Conference and side trips: My hectic week in London

“There’s no place like London…” so says the lyrics from the Sweeney Todd musical. I have always wanted to go to London because some of my favorite stories are set in this vibrant place. I wanted to see for myself what I have only imagined from books and movies. I finally had the opportunity when I presented a paper during a conference of the Geological Society. I stayed an extra couple of days before and after the conference so I could do a few touristy side trips.

The reason I went to London 🙂

The day after my flight (We went to Stonehenge immediately after my arrival), my aunt went with me from Southampton to London. We arrived in the city center a little before lunch time, just in time to see the changing of the guards at the Buckingham Palace.

Waiting for the ceremony at the Buckingham Palace

We waited for quite a while in the cordoned-off area in front of the Palace for the 11:30 am ceremony, but the long wait was worth it. I enjoyed watching the marching soldiers in their tall hats and red uniforms, with their serious expressions and snappy executions.

Changing of the guards at the Buckingham Palace

After the ceremony, we walked towards Trafalgar Square and checked out the odd assortments of statues and buildings along the way.

London Red: the iconic phone booth and double decker bus

With the very tall but very friendly policeman 🙂

After that, we proceeded to the Horse Guards Headquarters to observe the stone-faced soldiers standing guard.

At the entrance of the Horse Guards Headquarters

We continued on towards Downing Street, where the Prime Minister resides, and then to Westminster Abbey and to the Houses of Parliament (which houses Big Ben) to observe some of London’s iconic buildings and symbols.

Westminster Abbey

Big Ben in the Houses of Parliament

We then crossed Westminster Bridge to ride the London Eye.

The London Eye as seen from Westminster Bridge

The slow-moving capsules were fascinating to watch from the ground, but it was more fun when we were riding in one.

London Eye from below, taken while waiting in line

The capsule next to ours

We had relatively fair weather that day so we were able to see a great bird’s eye view of the city. The London Eye was a great way to see London.

After that, we rode the Tube to get to our next destination. For me, the London Underground is an attraction in itself. I am always reminded of Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere whenever I see the sign “Mind the Gap” written on the platform.

The iconic Underground phrase

We next went to the Natural History Museum. I had always wanted to visit it since I was a kid, so I was really excited when we went inside (free entrance, yehey!). We first visited the dinosaur section (of course!), where I got really fascinated with the exhibits.

Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum

The museum was too big to finish in half a day so after visiting the dinosaurs, we quickly toured the Darwin Centre cocoon and then went to the exhibit of my favorite topic: the Earth 🙂

The cocoon

Cool entrance for a geology exhibit, I must say 🙂

My grin was as wide as it  could be while we were viewing the exhibits featuring rocks, minerals, earthquakes, volcanoes and other earth features (nerd alert!!!).

Exhibits at the Red Zone

After the Natural History Museum, we walked to Harrod’s, because I have always been curious of this posh department store since the news of Princess Diana’s death. Incidentally, they had a small memorial at the elevator lobby in the basement of the building for Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed.

The memorial at Harrod’s

After all the walking and sightseeing, we went home to a friend’s house and called it a day since my jetlagged body couldn’t walk straight anymore. But I was happy because I was able to see some of London’s more famous symbols in just a few hours. It was a successful day for the tourist 🙂

The next day found me in Piccadilly Circus, where I met my labmates for the conference at the Geological Society in Burlington House.

Discussions over lunch during the conference

The conference lasted for three days, which meant that I had three nights to discover more of London 🙂 After the first day of the conference, we just walked around Chinatown near Leicester Square until we decided to eat in Aberdeen Steak House. I had the biggest portion of ribs that I would ever have in my entire life, and I needed the help of my dinner companions to finish my plate.


During the second night of the conference, the participants were treated to a fancy dinner at the Royal Society. It was amusing to see (student) geologists being as uncomfortable as I am eating a full-course meal in a fancy place full of portraits of famous scientists, but it was a very interesting experience.

Fancy dinner at The Royal Society

After dinner, I met with two of my Filipino friends who were residing in Europe at that time. Our friend brought us to a gay nightclub to dance and more interestingly, to watch the weekly strip contest. Every Thursday, G-A-Y  bar has its Porn Idol contest, where anyone with the guts can strip on stage for a chance to win 100 pounds.

Porn Idol competition at G-A-Y (picture was blurred on purpose ;p)

It was a very umm, revealing experience for me. My friends and I had a grand time watching and cheering for the contestants. We stayed there until well past midnight so we missed our last train and walked home, tired but happy from spending a nice time in the company of great friends.

Good vibes, great night 🙂

The last day of the conference finished early so we decided to make the most of our time and visit the Prime Meridian.

Going to the Royal Observatory to see the Greenwich Meridian

Random (but very sweet) couple walking to the Prime Meridian

It was a bit of a walk to reach the top of the hill where the Greenwich Meridian was located, and I hiked up the hill in my black dress and heels since we came straight from the conference. People were staring and probably wondering why I was visiting the Prime Meridian in a dress, but it’s not everyday that I get the chance to visit Longitude 0 and stand in the center of world time, so I didn’t care. I was really happy to stand over that line dividing the East and the West, imaginary though it was.

It doesn’t look it, but I am standing on the Prime Meridian! (See the line?)

We stayed for a while in the park, contentedly sitting on the grass and enjoying the nice weather. It was great to just relax and do nothing after a hectic few days of running around.

Of course my London trip wouldn’t be complete without watching at least one musical at the West End, so I went back to the city to buy tickets and meet my friend. We chose Wicked, because it was the most popular show at the time. My friend and I really enjoyed the show.

Outside the Apollo Victoria Theatre

Watching musical plays is really a joy for me, so I was very happy during and after the show. My friend and I had Wicked fever for a week, belting out “Defying Gravity” every chance we get. It was one experience that will stick with me for a long time. I wish I could go back to the West End to see more musical plays.

After our Wicked adventure, we went to King’s Cross Station to see Harry Potter’s Platform 9 3/4. It was already closing when we arrived a little before 10:00 pm. We made our best damsels-in-distress act to the guard so he would allow us to have some photos before he closed for the day.

A quick photo at King’s Cross, because they were closing for the night

We then went home to prepare for our trip to Nottingham the next day.

So there goes my quick trip and tour of London. The hectic week I spent in this exciting city was surely not enough because there really is no place quite like it.

No place like London (taken from the London Eye)


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