Chapter Two: We Beheading To The Tower

P1050645Chapter Two:  We Beheading To The Tower

Day Three – Going Crazy At Starbucks, It’s Good To Be Old, Tower Of Power, Where’s The Gin, Cross That Bridge When We Come To It, The Big Cheese, My Cup Runneth Over, Going Gothic, Fly (Almost) Like An Eagle, A Monumental Climb, A Walk In The Garden, Bellying Up To Manet’s Bar, Church Of The Royal Air Force, Go Fly A Kite, Two Ships We Won’t Pass In The Day And A Taste Of France

We were up and out of the hotel by 8:30 a.m. We stopped by the concierge to tell him the details of 2FOR1, but I don’t think he really believed anyone could get this deal, so we just gave up on our attempt to inform him. Before heading off, we asked him about the weather forecast.  His answer became a running joke for the next two weeks. “It should be nice today, but it’s going to rain tomorrow,” he answered.

1COn our walk to the tube, we noticed an inordinate number of brownish spots dotting the sidewalk.  We decided they could be only one thing…vomit.  Obviously, we now chose our steps very carefully to Vauxhall.

Located next door to Vauxhall Station was a conveniently located Starbucks, although in London it’s pretty hard to go too far without running in to one.

Our Starbucks was unique, however, in the fact that as we stood to buy our overpriced (but much needed) café lattes, there was a crazy man (amazingly, not me for change) who had all the patrons on edge with his bizarre and very loud behavior.

Although danger lurked near the croissants, our love of caffeine trumped our fear of death, so Mary, Tracy and I stayed in line, while Kim checked out some future spouse opportunities from a safe distance.  When I reached the cashier, the only thing the poor guy behind the counter could say (while watching the crazy man out of the corner of his eye) was, “I hate working Saturday mornings.”

13Our first stop on this rather overcast day was the Tower Of London, where we would see if this 2FOR1 thing really worked.  It sure did, and Kim and I even received a senior discount (60 and over), which was the happiest I had ever been for being an old man (well, except for escaping that near death thing a few years back).

P1000365Total cost for tickets…£19.50 per couple.  The Tower Of London dates back to William The Conqueror in 1066.  It was part of the Norman Conquest. For the better (or worse) part of the past 1,000 years, it has played an integral role in English history.  Today, we’d check out this historic place.

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Home of the Crown Jewels and a site where more than few lost their heads (but not as many as I thought), the Tower Of London took about two hours to tour.  We walked the walls…

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…visited the White Tower (built by the Bill the Conqueror)…

2…and the Bloody Tower and Tower Green (where seven people, including two of Henry VIII’s wives and Lady Jane Grey…a 16-year-old who had only been Queen for nine days…had their heads cut off).

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Tracy even tried on a helmet (very stylish) while Mary played with medieval weapons of mass destruction.

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We toured various rooms along the way (I need a throne like this one at home)…

10…and came upon the lonely guard protecting the outside of a building that contained some precious (and invaluable) jewelry.

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We were at the Jewel House where the Crown Jewels are displayed. “Look,” Tracy said, “there’s a Beefeater.”  I replied, “Great…it’s almost 11, I could use a gin and tonic about now.”  Of course, it wasn’t really a bottle of gin, but instead a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater).  The Beefeater’s have guarded the Tower Of London since the late 1400s.

Queen of England's CrownAlthough many of the jewels presented here are fantastic, there is one that everyone comes to see…the Koh-i-noor (“Mountain Of Light” in Persian). The 106-carat diamond now resides in the Queen’s Mother’s crown (the original Carat Top) that is on display, proving that diamonds really are a Queen’s best friend. No photography is allowed in this area (the one above is from the internet).

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The Tower Of London (as did many of the other attractions we visited) had a special exhibition of the Queen’s Coronation (2013 is the 50th anniversary). It was also a bit incongruous to be looking at part of the old tower with The Shard, a newer London building, rising up in the background.  But as we would find, that kind of juxtaposition of architecture is fairly common in this city.

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From the courtyard and other vantage points, we enjoyed many different views of the Tower Bridge, which many tourists confuse with the London Bridge.

P1000379 We enjoyed our visit to the Tower of London, but honestly, if I never see another suit of armor or medieval weapon of death on my future travels, I will be fine with that (unless I could use that mace on the apartment people).

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I did kind of like the big cannon that sits in the courtyard however. It was quite unusual and striking.

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After having our obligatory Tower photo taken with two other Beefeater outside, one of whom looked like he would rather have been beheaded than having to take another photo with stupid tourists, we all decided lunch was in order Today’s meal was one I was really looking forward to, because I was going to try one of life’s incredible delicacies.   Yes, I had traveled nearly halfway across the world to eat…a toasted cheese sandwich.

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We crossed the historic Tower Bridge and headed to the Borough Market.

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Along the way and nearby the market there were some very colorful pubs, but we had a specific task, so we kept our focus.

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The Borough Market is a spot where various food markets have stood for something like 1,000 years (it seemed that long since I had eaten my last meal).  Arriving at the market, we were met by hundreds of our closest friends who were also here to enjoy the numerous stalls selling food, drinks and everything else under the sun. I had only one booth in mind, however.

Not entirely believing in the incredible power of fromage, Kim asked me, “So where is your famous toasted cheese sandwich booth?”

P1000396Before I could answer, someone in the crowd pointed and said, “They’re right over there.”

“See, they really are famous,” I told Kim.

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We hurried over to the Kappacesein’s stall where, for just £5, you can harden all your arteries and shorten your life span by devouring a delicious Three-Cheese Toastie.

17Besides the three cheeses, this sandwich (on sourdough) also has (I think) onions and leeks. Mary decided to eschew the toastie, and instead tried their raclette over roasted potatoes, while Kim, Tracy and I ordered the toastie.  It was rich, but delicious.

P1000399There was only one choice of beverage to wash that sandwich down, and this concoction was also something I had wanted to try, even though one of the ingredients in the drink sounded somewhat nauseating to me.

P1000400That’s because a Pimm’s Cup contains cucumber (a food item that ranks pretty low on my list), but when in London do as the Londoners do. The Pimm’s Cup was surprisingly good and cost £3.50.

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When in doubt, you can always find Tracy near a floral display.

P1050647We hung around the Borough Market for about another half hour, bought a couple of brownies (hell, my arteries were gone anyway) and a bottle of Nutmeg Syrup (that we lugged around for the remainder of the trip)…

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…and headed next door to our conveniently located destination adjacent to the market.

P1000394Although not mentioned by many in their trip reports, we found Southwark Cathedral to be a truly beautiful church and quite photogenic.

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Below is the 15th century monument to poet John Gower.

P1000424 Southwark Cathedral is the oldest Gothic church in London. Parts of it date back to the 12th century. There is a £2 charge to take photos (well worth it…the inside is gorgeous).

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Shakespeare supposedly worshiped here, which could be considered very interesting or, then again, much ado about nothing.  There is an alabaster figure of the Bard. P1000413Another statue that caught my eye was one of a former city alderman named Richard Humble and his two wives.  When you have two wives, it really pays to be Humble.

P1000423Next we came upon the Tomb of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, who was an English bishop and scholar, who held high positions in the Church of England during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I.

P1000414Lastly, we saw the remnants of the old cathedral can still be seen today including a carved stone screen behind the high altar which dates from around 1520.

P1050654Just a few minutes walk from Southwark Cathedral is the Golden Hinde II, a re-creation of the ship that Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe on between 1577 and 1580.  I ran (well, I don’t really run any more, so I walked at a brisk, old geezer pace) over to take a couple of photos.  If you decide to go on the ship, it is also a 2FOR1 attraction.

19 We then walked across the modern (and rather ugly) London Bridge heading for our first big climb of the trip.  I think Lake Havasu City got the best of that deal.

Our group started walking toward The Monument, which towers over the junction of Fish Street Hill and Fleet Street. It commemorates the rebuilding of London after the city’s 1666 Great Fire and was completed in 1677.

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Sir Christopher Wren, who seemingly designed the entire city of London, was one of the people who worked on this project. I hoped not to end up like William Green. In 1750, Green reached over the railing of the balcony to look at a live eagle that was kept in a cage.  Unfortunately, Green accidentally lost his balance and fell to his death.  Apparently, he couldn’t fly like an eagle.

P1000431Once again, we received the senior discount, and The Monument is another 2FOR1 site (£3 for two people). Whether or not it is worthwhile to climb the 311 circular stairs is certainly open for discussion, but we did receive a certificate stating that we made it to the top and, even better, did not end up flying like an eagle.

This might seem a lot for one day, but our crew of intrepid travelers was not done yet. Next stop: The Courtauld Institute Gallery.

P1000434Departing the nearest tube station to the gallery, we walked through the lovely Victoria Embankment Gardens to the Somerset House, a major arts and cultural center, which contains Samuel Courtauld’s private collection of art (also a 2FOR1).  It supposedly houses some of the world’s finest Impressionist and Post Impressionist art.  Sadly, we didn’t get to see much of it, as the gallery had numerous rooms closed for renovation, but I did like this modern painting (very unlike me) by Heinrich Campendock.

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We paid a discounted (£5 for two) to view what paintings were on display.  We saw some nice Renaissance art on the ground floor and Impressionist paintings on the 1st floor, including Manet’s “Bar at the Folies-Berg̀ere” and Van Gogh’s self-portrait, “Sans Ear” (not the painting’s real name).

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This will be a place to return on a future London trip to see what we missed, because we did enjoy the limited presentation afforded us.

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Walking back toward the tube we ducked into St. Clement Danes, an Anglican church destroyed by the Germans in World War II. The church was completely restored, re-consecrated and became the Central Church of the Royal Air Force in 1958.

P1000451We also happened upon a wedding, which would not be the last time we infringed upon a nuptial on this trip.

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Some of the London public buildings were open on this weekend (Monument Weekend), so we quickly stopped by the Royal Courts Of Justice…

P1000455…and then took the tube…ostensibly to go see Benjamin Franklin’s House.  Before hitting the tube, we passed by a kingly pub…

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…and the only Strand building (built in 1625) that survived the Great Fire of London (now a Thai restaurant).

P1000457When we finally arrived at Franklin’s former London home, we were told to “go fly a kite”… actually the lines were so long that no one else could be admitted before it closed.

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That was fine with us, because nearby we saw The Ship & Shovell. This pub claims to be “the only London pub in two halves (located on each side of an alley).”

P1000463We enjoyed some Badger Best Ale draught and French fries, made some dinner reservations online and then headed to the hotel.

Later that evening we hopped on the tube en route to South Kensington for dinner at La Bouchee on Old Brompton Road, the little French restaurant we had walked by the previous night.

ImageThe upper part of the restaurant was full, so we were relegated to the bottom floor (not as charming, but still nice enough). We were also happy to be off our feet.
P1000467The food was decent (a couple of dishes were very good), but somewhat expensive for the quality of meal.  My six escargots were very good and Roasted Leg of Lamb with Frites special was fine, but nothing overly special.

P1000474Mary had the same special, and she started with a Cream of Tomato Soup with Basil Oil.

P1000472Kim decided to go the fish direction with a Lemon Sole (deboned) and a side of delicious Gratin Dauphine, which was a combination of thinly sliced potatoes in butter, cream and cheese. He thankfully shared that dish with us, because my arteries were beginning to un-harden from that afternoon’s Three-Cheese Toastie.

P1000473Tracy ordered the Haricot Vert Salad with Egg Mimosa (aka Deviled Eggs) and Roast Pork with Pappardelle in a Mediterranean sauce.

P1000471On the way back to the hotel we checked out the Party Boat located nearly across the street from the Plaza Riverfront on the River Thames.  It was packed with a lot of very drunk young people, which pretty much explained the vomit spots we saw that morning on the sidewalk as we walked toward Vauxhall Station.

It had been a rather arduous first full day in London (more than 11 miles of walking), but tomorrow would be even longer, because we had an evening date with the Queen…well sort of. The four of us would also bear witness to an event (“event” might be too kind a word) that, well, you just have to wait for the next installment to read about it.

Next: Day Four – Swans & Squirrels, Horsing Around, A Huge Cock, Glorious Gallery, Hyde But No Jekyll, The $16,000 Purse, It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, Go Soak Your Feet, Going Green, Our Corgi Will Be So Happy, An Evening Appearance At The Queen’s Residence and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Part Deux

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