Days 1 & 2: London, England!
I got into London early on Sunday, after a long flight from Dulles. No problems with
passports or money exchange. A tip: wait until you get to England before you change money:
you will get a better exchange rate over there. Also, don't be daft and buy the extra
little "service" that most booths offer, of being able to get your money back at
the same exchange rate: believe me, you won't have any money left!
One kind of annoying thing was that it was so HOT!!. It had been
blazing in D.C. for the last couple of weeks (90 degrees and humid as a sauna), and I was
looking forward to cooling off in London. I'd checked the weather forecast on the web, and
it shows seventy, but when I got there it was just as warm as D.C.!!!! I didn't really
start to cool off until we reached Ireland...
Got through Heathrow and spotted my Globus tour guide (they're hard to miss: bright red
uniforms). As I was leaving Heathrow, I saw a sign I wish I could have taken a picture of:
the "Humping Zebra Crossing", or what the British call the crosswalks. I did get
plenty of other pictures of interesting uses of the language!
By the way: driving on the left is really easy to deal with when you aren't the one
who's doing it. I never did guess correctly which way to turn, however....
Since I had most of the day to myself (the tour didn't really start until Monday), I
immediately tried to do some exploring on my own. I wandered around a bit, got lost, got
found again, walked through some parks, got lost again, found the hotel and relaxed a bit.
I also signed up for an afternoon tour of the Tower of London.
The tower is pretty neat: It's hardly a tower, though: more of an old fort. There's
some housing on the grounds where one of the Queens of England was held (I think it was
one of Henry VIII's wives). The Tower of London is also the storage place for the Crown
Jewels, which are really spectacular. There's a lot more to it than just the crown and
scepters: there's several rings, jewel-encrusted swords, several sets of utensils and
serving trays (all gold or silver), and several crowns, of course!
All around the tower were the Beefeaters, wearing their traditional red and blue
costumes (no, not like Superman!). I never did find out why they were called
"Beefeaters", actually... there were also several soldiers stationed
around the crown jewels, and yes: they were just as stoic as you have heard.
Just across from the Tower is the Tower Bridge, crossing the Thames. You may have
seen it in pictures: two large towers with blue suspension cables connecting them to the
far shores, and a pair of long blue walkways up top. Pretty spectacular!
In the gift shop they had whole suits of armor for sale, from all different time
periods in British history. I was tempted to pick up a codpiece (that's the bit that
covers the mans bits, if you know what I mean), but they didn't deliver (I think) and I
didn't want to be carrying that thing all through the rest of the trip, so I passed.
Perhaps when we got back I'd have a chance (or so I thought!).
Monday morning really started my tour of London. The first bit was a bus trip
that took us all over the city. We passed by many major monuments, including St.
Paul's Cathedral, Wellington Arch, and the entrance to the Royal Mews (which we would
visit later). We also passed by the entrance to 10 Downing Street, the home of the
British Prime Minister. Along Hyde Park there were several rows of local artwork for
sale (didn't get any, though...). We also passed by Buckingham Palace: I would take
a tour in there later.
After the main tour, we split up into different trips on foot. I had a look at
the Royal Mews, which are the stables where the horses that draw the Royal carriages are
kept, along with the carriages themselves. the carriages were spectactular, and
there were several for each part of the (former) British Empire: there was the Scottish
Royal carriage, the Indian, Irish, and of course the British carriage. The one
reserved for the Royal family was heavily gilded in gold and decorations. Much too
gaudy for my taste...
After the Mews, we met up with Mick Hailey, a goofy tour guide with a derby hat.
He took us for a tour in Westminster Abbey. I had heard that people were buried in
the church (including Issac Newton, among others!), but I hadn't realized just how
many people were in there! You literally were walking all over them no matter where
you stood. Many of the tombs were so old that the inscriptions had almost totally
worn away. It's amazing to think of how much history is in a place like that
(amazing to an American, anyway... :-) Westminster is also where the Royal family
gets married (and I believe has funerals, too, but I'm not sure...)
Other people buried in Westminster Abbey include:
The King James bible was translated here (in what is called the Jerusalem Room).
Out the back of Westminster Abbey were the Houses of Parliament (House of Lords and the
House of Commons) and Big Ben, the famous clock. The Parliament building seemed to
be made of spikes!
We then headed towards Buckingham Palace. There is a large statue of Queen
Victoria outside the palace which shows her ruling over the Britsh Empire. We also
saw a changing of the guard as they processed by on horseback, and a small red cart being
hauled along by horses: apparently it is the food delivery for the palace, the same one
they've had for centuries!
They allow tours of parts of the palace these days (although no pictures). I
personally can't imagine living in there: it would be like living inside the National
Gallery of Art. There were paintings, vases, and other pieces of art everywhere, and
you couldn't touch any of it! The rooms all seemed designed for people about 15 feet
high, as well: great vaulted celings and huge doors. Again, much too gaudy for my
On the way back, we went by Highgrove, which is the residence of the Prince of Wales.
I got myself photographed with the guards stationed there.
The next day we would leave for Stonehenge: I couldn't