Day 1. Technically, day 2. Tuesday (the real day 1) I did a half day of work, and then split for the train station. Train to Paris, RER train to different station, train to London. Yes, I took the Chunnel. It's not as cool as you'd think. It's very fast, so even when you are above ground, the view out the window is just a blur. But then when you're in the tunnel, you can't see anything at all. I mean, it's a marvel of modern engineering, but it's not a fascinating ride. I arrived at my hotel, which I snagged at a super great deal. London prices are not what I would call 'affordable', but I managed to land a 5 star hotel at a 3 star price (well, for London). I'm a firm believer that being frugal has its benefits. Save now, have fun later. This is my later:
Anyway, my number one must-see was the London Eye. I have a thing for ferris wheels. Standing 135 m tall, opened in 2000, it was the world's tallest ferris wheel for 6 years. It is now the third tallest in the world, and it remains the tallest in Europe. Not only did it make me incredibly happy just to be on it (because inside I'm really just a small child), it's also a fantastic view.
|The London Eye|
|Big Ben and Parliament, as seen from above|
|London eye views|
See that weird pointy building in that picture? That's The Shard, the tallest building in the EU, which just opened to the public a couple months ago.
After that I headed over to Big Ben, only to find the streets were blocked off, and the sidewalks were more than usually crowded. As it happens, I had arrived very serendipitously: the Queen was about to travel from Buckingham Palace to Parliament to give her annual speech. Being rather short, I didn't get any good pictures, but for about 3 seconds, I did in fact see the Queen of England in her royal carriage, wearing her diamond crown (not the coronation one).
|The royal guard|
|The royal carriage (Queen not pictured)|
|The poor members of the royal band in their big fuzzy hats|
|And with their real swords and knives|
Also, besides having about a hundred guys on horses (and most of the city police lining her route), she had the royal band. They were really good and I ended up near them at one point. They were at ease waiting to be allowed to leave, so I took the opportunity of mentioning to them that I played in marching band for eight years, and I completely sympathize with their big fuzzy hats. The guy kind of smiled. We band kids have to stick together; once you've worn an all wool and polyester outfit, you belong.
Once I managed to get through the crowd, I made my way to Westminster Abbey. It's beautiful, but I have to tell you, it's a very frustrating experience. There are far far far too many people who go in there and act like they've got the place to themselves. Really unfortunate. In one chapel, despite numerous signs asking that you keep moving because it's a very narrow space, these people would stop and just chat about the tombs they were looking at. They were speaking English, so they don't get the excuse of not understanding the signs, and there's no way they couldn't see the huge line of people waiting behind them. At one point I actually asked them aloud if they wouldn't mind moving forward. They chose not to hear me, though I'm sure I spoke quite distinctly. This is why I don't like the general public. Otherwise though, it's very interesting. There's so many famous people buried there; kings and queens and lords that have all been scattered through your history books are all right there.
They built the whole thing out of brick, even the domes, to show that a good builder doesn't need concrete or steel. The style is Neo-Byzantine, a big change from the gothic cathedrals I'm used to frequenting. The stand out feature with this building (besides the stripes on the outside) are the beautiful mosaics that cover the floor, the walls, and some of the ceilings. However, it's far from finished. In order to stay out of debt, much the building was originally left undecorated and mosaics were added at different times. It's still unfinished, notably the ceilings, with the idea that each generation will add to the cathedral's glory.
|The front facade of Westminster Cathedral|
|The high altar|
|Some of the gorgeous mosaics|
|You can seen the difference between |
the lower tiled sections and
the unfinished upper sections
Next I hit up another of my big must-sees: The Tower of London. We've all heard the stories: royal prisoners, torture machines, disappearing princes. The Tower was built by William the Conqueror to impress (and scare into submission) the populace of London. It worked. The stone keep is the oldest in England, and the impressive fortifications and royal lodgings would have awed the Londoners. William and his lords built more than 35 castles when they first arrived, both as military posts and as residences.
Since then, the stories and legends have piled up. Eleanor of Aquitaine once tried to escape the Tower of London by boat during a revolt, but was stopped by the townspeople. A couple generations later it became less of a residence and more of a prison for high ranking traitors. A Baroness for example was held there because she refused to let Queen Isabella into her castle and actually told her archers to fire upon her. When Richard II was crowned, a peasant revolt actually made it into the castle and ransacked the crown jewels. The famous princes in the tower were (probably) killed by their uncle Duke of Gloucester who declared himself king. No one can prove it, but I'm betting the kids didn't die of natural causes. Very few people were actually killed at the Tower though. Most executions would have taken place outside on Tower Hill, but the rare and privileged few were granted a private execution, such as Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary, Queen of Scots. It would have been at about this time that the prison would have reached its peak in 'grimness'. Although greatly exaggerated in frequency, torture instruments did not go unused. The rack of course, and the manacle, but also the Scavenger's Daughter, a machine that squeezed people into a tiny painful little ball, the rack's cruel opposite.
|The Tower of London|
|Edward I's bedroom|
|The White Tower|
|The Crown Jewels|
if you come in through here, you leave in a box
|Yeoman Warder with a Raven|
Right next door is the iconic Tower Bridge. There is a London Bridge, but it's just boring looking. I had fish and chips for dinner before setting out for one last stop (before my feet cried uncle).
|The M&M Store!|
|Every color of the rainbow, in regular and peanut|
|Bag of happiness|
So I made my own bag of just my favorite colors, plus a sprinkling of crunchy M&Ms on top. Yummy!