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The Pursuit of Leisure Don't expect too much, and you won't be disappointed.

Where's the Beefeater?

UNITED KINGDOM | Monday, 13 June 2011 | Views [1001] | Comments [2]

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Started out early this morning on the Tube to Westminster Abbey, which doesn't open until 9:30 so being early I thought I'd walk around and get a good look at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. By the time I got back to the Abbey, it was 10 and the line for cash and the line for credit were wrapped around the building on both sides. I didn't want to waste time waiting in line so I got back on the Tube and headed to St. Paul's Cathedral, which was the second church on my to-do list. It was only slightly cheaper than the admission fee to Westminster, which is to say it was still overpriced. Lighting a votive candle cost 30 pence. Whatever happened to the good old days when entrance fees were donation-based? Anyways, the cathedral was gorgeous but they requested that you not take any video or photographs inside so unfortunately I can't share any visuals with you: beautifully sculpted tombs, ornate murals with gold on the dome ceilings, marble floors. All the previous cathedrals that I've visited as a tourist – even if they're incredibly detailed – just don't match the sort of historic wealth that goes into a building like this one.

The cathedral also had both its galleries available to the public, which was nice. They were the usual spiral staircases with low ceilings and you definitely cannot be afraid of heights or of small spaces. I climbed up to the first Whispering gallery at 257 steps up from the cathedral floor and my legs were hurting already. If I wasn't in a church I would probably have cussed my way up the first staircase. I almost thought about not going up all the way. But I can't help it, if something can be climbed all the way to the top, I will do it. So I made my way up to the Stone Gallery, and then the Golden Gallery, for a total of 528 steps and 85 meters, which offered a nice skyline view of London. At the end I went down to the crypt, which has a cafe, so I had a nice little lunch with a cuppa tea down there next to all the tombs.

Then since it was lunchtime I decided to head back to Westminster Abbey hoping that people were out eating and not trying to visit. But it wound up being even more crowded than the morning. So I decided to not wait in line that time either. Before visiting London, actually going inside Westminster Abbey wasn't a high priority on my list, but now that I've haven't been able to get inside twice already if I don't make it inside now it's going to drive me crazy.

After my failed attempt I hopped back on the Underground to the Tower Gate stop. I am very glad that I bought the 7-day Travelcard my first day here, because I was hopping all over the lines today backtracking, but with my pass I have unlimited travel in the main central area. I was afraid I'd get lost in London, but there are so many subway stops that all I have to do is find another one on any line and I can get back to where I'm going. Pretty nifty.

By the time I got to the Tower Gate stop, the sun came out and I couldn't waste this opportunity to take pics of the Tower Bridge, so I sped across the Bridge across the Thames to get a shot with the sun behind me shining on the Bridge. If I had more time I'd just lie down on the grass with a cup of coffee and just enjoy the day, but I'm on a tight schedule, so I made my way back to the Tower of London. Side note: while I was crossing Tower Bridge I looked down at my watch and saw that it was 2 p.m. and I started grinning widely because that translates to 8 a.m. Monday across the pond, which is when I'd be getting to work normally. Maybe I'm finally getting into vacation mode?

I got there in time for the guided tour. I had really wanted to do the Beefeater (yeoman warden) tour of the Tower 'cause the guards have that quirky British sense of humor (“humour”) enough to make learning fun(!) but after the intro our group swelled to like 50 people and by the time we reached the second stop I could barely make out what he was saying, so I unfortunately ditched the group, got an audio guide (which actually cost an extra 4 pounds!) and spent the next 3 hours climbing more narrow, claustrophobic spiral staircases. It's surprising how pleasant the place felt, even knowing it was used as a prison and an execution site (not to mention an unintentionally cruel zoo). The Crown Jewels are also located in the Tower, behind 2 security doors. It was a long line and a lot of buildup for an eventual conveyor belt/walkway that moves you past the 6 or so glass cases with royal crowns, scepters, etc. The speed of the conveyor belt was so fast that my audio guide kept on going long past after I had passed all the displays already. I had spent so long in line I had to circle around and get back on the conveyor belt for a second time. No photos or videos were allowed either (can photos actually degrade diamonds?) They were very ornate and filled with history (not to mention obviously with diamonds) but I was a bit underwhelmed. I think I was more in awe of this giant golden punch bowl at the end of the exhibit with carved figurines, including a lion, angels, and a unicorn(!)

Afterwards I bought some fish-and-chips right next to the Tower, and the food was just average. It tasted good at first but wound up being too greasy – I give it a 5 on Diana's special fish-and-chips scale. Then I hung out alongside the Thames with a good view of the Tower Bridge, washing down my fish-and-chips with some Cornish dairy ice cream. There was a Thames River fundraiser for this organization that cleans rivers around London, and they had a clarinet/saxophone quartet playing jazz music. I know, it's not really British to hear not only jazz but renditions of songs like “Singin' in the Rain,” but I still enjoyed it. It was a very relaxing way to cap off the day.

Now I'm sprawled out in my hotel room and I've realized sitting in a cube for 10 hours (or 14 hours...) a day has made me unbelievably out of shape. I was huffing and puffing my way up the stairs at St. Paul's. Combined with all the stairs on the Tube and the many more flights of staircases at the Tower of London, my legs and feet are incredibly sore today. All the time that my body is used to not being in motion is now taken up by walking, so I'm exhausted and was falling asleep on the ride back to my hotel. It feels like a waste to not take advantage of all this daylight, but after 12 hours, by 8 p.m. I was already beat and the sun was still high in the sky.

Tomorrow I hope the weather continues to be good... because I bought some nonrefundable tickets on the London Eye and a Thames river cruise. If I can drag myself out of bed maybe I can make it to Hyde Park and at least one of the palaces by there in the morning.



hey i hope u catch a show!

  Christine Jun 14, 2011 12:15 PM


Be sure to get the english breakfast at that place across from your hotel, the actual establishment is called 'Fish and Chips' - its massive and quite good.

  Michael Jun 15, 2011 4:47 AM

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