As I had a small free time to explore around, I went to London from Manchester.
To go to London, we can use airplane, train, or bus. Obviously, airplane would be quicker (only 1 h), but more expensive. Meanwhile, bus, while being the cheapest, took the longest (approx. 5 h). Based on the suggestion from the students from UCL whom I met during the conference, I took the train to London (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Avanti West Train and the seats inside the train.
Overall journey took about 2.5 h using train. We can purchase the ticket using application called “Trainline” (Figure 2). The departure is from Manchester Piccadilly station to London Euston station. And the train is called Avanti West Train (Figure 1). I selected the free off-peak return, so, I can go back anytime I want, as long as its during off-peak time. What is “off-peak” you may ask? Off-peak time is the time where not many passengers use the train. Peak hours would be between 07.00 – 09.30 and 16.00 – 19.00, where many passengers go to work and go back home, respectively. We can also select where we sit, although, you can also check which car has the least passengers and sit there in whichever seat you like. The ticket for Manchester-London + return was about 110 pounds. And, as always, we can pay using credit card or Apple Pay in the application.
Figure 2. Trainline application to purchase train ticket to London.
From Manchester Central, we have to go to Deansgate-Castlefield or St. Peter’s Square station, took the tram to Piccadilly. Get off and change to Manchester Piccadilly station. Here, you can scan the QR code in your ticket (Figure 3a).
(Note: if you have iPhone, the “Trainline” application has an option to move your ticket to “Wallet” application (Figure 3b)).
Then, you can go to the platform in which the train to London Euston is located.
Figure 3. (a) Gate to enter the train platform, where you can scan the QR code presence in your ticket. (b) Train ticket in “Wallet” application.
Overall train ride is relatively nice. We can see the landscape of UK from Manchester to London. There were canals with small boats; vast free-range grass lands for growing lambs and horses (Figure 4a). I passed through “Rugby” city, which is the birthplace of the rugby sport. I also passed through “Milton-Keynes” (Figure 4b), which is the home of Red Bull F1 team. The most interesting observation was that finally I get to see and experience the UK weather. Many have said that UK is always cloudy, and indeed, I rarely see a bright sunshine throughout the trip. Even in London it was pouring rain, followed by windy weather.
Figure 4. (a) Horses on grass lands. (b) Milton-Keynes station.
After arriving in London Euston (Figure 5a), we can get around London using the famous Underground Tubes (Figure 5b-d). To access this, we can purchase a ticket for 1 trip or 1 day. I bought a ticket for 1 day trip (Figure 5e), which cost me about 7 pounds. But, after 1 station, the ticket was not working. Although, after showing the ticket to the officers, they will gladly open the gate. To avoid doing this over and over again (since we need to change to several stations to reach all the London landmarks), I purchased the “Oyster card” (Figure 5f), which is similar to ICOCA or SUICA in Japan. If I’m not wrong, there is a 10 pounds price for the card itself, plus the amount that you want to top-up. Top-up for 10 pounds seems to be enough to visit many of the landmarks.
Figure 5. (a) London Euston station. (b-d) Underground train or the “tube” in London. (e) 1-day ticket and (f) oyster card to travel using the Underground train.
From London Euston, first, I went to Green Park station to visit Buckingham Palace (Figure 6a) and The Queen Victoria Memorial (Figure 6b). As you may know, Buckingham Palace is The King’s official London residence and a working royal palace. Meanwhile, The Queen Victoria Memorial, which was right in front of Buckingham Palace, is a monument commemorating the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. My visit was on Friday, so, we should be able to see the change of the guards. I managed to watch the patrols of the guards on horses (Figure 6c). Actually, I’m not sure if it’s the correct term, so I apologize in advance. It could be Royal Horse Guards.
Figure 6. (a) Buckingham palace, (b) The Queen Victoria Memorial. (c) Royal guards on horse.
Since the rain was pouring hard, I then moved to London Central Mosque. A quick search showed that I needed to go to “Baker Street”. For some of you who are familiar, yes! it’s that Baker Street from Sherlock Holmes! The famous detective character created by Conan Doyle lives at 221B Baker Street. And, indeed, in the real-world Baker Street, there is a Sherlock Holmes Museum (Figure 7a)! A bit more walking from the Sherlock Holmes Museum, we can find the London Central Mosque (Figure 7b).
Figure 7. (a) The Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street. (b) London Central Mosque.
Then, I went to Westminster station (Figure 8a), which is close to 3 major landmarks: Big Ben (Figure 8b), London Eye (Figure 8c), and Westminster Abbey (Figure 8d). Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the Great Clock of Westminster, located in the Palace of Westminster in London. The Palace of Westminster itself is the place where the British parliaments met. Fortunately, Big Ben renovation has finished, so, I can see the newly renovated Big Ben. Previously, Big Ben is covered with scaffolding during renovation, so, people could not see the famous landmark for months. Just after we got out of Westminster, we could directly see Big Ben. Honestly, it was very surreal, since I had seen the photos numerous times before, and watched numerous videos on how the clock works and documentaries about the renovation. So, being able to see Big Ben with my own eyes is definitely surreal.
From the intersection just across Big Ben, we can see the 120-meter height London Eye (Figure 8c), the famous Ferris wheel! And if we walk in the opposite direction of the London Eye, we can find Westminster Abbey (Figure 8d)! Westminster Abbey is the site of coronations and other ceremonies of national significance. Along the way, there were many statues of important people, such as Winston Churchill (Figure 8e), Mahatma Gandhi, and many more.
Figure 8. (a) Westminster Underground station, (b) Big Ben, (c) London Eye, (d) Westminster Abbey, and (e) Statue of Winston Churchill.
The final landmarks that I visited are around Tower Bridge. Actually, we should be able to reach many famous landmarks by walking around the Westminster area. But, if you’d like a quick way, you can use the tube or bus or taxi. Technically, you should see 5 landmarks at the same time: Tower Bridge and River Thames; The Shard; Tower of London; and The Gherkin. Tower Bridge is famous for its lifting central section and its classical architecture (Figure 9a). The Shard is the tallest building in the UK (Figure 9b). The Tower of London is an interesting one because it has been used as a fort, an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, and even a prison (Figure 9c)! Meanwhile, The Gherkin is well-known for its unique egg-shape (Figure 9d).
Figure 9. (a) Tower Bridge and River Thames, (b) The Shard, (c) Tower of London, (d) The Gherkin.
After getting some London souvenirs, I went back to Manchester using the Avanti West Line again. Just show the ticket, find the available train, hop on, and off you go!
London, especially, around the famous landmarks, is definitely way more crowded than Manchester. There are definitely some similarities in the building style, but there is something underneath that is quite different, which I couldn’t explain well. Anyway, both cities are beautiful. Getting to experience riding the underground tube, going down the long elevators that we could see in so many action movies, and seeing Big Ben, and other landmarks, is definitely a tick on the bucket list!