Monday, July 7, 2014

London Pt. 2

Sorry for the delay getting the second set of London pictures up--traveling really takes it out of me, and last night all I wanted to do was sleep. They're here now, and I hope you enjoy them.


When we last left off, we had just enjoyed our first day in London, having walked around for eight hours and seen many, many things. The next morning we woke up, shins and ankles no longer aching from the London pavement (which is, for some supernatural reason, less comfortable to walk on than Irish pavement), ready to tackle the day. We had exactly one plan: to walk down the riverbank until we reached the Tower of London, and then to go inside. We had selected the Tower as the one thing we were willing to pay for in London, and had bought the tickets almost a month in advance, so we were looking forward to the trip.

Unfortunately, there was something we had forgotten about London. London is goddamn huge.

London is what happens when the Romans decide they're going to build a city on a major river, put it in charge of an entire nation, and let it sit there and develop for two thousand years. London pretty much covers all of England. The city itself covers only a measly 600 square miles (for reference, the official city limits of DC, the District proper, covers 68 square miles), but the metropolitan area, AKA the place where British people that are allowed to say they're from London live, covers THREE THOUSAND, TWO HUNDRED, and THIRTY-SIX MILES.

That is truly absurd. If London was a square, each side would be over fifty miles long. London is a monstrosity. There are like thirty distinct neighborhoods with small governments, public works projects, clearly defined boundaries and identities, each with a ridiculous-sounding name (I'm looking at you, Kingston-Upon-Thames).

It took us a long time to walk down the river from where we were staying by Big Bong to the Tower of London. Two hours, actually. But we saw some great stuff along the way.

Southbank Center, an arts center fittingly located on the South Bank of the Thames, about half a mile upriver from the London Eye, was in the middle of its Festival of Love. The festival is an all-summer-long celebration of love in its many forms, that included music, crafts, food, games, comedy, talks, and pretty much anything that could relate in any way at all to love. Everything but the food was free.

The seven sides of the heptagon represent the seven Greek words for love that the festival was focused on: agape (love of humanity), storge (family love), pragma (love which endures), philautia (self-respect), philia (shared experience), ludus (flirting, playful affection), and eros (romantic and erotic love).

The whole place was decked out in tents and ribbons and crazy constructions like this one, each zone relating somehow to one of the Greek words for love. This is Agape Temple, built around a room with benches in a circle where people could sit and talk with no other obstructions.

The Southbank Center is huge, and most of the rooms were occupied with something relating to the Festival. The main auditorium hosted free concerts all day.

Farther down the Thames we came across the Globe Theater, where many of Shakespeare's plays were first performed. I know Elijah and Tristan learned a lot about the theater in school, and I wish I had, too, so I could point out things about it. Maybe when I get back, they can tell me a bit about what I'm looking at here.

The Globe Theater is still very active, and many plays are performed there each month. There is a huge line of people behind us waiting for the box office to open so they can get their tickets for tonight's performance of Julius Caesar.

The strange dichotomy in London--the Shard, built in 2013 and the tallest building in the European Union, next to a centuries-old cathedral.

Finally, after two hours of walking, we came to the Tower Bridge, the historic bridge that sits next to the Tower of London. While the Tower itself dates to the 11th century, the bridge was only built in the 1880s. I'm not sure how people got to the London Eye and the Southbank Center before then. They swam, I suppose.

I lied. We were actually still a fair distance from the Tower when we started taking pictures.

sorry 4 da gross

The Tower of London is to the left of the Tower Bridge, on a bit of a hill that sits on the edge of the Thames.

There are little stairs in the towers that go to the upper levels where there are little windows and such. They are marked "AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY". I tried the doors and they were locked, so I guess I am not authorized personnel.

Sometimes Sarah tells me to pretend I don't know she is taking pictures.

Sorry 4 da more gross

This is the first version of the picture above. Sarah made us retake it and says I'm not allowed to make that face anymore.

The Tower of London is not so much a tower as a decently-sized castle. The whole thing is built to be highly defensible: it sits on the River directly (or did, before it became a tourist attraction--now there is an embankment built around the front) so a water approach is funneled through two recessed gates and cannon can sight up the river, the walls are bowed in a bit so the towers can cover all the area around the castle, etc.

The outermost walls have several small gates that lead into the first enclosure, the smallest one. The streets in between the walls are narrow and space is conserved by narrow stairs and ladders up to the walls. The second set of walls is lower and older, and house a large green and the White Tower, the original keep and the King's palace for most of the medieval period.

Starting in the late Renaissance, when the seat of the monarchy moved and the Tower became partially a tourist attraction (while still remaining a highly important fort), the top floors of the White Tower housed the Royal Armoury, a display of arms and armor from different periods of English military history. This armor (oh, excuse me, armour) belonged to King Henry VIII. He was a short fellow, apparently.

This later armor belonged to some prince or another. I think it was the prince who became James I. He was a little taller, and the armor is a lot more functional and less decorative. The technology also developed over that time period, allowing for closer plates and functional steel gauntlets.

There is a dragon made of arms and armor at the top of the White Tower. Helmets, shields, pistols, muskets, scrolls--the whole thing is an amalgamation of random stuff.

There is no sign, no explanation. It's just a Trash Dragon. I kind of like it better that way.

There was a hands-on section on the top floor, too, where you could handle all sorts of replicas.

That part was my favorite.

A typical English war longbow had a 100-lb draw, and a decent archer could loose 15 arrows a minute. When the yard-long shaft hit its target, it was traveling at 70mph or more. It took a while for firearm technology to surpass the bow.

Imagine pulling 100 lbs with one hand, fifteen time a minute, for hours. And if you stop, the enemy overruns you and everything you know is burned to the ground. That's some pressure. I bet they were swole, though.

Ah, yes. The Crown Jewels. The pride of the monarchy. I was raised to believe that the Hope Diamond was the largest diamond in existence.


The Hope Diamond weighs roughly 45 carats. Most of the non-filler diamonds in the Crown Jewels weigh at least that. The "Mountain of Light", one of the jewels in one of the "lesser" sceptres (it was Queen Victoria's second sceptre), weighs 105 carats. One diamond from India that was cut into SEVEN large diamonds and dozens of filler ones weighed over 3,000 carats uncut.

We weren't allowed to take pictures, but let me tell you: they were shiny.


Next, we took a double-decker bus across London to King's Cross Station so we could see Platform 9 and 3/4, a tribute to a fictional location in Harry Potter. The bus was amazing, but terrifying. Pros: it travels at insane velocities, getting you across the city in no time, the view from the top deck is fantastic, it costs half as much as the tube, it stops everywhere and is always on time or just a bit behind. Cons: every single second you are in it, you are certain you are about to run something over. Most of the streetside trees in London have chunks taken out of their trunk at the height of the roof of the bus. They lean out over the street a bit and are punished for it.

Look how happy Sarah looks here. Isn't that adorable? I love it. She's so happy.

At King's Cross Station, they have a little enclosure by a brick wall near platforms 9 and 10. If you wait in line for a little over an hour (longer than we waited for the Crown Jewels!), you can take a picture with some Harry Potter props and make-believe you are off to Hogwarts.

There are even differently colored scarves, so you can declare your allegiance to the House of your choice! Of course, Sarah and I selected our scarves based on the colors we were wearing and what would look best in the picture. If we wanted to know what colors we should actually have worn, we would have taken this: And that would just be silly, right? Right?

St. Pancras Station, near King's Cross. I'm not sure why this magnificent building doesn't get more attention. It kind of comes out of nowhere and is just beautiful all up in your face. Also, it is very easy to read the name and believe it is called St. Pancreas. Don't be embarrassed if it happens to you. It happens to everyone.

After a quick dinner at King's Cross, we hopped on the bust again and headed over to Baker Street, to find the real location of the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

And there it was, just sitting there, in between 219 Baker St. and 223 Baker St. 

There was a Sherlock Holmes Museum right next door, but it mostly looked like a dinky little gift shop, so we passed. The whole rest of Baker Street is filled with references to Holmes: Hudson's Bakery, the Detective Pub, etc.

It was getting late, so we headed back to Tony's after that.


And that's what we did on our second day in London! I hope you enjoyed the pictures and commentary. I will post tomorrow about our last day in London and hopefully get around to Clommacnoise at some point, too! Thanks for reading! Lots of love from across the Atlantic.

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