Saturday, August 01, 2009

London, Day 1

*Please remember that you can click on any picture to see it enlarged.

We arrived in London around 7 in the morning after spending 9 hours in the airplane. I don't remember much about Gatwick except being glad our luggage arrived safely, but I do remember the train ride into London. Everyone was dressed in their business suits and they were so quiet! There was little to no talking; everyone was drinking coffee, listening to iPods, and/or reading the morning paper. I was looking out the windows, taking in all of the British row houses with their tiny backyards, thinking, "This is England, this is England," trying to make it real.

We took the tube to our hotel, The Oxford, which was in a lovely little neighborhood just a couple of blocks away from Hyde Park. If you click on the last link, you'll see the tube stops on the map; Lancaster Gate was the one we used every day, and I can still hear the automated voice announcing our stop. Our hotel was nice--nothing fancy--and kind of like a bed and breakfast.

The bathroom was absolutely tiny, smaller even than our half-bath at home, but it was a full bathroom. The shower was even tinier--maybe 2x4? In any case, tiny. But everything worked, and it was a good place to come 'home' to in the evenings.

(Sorry 'bout the lid being up.)

This is the view from our room. Not much, but it's London, baby!

The one bad thing about this hotel was that there was no elevator. We were on the third floor, which is actually the fourth floor because they have a 0 or ground floor, then 1, then 2, then 3. So every night we had to climb the three flights of stairs to get to our room. This wouldn't have been so bad--we had to do a similar thing on our trip to San Antonio--except that we climbed stairs all over London all day, every day. Stairs were the bane of our trip, and climbing up those stairs to get in bed at night was more and more difficult as the week went on.

After dropping our things off at our hotel and getting changed, we set off. We got rained on a tiny bit, but we were smart little tourists and always carried our umbrella. It only rained for a few minutes, but after the brief morning shower, it was an absolutely lovely day with temps in the low seventies.

Our first stop was the largest bookstore in Europe, Waterstone's. I was in the middle of reading a trilogy and had meant to bring my book with me to read on the plane and when time permitted, but inadvertently grabbed the first book of the series, which I had just finished. We stopped by the bookstore to see if they had the second book, but they didn't. (If I recall correctly, they did have the first and third books.)

We had a lovely lunch of some sort of really good salad, bread, and tomato-basil-lentil soup (that's to-mah-to, not to-may-to, and bah-sil, not bay-sil) at Waterstone's top-floor bistro, 5th View. There's a great view, which you can see if you click the link, but it's also kind of a classy place, and I really didn't want to whip out my camera. After lunch we went to Picadilly Circus, which is akin to Times Square.

Get used to this pose of ours. It will become very familiar in the pictures to come.

We then walked over to Leicester Square (I can also hear the automated tube voice saying this stop--Les-ter, not however you might think to say it) which is in the theater district. On a later day we bought discounted tickets here to see "Les Miserables" and on another day we saw the beginnings of a movie premier, but we couldn't figure out what movie it was. More recently, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince premiered in Leicester Square. How awesome would it have been to be there at that time?!?

One of the things that was so fun was that almost everywhere we went, at least on this side of the river, the buildings were old and ornate.

From here we walked down to Trafalgar Square.

There was a great view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from the Square. (Note also the very cool, old, ornate buildings.)

This is us on the steps of The National Gallery.

And a view of The National Gallery from the other side of Trafalgar Square.

We then walked down the street toward Big Ben and Parliament...

passing Downing Street on our way.

They wouldn't let us in to meet the Prime Minister, though. Awfully touchy, those British Secret Service blokes.There was a demonstration going on in a little square between the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. The Tamil Tigers were protesting the oppression of their people by some other people, and somehow the PM and the Queen were also to blame. I'm not quite sure what all it was about, but they were loud.

One of the things that surprised me most about London was how incredibly diverse the people were. I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to hear more British accents, because so many of the people we saw weren't typical Brits. It was really neat how many different ethnicities we saw all over they city.

The London Eye in the background. More on that later.

We worked our way around the Tamil Tigers demonstration to Westminster Abbey, which I hadn't realized was basically next door to the Houses of Parliament.

Westminster Abbey was our introduction to the many old and ornate churches we would see. It's still incredible to me how much work went into building this place.

It's also incredible how old it is. Originally built in 1045, it was rebuilt in 1245. That's really, really old. I knew one of the things I'd appreciate most about the trip was how much older Europe is than the states. I was right.

It's amazing that this building has been here for so long and seen so much history. Words can't express my amazement.

And ornate!! Did I mention ornate? I can only imagine the work it would take now, with the modern tools and technology we have. But I just can't fathom the incredible time and talent it took to craft this building.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside at all, but I remember the tall, arching ceilings and the stone floor, under which many people famous and not so famous are buried. I remember ancient stone tombs with figures and pictures carved into them, so old that many of the features were worn away. There was so much to see and experience, and yet we were so incredibly tired and jet-lagged that it was hard to pay attention. I do remember one British curator berating a tourist who insisted on taking video. The guide threatened loudly to throw the man out if he continued to break the rules. I snickered. And made no attempt to take any pictures. Here are some I found on the web, for those of you who haven't seen the sights:

The tall, arched ceilings

Old, crumbling stone tomb

Tomb of Edward I, aka Longshanks (boo, hiss! I've seen "Braveheart." I loathe you, Longshanks!)

Tomb of Elizabeth I
The coronation chair. Again, allow me to reiterate how old this thing is.

Also again, to reiterate, the above five pictures are not mine. I did not take them. I found them by googling Westminster Abbey and Westminster tombs.

We left Westminster Abbey stunned and in a stupor. We were really tired. It was about 5 pm and we decided we were going to head home and hit the sack, but not before one last picture in front of Big Ben. Somehow in the process of posing for this picture, Aaron crossed a gate line or something, and the copper in yellow yelled at him to back up. I think they were overly protective with the Tigers demonstrating loudly across the street.

I think this is the night we went to The Swan for dinner. The Swan is a pub just down the street and around the corner from our hotel. Later in the evening, the place would be packed out with people eating, drinking, and hanging out. Next door was a little convenience store where we bought many bottles of water. This first night, I had fish and chips at The Swan, because you can't go to London and not have fish and chips, right? Well, oddly enough, I didn't like fish any better in the UK than I do in the States. And, come to think of it, I don't think Aaron (who actually likes fish) ever had fish and chips. Go figure. In any case, it was a full, fun day. More to come later!


sandy said...

This brings back so many memories. And when I was there in 92 they did allow pictures from inside Westminster Abbey. I took tons of pics there, maybe more than anyplace. One question. Did you notice all the cameras throughout London that Clint talks about? Apparently they have more surveillance cameras than any place in the world.

Chris said...

This was wonderful Amy - you're a great tour guide. I'm looking forward to more!

Anonymous said...

Incredible...you are such a great writer I feel like I've been there. Pass the fish and chips please!


hoesayfina said...

so fun! thanks for posting these. -m

Aaron said...

that's some good bloggin'.