Tube) is a public rapid transit system serving a large part of Greater London and parts of the counties of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. The system serves 270 stations and has 402 kilometers of track, 55% of which is actually above ground. The network incorporates the world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway which opened in 1863. The network has expanded to consist of 11 lines and now carries over 1 billion passengers
The ride was a breeze and no crowd at all. It was nearly an hour ride through the belly of London.
Green Park Underground station - my stop before I surface up to the above ground for the journey of London. Green Park tube station is a London Underground station located on the north side of Green Park, close to the intersection of Piccadilly and the pedestrian Queen's Walk. It is in Travelcard Zone 1. The station is served by the Piccadilly line, between Piccadilly Circus and Hyde Park Corner, the Victoria line, between Victoria and Oxford Circus, and the Jubilee line, between Bond Street and Westminster.
An open top Big Bus tour awaiting me. I bought a ticket from the street and it set me back with £30. On hind sight I should have bought it online and would have same £6. Oh, well.
On top of Big Bus Tour Double Decker bus which provide a panoramic view as our bus rumble down London paved road. The front part of the iuppupper deck actually had a sheltered portion in case it rain or gets too cold in the open. Every seat had a plug on headset that one can hear the commentary from recorded message ( 5 international languages available) or live from the tour guide (English only).
Colonial buildings on the left and right. Looking back, the design look the same as in downtown Penang at Beach Street which housed HSBC building.
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Hyde Park - venue of greenery much akin like New York Central Park. It also host a couple of music event. Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in central London, United Kingdom, and one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers' Corner. Hyde Park is the largest of four parks which form a chain from the entrance of Kensington Palace through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, via Hyde Park Corner and Green Park (19 hectares), past the main entrance to Buckingham Palace and then on through Saint James's Park (23 hectares) to Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall. Hyde Park covers 142 hectare,s smaller than New York City's Central Park 341 hectares. To the southeast, outside the park, is Hyde Park Corner. Although, during daylight, the two parks merge seamlessly into each other, Kensington Gardens closes at dusk but Hyde Park remains open throughout the year from 5 am until midnight. 
Colonial buildings whizzed by and we pass through. I see that these are made of marbles for durability and endurance.
A war memorial outside the consulate of Australia. Did not get a chance to see up close, but it is big.
Stop by the Home of a British super spy - no, not James Bond but Sherlock Holmes. 221B Baker Street is the London address of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In the UK, postal addresses with a number followed by a letter may indicate a separate address within a larger, often residential building. Baker Street in Holmes' time was a high-class residential district, and Holmes' apartment was probably part of a Georgian terrace. At the time the Holmes stories were published, addresses in Baker Street did not go as high as 221. Baker Street was later extended, and in 1932 the Abbey National Building Society moved into premises at 219–229 Baker Street. For many years, Abbey National employed a full-time secretary to answer mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes. In 1990, a blue plaque signifying 221B Baker Street was installed at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, situated elsewhere on the same block, and there followed a 15-year dispute between Abbey National and the Holmes Museum for the right to receive mail addressed to 221B Baker Street. Since the closure of Abbey House in 2005, ownership of the address by the Holmes Museum has not been challenged, despite its location between 237 and 241 Baker Street.
Fancy getting up close and personal to the world rich and famous? Then your answer is here at Madam Tussauds. Madame Tussauds is a wax museum. It was founded by wax sculptor Marie Tussaud and was formerly known as "Madame Tussaud's"; the apostrophe is no longer used. Madame Tussauds is a major tourist attraction in London, displaying waxworks of historical and royal figures, film stars, sports stars and infamous murderers. 
Piccadilly Circus connects Regents Street, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue and the Haymarket. It is a very busy thoroughfare, right in the heart of theatre land and famous for the large electronic advertising signs that overlook the ‘circus’. Originally built in 1819, the junction takes its name from the Latin word meaning ’circle’. The original junction was round, but changes to the layout have altered its shape and traffic now travels in just one direction. The center piece for Piccadilly Circus is the small statue commonly referred to as Eros but accurately known as Anteros the God of ‘requited love’ Son of Ares & Aphrodite, and brother of Eros.
My stop at Trafalgar Square where I made a brief stop. Trafalgar Square is one of my "must' itinerary to London. Finally a big check mark "done". Hurray!
The National Gallery is an art museum on Trafalgar Square in London. Founded in 1824, it had a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900. Its collection belongs to the public of the UK and entry to the main collection is free of charge. It is the 5th most visited art museum in the world, after the Musée du Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum and Tate Modern.
Trafalgar Square, http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/arts-culture/trafalgar-square,  is the most famous public space in London. It is used for political gatherings and is a center for national celebration. The Square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar. A naval battle, fought in the Atlantic in 1805, where the Royal Navy defeated the combined French & Spanish fleet. Admiral Nelson, who led the British fleet, was killed in the battle and became a national hero. In 1816 Parliament decided to erect a monument in his honor and a competition to design Trafalgar Square was commissioned. Nelson’s Column was completed in 1843. The column is 46 metres high and the statue of Nelson that stands at the top of the column is 5.5 metres tall. The height of the column is said to reflect the height of the main mast on Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory. The Square also acts as a monument to other naval battles and important naval figures. Its famous 4th plinth remains unoccupied and is used for contemporary art installations. 
When I was younger, all pictures in movie, book and postcard on Trafalgar Square showed pigeons around the water fountain. However now I am here, I do not see any of them pigeons around. There are couple of men with hawks resting on their hand. Aha, now I understand the absence of the pigeons. The hawks are brought in to chase away the pigeons due to the nuisance of hygiene, sound and droppings. 
The London Eye, http://www.londoneye.com/ is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames in London, England. It is 135 meters tall with 120 metees diameter wheel. It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in UK, lifting over 4 million visitors into the London sky annually. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel". The Merlin Entertainments London Eye is the largest observation wheel in the world. It stands at 135 metres tall and has 32 pods representing the 32 London boroughs. The wheel was built in 1999 as part of London’s millennium celebrations. It was designed by British architects David Marks and Julia Barfield. The wheel itself was constructed horizontally on the river and then, over several weeks, slowly raised to a vertical position. Each capsule is capable of carrying up to 25 passengers and it takes 30 minutes to complete one revolution. A flight on The London Eye offers incredible views across London and excellent photo opportunities. It has become one of London’s iconic landmarks and a “must do” London attraction.

The Houses of Parliament, or Palace of Westminster, has been the home of the English political system since the 16th century, and the seat of British government for over 200 years. Previously the Palace was home to the English Monarch, but in 1547 the ‘common’ elected parliamentarians were permitted to use the Private Chapel of St Stephen’s as a meeting place and the ‘House of Commons’ was born. The Commons assembled in the Chapel of St Stephen's until 1834 when fire destroyed most of the palace leaving only Westminster Hall, St Stephen's crypt and the Jewel tower standing. The building we see today was designed in 1835 by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin. It is built in the Neo-gothic style and building work took thirty years. When completed the new Palace of Westminster changed London’s skyline forever. The Parliament Clock tower rises 316 feet above London and is fronted by the world’s largest four-faced chiming clock. It is often referred to as ‘Big Ben’, but Big Ben is actually the name of the main bell, located deep within the tower. The tower is one of London’s most iconic landmarks and one of the most recognizable buildings in the world.
Westminster Bridge is a road and foot traffic bridge over the River Thames in London, linking Westminster on the north side and Lambeth on the south side. The bridge is painted predominantly green, the same colour as the leather seats in the House of Commons which is on the side of the Palace of Westminster nearest the bridge. This is in contrast to Lambeth Bridge which is red, the same colour as the seats in the House of Lords and is on the opposite side of the Houses of Parliament. In 2005-2007 it underwent a complete refurbishment, including replacing the iron fascias and repainting the whole bridge. It links the Palace of Westminster on the west side of the river with County Hall and the London Eye on the east and was the finishing point during the early years of the London Marathon.
This bridge is Tower Bridge and contrary to popular belief, the song "London Bridge Is Falling Down" has nothing to do with Tower Bridge, instead referring to the collapses of other various London Bridges. Tower Bridge opened in 1894 and is now one of the most instantly recognized landmarks in London. Tower Bridge’s medieval style leads many to presume the bridge is much older, but it was purposely designed to complement its close neighbor the Tower of London.When the bridge was first conceived, the section of the Thames between London Bridge and the location of the new bridge, was a very busy port with commodities and goods arriving from all over the world. The design for Tower Bridge had to enable large boats and barges to travel upriver to deliver goods This was achieved by enabling the two halves of the central span to lift up to allow the passage of large vessels. Tower Bridge is still raised several times each day.
The real London Bridge. London Bridge refers to several historical bridges that have spanned the River Thames between the City of London and Southwark, in central London. This crossing, opened to traffic in 1973, is a box girder bridge built from concrete and steel. It stands at the western end of the Pool of London but is positioned 30 meters upstream from previous alignments. The modern bridge is owned and maintained by Bridge House Estates, an independent charity overseen by the City of London Corporation. It carries the A3 road, which is maintained by the Greater London Authority. The crossing also delineates an area along the southern bank of the River Thames, between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, that has been designated as a business improvement district.
The London Bus is one of London's principal icons, the archetypal red rear-entrance Routemaster being recognized worldwide. Although the Routemaster has now been largely phased out of service, with only two heritage routes still using the vehicles, the majority of buses in London are still red and therefore the red double-decker bus remains a widely recognised symbol of the city.
Westminster Abbey is London’s oldest religious building. Its origins go back over 1,000 years to 970AD when a community of monks was established by St Dunstan. A stone monastery was built on the site in 1050 by Edward the Confessor. The Abbey became the coronation site for the Norman Kings and was then substantially developed in the Anglo-French gothic style by Henry III who chose the Abbey as his place of burial.  The Abbey has been the traditional place for the coronation and burial of English and latterly British monarchs ever since. Over the centuries, the Abbey has been developed by successive Monarchs, particularly Richard II and Henry VII. Its current appearance is an amalgamation of slightly different architectural styles, which give the building a rich and fascinating history.
Ripley's Believe It or Not!, The London Pavillion  1 Piccadilly Circus, London W1J 0DA, United Kingdom. +44 20 3238 0022
Ripley's Believe It or Not! is a franchise, founded by Robert Ripley, which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. The Believe It or Not panel proved popular and was later adapted into a wide variety of formats, including radio, television, comic books, a chain of museums and a book series. The Ripley collection includes 20,000 photographs, 30,000 artifacts and more than 100,000 cartoon panels. With 80-plus attractions, the Orlando-based Ripley Entertainment, Inc., a division of the Jim Pattison Group, is a global company with an annual attendance of more than 12 million guests. Ripley Entertainment's publishing and broadcast divisions oversee numerous projects, including the syndicated TV series, the newspaper cartoon panel, books, posters and games
Horse Guards is the official entrance to St James’ Palace. It is famous for its mounted guards. The horses and gleaming uniforms are a very popular tourist attraction.  Mounted members of the guard are posted on duty between 10.00am and 4.00pm. There is an inspection of the guard that takes place at 4pm every day. This tradition dates back to Queen Victoria, who came through the gate late one afternoon, but found no-one there due to the fact that they were drunk on ale. As a result, she ordered the Household Cavalry to parade at 4 pm every day for 100 years just to make sure it didn't happen again. It has been over 30 years since the hundred years order ended, but the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment still carries out this tradition and ceremonial role. Tourists can take photo of themselves with the guard on top of the horse, but there is a sign that reads "Beware. Horses may kick or bite you. Thank You".