Sunday, March 25, 2012

London: Day One - March 14, 2012

When we travel, my daughter and I divide sharply over the subject of itineraries. She doesn't like them. She prefers to catapult herself into a town and wander until something catches her eye. I like to have a bulleted list of things to see and do. Preferably, that bullet list contains a loose framework of times to keep us on track for seeing all of the things on our list. This was my itinerary for our first full day in London:

Tower of London (crown jewels first to beat the crowds, then Beefeater tour, then White Tower)
  Munch a sandwich on the Thames while cruising from Tower to Westminster Bridge
Tour Westminster Abbey (consider Evensong service at )
Follow the self-guided Westminster Walk. When finished, return to the Houses of Parliament and pop in to see the House of Commons in action.

I borrowed this itinerary from a writer on Anglotopia, and felt that it was a reasonable way to spend our time.

However, probably due to nine hours on a plane followed by the super-soft bed in our flat, I woke up with a painful twinge in my back. Just a note: always pack your prefered form of pain relievers. I got up, grumbled a bit about my back, fixed coffee, and popped a couple of ibuprofen. When Katya woke, she decided to be the first in our rather deep shower/tub combo. It was then we discovered that we neglected to pack her jeans. This wouldn't have been a problem in Texas, but in March in the UK, it's still quite cold. She had two skirts, a pair of leggings, and brown dress slacks.

After some more grumbling (the caffeine hadn't quite hit my system yet), I declared that we'd just have to go out and buy some jeans. She dressed in a lovely leggings-skirt-black shirt ensemble with her Sherlock Holmes wool coat to keep her warm, and we were out of the flat by 8 a.m.

We went into the Tube to buy our Oyster Cards, which is handy to have if you intend to travel the Underground extensively. I'm a goob for trains, subway or otherwise, so the Oyster Cards were essential. Unfortunately, and despite the fact that we informed our bank of the trip abroad, the credit card would not go through on the automated system. Fortunately, people in London are kind and helpful. An employee at the ticket booth ran our card manually, and before long, we were subway-trippin'.

That was all well and good, except we got turned around on the Tube a little bit and wound up northwest of the City of London. We exited the subway and wandered around to get our bearings. Quite by accident we found BBC Studios. Odd as it sounds, I think that's what snapped us to reality. We were in Britain. Land of Doctor Who and Sherlock. Home of Harry Potter, Monty Python and Neil Gaiman. Really, really there.

We wandered back up the street again, found the Great Portland Station, and took the opportunity to try out the new app on Ziggy, my iPod. It's called London2Go, and if you're traveling to a big city anytime soon, I recommend it. One of the best things about it: no Wi-Fi needed. We were able to find ourselves on the London Map without an internet connection. We nommed pastries and navigated a route from Regent's Park to Baker Street, home of Sherlock and Watson. 

Another great thing about the London2Go app: it contains a Tube map. From Baker Street, we took the Circle Line train to Westminster station.

Here's what I wanted from the moment we emerged from Westminster Tube Station: I wanted Big Ben and Parliament to appear as if dropped from heaven directly across from the stairway leading up to street level. I wanted spangles of sunlight to reflect from our sunglasses (well, my sunglasses; Katya's glasses), and I wanted to be struck wordless by the epic beauty of this ancient city sprawled before us.

That's exactly what it was like. And maybe I did weep upon seeing Big Ben. Maybe I wept again as we crossed Westminster Bridge and heard the melancholy moan of a bagpiper's song. And probably, I wept again at hearing the tolling of the tower clock in Big Ben.

While listening to the city hum around us, Katya and I ate ice cream in a waffle cone on Westminster Bridge. At this point, I'd completely forgotten this itinerary business. We wanted to ride the London Eye, doggone it, so that's what we did. Katya found an interesting way to pass our time whilst in line. She became a "creeper." By that, I mean she took surreptitious photos of unique outfits worn by fellow tourists. Even at midday, the wind off the Thames chilled us, so a lot of the people gathered in line wore sweaters-jackets-and-scarves combos in a variety of colors and styles. Later, when we were back at the flat, Katya used the pictures as references for character studies, so it wasn't all about the creeping.

Riding the London Eye might have been the most touristy thing we did the whole time we were in London, but it was worth it. Getting to see everything from the Eye gave us a sense of perspective about the layout of the city, which helped us get around better than we anticipated.

Also, at this time, we caught a glimpse of the first of many rather suggestive statues in London. This one was part of a building's upper level rooftop structure, best scene from above. So, in addition to being a creeper of people, Katya began to actively seek out England's naughtiest statuary.

After the Eye, we headed back to the House of Commons, where I had an idea of salvaging some of my itinerary. This would not be happening, though, as we tumbled headlong into a crowd of students marching on Parliament to protest an increase in fees British Universities. We had an enlightening talk with a tangent group of protesters who were against US/UK involvement with Iran, all because of their
TARDIS-shaped Peace Box. They were really neat people who proposed a peaceful three-day of non-emergency UK workers if the British government decided to take forceful action against Iran.

By the time the protest finished, Westminster Abbey had closed for the evening. We walked down to Victoria Tower and sat to watch the seagulls along the Thames. Then we rode the tube to Trafalgar Square and made our wishes in the fountain. Katya scaled to the back of one of the enormous lions ringing Nelson's Column. And then, using our serendipitous mishap from the previous day, we walked down Northumberland Avenue to find the Sherlock Holmes Restaurant, where we ate one of the best meals while we were in London. Katya had traditional fish & chips -- not as good as the Blue Lagoon in Glasgow, but close -- and I had cottage pie.

The sun was setting by the time we were done, and the temperature turned knife-blade cold. So we headed back to the flat, and were so exhausted that after watched a couple of episodes of Big Bang Theory (seriously, what was with the American TV over there? More on that later) we went to bed before 10.

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