Monday, May 3, 2010

my emotion struck a sparkling tone like a xylophone

I woke up quite happily on my first morning in London. It was sunny, and since even having had the window open all night it wasn’t at all cold, it seemed it would be a very nice day.

I packed up what I wanted to take with me for the walk, and set off to find the bus that would take me to the Tower of London.

The sign said that it was about 30 minutes to the Tower, which meant I had time to go sit up on the top deck, which made me happy.

I love sitting on the front seat of the top deck. You can see just everything, and because you’re up higher you have a good view of all the old tops of the buildings – because the first floor is all modern with the shops, but then the rest of the floors are how the buildings have been for a hundred years or more.

I thought to myself that the girl is supposed to be me, because I don't keep my feet off the seats...

My first glimpse of Trafalgar Square:

Every time I hear the name of this stop, I think they say "Old Witch".

When I arrived at the Tower of London stop, I was chagrined when I realized that I had no idea what the tower of London looked like, or which of the surrounding buildings was it, fortunately, I saw a sign across the street pointing the way, so I got across and followed the signs to the ticket place.

Happily, the ticket lady accepted my GRCC ID card so that I could get the student rate. (I figure that I’m young enough to be a student and as poor as a student, so it’s okay. When I get a decent-paying job I’ll stop using my ID…)

After that, there were signs for dumb people like me that got me to the entrance. It’s not really a literal tower, which is why I was confused. It’s more like a fortress, which has several not-especially-tall towers as part of it.

The gate-raising place:

A room set up the way a place for high-class prisoner would have been:

The very first female yeoman of the Tower:

It was all so sad and exciting and historical. I went up to a tower where prisoners had carved all kinds of things – poems, designs, or just names – into the stone of the walls.

I imagined being locked up there for years, never knowing whether the capricious monarch was going to suddenly decide to release you or suddenly decide to behead you.

A bunch of the lights in the torture exhibit room weren't working, which made it really creepy...

The "traitors' gate":

The sign says, "The steps are reserved for the ravens".

Here are the steps:

The Tower green, where several people were executed, was so sad...


I took a tour with a Yeoman – they were free – and that was cool because you got to go inside the church that so many people are buried under.

Then I went to see the armor exhibit. It was kind of cool but I think I am just not especially interested in armor.

A chapel within the tower:

I was much more excited about seeing the Crown Jewels. But the moving walkway that you stand on to go past them went faster than I would have preferred. Still, though, so lovely and bright and sparkly! Imagine a sapphire the size of a walnut!

After that it was noon, which was when I wanted to leave the Tower, so after I quickly went back up one of the towers to find the inscription “IANE” that is thought to have been written by Lady Jane Grey’s husband when he was imprisoned, I went out.

I decided to walk down and go over Tower Bridge, then along that side of the Thames, then back over London Bridge.

I considered briefly taking the tour up to the top of Tower Bridge but decided that there were too many other things I’d rather spend my limited time and money on, so I just crossed over.

I had a little trouble getting back to the walk along the river, but eventually I found my way through the buildings.

London Bridge is not exciting – it is just an ordinary bridge – but I sung the song as I crossed anyway. You can see the Tower from the bridge, though, which I suppose explains the verse “take the key and lock her up”… Alas for Queen Mary.

From there the next place was St. Paul’s Cathedral. There was a very pleasing amount of signs, so finding it was easy.

Although I had to through various peculiar walkways and tunnels to do so.

This is the Millennium Bridge. It's cool, but I didn't cross it.

I wanted to ride this sweet elevator that went up an incline, but it wasn't working.

It cost a good deal of money to go in, so I just walked around the outside and looked at it.

I was quite hungry by this time, but wanted to wait until I was along the Thames to eat, so I made my way back to the Thames path.

When I ran into it, I was in a place where it didn’t connect to the street – the street running parallel was about four feet higher and there was a wall between. I couldn’t see any gate or steps, and I didn’t want to continue along the road because there wasn’t much room to walk alongside it and the traffic was busy – so I hopped over the wall and dropped down. No one seemed to care.

Not too long after that I found the Embankment (that’s the name of the road) Café, which had pretty reasonably priced food and was next to the Embankment Gardens, so I got a sandwich and went into the park. It was lovely – the flowers were gorgeous, and they had pink forget-me-nots! I’ve always wanted to see pink forget-me-nots, because of in Sleeping Beauty – “I’ll make it sixteen layers with pink and blue forget-me-nots…”

Then I walked on, and for a while I didn’t step on the lines –

“Whenever I walk in a London street,
I ever so carefully watch my feet,
And I walk in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait ‘round the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, ‘Bears,
Just look at me walking in all the squares!’”
(A.A. Milne)

And that was lots of fun.

And before I knew it, I could see Big Ben! (Well, technically, I couldn’t see Big Ben, because Big Ben is the bell inside the tower. But you know what I mean.) I was quite pleased that it had taken me less time than I expected to walk the distance.

Oh, and when I stopped at an underground station to use the ladies’, I found a little shop selling fresh made Belgian waffles, and had one with frozen yoghurt and dark chocolate. Yeah. The frozen yogurt was a bit of a shock at first, because however much I told myself that it wasn’t ice cream, my brain still expected it to be. I think, though, that might like it better than ice cream. It tastes more interesting.

I am usually not especially wowed by architecture. I don’t know why. But the House of Parliament – I was in awe. It was so incredibly beautiful and delicate and like spun sugar or sand castles and I wanted to hug it or eat it or something.

I thought this young man was REALLY good looking in his uniform, although you can't really tell from the picture.

I stopped by Westminster Abbey but it was closed, and anyway it cost money to get in. But it was pretty.

This tree showered petals on me as I passed:

Then I was off to Trafalgar square. I was happy to find that there was a bus that went from where I was to there.

Sometimes, things are not as big or as impressive as you imagined they would be.

The lions in Trafalgar square were the opposite. They were about twice as big as I thought they would be, AND you’re allowed to climb on the monument, AND you’re allowed to climb on the lions.

I really wanted to get up on the back of one of the lions. So I waited for awhile until one was clear.

And quickly discovered that it’s much harder than it looks. After several tries and several watching of other people’s attempts, I realized that unless you are at least of medium height, are very agile with excellent arm strength, and/or have shoes with very good gripping soles, getting up without assistance is basically impossible. This was disheartening, as I had no one to ask for help.

There was a boy, of about eleven years, I would guess, fairly skinny with very blonde hair, who had been sitting on the back of a lion intermittently for some time. He looked friendly, and I at last got up my courage and went up to his lion and reached up my hand and asked for a boost. He gripped my hand tightly, and with a manful and dedicated effort pulled me up. It was no small task, for though I am not an especially heavy person, there was really nothing to put my feet on to assist him. But he was uncomplaining even in gesture or expression, and although he didn’t speak English, I trust he understood my look and tone when I thanked him very much.

We sat there together for awhile, until his dad told him it was time to go and he left.

This is why I like traveling alone. I spent a good forty-five minutes total on the back of the lion (pretending to be Lucy, of course)

and then sitting between its front paws, leaning against its chest. It was a very sweet experience, and one that you couldn’t really have with other people in your party who might not care to spend an hour in Trafalgar Square.

At about 5:45, I went into the National Gallery, and spent fifteen minutes – all the time left before closing – looking at some of the pictures. I would have liked to have had more time, but I wouldn’t have traded my time on the lion for it.

After that I walked to the Queen’s Theatre,

and looked around the neighborhood for a good place to eat dinner with Eleanor. (We’d been texting back and forth all day, updating our plans to eat together.) I found a little pub with cheap prices, so when Eleanor came off the bus we went there. It turned out, though, that they were going to be having a quiz event in about twenty minutes, so we went to the Chinese buffet instead.

Oh, I do like Chinese food. And it’s even nicer in England than in the States.

Soon it was time for me to go over to the theatre, so I said goodbye to Eleanor and went down the street and across.

My seat was in the upper balcony, but there was no one in front of me blocking my view. And, even better, some seats closer to the center, so that the balcony wasn’t blocking any of the stage, were empty, so I moved there during the first break in the action and had a wonderful view.

How do you write about a musical? Valjean was amazing, Eponine was amazing, Fantine and Javert were very good… I was so thankful that Valjean was really good, because I’ve heard a recording of one that I didn’t like at all and that would have been very spoiling. But nothing spoiled it – though I didn’t particularly love Marius and Cosette, they did a fine job. And oh, beautiful Eponine…

If you have never listened to the music of Les Miserables, you really should. (Although especially conservative people will want to skip Lovely Ladies and Master of the House.) It’s so incredibly beautiful and dramatic and the theme of redemption and love is so clear and heartfelt.

After the show, I walked to a bus station where I could get the bus back to the hotel. I was quite pleased with myself for getting to the bus station all by myself with no trouble.

And I had an apple – and chatted with a friend who had just had a very exciting event happen in her life. And went to sleep.


Shan said...

You are right. That did cheer me up. :)
I was reading, and hoping, that you got up on the back of one of the lions. And I am SO SO SO glad that you did! That picture is priceless!

Anonymous said...

So did you find the bird woman on the steps of St. Paul? So glad you got to see Le Miz - is this the first time? I've seen it a few times and it's so moving and beautiful. The book (as usual) is even better, and the grace in it is so strong, it smacks you in the face. The musical is very subtle by comparison. If you haven't read it, you can read it online or download it at, so you don't have to wait until you get home to a library. Jen

Thaddaeus said...

Wow. That was amazing!!!

You didn't tell me you were going to see Le Miz!

Wow. That's a lot of cool stuff.


lois said...

Like the Lions in Trafalgar Square.
Oh. I am so happy. sigh.

I am so glad you got your haircut before England. You look so very beautiful in every picture.

Joe said...

The lions were cool and I would have want to stay on the lions back for a long time also. For not thinking you like architecture much you sure did find some cool buildings.