20th of May, 2013
Today, we decided to do the last few touristy things we wanted to do in London. We ate a decent breakfast, then bought some all-day train passes at the station near us. This would enable us to get into some of the major attractions in London at a 2-for-1 price. Our first visit was to the Tower of London! We decided to visit the Crown Jewels first as I had read in some travel blog somewhere that this is very popular and can get crowded later in the day. We headed straight towards the building that housed the jewels and waited in line just before a couple large groups of school children got in line. Score! Or so we thought. Turns out school kids don’t have the same type of appreciation for history and learning as we do, so once we were actually in, their whole goal was to glance at each item, say “ooh, ahh,” then rush on to the next one. We finally decided to just wait for all the kids to pass so we could relax a bit more. Everything was beautiful and lavish – tons of gold and jewels for everything used in ceremonies, including giant gold punch bowls that hold around 114 bottles of wine (around 22.5 gallons of wine!). That will get you a little drunk!
After viewing the Crown Jewels, we took a guided tour of the grounds by one of the Yeoman Warders. You might think these are simply minimum wage employees that tell you little facts about the place, however the British do things a little differently. The Yeoman Warders actually live at the Tower of London WITH their families and are not mere commoners – one must have served for at least 22 years in the Armed Forces of Commonwealth realms and be a former senior non-commissioned officer with the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. They have their own chapel, doctor and pub – many things that make the Tower of London like a small walled village just for the Yeoman Warders. The Yeoman who guided us around even had a daughter born while they lived in the Tower. This means that one of the privileges she will receive when she gets married is that she will be able to do so with 4 Yeoman guards on her wedding day to protect her and the ceremony can take place in the chapel. As you might imagine, very few people are afforded this privilege. We had a great time hearing the stories of events that had taken place within the walls of the Tower, including many beheadings! One particular beheading (and a terrible one, at that – it took FIVE hacks for the head to come off!) was done before a portrait had been painted of the man. The doctors of the Tower ended up having to stitch the head back on and dress the corpse so that the man’s portrait could be painted. Talk about a morbid portrait.
We visited the gift shop for a few minutes and found this guy right before we entered. He looks OK to me!
When we left the Tower, we decided it was finally time to get some true London fish and chips. We headed to a small restaurant recommended by our host, Duncan, and ordered traditional fish and chips.
They were delicious (naturally)! Afterwards, we headed towards the Tate Modern, but were waylaid by a great looking pub where we each had a pint of bitters. By the time we reached the Tate, it was just closing, so we weren’t allowed in. We decided to wander around a bit, then happened upon Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which we took photos of. After much walking around, we were getting a bit peckish, so made our way to Hyde park, where we eventually met Duncan to walk to a pub down the street for dinner. We ended the night with a nice bus ride back to the flat.
21st of May, 2013
Since we didn’t make it to the Tate Modern the previous day, we decided that would be one of our goals for today. I also thought it might be neat to see Abbey Road and take the overdone photo of walking across the crosswalk.
I figured out a good rail/bus route and we took our pictures. As expected, there were quite a number of people who had the same idea. This is still a road used by vehicles though, so the trick was to get the photo when there were no cars around. Not always an easy task, and I’m sure the drivers get annoyed every time they have to drive through there. When we achieved our goal there, we decided to head to Camden Market again for the cheap food since we were so close. We ate some tasty food then found our way over to the Tate Modern. Entrance was free, so it was a cheap touristy thing to do. After I walked into the first room, I realized that this was not going to be quite the awesome thing I had expected. Many of the paintings, sculptures and other works of art just irritated me. I can appreciate something that appears to have required some real artistic talent to create, however anything that requires an explanation by someone to “get” the artistic qualities is not something I enjoy. Splatters of paint, dollops of clay (with no actual form)… these are just things that you do with an artistic medium – not art. All I can think of when I see this type of work hanging in a gallery is that these artists must be laughing all the way to the bank.
We headed back to the flat after we left the museum and had a pint at the end of our line. Good beer is always better than annoying art. After we swallowed our pints, we walked back to Duncan’s flat to meet him before heading down to the Sands Films Studio to watch a showing of the Renoir film “The Southerner“.
As we were walking to the location, we ran across a unique setting – a playground right next to an old graveyard/cemetery. I had to take a picture to laugh at the morbidity of it. In any case, we learned quite a bit about this film studio – although it is small and tucked into a little corner of London, they have done work on some very large films. After the film, we headed straight back to Duncan’s flat to get some sleep – our flight out of London was at 7:30 the next morning and we had to leave the flat by about 3:45am to make it to the Stansted airport in time!