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Charles Dickens – Haunts in London

Charls Dickens - The Old Curiosity Shop
Dickens’ bank, in Clerkenwell, is an impressive, well preserved building. It’s no longer a bank, but you’ll be relieved to hear that doesn’t mean it’s been converted into an overpiced Italian restaurant with waiters with dodgy Italian accents mispronouncing “calzone”. It’s rather off the beaten track. In Dickens’ time, affluent areas could stand cheek by jowl next to some of the worst slums in London. Dickens’ bank stood in an affluent area, and Dickens lived in a similarly affluent area nearby, but to get from one to the other on foot he had to walk through an area known as “thieve’s kitchen”, the very place where he had the Artful Dodger show Oliver Twist how to pick a pocket or two. Dickens went on many a research trip in the slums for his novels, but much of what he wrote was right there around him, whenever he wanted to see it. Many pubs in the area claim Dickens used to drink in them. The pub opposite Charing Cross station (built on the spot where Dickens worked in a blacking factory when he was a boy; he used the experience in David Copperfield) claims Dickens drank there. The most famous pub in Fleet Street, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, lists Dickens as one of the many notables who drank there. Another famous pub, the Prospect of Whitby, down by the river in Wapping, does likewise, and cross the river to the Trafalgar Tavern in Greenwich and guess what? Yep, you guessed it, but apparently it was not just any Dickens pub, it was his favourite pub no less. If all this is to be believed I’m surprised he ever had enough time to write! Or was sober enough! I wonder of there was a little fella going around London scamming pubs by claiming “I’m Charles Dickens you know.2 “Really” says the landlord, “well in that case yer money’s no good ‘ere, have a pint on the ‘ouse.” In the days before photography and before newspapers had the technology to reproduce drawn images, you’d be amazed what you could get away with! You can’t wonder around the Holborn area for long before stumbling across a house (or blue plaque where a house used to be), where Dickens once lived. Go down a narrow street heading south off Holborn towards the Chancery of Jaundice versus Jaundice fame, and there’s a Dickens house. Head north of Holborn and the huge gothic-style Prudential Building as was, was built on the spot where Dickens once lived. Just yards away and there’s another Dickens home in beautiful Grays Inn Fields, and further north there’s another fine Dickens property which is now a Dickens Museum. He lived in all these properties in the space of a very short time. You could be forgiven for thinking he had shares in Pickfords. But it was simple practicality – he was producing children at about the same rate as novels, so not only did he keep moving to more upmarket homes in keeping with his increasing affluence and standing in ....read more

Three Annual Events in London You Don’t Want to Miss

Events in London
London is the largest city in the United Kingdom and in the European Union. The city of London was founded by the Romans in 40 AD. Over thousands of years, it’s now packed with over 8 million residents. That accounts for 12.5% of the United Kingdom population. There are hundreds of annual events thrown in London, but there are three that you don’t want to miss out on. If you’re planning a trip to London, consider timing it with one of these three events. New Year’s Eve at the London Eye The most famous spot in Europe for New Year’s Eve celebrations is at the London Eye. It rivals the celebration in New York’s Times Square. The London Eye was a recent construction. It was built just before the new millennium in 1999. The London Eye is the tallest ferris wheel in Europe reaching 135 meters at its highest point. It’s about 120 meters in diameter. After the sun goes down and before the clock strikes 12, the London Eye will be lit up in a glowing blue. A huge crowd will gather around it, nestled between the Jubilee Gardens and Thames River. You won’t be able to go for a ride because of the crowd. If you want to take it for a spin, you should arrive a few days earlier or leave a few days later. A ride on the ferris wheel lasts about half and hour and offers gorgeous views of Central London. When the clock hits midnight, you’ll see fireworks all over the South Bank. Along with the glowing ferris wheel and the view of the Thames River, it makes for a magical night. Notting Hill Carnival The Notting Hill Carnival began in 1966 as a response to the depressing state of race relations in London. London has always been one of the most diverse cities in the United States, but the diversity wasn’t always welcoming. Times have changed and this Notting Hill Carnival helped in many ways. The carnival is present along the streets of Notting Hill in Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It lasts three days in the summer heat of August. Since the festival takes place on the August Bank Holiday, London residents get to enjoy their three-day weekend celebrating. The Notting Hill Carnival is one of the largest street festivals in the world, attracting over one million attendees every year. Residents get to celebrate the dynamic and diverse cultures of London, represented in the carnival. Expect to see plenty of food, costumes, and parades. Mayor’s Thames Festival The Mayor’s Thames Festival is an annual weekend event in London. The primary purpose is to celebrate the Thames River, an important part to the founding of London. It takes place along the Thames River from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge. The Mayor’s Thames Festival is London’s largest outdoor arts festival. This festival is easily one of the best art festivals of the world. Expect to experience plenty of dancing in the streets, feasting on the bridges, and even racing on the Thames River. It’s also ....read more

Top 10 Sights of London

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If you plan to visit London, book one of the convenient London shuttles or taxi services to get you to your accommodation quickly and easily. An excellent advantage of these services is that they can actually double as an impromptu sightseeing tour! Here is a quick breakdown of the most notable destinations that you might see as you whizz past on the London shuttles. Make sure you return, though, to explore them in detail. 1. Big Ben – This is the single most iconic structure in the city – so iconic that it has become a symbol of the United Kingdom. A little known fact is that its official name has been the Elizabeth Tower, since 2012. You’ll definitely pass by this on the London shuttles no matter where your central accommodation is based. 2. Madame Tussauds – Wax figures of figures both contemporary and historical importance are a specialty of Madame Tussauds, and the shockingly life-like waxworks make this museum a must-see. If your London shuttles pass by Piccadilly Circus you may catch a glimpse of the museum. 3. London Eye – Want to get a bird’s-eye view of the city? Book a ride on Europe’s largest Ferris wheel – and the world’s tallest cantilevered wheel – and you’ll be able to do just! 4. Globe Theatre – If you’re a lover of literature, make sure to mark down the Globe Theatre on your list of attractions. The original structure was burned to the ground in 1613, but the theatre in its current state is a worthwhile homage to one of Britain’s most famous playwrights. 5. Westminster Abbey – This Gothic church is chock-full of history – especially when it comes to royal coronations and burials. If you have an interest in the history of England’s monarchs, this is one Royal Peculiar you’ll want to visit. 6. Victoria and Albert Museum – The world’s largest museum dedicated to decorative arts and design is definitely worth a visit, if not an entire day exploring its generous exhibits. Even the museum itself is a fine amalgamation of architectural styles – from Victorian to Neo-Classical. 7. Imperial War Museum – World War I was a grim and bloody affair, and this museum is dedicated to all the conflicts that the British Empire and the subsequent Commonwealth have fought in. Suffice to say that military buffs will want to mark down this as a must. 8. London Dungeon – If you want a museum  worth remembering, the London Dungeon’s macabre exhibitions will fit the bill. From the infamous death sentences to supernatural séances, this is one interactive museum you’ll want to visit. 9. Harrod’s – Harrod’s is an establishment with so much history that it would be downright criminal to write it off, as just another department store. Not only does it offer a wide variety of products, but it has also become a symbol of the city’s enterprise. 10. Buckingham Palace – This is the London residence of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. It is the palace often at the centre ....read more

London from the Thames

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There’s any number of big ferries complete with bars and restaurants, multi-lingual commentaries, and all the usual tourist paraphernalia sailing up and down the Thames, but there’s a better way to explore London on the river. Opt for the commuter boat, part of the London Transport system. The boats are filled with regular Londoners: mothers bringing children home from school, office workers from the financial hub at Canary Wharf, hip commuters with fold-up bikes tucked under their arms as they board — tourists are actually rare. You won’t see many people with maps of the river in hand and cameras at the ready waiting to catch a commuter boat. The great thing about traveling on the river is that it is definitely more relaxing than standing in a crowded bus or train, but what you may not expect is the speed with which these boats get down the river from one stop to another. Depending on the type of ticket you have, you can hop on and off all day at your leisure, visiting most of the city’s major attractions from the river, sailing from one sight to the next. From Hampton Court to the London Eye and Tate Modern, from the Houses of Parliament to the Tower of London, it’s all made easy by the boat. The redevelopment of the east of London allows you to see historic monuments from what was almost certainly their original, intended perspective. Arriving at the Tower of London by boat lets you enjoy the structure in a more relaxed way than you can from the busy road on the far side, where coaches park and disgorge their tourists. It’s far more fun to arrive by boat, trying to imagine how differently the Tower and the river must have looked in the 15th and 16th centuries when prisoners destined for the dreaded Tower of London were brought by barge along the Thames to the infamous Traitors’ Gate. As the boats with the condemned passed under London Bridge, the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes. On a lighter note, there is a story that all wicked Londoners like to tell about London Bridge: how it was sold to a naive American in 1967 for over £1 million. The story goes that the buyer thought he was getting the much more famous and iconic Tower Bridge, but ended up with London Bridge instead. Sadly for the story tellers, it’s only partly true. The old bridge is in Arizona, but apparently the buyer knew full well what he was getting. You’ll also sail past the reconstructed Shakespearean Globe Theatre and historic ships such as HMS Belfast. You’ll see the silhouette of St Paul’s Cathedral on the horizon and then, one of the most beautiful sights the city has to offer, the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, whose magnificent architecture was clearly meant to be seen first from the water. On your journey, if you hop off at The O2, you’ll join a huge throng of people, hundreds of mainly young city types ....read more