London & The Terra Cotta Army

Since my last installment here, I navigated the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport, made the quick flight (45 minutes; the pilot never turns off the seat belt light) to London’s Heathrow airport, and delivered myself to the Paddington Hilton. I finished the day with a trip to a local pub for a pint and dinner. That was Tuesday.
 
One of my travel strategies is to increase the quality of my accommodations as the trip progresses. Hey, travel can be a tiring business and over the weeks it wears on you. So finishing the trip in a nice hotel is just a matter of being good to yourself. Naturally, the costs associated with these improving accommodations increase, too, so I can’t go overboard with this idea.
 
Sometimes I select a hotel for its location or relative charm or relative cost. In Paris, for example, I stayed at the Elysa-Luxembourg, a hotel du charm or hotel created out of what was once a private residence. I’ve stayed there annually since 2001 and it’s a bit worn and funky but generally good. Oh, it’s improved year by year, too: for example, the first few years my room key was what looked like your standard "skeleton" key and you had to use it to lock yourself into your room at night, and this year they’ve installed magnetic-stripe card keys and new locks. The Elyssa is an OK hotel, clean, inexpensive, and in a great location. However, this year I drew a room with no shower stall or curtain, just a tub and a sprayer head on a hose. Not really my "cup of tea" and after four days of that, I was delighted to get to the Hilton and its modern bathroom.
 
I initially picked the Elysa-Lux because it sits quite near both the RER subway station, on the route from the airport and, of course, the Luxembourg Gardens. So location and ease of access played a large part in that decision. So, too, with the Paddington Hilton. It sits right on top of Paddington Station, a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, where four subway lines pass through and the great Heathrow Express delivers you directly from the airport.
 
Paddington Station is also something of a mini-mall, with all sorts of shops at hand. For example, as I write this in my hotel room, I’m sipping some nice wine and munching on terrific hummus and crackers from the Spencer & Marks grocery store downstairs. In addition, other stores include a Starbucks, a Krispy Kreme shop, the Mad Bishop and Bear pub, a Sushi bar (where dishes circulate on an endless belt and diners just help themselves, Dim-Sum style), McDonalds, Burger King, news stands, and a drug store.
 
The Heathrow Express is a special train that runs directly between Paddington and Heathrow. It’s a great improvement over the 30-45 minute ride on the subway, though more expensive ($28), but well worth it in my view. The four subway lines below Paddington will take you just about anywhere you want to go in London. The neighborhood around the station, Bayswater, is on the west side of the city and nice. It has quite a selection of ethnic restaurants and pubs and nearby Hyde Park is the Enlish equivalent of Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens. What’s not to like?
 
Today, Wednesday, I had a hearty traditional English breakfast of eggs, sausage, ham, potatoes, baked beans, mushrooms, toast and fried tomatoes at the Mad Bishop then bought a discounted off-peak, 1-day subway ticket (off peak = good after 9:30 am) and went to the British Museum. I had a prepaid ticket for an exhibit about the first emperor of China. He was the ruler who buried himself with an army of 7,000 terra cotta soldiers so he could continue to conquer and rule in the afterlife and the show included the largest number of these soldiers (20) ever allowed out of China. It was spectacular! This all happened 3,000 years ago and the emperor, who conquered all his neighbors and essentially formed modern-day China is still revered as the country’s "founder". The exhibition was well-organized and presented and very interesting.
 
The emperor’s tomb is a 200+ acre site, where 57 separate excavations have been made so far, revealing the terra cotta army and many other interesting artifacts. The main tomb, where the emperor is interred, was said by contemporary historians to have "running rivers of mercury" and a "sky" with pearls for stars and occupies the top of an artificial mountain in the middle of the complex. It has not been excavated yet so an archeological mystery remains. The emperor is still so revered that disturbing his burial place is taboo, at least for now. Sadly, no picture-taking was allowed, so I have no pics of my own to post. I did post two pics of the museum’s inner courtyard and here’s the Wikipedia entry for the terra cotta army.
 
The British Museum is a great place, by the way, and any visitor to London should plan to spend some time there. Their Egyptian collection, in particular, is superb. It also has (still) the Elgin Marbles – the marble friezes stripped from the Parthenon in Athens – although the Greeks continue to demaind their return. And, like our Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., admission to the British Museum is free.
I came back to the Hilton in time for afternoon tea and plan to tackle some genuine fish ‘n’ chips for dinner tonight.
  
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