Monday, April 2, 2012

Historical London

Wake up call was 6:30. We got ready for the day and headed to the Regency cafe for an authentic English breakfast. We knew we were in the right place: the clientele was made up of working class men dressed in uniforms of city workers, firemen, etc. Our breakfasts each included one egg, toast, English sausage and bacon, bean or tomatoes (only Maren opted for tomatoes) and a hot beverage. I wanted to order blood pudding for everyone to have a taste, but they would not let me. We could have ordered mushrooms, but we had enough with what was on our plates. And we ate everything. Good thing. We had a big day ahead of us. We had London Passes and were determined to get our money's worth. The day was gorgeous. Perfect touring weather.
We took the crowded morning tube to St. Paul's Cathedral-- Christopher Wren's masterpiece and setting of Charles' marriage to Diana. This was a filler-- something for us to do before the Tower of London opened. The problem was that the place was amazing, and we could have stayed there much longer exploring it. We stayed longer than I had planned. It is very hard coming up with an itinerary, not knowing how long each thing will take. I did not imagine that we would be as interested in a cathedral as we were. I guess that is a good thing: we have several more churches on the itinerary.
We walked as quickly as we could to the Tower of London but missed the first tour. We had to wait 15 minutes for the second tour at 10:30.
Our Yeoman Warden tour guide was very funny. We had a good time listening to tales of beheadings, imprisonments, murders, and treason. England does have a bloody and rather uncivilized history. I have been reading so much fiction lately about the war of the roses and the Second Jacobite rebellion that I really had a lot of interest in the stories that were told. This was an attraction we all liked. We ended the tour in the chapel where all the infamous people were buried. (Church count for the day--2). Next we toured the crown jewels. Somehow, Maren and I entered ahead of the men, but we all knew the plan: jewels, armory, gift shop. They would catch up. We sped through the jewels pretty fast. I am just not a precious jewelry kind of girl. Then Maren and I waited for a bit outside the crown jewels. The men didn't show, so we went into the armory at the white castle. Henry VIII's armor,and more particularly his exaggerated cod piece, were highlights. Also inside the white castle was St. John's chapel. (Church count for the day--- 3.) Maren hit the mark when she tested her archery skills. At last we made it to the gift shop where I bought an ornament. (We collect tree ornaments on our travels.) Here we waited for an hour for the men to finish. I was not happy. The next thing on our agenda was a river cruise on the Thames. I had four times marked down that would still let us do our afternoon's activities. We had already missed the first three. They had a copy of our itinerary with them, so I could not believe they weren't out of the exhibit yet. This was the point in which I really wish we had texting capabilities, but only Mark has an international plan, courtesy of his job. It is unreal how dependent i am on this technology. To think that 9 years ago when I was here, we had none of it. I didn't even have my own cell phone. Maren and decided to wait 15 more minutes. After ten minutes, I found Mark and Jonah, but we didn't have time for them to do the gift shop. And we didn't have time for a snack/lunch at the cafe as planned. Straight to the boat!
It was a beautiful day for a boat ride. A crew man gave a running commentary on the ride to Westminster Pier. Some of the sights were ones we had on our first day's walking tour, but this time we got to see them from the water side. We saw bridges that were being spruced up or rebuilt to accommodate expected Olympic guests. We also saw a bridge called the Ladies Bridge because 80% of the work to build the bridge was done by women during WWII. We got off at the pier at 2 pm to Big Ben's chimes and commenced Rick Steve's Westminster walking tour. Halfway into the tour which took us past Parliament and Westminster Abbey, we came to Churchill's War Rooms museum. We took time out to complete this tour. It was a claustrophobic experience, but an important reminder of a dark period in British history. Again, I had been reading fiction about this time, in particular, The Postmistress. It was good to have a more historical perspective.
Coming up from the museum, we found ourselves at the entrance to St. James park. What a beautiful sight after the dark underground. Tired and hungry, we decided to deviate from the planned remainder of the audio tour and walk the length of the park to see Buckingham Palace. The kids didn't seem to impressed with the castle, but they were tired. From what I remember, the castle seemed more spruced up--again, the preparations for world visitors.
Our last planned activity before dinner was Evensong, an evening prayer service we were attending as a way to experience Westminster Abbey (church #4 of the day). As you might imagine, the kids were not thrilled with this plan. The service was conducted in the quire section of the church. Because of our place in line, we were ushered into intricately carved individual seats in the choir area. In fact, the choir sat right in front of us and in identical seating across the aisle. It was a perfect place to experience the majesty of this service which consisted of choral music interspersed with lessons and prayers. It lasted about 45 minutes and gave us time to really absorb the art in this church which has seen the coronation of every British Monarch since 1066. Also, this was church was the place where the latest royal wedding took place. Even the kids had to admit it was a treat. Maren went so far as to say she had a religious experience, which I guess is as good as it gets for a proclaimed atheist.
Even more hungry now--we had skipped lunch-- we went to find the subway to take us to Chinatown for dinner. Since the subway stop we were looking for was near Trafalgar Square, the final destination on our walking tour, we decided to make amends for truncating the tour. The square is huge with an Olympic countdown clock. It is a shame we will not get to see the portrait gallery, but we will see plenty of art in Paris. At the square, we realized that Chinatown was only a few blocks away. Even more hungry and tired at this point, we limped grumpily to Chinatown which is near a lot of the theaters.
We stopped at The Little Lamb and saw people eating hot pots. A hot pot is a huge steaming bowl of heavily spiced broth in which you cook food at your table. Not knowing how to order hot pot, we ordered the all inclusive dinners rather than a la carte. This was a mistake as we would soon find out. They brought a large pot of broth to the burner at the table, and each of us ordered 5 different items to cook in the broth. We could select from a menu of various fish, meats, vegetables, noodles, etc. The first thing they brought out was a huge platter of thinly sliced beef. Since three of us had ordered beef, we didn't think this was any big deal, until we realized they were bringing us three such platters of meat. We had more food than we knew what to do with. And, much of it was duplicates. Crab, prawns, fish, beef, pork, lamb, meatballs, four orders of the exact same noodles. The only vegetables we had was an order of bean sprouts Maren ordered. It was comic. We ate and ate and ate. If only we could have taken home leftovers.
On the way home, we saw an M&M store. After the salty broth, we could do with a little sweet (and a bathroom). Maren danced with a green M&M. After we got a bag of candy, I realized I had been at 3 out of the 4 stores (London, Time Square, Las Vegas). The fourth store is in Orlando. Had I known, I would have made a point to go in February so I could complete my collection of M&M stores. (I think that is funny.) London is the largest of the stores and we thought that perhaps the M&M's actually tasted a little better. It was late by the time we got back to St. Ermine's.

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