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May 5, 2012

POTD: Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park

speakers corner hyde park

When I lived in London and my friends from the US would visit, I would always take them to Hyde Park. The park itself is lovely, especially on a warm summer’s day when you can enjoy a Pimm’s Cup at one of the hotels near Hyde Park, but the main attraction is really the Speakers’ Corner. Located in the northeast corner of the park, Speakers’ Corner is an area where you will find a number of people standing on stools, yelling about whatever subject they are most passionate about. Since most of the subjects tend to be controversial (politics, religion, etc) you’ll often find audience members arguing with and heckling the speakers standing before them. Robert’s Rules or Order definitely don’t apply here.

Londoners have been debating and heckling each other at Speakers’ Corner since the late 1800s. Some of the most well-known people to drag their soapboxes to Speakers’ Corner have been Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and George Orwell. These days, you’ll often find, within mere feet of each other, a Christian preacher and Muslim imam arguing over religion, a socialist railing against the European Union, and a dejected football fan complaining about his team’s latest loss. Some speakers will have large crowds gathered around them, while others will find themselves ignored entirely. It’s an interesting, and always entertaining, showcase of London’s diversity, so if you find yourself in London on a pleasant Sunday morning, I’d recommend a visit to Speakers’ Corner. The closest London Underground station is Marble Arch on the Central Line.

June 14, 2011

POTD: The Roman Baths

Despite living in London for a year, I didn’t travel around the United Kingdom very much. There were plenty of trips my friends and I contemplated taking, and we would occasionally research rates for a bed and breakfast in the Cotswolds, a few days at the beach in Brighton, a short trip to Edinburgh, or beachfront hotels in Blackpool. Despite this, we usually ended up either going abroad or, if we did travel around the UK, taking short day trips outside the capital.

One trip we did take was to Bath, a very popular tourist destination in the south west of England, located 97 miles west of London. The city is fortunate to host several natural hot springs that provide 1,170,000 litres of water per day at a temperature of 114.8 °F. Throughout its history, these natural hot springs have drawn many visitors to the region, and the city is most well-known for its Roman Baths that are located in the beautiful city center. The original Roman baths were built around 60-70 AD during the Roman conquest of Britain on the orders of Emperor Claudius and contained three baths (a hot bath, warm bath, and cold bath) enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted building. These baths were eventually destroyed in the 6th century, however, after the Romans left and the baths fell into disrepair. The present structures date from the late 1700s, and, although you can no longer bathe in these baths due to the unsafe water, it is still a very interesting place to visit from a historical perspective, especially if you have any interest in Roman history.

April 24, 2011

POTD: The Tate Modern

The above photos shows the Tate Modern and Millennium Bridge in London, UK. I lived in London from 2004-05 when I was a student at the London School of Economics. My dorm was located in the Bankside neighborhood, right behind the Tate Modern. At the time, Bankside was undergoing a transition, and many restaurants and businesses were moving into the neighborhood.

The Tate Modern building was probably one of my favorite buildings in London, as I’m just a fan of gritty industrial architecture. The building was originally an oil-fired power station that generated electricity from 1952 to 1981. (Interestingly enough, the building’s architect, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, was also responsible for designing the iconic red telephone boxes that used to be found throughout the UK). In 2000, the Bankside Power Station became home to the Tate Modern, which is now the world’s most-visited modern art gallery. The station’s mammoth turbine hall is the site of large art installations that change every 6-12 months.

In addition to the Tate Modern, there are many other sights to visit in the Bankside neighborhood, including the Globe Theatre and Borough Market. A short stroll across the Millennium Bridge will take you to St. Paul’s Cathedral and then further into the city center.

April 12, 2011

POTD: Belfast City Hall

The civic building for Belfast, Northern Ireland.

January 27, 2011

POTD: The Upper Lake at Glendalough, Ireland

Glendalough, a glacial valley located in County Wicklow, Ireland.

January 17, 2011

POTD: Buckingham Palace

This is Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British monarch. It did not become the official royal palace of the British monarch until the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. Queen Elizabeth II now resides here.

Typically, the public isn’t allowed to tour Buckingham Palace, but in 2009 the Palace began to hold tours during the summer/fall (when the Queen is at her summer residence in Scotland) in exchange for a sum of money from the British government that would pay for repairs to the palace. Tickets to the palace are £17.50, a rather pricey sum (especially for a student – my mom made me go ;)), but well worth it if you have an interest in the royal family and have the funds to splurge after booking a stay at one of the luxury hotels in the UK.

The Buckingham Palace tour takes you through nineteen of the Palace’s State Rooms, which are used by the Royal Family to receive and entertain guests on official occasions. On the tour you will see a ton of chintzy knick knacks as well as museum-worthy paintings and sculptures by some of the world’s greatest artists (which makes one wonder why the UK government is providing the Royals with funds, but I digress…). At the end of the tour, you can walk inside the walled-off Palace garden, which quickly makes you forget that you are in the middle of a huge city. And, of course, if you felt that you haven’t given the Royal Family enough of your money, at the conclusion of the tour you can go into the Palace gift shop and buy a variety of souvenirs (Queen Elizabeth II shot glass, anyone?)

December 30, 2010

POTD: Eiffel Tower

eiffel tower

eiffel tower

Well, everyone’s heard of this place, so there isn’t much more to say. Built in 1889, the Eiffel Tower is now the prominent symbol of both Paris and France.

December 20, 2010

POTD: Gloucester Cathedral

gloucester cathedral

gloucester cathedral

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’d appreciate this cathedral. The cloisters here were transformed into the halls of Hogwarts for several of the movies. Built in 1089, this is probably one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen, especially with a blanket of snow covering the grounds. I stopped in to the cathedral when I was visiting a longtime friend, Janet, who moved to Gloucester, England several years ago.

December 15, 2010

POTD: Manneken Pis sculpture in Brussels

Manneken Pis

Manneken Pis

This is one of Brussels’ most famous landmarks. No, I am not joking. Sometimes the locals dress this sculpture of a urinating little boy in funny costumes, but unfortunately it was costume-less on the day we visited. The statue dates from 1619, which is pretty impressive. The statue isn’t too far from the Grand Place…just follow the large crowds. Like most Western European destinations, flights to Brussels via RyanAir and EasyJet are quite cheap from London.

November 9, 2010

POTD: Bruges, Belgium

A one hour train ride from Brussels, Bruges is one of many cities in Northern Europe that lays claim to the title “Venice of the North” due to its network of canals.