London Pass

Trip Start Aug 05, 2005
Trip End Dec 29, 2005

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Thursday, September 1, 2005

My friend Kirk and I decided that Thursday would be a good day to try out that London Pass thing we learned about last Friday. Not that there was anything special about Thursday; we just wanted to try it. Later we found out Friday probably would have been better anyway because the attractions are open longer. But then we might not have gotten the tickets to the show we saw...


We started by catching the first train off peak hour because it's about half the price. That was the 9:13am train. Our original plan was to start at the Tower of London, but on the way we discovered that tours at the Globe Theatre would only be going on in the morning as there would be a show that afternoon, so we had to adjust our plans to start there, as visiting the Globe was one of our prime objectives.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is not on the exact location of the original Globe, which burnt to the ground twice before the replica that now stands on the Bankside of the Thames. The original site is about a block and a half away and there is a large metal plaque on the wall that memorializes the spot. The new Globe is the brainchild and life's passion work of Sam Wannamaker, American film actor and director, who was terribly bothered on a trip to England in 1954 or thereabouts when he asked a cab driver to take him to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and the cabbie took him to a plaque on the wall. He couldn't believe that there was no Globe Theatre. Thus began a lifelong journey to recreate the place where so many of Shakespeare's works were first performed.

The theatre itself is absolutely beautiful with incredible acoustics and fanciful designs on the ceiling and support beams. The caretakers of this marvellous place run the theatre in as authentic a manner as possible: there are no microphones used, the band is live, and the "stinkards" who can only afford the cheapest tickets will stand in the pit for the entire two-hour performance without intermission. Fantastic! Gold star for anyone who knows how they got their name the "stinkards".

After our time at the Globe, we scurried back across the London Bridge and along the river to the Tower of London. We showed our passes and went inside. The Tower of London is essentially a fortress of several towers where the monarchs of Great Britain used to live and do business. Now it is essentially a museum. The crown jewels are housed there along with quite a collection of ancient weapons and suits of armor and things like that. It is also the location of the famous "Gunpowder Plot" in which a network of terrorists attempted to blow up Parliament. They were not successful, however. Every year the ringleader of the plot, Guy Fawkes, is burned in effigy and they set off fireworks to commemorate the near miss. This year is the 400-year anniversary of the plot, so there are all sorts of activities and exhibits and things around that event. It has been very educational for me. Guy Fawkes and his crew were Catholic and the reason behind their plot was to overthrow the tyrannical monarch who would not allow them to practice their religion openly. In retrospect it makes me wonder who was the real terrorist in the situation. Then again, I could be slightly biased by my belief in religious freedom.

After our visit to the Tower, we hurried back across the Tower Bridge to the HMS Belfast, which was a battleship that was instrumental in the Allied success in World War II. It has been permanently moored along the Bankside of the Thames since 1971 when it was converted to a floating museum. One can explore all of its 9 decks including the engine room and the bridge. We found ourselves a bit short on time here, because needed to make it to our last stop by 4:00pm if we wanted to do the Vinopolis tour. So we only had about 40 minutes to explore the ship. We probably could have used a couple of hours. But I guess that's the downside of the London Pass. You want to squeeze in as many attractions as possible to get the best value, but then you end up rushing through things.

In the end I was really pleased that we did hurry to get to Vinopolis, because it was one of the most enjoyable activities of the day. This is a place that has a café out front and an incredible wine cellar. It is essentially a wine shop and museum, because in the back, they have a detailed display showing exhibits about wines from around the world. The displays are fantastic, showing how wines are made and how the wines from different areas are unique. And the best part is that along with your entrance fee to the exhibit, you get 5 tickets to taste different wines at the tasting tables set up along the way, and a ticket for a Bombay Saphire cocktail in the Bombay Saphire room. Excellent!

We started the tour with a 20-minute lesson on wine tasting. I now have a sense of how to determine the alcoholic content of wine and whether it has a fruity, spicy, woodsy, or vegetable taste to it. I also know that it is not bad manners to slurp your wine. In fact, it actually helps you to taste it better as you send air through it, because your sense of smell is really what is doing the work here. Beccy B. and Jennie D. I really had you in my heart as I was doing this tour!

As we went, I found that if a table was particularly busy, or I was able to distract the pourers with conversation, then they might forget to ask me for a ticket, and I would be able to get an extra taste. I know, how naughty of me! Believe me, I was feeling very happy when I left Vinopolis.

After spending some time at Vinopolis, trying a number of new wines, and the Bombay Saphire cocktail and my first taste of Absenth, we headed over on the Underground to Piccadilly Circus to see if we could get tickets to see a show. There are little stands where you can get last minute tickets and often there will be people standing out in front of the theatres offering tickets that people cancelled at the last minute and things like that. We were unable to get tickets for "Guys and Dolls", which I really want to see, but we were able to get some fourth row tickets to see "We Will Rock You" which is a rock musical based on the music of Queen. It was absolutely fantastic! The energy was incredible. It was set in the future in a time when any music that is not electronically produced has been outlawed, yet there is a group of outcasts who are seeking the real thing. Jen B. you would love it! JK you could be in it! Anyway, it was a great way to end a highly energetic and activity-filled day.
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