It’s hard to believe that the trip is almost at an end, but we have now returned to our starting point, London, for the final few days. On Friday, we decided to see a few things in the city to connect dots and unify themes that have run through the trip.
We started by purchasing a one-day travelcard at the Chiltern Railways Wembley Stadium train station just across the street from our hotel. Though we have been using our Oyster cards when we are in London, there are several attractions that have partnered with the rail companies to provide two-for-one admission (with a voucher) if and only if you have a rail (not Tube) ticket that is valid that day. Oysters don’t work for this deal and since we were low on Oyster credit anyway, we decided to take advantage of the deal. Interestingly, the travelcards work on the Tube, but you have to buy them from a national rail station for the deal.
A side benefit of starting on the Chiltern railway was that the initial trip into town had no intermediate stops and took only 10 minutes! We transferred to the Bakerloo line at Marylebone and exited at Piccadilly Circus. We browsed at Lillywhites and Waterstones and enjoyed the holiday decorations and had a quick lunch at the reliable Pret a Manger, where we took advantage of their free wifi. We then made our way to the British Museum.
The British Museum, by the way, is a free attraction, so one can definitely feel good about “popping in” just for a particular exhibit or artifact. Our mission at the British Museum was to see the Parthenon/Elgin marbles, the story of which we had repeatedly heard (from the Greek perspective) during our time in Greece. The Acropolis Museum in Athens has replicas of some of the pieces that were removed by Lord Elgin, but I wanted to see the real thing. So we went right to the Duveen Gallery to see them. The language describing how the artifacts came to be in England was interesting compared to what we read in Athens. Here, the story is that Elgin “rescued” the sculptures for preservation. The sculptures themselves are fantastic, and are displayed, with helpful descriptions, at a height that doesn’t require craning the neck.
Our next stop was the Tower of London. Maureen had been reluctant to visit here, given some aspects of its history, but I really wanted to see it. For one thing, some of the poppies were still there. We saw the poppies partially installed when we did RideLondon in August and now we have seen the poppies partially uninstalled. Sadly, we missed the complete installation. Also, the Philippa Gregory novel I had been reading referred repeatedly to the Tower, and I wanted a better mental picture of this site.
The main reason I investigated the 2-for-1 deal I mentioned before was for the Tower. The usual price of admission is a staggering £22 ($34.45) per person! Paying this for two people was a little more palatable, and well worth the effort involved in printing a voucher and buying the right train tickets. The deal also works for the London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and many other major London sights. And it appears to be unlimited, as long as you have vouchers and the correct train tickets in hand.
Back to the Tower itself. It was about 2 pm when we arrived, and the Tower was closing at 4:30 pm. In hindsight, I would recommend allowing a little more time than this. We went in, looking at the poppies along the way. We climbed up to the South Wall and walked through the medieval palace. You can totally understand why they hung tapestries on the walls when you tour these cold stone rooms on a chilly, rainy day. We were chilled and hungry enough to need a little tea break. Fortunately, we’re in England, so this was possible. The on-site restaurant had many lovely looking desserts, but Maureen was feeling scone-deprived, since she had yet to have one on this trip, so we went traditional–scones and English breakfast tea.
Feeling refreshed, we headed for the Tower’s star attraction–the Crown Jewels. I had no real expectations about the jewels. I ended up being pretty wowed by the jewels and this presentation. The visitor experience was recently redesigned (reopened in 2012) for the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The exhibit gives some history of the jewels, then shows the coronation festivities in “animated” films of ceremonies throughout the ages, along with actual footage of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. After viewing some incredible items used in other royal celebrations, you enter the room with the crowns and other coronation items. The glass cases are flanked on both sides by moving walkways! We thought this was great, especially after seeing so many sights and artifacts where people really did not “move along.” There is also a raised walkway on the far side of one of the moving walkways, that allows for a longer look, but from a bit farther away. Well done, I say. The last bit of the exhibit highlights the fact that the items are still used, showings videos of the white-glove treatment they receive and the bespoke boxes in which they are transported. Very cool.
We used our last few minutes at the Tower to see the central White Tower and the collection of armor within. We (predictably) skipped the torture exhibit. It was twilight by this time and we really enjoyed seeing the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge lit up.
We made our way to the Tube, expecting huge rush-hour crowds and were pleasantly surprised to get seats for the first of our two long legs (but not for the second). We headed to Ruislip to meet Maureen’s brother and his family for fish-and-chips dinner. We enjoyed the visit, the food, and the little white dog. A good and full day.
Very British, always time for afternoon tea!