Monday, March 14, 2011

Chapter 3:Big Clocks, Big Wheels, and Front Doors

The last of the late mornings, as we woke up, had our continental breakfast (God bless Weetabix and Nutella), and got ready for the day. We bought a Big Bus Tour day pass, allowing us to ride a tour bus wherever we wanted, and get a chance to get a guided tour of the city.

And avoid Underground construction. That was a plus, too.

The London Eye was mission one, and between a long walk to the nearest bus stop and the glacial speed of a tour bus, it took some time before we arrived. But arrive we did, and the wait was worth it. Just before you disembark, you go by the House of Parlaiment, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. Turning the corner and seeing Big Ben (well, technically the clock in which Big Ben, the bell in the clock, is housed) is a sight rivaled only by Liberty Island when you first see the Statue of Liberty in New York.

We got in the queue (got it right the first time!) for the Eye, which is basically a giant ferris wheel built for the millennium. Before you get into the Eye, you go through a 4D London Eye experience. What is 4D, you ask? It's a 3D show, adding in little smoke clouds from the floor when you go through the clouds, drops of water on your head when there is rain, and other "you are there" moments. Not entirely sure what the point of the show was, but it wasn't optional.

We got in the Eye and took the ride, about 30 minutes, which did provide some spectacular views of the city. We managed to get there in the two-hour window of sunny weather we've had since we arrived, so we got some pretty spectacular views. We also got a pretty spectacularly hot capsule full of people from all around the globe with all different types of ideas about how frequently you should shower.

Once the Eye was done, we decided to walk over and see Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey up close. Nothing short of amazing, particularly as we went from one seat of government (the Tower of London) to another. In the course of 24 hours, we covered about nine hundred years of British power. You don't get that kind of efficiency many other places.

Buckingham Palace was next, but we were both tired and hungry, so on the recommendations of a local police officer we went to a little cafe underneath the Methodist Church across the street from Westminster Abbey. It is refreshing to learn that church basements are pretty much the same around the world, although the marble tables and groovy chairs did make for a nice escape from the tourist throng.

Refreshed, we headed out and were greeted by a serenade from the Westminster belltower. Seriously, this was loud and prolonged. Apparently, it was Commonwealth Day today, and the Queen had just arrived at Westminster Abbey. It felt, though, like the bells were welcoming us back to the London streets after lunch. I'm going with the latter.

We walked along the edge of St. James's Park to Buckingham Palace, which wasn't quite as close as the friendly Bobbies told us it would be. But got there we did, and it was worth the hike. Holy cats, talk about the best front door in the world. We walked along the front gate, marveling at the intricate designs in gold along the black wrought-iron bars. There's no question you're at the ultimate gated community. It's still a little surreal to think about being in front of an actual palace, where actual kings and queens have lived for hundreds of years.

Once we were done at the palace, we got back on the bus with the intent of taking a "Ghosts of London" walking tour. The tour involved walking along, hearing stories of haunted placed around London (usually involving people being beheaded or hung, which is way more prevalent in London than just about anyplace else I've ever been. Even San Diego). Unfortunately for the "walking tour" part, the temperature had dropped to about 40 degrees, and there was a gaggle of high-school kids that were tagging along the tour. We lasted for one pub stop (the Sherlock Holmes, where a Diet Coke and a bag of cream cheese and bacon crisps hit the spot) and two ghost stories (one about Ben Franklin, and one about Jane Grey and Anne Boleyn just before their execution) before we punted and ate at a delightful Mexican restaurant called Lupita. Fried cheese rocks. There's only so much English food one can tolerate.

We were close to Trafalgar Square, and the city was unveiling their countdown clock to the 2012 Olympics. We stayed to watch a little of the ceremony, just long enough to see one of the bizarre and oddly creepy mascots. We both decided another 30 minutes of "aren't we wonderful in London" shilling wasn't for us, so we hopped on the Underground and headed back home.

Early night tonight, as we have to catch a BMI plane tomorrow morning for Edinburgh. Hopefully the Scottish hotel will cooperate with a daily update tomorrow.

The photo album has been updated, and can be found here.


Pastor Glen Thomas said...

Glad you are having fun! Good idea to get away from it and all. Hurry home - the town is falling apart without you.

Joe Runge said...

You had me at bacon crisps