We love people watching, and London hasn’t disappointed. On the tube we saw a group of guys in their mid to late 20s dressed up as various superheroes (the hulk, superman, batman, spiderman, and one poor unfortunate soul who had been picked to be wonderwoman). My guess is they were off to the Champions League Final game which was being held in London that day. Nothing surprises me when it comes to footballers.
Then there were two girls, also in their mid to late 20s, on the tube who didn’t really look like each other (either as sisters or twins), but were wearing completely identical outfits, down to the tattoos on their feet, their hairstyle (herringbone braids), those winter knit looking leggings, identical sweaters, and oversized bags with an american flag on them. Not only that, they had the same manicures, sunglasses, and white ballet flats with little bows on them. It was actually astounding. I had a rather hard time not gawking and wondering if perhaps they were fraternal twins of some kind, or best friends who desperately wanted to be like twins. Hard to say… Justin says he thinks they are twins but what adult sisters want to be seen in the same outfit? Never mind that, what adult female wants to be seen in the same outfit as someone else? Utterly confusing.
Lastly, we met this guy at a pub while I was trying to write this post. He says his name is Danny and that he is a down and out DJ who is making a comeback. According to him, he has a form of autism that gives him a gift for music, but combined with a bipolar disorder, he has burnt out. Apparently the music scene can be pretty exhausting. I’m pretty sure he had already had a few by the time he sat down by us, so he proceeded to tell us his plans for making it to the top of the charts by mixing 80s tracks into contemporary house music, which apparently is this years ‘thing’, and how he has all these tunes already mapped out in his head and how they will be huge hits. I’m not sure how much I believe, but he was entertaining to listen to. His sentences were peppered with “know what I’m saying”, “you follow me”, or “you understand?” in his heavy Irish-London accent. Pretty fantastic, although I did get concerned that he was going to stay there all night and pass out on the couch, but he did leave after about half an hour, probably on to the next pub.
On Monday we started the day out with the Tower of London. Travel tip: if you are planning to see more than a couple of the big sights in London (Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, St. Paul’s, etc.), then get a London Pass. You can get them in single or multi-day values and it really makes thing much easier. We bypassed a few ticket lines, which can be very long, and got ourselves straight into the sights. Not only that, but if you do the math on how many things you want to see (and what you can realistically see in a day), it can very easily work out to be cheaper to buy the London Pass instead of individual tickets.
We got to the Tower just a little after opening and made our way straight to the Crown Jewels; and with good reason, a couple hours later the line to get into the Crown Jewels snaked half way around the whole complex and would have been well over an hours wait. Best sight to see, the world’s largest cut diamond (clocking in a whopping 503 carats) in the sceptre used in coronations of England’s Kings and Queens.
From there we did a loop through the White Tower itself, where there are exhibits of armour and weaponry, as well as a special exhibit from the Royal Mint detailing the history of England’s monetary system and coinage.
We followed that up with a hilarious Beefeater tour (Beefeaters being the Yoeman Warders charged with protecting the Tower and the Crown Jewels. They are all retired servicemen of high rank who have served a minimum of 22 years in Her Majesty’s Service and who have been selected to live and work at the Tower of London). They are all very entertaining and funny, and provide a bit of history to the Tower.
Amazing. It is one of the most famous cathedrals in England and Europe, and it is stunning inside (again, no photos allowed). Justin just kept shaking his head in disbelief. We visited the crypt and saw Admiral Nelson’s tomb (famous for defeating Napoleon at sea in the Battle of Trafalgar), and then we climbed up a couple hundred stairs into the huge dome itself. Let’s just say my stomach did a couple flips looking down into the nave of the church. From there we climbed another couple hundred rickety winding steps up to the peak of the dome into what is called the Golden Gallery. It stands a towering 280 feet above London and we got a great 360 degree view of the city.
To round out our day, we took a river cruise from the Tower Hill dock back to Westminster (under Big Ben). It was great to see the city from off the river, not to mention some great shots of the Tower Bridge.
The next day rolled in with rain, so I don’t have many pictures. We went to Greenwich to see the Prime Meridian as well as the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory. We learned about exploration and British naval dominance, as well as the longitude problem facing sailors in the 17th and 18th centuries. Simply put, pendulum clocks were accurate on land but did not work on the roll and swell of the sea. Therefore sailors could not compare their local time with a fixed time back home to determine their degrees of longitude, which meant many lost and shipwrecked souls during the age of exploration. The British government put out a prize for whoever could solve this problem and, after twenty-nine years of work, John Harrison developed an extremely accurate version of a pocketwatch that could be carried out to sea, thus solving the issue. As a result, our entire system of time zones and understanding of world time was developed. It is a humbling idea to think how we all take our watches (or phones) and clocks for granted these days. It used to be an immense challenge to figure out an accurate local time, never mind what time it was somewhere else in the world.
At any rate, here we are at the Prime Meridian, the place from which all time is measured. I can now officially say I’ve stood at the divide of north and south (equator), as well as east and west (prime meridian).
And Justin is sad because it is raining. It literally did pour the few minutes, and it would seem only during the few minutes, we were outside on the line… oh well. We escaped the rain by heading to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the evening before turning in to pack up our bags as tomorrow sees us to Oxford!