Update: A football match the other day here in London resulted in a about a hundred people rioting and a guy getting stabbed in the chest. I think it's the worst in years for them here. I guess there is a reason that they need riot police at matches.
I arrived to London and checked into my new hostel with relative ease. I booked at supposedly one of the top 10 hostels in the world. Per the hostel, it has up to 800 beds, own bar and club, and a travel desk. I figured I would try it out.
I arrived very early in the day so that meant I had loads of time to go exploring
. Since it was Monday, I asked the staff if the world-famous British Museum was closed since this seems to be the day to close museums around Europe. It wasn't and it was only a short walk from my hostel. So I made my way over to the hostel and it was free to get in. The whole British Museum is basically stolen goods from all over the world from back in the day that the other country's are pissed about. Got to love global power back then. I quickly found the Rosetta Stone and fought to get a bad picture of it like everyone else. I didn't know but it was how archaelogists discovered how the ancient language of hieroglyphics was deciphered. It was written in 3 different languages including Greek which helped them considerably. Then I just walked around a bit and got lost. Again I hate to be an art snob now, but most of what I've seen elsewhere is just about the same. I think I am officially museumed out at this point. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy going to them but I've been to so many and have lost their luster right now. I think I have to wait at least 6 months before I can step foot in another one. Nothing else really comes to mind at what I saw that is worth mentioning. Ooohhh....they did have a perfectly preserved human and some pots. I forget how old it was or how it got buried or preserved but it was neat to see. After 3 hours of museum wandering, I tried to catch the start of the free-tour near Hyde Park but just missed it by a few minutes. So since I was among some neat War Memorials, I wandered around quite a bit
. The British also honor countries like Australia and New Zealand for their help over the years. I decided to call it a day since it was dinner time and I was hungry. Since I was in an International city I thought I would use it for its full advantage for the cuisine. Since I love sushi and haven't had it in a long time, I made my way and found some sushi. Not the best, not the worse, quite expenensive, but it hit the spot that I've been longing to fill. I went back to the hostel and met a roommate. He was a 20 year old engineering student from New Zealand and we decided to go to the bar and try the quiz there. The quiz was 4 rounds long for 10 questions a piece and lets just say we kicked-ass! There were only 6 teams but we won. The prizes were crap but I wasn't in it for the reward. Just for the fun.
I woke up early and headed out. Since this is London I wanted to go check out the world-famous Changing of the Guard Ceremony they have in the morning. In August they only have it every other day so I chose this day to go. It startes at 11:30 am so I planned to be there a bit earlier just to beat the crowd. I also wanted to go to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. Speakers Corner is a corner in the park that is open to people to say whaterver they want. Some are hard core religious types, others are anti or pro that. People come to watch and also to heckle at the speakers
. I saw it in a movie one time and thought it would be fun to see. Its a Sunday morning thing but I read that it is sometimes on other days so I went there first off and was all alone. So I just walked along Hyde Park a bit and made my way to Buckingham Palace. At this point it was about 10am and of course packed with people. I nudged my way so I could see in the gate and I think I stood there for about 30 minutes and decided to take another crack at it another day. It was raining a bit and by this point I was too hungry and the crowds of people starting to push from behind. So I just found the nearest food stand and grabbed a bite to eat. Then made my way over the entrance of the Buckingham Palace. Paid my ridiciously high fee as always, and entered. You won't see any pictures because you weren't allowed. Since I'm also a Palace snob now, I think this was the coolest Palace I've seen yet. It was just so neat walking around it and seeing all the neatly decorated rooms and furniture. They even had Rembrandt and Rubens paintings in there. I saw the thrones where the ballrooms are, walked up the staircase where family pictures are taken, drawing room this, picture room that. They had some really cool furniture with chandeliers and awesome clocks everywhere. In their dining room they had 3 pieces of serving dish platter things just sitting out. It was silver with surrounded by gold and looked incredible. The Palace was really cool and I really enjoyed myself walking around it but wish I could of taken pictures. But then I would've been there for awhile just like all the other tourists. Next I did some wandering and I walked to Piccadilly Circus Square. It's supposed to be the Times Square of London. It wasn't anywhere near the size and craziness as the NYC one. But I walked through it and came upon a box office for Les Miserables. My original plan while in London was to see a Shakespeare theater show but the ones that were offered didn't sound too good so I passed on it
. But I asked the box office if they had cheap seats and they had the second cheapest seat in the very first row so I bought it. I continued walking and found Soho with the gay part of town and all their sex shops. As I was walking around, I stumbled upon a building that had two barriers between it and two guys with machine guns out in front. Then I looked up and saw the American flag waving in all her glory. It was the US Embassy. Me being the guy that I am, I walked up to a guy with a machine gun and asked if they give tours to US citizens. He said to me in his British accent, "Are you joking." And I responded in my best Dirty Harry voice, "Do I look like a guy that jokes." Okay, that part didn't happen but I did ask why not and he said that it is hard enough to get in with an appointment. I thought to myself that it is pretty bad when you have to be deeply fortified in your closest ally's country and not let in your own citizens. I think they had more guards and gates than where PM Gordon Brown lives and works. I would hate to see the US Embassy in Baghdad. Then proceeded to walk in a big circle all the way back to Hyde Park so I could make the free-tour this time. I made it this time and walked around on the tour for almost three hours. Discovered some cool stuff around the city as usual that I would of missed otherwise. There is this "art exhibit" on a square that is just an elevated platform and some random person up on it. The exhibit runs for 100 days long and anyone can submit an application oline and you have 1-hour up on the platform and you can do anything that you want to do
. I saw it two times and the first girl held up signs of something and the other one read poetry. It's pretty cool. Then the tour continued south to Westminister Abbey and the Parliament building. Since my show started soon after the tour, I had to book it there and inhale a McNasty sandwich or else I wouldn't of made it throught the show. I found my seat which was in row BB with rows going from A-V. So the row BB was the row before row A and had a limited view. I was right in the middle and about 5 ft from the conductor and 5 ft from the actors when they would come right up the edge of the stage. I thought it was actually kind of cool. It beats being back in the nose-bleed section even though I couldn't see their feet unless they were just about spitting on me. The play itself was pretty cool and I enjoyed it. I wish I could see more theater shows but since I will be living in Portland, I probably won't get the chance too often. Unless I more to NYC or something. But I'll do what I can.
My 3rd day consisted of me waking up really early and getting an early start on the day. I headed for the Tower of London and got there right when it just about opened. The Tower of London is a 1,000 year old fortress, castle, and prison. It's basically right in the middle of the city and it is pretty bad-ass. The place has been built and destroyed over the years and even has a few parts built by the Romans that are barely standing
. I only planned on spending about 2 hours there but there was just so much to see I stayed for 3 hours I think. First I headed to the Royal Jewel collection. They had crowns galore, orbs, spheres on display and some were dated hundreds of years ago. They even have the world's largest diamond in the handle of a mace. This thing is 530 carats. It was cut from a larger diamond that was over 3,000 carats. These crowns have the biggest diamonds and other gems all over these things. Of course no pictures were taken. It was funny, they had all the crowns lined up in cases and two moving walkways going really slow on both sides of the cases. They designed it that way so people wouldn't stand there forever and block people. They had this punch bowl thad held 144 bottles of wine and I think was silver with gold on the outside. It was really really cool to see with little animals and people figurines on the outside. Next I just wondered around and found a pretty cool museum. It was designed by or in conjunction with the Hisory Channel for a special about Henry VIII. It basically talked about him and had a ton of his weapons, inventions, and armor. It showcased his armor when he was young and fit, and also had his last armor suit before he died and was a lot bigger. Then I found the torture and also the prison. The torture room had a few different instruments of fun that included the stretching table. It looked like harmless fun to me! The prison was neat because it had etchings in the walls from real prisoners back in the day. Some were a few hundred years old. After my fun in the castle, I went to the Tower Bridge which is the world-famous bridge with tall spheres on either side. I paid my money and made the climb up the the walkway on top. I learned that it was finshed back in 1894 and was revolutionary back in the day. It was cool and provided some good views of the city. Next I Tubed(subway) it and went to the Cavalry inspection show. It's a daily thing that is kind of like the Changing of the Guard but on a much smaller scale and not as well known
. I watched the people do their thing in their snazzy uniforms and wasn't too impressed. It wasn't that I wasn't impressed by the military snazziness, it was more of how touristy it all is. I'm guessing that if there weren't any tourists, there would be no show. Then I proceeded to the Winston Churchill Museum and underground war rooms from WWII. It was pretty cool to see the old rooms where Winston and his staff were planning military moves in WWII. The Winston Churchill Museum was in a different section but part of the overall exhibit. I'm guessing this was very new because they had so many touch-screens and other interactive exhibits that I've never seen before in a museum. It was really cool. I could of spent hours in there but the museum was closing soon so I spent about an hour in there learning about him. Neat stuff!
Since no trip to England would be complete without seeing Stonehenge, that's exactly what I did. Since Stonehenge is no way near London, you have to take a bunch of different buses and maybe a taxi just to reach it. Or book a trip through the hostel and pay the price. So that's what I did and it included a trip to the city of Bath. Bath is another World Heritage Site because the city has ancient Roman Bath-houses in the middle of the city that were recently discovered a few hundred years ago and still has so much that is undiscovered. -The pick-up point for the trip was early and then I spent the next 1.5 hours driving around London picking up other people along the way
. It wouldn't of been bad except that the city of Bath is almost to the border of Wales and 2.5 hours away. So I spent my morning on a bus for 5 hours and finally arrived in Bath. We were escorted in the site and given an audio guide. It seemed like every little column or artifact had something to listen to. Which meant hordes of people blocking the way to tons of stuff. I could only take so many audio guide clippings before it became overwhelming. But the baths themselves were pretty cool to see. You can even walk on the same rocks that ancient Romans used to walk on and do their thing. The baths were a natural hot spring and in one pool you can even see air bubbling up in the water. The place is even more than just a big pool. It was kind of a mini-city that had a gym and altar and you can see a lot of this when walking around. Apparently this Roman bath was used by all classes of people. Including slaves as well. It was pretty cool! -Afterward I just did some wandering around the city and ate my last fish & chips of England. Then it was back on the bus for an hour long ride to Stonehenge. I luckily took a nap and awoke to be in the parking lot. We hopped off the bus and were again escorted in the place and given an audio guide. We had an hour to wander and do our thing. It was cool to see the big stones just sitting there in the field under a sunny partly-cloudy day. I wish we had more time there so you could just sit and relax and maybe bring some lunch, but beggars can't be choosers. The hour was spent snapping pictures and listening to the different points of interest on the audio guide. Apparently there are two other sites, but this is obviously the most famous. I was pretty happy to see Stonehenge because I have always wanted to see it in person and put that check in the box. Along with scores of other places in the world. Back on the bus and another nap helped the time fly by again. Made it back into London in time to hit traffic. Boooo....
-Update: I may have been a little harsh about the British accents. I think it may just be a northern or Liverpool thing. The local British folk have a much more understandable accent. And so far I'm loving London. So much to see, so little time!