August - October 2015
  • Day9

    London - Tower of London

    August 9, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    Went in to the Tower -- more like castle -- of London (pro tip: don't leave your student ID card behind in the hostel >.<).
    I particularly liked the Line of Kings and armor displayed in the White Tower. Besides being interesting to see the changing styles of armour, it's astounding to be that this has been a tourist attraction for hundreds of years. Note the king's armour that was possibly compensating for something...
    Also got to see the crown jewels (pretty! so much wealth! no photography), torture tools, and a restored/recreated king's living quarters.
    Once again, traditional guards + modern guns = creepy
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  • Day9

    London - evening

    August 9, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌙 21 °C

    After the Tower, wandered around a bit and got up close to St Paul's cathedral (so big! see me in that photo?). Then went to see Leicester square, Downing st (can't actually get on the street due to giant fence and police with automatic guns), Trafalgar square, and the parliament buildings / Big Ben in the evening. More pretty sights!Read more

  • Day10

    London - Saatchi gallery

    August 10, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Daniel took us to this super-modern art gallery (ie. recent work from current artists). Very cool! Much more interesting (to me) than the older "modern"-period art in the Tate.
    Particularly interesting: giant pool of oil in the basement (pic 1), room of wooden ants (2), tree silhouettes (3,4), tower of rodents (5), room of blue plastic bags (6).Read more

  • Day10

    London - bye Daniel & Anita :(

    August 10, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Farewell to Daniel and Anita, off back to Leeuwarden today. It was great touring London with you this past week!
    Also randomly took the bus past my hostel up to Edmonton! Just like the Canadian version except small, less pretty, and more run down. Oh well. Checking Wikipedia, Edmonton, Alberta WAS actually named after this area!
    Also found a jerk centre, hehehe I'm so mature.
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  • Day11

    London - science museum

    August 11, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    I like science museums, so decided to go here before my side trip to Edinburgh. As science museums go, it was more historical than usual (I liked the San Francisco Exploratorium and Sydney Powerhouse more) but still lots of interesting stuff. Particularly the reconstructed mechanical computers by Charles Babbage, very cool! There was even a section on math including topology (photo for Tuan :P).Read more

  • Day11

    London - transit thoughts

    August 11, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    Having made my way around London on public transit for a week, here is a long rant about it. No details of my activities so skip if you're interested in that.

    Tube/train is loud, usually hot, and often crowded, but gets lots of people around very quickly. Extremely functional (by which I mean they ignored most non-functional niceties). Well-priced IMO.

    Buses are hot, often crowded, and slow. Often it seems like I could get out and walk about the same speed. This is partially because bus lanes are a joke and buses stop every few hundred metres. I've also noticed a distinctly different demographic (poorer) on buses compared to tube. They are cheap to go long distances (exactly what they are bad at) and not cost-effective for short distances (what they are ok at) due to the flat fare.

    Oyster cards work very well, and the automatic daily/weekly/etc capping works exactly how it should. Get on that, Auckland! Despite a lot of advertising to the contrary, contactless payment cards (paywave, paypass) don't seem to work well - Daniel and I each tried two and only one of Daniel's worked... sometimes.

    Walking is great in places (parks abound in the major tourist areas) but for the most part the city isn't super pedestrian-friendly. Controlled street crossing signs take a long time and often cross halfway at a time - particularly silly when there are hundreds of tourists waiting to cross the road near a landmark while the lights let a slow trickle of cars through instead. Some really nice areas exist where they've closed roads (take a hint).

    Overall, it feels like London is clinging to cars when it has a demonstrably better system for getting people around. Tax them away!
    Ok, rant over, back to your regular updates of whatever I happen to be doing.
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  • Day12

    London - Stansted airport

    August 12, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Wow. This airport sucks. I arrived about 1h45m before my domestic flight (just after 7 am, probably not peak time). Massive queues to check in, and even bigger queues to go through security (pic 1). Might have something to do with the 5 pound express lane through security...
    Ended up getting through security 5 mins before my gate was due to close and ran there, only to find they hadn't started boarding yet. There was still a decent queue 20 mins later, after the signs said the gate had closed (pic 2).
    Finally boarded about the time the plane was due to leave (currently 15 mins after departure and we are just pushing away from the terminal).
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  • Day12

    Edinburgh - exploring

    August 12, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Arrived in Edinburgh and found my hostel (pic 1), wandered around, up and down the Golden Mile (super packed with Fringe festival stuff), checked out Scottish parliament (very interesting building, pic 2), and climbed the hill to Arthur's Seat (amazing views, pic 3, even a little sunshine!).

    Dinner was traditional haggis, neeps (mashed turnips - why don't we do this at home?), and tatties (mashed potato) from The Last Drop (the best haggis in town according to the internet, pic 4). As a first time haggis experience, it was good! The best I could think of to describe it is the consistency of mashed potato with couscous mixed in, and the flavour of Bisto gravy / BBQ steak and onions.

    Finished the day with some free stand up comedy shows and street music (part of Fringe, pic 6). All up a great first day!

    There's a lot of bustle and activity (likely due to Fringe) but Edinburgh already feels like a more relaxed place than London. My hostel is also much closer this time. Lots of beautiful old buildings.
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  • Day13

    Edinburgh - castle

    August 13, 2015 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Made my way up through the crowds of Fringe to Edinburgh castle (somewhat marred by the huge bleachers erected in front for people to watch the Military Tattoo in the evenings, pic 1). I took a nice photo sphere of the upper/inner buildings (probably won't display right, pic 2).
    History: this was where the most important people stayed, including where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI (of Scotland) who was also James I (of England and Ireland), uniting rule of the 3 countries for the first time. Mary became queen at 6 days old and was forced to abdicate to her son when he was 13 months old - they certainly lived in "interesting times".
    These buildings also hold the Scottish crown jewels (no longer in use) which have their own long history of conflict (pic 3 of metal version, no pics allowed of the real thing). Not as extravagant as the English crown jewels.
    A very elaborately decorated room (pic 4) was restored to how it was decorated when king James VI/I returned to visit Scotland for the first time since becoming king of England (14 years prior, it seems like the Scots were a little sour about this).
    There was also a military prison (pic 5) and plenty of cannons with great views over the city (pic 6).
    The oldest building still standing was a small stone chapel from the 1100s.
    Tons of history here, and very worthwhile. I didn't get an audio tour but I felt there was enough to read and there was a free introductory walking tour that explained the main points of interest.
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