Four Days in London - Part 2

Hi All:

On Tuesday, we started out early (8:45) because we were taking the Underground to the Tower of London and wanted to get there before all those darn tourists showed up.

We once more walked through Russell Park (which had many people sitting and reading or drinking coffee), and got on the Piccadilly Line. No escalators in this very old station; either an elevator (by which a mass of people were standing) or 175 steps (about 14 floors!) down a winding staircase! We chose the staircase...not such a good idea! (pant pant) This time we went one stop north to Kings' Crossing where we changed to the Circle Line.  Six stops later we got off at

The Tower of London, parts of which date back to the Norman invasion in 1066, is really a fortress (actually, it was built on and around the Roman wall to Londonium of almost 800 years earlier). It consists of a number of buildings whose function has changed over the centuries. For example, this was the Royal Armory for many years, and also the National Mint (which has now been moved to Wales). The fort / compound was originally built right on the banks of the Thames; indeed, there was a portcullis that allowed entry via boats! Many of the buildings and parapets offer spectacular views of Tower Bridge, which is just off to the left.
 The White Tower

Waterloo Block (Home of the Crown Jewels)

 Queen's House

Most people know the Tower for two reasons: prisoners were tortured and killed there, and, the Crown Jewels are stored there. Both are true, although the scope of the former has been exaggerated.

The torture room has models of shackles, the head-chopping block and axe, and a rack (which Wendy likened to a Pilates Reformer). There are also stories of several unfortunates who spent time here.

The display of the Crown Jewels, and associated exhibits and videos / explanations, is really well done. After walking through a preliminary area with pictures and commentary, one enters (and later exits) the actual "storage" area through two massive bank-vault doors!  There are a number of "jewels" including those big crowns we see at coronations or in official royaldom portraits but also gem-encrusted rings, spurs, scepters, orbs, swords, and more. Some of these are permanently "display only", while others are actually used at various state ceremonies. One section was especially well managed: a case (about 20 ft long) filled with crowns. The people were funneled onto two moving walkways (one on each side), that forced you to view as you went past. No clogging up in this area!  Again, the downside: NO PHOTOS ALLOWED! :-(   But, here is a sampling courtesy of the web:
Gold, silver, diamonds, get the idea.

And, to show they are state-of-the-art re tourist attractions, each main area has a themed gift shop! There is the "Crown Jewels" shop which features jewelry (duh!), The Raven Gift Shop and Cafe which features, um, souvenirs with a raven theme (although it is connected to a store which sells pink princess clothes and crowns), etc.  Wendy wanted one of the crowns but we didn't think it would fit into our carry on bags; so we took a pass.

Of course we saw the famous Beefeaters, the Tower's ceremonial guards... well as the ravens....

The presence of the ravens is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower; the story goes that if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it. To minimize that from happening, their wings are clipped so they can't fly. And they make a very unusual clicking sound.

We walked through several other buildings / exhibit areas. By that time it was really getting crowded, including a number of groups of schoolchildren wearing their various school uniforms. All in all we spent almost 3 hours there. And the weather was perfect: mid-70s and sunny.

Our next stop was Harrods. We could have taken the Underground and gotten there in 15 minutes, but instead we hopped on the Big Bus (the Blue Line tour this time) to rest our weary legs for a while. With the traffic, it turned into a 90 minute nap time. But we finally reached this shopping Mecca. 

The building, like our own Marshall Field''s, covers an entire city block, but this looks way more massive and imposing.  One of the main attractions here is the Food Hall, which is a series of rooms that feature all kinds of upscale raw and prepared foods. There is a patisserie, a cheese counter, meats and fish, a whole roomful of biscuits and candy, and on and on and on......

They also prepare custom hampers (aka picnic baskets).  The Halls were packed! Obviously there were many tourists, but there also seemed to be a fair number of locals buying their dinner food. But even in this gastronomic heaven there is a dark cloud:
This actually makes perfect sense as it a) keeps food and garbage away from the merchandise, and b) might discourage someone from eating in one of the dozen or so restaurants scattered among the 5 floors.  Which is what we decided to do. We had a late lunch (and, due to vacation-food-overload, it served as our dinner) at the East Dulwich Deli (5th floor). Absolutely wonderful pea and basil soup, a smoked tuna salad, and (for Wayne again) chicken breast on white with crisps and salad.

Afterwards we walked around several departments, picked up a few souvenirs, and (after 2 hours), got back on the Underground for our hotel. We were quite fatigued by the time we got there, so we stopped in the bar for some iced tea, ginger ale, and 3 scoops of sorbet.  After a little time for freshening up, we cabbed over to the St. Martin's Theatre to see Agatha Christie's "The Mousetrap", the longest running play in history.

It opened in November, 1952 and has been playing continuously ever since!

This was a quintessential English drawing room mystery. Eight people snowed in at an English B&B and one is a murderer and one (or more) might be murdered!!!! So whodunnit? let's just say one of us figured it out at the interval (translation: intermission). But the guilty party admonished everyone during the curtain calls not to spoil the secret for everyone else. So you'll just have to go there and find out for yourself.

Our final day of touring began with more Underground rides; by this time the veddy friendly woman at the ticket counter recognized Wayne! We took the Piccadilly Line back to Charing Cross. Our first stop was Hatchard's, a wonderful book shop that first opened in 1797, making it the oldest bookseller in the U.K. One could easily spend several hours on one of the 5 floors. Not surprisingly, there was one entire wall of "British History" books. We contributed to the London economy here.

Then we went next door to Fortnum and Mason (not to be outdone, they were founded in 1707!!). This very genteel store (the male sales associates wore morning coats and ties)  had two floors of foods, very much like at Harrod's.



In the Game department

But this store was way less crowded, much more upscale, and did not seem like a stop on the tourist must-see list. Another floor had crystal and china, and we found a fantastic vase by an English potter.

Back on the Underground, then we headed to our hotel for an early tea / lunch. There were different goodies on the tea tower, and it was just as wonderful as the previous time (was that only 3 days ago? My oh my.).

Then, across the street to the British Museum. Our must see item here was the Rosetta Stone.

This 2,100 year old stele contains the same text in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic, and Greek. This allowed scholars to translate across the 3 languages, and was a critical factor in understanding and reading the hieroglyphs.

There were other fascinating exhibits of Greek and Roman and Egyptian artifacts (all looted over the centuries by the British).
The Standard of Ur, c. 2,500 B.C.

There are over 6 million objects in the entire collection (not all on display). And happily, there were NO restrictions on taking photos.

Then, another walk back to the Russell Square Underground station and a ride to Covent Garden. This was the warmest day of our trip, mid-70s, and there were tons of tourists out. We walked along the old cobbled streets and marvelled at the several-hundred year old buildings...ok, some of them had stores like Starbucks, Bath and Body Works, and (oh dear!) Eileen Fisher. But also many local stores, and of course many, many restaurants and pubs. After a while we headed over to Jamie's Italian, one of several restaurants owned by BBC (and The Food Network) cooking star Jamie Oliver. This was simple food but, wow, was it ever good!

We started out with the Vegetable Plank:


So Cheerio until next time!

We hope you enjoyed our journey as much as we did. Please give us any comments (good or bad) that you have, either directly in the blog or via email. We love to hear from you too!


No comments:

Post a Comment