Hitting the ground running in fabulous London!

Trip Start May 06, 2008
Trip End Jun 06, 2008

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Thursday, May 8, 2008

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Day 1 : 8th May 2008 (Thursday) Hitting the ground running in fabulous London! AKA Schlepping across the Thames, thrice AKA Mayhem on the Tube

Today was our first big day, and we might have been a little overly ambitious looking at the list of sights we wanted to 'do'. But first things first, we had to get a 7-day 'paper' travelcard before we even began ticking sights off our list. I had read and read and researched whether I should just get an Oyster card and PAYG (pay as you go), a 7 day travelcard or load the travelcard on an Oyster. There is no simple answer. The deciding factor, though, was us being able to use the 2FOR1 vouchers for some of the sights we were planning on visiting. Now, the catch was that until recently, the 7 day travelcard loaded on an Oyster card was valid to use in conjuction with the vouchers, but now, the rules had changed and we need a Paper travelcard issued by a National Rail operated ticket office with a Double-Arrow (or 'crows-foot') National Rail logo on it. Confusing huh.

We woke up early enough, and Glynis and I attempted to make breakfast in Bunga's kitchen. Less said about that, the better:) If all else failed, there always was the chocolate cake as a backup plan. Then Bunga showed us the secret shortcut to the Northolt Tube stop where I attempted to explain to the guy at the ticket office that I wanted a 'paper' travelcard so I could use the 2FOR1 vouchers. From the look on his face, I confused the heck out of him but he eventually understood what I wanted (at least I think he did) and said we would have to get that at a National Rail operated ticket office (tube stops that show up with a 'crows-foot' logo on the map). So we bought a single ticket and headed to the Ealing Broadway tube stop, the closest to where we were. It was already past 11 am by the time we stood in the queue at a manned ticket office (so much for our early start). We finally got to the head of the queue and I began my explanation to this nice, kind old man who patiently listened to the aforementioned voucher story even though the queue was long and the people just behind us were giving us dirty looks... Once I was done, he took out a Days Out Guide brochure and said is this what you want, and he said sure you can use the travelcard loaded on the Oyster. I was like are you sure because the rules have recently changed. Well, apparently, the new rule hadn't completely kicked in. So I was like whatever and we all got our travelcards loaded on the Oyster and proceeded to the Tower Hill tube stop hoping to make it to the Tower of London in good time and hoping the kind, old man was right.

Whew, the weather was HOT, and it was noon by the time we got to the Tower. When we got to the ticket counter, we were the only ones (I was expecting a crowd but then again it was pretty late so I guess the crowd beat us to the tower...), and the lady at the counter didn't bat at eyelid when I presented our voucher. She didn't even ask to see our ticket (although when Glynis was buying hers, she volunteered her Oyster Card and the woman didn't think anything of it). Hmmm, so the new rule really hadn't kicked it yet and we saved a whole bunch of money. Entry to the tower is 17.00 which is pretty steep when you take into account the currency rate (yuck). Then, as we were entering, a Beefeater (Yeoman Warder) tour was about to begin so we decided to join in. I had initially decided to head to the Crown Jewels first, as the queues are supposed to be really long, but now that we were really behind and the tour was starting, we decided to go with it.

Our Beefeater Mark was entertaining and informative and very amusing. He captivated us with amazing stories and even though the tour was pretty crowded, it was very enjoyable. He led us to the infamous Traitor's Gate and execution site, the Palace, the Bloody Tower and ended at the Chapel Royal. Just outside is where the famous Anne Boleyn and other important people were executed. Gruesome. After the obligatory picture with our Beefeater, we headed to the White Tower where there was an exhibit of Henry the VIII's armour and weapons. Fascinating. Then, onto the Crown Jewels, where I was really looking forward to being dazzled by the notorious Koh-i-Noor. There weren't any people at all, shockingly, and we actually we able to go by the jewels a second time on the conveyor belt thingy. For some reason, I was a little underwhelmed by them, I don't know why. I expected a splendour to behold, but I wasn't impressed. I don't know what more I expected to see. I even went back a third time to see if I had missed anything.

Anyway. Back to the Tower Green to reflect on the memorial to the people who died there. It said "‘Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under there restless skies’." As we exited the tower, we paused to see the ravens. According to legend, the monarchy will collapse if the ravens leave. No wonder they're either chained to their perches or caged..

Outside, we caught our first glimpse of the Tower Bridge. Breathtaking. We spent some time taking pictures of the beautiful monument and then decided it would be cool to walk across it. The rest of the places we had to get to were on the other side of the Thames anyway. By now it was late afternoon and we were hungry so we grabbed a couple hot dogs and bottles of water on the way (it was HOT!). As we were walking across the bridge (lovely views on both sides), we noticed they were closing the pathway ahead.

Upon closer inspection, we realized the bridge was opening up! That was pretty neat. We soon found ourselves on the south bank of the Thames and started walking along it. It was a lovely day, not too hot and some ice-cream along the way allowed us to enjoy the walk even more. We came upon Southwark Cathedral, London's oldest Gothic Church (Shakespeare worshiped here!) and the Golden Hinde, a replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship.

We finally arrived at Shakespeare's Globe, hoping against hope it was still open. Glynis was so looking forward to seeing this. We were in luck and a guided tour was to be underway shortly. We used our vouchers here too, saving some more money. Yay! We visited the exhibition while we waited for tour. Our guide was very informative and entertaining and the reconstruction of the globe right down to the thatched roof was pretty cool and we even got to see a dress rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream. That was a treat. Glynis was so excited about coming back to see a play, so we went to get the schedule. (Godwin would have killed me if I made him come see Shakespeare so I didn't even consider it. Besides, our days were full).

Next was the mad dash to the Tate Modern. Thank goodness museums in London are free. We made it in time to get to the top floor and take in the view of the Thames. Wish we had more time to explore the museum in depth. Too soon we heard annoucements reverberating that the museum was closing and we were to make our way out. So out we went. And on to the Millennium bridge. We walked across (crossing the Thames for the second time on foot), and caught a glimpse of St Pauls Cathedral. We didn't linger as we were going to be back the next day. We did pass by the Church of Scientology though, and no, Tom Cruise was nowhere to be seen... We were getting really tired of all the walking so we decided it tube it to our next stop. Short ride to Westminister and out of exit 1, and voila, Big Ben was behind us and the river Thames with the London Eye on the opposite bank in front of us. Being first-timers in London, we were suitably awed. Definitely a sight to behold, so we had to pause to take the obligatory pictures. We even stopped to take pictures for another family who were even more excited to be in London than us!

Then we crossed Westminister Bridge (third time in one day we walked across the Thames, see what I mean when I say we hit the ground running... or more like schlepping across the Thames thrice in one day...) We went to the London Eye ticket office and there were actually not many people in line. And it was still running. How I love long summer days... There was an offer for a boat trip, unfortunately, the last boat had left so we had to make do with doing the eye.

I know its an overpriced, tourist magnet but I thought what the heck and the others agreed. The sun was setting and we enjoyed the view as the eye did its slow rotation. It was a clear day and the views were amazing. I'm glad we did it. I was so tired and my feet were killing me with all the walking. We were contemplating where to have dinner when Bunga called and said she'd cooked a meal and we were to head back. We were too tired to argue. So we went to the tube stop for the ride back to Northolt.

Alas, our day wasn't over yet. Somewhere close to the Queensway tube stop, our train suddenly halted and there was lots of commotion, people running, mayhem. Initially everyone just stayed where they were, and then it was obvious something was wrong. The stop was taking too long. Finally, someone said the train was to be evacuated. Apparently some woman had gotten assaulted or something. So everyone filed out, making for the nearest exit. We found a lift that was working and a few of the people on our train got it and reached the surface. The station was closed. We waited outside with the crowd for a while, everyone buzzing with excitement, no one was really sure what was happening and London bobbies arrived. The guards didn't know when the station would open either. Some guy asked me what the heck happened and I said as far as I know, someone on our train got assaulted. He said he was stuck inside a tunnel, somewhere after Marble Arch, and had to make his way out. Thank goodness we got to get out quickly. That would have been scary.

Here we were, first day in London, on our own, no idea where we were and no way to get home. We called Sanjiv, asking for directions. We looked at the bus routes. We were finally going to take a cab, it was getting late, when someone suggested heading back to see if the station was open again. It was. We got on the next train to Northolt, exhausted and very, very late. Sanjiv came to the tube stop secret shortcut to pick us up, bless his soul. We quickly ate Bunga's hot, home-cooked food and crashed.

Steps walked: 19182
Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
Bunga's place, Northolt
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