16-18 Nov: London, England (part 1)

The last stop on our trip is London, England. Since we'll be there for almost a week, I'll split the narrative of our stay there into two parts. I'll put up the photo page along with the second London narrative page.

16-Nov

We may have thought there was little activity at breakfast time on Monday, but today was even quieter. As far as we could tell, we were the first people down to breakfast, and only one other person showed up as we were leaving. Either everyone else was sleeping in or the place was quite empty that night.

When we headed out towards the train station we were walking in quite a bit of fog. We weren't sure what that meant as far as the weather was concerned, but we got on the train and saw things clear up on the way down, seeing blue sky. Of course, as we got closer to London, it clouded over again.

Our hostel was only a couple blocks from the train station so we dropped off our bags and went back to find the nearest Underground, only about a block away. After picking up some cash and 7-day transit passes, we were off to start exploring the city.

 Knights Templar crypts in Temple Church

Knights Templar crypts in Temple Church

Our first stop was Trafalgar Square (we ended up only going one stop on the tube, but it was a good way to start getting a feel for it) and started doing a walking tour. We saw things such as the Savoy Hotel (very posh), the Twinings Tea store, and Temple Church where many Knights Templar are buried.

We then entered St. Paul's Cathedral, site of many famous weddings, including Royal ones. The church, like many we had seen in the past week, is very large, with the dome being the most prominent feature. We walked up to the first level, which is wehre the dome meets the church building. The wall around the whispering gallery is stone, and Melody went about a quarter of the way around, leaned towards the wall, and started talking. When I put my ear near the wall, I could hear her quite well.

 View from St. Paul's Cathedral looking towards Trafalgar Square

View from St. Paul's Cathedral looking towards Trafalgar Square

We both went up to the next level, and Melody went outside to take a look at the city. I chose to go up to the next level, atop the dome, and got a commanding view of London.

After leaving the cathedral we worked our way down twards London Bridge, from where we got great views up and down the Thames, including London Bridge.

After dinner we took a Night Bus Tour which gave us a good overview of the major sights in London and roughly how the city is laid out. There were only a half dozen of us on the bus and we all went to the upper level. A couple young women were on the tour, but they seemed more interested in chatting to each other, to the point where they started talking louder to overcome the commentary of the driver. The woman in front of us shushed them, and even though they continued to chat, they did try to keep it down.

17-Nov

The first stop of the day was the Tower of London. We tried to get there close to opening to beat any crowds. After getting through the gate, our first stop was the crown jewels, again to beat the crowds. It ended up being a good strategy, since when we first went into the building, there were only a few other people around. We started to make our way through, watching several videos which are meant to occupy you while you work your way through many switchbacks in several rooms until you get to the actual vault (as with the Scottish crown juewels in Edinburgh, the actual jewels were in a vault, complete with vault doors). By the time we got to see the actual jewels, there was a tour group going through, but they passed by pretty quickly, and the way the exhibit is set up, it was easy to let them do so. There are a couple moving walkways which slowly go past the jewels, but you can go onto a raised platform to look at placards describing the jewels, as well as offering a path to go back onto the moving sidewalks.

 Kids being knighted at the Tower of London

Kids being knighted at the Tower of London

We next went back towards the entrance of the Tower and caught the Yeoman Guard (Beefeater) tour. Our guide was very knowledgable and demonstrated a quick, dry wit. He was also good at helping to imagine what the castle was like in its heyday, as well as its occupants and prisoners. Next was the White Tower, the castle's imposing central tower. Inside were many displays with medieval armor and weaons. While we were waling some of the walls, we went through an example of a medieval home, and in one room an employee was in period costume, knighting some young boys. Walking away, one said "That was cool!"

Our next destination was Westminster Abbey, so we hopped on a river boat where we were the only passengers. The woman who was selling the tickets was saying that with the engagement of Prince William, perhaps more people would want to visit the tower again.

Off to Westminster Abbey, where we spent a lot of time, especially looking for various people's tombs or memorials. Of interest was the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots; we had seen a replica in the National Museum of Scotland. The one in the abbey was behind gates, which made it seem much more impressive. Other people honored in the church include Newton, Handel, and Chaucer.

We then went walking around the abbey, seeing Parlaiment (including the clock tower, which houses Big Ben), the gates at the head of Downing street (you can't walk to number 10, where the Prime Minister is), the Horse Guards (who were very good at letting people pose with them), and working our way back to Trafalgar Square.

When we were done, it was time to head back to the hostel for laundry and dinner, then we went to a grocery store to get some food, and to also check out the wireless scene. Our hostel charges for wireless, so before we did that we wanted to see if there was a plce where we could get it for free. No luck (Starbucks is free but only if you have a plan with a UK wireless carrier). It started raining while we were out, and we were reminded of how well we've done with weather.

18-Nov

 Churchill's Nobel Price for Literature

Churchill's Nobel Price for Literature

Our start wasn't quite so early on this day. We headed out to the Cabinet War Rooms where Churchill declared he would "direct the war." Part of the war rooms was the Churchill Museum with many artifacts, including his Nobel Prize for Literature.

After we finished with the war rooms, we went off to find the National Theatre to see if we could get a ticket for Hamlet. Unfortuantely (and unsurprisingly) none were available, but it was interesting to see the lobby at least. Next on our list was to go to the Victoria Palace to see if tickets were available for Billy Elliot, and some were. We got a couple for that evening, then went to find (what else?) some lunch.

Since we knew we wanted to go to the National Gallery, we went next door to the St. Martin in the Fields church (Neville Mariner is most famously associated with their Academy) and had lunch in the basement café. In fact, for most of the large churches we've visited having a café and shop in the crypt is pretty commonplace.

Off to the National Gallery where we once again found a guided tour. Afterwards we looked around a bit more. We spent quite a bit of time there, looking at pieces including Michaelangelo's unfinished Entombment (c. 1500; Overheard wife: "Oh, it's unfinished. Why?" Husband: "He died." In reality, he moved onto other projects), Holbein's The Ambassadors (1533; there's an odd bit at the bottom, but if you look from the extreme right side, it's a forced perspective skull), and a couple Rembrandt self portraits.

A quick dinner, then back to see Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace. The music for the show was done by Elton John, and has been very popular. Even though it's been running a while, we were still only able to get seats on the far side of the 5th row, so we couldn't see part of the stage. The show is about a pre-teen kid during the Thatcher era who ends up taking ballet lessons. Obviously his family is not supportive, but things do work out in the end. The kid who played Billy was a very versatile dancer and seemed to have good stage presence.

The show was rather long, so we got back to the hostel and quickly fell to sleep.