Friday, December 3, 2010

London: Day 1

Day 1 in London (Tuesday, October 19th) began at Heathrow airport at 7:00 am. After getting our luggage and some British pounds from an ATM, we tracked down the car service we had set up to take us to our London hotel. Like so many people, my first glimpses of Great Britain were from a car window on the way from Heathrow to our hotel, watching as we went from the outskirts of London closer to its core. This is probably a stupid thing to say, but it really felt like I was on the other side of the world- it felt turned around somehow and I don’t think it was just the jet lag or driving on the wrong side of the road.
The NH Harrington Hall Hotel: our temporary home away from home.

The car dropped us off at the NH Harrington Hall Hotel in South Kensington. We left our bags with the bellhop, pulled out Rick Steves’ "Guide to London," my pocket London street atlas and prepared to take the city by storm. Which meant figuring out where the nearest Tube station was. And breakfast.
Luckily the Gloucester Road Tube station was a mere 3 minute walk from our hotel. Across the street from the tube station was a take-out burger joint called "Byron: Proper Hamburgers" (how British is that!) and an outlet of Paul Patisserie. Paul had been recommended to me by two very credible London insiders (thanks Shannon and Jen!) and ended up being one of the staples of our London diet. It is a French patisserie and coffee shop that has crossed the channel. It is basically as ubiquitous as Starbucks-- it's hard to go a few blocks without seeing one-- but the pastries are much better. Ranell began her day with Pain au Chocolat and Hot Chocolate (French-style...super dark) while I got a Hazelnut Steamer, with a Chausson Pommes (apple turnover) and a mini brioche. We sipped our drinks and nibbled our pastries in the chilly October air before going to the Tube station to buy our Oyster Card (tube pass) for the week. 
A view of The Tower of London from the outside.

First stop: The Tower of London. We started out with the "Beefeater Tour" (picture the red and black uniform with a funny hat) which points out the major spots of importance in the Tower complex (i.e. where the crown jewels are kept, where Anne Boleyn was beheaded, etc.). The Tower is over 1000 years old and has a bloody, terrible history. It has served as a medieval palace, an arsenal, a prison, the site for executions/torture and a fortress. 

We finished the Beefeater Tour and then saw the Crown Jewels and some of the other highlights, including a display of 500 years of royal armor. This whole part of the trip is a bit hazy: it is covered in a fog of jet lag and sleepiness. If I was a caffeine person, this would have been a great time to have some on hand. Sleepiness aside, it was fascinating. I think my favorite part was the medieval stone chapel that was 1000 years old. There was a beautiful ancient simplicity that was touching.
Going up the winding stairs in the Tower of London. Standing in front of the Jewel House, where the Crown Jewels are kept.
Standing in the middle of the Tower complex.
Outside the walls of the Tower fortress.

Ranell in front of Tower Bridge.
Did you know that Tower Bridge is painted blue because it was Queen Victoria's favorite color?
By the time we finished at the Tower of London, we were starving. Luckily, right outside the walls of the Tower fortress, overlooking the Thames River, was a small outlet of... you guessed it: Paul Patisserie. So I fortified myself for further adventures with an outstanding Quiche Lorraine before buying a ticket for a boat cruise on the Thames to Westminster.

Shakespeare's Globe
County Hall, also the site of the London Aquarium.
The Millenium Footbridge: Crosses the Thames from St. Paul's to the Tate Modern Gallery.
Cleopatra's Needle
Our jet-lagged haze was interrupted by a jolt of calories -- at least enough that we could enjoy our boat cruise from the Tower of London to Westminster. We saw views from the river of the Tate Modern Gallery, Shakespeare's Globe, Cleopatra's Needle, City Hall, County Hall, the London Eye and lots of other things I can't remember off the top of my head.

Big Ben.

Palaces of Westminster and Big Ben

The boat cruise ended at Westminster Bridge, right outside the Palaces of Westminster (currently home to the Houses of Parliament) and Big Ben. We walked a few blocks to Westminster Abbey, founded in 960, resting place seventeen British monarchs and many of Britain's most famous figures; also the coronation church since 1066. But the present church isn't actually that old-- it was only
begun in 1245 (sheesh, practically a baby).
Westminster Abbey

The inner courtyard

The inner courtyard of the Abbey
More of Westminster Abbey
After taking the Abbey audio tour and duly visiting the final resting places of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Edward Longshanks, Sir Isaac Newton, George Frederick Handel and Muzio Clementi (among others), we finished our visit with a visit to the gift shop and an Evensong Service featuring the Abbey Choir (free choir concert!).

At this point it was past dinner time. Jet lag and exhaustion took over, so we headed back to our hotel. I determined that the "Business Center" of the hotel was not worth using, even with 15 minutes of free internet time (it took about 4 minutes just to get logged into the computer, open up Internet Explorer and get logged into Gmail), took a much-needed shower, reviewed plans for our exciting Day 2 and collapsed into a deep sleep.

1 comment:

shannon said...

Yay, the Europe posts! Looks like you had a great start to your trip. Wish I had been there with you. Well I was sort of, but it would have been fun to meet up! Next time we're both in London, okay? :) Thanks for doing your part to keep Paul in business!