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I took the "slow" train into London; a round-trip ticket on Southern cost £18 - 6 pounds less than the Gatwick Express. It made a couple of stops along the way (including Clapham Junction which I was familiar with from my previous visit). Total time to Victoria Station was about 45 minutes.

By this time, I was hungry for some lunch (it was about 11:30) so I decided to eat at Victoria. Much of the old station is "open" to the outside with the various entrances and train tunnels; it being fairly cold and drafty, I started looking for an eatery that was enclosed so I could warm up some. I finally discovered the food court on the third level and had a chicken salad at KFC. That, and a small soda cost £3.79 - London is an expensive city.

I then took the District Line Underground to Bayswater Station, close to my hotel. Exiting the station, I found myself on a nice street filled with interesting shops and sidewalk cafes. The short walk to Leinster Gardens took me through a nice residential area of row houses and the occasional apartment block. Holiday Villa Hotel is located about halfway down a pleasant street filled with Victorian row houses that have been converted into small hotels.

I arrived too early and my room wasn't ready so I was invited to wait in the very posh lobby. I thought, "this is too luxurious for me!". After a short wait, I was allowed to check in which consisted of me handing over my voucher and signing a key-card which allows me a free full breakfast each morning and access to the hotel's basement nightclub (open 11:00pm until seven in the morning!). My room is on the fifth (top) floor and we (the receptionist and I) rode up in the smallest elevator I'd ever seen!

It turns out that the elevator matches the scale of my room; everything here is "pocket-size). I don't really need a large hotel room, it just takes some getting used to when you first arrive. The window gives an excellent view east over the city, the Post Office Tower is almost on a direct straight line east.

I was so tired that I neglected to tip the receptionist who had carried my bags up to the room (a very friendly Malaysian chap). I did remedy this later with a tenner (£10). I had planned to take a nap until about 4:00 or so, but was so restless that I ended up phoning both Dad and Marilyn.

After a quick shower in a stall that I couldn't even turn around in (which wasn't as distressful as not being able to get the water as hot as I would have liked), I dressed and set out on a photo-taking mission. It was only a little after 3:00 but it was already beginning to get dark (the sun had finally broken through and was shining brightly when I'd walked to the hotel). My goal was Royal Albert Hall and I decided it would be easiest to get there by walking south across Hyde Park.

As I hurried along the paths of Kensington Gardens (the western portion of Hyde Park), the sun was already setting to my right. I paused a couple of times to shoot photos of the orange and yellow clouds through the huge trees. Suddenly, I came upon the simply-named Round Pond which was filled with dozens of ducks and swans. I took a few photos in the rapidly diminishing light. My new telephoto lens got a bit of a workout here.

I could see the top of the Albert Memorial and the dome of Royal Albert hall above the trees to the south of the pond so I knew I was heading in the right direction. Before breaking out of the trees at Queen's Gate, I caught a view (and took a picture) of the last rays of the sun glinting off the gold of the Albert Memorial.

All of a sudden, Royal Albert Hall was directly in front of me, illuminated under a rich indigo blue sky. The Albert Memorial was to my left, the sculptures at each of the four corners lit up by bright spotlights. I took a number of photos over the course of the next hour - the nighttimes were spectacular - but I don't think the resulting pics give justice to the scene laid out before me.

After some time, I walked across the busy street, around the Albert Hall, and found myself at the South Patio. The Royal College of Music was right in front of me and I good just make out a large statue and a very tall monument or obelisk in the dark gloom. There were also a number of satellite trucks parked to the side for some sort of Christmas pageant being held inside. Suddenly, a crowd of people began pouring out of Royal Albert Hall and my solitude was broken.

The dozens of cheerful people all seemed headed in the same direction I was (roughly southeast, towards Harrod's), so I let myself be carried along with the crowd. This took me around the sides of Imperial College and the Natural History Museum; the Victoria & Albert Museum was visible across Exhibition Road. Much of the crowd I was following descended into an Undeground station near here (which, oddly, isn't on my map) but I continued walking south.

At the southeast corner of the Natural History Museum, I came across a temporary ice rink filled with happy Londoners enjoying a Sunday winter's afternoon. Stretched out in front of the museum was a Christmas Market with a couple dozen shops selling all sorts of gifts. The trees in the square had strands of lights strung through them and the museum's facade was lit brightly. It was a very festive scene and put me right in the Christmas mood!

I continued my (long) walk along Cromwell Road, which soon turns into Bromwell Road as it veers northeast. The traffic here was extremely heavy and the sidewalks crowded with holiday shoppers. I could soon make out the lights outlining Harrod's in the distance on the opposite side of the street. As I approached, I had several good vantage points for picture-taking. The building itself was much larger than I had expected.

After I braved the traffic and swarms of people to successfully cross the street, I ventured inside the crown jewel of British department stores. The experiene was different to any I've experienced in shopping; I think Harrod's should be put on the "must see" list of anyone contempllsting a visit to London. Mere words cannot adequately describe the spectacle. There are dozens of rooms on six different levels, all selling different types of products. It's easy to get lost (even contantly referring to my map, which uniformed employees give you upon entering, I rarely knew exactly where I was). But that's part of it's charm - you're never quite sure what treasures you will discover in the next room. Just trying to describe the Food Stalls (which actually consist of many different rooms, each devoted to a different type of food) would take an entire blog entry!

In all, I spent over an hour threading my way through the crowds inside Harrod's, just taking in the spectacle of it all. Although I didn't spend any money, I goy some great ideas of what I'd like to get later; I'll return sometime on Tuesday to do some shopping.

Finally, I entered the Knightsbeidge Undeground station (I had to walk up to the Sloane Street entrance because the one below Harrod's was closed). I took the Piccadilly Line to Piccadilly Circus Station and changed to the Bakerloo Line for Charing Cross Station. I exited that station, turned around and there was Trafalgar Square laid out before me. At this time of year, it's dominated not by Nelson's Monument but by the huge Norwegian spruce Christmas tree donated each year since the end of World War II by the people of Norway. I took several photos of the tree and monument, as well as the National Gallery, the fountains, and St. Martin's In The Fields church, but it was too dark for the photos to come out as clear as I would have liked. Perhaps they'll look better when I view them on. My computer screen back home (all the photos I take on this trip will be uploaded to my Webshots account, probably after December 12).

Finally, it was time to return to the hotel as I was exhausted (it was only 6:30 in the evening). I took the Bakerloo Line to Tottenham Court Road, changing to the Central Line for the westward journey. I had to get off at Lancaster Gate station because Queensway is closed until next year (was it damaged in the bombings last summer?). It was a pleasant walk from there to the hotel; along the way, I found an Internet cafe and a shop where I can get the photos on my memory card transferred to CD. I also purchased a 2 liter bottle of Sprite so I'd have something to drink in my room.

I watched a bit of television (an episode of "Seinfeld" and something about a Lamboghini road rally across Britain) before turning in around 8:30. I woke up at 5:00 this morning. As soon as I shower, I plan tol get some breakfast and head out to the RAF Museum in Hendon. I have to be at The Forum at 4:00 for Marillion's soundcheck and tonight of course is the big end-of-tour concert. Should be a great day!

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