Buckingham Palace, Westminster and Phantom of the Opera

I woke up to the chatter of a foreign language and in my half-asleep, half-awake state, just about remembered I was in my 10-person hostel room. There were six other people and they were furiously packing in the room although it was still a little dark. Chatted a little with some of them, and found out that they were from Spain and were leaving that morning.

After breakfast at the hostel’s pantry, I left for Buckingham Palace. Got off the tube at Victoria station and walked about ten minutes, passing the Royal Mews along the way. When I reached the Palace, I saw that the Changing of the Guards was taking place the next day so I would have to come back then. There were tourists sitting around the Queen Victoria Memorial watching the cars go by. I think they were tourists but I’m not sure what they were doing sitting around. I didn’t think there was anything to see at the palace other than the guards ceremony so I snapped some photos and then went on my way.

On the way to Westminster Abbey, I took a stroll in St. James’s Park. I enjoy people-watching and I am sometimes fascinated by people relaxing in parks on a work day. My inner monologue wonders who these people are, what do they do and why are they not at work. But it would be nice to be able to relax when you want to, or have time off work on weekdays.

I walked for about ten minutes to Westminster – the government and administrative area of London. It is quite a sight to behold because of the iconic buildings and structures right in front of your eyes. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye, just to name a few. As awestruck as I was at Times Square, it happened again here. To be standing at places that were very much a part of world history, it is an amazing feeling and my spring break was only just beginning!

The flags of Commonwealth countries are proudly displayed here as a reminder of the Empire’s global dominance way back. You can just about spot the Singapore flag in the middle there. Yay for the “Bastion of the Empire”, the British pride of the East. I thought it was interesting to see anti-war demonstrators camping out in tents. Ironically, they were situated right where the Singapore flag is, post-WB/IMF 2006 and all. I wanted to get to where the flags are but I would have to jaywalk so I didn’t bother. Wanted to get a shot of the crescent and stars flapping wildly in the wind. I thought it would have made a nice picture.

From Westminster, I crossed the bridge towards the London Eye. The queue was too long so I decided to book my ticket online and return the next day. I crossed the Hungerford Bridge and found myself back at Trafalgar Square. I took a quick peek inside the National Gallery for about five minutes then I was out of there. Tubed from Charing Cross to Tottenham Court where the British Museum (top) was. Incredible is what I call it, it houses 13 million objects from every corner of the world and is a tremendous testimony of the past. I’m going to stop writing right about now because I don’t want to do the museum injustice. All I can say is I spent about four hours in there and I was still not done! And I got out with a headache after being so overwhelmed.

 Yes, as you can see, it was pretty overwhelming in the British Museum. But my cultural day didn’t end there. I had a ticket to Phantom of the Opera and had to get to Her Majesty’s Theatre by 7:30 p.m. I still had plenty of time, so I went back to the hostel for a shower and change of clothes. The six Spanish people had left by then, and someone else had come in. I was about to set off for the theatre when Vanessa (from NZ) and Jerome (from France) came in. New roommates! I chatted a little bit with Vanessa but she was really tired and was going to have an early night because she just came off a Contiki ten cities tour in twelve days so she was exhausted. Jerome was going to meet a friend but we exchanged numbers and I said I would call him after the show.

I made my way to Piccadilly Circus and was greeted by this building with flashy advertisements. It was definitely London’s Time Square. I spotted a Pret A Manger and it was highly recommended as a must-try when I was planning my itinerary. I had seen one in New York City but the English one is authentic. I grabbed a crayfish & rocket sandwich and orange juice for dinner.. The theatre wasn’t too far down Haymarket. Argh! My seat was partially blocked by a pillar! How can they sell the ticket at the normal price when it has a blocked view! There were a couple of empty seats beside me so it worked out fine eventually.

Phantom was very grand. To be honest, despite all the hype over it, I had never watched even the film version and only knew a little of the story. Which is really funny because in my years in SAF Central Band, I think I have performed the soundtrack about ten times at least. I was particularly impressed by the set changes. The musical was performed close to perfection save for the fact that when the singers sang opera, I couldn’t really hear the clear enunciation of the lyrics.

One day when I have time, I shall sit down and make a list of all the plays and musicals I have watched in my life. Only started when I was fifteen or sixteen I think and it was the stand-up comedies of Selena Tan when she was just starting out. Anyway, my next must-watch musical is Miss Saigon. Hopefully they bring it back soon.

Anyway, after the show ended, I called Jerome but he was still with his friend and was only going to reach the hostel in an hour’s time. So I went back to the hostel to use the Internet to check my emails, book tickets to the EMIRATES stadium and the London Eye. The night kind of ended there when Jerome and I decided we were too tired for anything else and so that was Day Two in London, with Day Three to come..

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