Right. Well. We’re on vacation.
Yesterday was a long day of dedicated tourism, capped off with an enthusiastic consumption of ale and wine. All in all, much fun.
It started with our setting out all fresh and peppy for the Tower of London. We had vouchers that needed to be exchanged for the Tube passes (magnetic strips, not Oystercards), and we could do that at nearby Paddington Station.
No problem, except that the desk that did that was permanently closed, and we’d have to go to Piccadilly station to do it, with the permission of the Tube dude at the gate. So we got that “sorted” and headed to the Tower.
Once there, they’d made some changes that made it very easy to get in without waiting. For one thing, the cute girl (Veronica?) that set up our Tube passes at Piccadilly also sold us our Tower of London tickets so we could bypass the line. So snickersnack, we were in and wandering around aimlessly. (we did not take one of the excellent tours hosted by a Yeoman Warder, but you can take a virtual tour here (requires Shockwave).
By a stroke of sheer dumb luck, we took the first stair on the left and found ourselves climbing turrets and walking the walls of the keep. They had very good exhibits showing how the walls were constructed and Edward I’s living accomodations — several chapels too, including the one where Henry IV was supposed to have died (nope, that was actually at Westminster Palace).
Turret stairway in the Keep
Throne Room of Edward I
We took a route that worked out to be a logical, linear historical overview. We had a good lunch right there in a converted barracks and went on with wandering the walls, finally going through the Jewel House, seeing the “royal family jewels” and the Armory (image), and seeing lots of old weapons and suits of armor. We ended up listening to the last talk of his tour given by one of the Yeomen, and chatted with him and one of the other Yeomen for a while.
“Where’s the nearest pub?” “Why, that would be the Liberty Bounds, love.”
We learned 2 things — there was a tremendous black tomcat, as big as a dog, whose name was “Teufel.” He belonged to the padre of St. Peter ad Vincula, the Tower parish church, and his name means “devil.” He was more like a pocket panther… We also learned that the lone guard standing post by the residential houses on the green was guarding the Resident Governor’s house.
On Duty: Do Not Smile For The Camera
On Duty: Right, That’s Sorted, Now You Know This Is Serious Guarding Here
On Duty: Yes, Ma’am, It’s Loaded
David: Yet Another American Tourist In a T=Shirt (YAATIT-S!)
Once we had thoroughly discovered the secrets of the devilish panther cat and the lonely guard, we went on to Greenwich via the new Docklands Light Railway. Very nice, very new, and then we had a long trudge to get to the Royal Observatory. David liked that a lot, and we managed to hear a talk by one of the museum volunteers about John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer that solved the “longitude problem.” David and I had seen the A&E show Longitude, based on the book by Dava Sobeland I had read the book, too, so that was a lucky break.
We had a bad time getting away from Greenwich — one of the Tube lines wasn’t running, and then we got on a train that went out of service 2 stops later*, forcing us to backtrack again. By the time we arrived back at the hotel, we were bushed and a little too eager for a beer and then dinner.
Back to the favorite pub, had beers that went right to our heads, then across the street to a really nice Italian restaurant where we ordered wine — “Pinot Grigio” we said, expecting 2 glasses, and they brought us the bottle.
Aw, this says “Pazzia” closed and reopened as “Cristini.”
Well, it was too good to waste so we drank it all and shambled back to the room in some disarray.
About then the digital camera came out.
David swears he deleted the picture. But he never did show me his while I had the camera…
Third note to self — check camera files for image that must be suppressed.
Then today, we got a very, very slow start. After breakfast, we headed into Notting Hill to look around; bought nothing, but looked (the “NO Monkeys” sign was in front of Portobello Gold). Then we headed for Trafalgar, but instead we got off at Westminster…
and wandered around the houses of Parliament.
(Note newsies clustered on the far side of the sculpture)
While we were there the news people were getting ready to film the arrival of various MPs — some dark haired woman arrived and did a totally staged entrance with the news presenter for the camera’s benefit.
From there we wandered into St. Margaret’s Church, the small side church next to the Abbey that is used by the MPs. I was surprised at how interested David was in the ornately carved monuments and memorials.
After lunch in the Methodist Centeral Hall’s cafeteria — MUCH cheaper than the posh Westminster Arms pub recommended by the door guard at the Abbey — we entered the Abbey just in time to join a paid tour given by one of the vergers; in fact it was the last tour of the day. Westminster is just an overwhelming collection of monuments and grave markers, all under the glorious fan vaulted roof.
The Verger was an amusing guide and very knowledgeable, and we got into areas, such as the Shrine of St. Edmund the Confessor, that we never would have seen on our own. We spent a good 2 hours with the group, and got a pretty thorough run-through of history, and context for what we were seeing plus a lot of information about the symbolism of the older tombs and the decorations that used to adorn them that were picked off by souvenier seeking pilgrims.
Toward the end of the tour, the organist began to practice — WOW! And about then we were excited to spot the graves (markers, probably) of famous scientists. David was happy to see familiar names like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, and I even got excited about seeing the grave (marker?) of a famous geologist, Lyell. Then we were in Poet’s Corner, and I had a quick moment to reflect by the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer, an old favorite from years ago. There were other old literary friends memorialized (but not necessarily buried there).
We heard all kinds of stories – how Ben Jonson was too poor to afford the standard size plot sold in his day, so he was buried standing up in a 2 X 2′ square — his memorial is a single floor tile (of that size) that says “Orare Ben Jonson” with an older one re-set on the wall nearby. Memorials get replaced now and then, and they get memorialized in new memorials and mention the nice person that paid for the replacement. Strange?
Finally, after the tour the verger showed us David Livingston’s marker – right in the center of the floor with brass letters. Supposedly, he’s a distant relation (Livingston, not the Verger). Nice man (the Verger, not Livingston, I presume).
We headed for home (fortunately, or maybe by design we were only a few stops down the line) and found a message from “Bob Damon,” who could only be “Rob Dixon.”
We met for dinner, hurrah! He and his charming wife Pam took us to a Provencal restaurant in Kensington called “Stratford’s.”
Another fine meal – in fact, an amazing meal with Rob’s expert help.
If we get food this good in the country, we’ll gain two stone each.
Note — what’s a stone?
Man, that was one amazing two days. Wait. Rewind. That was amazing. The first day on the Tube, we were a little whelmed by it all, and it being the end of the hottest summer ever, even underground it was sweltering. I had actually been worried about my ability to deal with the escalators, because I tend to balk at the tops of down escalators and decide to take the stairs. This is not usually an option on the Tube. Also, I once had a panic attack on the Washington Metro once when I had to walk down the escalator as if it were a stairway. Something about the difference in vision in my eyes (left eye is worse, both are bad) messes with my depth perception and I find it very vertigo-inducing to look down and watch vertical lines moving away from me… on to which I am supposed to step. Well, anyway, I was worried about it, but did all right (it helped to be wearing contact lenses).
I made a “sideblog” entry in my travel journal entry for the 8th – I added the following note:
People watching – don’t forget the tan, middleaged lady with a belly ring who got stuck in the tube train doors. As she wrestled with them and forced them open, she bellowed at her teenaged son “Gitt-ON, yew seelee boyee!!” in an accent that used to be described as “not quayte quayte.”
Oh, yes, the bellyrings. I’ve never seen so many sub-navel, ever so slightly supra-pubic bone jeans. I saw one zipper that was only a couple of inches long – what was the point, really, of having one?
David and I quickly got used to navigating through the stations and figuring out an efficient route, and by the end of the second day he was chanting “Mind the Gap” to himself, thus marking himself out as a tourist, but an enthusiastic one.
He loves wearing his “Mind the Gap” T-shirt, too. 😉
There were so many things I wanted to remember about Westminster, and one or two got left out of the journal. Every hour on the hour, there was a rather strange announcement calling for a minute’s silence for prayer. I believe it was the “Voice of the Abbey.” We paused twice for these prayers, so we were there at least 2 hours. The prayers were strangely prosaic, and almost apologetic. I imagined the “Voice” who missed out on a career as a railway station announcer, saying “we apologise for the religious interruption, but after all this is a house of worship and not a museum, thank you for your cooperation.” It was strange, a little odd, but I enjoyed it. David put up with it with a small amount of grumbling, but really, what choice did he have? 😉
David took a picture of the detail over the main entrance (not the tourist entrance) of the “10 Modern Martyrs”…
that I liked a lot, and also…
a closeup shot of Martin Luther King’s image. I think that’s Archbishop Romero to his left.
Dinner that night was memorable as stated – I’ve already recommended Stratford’s to someone I spoke to the other day who is headed to London, because she’ll be staying in the neighborhood. It was just posh enough a place to dress up and not be out of place, yet not so posh that you felt uneasy.
Well, that’s the first two full days in London. And we were in England for 3 weeks. I may set up some of the later “beauty” shots of scenery as slideshows in a different photo gallery rather than clutter up the posts with all the pictures, but we’ll see how it goes.