To be totally transparent, there was some walking involved. My little exercise guru on my wrist says I did over 10,000 steps today. That was AFTER the hop-on/hop-off bus ride.
The plan was to awaken at the crack of dawn and head out to the HOHO bus as early as possible. The idea was to take full advantage of the day.
Well, crack of dawn was closer to full sunshine and then there was breakfast. It was included in the price of the hotel room and therefore, logically, it must be ordered and consumed.
This particular hotel prides itself on being VERY English. Doormen in long red coats and funny hats; Maitre d’ in full morning coat, hostesses in heels and jackets. Very straight laced sort of place. Down to the bar keep who reminded me of Bernard on the show ‘The West Wing‘. (Do take a moment to watch that clip. The description will make more sense.)
My arrival at the dining room was relatively uneventful. Of course, the room is done in dark wood, heavily upholstered over-stuffed, wing-backed chairs, white linen table clothes and napkins, and the obligatory crystal chandeliers. I am dressed in water-proof pants, turtle neck shirt and heavy shoes. I fit in like a duck at a dog show.
Being me, I am given a seat near the middle of the room and offered coffee and toast. I ask for whole wheat. Hell, if I am going to break my diet I will at least do it in the healthiest of methods. The waiter, dressed in black pants, white shirt, black cummerbund and matching bow tie, looks at me and says (I kid you not), “Do you mean ‘brown’ toast?”
I did not giggle. I did not remark that brown bread, in my neck of the woods, comes in a can and has raisins. (Aren’t you proud of me?!) I flashed my best toothy smile and said, “Oh, dear. I have to work on my English as a second language.”
He laughed. Really. He laughed and brought me extra toast!
And just so you know, the eggs Benedict came on a whole wheat English muffin!
Now I had consulted with the very stodgy concierge regarding the said bus and the times of its arrival and departure. This was after breakfast and my ensemble now included a large winter jacket and a beanie hat pulled over my ears. If I was going to sit on an open air bus for 2 hours I intended to not freeze.
Tom looked up and said, “My I be of assistance, sir.”
Mind you, he had spoken to me just before breakfast regarding the location of said dining room and the discussion went on for some time as we discussed the best items on the menu.
My reply to his inquiry was something along the lines of “having hair makes a difference..” at which point he recognized me, stuttered a bit and tried to apologize. It was hysterical. I reassured him that he was not the first to make that mistake and that no apology was necessary–just, please, note the file….
He wasn’t stodgy after that.
My next stop was the bus stop and, for awhile, it looked like I would be the only passenger. The narrator and I had a marvelous conversation and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Being first on the bus put me in the upper, covered section in the first row. From there I got some shots that others couldn’t get. Including a trash truck.
I hopped off at the Tower of London.
Why did you hop off at the Tower of London, you might ask.
Because the good Friar Ian told me to do so and that tour was included in the price of the HOHO ticket. So, logically, it was necessary to hop off in order to use the “free” ticket.
Now the tower is not a tower. It is a castle. Nasty things happened there at one time or another. But currently it houses the Crown Jewels.
The British were a little picky about people taking pictures of the jewels (they were the real thing, or so we were told) so I contented myself with taking the usual Tower of London shots.
Like a good tourist.
There is the obligatory pictures of the walls and buildings, the ever present guards (who look like 10 year olds playing dress up) and the there is the always necessary picture of the iron elephant.
Turns out that in centuries past, the monarchs kept exotic animals from their various conquered countries. Problem was that most of them were not adaptable to the northern climate. They turned whatever animals were left over to zoos in the 1800’s.
The iron replicas are there to show the conditions is which the animals had been kept.
As I said, some nasty things happened at the Tower. Not all of them were related to Henry’s wives.
Leaving the Tower grounds I opted to use the last of the ‘free’ tickets for a boat ride up the Thames to Westminster pier. Bundled up on the top tier of the boat I was able to grab shots of the architecture of London. Some of it fascinated me.
Some was old, even ancient. Some was post-WWII rebuild. Some was best called modern. It showed a city of many cultures and times.
Leaving the Thames behind, I looked up and saw Big Ben completely covered in scaffolding and realized I was in Parliament Square and right close to Westminster Abbey. Evensong at St. Paul’s had not been accomplished due to my sleep deprived state so I figured I would stop in and say hi to the Abbey.
Again, the British are really stingy with the picture thing so I can only describe what I saw.
First, I must say that I have been in many, many cathedrals from the Duomo in Florence to the Barcelona Cathedral. I have sung in chapels and churches all over Canada and Europe.
I have never seen a Cathedral so dedicated to the dead. The tombs on the floor are so old that the wording has been obliterated by the feet that have trod on those graves. The walls were covered nearly to the ceiling (which was at the top of some flying buttresses and way the heck up there). Some dated from the 1600’s.
I stood beside the tombs of Henry the VI and Oliver Cromwell. By Mary Queen of Scots and other monarchs. I read the plaques dedicated to writers and poets and actors in the ‘Poet’s Corner’. I stood by the stone that was dedicated to Winston Churchill. There were hundreds of tombs and dedications to those who made English history.
I was overwhelmed by the ornate workings and the dedication to the history of the country to that place. When I walked out I found myself in what our bus guide had called the square of democracy. And I was struck by two statues that graced the perimeter.
Winston Churchill and Millicent Garrett Fawcett.
I walked back to the hotel thinking about the sacrifices that those two had made.
But I had little time once I got there.
The theater called. I just had enough time to eat an EXCELLENT meal served by men in bow ties and coats with tails and women in conservative suits. Sea bass with risotto. OMG!!!
Then (Tom enters the scene again) I requested a cab to take me to the theater. Tom loudly advised his doorman to get the best cab available for Ms. Gael. He cracked up the doorman and the front desk staff. It was grand.
Fifteen minutes later I am sitting in the theater watching the musical “Come From Away’. If ever there is a musical I would recommend (besides Hamilton) ‘Come from Away’ is it. I cried and I laughed. I cried and laughed simultaneously. And I was not alone.
A standing ovation started before the end of the last song.
I left the theater, hailed a cab and went into the hotel bar (remember my Bernard reference?) was warmly greeted by said Bernard who provided coffee without asking and but did ask what kind of ice cream I would like!
As I got up to leave, he came by and asked if I would return the next night. When I told him I was leaving he hugged me and thanked me for ignoring his indiscretion of the night before when he had left me sitting, without service for more than two minutes.
This is “Bernard”. He is a whiskey and gin expert. He has an unpronounceable Polish name so everyone calls him ‘Jack’. I hope to see him again.
So much for stodgy Englishmen!
I will leave London with a better understanding of English history and of the character of the people here. One of the things that I will come away with is the number of languages spoken here. No matter where I was there were ‘locals’ speaking in languages that had come from every part of the old English empire. Languages from India, Africa, New Zealand, Australia could be heard in every coffee shop and market. It was a wonderful cacophony.
Traveling seems to always change my outlook on life. This trip is no exception.
Tomorrow I will be in Ireland.
That should really change things!