Visiting London

Trip Start May 04, 2007
Trip End May 21, 2007

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

19 Saturday 2007

Today was our final "free" day, so we decided to take the train to London.

We met in the lobby at 7:15 for our short walk to the train station to catch the 7:59 train to London. The ticket was a cheaper than we'd expected (75.60 pounds total instead 93 pounds). Bournemouth is towards the end of this line off the train, so we had our pick of seats. We found the one with tables, took out our iPods, and sat back. I like riding trains; watching the scenery go by, seeing the different stations come and go. And the ability to get to a major city via fixed mass transit is very appealing.

Two hours later and we were pulling into Waterloo station in London. Our first destination was the Tower of London, which neither Tory or I had visited before. Tory navigated us to the right Tube line and to the Tower. Each time we road the Tube, I thought about the terrorist bombings of two years ago. I returned from my first trip to London (with my wife) just weeks before the terrorist bombings. I was not afraid, just imagining the fear those riders must have felt.

At the Tower of London, we joined a tour led by a Yeoman Warder. He lead a very engaging, funny tour, drawing us in and giving very lively bits of Tower history. He'd served over 20 years in the military, even guiding Adolph Hess at one point, so he had my respect. I'd highly recommend anyone visiting the Tower to take one of these tours.

As usual, I was taken by two major elements of the Tower-the history, particularly that tied to literary works. So, I was interested in seeing the tower where the two princes were murdered to make room for Richard III (as well as the steps where their bodies were found a hundred years later). I was also drawn to the two chapels on site. The first one, where we ended our tour guided by the Beefeater, was right next to the spot where Anne Boylen and Charlotte Gray were executed. Their remains were eventually interred under the alter in this chapel. This chapel is still used for weekly services for the Beefeaters, who live at the Tower. Children and descendants of Beefeaters can hold weddings and baptisms at the church as well. Our guide pointed out the plaque of deceased Beefeaters that will eventually list his name.

The other chapel was in the Tower itself-the oldest Norman chapel. It was plain in comparison to the ornate churches and cathedrals we'd visited earlier-simple columns and an alter. I felt a somber sense of history while in this simple chapel.

 We also, of course, viewed the crown jewels. You ride a conveyor belt past the jewels to keep people moving. I got a real sense of the history and tradition and wealth of this jewels and the other ornate objects on display. A massive gold punch bowl, with a conch shell styled ladle, was particularly impressive. I tried to imagine this punch bowl, along with all the other gold items, actually being used. That would be some party.

After spending several hours at the Tower, we were pretty hunger, so we set out for The Black Friar pub. On our way out, we say a crowd looking at Tower Bridge. We saw that the bridge was up and a clipper ship (I don't know if it was authentic or a replica) was being ferryed through). It fired blanks for its cannons several times. It was amazing to watch this historic ship pass us by.

To find the Black Friar took a bit of navigating, on foot and on the Tube, to get there, but it was worth it for both the design and the food. The interior, particularly the corner room where we sat, is covered in black and brown marble and decorated with black silhouettes of monks. The walls also had mottos in gold lettering, such as "Don't Advertise it, Tell a Gossip". Even the light fixtures were of monks, bearing water.

The food was equally appealing. I had fish and chips, as it was time to try it again. It was truly a whole fish, battered and tasty. I had it with a Tribute, a lighter tasting ale. It was nice to relax. In the other area in the bar, the Championship football game between Chelsea and Manchester United was on. My BPC colleague is a Manchester fan, so I was pulling for them. (We found out later than Chelsea won by 1 goal).

We pulled ourselves away from the Black Friar's Pub to try to make it to St. Paul's Cathedral before it closed. As we approached, it was quite impressive. We finally found the front entrance, but they were keeping people out. We were disappointed, as it was 15 minutes before last entrance. We tried the lower entrance, but we realized we would only have limited access and time to view the cathedral. We decided it just means we have to come back again.
Our next stop was Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace. Trafalgar was busy, as it usually is, with tourist and protestors.

I spotted a sculpture that seemed to stand out from the black stone images of men and animals. It was, instead, of a naked pregnant woman, missing her arms. Titled "Alison Lapper Pregnant," it was newly dedicated (2005). I wondered what it replaced, as it was on a large pedestal that seemed to much, much older. I found out later that this fourth plinth, as these pedestals are called, never held any art. Now it has being used to display temporary artwork such as this sculpture.

We wandered down the main thoroughfare from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace. The flying Union Jack told us the queen was not in presence. We did see a "celebrity," although we don't know who he was. He was a bodybuilder. A crowd of people follwed him, seeking photographs.

After wandering around outside Buckingham Palace, we headed towards Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Abbey closed hours earlier, but we admired the outside and even made our way to the interior cloister. It is a magnificent building, particularly as the light lit up the nave behind the altar.

After taking photos of Big Ben and Parliament, we decided to hit another pub before catching the train back to Bournemouth. Before we left, though, Tory and I spotted what seemed to be a figure standing motionless atop a distance building. We both realized that it was the work of Antony Gormley, whom we'd just read about in the morning paper. Gormley has placed life-size bronze nude sculptures of himself across London as part of an public art display. As the paper noted, this statue was quite mesmerizing.

We headed for The Sherlock Holmes Pub, after negotiating the Tube (a couple of lines were closed for maintenance). We sat in the upper patio, off the back, as the rest of the pub was full. When I'd been here before it was mighty hot and it wasn't air conditioned. So all I remember was being hot. Today, it was much cooler as we sat on the patio, talking about our last two weeks. With our days coming to an end, we took a moment to reflect.

Time to catch the train back to Bournemouth. We made it to Waterloo station just in time to catch our 8:35pm train. After the quiet 2 hour ride back, we headed towards our hotel. We were hungry, so we stopped at a little fast food joint called California. I ordered a Lamb Shish Kebab. Back at the hotel, we ate in Tory's room, as she had the most space. We talked for a bit, but soon we were heading out to our respective rooms for the night.
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