Tag Archive | tower of london

Last stop…

…London! Were you waiting for it? I told you to wait for it, so we now know your inability to follow directions if you didn’t. *Sarcasm Sign*

But it began with a day in London just us girls. Kevin and Dad went to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and Bath so we had the whole day to ourselves. Mom and I checked into The Rubens at the Palace, a hotel full of memories for us as it was the same hotel we stayed at when we came three years ago. They kindly pretended to remember us, but we know that they don’t (except our favorite doorman Nathan who actually DID remember us!). It’s cute though. The first thing we did was take a tube to Piccadilly Circus to snag two of the last seats to that night’s performance of Les Miserables. They were in the Upper Dress Circle, aka the nosebleed seats, but they were tickets and that is all that mattered. I’m willing to suffer through a lot for the theatre.

Our first real activity of the day was going to the Victoria & Albert Museum in the Burrough of Kensington. I loved the museum, and it’s something I had wanted to do in London for a while and just hadn’t gotten the chance. It was full of decorative arts exhibits, so things like clothes, furniture, jewelry, plate ware, and my personal favorite, snuff boxes.

A snuff box, makes more sense why I like them now doesn't it?

Basically a ton of sparkly things which everyone knows I am attracted to like a fish. We lingered over the items from the Tudor era obviously, and while the ball dresses exhibit wasn’t open yet, there was a wonderful exhibit on theatre production that put us in the mood for Les Mis.

We spent a long time in the V&A and then went to the famous department store, Harrods, which nearly ruined my beautiful day. It was gaudy and crowded, hot and smelly, and not just because of the perfume counters. Everything was a disgusting shrine to excess and overindulgence. We barely walked in before we got lost and asked an employee for a map just to find an escape from the place. It was one of the lower points of the entire trip and I have no idea why anyone would want to step foot in there. And then once we ahd escaped, we couldn’t find a nearby place for tea so we went back to our own beautiful and calm–as well as tea providing–hotel for scones and Early Grey. Definitely an improvement, bringing me back to the happiness of spending time with Mom, going to the V&A, and basking in the beautiful sunlight.

Tea Time

We went back to Piccadilly around 6 pm to grab dinner before the play. Because we were on the border of SoHo, most everywhere was clubs or cocktail bars and we ate at Le Pain Quotedienne. Our waiter was awesome. He was funny, liked Harry Potter and Disney, and even watches Downton Abbey. Unfortunately we didn’t get his name and will never see him again because he really was a sweetie. But Les Mis was calling and the theatre waits for no diner.

Les Mis was even better than I could have hoped for. The singing, the staging, the singing (yes, it deserves multiple mentions). I can see why everyone becomes addicted. I pretty much sobbed the entire last third of the musical, which was problematic as I had forgotten tissues. I was stunned, speechless, and streaming tears for a while after curtain.

At Les Mis

But all good things must come to an end; all too soon we were joined at The Rubens by the menfolk and nighttime gave way to morning of our first day in London as the four of us.

Kevin really wasn’t feeling well on this new morning so he elected to forgo going to Windsor Castle with us in exchange for an extra four hours of sleep. It was Dad’s first experience with the Tube, so we were lucky that it wasn’t as crowded as it generally is so Dad wouldn’t get separated from us. We got a much later start than Mom and I are used to or wanted to, so by the time we made it to Windsor we ended up waiting in quite a long line than we would’ve if we had arrived earlier.

Windsor Castle, the Queen was in residence

And St. George’s Chapel was closed for Sunday services so no Hency VIII grave for us (thankfully Mom and I saw it last time). All we ended up being able to do was Queen Mary’s Dollhouse, the State Apartments, and the outside areas. We did all of that three years ago on our Tudor Tour, but that time we had arrived so late in the day that we had had to rush everything. This time we were able to take our time, but with the chapel closed there wasn’t much else to do. We listened to the entire audio guide of the apartments and grounds, ate lunch, and walked back to the rail station. Dad loved the castle and went on and on about how cool it was. Our first train back was cancelled so we waited around for another 20 minutes for the next one. Once at Waterloo Station, there was a lot of security ushering us out of the station; apparently there was a fire report at one of the cafes.

We ate here last time we were at Windsor

Our initial plan was to do another cream tea and then catch a Hop-on-Hop-Off tour so Dad and Kevin could see more of London without needing to walk around for four days. As the train was later than we had anticipated, in fact the whole day was later than we had anticipated, Mom and I chose to graciously give up our precious tea in favor of catching one of the last tours. It turned out that the last live guide bus was leaving from Green Park at 5 and we were at one of last stops (Victoria) so we could get on the last tour IF we made it to Green Park in 20 minutes. We ended up making it with literally a minute to spare. Then while everyone went upstairs, I had to deal with a broken credit card machine preventing me from paying for the tickets. When it was finally worked out I went upstairs and snagged a spot at the very front of the bus, prime picture taking location. The rest of the family was in the back of the bus, abandoning me to be surrounded by Mafia men (no joke).

Rare photo of Dad and me at the Windsor Governor's House

Back at the hotel, Kevin and I sent Mom and Dad off to have dinner together while Kevin was stood up by a friend who was also visiting in London and I slept. Then Dad swapped places with me and slept while the three of us went downstairs for dinner and pudding 🙂 A lot of funny moments came out of that pudding.

For our last full day together (sadness) we went to the Tower of London, one of my favorite places to visit. I’ve been there twice already, so the immediate reaction would be an eye roll because there is a theoretically finite amount of things to do and see at the Tower. I mean I can basically spew off most of the same information about the history of the Tower that someone would get from the audio guide, so it isn’t like I can learn a whole lot more by continuing to visit.

Tower of London

But Dad had yet to go there and there was a huge draw for Mom and me as well. Thinking that it opened at 9:30, we took the tube, arriving at 9:15. Turns out that the Tower wasn’t open until 10 am. I was huddling on a bench in the sun because it hadn’t warmed up enough yet and Kevin and I practiced our British accents on each other to the embarrassment of our parents. I think we are getting pretty good at them to be honest. The gates opened at 10, but the first guided tour wasn’t until 10:30 (which once again further threw off our time game plan) so we beat the crowds to the jewel house and awed at the sparkliness of the Crown Jewels. Again, bored boys, starry eyed girls. That took all of 15 minutes and we made our way back to the entrance of the fortress to meet up with the tour guide.

The tour, as it was the first of the day, was incredibly crowded, probably consisting of 75 people. Thankfully the tour guide could project, because his jokes were hilarious and his history engaging (learned some new things! See? Totally worth revisiting). But as great as our guide was, he paled in comparison to the whole purpose of taking the tour: access to the chapel. Specifically, entrance to the site of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howards’ graves (always a Tudor reason behind my thoughts). Yes, I actually got to see the graves of those two tragic women, and was completely overwhelmed, as I often become when faced with the reality of history. Completely satisfied with my time at the Tower, I waited on a warm bench (are you sensing a theme yet?) while the rest of the family breezed through some of the other Tower exhibits, and then we all left and headed for the Tate Modern.

Here is where Kevin received his reward for being an awesome brother on this trip: we all went to a modern art gallery with him despite Mom and me hating modern art and Dad’s back not really able to handle standing around galleries. But the guy earned it, so we all kindly sucked it up and allowed him as much time as he wanted to explore the exhibits. Which honestly only took about an hour as the gallery is really only one floor, so we soon moved on to the National Gallery, a place I was much more interested in. The National Gallery has over 150 hours of audio commentary, meaning that renting one for the second time was worth it. I made sure not to listen to the same paintings as before, choosing instead an entirely different genre of works, and I also made sure that I wasn’t wandering on an empty stomach! Greatly increased my enjoyment and focusing ability. This time I was the last one done, but there was a cafe downstairs so everyone had agreed to just meet there and no one got lost. Then we walked back to the hotel, where Mom and I were greeted by the wonderful Nathan holding out an envelope for us containing our incredible seats for Billy Elliot.

Obviously Mom and I have no qualms about seeing productions more than once, note our 6 time experience with Wicked, but we had attempted to get last minute tickets to the eternally sold out War Horse. Unfortunately, those did not pan out so we consoled ourselves with the brilliant Billy. Definitely one of the best productions in London, and highly recommended by, well, me. Also, tidbit for those in LA, it’s coming to the Pantages! So buy a ticket, you won’t be sorry, I promise.

Unfortunately this left us with only one more morning to share before they had to leave me in the UK for their lives back in California. We chose to spend this melancholy morning in a melancholy place, a church. Specifically Westminster Abbey, fittingly surrounding ourselves with illustrious but dead people. I took my time even more than usual here, because last time Mom and I were both able to find the resting places of some important but relatively obscure Tudor people (Anne of Cleves and Anne Bolyen’s niece Katherine Knoylls), so I was hoping that I would stumbled across more of these people if I was just patient and didn’t zip through the Abbey like Dad did. I was rewarded as well, finding Anne Boleyn’s nephew and Elizabeth I’s counselor Henry Carey. Even cooler, I bumped into a friend from UCLA! Completely random, unintentional, and kind of surreal. We started at each other for a solid minute of confusion before realizing neither of us was hallucinating and yes, we were both real people standing in Westminster Abbey. Her friend just got accepted to Oxford so she came over to visit on her spring break. But how amazing that we both were in Westminster at the same time and able actually could catch up for a bit? So bizarre how small of a world it can be!

Nathan!

Following the conclusion of Westminster, we took a massively scenic route up towards Trafalgar’s Square before heading back to the hotel for our farewells. As all taxis seem to be in the UK, my family’s ride to the airport was 15 minutes early, so the goodbyes were a little more sudden than I was expecting. I am so grateful that they came to visit and that I had the chance to spend two weeks with my dad and brother and three with my mom.

Now for a week of school work and dance and rest before I set off on another trip to Paris with my friends!

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London Town, Part 2, and a warning

I’ll get the warning over first so that we can get to the fun stuff of Kevin’s second day in London. Because of my lack of internet access/room in my backpack for a laptop, obviously I wasn’t posting hot off the press updates regarding our trip. So lucky me, I have four days to catch up on while also setting up my new surprise (more info to come!) and settling into a routine again around Oxford. This means that over the next 48 hours, a lot of blog posts will be released. Chances are you will miss the first or the last or one of the ones in between–did I cover all my bases there?–so just keep an eye out and read thoroughly. Did you hear that? STALK MY BLOG! Just not me, please, that would be expensive and a little creepy to be honest.

We shall now travel far back in time to a distant day known as January 2, 2012, where we last left our two characters exiting the Westminster Tube station and stepping into the light of their second day in London.

One would think that the sky was trying to make amends for the bleariness the day before, because there was hardly a cloud in the sky and everywhere was covered with this lovely shade of light blue. Kevin was spoiled; he had seen Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament lit up by floodlighting the night before (you know what, I’m going to pretend that I am posting this on time and just going to reference the days as yesterday and today so that I don’t get too wordy; you’re welcome) and then today saw them backlit by crystal blue and white sunlight. Even better for him, we were ahead of schedule and had about 30 minutes to kill before our tickets for the London Eye, so I took him by 10 Downing St, the home of the Prime Minister, and up to Trafalgar’s Square and Nelson’s Column. We didn’t really go far into Trafalgar’s due to time constraints, but at least he was able to see it. I feel like that is how a lot of our trip, especially London, ended up being…we may not have been able to tour these places because of time or money, but we still could see it and put mental images to the words we have absorbed in our heads and could feel the history and aliveness of the locations. And that sort of experience is free 😉 Just seeing the place is half the point after all.

All I can say about the London Eye is thank goodness we had the foresight to order our tickets online ahead of time. The line to just get the tickets had to have been at least an hour, but all we had to do was walk up to an machine, type in our last name and confirmation number, and our tickets were spit out at us, cutting our waiting time down to the 15 minutes to actually board the Eye. There you have it, all I can say about it. Okay, not really. I know that Kevin liked the Eye more than I did on my second trip around a gigantic ferris wheel on which you are enclosed in a giant plastic tube (Mom and I did the Eye when we went to London in 2009). I don’t mind the heights; I do mind the enclosed space, today worsened by a couple of rowdy Italian toddlers. I also find the Eye a bit pointless. London’s buildings are primarily around the exact same height, so there isn’t much of a skyline to ooh and ahh over while you take the 30 minute trip around. The highlight is definitely seeing the Parliament building, alone almost worth the steep price and half hour of Italian children.

Kevin points to Houses of Parliament on the London Eye

After we were able to breathe fresh air again, we made our way to the Tower of London, the historic royal residence most widely known for its role as prison and execution site, neglecting the royal apartments and war fortress aspects of the site. We would have made it to the Tower a lot faster than we did–not that we were slow but we would have been even quicker–had Kevin not scolded me for always being in a rush and walking faster than anyone else in the family could keep up with. I believe his exact argument was that there is a middle ground between the slow stroll of our mother and my marathon run, and that would be the speed he walks at. As soon as I tried to keep pace with him, my legs were seriously itching to take longer strides or something! They had a mind of their own at that point and that mind had one goal: Get to the Tower.

I love the Tower. I loved it when I went in 2009 and I loved it today. The only differences in my love for it were the weather (no rain, but a cold best described as biting) and my ability to contain my excited freak outs to wide eyes attempting to absorb and commit to memory every nook and cranny and signpost of the place.

Me in my ancestor Edward I's former apartments in the Tower

We went ahead and did the completely worth it audio tour which took us around the Medieval Palace, the Norman Remains back from our dear friend William the Conquerer (there will be a history quiz for everyone at the end of the trip), the imprisonment areas and the execution grounds, an exhibit on suits of armor that I sucked up and went through for my brother, and general history of the place. We did not see the Crown Jewels; Kevin is a guy after all and I have already seen them. As such we finished the Tower in a few glorious hours and met Janosz at the British Library, our final tourist stop for the day that had been meant for yesterday.

Let’s face it: I’m a nerd, Kevin is a nerd, we both love books, and the British Library is just pretty darn cool apart from the no photography rule including photos without flash. They have manuscripts and paper fragments that date back all the way to the 3rd century, an original King James Bible from the 1600s, the handwritten manuscripts of Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and The Canterbury Tales. They have pages out of DaVinci’s notebooks, and there was a temporary exhibit on the correspondence regarding the imprisonment, trial, and subsequent execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I. There were actual letters written by Elizabeth herself!!!!!!! Kevin pointed out how clear her penmanship was, and he was right. Most of the documents from that time period are illegible despite being written in English, but I was able to read an entire one of her letters without needing an English-to-English dictionary. The Library also has lyrics from the Beatles handwritten by the men, and the coup de grace was one of the four remaining Magna Cartas. I promise I won’t turn this into more of a history lesson, just know that this is the British equivalent to the Declaration of Independence.  In fact, the Declaration is based on the Magna Carta. We ended our trip to the Library at closing time, nearly getting trapped there because we were hidden back in the Conservation Exhibit learning how they preserve the specimens and apparently security couldn’t find up. The three of us almost had that nightmare where you get locked in a museum overnight come true. At least books wouldn’t come alive, and we’d have plenty of reading material to pass the night with.

Dinner was at O’Neill’s Irish Pub, where we had a French waitress who said “Goodnight, thanks for coming” to us at least nine times and who didn’t understand one of Kevin’s and my weird improvised conversations that make no sense to anyone but each other and therefore called it a “debate of inaccuracy”. She was pretty funny though and commiserated with the three of us on the British’s obsession with mayonnaise.

One day down, three more to go. Keep eyes out for them!