London, United Kingdom
Our first full day in London. I woke up feeling relatively normal, which was a relief. Breakfast was included in our hotel rate, so we didn’t have to go anywhere. S
peaking of the hotel, you’d think our room would have a fridge wouldn’t you? Maybe this is just an Australian thing, because it’s not something we’d even thought about. However, at this hotel, you had to ask for a room with a fridge in it. We didn’t, so no fridge for us. Not a major deal in the grand scheme of things, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask for a different room, because we hadn’t realised until we’d unpacked yesterday. Repacking and unpacking again was not something I had any intention of doing.
We had tickets for a hop on hop off bus tour of London. There were several routes taking in various areas around the city and a stop for the ‘museum’ route was close to our hotel, so we duly hopped on the bus and plugged into the headset commentary. At one point the commentator reminded passengers to take all of their belongings with them when they got off the bus. This included their bags, coats, cameras and, of course, their children. We weren’t sure if this was supposed to be a joke or not.
After a couple of stops, we changed onto the route with the live commentary, which was a lot more personal. Our guide, Steve, was friendly and gave a really interesting commentary. During the day we learned that Steve doesn’t like modern art, and that jokes about no work ever being done in public servant offices aren’t just an Australian thing. There was a lot of information about the things we passed by and I don’t remember any of it.
We saw most of the landmarks you’d expect to see in London. Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament! (Although as we all know, Big Ben is the name of the bell, not of the tower, which is called Elizabeth Tower. The Great Bell chimed 12 as we went past.)
We played Spot a Monopoly Square (I’m sure we aren’t the first people to do that) and were basically overwhelmed by how much there is to see and how much we wouldn’t get to see in only a week.
The bus took us past Buckingham Palace, which is open to visitors at the moment while Her Majesty is away on holiday. (I noticed that this was how Steve referred to her, where we Aussies would just have said ‘the Queen’.) It’s tempting, because this opportunity isn’t available very often.
We crossed the Thames several times, including over the Tower Bridge, and ended up at Westminster Pier, where we took a river cruise back up the way we’d just come. The river cruise guide told us about the history of London’s watermen, and explained that it was a tradition dating back 500 years, carrying people and goods across the river. In recent years their role has changed to taking people on pleasure cruises. He said he was very proud to carry on the traditional profession of waterman.
The river cruise took us under the bridges we’d crossed on the bus, including London Bridge, Waterloo Bridge (built by women during World War 2) and up to the Tower Bridge, where we got off to visit the Tower of London. I didn’t have much of an idea about what I might want to see in London, but as soon as we passed the Tower in the bus, we both decided we wanted to go and see it.
After a quick lunch break, we made our way in, past the security guard whose job it was to confiscate any chocolate visitors might have, just in time for the start of one of Yeoman Warder tours. The Yeoman Warders are the bodyguards on duty at the Tower.
The tour was a little over 30 minutes and then we were free to explore the Tower on our own. We saw the Crown Jewels, the tower where the two princes were supposed to have been imprisoned, walked along the wall, saw the ravens (there is a legend that the Kingdom and the Tower will fall if the 6 ravens leave the tower, so Charles II insisted that they be protected – there are currently 6 captive ravens at the Tower -plus one spare).
We shopped for tacky souvenirs – which is going to be a theme of the trip, as always. If you haven’t worked it out yet, this will be a feature of the whole trip.
At the end of the day we hopped on another hop on hop off bus, but we were too late to catch the one that would take us back to our hotel, so we got off at Baker Street Station and caught the Tube to Kings Cross, where it was an easy walk back to our hotel, having dinner at a pub on the way.
Slabs will appreciate this, but when I was talking to the barman, he asked if I was from New Zealand. He was surprised that I wasn’t, because he said he thought he’d heard a Kiwi twang in my accent.