Monday, October 27, 2014

The UK Part VI: "A bad day in London is still better than a good day anywhere else" ;)

Monday 7 July 2014
We were up and hit the motorway for London. I’m SO excited. London is one of my most favorite cities. We are returning the car to Heathrow airport to take the tube (subway) into the city.

City driving in London is not recommended for those that don’t live there…or even, really, for those that do ;) There are areas inside the city that you need a permit just to enter!!

The drive was without incident, except the 20min detour, during which we managed to drive in circles to locate a petrol station :P

We dropped off the car and hopped on the provided shuttle to the airport. The shuttle also made a stop at a nearby tube station.

The best way to ride the tube in London is by purchasing an “Oyster Card”.You simply buy a card with a 5£ deposit and continuing adding money to the card. It’s cheaper to travel this way, b/c oyster card fares are less than a regular one way fare. AND at the end of your time in London…you just return the card and get your 5£ back. You’re welcome. :P

Since I don’t have an International data plan, I rely on wifi for my phone and then snap pics to reference when I’m away from wifi. I did this to find our hotel here by snapping pics of the map. Sometimes, randomly, the little blue GPS dot will continue to work even away from wifi, but it’s inconsistent.

Anyway, I’d put the address of the hotel in my phone and snapped pictures of the directions. So, we got off the tube and made our way to the hotel following the pics in my phone.

It was about a 15 min walk, but our bags are sooooo heavy. We had to stop for breaks and we were both dripping in sweat. I’ve probably mentioned this before…but I read a quote something to the effect of, ‘to travel happy is to travel light’. Let me tell you, as someone who knows…this is TRUE. VERY TRUE. Curse those bags ;) Tho…to be honest…I’m not sure what, if anything, I’d take out. I wore all my clothes all the time.

We finally made it to the address in my phone, but it was CLEARLY not a hotel. I checked our reservation again and realized to my horror…that my phone had NOT taken us to the correct address. Why does this happen sometimes? You know…you’ll type in an address and it’s like, ‘How bout THIS instead?’ or ‘did you mean ___?’. WHY?! Why didn’t I notice?!

After more wandering, we found the hotel and it was a BLOCK from the tube station. I thought Preston might kill me, but he was really nice about it.

The hotel is nice, but teeny. There’s hardly room for our giant bags :P Crazy to pay soooo much for such a small space. Ah, London. It’s been this way here for CENTURIES.

It started to rain. We got settled and relaxed a while. As we headed out to explore, the sky cleared again.

It’s cool weather here with a touch of humidity. It reminds me of fall back home.

We wandered up the nearby street and ducked into a pub for a pint and some dinner.

From there, we strolled up to Hyde Park. The sun was low in the sky and it was quite beautiful after the rain. We peered through the gate at Kensington Palace and continued walking through the park. I wish I’d see my girl crush Kate Middleton. I swear I’ve loved her as long as William has ;)

I was SO excited to be in London and talked and talked, but Preston was mostly quiet except for the occasional sigh :-/ I asked him if he wanted to see Harrods, which is one of the world’s biggest department stores, but he wasn’t too enthused. I guess I understand.

We did go in to use the bathroom and I gawked at the enormous food court and rows and rows of watches and clothes and flowers and anything else you can imagine. It’s HUGE.

Since I felt like I was torturing Preston, we returned early to the hotel for the rest of the night.

Tuesday 8 July 2014
We walked down the street this morning for breakfast. Preston got a HUGE cup of coffee. Hehe.

We took the tube to Buck Palace for a peek and made our way on foot to see Westminster Abbey and gaze at Big Ben and Parliament. We didn’t go inside-deciding to skip the fees and looonnng lines.

We crossed the river to stroll a while on the South Bank and crossed back again on Millennium Bridge.

Continuing our walk, we made our way to Trafalgar Square. In honor of Nikki, I climbed on the lions. Hehe. When she and I were here in 2009, she made a half hearted drunken attempt to get on top these beasts and failed. It’s haunted her ever since. :P

To her credit, it wasn’t super easy and a lot of people couldn’t do it. I patiently waited my turn behind a girl who struggled and struggled and gave up. I did it, but it was like doing a pull up and Preston had to help me down ;) 

We rested a while on the steps (my foot is STILL killing me) and then checked out the Portrait Gallery, which I loved.

We saw a portrait of the ‘Duke of Villiers’-almost certainly a relative and a favorite of James I.

From there, we continued to Piccadilly Circus and got a cup of coffee in a café 
as it started to rain.

We jumped back on a VERY crowded and uncomfortable tube. I’m not sure what was going on, but we were WEDGED in there. I was in some guy’s armpit for a few stops. 

We spent a little while at the hotel and then ventured out to a pizza place for dinner, since we had gotten a coupon with our room.

Preston wanted to catch the World Cup game, so we headed to a pub for a pint.

On the way, we passed a TV in a window that showed Germany had scored.
We walked a short way to a pub and as we entered…Germany scored AGAIN…and as we walked the four feet to the counter to order…Germany scored AGAIN!! It was CRAZY.

The match was exciting and the energy in the pub was palpable. Nonetheless…Preston didn’t want to stay and we returned to our tiny room for the rest of the night.

Wednesday 9 July 2014
We checked out another part of London today-near the British Museum. We didn’t go to the museum, because I’d been there and Preston wasn’t interested (go figure :-/). We got a pint near Drury Lane (do you know the muffin man?).

Preston’s lack of interest in seeing or doing ANYTHING led us to Hyde Park, where we joined others in taking a nap in the sun.

Preston wanted to go back to the hotel, so we spent the afternoon there :-/

We returned to the pub from the first night for dinner and another World Cup match.

We met a group of young guys and had fun chatting with them about England/America. One of them was headed to Detroit to work for a few months. Random!! We were like, please don’t judge America by Detroit ;)

Thursday 10 July 2014
We got up early today to go to….THE TOWER!! It has been our ONE splurge in expensive London. I’ve been here 3x, but this will only be my second time at the Tower.

There is SO much History here, particularly involving two little princes…a story I find FASCINATING, but more on that later.

It was a gloomy, rainy, perfect London day. We took the tube over to the Tower and got some coffee to warm up before heading inside.

Rick Steves told us to go first to the Crown Jewels, since the popular attraction gets VERY busy. We wove through the empty line-grateful not to be waiting for hours. We watched a short video about some of the jewels and their role in Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. We headed into a room and stepped on a moving platform to glimpse at these magnificent pieces.

Unfortunately, most of the Crown Jewels of old were destroyed, lost, or melted down in the time of Cromwell, so nothing remains that is VERY old, but the crowns and scepters, plates, bowls, etc. are pretty spectacular. The Koh-i-Noor diamond is HUGE and incredible. It amuses me that we, as evolved humans, are still so fascinated with bright, shiny things ;) However, if you find yourself in London…this is definitely worth a look.

We left the jewels and checked out a tower that had held many notable prisoners. The coolest thing was the words/messages that had been carved into the walls.

I stood quietly next to the site where Anne Boleyn was beheaded…sorry for the young girl who found herself in over her head :P in a time of political piranhas (are things any different now?).

We walked through the armory and saw the armor of old Kings. Henry VIIIs is quite funny.

Nice codpiece ;)
We headed to the front gate to join in an included tour led by one of the famous Beefeaters.

The Beefeaters (thus called as they were once paid in beef-or so the story goes) are the guardians of the Tower. One Beefeater, the Ravenmaster, guards the ravens of the tower. It is said that if these ravens leave the Tower…the monarchy will crumble. These ravens were HUGE. Hrmm. Game of Thrones much?

It started POURING, so the ‘tour’ instead became just a talk inside one of the chapels.

The Beefeater gave a good History, most of which I already knew, because I’m a HUGE nerd for English History.

Speaking of…I’m currently reading this book, “The Plantagenet’s”, which is a non-fiction account of the family that ruled England for 300 years. I highly recommend this book, but it’s long and quite a commitment. :D

We exited the chapel and walked through a chamber displaying devices of medieval torture. Eek.

From there, we went into THE BLOODY TOWER and read the sad fate of the two boy princes.

When Edward the IV died in 1483, his two young sons (one of which was Edward the V, the other was the younger Richard of Shrewsbury) were taken from their mother and placed in this tower for ‘safe keeping’. They were last seen playing on the lawn outside the tower before the summer of 1483…but then WERE NEVER SEEN AGAIN.

No one knows for sure what happened to these two princes, but the popular belief is that they were murdered…likely by their Uncle, Richard III…who gained the crown in their absence. There is speculation that the disappearance of the princes was the work of Henry Tudor…later to become Henry VII, who also benefited from their vanishing.

In 1674, during renovations in the Tower…the bones of young children were found within a step. These bones were reburied and presumed to be the princes. In 1933, these bones were exhumed and again surmised to be the princes, but no DNA evidence supports these claims.

During the reign of Henry VII, a man called Perkin Warbeck presented himself to the court as the lost Prince Richard. It was a plausible theory, since Richard did not immediately join Edward in the tower, but was instead protected for some time by his mother. There are rumors that the Queen had switched her true son for that of a servant's son. However, Perkin Warbeck was later pressured to admit his lie and was beheaded as an impostor. But, was he?

I’m telling you…I could geek out on this stuff all day. History is the BEST story!!

The rain was really coming down, but we walked a bit along the top of the wall and took in the strategic views of the Thames before leaving the Tower grounds for some lunch.

We walked in the soaking rain along the river and found a pub. I wanted a bowl of soup to ease the chill, but soup was surprisingly absent from the menu. London Fail.  The pub was also out of the next two choices I made for lunch. We would have left, but the rain kept us inside and I settled on a sandwich.
Preston wanted to return to the hotel after lunch, but I was DETERMINED to use EVERY moment of my last day in London…the last day of this incredible trip. Preston decided to stay out with me. Yay.

We continued down the river and crossed again to the South Bank to check out the Tate Modern.

 I’m not much for modern art, but the building is awesome and was a nice reprieve from the rain. The coolest thing I saw was a tree carved from processed wood.

We left there and continued walking along the river. We stopped for a coffee and some sweets.

Crossing the river again, we walked along the crowded streets near Charing Cross. I found the “Player’s Club”, which Nikki and I famously visited back in 2009 and found another Villiers Street.


Back on the tube, we we returned to the hotel to rest our feet before dinner.
The rain cleared and we ventured from the hotel again on foot. We found a pub and ordered drinks. We attempted to order dinner, but in a repeat of lunch…they were out of everything I wanted :P

He's quite the Londoner
Hoping for something traditionally English on our last night…we headed to another pub for bangers and mash.

I can’t believe our trip is done!! I have so many mixed feelings. It’s been wonderful in SO many ways and I wish we could keep going, but Preston has been so miserable- that I long for the company of others and look forward to going home and seeing my family and friends. Plus, we are nearly out of money :P

It’s been an amazing time…one that I’ll talk about for the rest of my life. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.

See ya later London!!

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