Saturday, July 29, 2017

London Dubai 2017 13 - Westminster Abbey

After our visit to St Paul's Cathedral, we quickly moved to Westminster.  Before that, we grabbed a bite from the nearby Tesco minimart, and enjoyed our lunch just opposite the famous Downing Street.

Street Entrance to Downing Street

Thinking of paying Mrs May a visit?  Well, more likely than not, you will be stopped at the street entrance by the police.  Not even a chance to get close to 10 Downing Street.

Again, here there is a huge cultural difference.  I don't know how the street got its name, but in English, down means down, bring or knock to ground.  Downing means in the process of being brought to ground.  No Chinese leader will ever reside in a street with such a name.  It means bad Fengshui.  The citizens won't be happy either.   If leader lives in a downing street, does that mean the country will go nowhere but down?  Oh, I just found from Wikipedia how Downing Street got its name, it is named after Sir George Downing, who built the street in 1680s.  Anyway, UK as a whole is going down to the toilet these days.  Even changing the name from Downing to Upping is not going to help much.

Entrance to the Westminster Abbey is from the North Gate.  Again and again, the advice is to get there early.  The queue for security check was long, and visitors had to wait under the sun, or rain, before they got checked.

Once you enter the abbey, the first impression was it was very dimly lit.  There is little light along the aisles, save some faint light rays penetrating from the unblocked windows on the side.

The entrance fee was ₤22.00 at the gate, came with a free audio guide, but no photography inside.  I thought I was to visit the British Coronation Church, with religious stories, but I found myself in a huge graveyard.  The moment you walk in, on both sides you could find the burying places of various people.  Then Isaac Newton on some floor, Charlies Darwin on some side wall, along with many that you don't know.

There are tombs on both sides of the high altar too.  And then tombs of this king, that queen, one after another.  For me, the most notable tombs probably belong to Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary of Scot.  Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary of Scot were cousins,  Queen Mary was beheaded by Queen Elizabeth I for plotting against her reign.  Ironically, their tombs are side by side in the same chamber in Westminster Abbey, almost equally well-decorated.  You know why?  Queen Elizabeth I executed Queen Mary of Scot, but after Queen Elizabeth died childless,  the son of Queen Mary of Scot succeeded the British throne, and became King James I.  He made sure his mother's tomb is not any less well decorated than Queen Elizabeth I's.  Well, that's life.  Chinese saying, no matter how calculative someone can be, he can't beat heaven's will.  人算不如天算.

West Gate of Westminster Abbey

At the end of the tour, you will see the coronation chair used by Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  And then you will come out from the west gate of Westminster Abbey.

Wow... it was so nice to come out from the gloom and doom of all that graveyards and ironic historic past, and see the blue sky again.  Human in-fighting is so meaningless and pointless, nonetheless we humans enjoy doing it, sometimes for some trifle matters.  Let's fight less, love nature more.

Until my next post, bye...

Monday, July 24, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 12 St Paul's Cathedral in London

May 22, 2017, another sunny day.  Our itinerary today will be visiting the great churches in London, The key for such visits will be: get there early, get there early and get there early!

We took a bus very early in the morning from Paddington to St Paul's Cathedral.  On the way, we passed by many landmarks, including the famous Fleet Street.  If you have never heard of it, it was the heart of the press industry in UK.  Who is who in the newspaper line are all here.  However, in recent years, with the decline of the newspaper industry, I heard that many had closed down, or moved out.  Time and tide waits for nobody.

Ok, back to our first destination for the day, St Paul's Cathedral.  The reason I wanted to visit this Cathedral because many years ago, I saw in the internet claiming St Paul in London is the world's second largest cathedral, only second to St Peter's in Rome.  However, as I checked my facts again, obviously that was no longer true, or was never true in the first place.

St Paul's viewed from the South side

Anyway, St Paul's is designed in the Baroque style, with the unmistakable dome dominating the nearby skyline.  Layout is the more traditional cross, with the high altar at the east and the main entrance at the west.  It signifies God rises with the sun.  There is a saying, one man's delicacy is another's poison.  A west facing building commands lots of respect in the west, while in the east, only tombs will face the west, as when the sun sets, it will shine on the building.  Sunset is a perfect metaphor for the end.  

Visitors are to get in from the west gate, at a cost of ₤18.00.  Strictly no photography is allowed inside the cathedral, as it is a "working" cathedral, with hourly prayers and daily services.  For more details of the interior, it is better for you to ask Google.  Nonetheless, I would like to mention to you that there are actually three galleries in St Paul's.  Gallery here is an architectural term, which means a structure like a colonnade  corridor.  If you look at my picture above, the section right below the dome, with many high columns, that is a Gallery!

There are a total of three galleries, two outside, one inside.  On our day of visit, the two outside galleries were closed for renovation work, only the inside gallery, which is called the whisper gallery, was open.

The whisper gallery is at the inside of the dome.  To get there, go to the extreme end of the cathedral, at the left side corner, you will find the entrance.  Once you enter, you have to climb up probably a hundred steps, in a narrow walk way, to reach the base of the dome.  If you are not physically fit, if you have phobia in narrow space, then it is better not to do this.

The gallery is at the base of the dome.  A narrow walkway circles the entire dome.  From there, you can look down at the nave.  Really, it is not for the faint-hearted.  The reason it is called the Whisper Gallery, is because if you whisper to the wall, your friend on the other side can hear you clearly.  I didn't try because there were way too many people trying that, all the signals mix up and became noise :-).

Somehow, I find this echoing effect can be found in any structure with a curve and smooth surface. So far, the single structure that exemplifies this is that rain water collector at Marina Bay Sands in home Singapore!

Visit to St Paul's can be overwhelming.  My friend and I are not history bugs, not architecture bugs, not religion bugs, we are only your ordinary tourists, yet we spend more than two hours there.  If you are planning a visit, it is advisable to set aside 2-3 hours.  And it is a great place as your plan B on a rainy day.

Until my next post, bye...

Saturday, July 15, 2017

London Dubai 2017 - 11 Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill was the destination for the evening.  It is a small hill north of Regent Park, with a slight elevation about the London city skyline.

From Paddington, we took a bus to Camden town, changed to another bus to Primrose Hill.  Camden town appears to be mostly a working class neighborhood.   It is less neat, but probably more vibrant in its own sense.  A noticeable African population is there too.

Primrose Hill itself is quite a quiet neighborhood.  From the bus stop, we had to take a 10-minute or so walk to the hill top.

It seems like a popular place for the young people.  Before sunset, groups of young people gathering on the lawn, looking towards the city-side, waiting for the magic moment.  The atmosphere was relax and lay-back.

View from Primrose Hill

Standing on top of the hill, you could see the city sprawling around the River Thames.  At sunset, the modern buildings glittered upon the golden sun rays, making London literally a golden city.

Until my next post, bye... 

Saturday, July 8, 2017

London Dubai 2017 -10 A Visit To Cambridge

21 May, 2017, a lovely Saturday with the sun shining brightly early in the morning.  We headed to the London King's Cross train station, made world famous in the boy witch fiction Harry Potter.

London King's Cross Train Station

As you would expect, the real King's Cross station doesn't look like the one in the movie at all.  It is modern with a futuristic design.

Platform 9 3/4

However, to satisfy all the Harry Potter fans, they designated a small area as Platform 9 3/4, it is really nothing but a sign.  Potter fans queue up just to take photos for memory sake, to let their imagination fly wild.

The return ticket to Cambridge cost £16.90 for super off-peak, as today was a Sunday.  It seems like the cost for the return ticket and a one-way ticket is the same, so it is better to get the return ticket, instead of just a one-way ticket.  You can take any train for your category and class for the day (only once of course), seating is free.  The journey is ~1 hour, you can enjoy the famous English rural scenery along the way.  It was quite a joy ride.

Cambridge Train Station

Cambridge's train station looked pretty new, at least renovated with modern facilities.  There are some cafes around too.  Good to have sip and recharge while waiting for your train.  The town center is about 15-20 minutes walk from the train station.  You can take a bus, but most tourists seem to choose to walk.

The day before the trip, we found a free Cambridge Walking Tour at this site.  We wanted to go for the 11am tour, so we headed to the Fudge Kitchen right away.  It was quite easy to find, just opposite the famous King's College chapel.

Free Cambridge Walking Tour Meeting Point

King's College Chapel

Our guide for the day was Joe, an English language student at Cambridge University.  Naturally our tour started from King's college, admiring the architecture spectaculars and the long history, with the defining touches by King Henry VIII.  To enter the college, you have to pay a fee, ₤9.00 for King's college, cheaper for others.  As the guided tour was free, admission was not included obviously.  You could visit the college after the tour though.

Just adjacent to King's college, there was this giant Corpus clock.  This is a new addition to Cambridge, said to be designed to run for at least 100 years, counting started from 2008 when it was first unveiled.  You can find more details about the clock here.  

Our next stop was a church-like building.  I thought it was just another chapel from another college, then Joe explained that it was the old Cavendish Laboratory, where DNA was first identified.

Joe, our guide, in front of old Cavendish Lab

Cavendish Lab was not even a biology lab in the first place, it was a physics lab.  Somehow, the research expanded and somehow, work was done on identifying the mystery of life, and then DNA was successfully identified.  Lots of hard work, lots of luck, and the world is just this strange.

Since there is a King's college, a Queens' college became necessary.  Our guide particularly brought our attention to the placement of the ' in the two colleges.  It is a King's college, the ' is before the 's', signifying one king, maybe King Henry VIII?  Although King's college was constructed over the reigns of a number of kings.  For Queens' college, the ' is after the 's', signifying this college was constructed upon the efforts of many queens.  This is one tiny detail the most people won't notice, or even bothered, while our English language student picked up for our entertainment :-)

Queens' College

There was a wooden bridge across the river in front of Queens' college.  Legend had it that it was built by the famous physicist Isaac Newton as a gift to the college.  It was built without the use of a single nail.  His students wanted to challenge their teacher, dismantled the bridge, but unable to put it back.  Newton was furious when he heard of this, refused to help his students to put the bridge back.  At the end, the students could only re-construct the bridge using nails, which is what you see today.

Does the story sound good?  It was just a myth.

Besides King's and Queens' colleges, we also visited many other colleges in Cambridge whose names I could hardly remember.  What impressed me most is their education system, especially their 'supervision' system.

To put it simply, supervision is basically a tutorial session, nothing especial, we have tutorial classes in NUS and NTU too.  However, the staff to student ratio at NTU was like 1:20 for tutorial, in comparison, it is 1:2 in Cambridge!  You can see a supervision session in Cambridge, Queens' college of a computer science student here.  I wish I could get that kind of attention and dedication from my tutor at NTU.

At the end of the day, good education is not defined by how grand the school buildings are, how much money has been spent, it is all about what kind of graduates a university produces.  Would your graduates have independent thinking?  Integrity?  Social skills?  Courage?

These are points for you to ponder.  Until my next post, bye...