London, England. October 8, 2006. Day three started with a quick drive over to Ã¢â‚¬Å“the cityÃ¢â‚¬Â. Turns out that most of what we think of as London is actually the city of West Minster. London proper is quite small and is mostly just the financial district, running from St. PaulÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Cathedral in the west to the tower of London in the East.
The coach dropped us off right at the border between West Minster and London, and we walked up the gentile hill to St. PaulÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Cathedral. They were doing a bit of cleaning on it round the side, but the front had already been polished up, and it hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t looked this good since Christopher Wren finished it back in 1708. We didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enter St. PaulÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s but I think if I were to do this trip again I would add it to some of my free time. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve done the walk from the hotel down to the cathedral and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not too bad, only about 15 minutes or so. As a bit of an aside, the steps on the left side of the cathedral picture above are famous to Disney fans as the location of the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Feed the BirdsÃ¢â‚¬Â number in Mary Poppins.
From the cathedral it is a short walk down the hill to the Millennium Bridge Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The newest bridge across the river Thames. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a pedestrian only bridge and has some wonderful views up and down the river, as well as back toward the city and St. PaulÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. When it was first finished and opened, the foot traffic caused it tow wobble back and forth so violently that with more than just a few people on it the shaking was so bad people could barely stand up. The designer pointed out that there was no problem with his bridge, people just didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t walk right. The bridge was closed after three days and two years later re-opened, sans-wobble.
Once across the bridge we walked east along what is known as Bankside, past the Globe Theatre. The Back in 1599 thru 1644 the Globe was the site of ShakespeareÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first run plays. It was destroyed in a fire once during that time, and rebuilt on the same spot. Eventually it was torn down by Puritans. The current theatre sits about 200 meters up river from the location of the original. The design follows as closely as possible that of the original.
Just south of the Globe our coach was waiting and we climbed back on and drove west to the London Eye. A very impressive Ferris wheel no doubt. During the summer months, the line just to get on can be as long as 3 hours, stretching back to where this picture was taken. The line was less oppressive today, but still, we got to skip it. Disney provides reservations and we got to use the Ã¢â‚¬Å“FastPassÃ¢â‚¬Â line. Each capsule on the wheel can hold up to 25 people. We had just 16 in ours and it was quite easy to move around. The views are outstanding in all directions, and in particular there are great views of the halls of Parliament and the north bank of the Thames.
After the wheel made its way around 360 vertical degrees we walked around to the back of its complex and boarded a Thames river cruise. The cruise headed down river from Parliament to the Tower of London. The river was quite low, the tide being out, but the river still being fresh water. When the tide comes in the fresh water down river is pushed back up the river to London, so London never sees salt water, though it is built only feet above the high tide line of the North Sea.
Once we got off the tour boat we walked up a short promenade and entered just above the now bricked up TraitorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Gate. The Tower is actually made of several buildings, centered on the White Tower. Just north of the White tower is the building holding the crown jewels. The prize of the jewels is the Great Star of Africa diamond at the top of the royal scepter. Weighing in at about a billion carats (actually just 530 or so), itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s perfectly clear and about the size of a kiwi fruit, or a very large plum. Truly this is a massive and massively impressive diamond.
There are also dedications to the seven people executed inside the tower grounds and several museums. You can tour the Bloody Tower where Sir Walter Raleigh was held captive, and where the two prince nephews of Richard III were murdered, handing the throne to Richard.
Notably absent from the official list of tower executions are anybody who was not royalty. Traditionally non-royals were taken up to tower hill to be executed, as was the case with Thomas More, and Guy Fawkes. However, during the world wars, at least 12 German spies were executed within the tower grounds. The final execution, on August 15, 1941 was that of the German spy Josef Jakobs.
We were particularly blessed while touring the grounds to be with the Disney guide, Stephen, as we had just our group of 16, and Stephen (a prestigious Blue-Badge Guide of London) knows everything, or can find it out with a quick phone call to the appropriate friend. Only the Blue-Badge guides are allowed to guide in the tower grounds, everybody else must take the official tours which are lead by the very capable Beefeater guards. Unfortunately, they lead tours of around 100 or more people. So Stephen was a particular blessing.
When we finished at the Tower grounds, we had a quick lunch at the New Armory building on the grounds, and then Beci and I went up to the Tower Hill tube stop to start our free afternoon in London. We took the underground west to the South Kensington stop on our way to the Victory and Albert Museum. There are two exits to every station, and I invariably pick the wrong one. The difference is usually a few blocks in the right or wrong direction. As always, I chose wrong this time and we ended up in a confusing warren of streets whose names didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show up on our tourist grade map. A quick check of the location of the sun led us to the north to the museum. I never get lost, and when I do (which IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve already pointed out never happens) I easily get unlost.
The V&A is known by some as Great BrittanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Attic, because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got a bit of everything, and the collections sometimes feel a bit like they came out of an attic someplace. We spent some considerable time in a display of popular clothing ranging from 1500 to 2004. The Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ70s by the way, still look ridiculous.
Our final stop for the day was Harrods. Really, I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t convey the size of this place. In Seattle we have what we consider to be a fairly gigantic mall called Bellevue Square. Harrods has much more in what seems to be a much larger space. Room after room of everything you can think of, ranging from furniture to electronics, to games, to clothing and accessories and food. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an astounding display of shopping, and I get tired just thinking about walking thru it.
After that full day Beci went back to the Hotel room to rest, and I went with several others from our group to The Prince of Wales pub for a pint of biter and a pie. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m a big fan of English pub food, and this was a nice casual dinner for me.
Tomorrow, Camden and our Transfer to Paris.