Phew. We did a lot today. It may take more time to document all of this than it takes Donald Trump to comb his hair. Although I will say the London “tube” is far easier to figure out than the Paris Metro, and not all of that is just because we speak English. Well, a lot of it certainly is, but not all of it.
As a result of all this activity, this entry is longer than some of the earlier ones. But please bear with me. The internet connection at this apartment is pretty slow, so when the pictures are downloading I’ve got to have something else to do. Besides, I’m typing it faster than usual so that you can read it faster than usual.
Now, on to everything we saw today, and this isn’t in chronological order, because A) who cares, and B) I’m too tired after sorting through the pictures to do anything else but throw them up here. We did as much as anyone’s 50-something body should be allowed to do. I need a foot massage, btw.
First up: Big Ben. The origins of the name is shrouded in mystery, but my theory is that it was named after Benjamin Franklin, who invented lightning and kites and probably clocks and I’m pretty sure Nutella as well, and spent a fair amount of time in London. Anyway, we circled the thing to make sure the time was the same on all four sides, but by the time we got to each side too much time had elapsed to be sure.
So now we move from Big Ben to Has Been, in other words, Buckingham Palace where the queen resides. She is, by the way, currently celebrating her 90th birthday (or was it 95 or 80? It’s so hard to remember at that age and no one wants to contradict her), which has resulted in huge celebrations over here. For instance, we witnessed an artist who made a “Happy Birthday to the Queen” picture in chalk on the sidewalk in Trafalgar Square and a pub we walked by advertising a sale because of the queen’s birthday. They’re going crazy man.
I think we’ll do the whole Buckingham thing in a slide show so that you can look at it if you want or just pass over it and go on to the next section, unlike when you’re captive at a friend’s house and they want to show you 400 slides of their last vacation. Anyway, some of the pictures are of the Changing of the Guard, which is a big enough deal to shut down a whole boulevard virtually every day and entice thousands of tourists to watch almost nothing happening. We did get a video of them leaving their staging area and marching to the palace with music playing, but you’ll have to call 1-900-baldsasquatch with your credit card to get a special code so you can see it. Short of that, here are about 50 pictures from that area:
Another stop we made was to Westminster Abbey, which is where a bunch of weddings and funerals have been held, hopefully not at the same time. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:
They forbid picture-taking on the inside, but since I am something of a rebel, I pretended I was talking on my iPhone when all the while I was snapping enough photos to fill up another slide show (although there aren’t nearly as many as in the Buckingham Palace slide show you already ignored):
OK, I cheated a little. So sue me.
Now I must digress into a small dissertation as to the character of Londoners (partly because the pictures for the slide shows are taking longer to load than it takes Donald Trump to wash his hair). As I heard them talking around us, using their snobby manner of speech, trying so hard to sound as sophisticated as Hugh Grant, or James Bond, or Mr. Bean, I assumed they were just trying to outdo each other in how aristocratic they could sound. Turns out, that’s just their accent. Who would’ve thunk?
But seriously, we’ve found Londoners to be some of the most polite and helpful people we’ve ever encountered!
Consider this: We walked to our closest train station and stood staring at a big poster that looks like different colored strands of spaghetti randomly tossed on to a blank piece of paper, when we found ourselves talking to a couple of middle-aged sisters who were new enough to the city that they were also trying to figure out the proper station on which to disembark. During our chat, they gave us some brilliant pointers that made using the Tube pretty much a breeze. When we entered the train, we continued to chat with them all the way to their stop. They were delightful, friendly, and helpful.
At the end of the day, we ended up in a slightly incorrect place (like three floors off) due to missing a sign, and asked one of the attendants for a little help, and he spent a good five minutes giving us detailed instructions, only occasionally interrupting his real job of guiding everyone else with a megaphone while he did so. At one point, I thought he was going to offer to tattoo a map of it on my forearm, and/or ask one of the other Londoners to take on his duties and then take my hand and walk us all the way to the proper station. Let’s compare that to Paris. Or maybe not: we liked Paris… other than so many of the people being evil twins of Londoners.
The icing on the cake was that once we were on the train, which was plenty crowded, a seat emptied after a stop. A man in about his mid to late twenties was standing right by it, and rather than jump into the seat as if his butt was chock full of iron and the seat was outfitted with the world’s strongest magnet, as most anyone in Paris or New York would have done, he politely inquired if one of the two young ladies also standing by the seat would prefer to sit. They both declined. He then looked at me and asked the same question. Naturally I thought, “You silly British wanker, you really think I’m that old? Are you making fun of my bald pate and grey beard? Would you like to have a go?” But instead I nodded “no” politely, and he smiled and shrugged and took the seat almost reluctantly. What the heck? How did these people in such a large, busy city, stay so polite to each other? We need some of their magic sauce in the US.
Okay, now we must move on to our next stop, which is the National Gallery, a free museum in the heart of London and reminds me of the Smithsonian. Here, we saw more paintings like in Paris, except there were a lot fewer nudes than in Paris. Not that I noticed that at all. Anyway, we saw some more van Goghs and Renoirs and other famous names. They also didn’t like pictures being taken but we were able to outrun them before they grabbed the camera:
Walking from Buckingham Palace toward the city center, you pass by St. James Park, notable for its 60 pence bathrooms. They have fun with tourists who have no idea what their British coins are worth as they’re trying to make change while jumping up and down and squeezing their legs together all at the same time. But it’s a pretty park once you feel, ah, a bit relieved.
Also on the walk, you see that they’ve had so many monarchs in the history of this country that they didn’t know what to do with all the old crowns, so they stuck them all on the light poles that lead up to Buckingham Palace:
Once downtown, you can wander through some famous names, most of which I’ll admit to having heard of but not having the slightest idea what they were all about. Take Piccadilly Circus… there are no elephants or lions, or acrobats or clowns. I’m being totally serious. Here are our pictures to prove it. I’m surprised someone hasn’t sued due to false advertising.
By the way, if you’re now getting in any way tired of reading this installment, how do you think we felt actually doing it? So quitcher belly-achin’ and keep readin’, we’re in this together! Besides, we’re coming to the home stretch!
The other famous name you’ve heard of but probably had no idea what it’s all about either is Trafalgar Square. After seeing it, we’re still not sure why it’s such a famous name, but it was busy and had some statues and tall things and stuff.
Along the way we saw random sights, like the Great Scotland Yard, which was right next to the Pretty Good Scotland Yard:
We are also delighted to inform you that the Brits are apparently the only ones in the world who really know how to make a proper hamburger:
I promptly called the headquarters of McDonalds to let them know in case they wanted to pay me a bunch of money for that information. Phone booths are all over the place in London. I can only assume someone there never received the memo that everyone in the world, including every member of that lost tribe in Borneo, has a cell phone.
They also have a huge ferris wheel called the London Eye. We thought about going on it, but when looking at it from afar, it’s apparent that it moves so slowly that it takes about forever to make a complete circuit. Each car can hold up to 25 people. I have to think once in a while they open up the next arriving car to nothing but rotting corpses.
After that we went to the Winston Churchill museum. It’s a combination of a very nice interactive museum and a self-guided tour through the actual underground bunkers and offices used by Churchill to conduct World War II. As someone who has spent a fair amount of time learning about WWII, it was a treat to experience firsthand the place where so much happened. A worthwhile visit, to be sure.
At that point, however, it was near the end of the day, and we both felt something like this:
And I still need a foot massage.