Friday, October 28, 2016

England: London Day 3

We took the tube to Victoria and did a hop on/hop off bus tour for about 2.5 hours on the red line. The Original Tour bus company was running a special that let us use our pass for 48 hours instead of the normal 24, which was awesome. It also included a boat ride down the Thames so we totally took advantage of that too.

It was pretty overcast (but not rainy!) and we were determined to get the best views of everything so we rode on the top of the open-air bus in the front row for all 2.5 hours. By the time we got off, I was shivering and we ended up having to grab some hot chocolate to warm up! (They literally serve hot chocolate EVERYWHERE. It's like one of the best things about London!)
We had lovely views of the city and architecture, and we fully enjoyed all of the historcial commentary. I wish I could remember it all, because it was fascinating! It made me want to take one of these tours in New York City or even in Salt Lake, because I bet there's a lot I don't know.

This is a famous hotel. I can't remember which one, ha ha.
All Soul's Church at the North end of Regent's Street, designed by the famous architect John Nash.

Regent's Street. The tour told us that the royal family owns a lot of the real estate on Regent's Street. You can tell if you're in the area they own because all the lamp posts have little crown insignias near the top. All the rent from this area is used to fund their household. Apparently this is the busiest shopping street in all of Europe. I found that interesting, because it's a lot of regular stores, not super high end shopping like we saw in Barcelona or Paris. But we actually did a lot of shopping there at Hunter, H&M, Ralph Lauren, etc. So I guess that makes sense. It was always quite busy!

The Apple Store on Regent's Street.
Piccadilly Circus.

The copper dome at the end of the road is Queen's Tower.

Trafalgar Square, which is where a bunch of major roads converge, right in front of the National Gallery.

The Savoy theater and hotel.
St. Paul's Cathedral. We walked by again later at night and the bells were pealing full blast! We couldn't figure out why, but it was lovely.

The Tower of London.

Our first view of the London Eye, while driving along the Thames.
The Prime Minister lives behind those gates, down the road a bit in the red brick building you can see peeking out on the right.

The parliament building.
Big Ben!

We drove acrossWestminster Bridge.

The Albert pub (named after Queen Victoria's husband). This is just a couple blocks away from the parliament buildling, and dates back to 1862 and was miraculously undamaged during WWII bombings. Members of parliament come here for a drink between sessions, and they ring a bell when it's time for them to head back for the next session.
Kind of a bizarre little building in the middle of a bunch of skyscrapers.
We hopped off the bus in Westminster and hustled our way to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard.
I felt like the massive crowds were more impressive than the actual changing of the guard. I've never seen anything like it! According to Rick Steves', more purses are stolen here every day than anywhere else in the world.
Here comes the guard.
And there they go. It was as close as we could get! (Our bus tour ran a little slower than usual due to some construction in the city and road closures.)
We ate a quick lunch at a cute deli (they served homemade pickles with their sandwiches. Amazing! And being pregnant, those pickles tasted soooo good. I think I finished off Chris's also.), then hopped on the tube and headed to The British Museum.
It was SO big. And a little overwhelming.
We headed to the mummies first.
Here is Cleopatra's mummy. So cool.

Next we headed to the Rosetta Stone.

We also saw the Elgin Marbles (which I didn't take a picture of), and a bunch of other cool artifacts.

As we were walking down the road, we stumbled upon a Shake Shack. So random. Chris has always wanted to eat at the one in Las Vegas (which is the one closest to us), but we've never made it there. So even though we'd already eaten lunch, we popped in for a hamburger and a brownie concrete.
We headed back to Westminster Pier to take the hop on/hop off boat ride down the Thames.
Our last view of Big Ben as we pulled away from the pier.
A better view of the London Eye.

Looking back at Westminster bridge and pier.
That red building is where Daniel Radcliff went to high school. #nerdalert
This is Millenium Footbridge, a walking only bridge that crosses the Thames. It famously collapses in the sixth Harry Potter movie when it's attacked by Death Eaters. #nerdalert We walked across it later that night.
A daytime view of Shakespeare's Globe Theater.
Crossing under London Bridge.
The HMS Belfast navy ship from WWII, permanently moored here and now part of the Imperial War Museum.
The Tower of London.
Tower Bridge.
We hopped off the boat at Tower Pier and headed straight for the Tower of London. We only had about an hour and a half before they closed, so we had to hustle.

The Tower of London is technically actually called "Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London." It was built in 1066 and used as a prison until 1952. It also served as a Royal Residence for a time, as well as a zoo to the pets that were given to the Royal Family as gifts from other countries. (What do you buy the person who has everything? A lion, apparently.)
The tower complex has a bunch of building inside, encompassed by two concentric circles and a mote.

Once inside, we headed straight for the Crown Jewels display. They didn't allow any photography inside, but it was a really neat exhibit. They had crowns and scepters from many kings and queens on display. One of the scepters had a diamond at the top of the staff that was like 35,000 carats. Can you imagine?? I've never seen anything like it. They had the displays in these huge glass cases, and then a slow-moving conveyor belt on either side that you stood on and it moved you past the displays slowly. I guess to keep the crowd moving -- so you had to look quickly while you had the chance.

After we saw the crown jewels, we headed towards the torture towers. They showed some medieval contraptions they used for torturing prisoners there.

Then we climbed the tower and walked all the way around one of the concentric perimeters of the place. Inside a few of the corner towers, there were still engravings on the walls from prisoners who had been held there. Some had signed their names, etc. They had plaques explaining the details of who some of them were and why they were being held, etc. I thought it was fascinating!

They also had a whole exhibit about the animals kept at The Tower of London. Kings and Queens from other countries would give exotic animals as gifts to the Royal Family, and they were kept here. There were monkeys, lions, and all sorts of exotic pets. It turned into almost a zoo of sorts, because for a long time it was the only place these type of exotic animals could be seen in London.
There's an old saying that if the crows ever fly away from the Tower of London, it will fall down. (There were a lot of crows there!)
As the sun started to set, we headed off to walk across Tower Bridge, which happened to be closed to motor traffic for construction, but it was still open to foot traffic.

Some of the more modern buildings across the skyline. Some say that tall one is an eyesore, ha ha.
"The Queen's highway." That's what they call the Thames. She doesn't allow any advertising along it, so it keeps it quite lovely.

The bridge from the other side. So lovely!
We walked along the bank of the Thames and went back past Shakespeare's Globe. Not such a great view at night, but we thought it was pretty cool.
We crossed the Thames along the Millenium Footbridge and then wandered the city. We ended up walking past St. Paul's Cathedral again, and ALL of the bells were ringing at full blast. We were there for more than 15 minutes and there was no end in sight. We couldn't figure out if it was a wedding or what. But it was lovely. And LOUD.

We wandered past the London Stock Exchange, which Chris found underwhelming compared to the New York Stock Exchange. Here we watched a lady steal a purse and run, and get chased by a few civilians and some police. I took a video of it, and it was bizarre. When confronted, the lady had a complete mental breakdown on the sidewalk, ha ha. It was the weirdest thing we saw in all of England!
By this time we were pretty pooped from all the walking today, so we hopped on the tube and headed for home to eat dinner. Then of course, we went next door to try some dessert. I felt like it was my duty to try one of everything while we were there. You know, when in Rome..
Tonight's dessert was a white chocolate covered Belgian waffle with strawberries. Yum!

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