Wednesday, June 16, 2010

UK Travelogue, Part 4: Dressed to Kill

DAY FOUR: Tuesday, June 1
Of course I awoke several times throughout the course of the night and early morning: we were after all staying in a hostel, which meant shrill voices down the stairs at odd hours, heavy-footed tromping in the halls, and a general commotion nearly 24-hours of the day. But in the end, my final awakening came at 8:00am. As Bethany didn’t rise to the bell until nearly 9:00, meaning I had plenty of time for a leisurely cup of coffee in the lounge before she was ready to go.

Due to some issues with the travel cards that we had pre-ordered (for the express purpose of saving time and not having to go down to the Britain and London Tourist Center office to collect them) we headed down to the Britain and London Tourist Center office at Piccadilly Circus to get the kinks worked out.

The day had started a bit overcast, but by the time we came out of the office, a light rain was coming down. Flipping up the hoods to our rain jackets, we marched down Regent Street to Pall Mall, and then almost without knowing it, came across the front of Buckingham Palace.... along with about two million other people people, all of them clustered around in groups, umbrellas tightly bunched together in clumps. Must have been close to the time of the changing of the guards, I figured.

The rain started coming down harder. Bethany turned her back on the palace and wandered into Green Park. “I’m not feeling the crowds today,” she told me. Then, “It smells really good in here.”

We walked up through the park back toward Piccadilly, enjoying some shelter from the rain under the canopy of great trees. We also glanced askance at the many colorful elephant sculptures on display in the park. On another day, we might have jumped with them as a backdrop, but in the cold and the rain, we just weren’t feeling it.

To be honest, at that point I was still feeling that the trip might turn out to be a bit of a bummer.

Back along Piccadilly, we walked to the top of the park and caught the underground at Green Park station, taking the Jubilee Line across to the London Bridge station on the other side of the Thames. This made Bethany inordinately happy, as she had been hoping to take the Jubilee at some point due solely to the fact that she thought it was a great name.

Walking up Tooley Street in the direction that we hoped was the water (word to the wise: it wasn’t, as I see on the map here that Tooley runs parallel to the Thames, but it was raining so you have to cut us some map-reading slack) we found instead signs leading us to the highly-anticipated (at least by us) “Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience.”

Approach to the excellent Winston Churchill's WWII Experience.

This small but excellent museum excellently combines a few multimedia features with a satisfactory array of memorabilia. Seen fresh on the heels of reading Connie Willis’s Blackout, the experience could not have made a better impression on us. We took our time through the exhibits. Bethany especially seemed keen to read every single line of every single sign on every single display. I, of course, took more to skimming and soaking in the overall experience.

Extreme awesomeness.

Are you my mummy?

Naturally, the museum ended in a tiny but well stocked gift shop, where I purchased a few small items that will be useful when I start teaching history classes in the fall: replicas of ration booklets, identity papers, a children’s evacuation tag, an ARP booklet, etc. All seemed if not reasonably priced, at least affordable, and thus with our clothes dried out and our minds well satiated with historical detail, we sallied forth back into the gray London afternoon.

The rain had turned into a light mist. We wandered through it blithely, at last glimpsing the London Bridge through a break in the skyline, and being the alert tourists that we are, we immediately made our way in the general direction.

There we were at London Bridge (or Tower Bridge, as I know now... we had them quite confused), one of the more recognizable symbols of London that we were likely to come across. There was nothing for it but to run up on it and start jumping around.

London Bridge Jump!

London Jump!

After we got our jumps out, we toured the London Bridge exhibition (which required more stair climbing than I would have liked…. Next time I’ll claim to be disabled). From there it was just a short walk back across the bridge to view the engine rooms, something I found a snooze but the more mechanically-minded would no doubt enjoy immensely.


Upon our exit from the engine rooms, we happened upon a very odd scene: several footballers wearing small white shorts, red jerseys, and skull-cap-with-fringes-of-gray-hair things on their heads were dancing around behind a post box while a film crew recorded their every move. It was the oddest thing. They were quite chipper, dancing around and singing, “Now’s the time to do it all again,” or some such. Perhaps something to do with the upcoming World Cup? Whatever the reason, we approved.

While singing, "NOW'S the TIME to do it all again - OY!"

Back across London Bridge we went, this time headed for the Tower of London. We joined the masses as they snaked through the narrow passages and stairs of the various towers, seeing rooms where various kings fled for refuge, viewing torture chambers, and straining our eyes to read well-preserved graffiti scratched into the walls of the dimly-lit rooms.
In the central White Tower, we roved through the current exhibit of the Royal Armouries’ collection, including the very large armor of Henry VIII (and I’m sorry, Jonathan Rhys-Myers could not have stood up under such a load, skinny little stick figure that he is. Fine actor he may be, but Henry VIII look-a-like he is not. Not that I’ve seen any of The Tudors…. I’m just saying!).

The White Tower

At that point, my feet had started to hurt and Bethany had begun to feel museumed-out. Too much historical detail had started to overwhelm my brain. We hurried through the very interesting exhibits, only stopping to glance at things that really caught our eye, and then exited once again into what had turned back into a drizzle.

In an ill-advised attempt to reach Shakespeare’s Globe before the last tour at 5:00pm, we crossed back over the London Bridge yet again and headed down the wrong but then eventually right way along the Thames Path. At 4:45, when we were still not within sight of the Globe - and rain had finally begin to seep through my canvas shoes and freeze my feet - we repaired to a Pizza Express for a hot, delicious dinner of shared pizza and pasta, topping it all off with fresh mint tea, piping hot and fragrant.

We sat for a while, letting the warmth seep into our bones. We talked back over the day, discussing our various highs and lows, and deciding that we felt that our vacation was finally looking up. No more Failcation, we vowed, coming just short of clinking glasses to mark the occasion.

A quick tube ride back to Earl’s Court, and the rain seemed to be getting heavier. We decided on a quiet, early night in. After all, tomorrow we planned an early start.

3 comments:

  1. Is that different that the Churchill Museum that is below Downing Street in his actual bunker? We went to that one and it was made of awesome.

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  2. Yes, it's different. We went to the Cabinet War Rooms, and they WERE made of awesome! This one was too, but a different kind of awesome... Very worth a visit.

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  3. Yes, we loved the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms so much, but we really didn't devote the time to the museum that we should have. I would like to go back. Most of the displays were interactive, and we didn't have a lot of time that day to mess around.

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