Buckingham Palace – St. Paul’s Cathedral – British National Library – The British Museum – The Tower of London – London Bridge – The Globe – Picadilly Circus – Top Hat:The Musical
Off into the crisp early morning of air of London town we went. A short walk from Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace and God Save the Queen! Buckingham is not what I expected it to be. Maybe the British are more frugal. The Hofburg, Versailles, and Prague Castle are all substantially larger than Buckingham. Buckingham is still beautiful. It would have reminded me of Luxembourg gardens in Paris if there had been a gravel path and French people laying in the sun while having a picnic. Alas it was far too cold in the early morning autumn of London for a picnic.
After snapping a couple pictures of Buckingham Palace because it wasn’t open that early in the morning we went off for a walk through Hyde Park. Or at least, that was our intention. As it turns out that was a bit of a hike and we hopped on the Underground to St. Paul’s Cathedral instead.
I would like to take a moment to talk about London and my sense of direction. There are very few places in the world where I feel lost. In Prague, Vienna, Athens, and Venice I knew exactly where I was going at all times with only a few glances at the map and my excellent sense of direction. London was a different story. The Tube stations are so large that even though there are maps in English I would find myself walking out of the station and being completely turned around. Luckily it was Shana’s third visit to London and she mostly knew where she was going.
I bring this up because despite St. Paul’s immense size it is rather hard to locate (if you’re not from England). Eventually we found the main entrance and looked at the price sheet. It was 30GBS to enter St. Paul’s or in real money, that is $60ish dollars US. We felt that was a bit exorbitant so we passed on yet another church and hopped back on the Tube to The British National Library.
Why visit a library? Isn’t it just a bunch of books? Why yes, that’s exactly what it is but these are not just any books. The British National Library houses one of the world’s greatest exhibitions on books of antiquity. There are original hand penned copies of Shakespeare, an original Guttenberg bible, ancient Muslim texts, scrolls of Japanese calligraphy from feudal Japan, Jane Austen’s writing desk and even hand written Beatles’ lyrics on the back of an envelope. It is an awesome collection. There are really old science books, maps, hand-written music by famous composers and notable books from British history. This was also Shana’s third visit to the British National Library so she spent the entire time in front of Jane Austen’s desk.
All those illuminated manuscripts really whet my appetite for some archaeology exhibits. You could say I was… Jones’n… Tip your waitress folks. The good Doctor Jones and the beautiful female lead dashed off to the British Museum (WHICH IS FREE). The audio guide is rather expensive though. I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine; which was to see the Rosetta Stone. Ever since I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark and studied ancient Egypt in 6th grade I have been deeply fascinated by Egyptian stuff and had wanted to see the British Museum’s collection of Egyptian artifacts. Seeing the Rosetta Stone helped bring out that child like wonder like when I had visited the Field Museum in Chicago, The Smithsonian in Washington D.C. or the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the first time. Despite being pressed for time I made a desperate push to see everything in the museum. I failed. It’s too big. Ba baba BAAAAA ba babaaaaa. Maybe there will be a sequel visit. We stopped for a short take away lunch and hopped back on the London Underground on our way to the Tower of London!
The Tower of London is a bit expensive so to get the most out of your visit make sure you take the guided tour from one of the Beefeaters that “guard” the castle grounds. These are former military men that now actually live at the castle and guide the crowds through with stories and insight. The tour takes off about every 30 min. The tour lasts about 45 min and then you are free to roam the castle on your own time. Trust me on this. You will want to get the tour. First of all there is a lot insight and great stories they tell about the castle to help clear up common misconceptions about its history. Second of all, they are absolutely hilarious. It was an international roast of epic proportions. Here’s a little taste courtesy of youtube. You can even follow them on twitter where they often post the dumbest question they were asked that day.
After the tour we wandered through the main castle to see the torture exhibits, the famous suits of armor, collections of swords and other knight paraphernalia. Henry VII thought very highly of himself judging by the codpiece on his armor.
One of the main reasons people come to the Tower of London is that they house the crown jewels of the United Kingdom. To see the crown jewels you have to walk into a very large safe and then get on a moving sidewalk where you cannot linger to really stare at the jewels as they are incredibly valuable. One of them is called, “The Mountain of Light,” it is a diamond about the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s fist. The guide earlier mentioned to all the women, “If you want your men to feel inadequate, go see King Henry’s Armor, if you want to feel bad about your wedding ring, go see the crown jewels.” Good thing Shana doesn’t like diamonds.
We wrapped up our visit to the Tower of London and headed across the Thames to the Globe. The only building in London with a thatched roof. It also just happens to be a complete replica of the original Globe where Shakespeare was performed in the mid to late 16th century. Alas, woe hath fallen upon mine eyes, forsooth we were’t able to peer into the performers’ hallowed ground, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet O’er n’ out. It was closed when we got there. However, we did get a picture of the outside and Shana had already been inside during a previous trip to London.
Back onto the subway we went and headed back to the Leicester Square and the TKTS booth to buy tickets for Top Hat: The Musical. We grabbed some dinner at a local pub near the theatre in the West End, aptly named, “The Globe,” and then enjoyed a wonderful performance of the adapted film. They sang, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Cheek to Cheek,” and of course, “Top Hat, White Tie & Tails.” The main part was played by Fred Astaire in the movie and the man who played him on stage was fantastic. He had Astaire’s mannerisms and singing style down. He even kind of looked like Astaire. A great way to cap off our time in London Town.
Sadly this was our final night on the road. Tomorrow we head home.