I thought we
were going to stop at St. Paul's Cathedral, but all we did was drive by
it. We went down the hilly Fleet Street, famous for all the newspapers
that had offices there. Fleet Street became synonymous with print media.
The newspapers have all moved away, but the nickname remained. Charles
Dickens once worked nearby. The coach took us through Parliament Square
(which we just walked through), and Trevor pointed out some tents at one
end of the square. It was an anti-war protest that had been camped out
there for years. He talked about the London Eye, and said that since it
was sponsored by British Airways, a ride on the wheel is called a "flight."
There is a statue of Oliver Cromwell around the corner from Parliament
Square. Appropriately, Cromwell is facing a model of the head of Charles
I, set in a wall across the street.
||Our guide was an outgoing buy named Trevor. He seemed to like his job,
and enjoyed talking about London. The first thing we did was head for the
City of London– a separate entity from Greater London, sometimes called
the Square Mile. This was the heart of London's business center. About
8,000 people live there, but about 300,000 work there. Across the river,
we could see the headquarters of MI-6, England's international spy center.
The coach also took us by the ordinary office building that used to be
the headquarters of MI-5, which conducts domestic intelligence. The location
of MI-5 was, for years, a state secret, unknown to everyone... except London
cab drivers. It made me think of the old British TV show "The Avengers."
Since John Steed investigated international and domestic crimes, the joke
was that he worked for MI-5 ½.
We also saw the 40-story office building Londoners have nicknamed "The
We rode under Caring Cross Bridge and past Cleopatra's Needle.We crossed
to the other side of the Thames, then returned by coming back over Tower
Bridge. We could see the HMS Belfast anchored just down river. From
there, we went to the Tower of London.
The original White Tower was built right after the Norman Conquest,
and the grounds expanded over the centuries into a huge complex. It was
much bigger than I imagined. Inside the walls, it was like a little town
in itself. The moat has since dried up, but you can still see where it
was. We walked past Traitor's Gate, where prisoners were taken to the Tower.
We went to see the Crown Jewels, and they were breathtaking... as soon
as we got to them. The crowns and jewelry are secured inside the Tower
grounds in a building called Jewel House. The interior is designed for
hundreds of people to see the jewels, so they have queues set up in front
of video screens so that people will have something to watch while they
wait in line. That day, however, there were no crowds, so we got right
in. Or would have, if the lines hadn't been held up by people standing
still watching the videos. We got around them finally. The cases of
the Crown Jewels themselves are surrounded by moving sidewalks, so people
don't linger too long. They were absolutely gorgeous. I think my favorite
was Queen Victoria's tiny crown, not much bigger than a softball.
Inside the White Tower, there were displays and exhibits in every room,
but it didn't seem crowded. The collection of swords and muskets was wonderful.
One suit of armor had plating I'd never seen before. The Tower of London
is another place I could spend all day at.
We hurried back to the coach, which then took us to our boat cruise on
the Thames. That was fun and relaxing. We puttered up the river and back
down again for about an hour. It was neat to see the city from the river's
vantage. The tour guide pointed out a row of expensive office buildings
next to the new London Bridge; they were all owned by the government of
Kuwait. Back from the cruise, we walked past the Battle of Britain memorial,
commemorating those that were killed in the great air battle defending
the British Isles.
By then, it was after 5. Trevor had the driver drop some people off on
our way back to the tour office, so he obliged us by dropping me and Donna
back at the Kensington High Street Underground station. From there, we
walked back to the hotel. We confirmed with the Trafalgar rep that the
bus to catch our plane at Heathrow left the hotel at 8:30 the next morning.
Once we had all the details worked out, supper was a priority. Donna was
going to take a hot bath. She suggested I go find some take-away (not "take-out")
food for us to eat in the room. She didn't care what it was. Back out on
the sidewalk in front of the hotel, I started walking the opposite way
from where we'd gone before. I walked past the Kensington Olympia convention
center, contemplated Lebanese restaurant, then found Red Planet Pizza on
North End Road, across from St. Mary's Protestant Mission. I ordered a
veggie pizza for her and some chicken wings for me. Two girls wearing what
looked like stewardess uniforms waited for their pizzas with me. On the
way back, I stopped in a little store and picked up a couple bottles of
Guinness. The food really hit the spot. We stayed in the room the rest
of the evening. On TV, it was fun to watch "Doctor Who" –in England! We
watched a show about a vegetable competition at some little county fair,
and then I watched a program called "Coast." It was a documentary series
about the British coastline. The show started with the northern coast of
the Shetland Islands, at a place called Muckle Flugga. (It's funnier if
you say it with a Scottish accent.) We packed and repacked the suitcases,
trying to protect the breakable stuff we got. I had too much. I finally
declared it done and went to bed. The next day was going to be a long one.