Yesterday kicked off day 1 back in “Blighty”. Neither of us slept on our Air Canada overnight flight from Vancouver but that was our own fault. The Boing 777 might be the smoothest and most comfortable plane I have ever had the pleasure of travelling economy on. I bucked up a couple of hundred at the last minute for bulkhead seats and I am glad I did.
We arrived at Heathrow an hour early which gave us time to organize a London Pass and reload my British SIM card. We soon after departed by Tube on the Piccadilly line to Baron’s Court Station. “Side bar rant here to get going”. I hate my carry on wheelie bag. It is branded by Swiss Army but I can guarantee that this forsaken spawn of the devil was not conceived, designed nor manufactured anywhere near Switzerland. It is junk. You can’t pull it or push it because you have 18″ max before it goes into hyper speed wobble. I will soon say goodbye to this abomination and give it to my worst enemy.
So we soon checked into the opulent Holiday Inn Express in Earls Court. We were whisked through the check-in and soon after into our room and quickly into the prone position soon followed by unrelenting snoring.
Early to rise and down stairs for the full English breakfast HIE style. Cold beans and yesterday’s left over sausage accompanied great bacon and scrambled eggs. We pushed off soon after because today was going to be epic. Off we went to West Brompton Tube station and then on to the District Line Tube to Victoria. Several rush hour stops later we were there. Don’t travel at rush hour, it takes dog years off your life. Crushed in, standing room only and yes there are a myriad of reasons the driver will come on the P.A. to extol you with today’s reasons why we aren’t moving and why most everyone other than us we’re going to be late for work.
Sounds like I am whining but I’m not. I love it here, the city is electric. We got off one stop early, so up the stairs at St. James to Petty France Road and a quick march past the Guards barracks. Soon we were around the corner to the right and Buckingham Palace was flying the Royal Ensign and members of staff were cleaning and preparing the place for the changing of the guards in just a couple of hours.
This officially kicked off our sightseeing tour for real. We posed for pictures at the Palace and Queen Victoria’s monument. With being so early we had the place to ourselves which was nice. From there we shuffled down Birdcage Walk taking time out to watch the band of the Grenadier Guards being inspected before parade. This inspection was incredibly detailed. There was a team of Officers on hand and spent several minutes at each bandsman outlining why they each had not spent enough time and attention to detail on their uniforms and general appearance. They looked very well turned out to me but as long as the officers felt better about themselves then I guess thats all that matters.
We then made our way back to the Royal Mews and loaded our Hop On Hop Off bus for the first leg of our super tourist extravaganza. The bus took us by Westminster, Whitehall, Trafalgar and on into the square mile where we hopped off at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Wandering around the Wren marvel was as always fantastic. We scooted across Fleet Street and to the Fireman’s Blitz Memorial. As my Grandfather was a firemen in London during WWII we stopped to read the monument and take a photo or two.
Naturally we left southbound and over the Millennium Bridge. The South Bank and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre awaited our first tour. With the London Pass we were whisked fast pass style to the front of the cue where we were met by Tom. Tom was our tour guide / thespian and sword fighting instructor. Our group of 20 were led through an exceptional and entertaining hour and a bit of Tom’s tour. We began outside with a narration of how this newly built copy of the original theatre came about, was funded and was finally completed in the late 90’s. Thank you American actor and visionary Sam Wanamaker. From outside we moved inside the only thatched roofed building in London. Many of you are probably aware of a little fire they had here in 1666 that started in a bakery and days later consumed most of the city. Most of this damage can be credited to thatched roofs. The Globe has an exemption. Tom regaled us with stories of the original Globe and old Bill himself. We learned that the stage was small and that those who broke the law of London to attend the theatre had two seating options. Sit or don’t sit. Those who stood in the mosh pit in front of the stage were known as the penny stinkards. Yes they paid a penny and yes they were the unwashed masses. Their clothes had never been washed. They themselves only washed twice a year and if they required a bathroom during a performance of the “Scottish Play”. We don’t mention the word Macbeth in the Globe. Then they just voided themselves of any and all human waste where they stood. All this to say having a seat didn’t exempt you from the smell but at least you didn’t have to trod on a deuce and the beer was delivered to your seat. Luxury comes in many forms.
After complementing Tom on his outstanding tour we headed east past the the Golden Hind and HMS Belfast to Tower Bridge. Back to the North Bank and the Tower of London. Once inside we were met by our Yeoman Warder “Beefeater” guide Clive. Clive had not spent 25 years in the British Army for nothing. He was a human one liner and in the best of dry British humour he went about taking shots at those in the group from France, Australia and the US. At one point he stopped us at the moat surrounding the Tower to explain how it had been designed to annoy their neighbours across the channel. Twice a day the Thames and its tide swooped in to clean out the animal bits, human waste, disease and pestilence of 2000 inhabitants out to sea and across to France. Clive mentioned if they could have made it happen several more times a day (stupid tides) they would have.
Clive then led us into the area near the Bloody Tower where several beheadings took place over the years. So many executions and not enough time to intimately describe each blow of the axe. There was one German lady in the tour who seemed glad of this as she was growing pale and near fainting at the conclusion of this leg. Clive recognized her discomfort, so in an attempt to stick the boot in he told us the story of one wife that was so upset by her husband’s demise that she had his head boiled and preserved so she could carry it around with her for the next 23 years in a velvet bag.
Clive took us into the chapel where all the most famous victim’s of the axe were buried and is today where the Queen attends intimate church services from time to time. Clive left us with one request. If we enjoyed the tour mention Clive in our positive Trip Advisor review, but if we didn’t enjoy it please mention Henry Brown in our negative review as that was Clive’s boss.
Following a must stop at the Hung, Drawn and Quartered Pub nearby we walked back to the Thames and boarded our river cruise back towards Westminster and an eventual offload at the London Eye. On the way our ferryman described all of the significant buildings along the river. As we passed the Royal Festival Hall he told us about some of the most famous acts to play the stage. In the most accurate Michael Caine voice, Harry listed the acts. Michael Jackson, now unfortunately dead. Edith Piaf, now unfortunately dead. Frank Sinatra, now unfortunately dead. I can’t wait for Justin Bieber to play there Harry said.
At this point everyone on board except the family from Dallas who were sitting behind us broke into laughter. Our Texan friends took great exception to Harry’s commentary and were clearly upset. I suppose if you are from Texas everyone is American if they are covered in tattoos and regularly on the front page of the tabloids (even if they are from Canada). The Canadians aboard were in hysterics. I suppose I was expecting this reaction from our Texan friends. Just minutes earlier I overheard Mama tell Junior about the “international spy agency known as Scotland Yard” we were passing on the right. I didn’t have the heart to pop Junior’s bubble. God Bless Merica!