Grab some tea with milk and sugar, and get comfy: it’s finally time to talk about England.
(It really did take me a long time to “digest” this trip. We saw so much, and I loved it so much, that I feel like I can’t possibly encompass it all in a few blog posts. I’m going to try my best, and I think all this will do is make me want to go back. To spare you total vacation-photo overload, I think I’ll break it down to one post per day, m’kay?)
But first I have to tell you: this trip was the culmination, for me, of *many* years’ wishes. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to go to England. England was where everything charming and beautiful comes from. England was understated and awesome and fantastic. Or at least, that’s how it seemed in pictures and stories.
Guess what? Pictures and stories didn’t lie: England was all of that. And more. England was my favorite. I can’t wait to go back (Jeff can I please go back?).
I took a half-day of work that Thursday, and we did all sorts of fancy juggling with the dog and suitcases (the dog threw up and the suitcases smashed my toe.) and then…we left.
(Right about now you wonder if the entire story is going to be so slow-paced. No, it won’t. It will be worse. Hang on.)
We flew from STL to O’Hare (where our plane was late, and we very nearly missed our connecting red-eye to Heathrow). The longer flight was notable only in that it was my first transatlantic flight, and first red-eye all in one. And my first dose of a horrifying full Airplane Meal.
Look! I made you a picture!
::gag:: That was their idea of vegetarian ravioli. I wasn’t really expecting better, though, so I wasn’t disappointed. I mainly just chewed on the inside of my cheek and thought about scones.
Behold Jeff’s look of ecstasy as he noms an airplane breakfast artfully called “yogurt + spork”:
We landed in England at about 9am, and spent an appropriate amount of time attempting to gather luggage* and buying Oyster cards and getting our bearings. We were pretty confident about getting around via Underground, since we’re both already really comfortable with public transit and the whole system is so ginormous and efficient. It was ridiculously easy to get from Heathrow to our hotel in Russell Square. I even knitted on the way. AND NO ONE SAID ANYTHING.
(England transit was much shorter on “hurr hurr”-type people than I’ve encountered in DC or even in Chicago. MYOB seems to be the standard mode of operation, and it was nice. Don’t get me wrong: there were plenty of Harolds and Irmas (mostly Americans, of course). But on the train, I was largely left alone.)
We dropped our luggage at the hotel and found lunch + caffeine just down the street in Russell Square (just sandwiches from some local shop) before heading over to the Tower vicinity. I also had my first Costa latte:
There were almost as many Costas as there were Starbucks, but because I was being a world traveler and being adventurous and being daring, I didn’t get a single Sbux the whole time. You can have that whenever, right? Throughout the trip, Jeff and I usually carried Diet Coke/Coke Zero in his backpack at all times (I am SO FREAKING GLAD that Coke products were all over the place there. I’d have died going 8 days without Diet Coke), and then supplemented with either Costa or tea from random cafes whenever the mood struck. I tried tea with milk and sugar. I fell in love with tea with milk and sugar. It changed my life.
So anyway. Suitcases + lunch + caffeine + Underground. Now to the Tower!
I took this super impressive photo right outside the train stop for the Tower:
Really effin’ impressive, huh? Just bear in mind that our sense of time was royally fucked up at this point, and we’d effectively pulled an all-nighter just prior. Sort of. And were juggling lattes. And were confused.
…actually, bear that in mind for all the trip photos, m’kay?
Here’s Jeff’s “exhausted and filthy and in a foreign country” face:
And here’s mine:
Here’s LONDON VACATION MAP PHOTO #1:
We’re gonna keep a tally, OK? Because y’all know: if there’s one thing Jeff likes, it’s maps.
Eventually we started heading toward the actual Tower, which was somehow exactly like – and very different – than we’d expected:
The one thing I just couldn’t get past – and this is for all of London, not just the Tower area – is the combination of old and new, of modern and ancient. It just tickled us silly to see the Gherkin peeping up behind a church from the 1500s, or the Shard dominating the skyline, or this thing as a backdrop to the Tower:
(That’s City Hall. Weirdest-shaped City Hall I’ve ever seen…)
There’s really nothing like it at home, and I absolutely adored it. It also made me think about the Great Fire, and how London might be different today had the fire not been so destructive: would old buildings have been demolished and supplanted with new, perhaps at an accelerated rate? Or would the old city center have been preserved, resulting in waves of new construction surrounding? Either way, I’m sure that it wouldn’t look the same. I’m not *glad* of the fire and destruction and loss of so much history, but I do love how the city looks today.
This sign made me giggle:
Because it’s a white image. Of the White Tower. And …and… maybe I’d best just let that one go.
Inside, we saw how the whole area is a series of concentric areas: this was called Mint Street, and it’s where a bunch of fun stuff happened in the 17th century. Coins were minted. Coins were spent. Love was made. (Sometimes the latter two in the same transaction).
Our tour was led by a real-life Beefeater:
He was very funny and sincere and British. And clearly, Mr. Palm Pilot Holster over there approved.
LONDON VACATION MAP PHOTO #2:
I’m not sure why Jeff needed a map for this bit, since we were being led on the tour, but whatever. Jeff also appears confused. Or maybe just jetlagged and exhausted.
I fell in love with all the architectural details, like the decorative brickwork and ginormous painted iron lamps, and cobblestones that made my be-Fluevogged feet unsteady:
New desktop background:
Here’s our first stop at Traitor’s Gate:
The tour guide briefly talked about what had happened there, and the legions of tourists snapped photos and shuffled on, and I followed along because I didn’t want to get lost. But I knew I needed to go back, and tell Jeff all about Elizabeth’s speech on the steps, and the driving rain, and the heads on spikes. There was too much history – too many absolutely fascinating things – for me to just take a picture and limp on. Traitor’s Gate was my favorite.
LOVE. But also sad. But LOVE.
Our first time where you could really see the White Tower:
The lawn around was so gorgeous!
I’ll spare you the full list of who-all has been held there – either voluntarily or by force – over the past 600 years, but I will say that Guy Fawkes was interrogated in that room with the big bump-out window at the top right. Which was awesome. And also: FUZZY HAT GUARD!!!!!!!!!
Look! He’s doing the funny guard walk and everything!
I am easily entertained.
Speaking of guards doing awesome things, I convinced another Beefeater (not our tour guide) to hold my sock:
Somehow I highly doubt anyone else asked him to do that on that day. I also doubt that he was terribly amused by my request.
(That’s the second Minerva’s Tower sock, BTW. I had put my Crumpets and Crazycakes in the luggage I’d checked, which was at that point still hanging out somewhere between Chicago and London. ALWAYS BRING BACKUP YARN, my friends. Always.)
Here’s one of the ravens which were all over the place:
Those fuckers are a lot bigger than you’d think. Like, chicken sized. They’re ginormous and stolid: they just walked about on the lawn posing for photos and being huge bad-ass birds. (There’s some sort of legend associated with ravens at the Tower: if the ravens ever leave, the White Tower will fall down and England will all go to shit. I’m paraphrasing, here.)
Here’s where the ravens are kept and trained:
And here’s what I call “time out for bad ravens”:
Nobody likes ravenjail.
The White Tower is what everybody comes to see (that and the Crown Jewels, in a separate building):
The weaponry/armor exhibit inside the White Tower was pretty much the coolest bit of the whole experience (almost. Either that or the room where the princes were kept. That was pretty cool, too.)
The exhibit seemed to just about fill the Tower, spanning multiple levels. Whoever designed it was really mindful of the flow of people, and they also took pains to create a scene/atmosphere. There was this awesome music/sound-effect thing – the closest parallel I can draw is to say “it’s like the walk-through ‘rides’ at Disney World” – but it was really so much cooler than that. It really made the whole experience (and sort of helped justify the 20GBP/person admittance fee :-D)
Some of Henry VIII’s armor from his “burly and athletic” phase:
And here’s some from his “old and no longer athletic but not yet grossly obese and gout-ridden” phase:
Notice anything on that armor, though?
HOLY SHIT, HARRY OLD BOY. You’re not foolin’ anyone there.
And look! There was tiny armor, too!
I don’t remember who that belonged to. Charles II, maybe? (don’t quote me on that.)
You’ve no idea how badly I want a helmet with a tiny dragon on it. I would wear it at work, just ’cause I can.
This set of child’s armor was amazing because OMG look at the detail!
No, really. Look!
Each panel represents a scene from Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. Actually, maybe this one belonged to Chuckles II? Hell if I remember.
Everybody enjoys great size discrepancies, right? I get such a kick out of tiny things next to giant things. (like laserdiscs next to those tiny CDs, or espresso cups next to big mugs. I’m easily amused.)
The large suit was for a knight who stood about 6’10”; the small is the dragon armor I pictured above (for a 3-year-old child).
And just think, the little guy totally kicked the big guy’s ass, then stole his wife and his finest horse.***
(I made that up. History is so much more fun when you’re not hung up on facts).
You haven’t lived ’till you’ve seen an authentic castle WC:
And tested it out…
(Imma print that out, like, 18×24, and hang it on the wall in our living room.)
After the armor and the toilets and such, we wandered through the exhibit to the (yay?) guns ‘n swords ‘n stuff. Here is where I started to zone out. But Jeff made me take pictures of a steampunk-y gun:
Dude, that was steampunk like 300 years before there WAS steampunk.
And then there were a bunch of swords that were like 20 feet long, and daggers and even a mace or two, but if you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all, y’know?
I had NOT seen anything like this before:
I love how it’s in a historical armory thing but wouldn’t it look equally at home in some rap video or something?
Enough guns. Now for pretty things!
Alas, Jeff steadfastly refused to create a distraction so I could pry that gorgeous window out of the setting and take it home. Jeff is mean.
Also, that window *may* have been in the building’s chapel, where we later learned no photography is allowed. Oops. Oh well.
One thing that we got *really* used to over the course of the trip was the whole idea of “exit through the gift shop”. And you really can’t leave unless you wind through the whole thing. They weren’t kidding: that shit’s *everywhere*.
But I really didn’t mind too much, because how else would I find a giant-penis-holding-armor oven mitt?
Answer: I WOULDN’T. (I sort of regret not getting that.)
Have I ever told you about my thing for squished pennies? I LOOOOOOOVE squished pennies. Anywhere there’s a squished penny machine, I’m on it. So everywhere I found a squished penny machine in England, I made one.
That’s not a fake smile. I’m really that happy. I LOVE SQUISHED PENNIES.
I call this one, “Jeff + giant cannon”:
I’ve no idea WTH is happening here:
But I’m gonna go ahead and guess that the guard didn’t find it terribly entertaining.
“Mum said I should’ve gone to trade school. Mum was right.”
We also saw the crown jewels (which was really awkward: you wait in line for a long time watching looped clips of coronations, and then you get one one of those human conveyor belt thingies like at the airport, and you’re not allowed to walk forward or backward and it just whizzes you right past the jewels and then you’re done. No photography allowed either, obv.), and one of the possible rooms that Lizzie the First got to hang out in (mean older Catholic half-sisters are a real bich, amirite?), and the space where the Princes lived and died and were hidden. Which was all very fascinating and rather heartbreaking, and also obscenely crowded (which was heartbreaking in its own right, in that I took an elbow to the sternum from some obese septuagenarian snapping a photo of his trophy wife).
We escaped all that soon enough, though, and took in some sights outside the tower area proper. Like Tower Bridge!
(Jeff took that picture)
If you’re ignorant and confused as I was, you may think that that was London Bridge. You would be wrong. That is, in fact, *not* London Bridge. (I know better now, and I’m making it my mission to gently correct everyone else who suffers the same misunderstanding, as well). It is Tower Bridge. Not London Bridge. London Bridge is flat and boring and ugly and we’ll see it later.
Exhausted, tired feet, sore shoulders, and happy:
By that point it was about 5:00 and our bodies had no idea what the hell time it was anyway, so we determined that we needed food. Preferably from a pub, and preferably of the greasy and plentiful variety. So we wandered around until we found this place:
Which was under a bridge.
And there were lots of office workers in there having an after-work drink, and fish and chips and beers were obtained post-haste, and we were happy.
(Best. Photo. Ever.)
And then we left, and saw our first-ever red double-decker bus:
And then we went back to the hotel and tried really hard to stay awake as late as we could, but seeing as how we’d been up for over 36 hours and were full of dark beer and greasy fish, it wasn’t easy. We were asleep before 9pm.
To be continued…
*We had one carryon suitcase, one checked suitcase, Jeff’s backpack and my pursebag, for the whole 8-day trip. The checked bag missed getting on our connecting flight, so it arrived in London later that evening (and Delta delivered it to our hotel at about 8:00pm). Luckily, I’m a suitcase-packing goddess and was equipped for any contingency. Rather than having “Jeff’s suitcase” and “my suitcase”, I put half of our clothes in each suitcase: so even if the checked bag got lost altogether, neither of us would be left without the necessities. I also put bare essential toiletries in Jeff’s backpack (but we checked things like hairspray and makeup), and a change of undergarments and t-shirts. That way, we could change clothes in the airport if need be. It was actually quite helpful, after we landed, so we could freshen up before that first exhausting day of sightseeing. It’s a wonder the difference that clean underwear can make.**
**I’m going to embroider that on a tea towel.
***She was ugly as sin, but she could ride for miles and miles without rest…