Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day Two: London

Friday, May 18th

We woke up at 7:30 AM after an early-ish night and feeling very rested on a full 8 hours. Forgoing the full English breakfast offered at the hotel, we walked to Pret-A-Manger where we feasted on yogurt parfaits. Delicious! Then, we made our way to the Tube. You can buy single ride tickets or you can take advantage of the Unlimited Ride Daily Pass. This was 9 pounds per person (I think) and was well worth it. It also counts on buses all within Zone 1, I believe.

We navigated to the Tower Hill station where we met Kate for a full day of touring
beginning with the Tower of London. We purchased tickets for 21 pounds each (about $32 USD) and proceeded onto a very informative tour (included in the ticket price) with a yeoman warder, also known as a Beefeater, named Jimmy.

We heard many sordid stories of the Tower, from the moat filled with human excrement to numerous imprisonments and sentences of death to be performed on Tower Hill. Among the notorious executed on Tower Hill were Thomas Moore (he was Catholic) and James Scott, who tried to take over England in a coup of sorts in the 17th century. We then made our way to the private execution area. Here, Henry the VIII's wives met their fate, as well as Jane Gray among others.

The most notable takeaway? Do not try to overthrow the British crown, it often ends badly. We then went to the chapel where they buried the bodies, and where services are still held on a regular schedule to this day. Anyone can attend if you tell them at the gate on Sunday morning that you'd like to come in. The medieval structure was beautiful and sad at the same time because of the sheer number of people who were buried after being executed (1500). We bid our tour guide adieu and went to see the Crown Jewels. John's favorite was the royal orb, mine was the imperial crown. No pictures allowed in there, sadly. And only a moving walkway so as not to linger.

We then climbed several different towers, viewing ancient graffiti of condemned souls, implements for defense and various rooms that held prisoners and royalty. 

Carved by a prisoner

Fun fact: All the beefeaters live within the Tower walls with their families. Their houses have these fantastic turquoise doors.

Tower Bridge, NOT London Bridge

We left the Tower grounds and got street fish and chips. Street fish and chips include bones and skin on the fish, not very appetizing. We found a better specimen the next day. Since our weather was good, we proceeded to walk to St. Paul's stopping at a Tescos along the way to see a British grocery store. 

Obligatory London Photo Ops

St. Paul's. There are hardly words to describe the beauty and magnitude of this cathedral. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed inside. In a way, that's better. It is a place of worship after all. And you really need to see it for yourself in person.

Upon walking up the stairs we encountered gigantic doors. 

We enjoyed the audio guide learning that in modern money, it would cost 50 million pounds to erect and its architect, also buried there, was Christopher Wren. We then hiked about 267 stairs to the Whispering Gallery where you can whisper along the wall to a person far away and they can hear you. Pretty Cool. Then, we hiked up even more stairs to get this view.

Deciding against going up another 150 stairs to the very top, we made our way down, which frightened Kate and the German who was grasping both rails in front of me like he was going to tumble all the way to the ground floor. 

Below the altar area is the crypt. The British use the crypt to honor its greatest citizens with burial for the whole nation and world to view. Among notables buried in the crypt are Admiral Nelson, who defeated the French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar preventing Napoleon from invading Britain, The Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and many others. 

After leaving St Paul's, we broke a cardinal rule of vacation by visiting an eatery we have at home. We went to Starbucks. In our defense, it was just coffee but, the rule was broken nonetheless. When John ordered and received his coffee, we discovered his new name.


We then proceeded to take the tube to Covent Garden which is a giant open market/ shopping area in London. Big crowds, numerous shopping options and street performers were the hallmark of this stop. Not enough time for shopping though. Much to my dismay.

We walked through the theatre district and wandered until we found a little pub to wet our whistle. 

After resting our feet, we decided to head to the south bank of the Thames for dinner prior to meeting Tom after for drinks. He was playing football (soccer) all day. After much admiration of the velvet walls and old times decor that were hallmarks of this pub, we took a double decker bus to the South Bank. We dined on pizza and wine and then crossed the Millennium Bridge and headed to Soho. Very energetic, very effusive, celebratory crowd in large numbers enjoying a London Saturday night. We also had our first experience with a paid public toilet. Very clean! We bar hopped for a bit until we could sing Happy Birthday to Kate at midnight. Eventually we parted ways and crashed into bed.

Only a few hours on Sunday in London and then it's off to Paris!

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