Saturday, March 18, 2017

London's Calling!

As I mentioned before in the previous post, this wasn't the end of our first day in England. After Dover and Canterbury, we drove to London.

Our first stop in London (after the hotel) was to visit Egypt, Syria, Ireland, Greece, China, in the British Museum. The British Museum was amazing and very big. And crowded... very very crowded. Since we arrived towards the late afternoon, we took a different approach. It basically was to rush through the museum taking as many pictures and signs possible (preferably without tourists in them) and then reviewing the pictures on our computer later. Had we not sped through I doubt we would have even finished 1 level before the museum closed.

So, we started in Egypt. Some of the pictures captured other tourists, but it was very difficult to actually move around the different exhibits because of how packed it was. We saw mummies, sarcophagus', canopic jars (jars where they put their innards- heart, brains, ...), mummification tools, etc...

Next, we passed into the Greece section with Grecian urns, busts, and statues.

And this Etruscan statue.

And then Rome. With busts of Roman emperors (typically Hadrian and Trajan who spent part of their time in England during their reign), Gladiator armor, and Roman mosaics.

Later Early Briton so it had a Celtic torc and shield.

We past by the North America and Mexico rooms and the Chinese jade rooms. However, we
did quickly pass by the Money room and Clocks and Watches room, but we didn't take any pictures.

Downstairs we went into the Reading Room and got to see other Early European treasures and large statues from Egypt.

And one of the main highlights of the museum- the Rosetta Stone! The real one... not the computer app. The Rosetta Stone (for those who don't know) was the key to unraveling the Egyptian hieroglyphics. With 3 different translations on 1 stone (Egyptian heiroglyphics, Egyptian demotic script, and then Greek). By understanding Greek, Egyptologists were able to transcribe the other 2 languages and thus uncover the writing of the Ancient Egyptians. I wanted a picture beside it, but it was way too crowded to attempt that.

We also got to see the burial ship of the Saxon Sutton Hoo.

Then there were statues from the Parthenon.

Brian did express disappointment that we did have to move so fast through the museum; however, he disliked the crowds as much as I did.

Afterwards we stopped in for a dinner of fish and chips at Rock and Sole. The fish was HUGE! And apparently the cod was freshly caught. I didn't ask too many questions, just tried to finish as much as I could. The place was small but the food was epic. They don't skimp on portion sizes (which was our experience 10 years ago in Ireland).

Afterwards it started to get dark, but that didn't stop us from touring the city. Our first stop was Trafalgar Square. You can see the Christmas tree donated by Norway still up in one of the pictures. The large column that dominates the square is Nelson's column, which honors Horacio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar (one of the battles during the Napoleonic War- England vs. French & Spanish forces). Nelson died but England won.

Next we made our way past the festivities on the square towards Parliament. I actually think Big Ben looks better at night (I'll show you pictures during the day later).

There is something majestic about the reflection of the lights from Parliament across the River Thames in the evening.

Brian did tease me about going up in the London Eye knowing that I HATE heights. I instantly turned him down. Sorry folks. There are things I will do for pictures and for memories, but getting up in a huge rotating wheel of glass is just something I cannot do. I would hate to have to clean up all the vomit I would express during that trip. And I doubt they have someone on duty who does that.

Since we were out and about, we decided it wasn't too far of a walk to visit Buckingham Palace and walk alongside St. James' Park.

After making a quick visit to Buckingham, we headed back for the night. Buckingham was not as beautiful at night. Needless to say, we had plenty of more things we planned to see tomorrow before leaving London. That's right, we were only spending 24 hours in London! We had a lot to see before we leave. And our first stop in the morning was the Tower of London!

The Tower of London for me was always seen as the epitome of a prison.

When reading books about prisons, my mind mentally would think about the Tower of London with it's many torture devices and black hooded executioners. WARNING- found out their torture chamber exhibit was pathetic... only had the rack and this other thing that essentially squished your body together. I was expecting something more on par with what we saw in Prague or Salzburg. :(

However, something cool, was the fact that they had the large flesh eating ravens. That's pretty cool. (See the raven?)

And they actually kept their animals there. So let's say you were a prince from another country and you wanted to give the Queen or King of England something for their birthday... well what do you give someone who technically has a country and lots of wealth? Exotic animals. So these animals actually would stay inside the Tower of London. Lions actually patrolled the perimeter moat. They even had a polar bear, elephants, and monkeys! Eventually these animals were given to the London Zoo, but a sculptor create the animals within the tower were you could most likely see them.

The prison compound itself was huge. We walked along the wall to the Traitor's Gate (this gate used to back alongside the river).

The Tower of London was also used as a residence before being used as a prison. It was actually built by William the Conqueror (remember that guy from Bayeux?). Anyway, it was the residence of his sons since it was well protected.

I couldn't help taking a picture of this sign- it explains itself I think. If you can't read it, please double click on it... it's worth the read.

They also have the crown jewels within the Tower compound, but of course you cannot take pictures inside. Sorry folks. However, interesting story- the jewels on different crowns are often reused. So we saw some crowns that only contained holes where the former jewels were placed. Later we saw the Coronation scepter, sword, and crown worn by Queen Elizabeth II, which still had all the jewels intact. But if you were to go see Queen Victoria's crown, you would not find any gems- as they were reused for the current monarch. The jewels were protected by guards and heavy artillery.

Walking along the outerwall they had different exhibits for the kids. And some statues of where you might find certain soldiers patrolling the defense.

Brian wanted to make sure I didn't "chicken out" and get too cold like Paris so he decided to bundle me up. What a weirdo.

Inside one of the many towers, they had an area where you could try on the medieval chain mail and soldier helmets. Brian indulged me and was my model. Doesn't he look cute? Things we do for love- right?

During the time of Elizabeth I, the Tower held many Catholic prisoners who refused to give up their religion. Some were priests, others nobility. Either way, some of their graffiti remains inside the tower walls. It was pretty cool to see how they literally left their mark before dying at the hands of their government.

Lastly we entered the white tower complex which was in the middle. It was this complex that was built first by William the Conqueror. The exterior walls and other buildings later were added.

Inside the White Tower is mostly the armory. It shows the armor and weaponry used by the various Kings and Princes of England.

In one of the areas it had a demonstration room where the kids could try their hand and archery and tower building etc... We enjoyed being "kids" a bit since no one knew us. Besides- it's educational.

One thing I wish I would have stopped to see was the scaffold site- where the prisoners would have been beheaded by the executioner... but really it was just a slab of stone. As we left we could see the Tower Bridge- which we would later drive over as we headed to Windsor Castle.

After the Tower of London, we hopped on the Metro and made our way back towards Big Ben and Parliament to visit Westminster Abbey.

Spoiler alert- you cannot take pictures inside Westminster Abbey! So all of our pictures (3) were taken from the outside. The outside isn't as impressive as the other cathedrals we've been in. And the inside, was extremely crowded- not with people, but with stuff. Tombs of people covered most of the area and you couldn't walk inside without stepping on someones grave- we gave up... I think I may have stepped on Charles Darwin. Almost all of the monarch's are buried in Westminster including it's builder (Edward the Confessor- who ruled England before William the Conqueror). We went into a alcove where we saw the graves of Elizabeth I who was buried on top of her sister Mary I. Nearby we also saw the grave of Mary Queen of Scots- after her son and Elizabeth I's heir to the throne decided she needed a more proper burial than the one inside the Tower of London. There was also a large alcove for writers and artists to be buried inside Westminster. We saw Geoffrey Chaucer's grave (remember the guy who wrote Canterbury Tales from our trip to Canterbury) and somewhere William Shakespeare was there I believe. But again, this building was littered with bodies and intricate graves. They were almost stacked upon each other- in some cases they literally were stacked on top each other like apartments! Can't say it was my favorite cathedral, but I did like many parts of it inside. But definitely didn't have that quiet solace you think of when you enter a holy place.

Our last stop in London (or London area) was Windsor Castle. Thanks to a huge snafu with the GPS unit, we were late getting into Windsor before they closed. However, on the plus side we did take our car over the Tower Bridge. We did get some pictures of the outside of Windsor, but I'm sure it was more impressive inside. Windsor Castle is the oldest castle in England and was built by.... William the Conqueror! It is still used today by the royal family and has been used by the monarchy since the 11th century.

If we could go back, I'd love to perhaps visit England again and this time we wouldn't be late for the castle tour! But you have to consider that we saw quite a bit for only spending 24 hours in London (and we slept for at least 8 of those hours).

PS- I'd like to take a moment to thank my college friend Mindi who make my Hogwart's scarf a long time ago. I am so grateful she made it for me and I couldn't resist taking it with me into England.

Chauffeur's Corner:
On our way to our hotel in London, we passed through Greenwich (but we didn't see the Observatory) and we passed through downtown London - unfortunately we received a "smog tax" bill after we returned home for this simple jaunt (you have to pay for using a vehicle in London). We found our hotel, which overlooked a nice, simple block-sized park. We had realized earlier in the day while in Canterbury that all of the banks were closed (while attempting to obtain some Pounds) and then learned at the hotel that it was a bank while it meant no banks open, it also meant no enforcement of parking - so we got to park for the rest of the day for free - yay!

We checked in, reviewed our schedule and decided to make the most of our relative closeness to many of our desired sites. First on the list was the British Museum. Before the trip, I didn't know that much about it, but quickly learned about its expansive collection. Fortunately we entered the backside of the museum, so it didn't take long to enter however as Stacey said, it was PACKED. We were constantly bumping into people and it only worsened when we arrived at the Rosetta Stone. After exiting the museum on the front side, we passed a long entrance line.

Next we walked to Stacey's "must have" - a fish & chips place. The servings were so large that we could have easily split one order.

We continued on foot to the main sites. It was actually a rather enjoyable walk and was pretty at night. By the time we returned to the hotel, we realized that we had walked over 5 miles. Needless to say, we slept well that night.

I had to wake up early to make sure our car didn't get towed, moving it to a nearby parking garage for a paltry $40 (per day). Then we went downstairs for breakfast and decide to fuel up with an "English Breakfast" instead of the complimentary continental breakfast - it was well worth it.

We made our way to the nearest tube station...which in this case was a unique design of circular stone stairs....for roughly 6 stories. It was no longer a bank holiday and was instead the morning rush hour....which meant that we were unable to get on 3 trains...and finally pushed our way onto the 4th (Stacey curiously "forgot" about this in her adornment of London).

Tower of London was pretty impressive. The nice part about it was that there were several segments to tour - not a singular, massive one-room collection. So we were able to visit different pieces in a different order than the crowd. The White Tower had a very substantial collection of armory. The Tower of London was well worth the time and money. We spent about 2, maybe 3 hours. We could have done some of the other experiences, which would add another hour or two....but I felt very content with the time we spent.

Then there was Westminster Abbey, which I was looking forward to....and was rather disappointed. It wasn't cheap and then photographs were not allowed. It has a lot of history and had a lot of interesting stuff in it. We headed back to the hotel to get our car and head to Windsor. Unfortunately for some reason the GPS found a Windsor on the east side of London....not the Windsor Castle west of London. The upside was that we drove over the London Bridge...the downside was showing up to Windsor Castle as it was closing (it was just the last admittance which was 90 minutes before the close). I still think we could have made it through. It allowed us to look around a bit and then we headed to Oxford.

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