Day 0: "How long will you be staying, sir?" the uniformed man behind the immigration desk asked me. Wow, that's a tough one. How long do I want to stay? More than the 3 weeks I signed up for, I think. The last time I was in Europe I didn't want to leave - ever.
"Where?" I asked, still groggy from the 14 hour plane flight. "In the U.K." was his response. Okay, that one was a little easier - "Three days." He nodded and let me into the country.
I arrived in London a day and a half early to counteract jet-lag and to have a little extra time to visit the sights. Our hotel (the London County Hall Travel Inn [here's their web site]) is just across the river from the Palace of Westminster and I managed to get a room there for the extra nights. Next door, the London Eye Ferris wheel looms high in the sky, and was also the very first sight I went to. Some say the big wheel feels like an elevator, but now that I've ridden it I think it's more like a balloon ride over London. For 30 minutes you float in your little jewel of a zeppelin, over the river Thames, peering down at tiny Westminster below. If you're afraid of heights this would be a bad place to go.
This morning I walked to Trafalgar Square. The lions do look like dogs from the neck down (Apparently the sculptor didn't have any real lions for models). I ventured into the National Gallery next door and saw Renoirs, Monets, Picassos, and lots of other paintings. I also purchased my journal (which I am writing in now) and a pen with the signatures of 30 famous artists on it. Perhaps it will inspire me.
I walked down the south bank of the Thames until I reached the Globe Theater. It was apparently closed, and the shiny new footbridge next door was also closed. Oh well, what's that power plant doing here? Hey, it's a Museum of Modern Art! (The Tate to be exact). So I went in there. They had some wildly interesting artwork - all laid out to accent a huge shell of a building. The power plant's turbine area had been turned into a thoughtful study of motion in and out of holes in the floor, where elevators go up and down (you had to be there - impossible to take a picture of).
I ran into Gary and Leslie (two of my tour-mates) today. They are going with Bob and Sharon (two more) to Greenwich tomorrow. Later that day I also met Barbara (another) at her small hotel near Victoria Station. We had dinner together - fish and chips (London's Finest we were told by a Pub attendee) - and a beer afterward. The Bass Ale was really good but not as cold as I remember from my youth in New England.
Day 1: This morning I walked through the gardens along the river next to Westminster Palace. The river and the old granite buildings reminded me of Boston. There is even a building with an arched hole through it just like one near Boston Harbor. In the gardens, at a riverside bench under incredibly old trees, I began writing in this journal.
From the gardens I walked to the Tate Gallery (the Old Tate). Lots of British art - landscapes and portraits, and also lots of construction. Unfortunately, the much-hyped Pre-Raphaelites were missing (perhaps behind a scaffolding somewhere). I wanted to see some melodrama, but I guess I'll have to wait. [Here are postcards of Rosetti's Day Dream and Beata Beatrix so you'll see what I was missing.]
I took the Tube to St. Paul's Cathedral (you know, the church from "Mary Poppins" - Feed the Birds). It was very nice inside but I couldn't take any pictures [here's a picture of the dome from the pamphlet]. I walked the hundreds of steps to the top of the dome. Nice view on top. The weather was beautiful. I didn't feed any birds though.
Westminster Abbey next. It was really crowded yesterday morning, but now at 3:15pm, it was totally bearable. The tour handbook was right about the crowds thinning late in the day. A beautiful church with almost playful Knights-of-the-Round-Table stuff inside. No pictures allowed here either [here's one from their pamphlet]. Finished in time to meet the group at 5. [Here's a group picture taken later in the trip]
We met everyone for the first time in the hotel bar. Our Guide, Susan, introduced herself and then had us each choose a buddy. The way this worked was, when Susan yelled, "Buddy Check!" we could look around and if not seeing our buddy we could yell back, "My buddy's not here!" [To hear a buddy check in action, click here.] It was exceedingly good shorthand for actually counting us every time we gathered. My buddy was Barbara.
Susan took us for a walk to the Waterloo Tube station. The Underground whisked us to a stop on the south side of London Bridge, where we ate at the George Inn. I had steak and kidney pie, tomato soup, and apple pie for dessert. I shared a table with Santos (another single like myself), Susan, and the Local Guide, Collin, who was to show us around the area this evening.
After dinner, Collin took us for a walk around the south side of London Bridge, which he explained was very important for trade because it was the only bridge in and out of London for hundreds of years. We saw many other old sites, and ended up at the footbridge I complained about before. It turns out that the bridge was only open for 4 days and then permanently shut because it sways too much when people walk over it. It's now affectionately called the Wibbly Wobbly Bridge.
After the tour we walked back to the hotel along the Thames. I had a bitter at the hotel bar and finished this entry in my journal. I wondered if anyone else was thirsty and would perhaps drop by, but I left by myself that night. Hmm. Seems to be a few early-to-bed people around here.
Day 2: Early! 7:30 breakfast and then meet in front of the hotel. We met the Assistant Guide, Lisa, at this time. She had arrived in London late the night before and was looking a bit tired.
Tom Hooper, our 2nd London Local Guide, narrated a two-hour bus tour throughout London. We stopped at the Prince Albert Memorial. Eventually, we made it to the Tower of London where we spent another two hours looking at medieval castles, decorations, and ravens, and gawking at the Tower Bridge. And of course, the Crown Jewels [no pictures but here's an image from the pamphlet]. I still don't understand why they're kept here.
Lunch at the British Library - Cafeteria Food and the Magna Carta. Then on to the British Museum, where we said goodbye to the bus and took off on our own. The British Empire stole so much from the world that they needed a really big museum to store it all in. I spent most of my time with Barbara looking at the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, Assyrian cuneiforms, and finally Greece and the facades from the Parthenon (called the Elgin Marbles).
Even though it was late in the day, I decided I wanted to go to Greenwich. Barbara joined me for the tube ride out to this quaint village on the Thames. Unfortunately, when we arrived nothing was open (the book was actually wrong about the opening times). But we saw the Cutty Sark and then hiked to the Old Royal Observatory through a quiet park - quite a contrast to the traffic-filled London. We climbed the big hill that the observatory was on top of and turned around to see a wonderful view of the Thames (with the Millennium Dome in the background). I took Barbara's picture. We set our watches to Greenwich Mean Time and then measured our feet against the British Standard Foot. My foot fit perfectly.
We walked down to the town center and had a beer (okay, Barbara had white wine) in the Spanish Galleon Pub. When we finished, it was drizzling. We walked to the pier and took a ferry on the Thames back to Westminster Bridge. Now it was raining.
Dinner with Barbara at an Italian restaurant at the corner of the County Hall. Very good food, very bad service. I had spaghetti Bolognese and mussels. To the hotel bar and a beer. Eventually, we were joined by Gary, Leslie, Elaine, and Evi, who had gone to a concert during their free time. We called it a night around 11.
Click the pictures for enlargements.
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Last updated 03/18/2006 . Email me at email@example.com.