Our last day in London got off to an early start. We awoke at 10am and packed up all our things. The goal was to reach the London Eye by 10:45 so we could make our showtime at the London Dungeon.
What is the London Dungeon, you ask?
The London Dungeon (codename: Lunjin Dunjin) is a theme park/haunted house/tourist attraction situated on the South Bank of the Thames, in between the London Eye and the Aquarium. That whole section of riverbank is crawling with street vendors, advertisers holding signs, performers busking, and very probably the highest concentration of pickpockets of anywhere in London. It is only accessible by foot, so there is plenty of room to mill about in the center of the road, which is usually clogged with fluorescent-shirted school groups, Midwestern families consisting of at least ten people, pairs of elaborately bearded men, at least one Italian couple arguing at 100 km/hr (that's 100 mph in Freedom Units), and the inescapable swarms of thirty or so middle-aged tourists from Japan who are armed with translation earbuds, expensive cameras, and infinite Fanta.
The Dungeon itself is located inside a tall stone building decked out in medieval-looking gargoyles and red banners proclaiming it the #1 Horror Attraction in London. It is Scary, Thrilling, and Not For Children. The Dungeon features 20 actors in 18 live performances throughout the haunted-house-style interior, each one covering a different gruesome time period from London's past: a historical tour of all the violent, nasty, atrocities that happened over the city's long history. Two of them stood out to us: Guy Fawkes and Jack the Ripper (guess which one stood out to who).
Well (we reasoned), everything in London is expensive, so if we're going to do anything touristy, we should only pick one, and we should only pick something cheap. If we could only do one tourist attraction in all of London, which one would it be?
We found tickets for the London Dungeon online for 30% off and showed up the next day, Sunday, our third day in London, with email confirmation in hand. The ticket line was dark and dingy, with fake stone walls and chains hanging everywhere. From behind us, a small voice popped up.
"Mommy, what's torture?"
I shit you not. These were the words spoken by a small girl, no more than seven, dressed head to toe in pink: pink, sparkly, light-up shoes, pink capris, a pink princess shirt, even a little pink headband. Her hair was blond and curly, her accent American. Her mother, a short, vacant-looking woman of around thirty-five, patted her on the back and said impatiently,
"You'll see when we get inside!"
Somehow, the twenty pairs of eyes that remained fixed on the woman and her small child while she waddled through the line to pick up her tickets AND the signs everywhere that said CHILDREN 11-13 MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT (did she really think that meant children under ten could be unsupervised? or purposefully ignoring that implicit age limit?) failed to alert her to the fact that the London Dungeon was Not For Children. The young man who sold her tickets looked at her very dubiously and asked,
"Will she be alright?"
That's all he said. Not, "how old is she?" or "this might not be age appropriate" or "this is a shitty idea, ma'am". To be fair, she was already angry with him because she decided it was solely his fault that the line moved slowly, so he might not have wanted to rock the boat--but she purchased two tickets and gleefully led her daughter inside. They stood right behind us.
The entrance hall was long, dark, and smelled of fog machines and human sweat. Decorative heads on spikes and cages of live rats added to the atmosphere. For reference, this is when the little girl started crying. In the entrance line.
Anyway, Sarah and I had a grand time. The whole thing took almost two hours, winding through dark hallways decorated to fit with the different time periods of London, occasionally with robotic Londoners popping out to scare us. The actors were good, though their silly old-time London accent was impossible to understand at times ("ELLO GUVNAH"), and the props and effects were convincing.
The King Henry VIII boat ride where we were proclaimed traitors.
The Sweeney Todd scene where we sat in barber's chairs with some special additions we were not entirely aware of. When the lights went out and the room turned pitch-black, he whispered right in our ear and the chair blew air that felt like a gentle razor scrape across the back of our neck.
A scene in a Whitechapel inn where the lights kept flickering on and off with the thunderstorm soundtrack. Suddenly, the lights turned off completely, and when they came back on a second later, all the actors had disappeared. We were the only ones in the room. The lights started to flicker again, and the shelves began to topple over and the pots and pans began to rattle, and the lights went off again--two second later a strobe light--flickering--flickering--flickering as a tall man in Victorian dress cackled silently--lunging with a shiny-bladed knife at the people sitting at the closest table--darkness again. We screamed.
The little girl in pink, however, did not have a grand time. After the crying started in the entrance hall, it was quickly cut short by the boat ride, which ended in a drop. After then, she responded to the actors and the scenery with either hysterics or a dull, glazed-over expression as she clung desperately to her mother's sweater. After Sweeney Todd, the mother approached the actor.
"Are you alright, princess?" he asked, clearly concerned about the girl.
"I think we need to escape," the mother said in exasperation.
The girl said nothing. She only cried silently into her mother's side as they walked towards the exit.
After that whole horrifying ordeal was over, it was a lot of fun. The actors were funny and scary and the scenery was the right mix of gross and tacky. We had a good time.
After that, we wandered around the Southbank Center at the Festival of Love for an hour or so. We had decided we wanted to leave for the airport at four in the afternoon. By two, we had decided that London was great, but there were just too many people in the damn place. We headed out early.
That's all for today. Tune in next time for Clonmacnoise: I Swear This Time Edition. Missing everyone. Much love from across the Atlantic.