Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Blogging the London Trip- Day 3

If memory serves, Tuesday was the day we walked our feet off.

We stayed in London, having no official tour activities but a day of leisure instead. So we made our way around London and saw... pretty much everything.

Our first foray out was a walk to Westminster Abbey. It's about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel. We headed out and paid the ten pounds price of admission (the museums are mostly free but the cathedrals charge admittance during non-worship hours to cover their expenses). The place is staggering in size and roomy, despite being the final resting place of a colossal number of people. I think you could fill a small stadium, honestly. The Abbey also boasts enormous cenotaphs and memoria to great individuals of British history-- Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill and many more have large plaques celebrating their lives and contributions.

Our next stop was the British Museum. A selection of major "ooh" moments:

  • a crystal skull (referenced in INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, no less);
  • an amazing Egyptian exhibit;
  • the Elgin Marbles (a collection of Greek marble statuary, most of it in fragments, retrieved from the Parthenon and various sites);
  • a collection of books and curiosities compiled by the museum's chief patron, Edward III (IIRC); and
  • some remarkable items from around the globe including a massive totem pole and Assyrian sphinxes.

We had a late lunch at the museum, then pushed on to the British Library (which is a moderate walk distant). This was a treasure trove, really. The new complex is only about ten years old or so, completely modern, and packed with stuff to see. Our chief goal was the Treasures of the British Museum room (aka the Sir Ritblat Collection), which includes:

  • one of four surviving copies of the Magna Carta (and the only one with a vestige of the royal seal), including a copy of the baronial grievances letter that led to Magna Carta;
  • one of two surviving copies of the first time Beowulf was written down;
  • pages from Leonardo daVinci's notebook;
  • a letter from Lewis Carroll discussing his literary Alice;
  • the journal of Captain Cook;
  • letters from Charles Darwin on his theory of evolution;
  • a display of Beatles memorabilia, including handwritten lyrics to "Help!," "Hey Jude" and more;
  • and LOTS of other stuff.

If you go to London (or already live in/near there), you absolutely must see this display. You owe it to yourself to see these foundations of our (Anglo-American) civilization.

We then went to Kings Cross/St Pancras Station. Since it was late afternoon by this point, we figured we'd grab an early dinner. We thought we were in the place where they'd filmed part of Harry Potter (the train scenes), but that was obviously the other station. Ah well. Maybe next time.

Next was a walking tour (courtesy of London Walks) of pubs in central London. Being cash-poor by then, we tried to find a Barclays ATM but there were none around (which was aggravating); we hiked along with our tour group and our grim spirits soon lifted as we drank as much as we could afford. We hit a series of pubs, including the Old Bank of England (which was converted from a bank to a pub after WWII-- the Crown Jewels were kept in that building during the War). We saw a bit of the City of London, via Fleet Street, and heard many stories about the legendary journalism wars that are now history. Our tour ended near the home of Dr. Samuel Johnson and one of the pubs he was said to have visited.

After that, it was about 10pm and time to head home. We had to hurry, since the Victoria (Tube) Line was scheduled to close at 10pm for ongoing maintenance... and that was the only Tube near our hotel. Took some jogging and some prayer, but we made it onto the last train, got to Vauxhall Station, and headed home, footsore but exhilarated from a wealth of new experiences and sights.

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