With Zach's first international trip, I wanted him to experience as much as possible. He's heard me gush about cities, sights, foods, cultures, shopping, and little intricacies of different places for years. I wanted him to fall in love with travel the same way that I have. With that, we planned an eight-day backpacking trip to London, Paris, and Amsterdam. The first stop: London. This was my third trip to the city, and though I love it, I wanted to keep it fresh for both of us - thus the looping.
PS I've covered my last trip to London over here.
We hit some of the usual tourist and nerdy stops, such as Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross. This time, it was different. I'd been here twice before, and though it changed both times, it was just a relocation thing to redirect the hoards of Potter fans. This time, it was commercialized. I was very miffed. Luckily, you could take pictures on your own camera in addition to having a man in a train uniform take them as he gives posing directions.
We also visited Abbey Road, signed the wall in front of the studio, and stopped by the Tardis in Earl's Court to satisfy Zach's latest obsession with Doctor Who. Yes, I'm putting this in here to embarrass you.
At Veronica's suggestion, we hit up the free walking tour. I would highly suggest this to anyone and everyone, because after this one, we hit them up in Paris and Amsterdam. Our tour guide was Sonja, and she had a background in linguistics so we learned a lot about the English language and its development with influences from France. For example, curfew. It was totally made up by the English misunderstanding the French when they were under a period of French rule (and therefore forced to speak French though many didn't know the language). The French instated a rule that all domestic fires were to be put out at a certain time - candles out, lamps out, fires out, and it's bedtimes. They called this couvrir (cover) feu (fire). Many of the working class couldn't pronounce that correctly and it evolved into curfew. It's unique to the English language, too. We have people from Germany, Spain, and Argentina on the tour and they had no idea what a curfew was. The same sort of situation happened with our food descriptions in English. Ever wonder why we have a different name for the animal and the meat that it produces? Okay, I didn't either. It's because of the French. The English workers would have to use the French name when serving meals to their superiors, but would use their English words amongst themselves. Thus, both evolved together and now we have a cow that produces beef, a pig that produces pork, and so on. I guess in Germany it's the same word for both - you see a cow in the field and a cow on your plate. I'll stop, as I realize this might not be everyone's jam. It's obviously my jam - I was totally intrigued. She also let us in on why Coco Chanel's initials were all over Westminster and we learned about the various kings and queens that have been in power and influential to the city. It was entertaining, educational, and a good summary of some major sites. Best of all, it's free, but they do run on tips so take some cash so you don't feel awkward.
We then hit up the Tower of London to see the crown jewels and one of the first castles in London. This was one of the original fortresses, and it's a very traditional castle in that it's a fortification, no a palatial pad. There's a lot of history here, ranging from beheadings to mysterious royal disappearances. That, and King Henry III had a polar bear here and would tie it on a rope and let it swim in the River Thames.
We also toured St. Paul's Cathedral. I've been dying to get to the top of the done, and was foiled again. I did get one step closer - I got up to the whispering gallery and found out that it works. On the inside of the dome, there's a circular walkway on which you can hear the whispers of others across the dome because of some acoustic witchcraft. I don't get it, but it worked even though there was a pack of high schoolers whistling and trying to ruin my whispers. Color me impressed, Sir Wren. Unfortunately, the cathedral is a no picture zone, so I suggest you google around.
This pictures looks like I put an effect on it, but that's just how it turned out in the rainy London day. Strange.
To get the most bang for our buck and time, we took a daytrip with Premium Tours to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath. It was the best compromise - getting me to Windsor and Zach to Stonehenge.
Windsor Castle was lovely. The Queen was in that day, as confirmed by the Royal Standard flag flying from the central keep. We quickly toured St. George's Chapel, Queen Mary's dollhouse, and the state rooms of the castle. The chapel was beautiful and the burial place of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, his supposed favorite wife, and the Queen Mum. The dollhouse was awesome, and didn't allow pictures, as most awesome places do. Everything was real - so there were paintings inside, of which the actual artist just painted his famous work on a miniature scale. The plumbing worked. The toilet paper was real. Ah, to have that kind of money.
The state rooms were just as exquisite. The cool part is that the Queen uses some of the state rooms for official entertaining, so they're closed in the summer. At least I walked on some carpet that they royals have walked. Also, I saw three of the Queen's corgis. EEEEEEE!!!! And okay, I guess I'm not positive they were hers. I just know that she has a pack of corgis and that she was in that day and said corgis were spotted in a private access garden. Super sleuth says they're hers. We were in the Octagon room, listening to our audio guide and I was mindlessly staring out the window and across the courtyard garden to the Queen's apartments and trying to catch a glimpse of something in the window. No shame in my game. I then saw a furball, which I first thought was a fox. I was excited enough about that, but then realized that it was a corgi, and that he was with his two corgi friends and they were not listening to the handler man that was trying to coax/herd them behind a wall and out of view. They were sniffing bushes alongside the garden path. I tried to get Zach's attention without breaking sight of the pups and without letting anyone else know, because I'm crazy. I think this means the degrees of separation between Queen and I has significantly decreased.
All too soon, we piled back on the bus for Stonehenge. That just means I'll have to go back. Stonehenge is impressive. The sheer weight of those stones and the elaborate hinging is unfathomable without cranes and power tools. We heard a lot of the conspiracy theories through the audio tour, of which I've forgotten most and need to look into. Some were way out there.
We then went to Lacock for lunch. I had no expectations for this stop, but Lacock is the setting of many films because of it's appearance (such as some Harry Potter scenes) - there are no road lines and the entire town is owned by the National Trust, meaning that there are strict regulations on the appearance of the houses. It is also home to a certain pub - At The Sign of the Angel - where it is rumored that Prince Charles would meet with Camila during his marriage to Princess Diana.
We continued on to Bath after that, but it was such a quick stop that we just hit the main attractions - the Royal Crescent, the Circus, and one of Jane Austen's homes. I talked about Bath over here if you want more details. Then we were back to London. That was four stops in one day, so we called it a night and hit Portobello Road in the morning.
Portobello Road is one of the largest antique markets. There was everything from books to binoculars, tea sets and jewelry, and everything in between. I picked up a few items for presents - which I'll probably share much later - but the fun of the market was the atmosphere - packed to the brim with people mingling - and discovering the little booths set up between winding hallways or crammed onto the street. That was also on my list of new things to do in London, so I'm happy I was finally there on a Saturday, and available, at that.
Sorry this post was so long - unfortunately, I don't see that changing in the near future. I'll cover the Harry Potter set tour next, then jump to Paris and Amsterdam. I might break it up in between, too - there's important news, the least of which is that Veronica just got a Great Dane puppy!
I'm linking up with some other great travel stories today - check them out and save them for your next vacation!