Newest Review: ... the wait. One of the best things about employment in London is that after work even on a Monday night - everyone goes for a cheeky pint... more
Five Days In London
London in General
Member Name: MALU
London in General
Date: 20/07/03, updated on 15/04/13 (323 review reads)
Advantages: The coolest city on the planet (NEWSWEEK)
Disadvantages: Hell is a city much like London (Shelley)
Over the years I've perfected the programme of the excursions with my students and now it's more or less the same with only slight variations whenever I go; I'd like to take you with me, maybe you get some inspiration for a visit to London alone or with a group of people or, in case you already know everything, you may find it interesting to learn what foreigners find worthwhile when visiting. Perforce this will be one of my longer ops, feel free to skim!
The motto of my programme is 'variatio delectat' as the Romans used to say, 'variety pleases' in English, I want to show my students as many different facets of the city as possible in such a short time. This doesn't mean that we rush from sight to sight, there's more free time than programme as you'll see. The visit I'm describing here started on 28th June and ended on 4th July 2003.
We bought a travelcard (you need a photo for it) for one week for zone 1+2 (19.60 GBP for adults, 8 GBP for children) at the tube station in Heathrow airport, a one hour ride took us to Paddington from where we reached our low budget hotel situated in a tranquil street two minutes away from the station. We took our suitcases to our respective rooms and met in the hall ready to conquer the city.
It was 2 pm when we set off. Having read an opinion by an English country lad describing the horrors of travelling by tube I know that one doesn't have to be a foreigner to find it overwhelming at fi
rst contact. We're also 'land eggs' as we say in German coming from a town with 50 000 inhabitants and the surrounding villages, the students may pretend to be cool, but on their first day in London they're not unhappy to be guided. I always appoint a student as 'tube guide', he or she has to find out how we travel best from A to B, it saves the teachers time and they have someone to blame if the group finds itself on the wrong tube! ;-)
We got off at Westminster and went round the Houses of Parliament into the gardens and looked down at the Thames. Unfortunately the water was flowing into the 'right' direction, so when I asked my standard question, "Where's the North Sea in your opinion?" the answer had to be correct. It's nice to ask this question when the water is coming in and then explain them (we live far away from the sea in the south west of Germany) what ebb and flood mean. I had distributed information to my students on the sights we would visit already at home and whenever we were somewhere interesting we clustered round a students delivering a short speech. Up to now all students have obeyed and said some more or less intelligent sentences.
Unfortunately Westminster Abbey is more often closed than open, it's always closed on Saturday afternoon so we could only admire it from the outside. I advised the students to go inside in their free time, but none of them did so. From there we went to Buckingham Palace crossing Green Park, a lively sight on a sunny weekend day. Few joggers, in Germany there would be many more. Many dustbins, always two on either side of the path, hardly any in the rest of the city, however! Pall Mall was full of British and Russian flags (Putin had been in London a week (!) before), a colourful and photogenic sight.
For the evening I had booked a walk with email@example.com, the oldest and probably the best organisation in
the field of walks. Get to know the city on foot, an intelligent concept, be guided by people who know the tour well, who have anecdotes ready and who can deliver what they have to say in a pleasing manner (group rate 75 GBP for approximately 1 1/2 hours, for more than 20 students it's 3,50 GBP each). I've always wanted to show my students a sunny and a not so sunny side of London, so six years ago, when I discovered London Walks, I had decided on Hampstead on the first evening and on the East End on the second day, very successful walks both, but because *I* had been on these walks already twice I decided on Kensington and on the Ghosts of the Old City Walk this time.
Although we had the best possible guide (Tom Hooper), I wouldn't do the walk through Kensington again, it's just not as attractive as Hampstead, I was rather disappointed. The students couldn't compare and followed the guide and his stories dutifully impressed. One boy decided on that first evening that the trip to London was worth his money because he saw a McLaren racing car cruising through the streets of Kensington, a model of which only a handful of specimen exist. The stories surrounding Princess Diana to which we listened sitting on the grass in front of 'her' palace touch us Germans only superficially, but must be the highlight for British groups.
Sunday morning saw us in a nunnery, the Tyborn Convent, 8 Hyde Park Place, Bayswater Rd. W2. I had read about the place in the book Secret London by Andrew Duncan some years ago and written to the prioress asking her if we could visit (How to address a prioress? I chose 'Dear Madam' which was accepted, she answered at once, this year via email!). I've been there three times already and will include it again if there's a next time, what better chance for 18-year-old students to get to know an alternative life-style?
The 25 Tyborn nuns belong to an enclosed
Benedictine order which means that they never leave the convent, not even to visit relatives. They spend their time in study and prayer, the site is near the former gallows of Marble Arch and they pray for the souls of the Catholic martyrs executed there during the reign of Henry VIII. Every day they relax for one hour playing games or taking exercise in the convent garden, when indoors it's snooker and scrabbles for them.
From there into the outside world, to Speakers Corner just across the street. I was positively surprised to notice that there were not only religious fanatics this year, but 'normal' citizens blabbing away on every possible subject under the sun interrupted by hagglers as it should be. What a homey feeling it gave me to see two speakers again I've seen every single time I've been to London and to Speakers Corner!
Camden Street Market next! My colleague and I took our students there, told them not to just stay near the station, but to walk on because the more interesting things are beyond the bridge across the canal, but then we 'got lost'. We went our separate ways, not only because it's impossible to stay together there, but also because we had our individual plans for our spare time. We forgot to tell our students that on Sundays one can only get out at Camden Town tube station, but not get in, one must use the station before or after when going back to the centre, but they were intelligent enough to find that out on their own.
I visited all the big museums ages ago and I could very well see them all again, but I won't do so before I haven't been to all the smaller museums I'm interested in and I haven't seen yet. I chose the Wallace Collection for my Sunday afternoon.
The Wallace Collection
Nearest Underground Stations: Bond Street, Baker Street and Oxford Circus
Open daily from 10.00am until
5.00pm (Sundays 12.00pm until 5.00pm)
If you're lucky (I was) you can even follow a free guided tour and get some of the many artefacts explained. The Wallace Collection is both a national museum and the finest private collection of art ever assembled by one family. It has been open for the public since 1900, among its treasures are one of the best collections of French 18th-century pictures, porcelain and furniture in the world, a remarkable array of 17th-century paintings and a superb armoury.
At 7.30 pm the teachers and the students met at St. Paul's tube station for the walk 'The Ghosts of the Old City', Lesley, an Irish actress, guided us. The students, boys and girls alike, took to her at once, later they told me that this walk was the best and two even said that it was the highlight of the whole week. I remember the walk not only because we enlarged our vocab on ghosts and gallows considerably and became (verbal) experts in the fields of beheading, quartering and disemboweling, but also because an ickle dooyooer accompanied us! It was my first and hopefully not last RL (real life) encounter with a virtual character, when we were in the pub to which Lesley had guided us at the end of the walk, we discovered that we got along with each other pleasantly, we chatted until last orders!
The Globe Theatre and the Shakespeare Exhibition therein (students - 6.00 GBP) was the destination of the following morning. I had pondered on this item quite a long time, two years ago I didn't take my students to the exhibition, but went to see King Lear in the evening with them, but I didn't find this year's plays, Richard II and Richard III, appealing and decided against them. I couldn't prepare the plays in class in Germany and I'm sure the students wouldn't have been able to understand them.
When we told our students something about Tate Modern, we heard comments
like "I'm not interested in art" as was to be expected, such comments come only and always from students who've never been to a museum. We told/ordered them to at least walk through one floor, alone or in groups, anyway not with us teachers, no money would be spent in vain as the admittance is free, and just look. Surprisingly for them, not surprisingly for us, some of them (one can never please everyone) were quite impressed.
After that the students could do what they wanted. They asked us about Madame Tussauds, was it worth the money (+ Planetarium 13 GBP for students)? My colleague and I told them that there are lots of wax celebrities which mean nothing to foreigners, that the only part of the exhibition which can be understood by everyone is the Chamber of Horrors. Then my colleague said, "If you're interested in horror stuff, you can also go to the London Dungeon which is also on the South Bank, i.e., not far away, it's cheaper and there are fewer visitors." I remembered former students telling me that it was too childish and insulted their intelligence, well, to cut a long story short, in the end we talked them into going to the Imperial War Museum, admittance free and certainly not childish. The next day they told us that the advice had been good.
I stayed in the Tate Modern for more than three hours, on my own and undisturbed, what a wonderful place! In the evening I saw the play 'The Woman In Black' at the Fortune Theatre, Russell St, WC 2, a ghost story with two actors and a ghost, fitting into what we'd already seen and heard of London. The students discovered the 'Happy Hour' at the Pubbar Oxygen, 17 - 18 Irving Street, Leicester Square, which they liked so much that they returned there every night. Once they happened to see from there or nearby (dunno) the stars of the film 'Charlie's Angels' whose European release was celebrated, this made the trip worthw
hile for some of our girls.
Do you know how much it costs to see the Tower? 11.30 GBP for adults/ 8.50 for students/ 7.50 for children! We only looked at it from the outside the next morning, listened to the student who was the expert of the day and then walked on to the Tower Bridge where I made my students stand with one foot on either side of the bridge. I'd read in a dooyooer's op that she used to do this as a child and found the quivering of the bridge quite exciting. Although heavy lorries were passing, we didn't feel much, maybe we were too heavy? After a while a British teacher with a class from an elementary school shooed us away, he wanted them to spit through the gap. I asked him if that meant good luck, he said, "No idea, I've just made it up".
After a detour to Katherine's Wharf and an envious look at he yachts there we entered the Dockland's Railway and discovered the most modern part of London, it's a surreal feeling to sit in the (aboveground) train and glide through a city of steel and glass. We got off at Canary Wharf (pity that visitors aren't allowed to go up to the top) on our way back from Greenwich where we visited the Observatory, also admission free now, praised be the decision to let the visitors in without money! (It was made after the number of visitors had dropped by half, amazing that the prices weren't cut, but abolished completely).
What did I plan for the afternoon? The Hindu Mandir in Neasden, the biggest Hindu temple outside India, made of white marble and limestone, a real gem. Neasden is outside zone 2 and one has to buy an extension ticket for 1 GBP to get there. If you're interested, I can invite you to read my op 'The Gods Live In Suburbia'. The students were very impressed indeed and two decided to make it No 1 on the list of what they liked best in London.
Another theatrical performance for the teachers in the ev
ening, the word 'play' can't be used for 'Stomp' at the Vaudeville on the Strand (I'm thinking of writing an op on it), Happy Hour and Disco for the Young Ones.
Are you tired? I was, but I decided not to give way to my tiredness during my days in London and fill myself up to the brim with what the city had on offer for me.
On the following morning my colleague took the group to St Paul's while I went to King's Cross to buy the tickets for our day trip to Cambridge on our last but one day. I had my special 'event' when Euston Station where I had to change on my way back was evacuated because some joker had left a piece of luggage on a platform. My colleague and two students had the same experience on the last day when shopping in H & M, we learnt that evacuating a building is something Londoners have learnt to do quite well, because it happens so often!
We met at Covent Garden Tube Station at 11.30 from where our guard Tom guided us on the walk 'Behind Closed Doors', my ickle dooyoo friend had come again giving me the impression that she had enjoyed our first meet as much as I had. You've already read so much here (hopefully) that I won't bore you with my account on this walk, you can read hers!
You haven't read yet that we were in the British Museum, can one leave London without going there? No, one can't, but my colleague and I didn't want to go there another time, so we told our students to go without us and warned them not to cheat on us, we'd find them out! I ordered them to find out which colour the Rosetta Stone has and to count the mummies [not that I have the foggiest idea how many there are ;-)], but our students are so sweet, they came back with the right answer to question one (the colour of asphalt) and the promise to show me the photos they took of each other beside the mummies. (Which teacher doesn't dream of students lik
They were completely knocked out after that and went back to the hotel to sleep! Sweet they may be, but weak, 'soft eggs' as we say in German, weaklings! Will they be able to work for my old age pension one day? Will they be able to defend my country against enemies if need be? The answer is, yes, of course, they are still young and the discos close too late.
I spent the whole afternoon at Somerset House between the Strand and the Embankment wandering through the different exhibitions, I don't know what my colleague did, in the evening we met and saw 'The Madness Of George Dubya', a politically incorrect satire on which I wrote my last op. We may be older than our students, but we're certainly tougher!
On our last morning (we had to leave for Heathrow at 3 pm) I took the group to Fortnum & Mason, the highclass food store for the well-off. We did *not* buy a real scorpion in a bottle of vodka or crisp worms to be strewn over soup, but we found some special half price offers like Assam tea or pickled walnuts to take home as souvenirs. Later I went to the Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts on Piccadilly where I could easily have spent several thousand pounds (if I had them, heehee) and the students did *what*? Of course, they went shopping, for me the most boring activity, for some the only reason to go to London.
We had started on Saturday afternoon, when we forget Cambridge which is a completely different story and add the morning of the last day, Friday, we had exactly five days in London. I was glad to arrive back home on Friday night so that I had Saturday and Sunday to recover before school started again; I spent the two days in a kind of trance, either sleeping or dozing. I've recovered meanwhile and I've already decided to do everything I can to get the right classes in 2004 so that I can go to London again in 2005!