After Becky and I left San Francisco we were faced with 10+ hour, nonstop flight to London's Heathrow airport. I won't go into too many details about it but even flying "Premier Class" (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean)...it was torture. Bad food, bad movies, too dry air (it makes my nose hurt) and uncomfortable chairs. Add to that the fact that I was WAY too excited about the trip and that sleep (other than for my butt which had gone to sleep after hour two) was out of the question. It was an awful experience and my mind is already trying to block it out.
Heathrow was a surprise. First of all it was 6 o'clock in the morning and we had already been up for 15 or 16 hours and now were were facing an entire new day! The last airport we had seen was SFO, a state-of-the-art International Airport. Heathrow was like if they had had airports in the 1800's. Lots of people walking down endless, under lit corridors, non-working or non-existent people movers and no sign-age (an ongoing problem in the U.K., as we were about to find out) telling you where anything was or where to go. Second surprise...no Daniel, we had heard rumors and they were now confirmed that Chicago's O'Hare (a stopover on Daniel's flight) was hit by intense snowstorms and closed to all air traffic. We decided to write him off for the time being, nothing could be done. Fortunately for us Becky had pre-purchased transit passes for the undergrounds, busses and trains in London and after a series of mis-starts we managed to find our way to the tubes (subways) and on into London.
The tube ride was a delight...I grew to love 'em! Lots of working class folks jammed together in a subway system that was started around the turn of the century and had survived two world wars. We managed to get off at the correct stop at Russell Square in northeastern London and found our Bed and Breakfast (the Euro Hotel) without much problem. So now it's 8 o'clock and too early to check in so the nice folks at the Euro gave us our first "full English Breakfast's" (cereal, juice, coffee, toast, sausage, a thing called bacon but better, eggs, fried tomato, baked beans and sometimes a slice of fried bread..yum!). The lady at the desk, Angela, allowed me to use their computer to retreive and send e-mail to Daniel (he would be arriving at Heathrow the following morning) and even stored our luggage for us...Time to get out and go see LONDON!!
Ok, reality sets in...we are jet-lagged all to hell! After about 4 or 5 valiant hours of walking around and seeing the sights we become possessed by evil clones of ourselves in the British Museum...Becky and I, who rarely speak a harsh word to one another, are walking around bickering about everything...we decided we weren't in our right minds and so we headed back to the B&B and got some rest...25 hrs awake is enough.
After about 5 hours of sleep we got up (feeling MUCH better) and hit the streets again, visiting Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and then up the Strand (this is the London you think of when you imagine it). We walked until our feet gave out then hopped one of the pre-paid for (thank you Becky) double decker busses, climbed up the spiral stairs to the top and plunked ourselves down in the front seats...yeeeehaw! This is a ride worthy of Disneyland, careening down medieval streets on the wrong side of the road with out of control drivers in antiquated vehicles...way fun! We got back off in the vicinity of Leicester Square and bought ourselves some fish and chips from a take away (takeout) stand and wandered around in the bright lights of the theater district sticking our fingers in the warm chips (french fries) to keep them warm...the weather was cold, windy and sprinkling from time to time...we were in heaven!
Finally after a long day we head back to the Euro Hotel and to bed...after all we had to arise before dawn the next morning and head back out to Heathrow to pick up the third member of our group...Daniel was coming!!!
Daniel arrived right on time (although we were a bit late because we managed to get lost on the tube)...we rushed him to the Euro and tried to talk him into sleeping (he'd already been up 48 hrs...much tougher fellow than me) to avoid the problems we had had with jetlag...wouldn't hear of it..once again we hit the mean streets of London taking Daniel to some of the highlights we had visited the day before. The picture above is in Trafalgar Square with Nelson's column in the center
Daniel and I at the base of Nelson's column...the metal sculptures on the sides are supposedly made of melted down French cannons...the English really like to stick it to the French every chance they get.
Becky and Daniel outside of the Temple Church (ancient) where one of their ancestors (Robert de Ros) is supposedly interred. The whole of this area has now been taken over by lawyers and the legal profession (I will try to refrain from referring to bible scripture here about "sinners in the house of the lord"...oh, I guess I just did, nevermind). Anyway, after finding our way inside we found this guy...
...who is marked as simply being "a member of the de Ros family"...ancestor or not, a most interesting place. The crossing of the legs (kinda hard to see in this pic) indicates that the person fought in the Crusades, crossed at the knees is one crusade, at the ankles two crusades, feet on a lion he died in battle, feet on a dog he died at home....there is some question about the validity of all this "ye olde lore."
Us at the Tower of London (with the Tower Bridge) in the background. The guy on the left is our guide, he's a "Yeoman Warder"...full uniform, quite a character. We were going to resist seeing the crown jewels here but were convinced by the Warder that we needed to and found he was right, they were truly amazing! Most of the armor had been removed from the White Tower because of renovation work...so we missed that, bummer. Still cold as hell, that's Becky doing the "I'm a poor eastern European washer woman" thing wearing my scarf over her head like a babushka. The "Clan Buchanan" (my clan, thank you) scarf was hand made for my birthday by good friend and fellow Anglophile, Molly Manaugh and arrived at home just in time to keep me warm all through this trip...you will see it in many of the photos!
London University College. Most notable to us for having the remains of Jeremy Bentham's "auto-icon." Seems Jeremy was a "thinker" back when they used to have people who did that for a living back in the early 1800's. He was mentioned by the professor in Becky's "History of England" class she is currently taking. Seems this guy left a bunch of money to the University with the condition that they stuff his body (with his favorite walking stick "Toby") and trot it out to a board meeting once a year...he's here in a glass case (he has a wax head now because students kept stealing his real one and playing football with it) and we paid our respects.
James Smith and Sons...One of two PREMIER umbrella makers in London and therefore in the world. These guys have been doing it for centuries. Both Becky and I had to have one (our only real indulgences on the entire trip)...I have been lusting after a good British umbrella for sometime and had one custom fitted to me. They make the kind of umbrellas that are handed down for generations and are totally repairable. We received lessons after the sale on correct handling, folding and drying of umbrellas...and were warned against ever loaning them out, "just wouldn't be right, they won't fit anyone else." Right!
This picture is halfway up to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral. This is a huge, ornate place designed by Christopher Wren. It's where Charles and Diana were married etc etc etc...it all happens here. This picture was taken after 350+ steps up and was an excruciating ordeal because of the narrow, spiraling staircases winding through the stonework. From here Daniel and I braved another 350+ steps up an even narrower and steeper metal "see-thru" staircase to finally emerge on the top of the dome...it was horrific! With legs wobbling from the climb you emerge on all fours after climbing through the dome onto a ledge not 2 feet (2/3 of a meter) wide and a rail maybe 4 feet high over 300 feet in the air (100 meters or approximately one football field)! It's a liability nightmare and would never be allowed in the U.S. The Brits have a much more relaxed view of these things...if you're brave enough or dumb enough to do such a thing then you take the responsibility for it...I like them for that. My legs hurt for the next 2 days.
At this point we have taken the light rail out through the Docklands, across the Thames (pronounced Tems, I never did get the hang of British pronunciation) to Greenwich, home of the meridian. Here we ate lunch in a pub and I sampled their bitter (a drink, kind of like ale that I came to greatly enjoy...Becky and Daniel were more stouts or Guinness drinkers). We toured the Royal Observatory here but had to kind of rush though because of the late hour. In the background to the right you can just make out the uprights for the new Millenium Dome that's being built by the government for the "Millenium Party" that the locals seem to uniformly loathe. Some things like out of control government spending are just like here...bah!
This picture is still in Greenwich and demonstrates another phenomena we ran across repeatedly in Britain...hordes of rude French schoolchildren running amok everywhere (the black, seething mob you see down the path from where Becky and Daniel are standing). It never fails--when you are in someplace interesting you are inundated by shouting, running throngs of out of control French schoolchildren.
Our last picture of London is not a pretty one...when I saw these expressions on Becky and Daniel's faces I knew that it was time to call it a day...the demon "jetlag" had just claimed two thirds of our group!
We were fortunate enough to have many more adventures during our three days in London. Some of the things we got to see or do included:
Stanford's Maps (ancient map store), Covent Gardens, an actor Edward Woodward (the "Equalizer" on tv) walking down the street, London Opera House (thrown out), Twinings tea store (a pilgrimage), St. Clements Danes Church (RAF Church), ate supper in the wild West End (awful...Beck and I had "eggs mayonnaise" and Beck had "Treacle Pudding"), saw the "Old Bailey" but didn't get in...and finally, at 7:00 p.m. with Becky driving us on through the dark, cold and rain, on our last night in London we stumbled into the House of Parliment and were allowed (after a full hands on search) to watch both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in meeting, we stayed and watched until they closed down (about 9:30 p.m...and the House of Lords were only stopping for supper!)...a truly amazing and unforgettable experience. "Hear, Hear!"
...next up, Oxford, "Right!"
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