Friday, October 20, 2006

The Stories: London

London was an absolute crazy day. Not because of the continually starting and stopping rain (we were used to that by then) or because we got lost (we beat the system by taking the hop on hop off tour). Mostly because we tried to do all of London in a single day. Who planned this anyway? Oh.... me.

We easily made it into the city and found the tour. Settling in to our seats on the top of the double decker bus, we plugged in our earphones and started the "official tour of British wit". It wasn't called that, but the commentary wasn't the dry tourist stuff I was expecting.

We did our first "hop off" at the House of Parliament/Westminster Abbey stop. The house of parliament (and Big Ben) were as fantastic as I expected. It was weird to be there in a spot I had seen so many times in pictures. This was a feeling that continued most of the day.

Before I go further I have to digress for a minute. Growing up I was a huge fan of Princess Diana. I read everything I could find about her, analyzed her clothes and everything she did. So, much of London was a tour of all the places I had "seen" watching her.

We went into Westminster Abbey (no photography - sigh) and smushed together with the rest of the British population and tourists to shuffle through the tiny rooms. I learned something very important about Stork there. He REALLY likes to read. Like every word he comes across. There are a lot of words in Westminster Abbey. Of course, he did find many of the coolest things there while I wandered around staring at the ceiling or whispering "I can't believe I'm here!". Saw all the graves of the dead kings and queens. The building itself is amazing. It totally lived up to my expectations and my expectations were really high.

The most interesting moment was finding the pulpit right in the main nave that was dedicated to William Carey, the founder of the modern missions movement. I wasn't expecting to see his words "Expect great things of God. Attempt great things for God" in this temple to the opulence of the British monarchy. It was also cool to see the statue of William Wilberforce and the clear presentation of his motives and the gospel on it. It was a breath of fresh air after all the plaques detailing the importance of the people buried there.

The Abbey was probably the most overwhelming moment of the trip. Standing in the place where Princess Diana's funeral was held, where Sarah and Andrew got married and where so many coronations took place was awesome.

But, we were on a tight timeline, so not much time to pause and reflect. Off to get back on the tour and head to our next stop - lunch. You'd think London - huge city full of people, there must be lots of good food. So, our grand plan was to get on the tour bus and watch for possibilities and then jump off at the next stop when we saw something. This is THE WORST LUNCH STRATEGY EVER. Well, it might not have been a bad lunch strategy, but we drove by the worst restaurant in London and picked it for lunch. The name was bad (I can't even remember it, but it was bad) and it had a "Cream Tea" sign in neon in the window. What about a neon sign made me think this cream tea would be good, I don't know. But I did.

We got the world's worst jacket potatoes. The cheese on the top had clearly been melted hours before and then heated up. The insides were like they had been re-heated in a nuclear microwave. I burned the entire inside of my mouth, which may have been a blessing as I then couldn't taste anything. After I ordered and paid for my cream tea they informed me they didn't have it and would be giving me tea and a German biscuit. Whatever. This was the low point of London and maybe the whole trip.

Things improved after that. Well, really they had to because there was nowhere else to go. We stopped next at St. Paul's Cathedral. We didn't pay for the whole tour, but we walked around the outside and took a little peak inside. Amazing. Huge. Cavernous. But what is with the flooring that looks like it comes from a family Italien restaurant? I'm just saying. Next trip to London I'm definitely doing the full tour.

The next stop was the Tower Bridge, which we walked across. The British clearly aren't as worried about lawsuits as the Americans. The railings on the side barely came up to my waist. Given my fear of bridges I was hugging the inside of the sidewalk whenever possible. We walked around the Tower of London. We walked around lots of non-descript buildings looking for any bathrooms (another theme of England - why must they be so hard to find??).

The next tour bus we jumped on had an interesting tour director who was a little, how shall we say.... bitter, about modern art. He kept us laughing for the next leg of the tour talking about different award winning pieces of modern art that he didn't feel were all that special. We stopped laughing when we realized we were on the wrong bus. Oops!

Back on the right bus we took a swing by Buckingham Palace. I waved to the Queen but got no response. I hear she's a little reserved.

Soon after that we ditched the tour and went walking in Hyde Park. After a little fun with maps we found the Diana Memorial. Seeing it at first I didn't get it. A cement trench with water. What??? But the more time we spent there, the more I got into it. It's a very cool spot and I'm really glad we went. And thankful that Stork knew how important it was to me and made sure we got there. To prove I was there, Stork took a picture of me lying on the memorial taking pictures. I think all the pictures of me in England involve me on my stomach taking a picture of something.

Next we headed into Kensington Gardens to find Kensington Palace. One of the few perks of the constant rain/sun/rain/sun pattern of the day was that we saw a bunch of rainbows. They always took me by surprise.

Kensington Palace was a little bit of a letdown. Not much to see. So, we consulted the travel guide for a place to eat dinner. After our lunch experience we didn't trust our instincts. We found a fabulous fish place that was really nice and served good food. Score again for the Lonely Planet guide. (for those keeping score, me and Stork are about 0 for 6 at this point on choosing our own restaurants).

After dinner we ditched our possible evening plans and headed back to the B&B completely exhausted. On the train we met a really nice British couple and had an interesting political discussion. Nice to talk to regular people and get a glimpse into regular life.

Tomorrow: Back to Manchester


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