Chapter Three: Champagne At Buckingham PalaceSeptember 22, 2013
Chapter Five: Westminster, Winston and WallaceSeptember 24, 2013
Day Five – Blood, Sweat & Whispers, Fantastic Audio Guide, Museum Overload, Walk Like An Egyptian, Soane Near Yet Soane Far, A Cute Pub Right Down Our Alley (if we can find it), We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Nap, Photo Ops, A Slight Change Of Plans and A Little Bit Of Italy In London
Expecting that soon-to-be-here rain as we awoke, I looked out the window and saw cloudy, but dry skies (it had rained slightly overnight). However, the cracked weather people were predicting rain for tomorrow. Where have I heard that before?
Our first stop of the day was what I hoped wouldn’t be my last stop…ever. The four of us were heading to St. Paul’s Cathedral where, legs and mind willing, we would climb something like 528 stairs to the top.
St. Paul’s is yet another 2FOR1 attraction (£16 for two).
There was no line on this Monday morning. Once inside we picked up the free audio guide, which was perhaps the best audio guide I’d ever seen. “Seen,” because in addition to the audio, you also could look at pictures on the handset.
St. Paul’s is another of Sir Christopher Wren’s mega masterpieces, and we walked around this beautiful cathedral taking in its entire splendor. It was then time for the Ascent Of Death. There were no defibrillators on hand, so we started our climb. As you can see, there was also…“No way down.”
Fortunately, after about 200 stairs or so, there is a bit of a break at The Whispering Gallery. This would not be a good place to discuss an affair while your wife is sitting on the opposite side of the gallery. These walls have ears. Photo below is also from internet.
Tracy and Mary stood on one side as I made my way to the opposite side…slowly. Sure enough, they whispered and I could hear what they were saying . Either that, or I was just hearing voices after the first part of the three-part climb.
Next stop was the Golden Gallery. We had now ascended more than 500 stairs from the cathedral floor. What we noticed from this vantage point is the same as what we saw from virtually every London vantage point, a city that is under massive construction.
Looking in several directions, it looked like there were more cranes (and I don’t mean birds) than buildings.
I didn’t really care, because I had made it virtually unscathed to the top except for a small scrape on my arm, which drew surprisingly little blood.
I guess Sir Bleed-A-Lot stayed at home this trip, but all the cranes and construction made for some less-than-stellar photo ops, but there were still good ones to be found.
Back downstairs, we descended to the Crypt where we walked to Wellington’s tomb (actually a beef Wellington sounded pretty good after that climb) and Christophorus Wren’s memorial (an understated slab of stone) with the words, “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice” (“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you”).
Invigorated, we took the tube to Tottenham Court Road and grabbed a quick lunch at a fairly bad restaurant (although the server was nice) called Garfunkel’s (I guess Simon’s was closed).
If one really wanted to fully explore the British Museum…
…it would probably take about half a lifetime. The British Museum is the first national public museum in the world, founded in 1753 and opened to the public in 1759, and, yes…it actually took an act of Parliament. According to Wikipedia, “The museum has the largest online database of objects in the collection of any museum in the world, with 2,000,000 individual object entries, 650,000 of them illustrated, online at the start of 2012.”
Since we knew there was a beer in our future and we couldn’t spend the next 14 years in London, we took the information desk’s suggestion and went on the “British Museum’s Greatest Hits Self-Guided Tour.”
There are everything from ancient coins…
Descending from the top of the museum down below, we came upon the famed Rosetta Stone.
I had seen so many old statues that everyone in our group began looking like Ramessis II…
Our next stop was scheduled to be an old pub I had read about, but we found ourselves near the Sir John Soane Museum, so I was talked into going to see it. Mercifully, it was Monday, and John was closed.
I’m sure it’s wonderful, but at this moment The Pub Museum sounded a lot better. Of course, we had to find the damned thing, and we were a little confused…nothing new there.
Walking in what we hoped was the correct destination, we ran into a couple of guys selling paintball experiences, and they were very helpful in leading us in the right direction. Looking at our little map (and then one of the city’s five minute maps…more on those below), we thought we had it nailed as to where the elusive Ye Olde Mitre pub was located, but it was not to be found.
We walked up and down the street and figured that the Klingons must have cloaked the alley to the pub. It was not there. There was a jewelry store on the corner, and one of the guys who worked there came out for a breath of fresh air. “Do you know how to get to Ye Olde Mitre pub,” I asked?
He answered, “Yes,” smiled and said nothing else. Great, I had run into a jewelry store comedian.
The guy was actually very nice, and once he had played his mini-prank on us, he pointed down the street and said to make a left at the postal box onto a tiny alley on to Ely Court (off Hattan Garden). I don’t think it was the first time he had been asked this question.
It has two small rooms on either side of the bar and we consumed some Dark Star Ale, London Pride and Discovery Blonde Ale…just what the doctor ordered.
We chatted with a nice couple from Cambridge who were in London for the day and we thoroughly enjoyed the pub’s atmosphere.
DIGRESSION: One of London’s greatest attributes is its “5-Minute Maps” (photo from internet) located throughout the city. When we got a little lost (which was often), we would invariably find one of these sidewalk maps showing attractions and streets within a 5-minute radius, and these were great help for directionally challenged tourists like ourselves. More cities should install these signs.
We then walked to the nearest tube station.
We took the tube back to the hotel, but there was no rest for the incredibly weary. Usually we take short naps on our trips, but it was such a beautiful late afternoon (deep blue skies…where’s that rain?) that we decided to take a walk up toward Parliament and Big Ben for some photos, and then find a place to eat.
The first part of that equation was simple. It was a glorious afternoon to take pictures…
…and more pictures, one with Tracy standing on a Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee marker.
We then fortunately wandered by Westminster Abbey, which we were intending to visit Wednesday morning.
Problem: The sign said that Westminster Abbey did not open until the afternoon on Wednesday, so we decided to change our schedule and visit Westminster tomorrow and postpone our trip to Hampton Court until Wednesday.
All that thinking, and the fact is was getting dark out, made us hungry.
Remembering the Italian place in South Ken (we were getting familiar with the area now and figured we could be more informal), we hopped on the tube to South Ken and walked over to Rocca di Pappa (73 Old Brompton Road). The restaurant was packed when we arrived a little before 8 p.m., but we scored their last four-top table, and we were happy we did. In about 15 minutes the wait to get inside was a long one.
The food was terrific and everyone from the greeter to the servers were all very friendly. They were also from all over the globe (“our United Nations of servers,” we called them). One waiter was from Portugal, another from Napoli while our very cute waitress (Tracy gave me the eye more than once here) was from Croatia.
When we told her how much we loved her country when we had visited, she said that she still remembered being a little girl when all that fighting was going on around her. She seemed to be happy to be living in London instead of her home country and told us she had a good friend who was a Serb. “I could not have done that back home,” she said.
Tracy started with a rocket & Parmesan salad and then pasta with eggplant and zucchini.
Kim and Mary each had a half of grilled chicken with salad and chips. A few bottles of wine later, the total bill went up to £120, but it was money well spent. The restaurant provided a great vibe, and we thought we might return before we left town.
After the ride back from South Kensington, Mary and Kim stopped off at The Rose for a nightcap, while old Maitai and Tracy headed back to rest our weary feet (12 miles on this day had done us in). Tomorrow we’d hit four more interesting attractions, although we would finally encounter our first problem with 2FOR1.
Next: Day Six – Breakfast On The River, Follow The Hordes, Tombs With A View, A Slight Problem With Churchill, Just Another Magna Carta, Channeling My Inner Gerry Rafferty, The Beverly Hills Of London, The Frick: London Style, Afternoon Pub Stop, Vexed At Vauxhall, Party In The Room And Finally Some Fish & Chips