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Museums & The Mean Times

Wow, basically two days to catch up on! I never found time yesterday to sit with a computer.

I woke up on the late side, but in plenty of time for yesterday’s plans. I wanted to go try the British Museum again – this time with one of London Walk’s tours. I have a MUCH better appreciation of what I saw this time. I still haven’t seen a tenth of what is there, but I had a better time. And there are things I saw last time and enjoyed that weren’t on this tour, so all in all much better trip.

Afterwards, I did some shopping. I went to Forbidden Planet, the large Cult TV/comic/etc. shop that I found last time – it’s walking distance from the British Museum. Got a few things there and had fun looking at everything they had to offer. Only a few things that I felt bad that I couldn’t afford (expensive to begin with nevermind factoring in the exchange rate). Well, I guess if I’d really wanted them THAT bad, I’d have gotten, but I guess I can sometime control the impulse to spend.

I walked on and did some shopping in Covent Garden before heading down to Piccadilly Circus and up Regents Street. Before I knew it, I was outside Hamley’s, which is THE toy store in London, hundreds of years old and massive. I had been once before but was tired and didn’t make much of it. I appreciated it more this time. I didn’t realize how truly large it is, They number the floors oddly by our standards. In addition to the “Ground Floor,” there are floors 1 through 5 and a basement, so by my reckoning, that’s seven floors. I ended up getting a toy set for Red Dwarf (a British Sci Fi comedy some may recall from PBS in the states).

The funny thing was I got stuck in a massive line, or queue, by British terminology. I’d been holding my tongue, trying not to be rude, but there were these two children in front of me going riot all over. Their mother just stood by the register waiting for them, i.e. she had them in line but she was just waiting at the end of it, far away from their antics. I’d managed not to say anything despite my nerves wearing thin, and just as I was so close to the front, this woman who had already purchased stuff, I could tell by the bags, saunters straight in front of me and the rest of the line. Huh?? Suddenly, I heard myself say, “Excuse me??” She looked kind of surprised. I pointed to the rear of the long line and said, “The line forms back there…” She looked embarrassed and headed to the back – the other customers looked at me approvingly at least, so I guess I didn’t cause an incident.

Afterwards, I continued my shopping dawdle around town. I made my way up to Oxford Circus and came back through Carnaby Street (which I’d heard of but didn’t know why – think designer/edgy clothing – interesting to gawk as I went through but decidedly not my scene).

All this walking took HOURS. I barely used the tube at all yesterday and think I’ve pretty much done in my shoes. Well, I was probably not long off from replacing them, but they have certainly see a lot of wear here. But each trip I put together where things are more and more and figure out that, as I’d read and been told, the Tube is not always the best or even fastest way between two points once you learn the lay of the streets, which are sometimes about as confusing as Atlanta.

I wandered through Trafalgar to take some pictures since the past two days were so beautiful. And I was thrilled to see the fountains up and running!! My first day here, they were drained dry and under maintenance. It looked for sure that my tradition of throwing coins into the fountain each trip was over. But there they were yesterday full of water and all! So, I got some pictures and tossed in my coins – a tradition continued!

Afterwards, walked down to Embankment Tube station. There was a ghosts of london’s west end walk leaving there last night. I had grabbed a sandwich, crisps and a coke from a Tesco’s (grocery) and intended to have it there while I waited for the tour to start. I had my choice of sitting on steps next to a guy going through the trash or a pile of Danish teens… hmmm… hard choice… I chose the Danish teens… Who weren’t really all that bad, a little noisy but otherwise well behaved. Turns out their parents were with them and they were all going on a private London Walks tour – in fact the same one I was going on but with their own guide (you can hire them out like that). Interestingly, I only understood two words they said, one was “internet” – the other was “fu__” – well, you sort out the rest.

The walk itself was probably among the best walks I’ve taken. The ghost stories were quite fun and the guide was just full of London tidbits. He’s been leading tours for 31 years and has done radio and voice work. A lot of his tour was around the theatrical parts of London because he knew so many people in that area. Quite enjoyed it. Was tempted to go on the other tour he leads tonight, but it ends after 9pm, and I so need to get in and pack and all tonight. Early start in the morning. Flight isn’t until 1pm, but I just always want to get an early start to head off the chances of being late.

That was pretty much the end of my day yesterday. I walked back through St. James Park (wonderful views at night over the lake) and then through Green Park to catch a tube back to the Hostel. Read a few short stories from the Hellboy books I’ve had languishing. Yeh, really smart I thought as I turned out the lights to be reading horror at night in a strange place.

Today, I got up fairly early and it was a wet ugly morning. The antithesis of the past few days. Where it had been cool, it was kind of warm (comparatively) but with blowing rain. I made my way to Tower Hill Tube station, quite a trek – all on one train but with stations every little piece, it took like 45 minutes. I had decided to grab breakfast near the station, but it’s been forever since I’ve been at that station. Not really much particularly early in the morning. I walked around and finally found a place to grab a ham and cheese croissant. I’d by this point almost decided not to go on the trip to Greenwich. The weather was so nasty and I just didn’t want to deal with it. Finally I decided that I was still on vacation and should take the chance and go. Was a fair sized crowd who must have agreed.

We took a boat ride down to Greenwich. The boat ride was fun – the blowing rain almost made it feel at sea. The captain cut off the taped descriptions of what we were seeing and started telling us. Altogether much better. Apparently the tour company doesn’t agree according to our guide. I couldn’t agree with her more that they are wrong. His description having worked those docks back in the day was great.

At Greenwich, the tour took us around and showed us all the sights. She was quite something in her own right, outspoken school teacher – I don’t guess I’d have any idea about what those are like (wait my family is full of them). She had a lot to say about historic conservation, politics, etc. She was definitely up there in the ranks of the guides I’ve had here. She showed us the key things and suggested what she would see, what was there to see, etc. Gave us history about the places we were seeing. It was a lot to absorb but fun. Afterwards, she set us loose. I wandered through Greenwich market and picked up a few things and also had “lunch” – a choco covered doughnut (yes, yes, I know bad).

Proceeded on up to the Royal Observatory, where, yes, I did the cheesey stand over the prime meridian thing. Right foot to the east of the prime meridian and left foot to the west. I took a picture of both feet. Along the line, they have different cities and their distance from the meridian. No Atlanta, so you know there was nothing remotely close to where I call home. Toured the observatory on my own and then just as I was wrapping up, they announced a guided tour was leaving shortly… hmmm… I thought about a second round through. I do like to hear it from someone knowledgeable, but then I decided that I didn’t really care to know more anyway (lousy attitude I guess).

I went to see the “Painted Hall” which is part of a complex that once belonged to the Royal Navy (built by the Royals of course on the site of an old palace). It was designed by Wren. I forget the name of the painter, but WOW! I hope the pictures came out, because it was just fantastic. Some of it was scenese. Others were just faux treatments – columns that I had to get right up to to realize they weren’t really as they appeared. It was also where Lord Admiral Nelson’s body lay in state after the Battle of Trafalgar. So, a good deal of history.

Following that, I went on a tour of the Cutty Sark, the last of the Tea Clippers. It was built in the 1860’s. The guide suggested it was worth a tour as it’s about to be massively refit if they can raise all the money they need to conserve it. The iron in it is all rusting. So, it will close in a year or so and when it reopens, much of the original will likely be gone. It was quite something to imagine what life aboard those would have been like. They used to sail around the tip of Africa on this thing before the Suez canal opened. After that, it was used to go to Australia for wool. Cramped spaces. My head touched the ceilings in places (living quarters no less).

Then took a walk under the Thames. They have a tunnel that connects to the otherside where you can catch a train back to the city. Or you could walk apiece and take a train from that side, but the guide who brought us in recommended it. The guide mentioned that depending on the tides, the tunnel built in 1902, is between 30 and 60 feet underwater. I thought nothing about it until I was walking through tunnesl with water dripping off the ceilings and walls. Didn’t seem entirely safe to me, but I’m here now, so I guess it’s not about to spring a leak today.

Afterwards, got off the Tube at St. James park. Wanted to see it in the daylight. Quite pretty. Watched some ducks by the lake for awhile and even a quite forwards squirrel who must have been used to people as he climbed up a fence begging me and some others for food.
Walked from there over by Buckingham. Had it in mind that I wanted to see the front of St. James Palace. The guide last night pointed out the rear to us. I made it around just as two police on bikes pulled up and told the one guard at the front gate something and then both police officers on bikes parked at either end of the street… Figured something was up, so I wandered down to the far end where I could see some sort of gate by the side of St. James Palace. Looking at the map, this would appear to go by the side of Clarence House. A few moments later, a police car came out and stopped traffic and then two black cars came out with flashing lights and the motor cops escorted them out… No idea. I did see someone wave to me and a couple of others standing by like me, but I’m not sure who it was. Maybe a royal? I guess, but I have no way of knowing. I took a picture but it’s really just of the cars because I was still trying to figure out what I had seen. I know the Queen is still in Canada right?

Anyway, that’s pretty much all. Now I’ve just had a proper (American) dinner and will shortly head back to the hostel and pack up. If I’ve some time, I’ll likely read awhile as I did last night. I may still be solo in my room. Who knows. It’s the last night. What are the odds of having a six bunk room to oneself this long? I wonder if I’ve been forgotten sometimes!

So, back to the states tomorrow and straight home from the airport to see my folks for a few days. I shall hopefully have time to catch up on some e-mail at last

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