|Day 1 (Mon Apr 4)
Vivian and Roland dropped Jen and I off at SeaTac. Had we forgotten anything? Probably. We said goodbye to the cats, left numerous instructions for Eric, loaded our 2 small bags each and headed out.
The flight was direct to London Heathrow and was... ok. We were in coach, and tried to sleep but it just didn't work out. The turbulence in the middle of the night didn't help. We sat next to a nice young man from Texas via Bellingham named Cody who littered us with formal Sirs and Maams.
Day 2 (Tue Apr 5)
Arrival London. We took the 'tube' (aka subway) from the airport to downtown and struggled to find our hotel. From the tube (one of our lines was mostly above-ground you can see thousands of brick 2-story duplexes, ala Wallace & Gromit). There are very few streetsigns here. There are some random street signs posted on sides of buildings. Anyway, we wandered around a bit and found it -- the Cherry Court hotel in Westminster near Victoria Station, £55/nt. The hotel is affordable, and what that translates into is centrally located, clean, dated, and unbelievably small! Shower is 2'x 2'. On toilet both knees touch walls. Room is 7x9. Not complaining but it does take getting used to.
We got to the hotel about 2pm, so not a ton of time for sights, our goal was to stay awake until evening to reduce jet-lag. Tried to see Westminster Abbey (actually got sidetracked by Westminster Church first), but the tours for the day were done so we postponed. We walked further, over the Thames, and took an expensive ride on the London Eye (giant ferris wheel) to get the lay of the land. With the river it's a pretty city, though not a lot of skyscrapers and a lot of sprawl instead. You can see Big Ben real well from the Eye along with... well pretty much everything.
It's pretty busy in places here, but generally the tourist traffic seems to be light except for school groups from England and France.
Based on our readings, we're sorta worried about getting pickpockeded so wear money belts. What a pain in the ass. Hope it becomes second nature soon. My belly gets in the way of that dratted thing.
We had a forgettable dinner at Wagamama, a noodle place in our guide book in Soho that we walked too far to get to, then came back and crashed hard before the sun went down.
Day 3 (Wed Apr 6)
We woke up at 7am relatively well rested. We munched on our 'breakfast' basket of oranges, bananas, orange Capri Sun and cereal bars. By 8:30 we were out of the hotel and off to catch the 'Big Bus Tour' - a double decker bus that stops at 20 or so sights around London whereupon you can hop on and off the bus and catch the next one. The weather was cold and blustery with sprinkles here and there.
We visited the National Gallery to view paintings by Monet, DaVinci, Rembrandt and Renoir. It was peaceful and free, and while some of the pieces are nice (and often extremely large), the vast majority were deeply religious so not super-meaningful to us. A million portraits of Jesus and Mary (perhaps the inspiration for the obscure band Jesus & Mary Chain?). We had fish & chips at The International, a super mod bar that the Birdseys would love-but I would have rather have Spuds Fish & Chips. Onto the bus once again and off to St. Paul's Cathedral (where Princess Diana married Prince Charles). The Cathedral is quite impressive and huge. We climbed about 550 steps to get to the top of the cathedral for a great view of the city. We took a tour from an older British fellow who obviously knew a lot about the church but had trouble remembering things in a timely manner - sort of like Q without the gadgets. We also wandered down into the crypt, which for me has always had sort of a dungeon connotation, but in fact it was well-lit, with lovely burial pieces for ~300 prominent English folks. And it even had a café! (The Crypt Café, no joke.) Back onto the bus again we stopped at the Tower of London.
The Tower of London is more a fortress than a tower. It dates back to 1100 or earlier. There were various displays of old rooms and armor and weapons, but the main draw was the Crown Jewels, which were on display. Lots of ginormous diamonds, with thousands of karats each. Fairly cool though probably not worth the time and entry fee.
We wandered back to the hotel, exhausted, and took a nap. We might be trying to see too much too fast. Sort of a primer for our travels, we have some lessons to learn to make things smoother.
Looking at the news about the Pope, we're starting to get worried about our Rome trip.
Day 4 - Thu Apr 7
Another marathon in the making. Jen and I both woke up at 5am and couldn't get back to sleep. Joys of jetlag I suppose.
Today we purchased all-day tube passes for £5 each, in order to reduce the walking that was killing our feet and Jen's knee. We started back at Westminster Abbey. This was probably the highlight of our stay in London. We again ordered up a guided tour, but this time our guide was most excellent. We saw the tombs of numerous kings past, learned about the coronation ceremonies; saw Poet's corner, and gravestones or memorials for a very long list of prominent English folks, such as Sir Issac Newton. They apparently have buried around 3000 folks there. The building is also large and magnificent, with extremely high arches, selected stained glass and just oozes rich history.
Stop 2 was Chris-centric to be sure: find authentic curry. We were told there were numerous Indian restaurants on Drummond street, and it was true though most of them were vegetarian. I found a non-vegetarian one, and while the food was excellent I'm not sure it was any better than what our restaurants in Seattle have!
After lunch we went to the British National Library, in particular to visit the 'Treasures Room,' which had on display in glass cases dozens of important old original works. About half of it is old religious texts, such as early bibles and Korans. But there were also fiction authors such as the Bronte sisters, some Beatles memorabilia, Da Vinci notebooks, a very early copy of the Magna Carta, original sheet music from various classical composers, a log book from a WWII destroyer, early maps of Britain, etc etc etc. It was good though they used very dim light (I assume to preserve the works) which made many of them difficult to read.
Stop #4 was at the nearby British Museum. This is one giant museum that would probably take a week to see completely. We followed our tour book's advice, targeting ancient Egypt (sculptures, hieroglyphs (including the most notable Rosetta Stone) and mummies, Assisi, and Greece. We also spent a little time looking at how the Roman Empire impacted Britain. Boy by then we were tuckered, and had sore feet etc. We grabbed a bite at a nearby Belgian restaurant, rode the tube back and turned in.
Tomorrow morning we fly out to Athens and then on to Santorini the following day. We're looking forward to getting a 20 degree jump in weather and trading our North Face walking shoes for Tevas and Chacos