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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 14

05 Jul

Wed. May 25, 2016:
London

We woke up early to get to Windsor Castle before it got overrun by the daily rush of tourists. As I drank my coffee I was flipping channels. It was unbelievable how many different shopping channels and shows there were and all on at the same time. Driving to Windsor Castle it was nice to have another new episode of Stuff You Should Know to listen to. Thanks to all the traffic we got to listen to the full episode. An 11 minute drive took us 36 minutes and took us through the town of Slough where The Office had been set.

I did not expect Windsor Castle to be smack in the middle of a town, with a McDonalds down the street no less. We were initially worried about finding parking but soon found a lot nearby. The trouble was that the lot was unattended and we had to pay at the machine, the machine that only took coins. The nearby change kiosk was not yet open. We went to the ice cream shop next door and paid for an ice cream cone with a £20 note and asked that the change be given in coins. Snickers ice cream in a waffle cone made for a good breakfast.

We had lucked out because on Wednesdays at 11am they have a changing of the guard at the castle. We still had an hour before that. Walking up to the entrance an orange and white cat crossed our path. He was so cute and friendly, when the lady in the gift shop called him he came running and jumped up onto the counter to snuggle her. I’ll admit, I was a bit jealous.

We walked down to see where the changing of the guard would take place and to scope out where we would stand.  We tried to visit the chapel which was near there but they were not yet ready for visitors. Back up the hill we went to the main part of the castle. Inside there was no photography allowed. At first I was mad, everything was so richly decorated and the crystal chandeliers and the dining room were indescribable. I soon saw the benefit of no photography, the crowd moved faster. I could only imagine the nightmare scenario of having to around people all trying to take photos. The self-guided audio tours alone were causing mini pockets of traffic. People would abruptly stop and we would nearly run into them. The royal collection included some Dutch and Flemish paintings. It also included a lot of guns and armour. It was awesome to see Princess Mary’s epically detailed dollhouse. I would have been too afraid to actually play with it, lest I break something. It was giant, taking up almost a whole room. There was also an exhibit of Shakespeare works and related books from the Royal Library Collection. It was not as interesting as the Bodleian Library exhibit.

We had finished the main castle exhibits and tour just in time to walk down and watch the changing of the guard. It got boring very quickly. People marching stiffly and shouting stuff while moving their guns around. It was very precise and orchestrated but I had no idea what was going on. I was amused by the one guy who was shorter than the rest, throwing off the balance of the group as a whole. We kept waiting for something interesting to happen but it was the same thing over and over again, march, stand face to face, shift gun, shout gibberish, salute, walk back and forth a bunch of times. Sometimes a commercial plane would fly by overhead, we were near the airport I think.

I had seen enough. We went into St. George’s Chapel, reasoning that we were close enough that if anything interesting did happen we could just run back outside. The interior of the chapel was gorgeous. We saw the tombs of a few King George’s, I think it was III, IV and VII, maybe more I am not sure. We finished just before noon.

We stopped at McDonald’s for a quick lunch. They had self-serve kiosks, and I was finally able to order curry dip with my chicken nuggets. The new American burger in their Taste of America line-up was out. I stole a bite of the TexMex, the tortilla chip was not soggy and had crunch to it and the cheese actually tasted like something. It was actually better than I had expected. On the way to the car I noticed a souvenir shop that had cute little decorative mugs that featured iconic images of London- the perfect souvenirs for everyone back home! We also stopped at the WHSmith because Brent had seen a gummy mix that featured phone booths and hats and while there we also got a bottle of Irn Bru.

It was an easy drive back to the airport to return the car, despite the GPS trying to lead us in the wrong direction. Thankfully by that point there were signs and we recognized where we were. It was easy to find the subway entrance and just as easy to switch lines. The subway at first glanced seemed confusing but really was not at all. The subways also, much to my amusement, run on the left side. Our room at the Corus Hyde Park hotel had two separate beds and the world’s tiniest bathroom, it really had to have been a broom closet in a past life. There was only one light switch and all the door jambs were loose so I could not open drinks on them. I assumed that it was from previous uses of the door jambs as openers.

The rest of our day was going to involve a lot of walking, so we took the subway to the Museum of London. We took a different subway line this time, closer to our hotel. It was awesome because it was one of the older lines and was built much deeper underground. On the platform there was a sign that the station, Lancaster Gate, was a historic site.

The museum was easy to find, we just followed the signs. The museum also had its name written in giant letters on the side of the building. My main goal in the museum was to see the art deco elevators from the original Selfridge’s department store. Along the way we also saw stuff that had been found in the Thames River and during various construction projects. We learned about the Romans who lived in the area a long time ago. The elevator was everything I had hoped for and I gasped a little when I saw it.

The plan after the museum was to walk around London and look at various buildings and stop in at a pub for dinner. We were not yet hungry, so at the pub we would just have a pint for now. On the way to The Ship Tavern we passed the Seven Stars pub. I recognized it from my list of pubs to go to, and we went there instead. It was a small cozy pub full of locals and two tourists from Texas who had “never seen snow.” We settled in and watched them talk to the locals, it was both amusing and cringe-worthy. The French drink I had, Cidre Breton was wacky and unusual. As we sat and drank I pondered why our maps were leading us to Ship Tavern, I had not mapped it. I slowly realized that Brent had mapped the route to all the pubs I had chosen. My plan had been to go to the first one, if it was busy then move on to the next. They were all within a few blocks of each other. The Ship Tavern had been near the bottom of the list so I did not recognize the name at first. As we looked at the map we realized we had just missed the Old Bank of England pub by a block, and we were heading back that way anyways. What’s another half pint?

It was well worth it to go to a second pub. The interior of the Old Bank was very art deco and the bar was right in the middle like an island, with repeating sets of taps at all four corners. Everything was gilded with gold and upholstered in leather and made of wood. At first we were worried there would be a dress code but inside there was a mix of business people and tourists. The Cornish Orchard Cider was sour but also tasted like juice.

Walking to the Tower of London I saw the iconic bridge off in the distance and I mistakenly identified it as the London Bridge. As we got closer I realized it was the Tower Bridge. Because we had finished the Museum of London, our Sunday plans were now free again. We decided we could check out the Tower of London museum then (it was closed now). We walked along the river back towards the centre, keeping an eye out for the London Bridge. The first bridge was ugly and plain, but across the river beside it was the London Bridge Hospital. No way could this be the London Bridge I thought, it was so blah! Surely it was the next one, which was much prettier. Nope, that was the Southwark Bridge. I repeated this again, and it was the Blackfriar’s Bridge.

We crossed over the Thames via the pedestrian Millennium Bridge. There we looked at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which had been rebuilt in 1997. I assumed the seats inside were uncomfy as I saw a guy heading in with a bag of seat cushions. The London Eye was way overpriced and crawling with tourists. Plus the weather was cloudy and overcast, the view would have been terrible. We did have a nice view of St. Paul’s Cathedral across the river. We stopped at an ice cream truck, it was time to get a soft serve (aka Mr. Whippie- I did not have the guts to call it that when ordering) with a Flake chocolate in it.

From the Southbank Bridge we had a view across the River Thames of Parliament, this was the closest to the view that JMW Turner would have had as he painted it while it burned. We crossed over the next bridge because it would take us right to Parliament and Big Ben. There was a wedding photo shoot happening on the bridge, it was awkward to watch. The exteriors of Parliament and West Minister Abbey were both stunning and impressive but difficult to photograph. Our final stop on the walking tour of London was Buckingham Palace. We walked through a nice park to get there, where they had a sign about not being mean to the geese and ducks that made me chuckle (I had once heard that all the geese in England belong to the Queen). We circled the roundabout in front of the Palace and gawked at the golden fancy gates.

We walked through a park diagonally to get to the much larger Hyde Park. It took us over half an hour to walk through Hyde Park, passing by Kensington Gardens. At this point my feet were killing me, every step was agony. We saw two herons by the lake and a lot of runners. I was way too tired to go to a pub for dinner. Instead we went to the corner store and got snacks: Cherry Coke, a Double-decker chocolate bar, white chocolate Lion bar and Tangy Cheese Doritos. The Monster Munch was terrible, like a slightly spicy cheesie that was barely edible. My legs were so dead. We had walked for over six hours, all I could do now was sit, snack and watch TV.

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