UK Trip 2012, Day 2: Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, and more!

Today we saw the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, and several other touristy sites (such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and Trafalgar Square). For all of the pictures from this day, see the gallery here, or read on for all the juicy touristy details!

We had breakfast at the hotel, which was tasty (and free!). Basically they have a set menu and you can pick as many items from it as you want – on it was: sausage, bacon, eggs (any style), tomatoes, baked beans, and toast. Over the next couple days we ended up trying everything. The sausage was whitish and very tender. The bacon was more like a combination of Canadian bacon and ham – very good. Baked beans were as expected. The toast came with individual small glass jars of jam. I enjoyed poached eggs and also tried a “boiled egg” – it was soft boiled and came in a little egg holder. The tomatoes were interesting – they came sliced in half and with lots of oregano/thyme? and pepper on them. Very tasty.

After breakfast we took the tube to the Tower of London, which is where the city was basically founded — Romans built the first city and its walls around 100 AD (you can see pieces of these original walls in some places, but they are almost all buried). Most of the castle that still exists there was built around 1100 AD. It’s where a lot of royalty were executed for different reasons, and it’s home to the crown jewels (the main attraction). We went and saw the crown jewels first to avoid a line (we got there when it opened). I have to admit – because we saw some impressive jewels before (the Green Vault in Dresden, Germany), maybe it was not as impressive as it would have otherwise been. Basically it was a lot of royal jewels, probably most impressive being the crown of every English ruler lined up together. We hadn’t realized that every ruler got their own different crown – we though that the crown was passed on to each new ruler. The sheer opulence was also mildly disturbing – for example, there was a huge solid gold “punch bowl” (really for wine) on display among many similar “common” items made of gold. After the crown jewels we went to the “White Tower,” which is basically a museum in the Tower of London. It houses a lot of medieval suits of armor from the different kings and princes, including armor from their horses. Probably most interesting was a toilet that was centuries old – it was a hole that led down and out to a hole in the side of the tower (we were maybe about 5 or 7 stories up) that dumped onto the ground below it! After a few years they apparently put something to cover the hole on the wall so it was not so apparent from the outside. I’m sure they had no sanitation issues at all.

From the Tower of London we walked to the Tower Bridge, which goes across the Thames river, right next to the Tower of London. The Tower Bridge is where the first bridge was built in London (the current bridge was rebuilt in the late 1800s).

We then took the subway to see the Houses of Parliament, which is where Big Ben is and it’s near the London Eye (a giant Ferris Wheel over the Thames river, built just a couple years ago). We didn’t go on the London Eye (since half of us have a fear of heights), but it was neat to see.

The Houses of Parliament is surprisingly big!! It was the royal residence from the 1000s AD to the 1500s AD (then known as the Palace of Westminster), then it was mostly destroyed in the 1830s, and then it was rebuilt in the Victorian Gothic style (finished in 1860). The Houses of Parliament is right next to Westminster Abbey – considered “the greatest church in the English-speaking world” (according to our very helpful Rick Steves’ London guide book), it’s where British royalty have been married, crowned, and buried since 1066 AD. When we got there we couldn’t go in because they were preparing for a big celebration (the queen’s Jubilee), but we got to walk around it. I’ve seen a lot of gothic style churches/cathedrals before, and it seemed pretty typical to me.

From Westminster Abbey we walked around a lot, going through a shopping area up to Trafalgar Square. On the way there we saw the Royal Horse Guard — where guards on horses are. Some of the “guards” are soldiers who actually fought in Iraq. The horse guards play a role in the changing of the guard.

Trafalgar square is a pretty big, open square that is a frequent meeting place for people, although we found out it’s more popular on the weekends (it was pretty empty when we went).. The lion statues at a memorial column (to Lord Nelson, who defeated the French in 1842) were cute (Andrew enjoyed hugging them), there were lots of begging pigeons, and it’s where the National Gallery museum is. We skipped the museum for now and had lunch in a cafe in the catacombs of a church across the road, the St. Martin-in-the-Fields church (enjoying some bread pudding!). Never eaten in a catacombs café before so it was a neat experience! There were many old tombstones on the floor, but nothing else really in the way of graves.

Then we walked to Piccadilly Circus (a “circus” is a large, open meeting area), which advertised lots of plays/musicals in the evening, but otherwise did not seem to have a lot going on. We went to Piccadilly Circus to find a 7-story toy store I’d heard about. Being the educational scientist I am, I wanted to look at their educational science toys, but they didn’t really have much – they had some standard science kits, but that was about it. Lots of stuffed animals, a section of the store on Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and younger kid toys. We also checked out their board game/puzzle section since we’re into European (specifically German) board games, but they really didn’t have a good selection of those either.

In Piccadilly Circus we also stopped by an arcade, but it didn’t have much going on either – most of it was closed (it did not say why – renovations, or closed permanently?). There were some claw machines (my big weakness) but no pinball machines (my mom’s big weakness). Arcades really seem to be dying out. We walked by more shops in Piccadilly Circus, including the Liberty fabric/clothing store that established a lot of popular styles in the 1960s (and which sold hand-made scarves for astonishing prices — many over 135 pounds!), and then caught the subway back to our hotel.

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