September 8, 2006

London, Day Three (14.8.2006)

How many steps was that?

An early start was required; we had a very full day planned and most of it was to take place on the eastern end of London's tourist area. Monday was also our first day to travel with all of the usual commuters. There was an ocean of dark colored suits that greeted us at Paddington Station. In fact, we arrived there before it was officially open, and we had to wait with the mass of black, gray and blue up on Praed Street. Once the gates were unlocked we were practically swept down the stairs towards the trains.

Our destination was Saint Paul's Cathedral. This landmark is huge and the ceilings stretch upwards to indiscernible heights. Visiting here is similar to visiting West Minster Abbey due to the outstanding architecture and attention to details (mostly shiny and gold up on the ceiling), and different in that it is not crowded with statues and tombs nor are the passageways cramped.

We decided to travel the 530 stairs to the very top of the dome. There are three levels to this trip. The first is the Whispering Gallery, located in the base of the dome(inside the church). The room is circular and because of the acoustics, you can hear anyone in the room as if they are right next to you, even if they only whisper. You can also see more of the church from here. We were able to see the pipes for the organ; I have never seen any so gigantic; I am sure it is an amazing thing to hear.

The next two levels are on the outside of the cathedral. The first lookout is the Stone Gallery. We had a rather foggy day, but could see fairly well from here. The last stop is the Golden Gallery; if you could manage to get up there on a clear day, you would be able to see all of London.

Our next stop was Tower Bridge. We went up into the buildings and once done with the views and the interactive computer exhibits (very cool), we went into the engine rooms. This bridge used to be raised and lowered with steam power in just about a minute. Today of course, they use oil and electricity to get the job done.

Near the Tower Bridge on the north side of the Thames is the Tower of London. We saw beefeaters, The Crown Jewels, a multitude of weapons and armor for men and horses and the massive ravens who have a story of their own.

We walked across the Millennium Foot Bridge, found a place to rest our legs and eat and then visited Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. An American, Sam Wanamaker, was the driving force behind the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe. The building is constructed with the same materials as would have been used in Shakespeare's time. The exhibit and tour did an excellent job of demonstrating what theatre was really like in his lifetime.

Our last stop for the day was the Catamaran Cruisers booth on Embankment Pier to claim tickets for a fifty minutes circular Thames boat tour. This was an excellent way to see some of the things we didn't have time to personally visit. One of the items on that list included the London Eye, the tallest observation wheel in the world. It moves at the rate of one rotation every thirty minutes, which is slow enough that it doesn't even stop for people to exit and board.

The cruise took us east along the Thames past Tower Bridge and then back to Embankment Pier. This was a quick informative way to see some of the sights of London and it was a great end to our day. We headed to the West End for dinner at an Italian restaurant and then walked around the area a bit afterwards amazed at how alive the city truly feels. What a great place to visit.

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