September 2, 2006

London: Day One (12.8.2006)

[Warning: loooooooooong post due to my awe of all things old.]


Egg, thick bacon, sausage link, cooked tomato (sans skin), hash brown (triangle-shaped...I don't know why that matters, but it made it oh so tasty), baked beans (not as strongly flavored as those in the U.S., but baked beans indeed), toast with assorted jams, and coffee.

Can you smell it? Can you taste it?


What a way to start your day. It was excellent; I highly recommend it.

Knowing that we would be spending the better part of three days in the city, I had purchased two three-day London Passes with travel for our sight-seeing extravaganza. I felt that they were worth it for a few reasons:

  • You spend your money up front, therefore you don't need to carry a lot of cash and you don't have to wait in long lines at the ticket booths.

  • You have your travel card for tube and bus lines, good for your entire trip and again, no cash needed.

  • Discounts and free items abound; all you have to do is use the site or guidebook to determine which ones you want to take advantage of.

Obviously some would use these same points in a negative manner; I would just like to point out that I had plenty of time to plan this trip. Yes, there are some things that the London Pass won't get you into; we did go to some of those places. Overall, we were able to plan our trip so that we got our money's worth, and the time and hassle we saved by not standing in lines was an excellent bonus.

First thing after breakfast we headed to Paddington Station and the tube. I love traveling on the tube. It is extensive, efficient, and fun. Yes, I grew up far, far away from a city with any kind of excellent massive public transportation. Things I LOVE about the tube:

  • When a sign says: "Stand to the right, walk to the left." everyone does just that. Really!

  • Likewise, if a sign states: "Please allow passengers to exit before boarding." everyone actually does it. Honestly!

  • The decor is interesting and varied. I could ride the tube all day and take pictures of the stations. Some are graphic, some minimal, some fantastic, but all reflect the area and/or the name of the stop.

Our first trip took us to Piccadilly Circus where we picked up our London Passes. We walked from the Britain and London Visitor Centre towards St. James's Park and saw this phone booth. Being the obvious tourists, we had to take a picture. We continued down through the park to the Mall (the tree-lined street leading to Buckingham Palace) and leisurely walked towards Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's humble abode.

I would like to take a moment to clue you, the wonderful masses, in on a tidbit of information that should add to the whole sight-seeing-extravaganza as experienced by Señor y Señora CC:




We did bring an umbrella. On day one, however, we were both wearing t-shirts and shorts. Yes indeedy we were, and just to be clear: It. Was. Cold.

The Mall is a beautiful street, and if we lived in or near London, I imagine it is one place we would greatly enjoy spending time. It does end at Buckingham Palace, where we went that morning to pick up our 15:15 entry tickets to the staterooms. The Palace is only open for a short time in the summer when Her Majesty visits Scotland. It was an extra expense, but we figured that we should see it since we had no idea if we would ever be returning to the city for a visit.

Tickets were claimed and we were off to Victoria Station. So began the farce-like attempts to read the signs and follow vague arrows pointing almost in the right direction that seem to plague (at one time or another) every trip we take. At least we can laugh about it.



We found it in not nearly as much time as we thought and were soon speeding along to Westminster Station. The best thing about this particular station is that when you exit towards Parliament, you are bombarded by the building and the clock tower housing Big Ben. This picture is from quite a ways up the street and does not do justice to the overwhelming sensation experienced upon arrival. I am fairly certain we took over 20 pictures of the clock tower on our short walk to Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey: House of Kings

As I have stated, the Abbey is beyond description. I cannot begin to do justice to the architecture of the building. The ceiling is so high that you lose all sense of depth perception when looking in its direction. Senor CC and I sat down on a bench in the entrance and took a few moments to scrape our jaws off of the floor. This turned out to be a good idea, since there are people buried under there and their grave markers make up the flooring of a large part of the church. The intricate details overwhelm you and we were in awe for the entirety of our visit.

In addition to the building being amazing, there is an abundance of artwork within the tombs and monuments that covers a wide range of styles and periods. We felt like we were in an art-history lesson watching the transformation from style to style as we walked. Tombs up to almost one thousand years old reside in Westminster Abbey and include those of Edward I & III, Henry III & V & VII, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

The floor is worn away by the thousands who come to Westminster Abbey for services and prayer, not to mention the tourists like ourselves. I felt as if I was literally walking in the footsteps of those before me. Where people have knelt at different shrines is also worn down and you can see exactly where knees have supported people in prayer over the years.

Poet's corner was an interesting area. We were able to find many names we recognize. There are memorials to Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, T.S.Eliot, Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters, among others. Those buried included Tennyson and Dickens. Directly across from Poets' corner we found Handel's monument and grave as well as those of Laurence Olivier.

The Cloisters form a square and were one of the busiest parts of the building when it was a monastery. The windows used to have panes but are now completely open to the courtyard within. We walked around the cloisters and visited the Pyx Chamber, which served as a treasure room of sorts for many years. It is best known for being the home to the wooden boxes called pyx that held coins set aside to be "tried". In the Trial of the Pyx the public would gather, usually in the Palace of Westminster, to watch the coins be melted down so that the silver content could be measured and thus everyone assured that it was real. This trial still takes place today.

My favorite room in Westminster Abbey was the Chapter House. This octagonal room is off of the East Cloisters and has magnificent stained glass windows, gothic paintings of the apocalypse, and magnificent floor tiles. This room is where Parliament began. Once they moved to the Parliament building, it was used to store government records before it was restored to its current use.

As you can see, we were very happy that we went to Westminster Abbey. It is definitely on my list of favorite things in London, and I would most likely pay to go through it again. It is amazing. If you would like to learn more about it, visit the online tour at this site and read away. There are excellent pictures of the entire building.

Once we left Westminster Abbey and our senses returned to their normal state, we were reminded how incredibly hungry and cold we were. Most tour books and sites tell you to take a leisurely walk up Whitehall (street) towards Trafalgar Square and gander at the buildings along the way. Granted, there are many historic and government buildings here, but may I remind you:


Our leisurely stroll was more of a stand-as-close-together-as-possible-for-the-body-heat-while-power-walking-to-the-restaurant-at-Trafalgar-Square. Take a millisecond to say "Look! There's the square with the Lions and the fountain..." followed rapidly by "The restaurant! Quick!! Enter!!!"

We ate at Garfulkels. I know. It is American food. However, it is made in London, so it is not exactly American. And hey, we live in Spain, so if we want to eat American food while we are in London, then so be it! It was very good and an excellent price. We ended our meal with a large cup of coffee which was also mighty tasty.

By this point we were a little tired...heh...little...of being cold and had decided that if we could find a couple of jackets, then by golly, we were going to purchase them. They could be our souvenir for the trip. Of course, neither of us wanted sweatshirts or jackets that said anything like: LONDON, which is all you can find in the tourist shops, so we had a bit of a challenge. We walked up the strand a bit and found some nice name-brand fancy shops that cost a bundle, so we eventually headed to the tube and back to Victoria Station. We had almost given up hope on the jacket front when Señor CC spotted an outdoor store. Hooray! We went in and both left with North Face fleeces and a brand-spanking-new outlook for the remainder of our trip.

[Insert happy-dance of your choice here.]

It was close to time for our appointment with the Queen('s staterooms), so we walked to the Palace and took a few pictures out front before heading to the queue to enter. Although it is timed, there are a lot of people for each entry, so we waited for about thirty-forty minutes. We were sent through security and were given a free (included in the price) headset audio tour. Those were awesome! It meant you were free to look around at your own pace and that you didn't have to strain to hear a tour guide. Plus, since everyone got one for free, everyone was quiet as you made your way through the extravagance. No pictures are allowed, but to give you an idea of the inside, I have included a photo of a little piece of the front gate.

We saw gold upon gold upon silks and tapestry and did I mention the gold? There are original paintings everywhere, gold chandeliers that are on pulleys, carving and detail everywhere - it is an abundance of all that is majestic. The rooms are all perfectly and completely overdone and it all perfectly and completely works. Nowhere else could that much just feel right.

Because of the Queen's 80th birthday there was a special exhibition of eighty of Her Majesty's gowns from over the years. Included in this exhibition were some of the jewels that she wore to events. This was also amazing. I am usually not one for the frilly or anything above simply elegant, but these gowns were amazing. Some had to weigh at least a third of her weight, if not half, and the details and materials were, well, fit for a queen.

When you exit Buckingham Palace, you hand over your audio tour and then walk through part of the palace gardens. Although it was rainy and most of the grass was brownish-green, the gardens were still quite nice. The garden path spits you out at the western end of St. James's Park so that you are directly across from Hyde Park Corner. We walked over there and took some pictures of Wellington Arch. We would have to wait until Sunday to tour the small museum, but we did take some pictures. Monuments, statues, and memorials abound in this city. Marble is everywhere. The fact that most of these items were made without the help of modern equipment is somewhat baffling. This picture is the inside of the archway of Wellington's Arch.

Tired, cold, and ready for a rest, we headed back to the Radnor. We were able to rest up and then we headed over to our dinner reservation at Porter's English Restaurant. Remember the farce-like attempts I mentioned earlier? Well, we have indeed come full circle, because we spent no less than forty-five minutes trying to find this place. We were very lucky that they let us in and had a table. The food was excellent, and we were full when we left. We headed back to the hotel for a much-needed sleep.

Again: Zzzzzzzzz....

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