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From your friendly [former] London resident

October 27th, 2009

I was checking the score of the last night’s MNF game on ESPN, when I came across Chris Berman’s “Fastest 3 minutes in Sports”. Introducing the annual NFL game played in London, he made the frequent mistake of misidentifying one of the iconic city landmarks.

People! Let’s get this straight!

This is not the London Bridge.
 

Tower Bridge, London

 
It is one of the symbolic sights in the City of London, but it is called Tower Bridge.

The London Bridge happens to look nothing special – just another modern river crossing.
 

London Bridge

 
Can we be clear on that once and for all?

London & Environs, Photography

Last time in Central London

July 27th, 2009

Our last weekend in London. Our last visit to Central London.

Do you think that London did its best to collaborate weather-wise on such an occasion? Nope. Could any more lines of National Rail and the Tube be suspended “for planned engineering works” on the only day that we had an opportunity to say a proper goodbye to the city? I doubt that.

Despite a highly inconvenient single option of getting to and from the city center available to us and despite the intermittent showers, we still went. We did a more or less standard circuit of Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Piccadilly, St James Park, Parliament Square. We stopped at the National Gallery for the current Impressionist exposition centered on Corot’s and Monet’s landscapes. We browsed through the Burlington Arcades. We waited out one of the showers at a big bookstore on Piccadilly. We threw coins into the lake at the St James Park. We even took a black cab ride to London Bridge – the very first for Kimmy, only the second for Becky.

As much as we are looking forward to resuming our American lives, we can’t help but be a bit sad leaving London behind. It is a great city in every aspect of the word. Will we ever come back as tourists? Who knows…

Becky talked me into experiencing one of the city’s attractions in the very end. We set Natasha and Kimmy on their way home, but ourselves went to the London Dungeons. Becky already been, I have not. The almost two hour wait to get in tested the limits of my patience and my sanity (unless you’re lucky to visit the place in the off-season mid-week, do yourself a favor and buy tickets in advance), but the place has some interesting points and tries to highlight some important historical bits. It is not too scary – although a couple of actors did their thing in trying to startle unsuspecting visitors. As grumpy as I was at having wasted a lot of time in the queue, Becky was thoroughly delighted with her return visit. At the very least, I can now always say that when I left London Dungeons, I left London…

Chronicles, London & Environs

Random Illustrations: Green Chain Walk

May 11th, 2009
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As I have been wandering around the neighborhood area to rack up steps on my pedometer, I frequently find myself on the paths of the Green Chain Walk, a loosely connected walking circuit in Southeast London that we first explored more than two years ago.

Here is a stretch of the Walk, running between fences of a school grounds and some kind of an estate. It feels a bit eerie, with no one in sight, evoking a vague nowhere-to-hide The Hound of the Baskervilles type of disquiet, but if you are seeking undisturbed introspection on your walk, it’s just perfect.
 

A stretch of the Green Chain Walk, Southeast London

 
And here is a corner of The Tarn, referenced in that article, a quiet little park five minutes from our house. The birdhouse is one of the many made by Kimmy’s class sometime last year.
 

At the Tarn, Mottingham, Southeast London

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Imagery: Canary Wharf from a distance

May 6th, 2009
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From my little backlog of pictures taken with the expressed goal of eventually being published here on the blog, here is a view of the Canary Wharf financial district from the Grand Square of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Only 20 years ago, there were no skyscrapers in the Docklands area; the tallest of Canary Wharf’s buildings – actually, the tallest building in Britain, – One Canada Place (the one with the triangular “hat”), was finished in 1990.

On the left edge of the picture is the little circular building – the north-side entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a pedestrian crossing under the Thames. The south-side entrance is several hundred yards to the left from where this picture was taken.
 

View to Canary Wharf from the Royal Naval College in Greenwich

 
The Grand Square is part of the processional route from the river to the Queen’s House that is behind us in this perspective. At the insistence of Queen Mary, the Royal Naval Hospital (it would become a navy college almost 200 years after it was constructed) was built in a way that would not obstruct the view of the river from the queen’s residence. You can see the panoramic view of the complex here.

London & Environs, Photography

London Imagery: Regent Street at night

April 30th, 2009
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I am not very much inspired to write anything at the moment, so instead I am picking an item from my little backlog of random illustrations.

This is not a particularly good picture, but I sort of like the feel of it. It was taken with my little pocketcam in less than ideal lighting from the upper deck of a London double-decker bus. What you see are the contours of Regent Street towards where it curves on its approach to Piccadilly Circus. At night, with few people and little traffic, the street looks considerably less commercial and appropriately more regal.
 

Regent Street at night

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Imagery: Hamilton Terrace

April 24th, 2009
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This is one of the most-fashionable streets in St John’s Wood in Northwest London. I took a few pictures of it with my pocket-cam when we were last in the area, and then managed to stitch a couple of them in a serviceable wide-angle picture.

 

 

And this is the fetching church of St Mark’s, sitting at one of the intersections along the street.

 

 

London & Environs, Photography

Random Illustrations: A street in Blackheath

April 20th, 2009

This could be a street in any number of American suburbs or smaller towns. Yes, the cars are parked somewhat in the opposite direction, but otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to place it. You’ll have to believe me when I say that it is a street in the quieter parts of Blackheath Village.
 

A street in Blackheath

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Blackfriars to London Bridge

April 2nd, 2009

Continuing our walk along the Thames Path (which we started here), we can more closely see the fine buildings at the Blackfriars Bridge end of the Victoria Embankment on the north side of the river. The red one on the left is the “new” Sion College building (dating to 1886), and next to it is the former City of London independent boys’ school.
 

Sion College and the former City of London School

 
The elaborate London Chatham and Dover Railway crest adornes the Blackfriars Railway Bridge.
 

London Chatham and Dover Railway crest

 
Next is one of the coolest pictures in this entire tour, IMHO. This is the Millenium Bridge, connecting Bankside from the Tate Modern gallery with the City and St Paul’s Cathedral. The pedestrian-only bridge is quite famous for being “wobbly” after it first opened in 2000, but has since been reinforced and modified to eliminate the swaying effect. Along with the Westminster Bridge, it is one of the most popular tourist river crossings.
 

Millennium Bridge

 
A close-up of the City side of the London Bridge, with the now nearly iconic visage of the Gherkin (also known as the Swiss Re Building).
 

The City of London and the Gherkin

 
We are ending our walk near the Southwark Cathedral, which stands next to the London Bridge on the south side.
 

Southwark Cathedral

 

This installment completes the series, but don’t despair: There will be plenty of random London imagery in the future.

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Southbank

March 31st, 2009

The Thames Path along Southbank, from the London Eye (seen in the previous installment) to the London Bridge, is one of my favorite walking routes in Central London. At intervals, it gets very congested with tourists and other gawkers, but it is mostly tolerable. The views, though, are great.

Here is an across-the-river vista with the St Paul’s Cathedral.
 

 
And a wider-angle view that takes in several prominent City of London skyscrapers.
 

View of the City of London from Southbank

 
Among the buildings lining the Southbank, a minor point of interest is the OXO Tower. Its tower is actually best viewed after dark from the other side of the river, when the illuminated windows make the vertical OXO sign on its four sides visible from afar. Other than that, this is a primarily residential complex with a bit of an exhibition space.
 

OXO Tower

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Thames and London Eye

March 27th, 2009
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Westminster Bridge is always chock-full of tourists and you often need to step into the roadway to cross it. However, it offers brilliant views over the Thames, so after walking past the Big Ben, we made the requisite effort. Here is what the river looks like.
 

Thames view from the Westminster Bridge

 
And here is the view across the river from the southern end of the bridge, with the Charing Cross railway station and other buildings along Victoria Embankment prominently in the picture.
 

Victoria Embankment and Charing Cross from across the river

 
The London Eye has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in London since its opening in 2000. I’ve gone on it on several different occasions, and the views from the highest points can rival any elevated viewing platforms elsewhere. Of course, being stuck in a glass capsule with 25 strangers who constantly jostle for better positions to snap fairly useless photos of themselves is not something that I cherish as a rule, and the waits to buy tickets and then to get on are often interminable, so I don’t normally wholeheartedly recommend that visitors to London make the Eye one of their stops. However, anyone who finds it hard to pass up a view of a fascinating city from high above will likely enjoy the experience more than hate it.
 

The London Eye

 
There are a couple of attractions stuffed into the monumental building block between the Westminster Bridge and the London Eye. Among them is the Dalí Museum (which we are embarrassingly are yet to visit). One of the famous Dalí elephants adorns the embankment.
 

Dalí elephant

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Parliament Square

March 25th, 2009

Continuing with our walk around London sights (previous entry is here), we come to the Parliament Square. Despite the fact that it is one of the busiest traffic circles in central London, the actual square in the middle – obscured by the bus in the picture, unfortunately, – is a pleasant place to linger in, with an unobstructed view to the Parliament and the Big Ben, as well as the Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Westminster to the right (not in this shot’s perspective).
 

Parliament Square

 
And here is just the Big Ben against blue sky. Do you know that the name is not of the tower itself, but rather of its large bell?
 

Big Ben

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Buckingham Palace

March 23rd, 2009

We have seen dozens of royal palaces around Europe, and the Buckingham Palace in London is one of the outwardly dullest of them, grey, blocky, and all. (The interior is quite impressive, though, if you ever manage to visit it during the two months in the summer that the palace is open to tourists.) But together with the Queen Victoria Memorial in front of its gates, it is still an impressive and lively sight.
 

Queen Victoria Memorial and the Buckingham Palace

 

Just a couple of hundred yards from the royal residence is the residence of the longest monarch-in-waiting in history. Clarence House, as the abode of Prince Charles’s is known, is guarded by these gallant sentries. You can get much closer to them than to their colleagues at Buckingham. (The closest you can get to such a guard that I know – to the point of taking your picture with them – is at the Whitehall Admiralty gate and at the Royal Jewel collection in the Tower of London.)
 

Guards at the Clarence House

 

———————
The previous entry in this series is here.

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: St James Park

March 19th, 2009

Walking along The Mall (which we entered via Admiralty Arch) towards the Buckingham Palace, we leave the lovely St James Park on our left. Even in February, on a warm day, you’ll find people basking in the sun here. Imagine what it looks like on a balmy summer weekend (yes, those do happen occasionally even in England).

 

St James Park with Big Ben in the background

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Admiralty Arch

March 17th, 2009

One of the streets converging on Trafalgar Square (the previous entry in the series) is The Mall, which runs straight to the Queen Victoria Memorial and the Buckingham Palace. Access to The Mall from the square is through Admiralty Arch. Its name symbolizes solely the fact that it adjoins the Old Admiralty Building. It was not built to commemorate any naval victories, but rather in memory of Queen Victoria.
 

Admiralty Arch as viewed from Trafalgar Square

 
And here is the view from the other side. Interestingly, the archway is built to be concave from both front and back. Not that I know which side is the front, to tell the truth.
 

Admiralty Arch as viewed from The Mall

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Trafalgar Square

March 12th, 2009

On to more famous sights now (the previous entry in the series is here).

Trafalgar Square, in my view, is the center of London, where every first-time visitor to the city eventually finds himself – and, potentially, lingers for a while. It can be insufferable during staged public events and it is always too busy with tourists on a nice sunny day, but it is none the less majestic and impressive. And on a warm summer night, it can even be tranquil.

Nice sunny day it was.
 

Trafalgar Square

 
Here is another angle, with the National Gallery prominently seen.
 

Trafalgar Square

 
I love fountains. There are two identical ones in the square. The church of St Martin-in-the-Fields is one of the attractions around the square.
 

Trafalgar Square fountain and St Martin-in-the-Fields

 
Big Ben, which we will see close up in a couple of chapters, fits into a nice composition when viewed from the center of the square. The sun positioned itself uncooperatively for a good shot, but I felt it was still worth taking.
 

View to Big Ben from Trafalgar Square

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: New Row

March 10th, 2009

The next installment of our virtual walk around London (the previous post in the series is here) has just one picture, of the corner of New Row and St Martin’s Lane in the West End Theater district. Seemingly nothing special here, but I find these kinds of streets irresistible.
 

A corner of West End

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Bloomsbury

March 6th, 2009

Continuing the tour started in this post, here are a few shots made in Bloomsbury, a fashionable residential area which is home to the British Museum, among other academic and historic sights.

The focal point of the area is the pleasant Russell Square.
 

Russell Square

 
The massive building towering over the square is the Hotel Russell, built at the end of 19th century.
 

Hotel Russell

 
Several streets running away from the square are built up with rows of plain-looking brown houses four stories high. Almost every door here is a boutique hotel.
 

Montague Street

 
On Museum Street, near the British Museum, sits this fine-looking building. The sign says “Ruskin House”, but it is not the building of such name described in Wikipedia (that one is in Croydon).
 

Ruskin House on Museum Street

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Tour: Euston Road

March 4th, 2009
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A couple of weeks ago, Natasha and I spent a gorgeous Saturday – the first truly great day of the year weather-wise – walking a visiting old friend around central London. Along the way, I snapped a couple of dozen pictures of London views, some famous sights and a few less famous ones. Instead of putting them all together into an album in the Gallery, I figured I’d rather use them as a multi-part pictorial tour around London. It should provide me with a couple of weeks of posts, you know 😉

To start us off, here is the view along Euston Road towards St Pancras Chambers, home of the Eurostar speed-rail terminal. The entrance to the British Library is in the frame, as well.
 

Euston Road

 

London & Environs, Photography

London Imagery: Nighttime Canary Wharf

February 20th, 2009

I’m currently on a downswing of my blogging activity sinusoid, for no apparent reason. While I’m recharging my blogging batteries, I figured I can at least provide a couple of nighttime views of Canary Wharf.

Here is the view along South Colonnade.
 

Canary Wharf South Colonnade at night

 

And here is the interior view of the Canary Wharf DLR station, the sight of which was first introduced here.
 

Canary Wharf DLR Station

 

London & Environs, Photography

Brief weekend recap

February 9th, 2009
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Our desire to move house has been quickly replaced by the pragmatic contentment with staying put. A sizable reduction in the rent amount has that type of effect on us.

At the same time as we started to look for different accommodations, we suggested to our current landlord that in this deteriorating market we should be paying less than what we are paying now. And put forward a number. Which the landlord agreed to without any arguments or negotiations.

We should have proposed an even lower number, of course…

In any case, as any house that we might find in Blackheath would no longer cost less than what we will be paying here, and the move would involve certain additional costs one way or another, we reasoned that fiscal considerations trump our desire to be nearer a place that is much more fun. Becky is sorely disappointed: She was already imagining getting extra sleep in the mornings as well as the ease of hanging out with friends.

Having to make that decision somewhat spurred us to look again for more active ways to spend our weekends. It is something that we have done a lot in the first year or so of living in the UK, but gradually stopped doing both because of our relative remoteness from the city center and for perceived lack of as-yet-untried options. But options, of course, do exist.

On Saturday, we went for a tour of nearby Chislehurst Caves. Dating from millenia ago, the 20 miles of underground passages acted as mines, bomb shelters, an entertainment venue and a location for “Doctor Who” filming in their history. The tour was moderately interesting, just the kind of diversion from staying in that we needed.

Here is a picture of an explorer:
 

 
We followed that with a meal at a nice restaurant in Chislehurst village.

On Sunday, Natasha and I drove across the southern part of the greater London to Richmond, for an impromptu celebration of our friend Alex’s birthday. Alex and Anya suggested an atmospheric Belgian restaurant in Richmond, where we spent several hours at our favorite catching-up ritual, accompanied by fine wine and food.

Getting out of home on weekends has an undeniable positive effect on us. We need to work on making the next weekend eventful. And the next after that…

Chronicles, London & Environs