Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Adventures in London - Day 7 - A Day of Excellence!


Hello from London!  Land of Buses, Beatles, and Brollies!

(still not sure what a brolly is, but apparently they're here.)

Husband had planned a full Day of Excellence for us, and despite my cold I sprang from bed, ready to take on the day and soak up as much English culture as possible.

We began with the quintessential British residence: Buckingham Palace!




I wanted to take a tour, but the queues were quite long, and Husband assured me that our time would be well-spent elsewhere today.

(I'm so glad I agreed!)


We trotted through Green Park, passing the Canada Gate and Canada Memorial (I thought Canada was still around, eh?), and then we found the Royal Band passing by Kensington Park!




They sounded so BRITISH!  And they set a song in my fluttering heart, so I hummed "Tuppence A Bag" to myself as we meandered through the next stop on our tour: walking through Kensington Park, which is full of BIRDS!




(a white swan AND a black swan!) 


As we crossed the park, we drew nearer to this World War I memorial and the War Cabinet.


 

We walked through the plaza and under that central archway.  Little did I know where we were headed next!


Though I stopped on the way to take another Gratuitous Tourist Photo:


Yes, I needed to be That Tourist for at least 30 seconds of our trip.  But LOOK what was across the street!


Yes, we got there at 12 noon on the dot!  Is Husband a good planner, or what?  

(I kind of think he lucked out on this one.)

A couple of people warned me beforehand that Big Ben was not quite as big in person, compared to the portrayals in films and postcards.  However, I didn't think Big Ben was misnamed at all - especially when it started striking twelve.  Those chimes are DEEP.

Right around Big Ben were several famous places: Parliament, the Jewel Tower, and Westminster Abbey.  

 

We didn't enter Parliament, but we did tour the Jewel Tower (right), which was built in the 1300s to house the crown jewels of England.  Now THAT's a sturdy building!

Then Husband and I toured Westminster Abbey, where thousands of distinguished people are buried and memorialized.  Everyone from King Henry VIII and Charles Darwin to the plumber of the church way back in the day (I'm serious).  It is a solemn place, though; full of remembrances to those departed, and full of peace.  Westminster Abbey is an oddly restful place, and we left feeling very... reflective.  

We were not permitted to take pictures inside, but here's the beautiful exterior.



By this time, Husband and I were ready for lunch - but we didn't know where to go!  We stopped off the Underground to see the London Monument, built to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666:


and while we were wandering, we found this excellent English pub, themed around Lewis Carroll!


It was charming, quirky, and full of locals taking late lunch breaks.  Husband and I got sandwiches and chips (fries, AGAIN with Heinz Ketchup!), and we shared a bit of delicious organic cider.

Our next stop was one of the biggest highlights of the entire trip for me.  If you ever go to London, DO NOT MISS St. Paul's Cathedral.



Again, we could unfortunately not take pictures inside.  But maybe that's for the best.  The interior of St. Paul's is like what everyone says the Grand Canyon is like; you just have to see it in person and take it all in.  St. Paul's is, in a word, sacred.  The arched ceilings and the central dome are covered in mosaics of tiny tiles and gilded.  Words from one of my favorite psalms, Psalm 150, adorn the curved corners around the altar.  The most incredible, inimitable part of St. Paul's, though, is just the feeling you get from standing in this beautiful, majestic, holy place.  I could have stayed there for hours, if not days.  Honestly, I could have moved in.


However, there was still more to see.


The Tower of London!

This complex contains some of the most pivotal artifacts and sites of British history in existence.  The Crown Jewels are kept here.  Royal traitors were imprisoned, even beheaded here.  It's a place steeped in history.  And they even let us take pictures inside!

These statues are actually constructed of chain mail! 

"The Traitors' Gate," a portcullis that could be raised to allow a small barge through, carrying the condemned prisoner.  Anne Boleyn arrived for her execution through this very portal.  

The White Tower is now a museum of British artifacts, like royal arms and suits of armor. 

This is one of the famous ravens of the Tower of London.  According to legend, if the ravens all leave, the tower will fall.  Well, you can't really tell from this picture, but I think the plan is to keep the ravens so fattened up that they can't leave!

This is St. John's Chapel inside the White Tower.  Simple, elegant, and calm.

The Crown Jewels were breathtaking (we saw diamonds the size of chicken eggs, and a golden soup tureen the size of a bathtub), but we couldn't photograph inside for security reasons.  Add this spot to your London bucket list, though!

Right by the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge (which many people mistakenly refer to as the London Bridge):

Then Husband led me past the bridge to a surprise location for dinner.  Can you guess?


The Dickens Inn!  This huge restaurant was originally an inn, owned by Charles Dickens' grandson.  O, History!

But, alas.


Seriously, London?!

But fortunately, I realized before we left in defeat that the grill was not actually CLOSED -- it just had closed between lunch and dinner.  So Husband and I happily waited outside by the docks, looking over my book about the Crown Jewels, until the Dickens Inn grill officially opened for the evening.


The food was delicious -- you might even call it "Food, Glorious Food" -- and we had the best view from the window!


After we had finished dinner, we walked along the river past the bridge and the Tower once more, before hopping on the metro.



London, you certainly were a whirlwind, but what a wonderful whirlwind you were!  I can't wait to go back!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Quick Trip Adventure Update: Part Two

Hi Net Friends!

Well, Husband and I are happily home once more (spoiler alert), settling back in and wondering how many loads of laundry are ahead of us...

I'm back to full-speed internet access after the last couple of days in Paris, though I'm now trying to de-jetlag and get over this pesky cold in one.  Just wanted to let you know that there are more days of travel blog on the way, and as soon as I have them just the way I want them, I'll share them with you!

Thanks for your patience!  In the meantime, here's a silly sign from across the pond!


It's warning you to stay away from whatever's behind this door on the subway platform.  It might be Zeus.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Adventures in Paris AND LONDON! Day 6

Well, it was time for us to say au revoir to Paris for a while, as Husband and I took the Eurostar (super-fast train) from Paris to London on the sixth full day of our European odyssey.  Unfortunately, I woke up with a very very sore throat. 

Fortunately, I know how to say “my throat is sore” in French, so I was able to go to the local pharmacy for some kind of over-the-counter spray that tasted like a hospital but made my throat feel blissfully anesthetized.

Husband and I hopped on the enormous train, and before we knew it, we had zipped across the French countryside, under the English Channel, and into King’s Cross/St. Pancras Station in London!




After catching the London Underground (AKA “The Tube”) and stopping off at our hotel in Hampstead to leave our luggage, we made our first foray into the city, to Piccadilly Circus.


Now, if you’re like me, you’d be expecting to get off the train and see elephants and lions, not a construction zone like this picture above.  However, as Husband and I discovered, virtually EVERY landmark in London has some part of itself under construction, as part of the general nationwide shining-up in time for the 2012 Olympics.  Also, though, the “circus” in Piccadilly is more of a figurative thing…

Anyway, we stopped there to get our London Passes, which granted us a magical day’s access to the entire Tube network and entry into just about anything in London that was open to the general public.  Sweet deal!  And in Day 7, as you’ll read soon enough, we made excellent use of the passes.

“Come on!” Husband beckoned.  He had taken the lead on all of our London escapade-planning.  “We’ve got places to go!”
“Where?” I asked, my eyes wide with ingenuous excitement.
“You’ll see,” he answered with a mysterious grin that usually means I’m in for a marvelous surprise.

Well, Husband did not disappoint.  He took me first to a Tube stop that had THESE for wall tiles:


Can you divine where we were?  Why, it’s quite elementary – but here’s another clue:


221B Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes!


Of course, Holmes was, ahem… fictional (shh!), but his residence on Baker Street is real enough, right down to the constable outside the door!  The interior is a complete museum, but we did not take the tour because we were apparently on a tight schedule to the other mysterious destinations ahead of us.  I did slip my camera through a doorway, though, and get this shot of the study:


Our next stop looked awfully familiar for a city I’d never visited before – we had returned to King’s Cross station!  BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE PLATFORM 9 ¾ IS, GUYS.

YEAH.  The portal to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  Husband saw it way back in 2005, soon after it was opened to the public for gratuitous tourist photos.  We marched confidently to Platform 9, knowing that between it and Platform 10 waited a modern literary legend.

Except not.

Remember how I said London is totally under construction right now?  Apparently that applies to magical folks, too.  We searched Platform 9, part of which was partitioned off.  We searched Platform 10.  Platform 9 ¾ was GONE!

I implored Husband to ask somebody what had happened to it.  He approached a station employee, and before Husband could say a word, the man said, “Platform nine and three-quarters is through that way and out the door.”

Apparently a lot of people have been trying to find Hogwarts lately.

So many, in fact, that the kind management at King’s Cross printed this placard for us!


Wasn’t that nice of them?  We found the relocated platform, and I got my gratuitous tourist photo:


By this time, Husband was champing at the bit to keep moving.  “We’ve got somewhere else to go!” he implored.  “The most important place!”

“Where?” I demanded, but he was tight-lipped about the whole thing, and off we went to another part of town.  I snapped this picture of him looking all excited and Cheshire-Catty on the way:


After we got off the Underground, we walked and walked… and walked some more.  I started making guess after guess, hoping that Husband would give something away.
“Is it that bookstore?” “Is it that pub?” “Is it from a movie?” “Does it have to do with Mary Poppins?”

He didn’t crack.  But as soon as I saw where we were, I did.





Husband had led me to 48 Doughty Street, where Charles Dickens lived.



CHARLES.


DICKENS.

When I saw the plaque, I literally (and literarily) burst into tears.  This is the very house in which Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist were written. 

Charles Dickens, in case you don’t know, is tied with C.S. Lewis as my favorite author OF ALL TIME.  His writing is so beautiful, his characters so memorable, and his love and respect of the written word so obvious in every paragraph he ever committed to paper, that reading his work is like sitting down with a treasured friend I’ve known forever.

I could not stop the tears leaking out of my eyes as I stood in front of this house.  Husband asked me if I was okay, and I nodded vigorously.  Husband thought I was crying because of this, though:



You’ll note that he’s about to cry as well.

Remember how I said that practically all of London is under renovations?  Well, that apparently includes the Charles Dickens Museum.  Husband was SO DISAPPOINTED!  I felt so bad that the impending Olympics had spoiled his surprise.

Except that they hadn’t.  It was still the best surprise I could have wished for on this trip, and just standing on the threshold, looking in the windows that Dickens himself looked out over 170 years ago, was more than enough for me. 

We also pushed open the mail-slot and papparazzied a picture of the hallway before we left.



Another Dickensian pilgrim approached the house while we were still there, and we shared the tidings of the museum's refurbishment with her.  She was kind enough to point us to another historical spot nearby (though nowhere NEAR as significant): a building that was originally erected in the fifteen hundreds!


Not quiet Dickens cool, but still cool.  We rounded out the day by returning to the Hotel Britannia in Hampstead for all-we-could-eat fish and chips.  I liked this statue in the lobby, so I took a picture of it.


I hate to end such a jolly blog post on a very serious note, but I have a pressing question in need of an answer.


What is a Brolly?