By Antonio Malara
There are a tv series, a movie and a book which introduced me to the British scenario when I was young. The tv series was “The Professionals”, the movie was “Salt and Pepper” and the book was “Around the World in Eighty Days”. The series, which was also not recommended for kids, was shot in real places while the movie was entirely shot in a studio. But the book (which is the first I read) gave me the power of imagination. Of course the other big thing which reminds me to England are the Royal family events, and more precisely all the gossip around the beautiful Lady D. who still remains my ideal of woman. Despite my old memories I have never been in London till 2012, and plus that trip haven’t been my idea. My sister planned all, and we made the weirdest team of all time. It was me, my sister (who was familiar with England) and one of her friend I barely knew. We booked the flights by ourselves and the hotel through the agency, it was between June and July 2012 so weeks earlier the 2012 London Olympic Games. We were ready for our London adventure.
We traveled to Heathrow Airport from Milan and we arrived in the evening. Once we bought the London card we took the metro till our destination. I like when cities are connected by metro from airports to the center but this time we’ve been through infinite stations till our metro stop. Despite it was late evening it was still bright, we walked from the metro till our hotel which was in a corner of Nevern Square, the neighborhood was really nice. We knew that the hotels in London weren’t big but our room was so tiny, it was even impossible to keep the luggage open, in return the bathroom had decent spaces and it was so functional.
I don’t know if we eat some sandwiches we brought with us but I remember that shortly after our arrive we left the hotel to explore the city. We did a couple of metro stop to South Kensington Station and then we walked to The Royal Albert Hall, I could finally see the typical Victorian houses with the stairs in the middle of the pillars. The second typical encounter has been the red phone cabins, we had lot of fun taking pictures with them, there were many on our road. I knew the Royal Albert Hall thanks to the movie “The man who knew too much” by Alfred Hitchcock. The scene which take place there is so intense and thrilling that if you watched the movie you want to go there to exorcise that moment. We reached the place through a curved street, it was cool because it was possible to see part of the Royal and plus all the buildings all around had a similar architecture. We circulated the theater all around but then we stopped for pictures in the side where there’s the staircase which is the best and the most popular part. Just in front of the stairs and across the street there’s “The Royal College of Music” which has a nice symmetric design with two towers on the sides. We had nice time there because it was full of guys, it was like a place where people stay to have conversations and spend time. Before to go we had a look to the Albert Memorial, which was at the opposite side of the stairs, a big statue at the beginnings of the Kensington Gardens, unfortunately that side of the gardens was close so impossible to get near the statue. On our way to the hotel we kept taking pics at every new red cabin but beside this I noticed that there were lots of nice modern design buildings in the area, this was the another proof that opposite design can cohabit together.
The morning after while we were having breakfast at the hotel, I found out that they had the best milk I ever drank, since then I started to take three glass before to leave the hotel, it was really a big pleasure for me which compensated the small room. As I said I followed the crew, they planned the visit to Portobello Road. The place was just a couple of metro stops away, the road is famous for the daily market where is possible to find all kind of stuff. We stopped at the Notting Hill station then we walked jus for a few minutes. Well the place was a beautiful and colorful surprise! Portobello is a long road, most of the houses there have a facade of different colors, like red, blue, green so it’s a great impact. Another colorful thing was some of the items on the stores, we passed in front of a store selling plaques, there were of all kind of colors and there were so many on the wall. All the crowd dressed in different colors was the last thing to create the rainbow effect all along the road. We walked looking at all the strange things on sale, I saw some vintage boxes gloves, gas masks and most beautiful for me a person selling vintage cameras on a desk. We spend lots of time there because the road is really long, after that we went to visit part of the Notting Hill neighborhood but walked only some blocks till the Westbourne Grove Church, then we back to metro station.
We moved to Oxford Street, we stopped at the Marble Arch station and after lunch there, we took some pics with the arch in the background then we visited a very small part of of Hyde Park which is part of the big Kensington Gardens. It was time to see and walk along Oxford Street, that is a big and long road, in the heart of the city, full of stores, restaurants and of course people. The road has two big sidewalk on the sides but unfortunately there’s still a central way open for the cars which is the only bad thing there. Along the street we saw the famous mall Selfridge and we did a visit inside.
In a corner with Oxford Street there’s New Bond Street, this is the chic part of city, here there are the designer stores, literally is possible to find all the major brands. This road is insane, as long as you walk you see big names on both sides. We walked almost till the end, then we back to the main street. Back on Oxford we found the LEGO store, here it was possible to find everything but the best part was the full-size reproduction of the members of the Royal Family. We had much fun taking pics with them, and personally I had lots of fun taking a “hot” pic with princess Kate. Honestly from a certain distance they don’t look made up of small bricks.
After that we went to Carnaby Street, this tiny place was popular in the sixties to be some kind of neighborhood for artists. Now is a cool shopping street, very colorful even for the presence of flowers and plant on the houses balconies. Here there are also many restaurants, it’s a tourist place probably nothing to do with the original Carnaby.
We back in Oxford Street to reach the next destination which I had long wanted to see. After a walk we finally arrived to Harrods. This place is famous to be an icon of luxury department stores. It’s huge, four or five blocks in all directions, eight floors, it was impressive from the outside. I had on my camera a 24 mm wide lens and it was impossible to feature all the place in the frame. We took pics anyway even if couldn’t take the shot I wanted. The interior design is inspired by ancient Egypt, there are many giant statues, it’s original and probably if someone would build a pyramid today, that’s would be the interior design. We went a little bit up and down through the floors to find the Diana and Dodi memorial. This is dedicated to memory of the beautiful princess Diana Spencer and Dodi Al-Fayed who was her partner at the time of the accident. Lady D. always inspired me, I still consider her my ideal woman, a terrible loss especially for the suspicious death. We left after the visit of the memorial but we kept in mind Princess Diana, in fact we went to the Kensington Palace. This structure is a Royal residential house, here lived Lady D. after she married Prince Charles and til the day of her death. The place is big but it’s not something that catch your eye, I mean it’s not a monumental place. Probably the tall gate in black and gold had big proportion compared to the house. We stopped for pics there. Walking beside the palace we reached the Round Pond which is a lake. Here it was full of people, local and tourists, after the pics with the lake in the background, we sit in the graces to relax a little. Don’t know why but I still remember that moment, the end of our first day, we did and we walked a lot but that memory of us with people sitting here and there is still so clear in my mind.
Stronger, after my two cups of milk, we went out for our second day, the girls planned a “walk tour” for the whole day and we started from Piccadilly Circus. This place is a junction of six road, Here there’s a building covered by giant led of commercial sings, like in Times Square, in front of that there’s the “Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain” mostly knowing as the Eros Statue. In fact on top of the structure there’s Eros with bow and arrows, my sister and her friend had fun taking pics pretending not to be hit by him. The square is nice because populated by tourists and locals but for me it’s not fascinating like Time Square.
Going down towards Trafalgar Square, we stopped many times to see things and places. First we saw “The Horses of Helios” a big statue representing four horses, then we reached Leicester Square, a small place but full of green. Right on the corner of the square we took a really nice street, it was Irving Street. I liked this short way because it was closed for cars, it had colorful buildings on both sides and it was full of restaurants with outside sit. Passing this street we went down till Trafalgar through a tree-lined way.
Trafalgar Square is dedicated to battle won by the men guided by the admiral Horatio Nelson in the nineteenth century. The place is big and is opened in front of the National Gallery. The square features many statues, two fountains on the sides and at the end there’s a very tall column with Horatio Nelson on top. Unfortunately all over the square there were temporary stands in order to promote the London Olympic Games, plus a big stage for concerts so we couldn’t enjoy it in the best way. I tried take pics and play with the perspective between the fountains and the museum in the background but we had more fun taking pictures with a big and modern Omega clock with a red display showing the countdown till the opening ceremony. The square was full of people so we decided to get inside the museum and back again later. We didn’t spend much time inside the National Gallery, maybe forty minutes, we mainly visited the section where there were our favorite artists like Monet and Van Gogh.
From there we moved to Convent Garden, it was a quite walk especially the last part passing through King Street which was for pedestrians only. The place is a square with a two markets in the center, even this square is populated by many tourists but there’s a nice atmosphere. In the street all around the market there are street artists like singers, inside the makers there are infinite stores of all kind. Inside this place a man coughed my attention, he sold some prints. Those prints were some kind of digital abstract scenes, they reminded me to De Chirico painting because objects or people were stylized. I asked him if he did the prints, he said yes. He explained that he created the drawings using a 3D computer program, then he make a special print. I bought a print and I envied that man because his work was beautiful. I mean the concept of creating something, then sell the work in a small stand, a tiny space but in the middle of thousands multiracial people, without having a boss, without hurry. When he sells what he thinks is enough he can close and back home, in the opposite direction of the capitalism. All around there were lots of restaurants, we stopped there for lunch before to continue our tour.
After lunch we moved to Neal’s Yard, this is a small shopping site, really nice. The access is a tiny street and the place is essentially a triangular square and a really small way. The nice thing is that all the buildings all around are of various vibrant colors, the fact that the buildings are attached to one another makes the colors more evident.
The next destination was the Big Ben, on our way we stopped again on Trafalgar to do some pictures and then we took Whitehall Street. Here we stopped outside the gates of Downing Street, where there’s the Prime Minister house. Well nothing special if you already saw it in television, it’s really a small way, closed with the guards outside and beyond the gates. Despite this it was full of tourists happy to take pictures there. We went on and finally we arrived at the corner of Parliament Square, we turned our head on the left and we saw the Big Ben. The iconic clock tower was great, one of the monument which look better in person than in pictures or tv. We started to take pictures from every perspective available then we moved to the Westminster Bridge to cross to the other side and keep taking pictures. I think we needed half hour to cross it, we stopped many times and we also took pictures to other people, it’s funny how some place became iconic and in this case the bridge looked like a set for all the tourists having fun with pictures. We kept doing the same thing even in the other side, this time we featured in the frames even the London Eye, the white Ferris wheels. We back in Parliament Square and without leaving my camera, I did it! I practically took pictures with the Big Ben in the background in all the possible perspectives.
Crossing Parliament Square we arrived to northern entrance of the Westminster Abbey. This one of the most important church built in gothic style during the centuries. The northern entrance is wide with some yellow tone on the facade. When we moved to the main entrance this is a little strange, because it’s not wide at all and the two tall towers seems to squeeze the central section. We didn’t spend so much time there, we went on to the Westminster Cathedral, taking Victoria Street. At corner with the B323 we stopped because I had to take pictures to one of the weirdest kind of design. Here there’s a beautiful three floors building built in red bricks with lots of ornaments, I think there’s a restaurant on the main floor. Well this building was surrounded by new tall buildings which where all steel and glass. I saw some kind of architecture in Boston and I think this combination was cool till I saw something more interesting in Japan. The Cathedral was a couple of block away from here. Well the Westminster Cathedral is also original, it’s orange with white stripes, and it’s asymmetrical because of the presence of only one tower on the left side. We also went inside but I don’t remember nothing impressive about it.
We moved to northern to get to Buckingham Palace! The place is huge, really awesome, the railings all around in black and gold combined with the red floor, create a cool combination of colors. The palace looks like the Madrid Royal palace, same style but here, the structure is far away beyond the railings. This is the reason why I’ve been more impressed by the tall gate which was the main attraction there. The place is full of tourists, and I think the big space can’t give the exact proportions of people who was present there. In front of the palace there’s a big fountain with lions statues and a central column with a golden angel on the top, really nice. We stopped there on the fountain to rest looking at the people moving all around the area. Our “walking day” ended there, we visited lots of places, using the metro only from the hotel to the city.
That night we went to watch the musical show “Mamma Mia”, for me was the second time because I watched it in Vancouver years before. Musicals are always great and part of art that I like, this time the story was based on the songs from the group ABBA, so popular in the seventies. That show is really great because it’s exotic and the rhythm of the songs pushes up even a bad mood, I suggest to watch “Mamma Mia” if you have the chance.
The morning of the last day we stopped at the Tower Hill metro station and “finally” we experienced a typical London thing, the rain. Fortunately it was just a soft rain and from there we walked beside the Tower of London area heading to the Tower Bridge. This beautiful piece of design is a suspension and bascule bridge. It also built in two different materials, steel and stone. Two towers are there instead of pillars and the central section of the road splits in two and rise up to let the boats passing under the bridge. It’s one of the symbol of London and when you see it in person you can understand why. It’s unique, aesthetically and as a concept. I love the two towers which are both the fundamental part of the bridge and beautiful as design. We crossed and we stopped in the middle to see the landscape in both directions. From one side, taller between the other buildings, there was the 30 St. Mary Axe, another “dildo” skyscraper like the one in Barcelona (same cylindrical design but with darker colors). From the other side the same effect was given by the new skyscraper designed by Renzo Piano, The Shard. I enjoyed taking pics from every angle and I tried to take details about the giant Olympic Rings which were high, suspended in the middle of the bridge. Once on the other side, we walked around the Potters Field Park. Here I took some nice pics of colorful flowers and the bridge in the background. We reached the river sidewalk to have another classic perspective in our pictures.
Here near the river sidewalk there’s the City Hall building. I have to say that this new area is really cool because of its modern design. The building has an oval sail shape and is designed in a way that it looks inclined. I also liked the gray flooring which was in tone with the city hall color. Other buildings all around had the same design of glass windows. The rain on the floor gave to us a strange effect because it reflected the soft green of the windows so it was a strange contrast between grey and green. The area was also cool because of the trees and green all around and the Shard behind the other buildings.
The next destination was the Tate Modern, despite we were in the right side of the river, we back in the northern side through the towers bridge. From there we passed in the modern part but without reaching the real city, one we arrived at the Southwark Bridge, we decided to cross it and back in the shout side. Here we passed in front of the Financial Times headquarters, then we walked beside a beautiful building made up of red bricks and then just some steps before the Tate, we saw the Shakespeare’s Globe. This place is the exact reconstruction of the theater where William Shakespeare's company was performed, the palaces were entirely rebuilt in wood. We didn’t have the time to go in, we stopped only for some pics. Just some steps further and we had the Millennium Bridge in our right side and the Tate Modern on the left.
The Tate Modern is one of the most important museum of modern art in the world. The structure is a former power station converted into a museum, is built in bricks and is rectangular with a tower in the middle. The tower is actually the ex chimney but it really have a cool design. Outside the museum there’s a giant statue of a man cut in a half, the figure is split in two, a half is with the visible internal organs the other half is not. On the main floor there’s a huge open space, pretty dark but suggestive, I like how they did the conversion because it matches with idea of modern art. In the various floor there are many paintings of the most famous painters, here you can see the work of Dali, De Chirico, Matisse. What attracted me the most was the view of Lucio Fontana painting, the particularly of his work is a canvas with one or many cut on the painting. Another strange things I saw was many operas in which the wall was part of the opera itself (maybe the pictures will show better the concept). After our visit we went up in one of the last floors, here there’s a beautiful restaurant with windows over the river. It was a lunch with a view, I think one my first time in this kind of concept. The place was so nice that after we finished to eat, we started to take pictures in the area.
Just outside the Tate there’s a controversial opera, the Millennium Bridge, we used it to cross the river Thames. This bridge is for pedestrians and has been famous because they had to close it just a couple of days after the opening day because it was unstable. The bridge is built in steel, there are a series of pillars shaped like a slingshot and on top, the levels for pedestrians. I liked the design and it was cool walking on it but beside the view from it, there’s a unique detail which make great this bridge. The structure is a straight line toward the Saint Paul Cathedral, so when you approach the end of the bridge there’s an amazing view and perspective over the Cathedral. That breathtaking view, would haven’t been possible without the bridge!
We went to see the Saint Paul Cathedral closely, but in order to have a “complete view", is better to stop after the Millennium Bridge. The Cathedral has two towers in both sides and a big Dome in central section, if you’re too close you can’t see the dome so you’ll have a partial view. We walked a little in the area going even in the back of the structure, when thought it was enough we left.
That day we back to Regent and New Bond street looking for presents, then we went again to Trafalgar Square. Here we stopped to have a briefing, we analyzed what we saw and if we missed something. We realized we did enough and we haven’t any time to see other place which were far away. We ended the day back in our neighborhood and having dinner there.
When you see places in pictures or in tv you create your own idea about it. Many times you’re disappointed because in reality some cities or monuments are different than you thought. Sometimes places are smaller, sometimes they’re surrounded by a different environment, sometimes the place is much better. Well London it was exactly as I imagined, nothing less and nothing more, I found in the real place what I had in my mind. The cars running in revers, the double floor bus, the red phone cabin and the house with the stairs, everything like in pictures. I like when my expectations are confirmed especially in travel. The funny thing about London was the fact that the city didn’t leave me when I back home. There were the Olympic Games and the Wimbledon event. So in a way or another London continued to be with me the whole summer, in the same way as I knew it, through pics and television.
Pictures by: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D3s