London – Day Six

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Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five

Day Six was all about wrapping up as it was my last day in London.  There were a few places I had left to visit so I was on a mission.  The place I’d been putting off all week – the British Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral (pictured above), Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and Tate Modern (a stop I made for my mother who is a big fan of modern art).

First up was a visit to the British Museum.  Let me just say this….of all the places I went in London, all the times I exited a tube station, the times I left one location to walk to another….I don’t think there was even one time I didn’t walk at least 100 yards in the complete wrong direction before figuring it out.  Today was no exception.  On the plus side, I think today was my best day as far as planning my stops in regards to their close proximity.  Yay progress!

When I finally got to the museum I decided to stop at a little cafe on a joining street for breakfast.  I ordered a mushroom and cheese breakfast crepe but somehow ended up with ham and cheese.  Communication fail.  It was  still yummy though.

And here we are at the British Museum…

The British Museum was a visit I was really looking forward to.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to browse leisurely through the different collections so I purchased an audio tour and followed the highlights option.  Of course the big draw…..the famed Rosetta Stone.   The first stop on the tour but it was virtually impossible to get a good picture.  Every time I was around it there was a big crowd.  Obviously a big draw for the museum.

And here it is folks! 

The rest of the tour was lesser known – to me at least – exhibits.  There were some stone sculptures, ship wreck treasures, mummies…pretty much a little bit of everything.  Let’s see…..I guess my favorite would have been the sculptures I saw at the very first of the tour.

East Pediment statues

These sculptures were particularly amazing to me.  That someone, particularly in ancient times, can inject so much emotion and power into stone is extremely impressive to me.  They look so realistic – almost like they’re in motion.

After the British Museum I moved along to St. Paul’s Cathedral (pictured above).  Again, no pictures allowed inside.  I visited Westminster Abbey back on day three, and here on day six I find myself at the cathedral.  You can’t help but compare the two in your mind.  Westminster Abbey was beautiful in its way with ornate detail work everywhere you looked – the ceilings, the floors, the woodwork of the choir area, the many tombs….there was so much detail in every little thing.

In comparison, St. Paul’s Cathedral was much less ornate, however, it was my most favorite of the two.  It had beautiful mosaic murals on the ceiling, and another painted mural in the ceiling of the dome.  While there I also climbed up to the Whispering Gallery.  Before entering the stairwell leading up to the gallery they have signs posted – you are about to climb 257 steps to get there.  Walking into the stairwell, you are presented with these wide 3-inch high steps and yes, I scoffed at them.  Only 257?  Pshaw.  I got this.  So I begin the climb up the steps…..it’s about step 86 as I’ve wound my way around and around up the steps that I begin to wonder if it will ever end.  The steps are winding around a giant stone column so you never see exactly where you’re going – just the stone column and the stone steps – and I’m telling you, those wide 3-inch high steps that I scoffed at earlier were paying me back big time.

By the time I finally reach the Whispering Gallery I’m panting like a dog and convinced my death is near.  I walk part way around the dome to find a seat by myself – only because I don’t want anyone to hear my embarrassing breathing.  First I stand against the rail looking down upon those awesome mosaic murals, and looking up at the painted ones.  I’m only 5’1″ so standing at the rail that had to be about 4’9″ high, I felt like a 5 year old standing on tip toes peering over with only my eyes visible.

When I’ve almost caught my breath I sit on the stone bench that surrounds the dome.  Suddenly I’m startled by a voice in my ear asking, ‘Can you hear me?’  I flip my head over to see whose lap I almost sat on to see no one.  Oh Dear Lord, I really did die!  The angels are speaking to me, Lord!   It took me a few seconds to realize I was not in fact dead, but a young couple are whispering to each other across the dome.  I should probably be ashamed by that story because I was in the Whispering Gallery.  Duh.  However, the nearest person to me was probably 10 feet away and that voice literally sounded like someone was whispering directly in my ear.  I’m justified, right?  lol

You can of course climb another set of steps to another level but possibly due to my near-death experience, I opted instead to climb back down the stairs and finish up my tour of the cathedral so I could head over to The Globe theatre.  It’s not official without one, so another 100 yard false start I finally get on my way.

This was actually taken on my way back, as you can see St. Paul’s dome in the center there, but let’s pretend, shall we?

A short jaunt across the Millenium Bridge through incredibly strong winds, you practically arrive at the doorstep of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  If you read my day two entry, you know I’m a fan of Shakespeare’s work so I was naturally excited about touring the remake of his theatre.

Opened in 1997, this is the remake of Shakespeare’s Globe – an exact replica.

I was pretty disappointed I didn’t catch a show there.  I think they perform plays mainly in the summer months and of course my trip was a little early for that.  The tour was interesting though and I’m so glad I went.

Next I went to Tate Modern just next door and oh my, were my eyes opened to modern art.  I walk in to the industrial building on the “second” floor.  I don’t know what it is about art galleries but they bring out the world’s worst cynic in me almost immediately.  So of course walking in the door to discover you must walk down steps to the ground floor in order to get on an escalator that will go directly to the third floor was just what I needed to start my tour out right.  Strange just for the sake of being different.   And here we go!

Heading to the steps I look to my left and there’s a giant box made of what could possibly be train box cars 3 high and 3 wide, on stilts.  It’s a “sculpture”.  If you walk to the opposite end, it is open for you to walk up the ramp into this giant black box.  It is interesting in the way a science experiment is interesting.  It plays with your depth perception.  So not a total wash.

Next I head over to the escalators and ride on up to the third floor.   The gallery begins innocently enough with abstract art.  I saw one of Kandinsky’s paintings – he is one of my favorites – and a few Picasso’s and then one big one by Henry Matisse.  Of course abstract art is pretty relative so there are some that I’m pretty sure I may have drawn in elementary school at some point, but there was also some impressive pieces.  I wind my way around and there’s a room with giant white canvasses painted with red swirlies.  Inside that room is an entrance to another exhibit.

I have a teensy bit of trouble with my attention span so I do a lot of skimming without paying much attention – in one ear and out the other?  Yeah, that’s me.  So I skim the information on this artist and ‘Oh!  I didn’t know Paul McCartney did art too!’ so I enter to see what Mr. Beatle himself has been up to in the art world…..  Short hallway into a viewing room and there’s a video playing….it has three different panels at the same time….Panel 1 is a naked man bouncing around with boxing gloves on…..Panel 2 is a close-up of a blindfolded woman with vomit slowly dripping out of her mouth…..needless to say, I did not make it to Panel 3.  I turn around and exit the exhibit wondering what the hell kind of drugs Paul McCartney has gotten himself into when I get back to the information and realize it’s not Paul McCartney but Paul McCarTHY.  Thank Heavens Mr. Beatle is still Mr. Beatle.

I exit the rooms and I walk across the hall to another room.  This one holds photograph art.  Turn to my right and there is a series of four small, framed pictures.  Picture 1 is a man in a white butcher or doctor’s coat with something dark all over him holding something…an organ of some kind?  Over to Picture 2 and the same man in the same coat with a little less darkness on it and a bigger organ…is that blood?  On to Picture 3 and you realize it was indeed blood….from a fawn’s carcass that is hanging from meat hooks while he mutilates it.  Lovely.  I did not make it to Picture 4.

And so brings an end to the short and tentative relationship between myself and Tate Modern.  The two of us apparently have very different opinions on what qualifies as art and what qualifies as ‘someone-obviously-needs-to-be-committed-to-a-mental-institution-pronto’.  I find my way back to the escalator-that-skips-the-second-floor-for-no-good-reason and ride back down to the ground floor so I can climb the steps back up to the exit.  I do make a stop by the gift shop and buy a book for my mother.  Syonara, Tate Modern.

And so ends Day Six in London…my final day of vacation.  Highlights of today was the British Museum, and my near-death experience in the Whispering Gallery.

London – Day Five

Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four

I wore different shoes on day five and they started off rather comfortably.  Unfortunately, by the end of the day my feet hurt again only on a different part.  By this point I’m convinced my feet are irreparably disfigured and will never be the same again.

The day begins with a river cruise to Greenwich.  It’s Sunday and the market is supposed to be in full swing.  The morning was pretty overcast but no rain, fortunately.

Cruising the Thames under London Bridge.

The H.M.S. Belfast with the Tower Bridge in the background.

This river cruise was much, much, much better than the one I took offered by the London Eye.  Much.  The tour guide was very knowledgeable which was great, but he was also hilarious which was even better.  Loved him!

Upon arriving in Greenwich, I headed straight to the market.  This market was heralded as one of the best but it was actually quite small and didn’t have what I was looking for – old books – so I left a touch disappointed.  It has lots of crafts though and Oh, the food!!  It was the highlight of the market for me.  Food from every ethnicity you can think of.  I had some authentic pierogis and also tried some Nigerian potato stew.  Yum!!!!!!  Oh yes, and of course I got a crepe with nutella and bananas.  Almost forgot that one.

I didn’t take many pictures at the market, but here’s one as I was walking in.

After the market I hopped on the river cruise back to town.  I switched up my little itinerary yet again and decided to get off at their stop in front of the Tower of London for a tour.  The top picture on this entry is of the White Tower, located inside Tower of London.

It’s hard to be in a place or look at something and wrap your head around the fact that it’s literally almost 1,000 years old.  Not a remake…original.  It’s hard to grasp that when you read about Anne Boelyn being beheaded in history books, it was through those very grounds that she walked.  It’s not a fairy tale.  1,000 years worth of other people walked on the same stones I was walking on that day.  It’s mind-blowing when you really think about it.

This monument now stands where thousands of people were beheaded.  Including Anne Boelyn.

Inside the tower they do free tours about every 30 minutes led by Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters.  I followed one around but I didn’t get much from it.  They give you some history but it’s difficult to hear at times and me being only 5’1″ it’s also difficult to see most times.  Neither is the fault of the beefeater and it’s free so what can ya do?

This was the Beefeater who led my tour.

The Crown Jewels are also housed inside the Tower of London.  I went through but *yawn*.  I mean, how interesting can you make crowns and gold platters and such?  Just not my cup of tea, I guess.

After the Tower of London I had thought about trying to find the British Museum but it was Sunday and I knew it was probably too late being in the afternoon so I put it off once again and decided to head out to Harrod’s instead.

This was originally on my list for day one, but it just didn’t happen.  So off I go to the shopping mecca that is Harrod’s.  The place is huge, just like they say.  Any place that offers maps when you enter…yeah, it’s big.

A few things…the owner (sorry, can’t remember his name) Al-Fayed has a wax figure of himself (a la Madame Toussad’s) at one of the entrances.  Creepy.  And of course there’s the bronze statue of Diana and Dodi with a dove in another part.  Sweet but also somewhat creepy.

I went through the souvenir shop which has anything you could possibly want with Harrod’s printed on it.  Here I bought some small gifts for my girlfriends.

Next it was on to the food halls.  When you mention Harrod’s or see it mentioned, the food halls shortly follow.  Oh my.  It’s somewhat like a grocery store, somewhat like a department store, and somewhat like a gift shop with two or three small restaurant spaces in it as well.  Chocolates, vegetables, seafood, meats, sandwiches….it’s all there.

The only way to navigate Harrod’s is to develop a mission.  Decide what it is you want to shop for, find it on the map, and go.  I ended up visiting the book section and the pet section.  The store was about to close as I checked out at my last stop so it was time to head on back to the hotel and of course, make my usual stop by Sainsbury’s for dinner.

Highlight for today was the river cruise to Greenwich for the commentator, and on the way back for the sun finally making an appearance.

London – Day Four

Day One
Day Two
Day Three

By Day Four I started venturing from my itinerary.  I never have been much for schedules anyway so it was inevitable, really.  I was originally slated to go to Trafalgar Square (above), then Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, then to the British Museum, and finally to a show that night.  I’ve mentioned my uncomfortable tennis shoes before….so yeah, British Museum got cut from Day Four.  However, someone on the day tour of my second day insisted I must see Borough Market, so I added that in the morning.

Borough Market is a food/flowers market on Borough High Street open Thursdays – Saturdays.  If you are in search of a vegetable, a cheese, or a meat and are in London, this is the place to start.  Stalls packed in as tight as they can possibly get while still leaving a little walking room for customers.  Oh this is a foodie’s paradise!  My best friend would have loved it.  Vendor tables stacked with 20 different (probably homemade) cheeses, or mushrooms, or bread…  Then there are the food vendors.  Fresh falafel, vegan, vegetarian, quiches, burgers…and it’s all amazing!

One of the bread vendors.

Isn’t this place adorable?  The brick wall, the sign, the flowers…perfect.

I ate a falafel wrap which was fantastic, and I had some organic juice.  I also bought a “world’s best” brownie for later.  The market was awesome.  Just strolling through looking at everything for sale was pretty entertaining.

Next I hopped back on the tube and headed on over to Trafalgar Square.  Lots of people mulling about, probably some excellent people-watching to be had.

The day I was out there, these guys were preaching from the base of the statue.  They had the whole set-up, speakers and all.

Turn around and you’re standing right in front of the National Gallery.

Of course they don’t allow pictures to be taken inside the National Gallery.  I did my own version of a highlight tour.  I saw Rembrandt, da Vinci, and van Gogh.  As I walked from one painting legend to the next I would scan the other paintings, however, I found myself becoming quite the cynic as I strolled the rooms.  The people who sit on the provided benches and stare at paintings?  Yeah, I don’t get it.  I’m not an artist so that’s probably why but I don’t have the patience to sit and stare at a painting while I analyze it.

Fortunately you don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the greats.  Rembrandt had a portrait of an older woman that was so amazingly lifelike it literally looked like a woman sitting there with a frame around her head.  Truly fantastic.  Disappointingly they only had one piece of da Vinci’s and it wasn’t even a painting.  It was a sketch of two women.  As I am often impressed by the age of things, I put more attention on the yellowed paper and frayed edges of the sketch.

Though he was the first I saw I mention his last because he was my favorite – van Gogh.  In a building of smooth, perfect paintings his textured canvases really caught my attention.  I wasn’t a fan of the famed yellow flowers in a vase, but they also had two landscape/nature pictures of his that I absolutely adored.  The texture of the paint was so perfect I think even a blind person could run their fingers over the canvas and see what he portrayed.  I don’t know, the texture just added another element to the painting.  Almost like a 3D effect.  It was stunning and I will be buying prints soon of my favorite.

After I left National Gallery I did make an attempt to go to the British Museum.  Remember those achin’ feet and uncomfortable shoes I mentioned before?  Yeah, I did a circle of Trafalgar Square without finding the street I was looking for, so I decided to head on over to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.

Not really much to see at Piccadilly Circus during the daytime.  At night it’s where most of the theatres are so it gets pretty busy.  There are those big billboards though (pictured above), and a little stroll down the street from the tube stop and you’ll find yourself at Leicester Square.

The famed TKTS booth of Leicester Square.

Leicester Square is basically a little park-like area with benches, surrounded by restaurants and a cinema.  I bought tickets to that night’s performance of The 39 Steps, a comedy based on a Hitchcock film and then got a little cup of ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s.  Though it was drizzling outside, I sat on one of the benches and ate my ice cream just kind of taking in the scenery.

The tkts booth (pictured above) they say is really the only trusted place to buy 1/2 price theatre tickets.  I didn’t have a problem at all and they got me pretty decent seats – that is if the man sitting in front of me hadn’t had a gigantic head.  I’m only 5’1″, people!!

I decided against trying to find the British Museum again and opted instead to go back to my hotel and rest before getting ready for that night’s show.

Those billboards are much more interesting at night.

I came back to Piccadilly Circus that night for the show.  It was at the Criterion Theatre which is small and old, but charming.  The show was great.  Four actors played all the roles and most of the comedy came from two characters switching back and forth, and also the improv of props.  Great show and I’m so glad I decided to see that one.

After the show I headed back to the hotel.  This was really the only night I ever felt the slightest bit unsafe during my entire week.  There was a guy on the tube that kind of freaked me out a bit, and then walking to the hotel there were three guys I was a little leery of.  However, nothing came of either situation and I made it to my hotel safe and sound!  🙂

Highlight of today was definitely van Gogh, and the show.

London – Day Three

Day One
Day Two

Day Three began my actual tour of London.  On this day I included Buckingham Palace (pictured above), Westminster Abbey, a walk by the House of Parliament and Big Ben’s clock tower, and then a “flight” on the London Eye.

My plan was to catch the Changing of the Guards but of course I didn’t arrive early enough.  I got there shortly before the first ceremony begins (where the troops start) and it was packed.  My own fault, the guide books warned me.  One said it’s usually best to get there by 10:30.  He was probably right.

Instead, I jogged over to the opening ceremony and snapped a few shots of that.

This was as they first started to march their way to Buckingham Palace.

I kind of tagged along behind the soldiers back over to the palace.  Of course I couldn’t see anything but I took a few pictures of me in front of the palace and such.

After the ceremony, I took a stroll through St. James Park.  It’s not quite spring yet so I’m sure not as beautiful as it could be, but it was lovely all the same.

In the center there is Duck Island.  That’s of course the London Eye on the right side.

My stroll took a little longer than I planned because I must always stop and check out the animals.  The squirrels were mammoth and were tame enough to (still skittishly) come up and eat out of your hand.  And of course the pond had lots of birds.

I hear swans can be territorial and mean but aren’t they beautiful?

After St. James Park it was off to Westminster Abbey.  I was pretty proud of my sight-seeing plans on this day.  The palace and the church are actually quite close to each other.  Not a long walk at all.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey…what can you say?  The place is absolutely astounding.  A few notes, I think the audio tours here are free and I assure you, well worth stopping to get one.  Also, you are not allowed to take photos inside the church.

Walking in the main area (nave) I actually teared up.  I’m not overly religious or anything but it is amazing.  The amount of detail will blow your mind.  In the ceiling, in the woodwork of the choir area, on everything.  Then you walk around the different chapels with the audio guide giving a little description of whose tomb you are looking at, often including a short piece about who the person was and what significance they hold.  The history, the detail, the reverence of the place….it was breathtaking.

Before leaving I lit three candles in the provided area.  I really was at a loss for words so I just lit the candles and stared at them for a while.  I don’t know if that really serves its purpose, but I hope so.

Leaving Westminster Abbey I basically hopped across the street to the House of Parliament and the clock tower.

Massive.  And as you can see, they’re doing a little work on the Parliament building.

I skipped trying to go inside and watch Parliament at work, so I walked across Westminster Bridge to Bankside where London Eye is just to the left.

Before riding the London Eye I went on their little 45-minute river cruise.  It cost, I think, £9 or £10 with the purchase of your flight ticket.  Personally, not really worth it.  The commentary was rather lazy and pointless.  Especially when I took another river cruise down to Greenwich another day.  Much better.

The London Eye flight was excellent.  When you’re loading, the pods do not stop.  They line you up in 4 rows and let you go one row at a time.  Seriously, it never stops.

This was my pod approaching.  And not stopping.

The entire flight takes 30 minutes.  You don’t go fast at all and the views are pretty great.  I’m sure on a clearer day it’s even better.

As you can see, it was rainy when I was there.

After the flight I headed on back to my hotel.  About two blocks down from the Marble Arch tube stop is a little Sainbury’s.  It’s like a miniature grocery store.  It became my little nightly ritual to slip in here and grab one of the ready-made sandwiches, a little bag of crisps, and a soda.  So I made my usual stop and then headed on back to the hotel.

Highlights of the day had to be Westminster Abbey and the London Eye.  Both I would recommend people visit when in London.  They were both fantastic.

London – Day Two

Oh the woes of figuring out a cell phone alarm clock!  Day Two in London was actually an escorted day tour to Warwick Castle (pictured above), Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Oxford.  I set the alarm clock on my phone to go off at 6:45 AM because I had to be at Victoria coach station before 8:45 AM.  Plenty of time, right?  Not for the people who don’t know how to set their alarm clock!  Turns out, you have to actually Enable the alarm before it will activate.  Silly modern technology… 

The next morning I wake with a start.  Immediately check the time on the phone…8:02 AM.  Exactly 43 minutes before I’m supposed to be at the station.  So it’s going to be a repeat of Day One, huh?  It’s like that now?  My mind is racing.  It normally takes me an hour to make myself presentable.  The math doesn’t add up right there alone.  I’m screwed. 

If nothing else though, this girl is a fighter.  I’m not giving up that easy!  Fortunately.  I end up taking the shortest shower in history, spend about 8 seconds blow drying my hair, and call the front desk for a cab.  Make-up gets done in the cab on the way to Victoria station.  My hair isn’t as “finished” as I like it to be, but at least it’s clean. 

I make it to the station just as they’re walking out to the bus.  Hallelujah!  I fall in line like I’d been there the whole time and within 30 minutes or so we’re off to Warwick Castle.  The guide is quite knowledgeable and charming, telling us about our surroundings as we drive out of London.

Leaving the city there is gorgeous countryside.  Beautiful green, rolling hills.  Pastures of sheep grazing.  The farmhouses are those of storybooks.  Typically old stone homes sitting atop a sweeping hill with the green pastures rolling gently on every side.  I can’t keep the smile off my face as I gaze out the window.  This is part of the England I came to see.

I was aware that Warwick Castle had some form of reenactment programs they put on.  I was not aware it was so kid-oriented and was slightly disappointed when I discovered this.  It’s somewhat Castle Disney.  Regardless, it’s interesting and some beautiful scenery.

I finally found that knight in shining armor I’ve been looking for…

Has to be my favorite photo of the day.  This is some of that pretty scenery I was talking about.

After about an hour and a half self-touring the grounds of Warwick Castle, we begin on our 20 minute journey to Stratford-Upon-Avon, birthplace of the one and only William Shakespeare.

There’s a certain pedestal I guess I’ve placed Shakespeare on in my mind.  I’m a reader.  And in some small corner of my mind, I fancy myself a writer.  Books of older generations are my favorites.  Bronte, Austen…  I even collect old hardbacks.  There’s something in the language.  It’s like writing in those days was an art form of another level.  Take this for example: 

 ‘I’ve had some powerful dreams in my life.’
‘I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after.’

The latter is Emily Bronte.  It’s so much better, isn’t it?  Prettier.  It makes me want to dream myself, dreams that will stay with me ever after.

When I think of Shakespeare, I typically focus on the lyric of his words.  What a beautiful, ornate use of the English language he had.  I focus on the slight adoration I have when I think of the type of stories he wrote and how controversial they had to have been in his day.  Plays alone were considered morally corrupt.  Shakespeare wrote plays, but plays about interracial relationships (Othello), young love that defies family and social customs of the day in the name of love itself (Romeo & Juliet).  There are so many societal boundaries he overstepped.  I’m sure these things happened, it’s just no one talked about them.  At least in my mind.

And off on a tangent I’ve gone.  Sorry.  Ok, so Shakespeare’s somewhat on a pedestal in my mind.  You can imagine my dismay when our guide kind of drug him through the mud during our ride over.  He talked a lot about Shakespeare’s personal life.  Marrying an older woman, having three kids with her, and then running off to London for years when he did his writing.  I like Shakespeare on his pedestal in my mind.  I didn’t want to know he was human and could’ve been a deadbeat dad.  Come on!  ‘Done to death by slanderous tongue was the hero that here lies’.  (Much Ado About Nothing)  Thanks, tour guide.

Anyway, Stratford.  Shakespeare’s birthplace.

A view of the street Shakespeare’s house is on.  That would be it there, first on the left.

The house is small, naturally.  And once inside the first room, you find you are not allowed to take pictures.  *sigh*  So the only one I took was this…

I find some amazement in the idea that this is the same window William Shakespeare also looked out years ago.

Unfortunately, the tour involved a small space with lots of people in it.  Most were high school students.  Probably goes without saying, I quickly became jaded and hurried my way through the rest of the house.  The highlight for me was actually the actor in the garden after my tour of the house who I watched recite two Shakespeare pieces.

There’s magic in those words, I tell ya.

After the tour I had lunch in a little restaurant across the street.  An excellent panini with chips.  Bacon, cheese, and mushrooms.  Yes, it was worth mentioning.

And finally we’re off to Oxford.  A town known for its university (collection of individual colleges), and of course, Christ Church where part of Harry Potter was filmed.  Where the other towns were basically drop-off self-tours, in Oxford we were led on an escorted walking tour.  The same guide who dive bombed my Shakespeare pedestal just two hours before, took the group on a tour around the city pointing out buildings of interest and telling stories of the histories. 

Can’t remember which college this is.  It was where we unloaded from the bus. 

And this would be the “tour” we had of Christ Church.  A view of it from a mile off.  I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic, but if you’re going to bother mentioning it in the tour description, tour the damn thing.

After the disappointing 10 minute walk to that view of Christ Church, it was another 15 minute walk back to the bus where we then headed back to London.  They at least were nice enough to drop us off at tube stops that would take us back to our general area.  And this time, I didn’t get lost!!  Yay for paying attention!

All in all, it was a much better day than my first.  I did enjoy the tour.  Met a nice Canadian lady who I chatted with periodically during the tour.  It was a good day.

London – Day One

Day One of the trip started innocently enough.  Everything went smoothly the morning of the flight.  Made it to the airport on time.  An 8-hour direct flight – very little turbulence, free movies and tv shows provided for everyone, food was decent, and we arrived on time.

I only got one hour of sleep on the flight, either from excitement or nerves and that will begin the downhill slide.  Number one, I don’t do well without sleep.  Number two, after an 8 hour flight I felt nasty and just wanted a shower.  I don’t do well when I feel nasty either.

Disembark the plane, go through customs and my passport gets its approved stamp.  First one!  Next it’s time for me to hop aboard the Gatwick Express for my train ride to London only it’s 6:30 AM and the ticket counter outside customs is not open.

Instead I have to drag my two suitcases to a shuttle bus that goes to the other terminal, drag them another 1/2 mile or so to get my ticket, then find the train.  After waiting about 20 minutes, I board to find every seat taken.  I have to stand in the middle aisle with one huge suitcase and one carry-on suitcase for the 30 minute ride, rocking back and forth with the train trying desperately to keep my rear out of the poor gent’s face who was unfortunate enough to sit in the seat I stopped next to.

I arrive at Victoria Station and find my way to the taxi pick-ups.  Not long after I’m on my way to the hotel.  The taxi driver was lovely.  He pointed out places of importance along the way and threw in a little history for good measure.  Back of Buckingham Palace…Hyde Park…the first building ever built in London.

The hotel is a small converted townhouse and is actually quite cute.  The reception is down a narrow flight of stairs so I leave my luggage in the lobby and go to check-in.  Unfortunately their check-in time is 1 PM and it’s only about 7:30 at this point.  I can leave my bags with them, but that requires me carrying both down that flight of stairs.  It was not fun.

They do allow me to sit and eat a breakfast though which killed about 30 minutes and made me feel slightly more human.  I then pull my laptop out of it’s case and send emails to everyone who requested updates on my whereabouts.

I’m left with about 4 1/2 hours to kill.  I return my laptop and decide to take a little stroll around the neighborhood.  Let me go ahead and forewarn anyone planning on visiting London in the future….there are no “little strolls” in London.  Fair warning.

I’m exhausted, I’m nasty, and I just want my room.  Translation…I am ill.  I shoot out my hotel paying little attention to where I’m going.  I leave my luggage behind but I do carry my purse which suddenly feels 63 pounds heavy.

My hotel is about a 5 minute walk from Marble Arch so I’m heading in that direction.  I find it with no real problem and decide I’ll sit on a bench until I can check in my hotel.

I’d had a plan to walk through Hyde Park to Harrod’s, then over to the Victoria & Albert Museum but I just couldn’t make myself do it.  My feet already hurt because I was dumb enough to buy a new pair of sneakers a week before I left and not wear them at all before that day.  (Another tip – do not make that same mistake.)

So I sit on a bench at Marble Arch for a good 45 minutes.  I managed to take the following two pictures while I sat there:

This would be Marble Arch – from the bench I couldn’t be bothered to get off in order to take this picture.

And this would be a pair of shoes I spotted hanging from a tree.  I’m guessing the exhaustion made this fascinating at the time.

It takes about 45 minutes for me to get bored and cold enough to try and brainstorm something else to do.  I finally decide I’ll make my first attempt at the tube system and maybe visit the V&A Museum after all.  The Marble Arch tube station is directly across the street so I make my way over and off I go!  I navigated the tubes well enough and find myself outside South Kensington tube stop.

Side note:  I did lots of research before my trip, I can assure you.  I made detailed walking directions for each day of sightseeing and Day One was no different.  However, I soon found that reading out of a book or gathering information off a web site is no substitute for actually being there.  I was quite unaware that there are often several exits from a single tube stop.

I walk out of the station and find that my walking directions do me no good whatsoever.  I have no clue where I am.  So I walk back inside to a little shop and buy the London A to Z map guide I’d seen suggested a few times.  This map definitely helps, but it’s a little difficult to figure out where exactly you’re starting from and where each street is going just because the roads seem to be so haphazard.  (I end up having trouble with this the rest of my trip.)  Once you get started in the right direction though, it’s golden.

So I find my way to the V&A Museum and make my way inside.  It’s a free museum but they do ask for a small donation.  It’s only fair, right?

I pay for my entrance and immediately spot a “cloakroom” that I make a beeline for and drop off that ridiculous purse I’m carrying.

The V&A Museum is a great place to check out a history of decorative arts and design.  Unfortunately, I’m so tired I can barely focus enough to read the little plaques beside displays so despite my best intentions, my visit quickly declines to a quick walk-through.  I did manage to get some pictures though, and a few are below:

This is an amazing chandelier they have in the main area.

I think I remember reading that these were all remakes of the originals.  Impressive all the same.

Another remake.

It wasn’t long after that I found out you aren’t supposed to take pictures in there.  Oopsie. 

So after I skimmed through the V&A, it was finally time to go to the hotel for check-in.  Trace my route back through the tube and I start walking back what I thought was the way back to my hotel.  Um, it wasn’t.  When all was said and done, I spent at least 1 1/2 hours trying to find my way to the hotel by reading the maps in the A to Z book.  Keep in mind the painful shoes and the 63 pound purse. 

I finally found my street and hobble my way down to where my hotel should be.  It’s not.  I am very nearly ready to throw myself down on the sidewalk and cry like a baby.  I have a pretty fantastic sense of direction and I have never in my life been that lost.  Never.  It’s a very helpless, disconcerting feeling.

Fortunately a cab pulls up at the connecting street just across from me and I flag it down and run across to it. 

“I need to go to 33 Gloucester Place, please.”

“Gloucester Place?  This is Gloucester Place you’re on.”

“Yes, but I tried to find my hotel and it’s not here.  I don’t have a clue where I am.”

He pulls off to the side in order to search his map because I’ve probably blown his mind by this time.

“33 Gloucester Place, yeah?  This is it.  It should be right there.”  He’s pointing directly across the street.  I look in that direction and suddenly yes, that is my hotel. 

We both laugh at my idiocy and luckily he didn’t charge me the obligatory £2 just to open the door.  I’d been less than 20 yards down the damn street from the place.  I guess what threw me off was that I came at it from the opposite direction I originally left in (thanks to all the circling around I did when I was lost).

I finally am able to check-in.  My room is on the 3rd floor and there are 5 flights of stairs up to it.  No lift.  But I make it up there and that concludes London – Day One.

Writer’s Block be Damned

Writer’s block is a bitch….let’s just get that out of the way.  I’ve come up with things to blog about every day since my last post but it takes me all of about 3.4 seconds to talk myself out of typing it.  I’ve decided that today is my day to win the battle.  So take that, writer’s block! BLAM!

Anyway, I’ve spent good portions of the past week planning my trip to London.  This is my first “passport travel” and I’m sooooo excited.  However, it’s also my first real solo trip.  Yes, I am going to a foreign country all by myself.  Absolutely exhilarating but at the same time, amazingly frightening.

I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t be going to London right now, and never by myself if it weren’t for a boy.  I’m such a sucker for those dirty mongrels.  ha!  That boy I blogged about last post….him.  So when I said it fell through, I wasn’t playing.  It really fell through.

I was originally going back in November to see him and spend a week.  Time passes, I run him off, and I’m stuck with a non-refundable ticket to Birmingham, UK.  I ended up trying to transfer.  It didn’t work out for me to make it a domestic flight so I decided to swallow the fear and just go on to London.  Hence, I’ll be an international traveler come March.

London, London, London….  I’m really excited about going to the UK at all.  Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit.  One grandmother of mine was born and raised there.  My father was born there though they moved to the States shortly thereafter.  I’m not close to those family members, but I’ve inexplicably always felt a powerful draw to England.  Strange but true.

Aside from picking the dates and purchasing my flight though, I have not set anything in stone.  That would include my hotel.  I’m so scared I’m going to pick a rotten hotel, or one that’s not conveniently located that I just keep searching and searching, writing down hotel names and then searching some more.  I do have it narrowed down to maybe 2 or 3 now though.  Hoping to finalize a reservation in the next week.

Ya know, it sucks that things fell through with that boy over in Birmingham, UK.  However, I tend to believe that things happen for a reason.  So maybe there’s some divine, fated purpose for meeting said boy, buying said ticket, that situation falling through, and then me being stuck with a solo vacation.  Maybe I’ll have some grand personal epiphany while I’m there.  Or I’ll fall in love with the country and decide to move.  Ooh, I’ll meet someone special (Oh dear heavenly father, please.).  I don’t know but regardless, I’m looking forward to the adventure.

Now if I can just decide on a place to stay….