london day 9

Our last day in London wasn’t a full day, but almost.  We started out with breakfast on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral.  We bought a variety of (terribly unhealthy and un-vegan) breakfast pastries (four mini jam-filled donuts to share, a lemon filled muffin and croissant for me, and a cinnamon roll for Danny) at M & S Simply Food across the street from St. Paul’s and ate them on the front steps.  We were the only ones there at that early hour of the morning, and we didn’t even have to fight off any pigeons…you could say it was a major success.

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After breakfast we went inside and did some of the audio guide tour and wandered around the cathedral for an hour before our 10am guided tour.  Our guided tour took a little over an hour and a half and one of the perks was that we were able to snap a few photos, while most visitors are not allowed to do so.  The inside of St. Paul’s is much different from Westminster Abbey, which is probably London’s most famous church, and although I’m sure a list a mile long could be made with the differences between the two, the one that I noticed the most is the lighting.  St. Paul’s is flooded with light and it’s (primarily) white walls/ceilings/etc. really help as well.  Our tour also took us to see a staircase that was used in the Harry Potter movies, which means very little to me, but was interesting for Danny (and basically everyone else on our tour).

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After the guided tour, we took the stairs up to the gallery and the two upper levels of the dome.  It was a hazy day in London, but if you look hard, you can see some of the most well-known landmarks of London’s skyline, in particular the Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge, the Shard, and the London Eye.

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When we finished up at St. Paul’s, it was much more crowded than when we arrived.  One thing that I realized on our trip was the huge benefits of going early or going late to popular attractions.  I just find places much more enjoyable when there aren’t throngs of people all over, and St. Paul’s was no exception.

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Since our breakfast was so successful (both tasty and inexpensive), we went back to M & S Simply Food for lunch and carried our goodies across the Thames on the Millennium Bridge to eat outside the Tate Modern.  It was a busy area with lots of pigeons vying for our crumbs and people for our seats, but fun too – lots of street performers and interesting people to watch and entertain us while we ate.

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After lunch we walked along the Thames one last time to get back to our room and snuck in one last look at the London Eye as well.  We packed our bags, which took longer than anticipated, and chatted with Irene, our host, for a bit before we headed out.  I mailed a few postcards, and we took the tube from Waterloo to King’s Cross, where we transferred to St. Pancras and waited for the Eurostar to Paris.

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I think my expectations for the Eurostar were a bit high.  I mean, our first disappointment came as we waited for the train and there was only one restaurant for the entire Eurostar waiting area.  Plus, the train just seemed to have seen better days, the food onboard was sub par (and expensive) and we never really knew what was going on – communication between staff and passengers was nonexistent.  We boarded the train at 5:15pm and in less than an hour, we were in France.  It was obvious, not because we could tell we had just come out from underneath the English Channel (we couldn’t), but because it just looked different.  It was beautiful – the sky was a pretty shade of light pink and the countryside was charming.  The train was going so fast, though, that taking (decent) pictures was impossible.  We shared a mushroom risotto and fruit couscous onboard, but mostly we looked out the window and read magazines and newspapers.

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DSC09942Two hours after we left London, we were in Paris.  The Eurostar may not have ‘wowed’ us, but all we really needed was a way to get from one place to another, and it certainly did that.  We waited in line for a taxi for about an hour, and eventually made it to our next humble abode and met Etienne, whose apartment we’d be staying at for the next five nights.  He showed us around, we unpacked a little, put some laundry in the washer, and went to bed.  Unfortunately, the washer woke us up repeatedly throughout the night with its bizarre alarm feature and ended up breaking completely…but that’s a story for another time.

DSC09949All things considered, day 9 was pretty good.  We saw one of London’s most famous churches, walked along the Thames, and ate our first reasonably priced breakfast and lunch.  Packing up and traveling to Paris was not my favorite – anytime I’m hauling a suitcase up stairs (oh wait, Danny did that, not me) and on a subway and through throngs of people more skilled at packing light than me, I’m stressed.  But we made it to Paris without too many complications and once we got to our apartment and found that it was just as the pictures had portrayed it, it was worth it.  Seeing some neat things plus traveling to another country and not running into much trouble…I’d say it was a successful day.

Check out day 1, day 2, day 3, day 4, day 5, day 6, day 7, and day 8 of our time in London, too.

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london day 4

On Saturday, our fourth day in London, we made it to the Tower of London around 9:30am.  I had really been looking forward to going to the Tower of London not necessarily to see the Tower itself, but to see the poppies.  If you’ve been around these parts for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of our girl Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, which is how I knew about the poppies (she visited with William and Harry back in August). DSC09315 Between August 5th and November 11th, 888,246 ceramic poppies will be planted in the Tower of London’s moat to mark 100 years since Britain’s involvement in World War I.  Each poppy represents a British life that was lost during the war.   After November 11th, the poppies will be sold to raise money for service-oriented charities.  The installation is truly a sight to behold and a beautiful way to commemorate such a horrific loss of life.  If you want, you can read more on the Tower Poppies here. I was so excited that we would be in London while the poppies were/are at the Tower, and I wasn’t disappointed.  It was a stunning display – and it’s not even completed yet. DSC09317We got on the 10am Beefeater tour, and it was definitely a highlight of our visit to the Tower.  Our beefeater, Simon, was charismatic and LOUD, which was good, since our group was large – probably between 50 and 75 people (I’m bad at estimating though). DSC09326 We also did some exploring of the Tower on our own.  We saw the Crown Jewels, a display of torture devices, armor worn by various kings, and more.  My favorite part, besides the poppies, was just walking around the ancient fortress – it’s really grand. DSC09319 DSC09321 DSC09330 DSC09331 DSC09332 DSC09334 After we finished up at the Tower, we went to Tower Bridge, and took the elevator up to the top, where we got to walk across the Thames from the top of the bridge.  It was one of those things that we probably wouldn’t have paid for and done on our own, but since it was included in our London Pass and we had time, we decided to do it.  It was pretty cool to hear about the making of Tower Bridge, and then get to go to the top as well. DSC09335 DSC09337 DSC09344 DSC09346 After crossing the bridge, we walked along the Thames in an attempt to find Borough Market.  I’d heard about Borough Market not only from my guide books, but also from friends who have spent time in London, which meant that it was probably worth checking out.  We finally found it, but it was so crowded, we almost gave up on the spot.  We stood in a long line for veggie burgers, only to find out that they didn’t have any buns left, and since we’re not especially carb-conscious, we kept looking and settled on a spicy lentil fajita and pumpkin tortellini, which we ate at the base of the Shard.  And, in the interest of full transparency, I was a little grumpy at this point.  I wrote in my notes that I made about the day, so I figure I should be honest and mention it.  I mean, in my defense, it was around 3pm that we were finally eating lunch, but then again, Danny was still in good spirits, so I had no excuse.  Just thought you should know that our trip wasn’t all laughs and smiles ;) DSC09353 DSC09354 DSC09355 After regaining some positivity (and full bellies), we headed to the HMS Belfast, where we started things out on a good note with some lemon cake from the cafe.  We did a good portion of the audio guide as we took a self-guided tour of the HMS Belfast, a Royal Navy light cruiser that was launched in 1938 and decommissioned in 1963.  I’ve always enjoyed touring ships, and have such fond memories of touring the USS Midway with my family in San Diego a few years ago, so I knew that if we had time, I wanted to check out the Belfast.  We had great views of the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, as well as all of the activity that happens on and along the Thames.  I really enjoyed seeing the areas for the crew: where they slept, ate, saw the doctor, sent their mail, etc.  The HMS Belfast was another place I had read negative reviews for, and considered skipping it because of them, but I’m glad we went.  It was one of the least crowded places we visited (major plus) and it was fun to explore and learn together. DSC09356 DSC09360 DSC09361 DSC09362 DSC09365 DSC09367 DSC09368 DSC09370After seeing all we wanted to at the Belfast, we rushed along the Thames, across a bridge, and then jogged for a few blocks so we could reach the Monument before 4:30pm – the time of their last admission.  We climbed the 311 steps to the top, where we took in the view and enjoyed the benefits of being some of the last people in – no crowds.  Formally called The Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Monument is just that – a memorial made to commemorate the Great Fire of London that happened in 1666.  The Monument was built between 1671 and 1677, on the site of the first church to burn down in the fire.  It’s not the best view you’ll get of London, that’s for sure, but it is neat to be not so high up that everything just looks like toys.  We were low enough to not only see but appreciate rooftop gardens, but high enough that the noise of the streets couldn’t reach us. DSC09371 DSC09375 DSC09378We decided to walk back to the Tower of London after the Monument closed because I wanted to get a picture of the two of us in front of the poppies, something we hadn’t done in the morning.  Upon arrival, though, we came upon large crowds being held back by barricades and a host of important looking individuals.  Rumors spread that Prince Harry was coming, and/or ‘a VIP from another country,’ and then it was decided that it was just some people from the Invictus Games, but after doing a bit of reconnaissance work, I now know it was Jill Biden.  Well.  What a bummer that we couldn’t identify her at the time, but pretty neat that we were there visiting the poppies at the same time.  And, once we gave up on seeing Prince Harry, (“there aren’t enough people with guns here for a royal,” said one member of the crowd), we got our photo. DSC09387 DSC09385 We ate dinner next door at Wagamama, where we found bad service and ridiculous prices.  We had two (appetizer) orders of fried dumplings and two bowls of fried rice (also from the appetizer menu) for $28.  I had such a good experience at Wagamama the last time I was in London, but now that I’m paying and not just enjoying, I pay more attention to prices and value and so on and so forth, and I know Wagamama’s not worth it.   After dinner we walked along the Thames to the Tate Modern.  Danny was really looking forward to the Tate, so we visited all three floors and saw basically everything in only about an hour and a half.  Frankly, though, we weren’t impressed.  I guess modern art’s just not our thing. DSC09388 DSC09389 We walked back to our room along the Thames, feeling so exhausted.  We stopped for an almond torta at Cafe Nero right as they were closing, so we ate outside.  This would be a good time to mention how much I loved the Southbank, especially the area near Festival Hall, the Southbank Center, and the London Eye.  I might have said it before, but the combination of fun restaurants, street performers, and the Thames is just perfect.  We couldn’t get enough. DSC09391 All in all, day four was good.  It wasn’t my favorite, and I’m not proud of getting grumpy around lunchtime, but we saw some neat things and spent almost all day along the Thames. And in case you missed day 1, day 2, or day 3, feel free to check them out too!