We have lived in a whirlwind of activity since Wednesday. We’ve walked until we didn’t think our feet could hold up any more. We’ve hopped wrong buses and ended up in parts of town we didn’t plan to see (but enjoyed the additional sightseeing anyway!). We’ve taken more pictures than we can count. It is now well past midnight on Saturday, and we’ve spent hours talking and sharing favorite books and pictures and patterns.I am quite ready for bed, but I wanted to post at least a synopsis of Thursday with pictures!
We got up early Thursday morning and headed out the door by about 7:55am, taking the bus to Tower Hill. I’d read that it is best to go right when the Tower opens to beat the lines. That was fabulous advice! We arrived about 15 minutes early, and I took this picture of Lindsay and Sarah waiting in front of the Tower for the ticket booth to open. The was overcast, making things just a bit on the cool side, but not unpleasantly so.
We spent two hours exploring the Tower complex (it’s really several towers within a castle wall) with no crowds. We made a beeline to the Crown Jewels right off–but no photos allowed…sorry! Then we headed to the White Tower, which contains the armory. I’ll have to post lots more pictures later. For now, here is one of the armor made for two young princes. Boys as young as seven learned to carry themselves and wield weapons in armor! The armory is crammed from top to bottom with weapons and armor (including horse armor), effigies of kings created for a great exhibition in the 1600s, and beautiful displays of gilded decorations from royal ships. I shot lots of photos for my boys!
After seeing the “Bloody Tower” and walking around the large green square (where several people were beheaded–ugh), we made our way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. No photographs were allowed inside, but I took many of the outside. Here is one that shows the immense towers on either side of the front entrance:
We’d heard we could climb up to the “Whispering Gallery” in the dome of the cathedral (156 steps!), so we decided to brave it. After navigating flights and flights of narrow, winding stairs, we made it, breathless and ready to sit down on the bench that runs around the wall of the dome! The view is quite beautiful from this gallery, and you get a close-up look at the paintings of the life of St. Paul within the dome. Once this high, we decided we simply had to climb up to the next level, which would take us to a walkway basically on top of the large dome (around the outside). After panting and puffing (and stopping for several breaks on landings!), we emerged into the windy air and marveled at the amazing 360-degree view. At right is a shot I took (hold your breath–I did!) At this point, I was more than ready to climb right back down, but it seemed a shame to have come this far and not complete the final 119 steps up to the “Golden Dome”–the very tip-top of St. Paul’s. So, it was onward and upward, our legs groaning in protest! After a very windy (and utterly amazing) view, we started our descent. Word to the wise: Wearing a full skirt to go down a drafty staircase is not the best idea–I had to fight my skirt to keep my feet in view!
At long last, after navigating a total of 840 steps (420 up then down), we made our way to the crypt, then back out into the daylight. I cannot do St. Paul’s justice in words. I wish I could give you pictures of the magnificent interior. It really does take your breath away. Sir Christopher Wren certainly knew how to stun and awe through architecture!
Now thoroughly hungry from our climb, we decided it was time to head to The George Inn over the Thames in Southwark (SUTH-ark). We wanted to see this, because it was one of Charles Dickens’s favorite haunts and figures as a coaching inn in The Pickwick Papers. We made our way down Queen Victoria Street and over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside. From there, I did my best as intrepid leader to follow the map we had to the George. Another word to the wise: London directions are never accurate, whether given by a person or a computer! We went this way, then that, trying to figure out what street we’d crossed and going down several blind alleys before we finally located Borough High Street. Obeying the map, we turned right and walked what must have been 1/3 mile before despairing of ever finding the inn! We finally turned around and headed in the other direction. One block past the street we’d turned from was The George–it was a left turn rather than a right! By now, it had taken us nearly 1.5 hours to walk to get our lunch, we were footsore and starved. Thankfully, the George does serve lunch! Here are Lindsay and Sarah enjoying a delicious luncheon:
After eating and resting, we were ready to take the bus back to St. Paul’s to start our planned “Dickens Walk,” visiting many points of interest from Dickens’s books and life. We asked a chap running a newsstand to tell us the best bus for St. Paul’s, and he gave us the number and pointed out the stop, reminding us to change at Liverpool Street for St. Paul’s. (Have I mentioned that directions in London are basically meaningless?) You guessed it: after riding for nearly 45 minutes, we ended up in Lewisham (far east London), nowhere near St. Paul’s. The bus drive
r stopped and turned off the engine, then called up to us (we were on the second level), “This is the end! The bus doesn’t go anymore!” We walked down the steps to ask him where we went wrong, and he said this number bus never goes near Liverpool Street. The newsstand man was quite wrong. We now needed to go back to New Cross and get the St. Paul’s bus. But the kind driver saw our faces and said, “It is very far to walk to the right stop. Wait while I am on my little break, then I will drive you to New Cross, since it is on my route.” Hallelujah! We sat for about five minutes until he was ready to go again, then headed back from whence we’d come.
By now, it was about 3:30 and sprinkling. The Dickens Walk didn’t seem like such a good idea, so we debated what to do next. We decided to go to Westminster Abbey instead and move the walk to Friday. So we hopped out at New Cross and found the right bus (checking the route ourselves this time, thank you very much!). As we headed toward Westminster, the sky cracked open, and all the low clouds of the morning poured down sheets of rain. By the time we reached our stop, it had slackened a bit, but London was quite soaked! We quickly walked over the square to Westminster, only to find it had closed at 3:45. Oh, well… Back to the drawing board. I remembered how to get from Westminster to Trafalgar Square, so I suggested we just walk that way, find some tea, then sit down and plan. By now the sun had broken through the clouds, and bright blue skies revealed themselves. It was glorious! We found a small cafe’, got some tea (hot chocolate for Sarah), then sat and scalded our tongues (boy, do they mean HOT tea over here!). Lifting an item from Friday’s must-see list, we decided to take the bus to Hyde Park Corner to see the Wellington Arch and walk back past Green Park, Buckingham Palace, and St. James’s Park. The weather had turned quite nice, and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk, though by now my left knee was very stiff (from our climb to the top of St. Paul’s). I limped along well enough, and we took some shots of Buckingham Palace and a darling cottage within St. James’s wildlife preserve:
Finally, we crossed in front of the Horse Guards headquarters and rounded the corner back into Trafalgar Square. From there, we caught a bus back to Suzi’s for a delicious supper of home-made stew and steamed broccoli. We sat up for a bit to share about our day, then crashed into bed, thoroughly footsore. Next time I’ll tell you about our visit to the British Museum and our rollicking good time in Shakespeare’s Globe!