Tuesday, March 17, 2009

London, Part 1

This is going to take a while, and multiple posts, so brace yourselves!

My bus left Preston at 6:50AM GMT, Thursday morning. I had no trouble getting there, and the ride was fairly uneventful, but loooong. I slept through Derbyshire, but we stopped in Birmingham and Coventry, and finally arrived (7 hours later) at Victoria Coach Station at 1:50PM. I knew that Victoria coach, train, and tube stations were all in the same general vicinity (how convenient!), so I went to the train station first, to get Mom and Mary's tickets for their visit in a few weeks. It took me about half an hour to get all that straight, but I think I got everything right.

Then I headed down to the tube station. I love the tube. Several friends recommended that I get a tube pass rather than an Oyster Card (it's pay-as-you-go). I used the pass enough that it was totally worth it. Everyone knows that I am not so great with directions and maps, etc, but the underground system in London is easy enough for me to understand, and I'm a pro now. It also helps if you map out exactly where you need to go, what stops, and how to get to your hostel from the stop. Glad I did that. I got to my hostel fine, which was really easy to find. I stayed at Palmer's Lodge, and will definitely stay there again, if/when I go back to London. By the time I got checked in and found my bed, it was 3:30, and not really enough time left to do significant sightseeing. So I decided to go to the British Museum for the rest of afternoon. AMAZING. And--the best part-- ITS FREE.

Rear entrance to the British Museum.
Famous lions outside the British Museum.
There is a ton (literally, I'm sure) of stuff to see there, stuff you see on National Geographic, the History Channel, and in documentaries. Indiana Jones stuff. Mummies, Easter Island statues, statues from the Parthenon (in Greece, NOT Nashville, haha), Roman currency, and the Rosetta Stone. Yes, the actual Rosetta Stone, not the one in Memphis, either. This is one of the best museums in the world, no exaggeration. I could have quite easily spent all day in there.

Easter Island guy.

Room of Enlightenment.

Famous ceiling of the British Museum.

The real deal.

They used to be on the Parthenon in Greece.
The front entrance.

So I went back to the hostel because it was getting dark. More people showed up in my room (14 beds), and I met a few of them. There was one crazy girl from Zimbabwe, who is really into American politics (she watched the inauguration in Zimbabwe!). There were two American girls who were studying in France for the semester, one from Texas and the other from Wisconsin. Another girl I met was from San Francisco, and she'd been in Paris the whole week. She went for UC Santa Barbara for her undergrad. Neither of us had eaten, so we both wandered down the street next to the hostel and found a really neat Italian pizza place. She gave me some great recommendations for Paris and we had some really good pizza. She highly recommends that I go to UC Davis for grad school (as do several family members, lol) and we found each other on Facebook, so now I have proof that I can be sociable when necessary!

The next morning (Friday), I got up and ate the free breakfast in the hostel. Palmer's Lodge is geared toward families and school groups, it seems, so I plunked down smack in the middle of about 20 German thirteen year olds. Grrrrrrrrrreat. For all I know they could have been making fun of the strange American, I had NO CLUE what they were saying. Whatever.

I got an early start, getting on the tube about 8:45AM. My first planned stop were the obvious sightseeing things, which were all in walking distance of the Westminster tube station. I got off the tube, and headed toward the "House of Parliament" exit. They weren't kidding. The exit was smack dab by the House of Parliament. I emerged in the sunlight (I know, right? Sun? In England?) and bam! There was Big Ben! My jaw dropped and remained that way for pretty much the whole day.
View from Westminster Bridge.

Big Ben.

The whole thing from across the Thames.

Queen's Walk along the River Thames.

I walked across the Westminster Bridge and got some more spectacular views of the House of Parliament. The Queen's Walk is a nice path that runs along either side of the Thames. It's been in a bunch of movies (*cough* Love Actually *cough*) and there were lots of runners that morning. I could almost be convinced to take up running if it meant I could run by the River Thames. So I strolled around for a while and saw these bureaucratic-looking buildings a little way from the House of Parliament. I was fairly certain it was Thames House, so I crossed back over and had a look. Indeed! It was the Thames House! Okay. Nobody knows who works in the Thames House do they? Its the headquarters of MI5 and MI6! Like James Bond and...all the spies-turned-Austen-leading-men (Mathew McFadyen, Rupert Penry-Jones, and Richard Armitage. *drools*) from the BBC series Spooks. So I geeked out a little right there, sorry.

Thames House from Westminster Bridge.

Wooo! Thames House!

Visitor's entrance. I was tempted to see if there were tours. But I didn't. Please note all the guys in dark suits. SPIES!!

From the Thames House, I walked back toward the House of Parliament. There was a big, colorful monument commemorating the abolition of slavery in England. And NO mention of William Wilberforce. Humph. Go rent the movie Amazing Grace to understand.

The Buxton Memorial.
I continued along Millbank Street and I saw a short line of people into the House of Parliament. I went to see what it was, and it turns out the House of Commons was in session that day and were holding debates! And the public could watch! In the House of Commons! You know the rest. I went. Big rigamarole of security checks and bag searches and metal detectors, but it was SO COOL. I even got a somewhat official-looking badge. They weren't debating anything earth shattering, but it was an actual debate, support on one side, and opposition on the other. They were very polite, but you could tell each member was passionate about what they were talking about. Of course, there was no photography inside. But the green leather seats really are that ugly color.

Next, I headed towards Westminster Abbey. Jaw-dropping doesn't even cover it. My hobby of cathedral stalking has been taken to new heights. There were free audio guides, which was really helpful because there is SO MUCH to take in in Westminster Abbey. So many famous people buried there. So much symbolism and history. And guess who my narrator was? Jeremy Irons. Yep. He lended a very creepy aura to the Abbey. As if it weren't imposing enough. Anyway, I stopped by all the big effigies and stuff you're supposed to see: Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots' grave (they're buried together; does everyone else see the irony in that?), Poet's Corner (Tennyson, Dickens, Lawerence Olivier, Byron, etc. And a memorial to Shakespeare, who is still at Stratford), the Cloisters, the Chapter House, and of course, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin's graves (I also find this highly ironic). And for the record, they're both roped off, so there is no way that Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu could have gotten that close. Just saying.

Whoa. The outside.

I'm a rebel and took pictures in the Cloisters.

Outside again.

Once again, I could have spent all day there, and still not done it justice.

After tearing myself away from Westminster Abbey, I went toward Buckingham Palace. I knew the changing of the gaurd took place at 11:30 PM, so I tried to make it in time for that. In fact, I was 10 minutes early. But, lordy, there were at least 500 people there already! So I didn't really see anything. I heard some of it, but there was too many people to understand what was going on. But I have the pictures to prove I was there. :o]

Buckingham Palace + PEOPLE.

A little closer.

Get a load of those gates. Wow.
I had someone take my picture to prove that I was there!

I next walked in the direction of the Cabinet War Rooms and Downing Street.
I think these are the Cabinet War Rooms. Pretty sure.

And that's as close as you can get to the PM.

I then got back on the tube and went to St. Paul's Cathedral. It is vastly different architecturally from Westminster, which is mainly Gothic. St. Paul's is more English Baroque (yes, I just looked that up. Sorry. I really did notice the differences, though!). I went inside a little, but didn't pay admission.

St. Paul's Cathedral.

More St. Paul's.

I might have snuck a picture in the cathedral. Maybe.
St. Paul's was in walking distance of the other stuff I wanted to see that day, so I walked across the Millenium Bridge to Shakespeare's Globe Theater. Although it is a reproduction, it is still quite cool. They weren't having tours in the actual theater, as there was a performance going on (Romeo and Juliet. Go figure.). But I got some souvenirs and pictures.

The Millenium Bridge with the Tate Modern Gallery in the background. The Millenium is a pedestrian only bridge.

The Globe!

I then walked along the Queen's Walk towards the Tower Bridge. Not to be confused with London Bridge or Big Ben. Common mistake.

Tower Bridge!

I think Italian tourists might have taken this one.

The Tower of London came highly recommended from my friends that had already been to London, so that was my final destination for the day. It was great, totally worth the steep admission! They had free tours done by the Yeoman Guard (Beefeaters!), who actually live with their families IN the Tower of London. We learned the sordid, bloody, treacherous history of the Tower of London and got to see the Crown Jewels. The. Crown. Jewels. All of them. Spectacular. And, of course, there was no photography allowed in the rooms with the Jewels. Bummer.

Western Gate to the Tower of London.

More Tower of London. Clearly, not just a tower.
Our own personal Yeoman Guard, Chris. He was hilarious. My favorite quote of the day:
Beefeater: Any Americans in the crowd?
*several cheers*
Beefeater: This all could have been yours if you'd paid your taxes!
Cathedral of St. Peter ad Vincula, where most of the executed people were buried, including St. Thomas More and most of Henry VIII's wives.
Ravens on the Tower Green.
Residences of some of the Yeoman Guard.
View from the Tower Hill tube stop.

As you can tell by the length of this post, I had a loooooooooong day, and my feet were killing me, so I promptly crashed in the hostel. Whew.


Carolyn said...

three comments. EDIT: make that 4....

1 - sounds like you really had an awesome trip and totally made the most of it!

2 - i love your bag!

3 - the comment about Americans having opportunity to 'own' the Tower of London.

4 - reading your blog really really makes me want to be traveling abroad again! (and wish I had been better about my blog!)

Susannah said...

What an amazing time you had! And all of the reading you have done through the years put everything into context. This was pure fun to read -