Sure, London is an expensive city. A quick hop on the Underground is £2.20, and a usual pint is about £4. However, there are plenty of things to do around the city to fill up your time, with minimum, nay, zero damage to your wallet. Pretty sure that the folks who missed out on the 2012 Olympic Games had a piece of what the city had to offer beyond sporting activities.
1. Revel in antiquities in the British Museum
Treasures from the Assyrian, Sumerian, Egyptian and Greek civilisations come together in this massive complex filled with history, relics, and plenty of marbles. Lord Elgin brought the facades from the Parthenon and they are now housed in a special viewing room; the mausoleum of Alexander was reconstructed from the pieces retrieved from its ruins, and the temple to Zeus is on full display with its nymphs captured in marble during mid-dance.
Other important pieces from the ancient world are also kept within the museum rooms – including the Rosetta Stone, a full Easter Island moai, and other bas reliefs retrieved from the ruins of Mesapotamia and Sumer. A donation of £7 is requested, and if you have the luxury to donate, then please do so to keep the displays in good condition. As an ultimate paradox, London’s star architect Lord Norman Foster extravagantly welcomes all visitors with a stunningly modern ceiling in the Grand Courtyard.
2. Be in awe of the masterpieces at the National Gallery
Similar to the British Museum, a suggested donation is requested (£5), but it’s still generally a free museum to visit.
Sitting in the heart of central London, the National Gallery is a standout collection of paintings from such gifted artists such as Van Gogh (Sunflowers), van Eyck (The Arnolfini Marriage), Canaletto (various works depicting canal life in Venice), French impressionists Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Cezanne, and my personal favourite, Georges Seurat (the US version of The Office recently spoofed his work of riverside picnickers).
It will take in a good day to ramble around the gallery when London rain comes in to spoil the weather, but a well spent day with the masters. It’s beautiful inside and out, familiar you say, of course, it was patterned after Athen’s Parthenon.
3. Take in the London atmosphere with its usual meeting point in Trafalgar Square
A skip and a hop away from Houses of Parliament, theatre central Leicester Square, and seats of power (Buckingham Palace and 10 Downing Street) is London’s melting point – Trafalgar Square. The marvellous open area is adorned with two fountains, several lions, and on the top of a column, navy hero Horatio Nelson.
Take in the air of one of the world’s most cosmopolitan city while travellers, tourist, red double-deck buses whiz past. Before you head of to take a walk to the historic areas towards Westminster Abbey, or head off shopping to Covent Garden or Picadilly Circus, or visit nearby museums like The National Gallery, take the time to stay at the courtyard, watch the world go by, while see it all come together in this wonderful public square.
Plenty of other things to do in London when you’re short on time and money, more galleries to visit, more parks to saunter, in and plenty of historical walks to take it all in, it’s not enough to pull them in a short trip. More things to do and write about in future entries!
After having exhausted your day in Montjuic lapping up Barcelona’s city vistas, there is another standout venue on the ArticketBCN list; and who else to pay homage to, but Barcelona’s favourite son, Antonio Gaudi. His work La Pedrera (The Mines) sits in the heart of the Barcelona’s city extension, L’Eixample. And by heart, we mean that it will have views of the port, the mountains, and La Sagrada Familia on a clear day.
The facade is a single sweeping one of stone, a feat in itself as the self-supporting wrought iron structure curves along the corner. Inside, take some time out appreciate the arches that form the spine of the building. It’s like being in a whale, I guess. On top, take a look at the chimneys; not sure if they were supposed to be like monsters, but they do look funny. Or scary.
The Museu Picasso is on this list, but be warned: Picasso’s blockbuster hits are not here, only token works from his Blue Period (his masterpiece Guernica, sits in Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid). However, take a look around, and I’m sure you’ll find several works that will catch your eye made during Picasso’s early years.
MACBA and CCCB are right beside each other and both house an excellent collection of modern pieces from sculptures to film. I never really understood modern art (Centre Pompidou is the best in the world, yet its content is still lost on me), so I ended up enjoying the kids skateboard around the concrete playground on its entrance.
Fundacio Antoni Tapies is a modest two-storey building, famous not just for the doodles of the artist that bears its name, but also a library that’s closed to the general public (how useful). There are several dancers on the lower ground floor, and they’ll talk to the visitors in between performances (when they’re not crawling on the floor or running around).
One museum not on the ArticketBCN roster that’s worth buying: an entrance to the Palau de la Musica Catala. All tour are guided, so you’ll always get the insider information on why, how and when the building was constructed. It was under the direction of Luis Domenech y Montaner (our guide quickly snapped: Gaudi alone did not build Barcelona) to honour the city’s much loved choir.
My favourite part was on how Art Nouveau came to Barcelona via Modernisme – the Industrial Revolution brought about the grime, pollution, and destroyed much of the city’s natural beauty (generally same everywhere). And how did art respond to this? They decorated everything to the nines – ornamentation, ornamentation, and more ornamentation. Ceramic tiles, blown glass, mosaics of flowers, bursts of colours – all of which are a tribute to nature that was quickly withering on all corners of the city.
As a result, Palau de la Musica Catalana, stands abloom away from the city’s main avenues, regaling in all its Modernista finery. Its majestic stained glass skylight, adorned ticket boxes, and multitudes of sculptures inside and outside the premises all helped in gaining its UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1997.
To be honest, the main reason I ended up choosing Xian was to visit the Terracotta Army and climb Mount Huangshan, one of China’s holiest mountains. However, this trip was meant to be completed within three days, so I had to forgo the ascent. Next time. If you’re heading to Xian you’re probably off to see the army anyway.
The actual terracotta Army dig site isn’t in the city proper – take the buses right outside Xian train station (Xian huoche zhan). Travel time is a 80 minutes. Warning – if you’re heading to the Terracotta army, make sure you get off at the last stop (marked by a market and lots of souvenir shops). Additional warning – the ticket office is a good kilometer’s walk from the actual exhibition area. Don’t worry, there are plenty of shops to distract you along the way.
The army was constructed on the belief that the emperor needed protection after his death. From the looks of it, Emperor Qin made a lot of enemies to warrant that many bodyguards. A lot of enemies. There are archers, footmen, chariot drivers, infantry officers…sure tyrants and dictators back in the day were pretty bad ass, but Mr Q really pissed off a lot of people. I wonder if they have a diplomatic corps buried somewhere there as well…
Each warrior is uniquely detailed, so it is impressive how much time was spent in creating this army. And when you consider that there are three viewing pits, the largest at the size of an aircraft hangar, you wonder how much time was actually needed to do this. But then again, these are the same people who did the Great Wall, so in perspective, creating the army was considered as a ‘hobby’. Excavation is still ongoing in various parts of the complex, so it is possible that in the future more viewing pits will be constructed and opened.
For a bit of fun, there’s a facility you can use to get a Terracotta Warrior in your own likeness. I knew this yoohoo looked a bit too familiar…
All in all a good day – there’s not a lot to do at the Terracotta Army, look at several holes in the ground, pick up a few souvenirs, that’s it. Whole deal should take you 4 hours tops, including the travel time, so there’s enough room to mish-mash the things you want to do in your Xian itinerary (see previous posts!).