European Vacation Fall 2013 – London

London – Thursday, October 3

London Hilton Tower Bridge
This is the view from the executive lounge of the Hilton London Tower Bridge. Toto, we’re not in Italy any more.

This is the last of five posts from our trip to Europe in the fall of 2013. I already mentioned how long we stood in London customs. What a contrast to entering Italy. Italy was like, “come on in. Stay a while. Spend your money.” We had already been through London customs on Saturday, so we knew it wasn’t that loose but today was special. The line halted when we reached the mid point. Suddenly, there were only two agents checking people through and one guy was clearly struggling with his answers. Almost an hour later, more agents were active but that guy was still ineffectively trying to gain UK access with the customs agent next to ours. As our agent passed us through, I heard the disheartened agent say in her English understated tone “Trap door, trap door, where is my trap door.” Once we emerged from customs, we found our driver who informed us he was going to give us just another 10 minutes before leaving. Knowing we were tourists, he gave us a mini tour around Hyde Park, by Buckingham Palace, through Trafalgar Square, then up the River Thames by the IBM building, the Tower of London, over Tower Bridge, and finally our fifth hotel of the week, the Hilton Tower Bridge. After checking in, London weather gave us a London welcome. We had been on the go for nearly a week, so we decided to stay in and rest up for our final marathon day.

Friday, October 4

To catch all the best sights in the shortest time, we booked the Big Bus Tour around the city. The Big Bus is one of those double-decker bus tours around the city. You can hop off and on all day long. Our first stop was the famous Tower of London. The name is actually deceiving because it’s not a tower at all but rather a fortress where Kings and Queens occasionally resided. It became famous as a prison for enemies of the state, especially during the reign of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and their family. I found it interesting to learn that most of the past and present Crown Jewels are kept there and out for display in the tower.

Outside the walls of the fortress, Deb discovered something she had been missing, Starbucks. It was chilly and rainy so let’s say she was once again right with the world once she bought her Starbucks. We even rode on top of the bus as it rained. As we neared our next stop, it was hard not to notice The London Eye, which is the world’s biggest ferris wheel.

Our next stop was at world famous Big Ben, Parliament, and West Minster Abbey. We decided to go into West Minster Abbey. After all the churches in Italy, I was frankly not ready to visit the Abbey, especially for a £36 fee. Watching Deb soak it all in was worth every shilling. I would bet you didn’t know that both Isaac Newton and Darwin were buried in the Abbey along with 3,000 other Kings, Queens, politicians, artists, scientists, poets, and musicians. It was a historical and visual feast. This is the church where Kings are coronated and royalty is married. Too bad they don’t let you take pictures. It was after lunch time, so we dropped into a pub near Parliament, below Westminster Bridge. And suddenly, I was home. Deb’s motherland was in Italy earlier in the week. Now, I have come home to mine. The sun came out, so we decided to walk over to Buckingham Palace through St. James park to take in the beautiful day.  Along the way, Deb found an opportunity to  prove she was right about the existence of London’s iconic red phone booths even in a modern, cell phone world, counter my logic. We hopped back on the bus to loop through Hyde Park, past Baker Street made famous by the fictional Sherlock Holmes, Piccadilly Circus, which is actually a circular roundabout, to Trafalgar Square, which is not a square. We hopped off the bus near Trafalgar Square because the Big Bus map suggested we could find the place that inspired Diagon Alley from Harry Potter. We walked  from Trafalgar Square up to China town but couldn’t find anything that resembled Diagon Alley in spite of the advertisements to the contrary. Back on the bus again to make our final stop at the London Eye.

Friday Evening, October 4

London at Dusk
This is our view of London at dusk from atop the London Eye. Nice, eh?

It was getting close to dusk and was a pretty clear evening, so we decided to take a ride around the monstrous Ferris Wheel known as the London Eye. At 443 feet, the Eye is the largest Ferris wheel in the world. We heard that views from the London Eye were stunning. I had no idea how memorable the views would be until we got to the top.

As we exited the ferris wheel, we found someone that looked like he knew what he was doing with a camera who was kind enough to capture a good picture of us with Big Ben in the background. You can tell, it was getting dark, so I decided to try a couple artistic shots of the river skyline.

London Skyline
At dusk, long exposures make for stunning pictures. This is my effort at an artistic shot of Big Ben, The Thames, and Parliament.

We had dinner along the river not far from the Eye then decided we should walk back to our hotel. Oh, that was further than either of us calculated. On our way, we walked past London Bridge, which I had been explaining to Deb was transplanted to the United States to California, New Jersey, or Arizona. But when we walked passed the new London Bridge, it confused the facts. Go look it up on Google. In 1971, the original London Bridge was transplanted brick by brick to Lake Havasu, Arizona. Yes, I was right! Those at home keeping score, it’s Deb 1, Rob 1. When we finally arrived back at our hotel, we were exhausted. According to Googlemaps, our walking mileage adds up to 4.5 miles.

  • 2 miles to the hotel from the London Eye
  • 1.5 miles from Parliament though St. James to Buckingham Palace and back to our bus stop
  • 1 mile walking around in Trafalgar Square.

It’s been an incredible and fulfilling week, one that we won’t soon repeat or replicate any time soon.

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