To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Monday, June 25, 2012

F and I did quite a bit of walking around and sightseeing that Saturday afternoon.  As I look at my pictures, I realize that I saw a lot more than I got pix of.  The reality of the internet is that you can always find somebody's pictures or videos if you just know what to look for, so it's not the tragedy it could have been.

Here's an arch that Edward VII had built in honor of his mother, Queen Victoria.

If you click on it you might be able to read the inscription, which is in Latin.  F was able to translate it; I would have gotten fairly close on my own.  I guess if you're going to carve something in stone it might as well be in a formal (some might say dead) language.

Here's a monument to Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmonaut.  Unsurprisingly, the  plaque said that when they set it up Prince Michael of Kent was on hand to dedicate it.  It was to stay on the mall (pronounced "mal") for 12 months, don't know where it will be after that.

The Mobius strip with a star on it is a nice touch.

Here's the Queen Victoria monument that Ruth was hollering about at the Changing of the Guard parade.  You see a lot of actual gold on these things.  Gold doesn't corrode, of course, so it will always be bright and beautiful, but Ruth told us on Friday that there's a lot of thievery of metals from all of the ornaments and such.

It's pretty but it is utterly eclipsed by the monument Victoria built for Albert.

And here's the monument to Queen Alexandra ... for those of you who are not the history nerds buffs that F and I are, she was Bertie's wife (that was Edward VII, Victoria's eldest son) and sister to Dagmar, who was Czar Nicholas's mother, and George I of Greece.

We could not figure out the story this piece of sculpture tells.  Not for the life of us.

The Crimean War Memorial:

"That had better be Florence Nightingale on the front," I said, and indeed it was.

Close by was this startling thing:

Startling because at some point I was in an airport Hudson News or something looking for a book to read on my flight, and I picked up Dan Simmons' The Terror.  Read this and then tell me how this man deserved a memorial.

We saw a lot of other stuff.  I evidently didn't take a single pic of the statues at Trafalgar Square, was too busy looking, but they can be found online.  And I didn't take a video of the soldiers at one of the palaces, two of them in their dress uniforms and hats so that they looked exactly like dolls, stepping out of their little guardhouses and patrolling a few feet this way and that as they do every two hours (I think) while they are guarding.  I wish I had but was too busy looking.  Can see them in my mind's eye though.  F and I had happened to step right up to the gate and were looking at the palace beyond for a bit when they stepped out and began, and so we had a good view, but we moved away after a few minutes so the next people could step up.

We had to go back to the hotel before very late afternoon because F was feeling really dreary, and it was cold and bitingly damp.  One fairly horrifying thing had happened that day too, which took a lot out of us:  F hopped onto the train in the Underground and the doors closed behind her.  We had not worked out what to do if we got separated, which was really foolish:  cell phones do not work in the Underground.  F expected me to take the next train and find her at the next stop, and that was not an unreasonable expectation; but from my point of view, I didn't know where she was, but she knew where I was, and it didn't make sense to me to go haring off in all directions.  So I stayed put, and in twenty minutes or so she came back and found me.  Believe me when I tell you that we decided on the spot what we would do if that happened again, and a backup plan, and a backup backup plan.

Also, F lost her oyster card somewhere while we were traveling, and you have to swipe your card to get out of the station.  (Not like her, but her cold was taking her down.)  I picked up one of the "information" telephones and asked the nice man who answered what to do, and he said there would be an agent to whom we could explain what happened, and that he would let us out.  And that worked.  I suppose our foreign accents didn't hurt; not likely that we would be gaming the system.

So we got back to the hotel and that evening I had to dine alone because F was shot.  Wasn't really hungry so I perused the appetizers on the menu.  One of them was called "aromatic duck parcels".  I had that with a side salad and a glass of wine, and that was just about right.  I brought her up a bottle of water and some ginger cookies before I had dinner, and by the time I got back upstairs she was asleep.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The next day was Saturday.  We had nothing scheduled after the tour on Friday and F was starting to feel bad so we took our time getting dressed and going down for the breakfast buffet.  Once again fended off the kids' price for F - this time I thought I really should be answering "how old is your daughter" with "how young do we need her to be".

We put on our coats and such and ventured out.

F is quite the Harry Potter fan.  I haven't read the books but she read each one the minute it came out, even attending at least one midnight party at a bookstore in Memphis in order to score her copy at the first possible instant.  So we had to go to King's Cross Station and find this:

Outside King's Cross we saw beautiful St. Pancras.

And I wanted to go to Charing Cross Station, because that story has caught my fancy since I first read it while in college, and I wanted to see it and see how it is currently marked.  Here is Wikipedia's article about the Eleanor crosses.  As the article states, the original Charing Cross was destroyed by the Puritans.  During the Victorian era, a replacement cross was erected close by.

When you get off the train at the station, and you are still underground, you see an explanation of the building of the first Charing Cross and a beautiful mural.  This video is only about a third of the mural.

And then we went outside and saw the cross itself, though as noted, it is not the original.

We walked around and found the statue of Charles I that is now in the spot where the original Charing Cross was.

The pedestal must be made of some kind of limestone.  It is sadly eaten away.  I suppose this is the ultimate fate of most of these statues - well, ultimately, all of them.

And of course we found ourselves at Trafalgar Square and were able to take our time looking at those lions, and the other statues (some very fanciful merpeople) and memorials.  I'll put up some pix of those, but I want to mention that there were some schoolchildren there, not British, who came around and asked F and me for our autographs.  They were collecting these from tourists.  Very cute.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

We all met up outside the Tower of London, next to the Thames and in sight of the Tower Bridge.  This is the bridge most people think of as the London Bridge, which isn't there anymore of course.

We had a cruise booked, but before we got on the boat our tour guide handed out vouchers for our prepaid tickets for the Eye.

What that is, and I had never heard of it but F had, is, a huge kind of ferris wheel that has, not seats like the ones at Six Flags, but enclosed capsules where a bunch of people can go in and either sit on the bench in the middle or stand at the sides, and look at the city as they go up and over.  You get one turn on it and it never stops, it just goes slowly enough that the previous group of people can get out and the next group get in.

Ruth had a bunch of vouchers for adults and for kids and she had to try to match them up.  "Here, you're under seventeen," she said, handing F a voucher for a kid's ticket.  Nope.

The cruise was OK, we can say we did it, but we were inside behind windows and had to stay seated so we couldn't see much.  We did see the Globe Theater.  Eventually we got out at the Eye and eventually got on it.  By then F and I were both tired, and F getting sick although we didn't realize it yet.  We'd have enjoyed it more if we were fresher.  Still, we got a good view of the city.

Ruth had told us how to get to a Tube station when we left the Eye, so we went straight there, back to the hotel, had supper, and went to bed.  Our time after that was unscheduled but we had a lot of stuff we wanted to do yet.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

After the changing of the guard, we went for lunch.  Some people had pre-paid lunch but F and I hadn't, so we found a tiny cafe and had sandwiches.  And looked at the outside of the Tower of London.  Here it is:

One might expect a single tower, but this actually is an entire complex of buildings that went up over a long period of time.  The innermost building was built by William the Conqueror, who entered England in 1066.  The crenellations on these buildings really were for defense.  But there are walls that go back to the Roman occupation.

There's so much to see here that one should really plan to spend most of a day.  The crown jewels are here and they are definitely worth seeing.  There's an armoury with all all kinds of armor and weaponry - hard to remember these aren't replicates but the actual items.  I saw one suit of armor that looked Japanese, walked over to read the placard - it was a gift from the Shogun of Japan to James I.  There's also the house Henry VIII built for Anne Boleyn, and the spot where it is believed she and other people were executed.  And the tower where the little princes, Edward IV's sons, were imprisoned and then murdered in the mid-15th century, with the window it is believed their bodies were passed out of marked.  Little statues of various animals here and there, because it was a sort of zoo for a time.

And all sorts of other stuff.

You can find better pictures and videos than I could get with my smart phone all over the internet.  Here is video I took standing in the middle and turning slowly in one spot.

Eventually we left to meet up with the rest of the tour group outside.  And there was a dreadful foreshadowing of events to come:  It was colder than heck, and F wanted some hot chocolate, so she bought some from a vendor.  But when she sipped it, she made a face and said there was something wrong with it - they had put something in it.  I sipped it and thought it tasted just fine, and handed it back to her, and she tried to drink it because she really did want it.  But it tasted awful to her, so I finished it off, enjoying the wonderful rich cocoa taste.

That was F coming down with a cold, and that was me catching it from her ...

Friday, June 15, 2012

We set out Friday morning early and went straight to the tour office, no false starts this time.

It's very easy to figure out the public transportation in London.  I've never lived anywhere where people used public transportation if they had any options at all.  I'm sure there are cities in the US where it is easy and convenient but F and I had no real experience of it.

The Tube map looks like this.  It looks confusing but it's not hard at all to figure out.  Each line is color coded and you can see the stops on the map marked as circles.  Where you get off one line and onto another the circles are connected on the map.  Tourist attractions like the palaces and museums and such generally give directions that include the nearest Tube station and how you walk from there.  So you can always "get there from here".  A pleasant female voice calls out the approaching stops and tells you when you get there, and always when the doors open, "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform."  You swipe your Oyster card or use your prepaid ticket on the way in and on the way out, because the fares are different depending on which zones you are traveling in.  The buses are easy to figure out too.

This time we had a tour guide as well as a bus driver.  The driver and guide hadn't worked together before.  The guide knew what she wanted and where she wanted to go but there was a bit of tension; I couldn't tell whether she was being less than reasonable and expecting him to read her mind, or he was being sulky and difficult.  It didn't hurt our experience at all, was just a bit funny to watch and listen as she bit back her irritation and spoke to him placatingly.  He smiled and was pleasant to us so it was all good.  The guide was very knowledgeable and wanted to make sure we had a good time.

We rode around the city a bit and looked at things.  We saw Big Ben

and the huge lions at what we later realized was Trafalgar Square - I mean, it's possible that if you had pinned F or me down, "where are the huge lion statues," we might have been able to come up with Trafalgar Square, but it's different actually seeing them somehow.

Eventually we left the van.  We went into St. Paul's Cathedral but there was a memorial service going on, the place was overrun with schoolgirls for it, and we couldn't get in and see anything.  So we went on to see the Changing of the Guard parade at Buckingham Palace.  Here is part of it:

You can hear Ruth, our tour guide, bellowing a bit and see her distinctive umbrella walking away toward the end.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Well, here we are a month later, ha ha.

...F and I, and the other tourists, boarded the van to go to Stonehenge.  It was a very nice van.  We didn't have both a driver and a tour guide, but the driver took charge of the group and told us what to expect and so forth.  Most of the other tourists weren't speaking English, and F and I noticed that actually, most of the people we saw out in public were speaking other languages, or at least English with other accents.

It was cold.  The van displayed the temperature outside and it was 9° C, which translates to 48° F.  Drove out of London and through the pretty countryside, looking at the rolling downs (meadows to us) with pretty yellow flowers the driver said was rapeseed, from which we get canola oil.

And then outside the van window we saw this:

Those things to the left are sheep.

And I want to talk about the setting for a moment.  You can read about Stonehenge anywhere.  It's about 5000 years old, was worked on and added to for about 1500 years, and so on and so forth, but when you are there the striking thing is the complete normalcy of the landscape around it:  rolling downs and grazing sheep.

You can see this in the video here.

There is no feature on the landscape that would have told those Neolithic people that this was the spot - nothing we can see, anyway.  I'm sure the area has been scanned for radioactivity and magnetism and things of that nature.  They had to carve this volcanic rock in Wales and drag it around, maybe on rafts up the Avon river or whatever, to this spot.

If you have any knowledge of the mythology of the British Isles, or if you have read books like Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill (highly recommended by me if you have kids) it's impossible not to think that maybe all those hundreds and hundreds of years ago there was something going on here, something to do with the Old People, that led the humans to build this thing in this spot.  And then when the Romans came in, or maybe before that when the Angles and Saxons came in, the Old People dwindled and finally disappeared and there's no way to tell what was there before.  [Edit - whoops!  The Angles and Saxons were after the Romans.]

We walked around it and looked at it from different angles, fixing it in our minds.  You can carry an audio device with earphones that lets you listen to little talks about it.  Eventually we found our way to the gift shop (of course) and then bought a sandwich to share, and some hot drinks because it was COLD, and sat at a picnic table.  (I want to mention that the sandwich had tomato, cheese of some kind, and avocado, and it was delicious.)

There were some military people there, oldish men wearing olive drab uniforms with lots of stars on the chests and shoulders, and hats and so forth.  I could not tell what country they were from.  Some Eastern European country I think - couldn't read the writing but it wasn't Cyrillic so I don't know.  They were kind of stalking around, not looking at anyone.

And eventually we went back.  This time we took the tube straight to the bus stop we had wanted to go to in the first place, and then the bus to the hotel, so we knew how to get where we were going the next day when we started first thing.

Dinner at the hotel and then bed.  F and I were both really tired still.