Day One and Two: London
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Tony's Photo Galleries
European Vacation 2003
Our first day and a half in Europe was spent sightseeing in London.
Rachel, Jenny, and me on our first day in London.
The trip to London was somewhat grueling...
First, we had to awaken at about 2am on Tuesday morning so that we could get ready and make the 3 hour drive to the airport in San Francisco in time to get through parking, ticketing and security to make our 6:50am flight. Which would normally be fine, except that Jenny was working all night Monday night so that she could have enough stuff done to leave on the trip in the first place. So Jenny actually pulled an all-nighter and got home right around the time Rachel and I needed to wake up to get ready. And of course, we had gone to bed late and hadn't slept well. I'd really only managed to get a couple hours sleep. Jenny was able to nap a bit on the drive to San fran, but in all, we started the trip on little or no sleep to begin with.
Then, there was security at the airport. I must have looked like a terrorist, because I got the almost-strip-searched treatment and had to remove basically every article of clothing short of exposing myself. When they asked me to remove my belt, I had a chilling realization that the security personnel might wear those latex gloves for a
Jenny didn't see them grab me by the ear and drag me off to the side, so when she and Rachel were done breezing through security, I was nowhere to be seen. Jenny was in a panic, running around the terminal looking for me, thinking I'd rushed through ahead of them and run off. Neither of us were being very civil for a while. Jenny, because of lack of sleep, and me because I'd just had my first experience with being publicly humiliated at airport security.
But we got over it and got on the first of two flights to England.The first across the the US to Philadelphia, the next across the Atlantic to Gatwick airport in London.
Basically, the timing and the earth rotation worked out so that we arrived in London at 6am England time, which is almost exactly one calendar day after we departed San Francisco, even though it was about 32 actual hours. And we had gotten little more than cat-naps on the flights over because the airlines insist on plying you with snacks, drinks, meals, and movies for the entire time.
But we had only one full day to spend in London on our itinerary, and we were determined to (a) make the most of it, and (b) get over the jet lag as soon as possible. So we got settled into the hotel by about 9am and set the travel alarm for Noon. A 3 hour nap, followed by the most difficult waking-up we ever forced ourselves to do, and we were out on the town. At (according to the timestamp on this photo, which was set by the camera which was on US-pacific time still) what our bodies considered to be 4:39 AM.
Boy, after reviewing what I just wrote, the fact that we're not complete zombies in this photo is rather amazing.
Rachel and Jenny seated on the upper deck of an open-top double-decker tour bus.
We figured that if we only had one day to see London, the best bet would be the tour bus. It actually turned out pretty good, giving us exactly what we were looking for: Sightseeing with the ability to hop off for short periods and catch the next bus. Quite a nifty system they had there.
The weather was cold with a couple moments of intermittent misting rain, but it never rained hard enough to bother us. The worst thing was just that the seats on the top of the bus were damp. But even that went away quickly enough and we were able to enjoy the ride and the sights. At least as well as three people nearing two days without any decent sleep can enjoy it.
The trees you see in this photo basically whipped by, right at the top of the bus, but never quite hit the passengers. The buses travel these routes every day, so the trees keep getting trimmed by the windscreen at the front of the top deck.
One of the best things about London, and Europe in general, was that there are flowers
. Everything seems to be decorated with flower pots, even the lampposts.
I don't know if this is specifically a summer thing, or if it's all year round. But I thought it was great.
Passing this amazing-looking gold and glass dome, I saw the unusual gold statues protruding from the building corner. As we drew closer, I realized that the statues were just naked women with really big breasts, posed like they were jumping off of the building.
I was trying to figure out what kind of old English king or prince would have commissioned a statute like that, and then we rounded the corner. It was a Virgin record store, so I guess the answer to that question is "Richard Branson, of course".
Everything in London seems to be gilded in gold. All the storefronts and restaurants, all of the public buildings, everything seems to have shiny gold on it somewhere. It gives London a feeling of newness while retaining the old world charm.
And, of course, this is another example of the flowers that were everywhere. I was wondering, since these flower pots seemed to be the same as the ones on the streetlamps, if they were maintained by the store owner or if they were maintained by the city.
You can't see London without taking a lot of pictures of Big Ben. It's a requirement, they made us sign something in Customs.
Something that impressed me about Big Ben was how ornately detailed it was. Until seeing it in person, I'd figured it was just a clock tower, nothing special. But close up, it's very striking.
(Click a second time on the picture to see the high resolution photo for this image.)
Rachel and Jenny in front of Big Ben. Just doing my part!
From left to right: Jenny, Rachel, Ben.
The London Eye. An impressive structure, the sheer scale of it isn't properly conveyed in this photo.
Each of the enclosed glass gondolas carries dozens of passengers 135 meters (442 feet) into the air. Needless to say, Jenny (who doesn't like heights) had no intention of riding it.
Another perspective of the Eye.
The Thames, from London bridge. They really need to work on making it straight instead of slanting like that. :-)
This monument was built to remember the Great Fire of London of 1666. Again, like all things in London, it's gilded with gold.
It wasn't until after I got this photo home and up on my screen that I noticed there were some hardy souls actually standing up at the top deck. A bit of research reveals that they just completed a claustrophobic climb of four hundred steps. You actually get a certificate for making the climb successfully (I'm not making this up).
The Tower Bridge, with a cruise ship docked alongside a warship/museum in front of it.
The old-style buildings on the right edge of the photo are a neat shopping mall area with a beautiful courtyard in the middle. We ended up having lunch there shortly after this photo was taken. Which is a bit of a funny story in itself...
The bus stopped in front of a 'dungeon' tour right before crossing the Tower Bridge. The dungeon was essentially a haunted-house attraction, and it looked like a lot of fun. So we all hopped off the bus and bought tickets for it from the bus company. See, by buying the tickets from the bus company, we could avoid the long ticket line in front of the attraction and go into the group/reservation entrance on the side.
But when we got inside, Rachel decided she wasn't interested in seeing the dungeon tour. She basically refused to take another step farther inside, and no amount of talking could convince her otherwise. So we had to go back out and scalp the tickets to some people waiting in line. It turns out that the people we sold the tickets to were from the US as well (San Diego if I recall correctly), and were there because
daughter had chickened out the last time. This was their second try. :-)
So we walked down the street to that aforementioned mall, and had some fantastic quiche in a small French restaurant before getting back on the next bus.
The statue/fountain in the center of the mall area where we had lunch. It was very nice there, open-air, but with the glass arch over the courtyard. For some reason, it gave me a distinct Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory impression.
The warship/museum in the prior photo is docked right in front of the open end of this courtyard, so you get this very striking view of the ship from the courtyard. Dunno why I didn't get a picture of that... I think we were hungry or something.
After lunch, we hopped back on the bus and headed across the Tower Bridge. Which isn't really very spectactular when you're crossing it. Basically all you see is this. :-) I guess it's best appreciated from a distance.
They also made us sign something that said we were required to take pictures of the double-decker buses. So I'm just fulfilling my tourist quota here.
And while we're on the subject of vehicles, I have to talk about the taxis. They're so great.
They're all the same exact model of car, and stylistically, it looks like they're 50 or 60 years old. But they're actually very modern vehicles just designed to
old and classic. There's just something so
about the way they look.
And a new twist is that someone's come up with a way of doing large-format durable printing on flexible vinyl that can be applied to these cabs. So every cab is decorated with colorful advertising all over it. This is one of the more subdued ones, there were others that were completely covered from roof to tires with brightly colored pictures and patterns. Quite fun and whimsical, while being commercial and corporate at the same time.
The houses of Parliament from a bridge crossing the Thames. Very majestic!
Up close and personal with the houses of Parliament. There was something going on special that day, as there was a large crowd and some TV news trucks there. I never found out what, exactly.
I'm told that lots of crowds and TV is actually a normal day for Parliament Square.
As we approached this ornate building, I thought to myself, 'What's this? A museum? An important government building? An opera house?'
No, it's a department store. :-)
That's so English. A department store that looks like a museum. Anyway, it turns out the be the legendary Harrod's department store. The bus tour explained they employ something like 6000 people.
The bus tour also relates an (again, very English) anecdote which I'm sure is apocryphal, but worth retelling anyway. Upon hearing the store's slogan, 'Everything for everyone everywhere', one customer asked for an Elephant Sandwich. The clerk's equally smart-assed reply: 'I'm sorry sir, but we've just run out of bread.'
The Museum of Natural History, which was very near to our hotel but which we didn't go inside. I just thought it was a gorgeuous building, worth photographing.
The stonework on the front of the museum was incredible, I just had to capture it.
This was near the end of the bus tour, where we hopped off and hightailed it back to the hotel.
We were so tired that I don't think we even ate anything that evening. It was all we could do to get back to the hotel and just crash. I think we must have slept twelve hours that night.
One thing that was not in short supply, on the entire trip, was McDonald's restaurants. They were everywhere.
This photo was taken at a McDonald's in the Earl's Court section of London. Basically, the next day, we had until early-afternoon before
was due to pick us up and take us to Cambridge. So I was craving Egg McMuffins, and also curious about riding
. So we located the nearest Mickey D's in the phone book and hopped the Tube to Earl's Court.
This was the fire alarm and employee instructions outside the restrooms in the McDonald's. Same kind of thing you find here. Only I got a real kick out of the last instruction on the list, where to meet in the event of a building evacuation. It's England, so where else are you going to meet?
Down at the pub, of course.
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After breakfast, we still had a little time to kill, so I wanted to go to the
which was near both a Tube stop as well as our hotel.
The most interesting part (to me, anyway), was a was a gigantic LED wall display stretching up about four stories at one end of a huge hall. Its hypnotic display was hard to take your eyes off of. Closer inspection revealed that each moving section of lights was actually a message typed by kids into terminals there at the museum.
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The other half of the video of the wall display, continuing the camera pan up to the fourth story. For scale, you see. :-)
The little restaurant at the museum had nifty under-lit tables. Very futuristic. Mediocre food, though. :-)
After lunch, we headed back to the hotel, where we waited in the lobby for Patrick to arrive to give us a lift to Cambridge.
I was a little worried when he showed up, because his midsize-sedan car was already packed to the gills with his stuff, and for a while I was worried our suitcases wouldn't fit. We'd deliberately traveled light; each of us had only one small suitcase (small enough to count as a carry-on for the airlines) and a handbag-sized case for odds and ends. But there's only so much you can do with the limited space in a car...
But we triumphed over the limitations of physics and the space-time continuum, and managed to cram the four of us and all the gear in there. I rode the entire way to Cambridge with a large 4WD electric RC truck on my lap. More on the truck later...
Tony's Photo Galleries
European Vacation 2003
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