Rolling on the River

Trip Start Jan 01, 2009
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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Saturday, February 14, 2009

I have always read that the best way to start a trip to London is to ride on one of the double decker tour busses and get an orientation on the sights of the city.  The first decision is which company to choose...the Bus Company or the Original Tour.  Based on the guide books, both companies hit the same sights but the Original tour have better live guides.  Next decision, where to catch the bus.  Although there are over 50 bus stops, it is recommended that you hop on at one of the starting points.  Jim and I decided to take the Underground to Piccadilly Circus and catch the bus there.  The Original Tour offers three tour lines and three connector line service...more decisions.  The recommendation was to take the Yellow T1 line because that is the one with commentary from a live guide.  The other two lines, Red T2 and Blue T3, provide recorded commentary in multiple languages.  Also the Blue T3 specializes on various museum and does not stop at the major London sights.  For 22 pounds you get unlimited access to the Red and Yellow lines for 48 hours (Winter special ends Feb 28th), river cruise between Westminster pier & the Tower pier and free walking tours.

Another must do with the bus tour is to ride on the open air top level, so you can have an unobstructed view of the attractions and to take photos; therefore you must choose a good weather day.  Today was not a bad day...cloudy in the mid 40's but no rain or snow.  The first loop had the bus circling Trafalgar Square.  An interesting side note...near the square is a pub, Texas Embassy, where the fledgling country of Texas housed their diplomats in London.  Next the bus took us around Hyde Park...no I did not see Mr. Hyde, but there were a lot of monuments.  On our loop around Victoria Square and Buckingham Palace, I could not take any pictures because the bus needed to keep up with the traffic flow; plus at the bus stop there were no good camera shots.  At our first of four Thames river crossing, we drove by Westminster Abbey.  On the Lambeth Bridge, there was an amazing panoramic of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the London Eye.

We drove by the London aquarium and the London Eye on our way to crossing the river again at Westminster Bridge.  Now we got a close up view of Big Ben and Parliament.  Also, the bus circled Parliament Square, where you can see statues of the heroes of the Empire like Winston Churchill.  In addition to the various British heroes, there was a statue of Abraham Lincoln.  Next, back to Trafalgar Square before heading into the "City".  The original city limits of London are marked by pillars with a griffin statue.  Sort of like the District of Columbia in Washington, the "City" has its own government body and the Queen is required to ask for the permission of the Mayor to enter London proper.  Currently, the "City" is the financial center of the UK, but since this is Saturday it appears like a deserted "City".  Driving along Fleet Street, you can see the ruins of an ancient Roman temple before arriving at St. Paul's Cathedral.  Supposedly you can walk to the top of St. Paul's dome and I was tempted to hop off the bus here.  Finally destination before crossing the river again, is the Bank of England.  Beyond the Bank was an odd shaped building which looked like an American football.

We crossed the Thames this time on London Bridge...thank God it did not fall down.  From London Bridge, you get a great view of the Tower Bridge along with the HMS Belfast, WWII era battleship opened for touring.  On the other side of the river, there was a huge line of people waiting to enter the London Dungeon.  According to guidebook, avoid this attraction...it is an over-priced tourist trap.  We crossed the river one more time under the Tower Bridge before stopping at the Tower of London.  By this time we were cold sitting on the top of the bus and ready to get off.  When the guide announced the Tower of London, I was looking around because I did not see a tower (tall vertical structure); instead there was a medium size castle.  I guess in Medieval times...this structure towered over the norm dwellings, but now the modern buildings surrounding the castle have diminished the impact of the "tower".  Another benefit of the Original Tour is that you can purchase from the bus driver admission tickets to the Tower of London, London Dungeon, London Aquarium and Madame Tussands without having to wait in the normal line...to the Tower we go.
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