Exploring London: Day 5

One last thing to do before I had to leave – the London Eye. The Eye is the largest Ferris wheel in Europe and towers over the city from its spot on the Thames. Fortunately, for a few pounds more you could skip the main line and go right up (this should be allowed everywhere on earth).

You get in a capsule with 8-10 other people and then begin the slow climb up. The Eye moves incredible slowly – the ride is just one full rotation that takes half an hour. It barely feels like you’re moving until you start seeing points of reference that look tiny.

This was a lot of fun..the views were amazing and I could see all of the things I had visited over the past week.This gave me a chance to reflect on the trip.

First, London feelt much more modern than NY. Everyone’s credit cards have chips in them so they can be read much more easily. Subways have electronic displays telling you when to expect the next train. Everything was clean and organized. The US in general really needs to get going on infrastructure investment or its going to bite us later on (along with the debt, of course).

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Exploring London: Day 4

Sunday started with homemade breakfast – I took the chorizo and cheese that we bought at the market and made a gigantic pile of scrambled eggs. We were so full from the last 48 hours of eating that we didn’t get outside until around noon. Food is evil.

The Tower of London only had an hour of visiting time left when we were nearby earlier in the week, so we decided to go back for the full tour on Sunday. The tower was built in 1078 and is actually a giant castle, it just gets its name from the White Tower in the middle. The tower has been used as a dungeon, mint, royal palace, armory and more, and now they have examples of each for tourists.

As large and imposing as the place was, it was actually one of the more historically accessible things I saw on the trip. You could see things like actual bedrooms where royals slept and graffiti carved into the wall by prisoners in the 1500’s. Kind of cool to be standing in the same place where you have a direct record of what happened there. Wikipedia has lots of good info on the tower.

While inside, and after waiting on a long but fast moving line, I got to see the crown jewels. The crowns themselves are very impressive but about what you would expect. They are covered in large and small gems. Some of the other things on display were hard to believe. There were rooms full of solid gold plates and sculptures, including a wine/punch bowl that was 3 feet by 3 feet.

Seeing the entire tower took almost four hours, and we had to hurry out because the gates were closing. I can’t imagine how they check the entire place for people every night.

The other part of the complex is the Tower Bridge (pictured to the left, right above the human/panda hybrid). You can actually take an elevator to the top blue crossing of the bridge. This apparently used to be a hangout for pickpockets and prostitutes but is now a monument to this and other famous bridges around the world. Can’t win them all.

This was somewhat of a let down only because of the weather – it was hard to see much of anything from the top. It was still interesting to be inside and see what a complex structure it was given it was built in the 1800’s. Part of the exhibition includes an underground tour of the hydraulic engine room that originally helped raise and lower the bridge for ships to pass.

Anyway, that was the last of the sightseeing for the day. For dinner we went to the local pub – The Phoenix. Tola met us there, and we figured the best way to celebrate leaving London was…burgers. Just about everyone had burgers. We at least had several pounds of bread pudding to wash it down.

Unfortunately, the next day in London was going to be my last, so naturally we spent the night playing some more drunk Scrabble.

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Exploring London: Day 3

By Saturday, we had walked about 10 miles, seen the majority of the sights in London, and were perpetually full. It was a pretty crappy day again so we thought we would leave central London for a few hours. After sleeping in, we headed out to Hackney for a weekly farmer’s market.

The Broadway Market is one of the bigger (though not the biggest) market in the area. The market itself consists of back to back stalls surrounded on either side by shops. This all takes place on a fairly narrow block and goes on for about half a mile.

When we got there, we started eating. The first lap was just samples, but we eventually graduated to snacks, breads and full on meals. I didn’t know you could spend four hours walking in a circle and eating but we certainly managed. We had authentic German pretzels, savory crepes from two Frenchmen, and tried bread that was voted the best in the UK by the Economist (the noted bread authority).

Despite enjoying ourselves tremendously, it was very cold, so we ducked into a cafe for some tea. The cafe that the girls chose was decorated like a little girl’s doll house. Fortunately, maintaining your feeling of masculinity as an American in Europe is often very easy.

Before leaving, we bought homemade chorizo and gourmet cheese to make breakfast with the next morning, which would prove to be the Greatest Scrambled Eggs Ever.

We got home and were completely stuffed. Fortunately, it was dinner time. We headed to Barrafina, which was my favorite meal of the whole trip. It’s a tapas place with no tables – just around 15 stools around a counter. The line was out the door and we were headed to a show, so by the time we were seated we only had 30 minutes to eat. In those 30 minutes, we had 12 dishes and two bottles of wine. Nothing says class like shoveling tuna tartare and quail down your throat.

I wish we could have stayed longer but it was terrific, even in a rush. The show we saw was a comedy called Clybourne Park. It was about a black family trying to move into a white neighborhood in the 50’s, and then selling the house to a white family several decades later. It was pretty funny, and when they got into some of the more offensive jokes, everyone laughing sounded like they were saying “harumph”. Very British.

After the show we got gelato at a place called Gelupo. Delicious food, run by the most flamboyant Italian of all time. We then grabbed one more drink for good luck at a nearby pub before heading home.

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Exploring London: Day 2

The QuireAfter a packed first day in London, the second was mostly about God (Christian flavored) The highlight of the day was St. Paul’s Cathedral. A cathedral has been standing at the site, in one form or another, since 604 AD. The current building has been there since 1710. So it’s old, in other words.

There is no way to do this building justice, even with pictures. To the left is a picture of the Quire, which is where services are conducted. I haven’t been to the Vatican yet, which I imagine is on a much grander scale, but this was incredible. The ceilings are hundreds of feet high but covered in intricate murals, and every inch of the walls, columns and floor contains some kind of design.

Once you get over the incredible sights on the floor, it’s time to climb. First, there are 257 fairly wide steps up to the whispering gallery. This is a large open circle that overlooks the cathedral floor. Since it’s at the base of a dome, the acoustics let you be heard from anywhere.

From there things got really cool. There’s a tiny hidden door to enter and then stairs that go straight up – literally the next few steps are almost at eye level. This eventually leads to the Stone Gallery – which is back on the outside of the cathedral (you can see the railing in the diagram above). From here you have a great unobstructed view of the city, but why stop?

Another ~120 steps on a tiny metal spiral staircase puts you at the very top of the dome (the Golden Gallery), from which you can see all of London. Me being me, I figured that I would drop one of my cameras over the railing, but I managed to capture everything unscathed (pic on the left).

The Cathedral has an awesome website and you can even see a 360 degree tour of every major area. I definitely recommend checking it out here.

The other God stop on Friday was the Temple Church. This is actually a giant compound, but the church itself was the one featured in The Da Vinci Code. From a tour perspective it was somewhat underwhelming, since it is just one big room and you don’t have access to some of the other areas and some of the underground chambers. That said, it was still cool to see, and a very interesting building. Other than the Knight statues, the two coolest things were the giant stained glass window and organist suspended on the wall.

After both churches, we walked over the Millennium Bridge over to the Globe Theater, which houses a Shakespeare Museum. Wasn’t interested in the tour but it was interesting to see the building.

As a thank you to everyone who got me to London, I cooked a big steak dinner on Friday night. We stayed up late playing Scrabble. It was wild…and I even learned that lazing is a word.

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Exploring London: Day 1

Outside Westminster Abbey

The first day in London was all about exploring. Sara and Ronnie’s flat is two blocks from Buckingham Palace so we tried to see as much as we could in the general vicinity. First stop was Westminster Abbey.

This was a pretty incredible thing to do first. Seeing 700 years worth of headstones, and standing in a room that had held royal coronations certainly gets you to appreciate London’s history in a hurry. Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside, but the website has some decent shots and a floor plan. The opulence of some of the tombs was incredible.

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Just touched down in London town

After spending a week in London doing nothing but wandering and consuming food and wine, it might be a close second to NYC for me. I was able to see the city for the first time and tried to do just about everything. I will post pictures from each day in separate posts but many thanks to Julie, Sara and Ronnie for the invitation that made this happen.

Random thoughts on London:

  • London has three types of weather, at least in February: really cold and foggy, slightly less cold and foggy, and night time
  • It is the most tourist friendly place I’ve ever been – there are tons of maps and guides everywhere and everything is pretty intuitive. The Tube is comparable in size to NYC but is blanketed in route maps so it’s much easier to use. Plus, the conductor announcements sound like Mrs. Doubtfire instead of someone choking on a pretzel (thanks MTA!)
  • That said, there are very few straight roads, and the same street might change names five times while you’re on it
  • Every meal we had was incredible – London’s bad food reputation is undeserved. However, twice I was served salad with breakfast. Lettuce and I have an uneasy truce, and I certainly don’t need it messing with my bacon, egg and cheese wrap
  • Seeing the thousands of years of history was a big change from seeing things in the US. It also makes you appreciate the role of the royals, and why the upcoming wedding is such a big deal.
  • Even a construction worker calling his colleague a filthy motherf*cker sounds pleasant with a British accent
  • Everyone we met was interesting, including the old man who gave us directions after grabbing Julie’s ass, and the drunk guy at 32 Queen who told Sara that she needed manners before falling down.

I hadn’t been on a real vacation/trip in almost five years and this reminded me how much I love to travel. I also can’t stress how amazing it was to not be glued to email/news/blogs. I tell myself what is or isn’t important in terms of work/life balance, but until I was free from the daily grind I couldn’t appreciate how it feels to have the fog lifted.

More to come..but can’t wait to go on my next adventure.

Seeing the thousands of years of history was a big change from seeing things in the US. It also makes you appreciate the role of the royals, and why the upcoming wedding is such a big deal.

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The assassination of dialogue

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” ~Thomas Jefferson

I wouldn’t describe the latter scenario as liberty anymore.

Once the sheer implication of this act sunk in, my initial reaction was dread and disgust – it seemed like the last two years of invective, heavily coming from the right, had finally come home to roost.

However, while I think this shooting does significantly reflect the current culture, it wasn’t necessarily caused by it.

I think the debate about Palin’s target map misses the point. Yes it was inappropriate, but it was far from the most overtly violent imagery towards politicians (see: “second amendment remedies“), and far from the worst thing Palin has done, violent imagery or otherwise. However, there is nothing to suggest that this shooting was a result of this map, or anything she said. As far as she goes, I think the real telling story here is her reaction to the controversy.

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