Sunday, September 17, 2006

Our Vacation: Days Four and Five

Continuing our story...

The morning of Day Four (Saturday, September 9), we unpacked, discovered that the hotel didn't provide washcloths, and had breakfast at the hotel. Breakfast was served buffet style, and the items were pretty much the same every day: cheese, fruit, ham slices, soft-boiled or poached eggs, stewed tomatoes, rolls, butter and preserves, and baked beans (which we both avoided). They also had cereal, which became my staple. (I never felt curious enough to try the English Wheatabix, however.) And of course there was juice and tea; I particularly liked a green tea flavored with orange and lotus.

After breakfast, we set off to collect some LondonPasses (prepaid admission to some of the major attractions) and Underground (subway) passes we'd bought as part of our vacation package. We had to get them from a visitor center near Picadilly Circus, and since our hop-on, hop-off bus pass was still valid, we decided to take the bus there. But as we passed St. Paul's, Eugene said to me, "Let's get off here." So we did. (Later on, we found out that our LondonPass included admission to St. Paul's, but live and learn.)

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside of the cathedral (this one is of a statue outside), and I don't think even my writerly descriptive powers are up to the challenge. There are many monuments and tombs inside dedicated to military soldiers; there's even a section set off to remember American soldiers who protected England during WWII. The stained glass windows there have symbols for every state in the U.S. My favorite part was the dome and its amazing decorations; I think some of them were of the writers of the Gospels. After walking around the ground floor, we ascended many shallow steps to the dome. The first level was the Whispering Gallery, so of course I walked halfway around and tried it out. Eugene said he could hear me, but I couldn't hear him. Who said I could listen anyway? ;) We then climbed to the next level, the Stone Level, which was open to the outside. We took a few pictures, then climbed more narrow, twisting steps to the top level, the Gold Level. I freely admit I don't like heights, especially when they're open like this level was, and the stairs made me nervous. How the Fire Watch dealt with those narrow passageways in the dark during the Blitz of WWII is beyond me. Nevertheless, by focusing on one flight at the time, I made it up to the Gold Level and took more pictures. We then descended to the crypt to look at more tombs, including the Duke of Wellington's and Sir Christopher Wren's, which was in a side chapel.

We left St. Paul's around noon and hopped back on the bus, retracing most of the route we'd traveled the day before. Unfortunately, we misunderstood the driver and didn't transfer when we were supposed to. Consequently, we wound up taking the long route to Picadilly Circus--not good when you're hungry and worried that the center will close before you arrive. But it didn't, and not only did we pick up our passes, but we were also able to check e-mail (though it was more expensive than other Internet places we found, and I wasted two pounds on a computer that wasn't working properly). We ate lunch at a sandwich-salad bar type of place and took some pictures at Picadilly Circus, then wandered down to the National Gallery, passing by a nice street painting. There was only about an hour and a half before closing, so we had to focus on seeing the highlights and dashing from room to room. We still had time for the gift shop at the end, though. We took more pictures at Trafalghar (sp?) Square of the statues and fountain. I also fed piegons while Eugene took pictures of them using me as a perch. (One of them sat on his hand.) We then walked down Oxford Street (with very expensive shopping and lots of crowds) back to our hotel. After dropping off some things, we had dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant with live piano music while planning the next day's trips.

The next day (September 10, our anniversary!), we started by going to the Tower of London using the Underground. Although some of the stations were shut down for maintenance (yes, they do it on weekends), it was still easy to navigate. Transferring lines could be a hassle, as it required working your way up and down platforms. We got off at a nearby station and took pictures of a giant sundial before going to the tower. We joined up with a tour being given by a yeoman who lives at the tower; he had quite a few stories to tell about the tower. Remember how we slept through the Ceremony of the Keys the day we arrived? We explained what had happened to the yeoman, and they were kind enough to let us see the ceremony tonight. We were quite happy how that worked out. After seeing the Crown Jewels, we went inside a chapel and toured the White Tower, where the monarchs used to live. We spent a lot of money in the gift shops, but we did give each other anniversary presents from there.

By now, not only were my calves sore from the climb the day before, but I'd done something to my left foot and was limping. But even a limp couldn't keep me from visiting one of the holy Beatle sites--Abbey Road Studios. We took the Underground to the closest station, but I still had to walk several blocks. It was worth it, though. I didn't bother having my photo taken on the famous street crossing (a la the Abbey Road cover); it felt strange doing it by myself, plus it didn't seem safe. I wrote a message to the Beatles on the wall outside the studio, though.

After relaxing for a while at the Abbey Road Cafe, we took the Underground to Baker Street. We didn't have time for the Sherlock Holmes museum, but I had my picture taken outside. Instead, we walked to Queen Anne's park to eat ice cream, watch the birds (including a pair of black swans), and take pictures with Oscar. We even saw a bride and groom having pictures taken there, so that was neat.

As dusk fell, we returned to the Tower of London area and ate dinner at a noodle bar. We then hung around an hour or so for the Ceremony of the Keys. We, along with other observers, were allowed inside the gates. This ceremony has been going on for over 700 years; it started way back when the Tower was used as a market, and the guards needed to evict the merchants every night. We couldn't take pictures (not only was it forbidden, but it was dark), and it's only been shown twice on TV. As we watched, one of the yeomen, accompanied by guards, marched down to the gates and locked them. As they returned, they were challenged by another guard and exchanged a series of traditional questions and answers. They then marched under an arch before being dismissed. One of the yeomen told us a ghost story before letting us out of the Tower. We got back to our hotel around 11:00 and went to bed, tired but looking forward to seeing more in the morning.

1 comment:

The Dear NYer said...

I love these photos, London is gorgeous.

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