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29 May 2017

London trip, day 2, continued

We left the London Tower in search of lunch. Walking north (not across the bridge), we found ourselves in a maze of construction and traffic. A temporary wall around the construction advertised restaurants, but we couldn't find a way to get to them. So we continued north. The area did not look promising for restaurants. John talked to a construction worker, and the guy didn't know of any restaurants, but he thought there were some back by the river. So back we went. Along the way, I saw a door in a big building, and thinking that that building might house a bar or restaurant, I went in. I smelled food! Turns out all I smelled was a small vending machine area, but . . . I looked ahead through the next door, and we passed through, and lo and behold, a wharf area with lots of eateries!

"The Slug and the Lettuce" was the first one we came to. I liked the catchy name and we liked the menu. But, we continued on past about ten restaurants and reading more menus. We ended up back at the Slug and Lettuce.

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This eatery is big, airy, and has some areas with comfy couches. The menu was contempory, much as we'd find in Boulder. But one big difference that I rarely see in the US – it offered "sharing boards". We often share meals, to keep the amount of food down. Well, the Slug and Lettuce was all set up for people like us! We decided on a board with a selection of Asian small plates, like egg rolls, shrimp on a stick, and a couple other tasty treats that I forget. But it was delicious. And we had wine. And then we ordered a "board" of mini desserts. So good. Our waitress was quirky and seemed to be on her first work of week there, as the other waitress seemed to be at odds with her now and then.

When we got back to the US, I looked up "Slug and Lettuce" to try to find the menu and exactly what we had to eat. I found out that the Slug and Lettuce is a "chain of bars" throughout the UK. It even has a wikipedia entry. This chain is "contemporary" and aimed at youthful clientele and women as well as men. This is the one we were at, "St. Mary Axe.

We next walked across the Tower Bridge.

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Here is the view from the bridge:

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Across the bridge we find a lot of new buildings all with glass walls and of all sort of shapes. I'll show more in another post, but here is one:

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We walked past a children's play area:

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We walked to Westminster, and gazed on the Parliament building, Westminster Abbey, and Big Ben.

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We Tubed back to our room. An oasis after all the noise and walking crowded streets! For a light dinner, we went next door to the Plough and Harrow. (Love the gin and tonics, especially the tonic, but have to keep fighting for more ice.) Ordered a "sharing plate" again, but this one was all fried and we decide not to do that again.

What a fun day.

26 May 2017

London trip, day 2

Thursday, May 4

Early risers, these two travellers! By 6:30 am we were at the Holiday Inn breakfast buffet. British sausage (bangers), baked beans, good scrambled eggs, sliced hot ham, yogurt, fruit compote, bread for toast, muffins, fruits like tangerines and apples, US style cereals, Postum, Wheatabix, and last but not least, buttery croissants. And very good coffee.

Time to hit the Tube! Our destination today is the Tower of London. We hit the Tube early, as the Tower opens at 9 am. Mistake! Standing room only on the train, and that's scrunched-like-sardines standing room.

Our first view of the Tower. But how exactly to walk to it? (This is a resounding theme throughout our walks through London.)

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And what is this crazy thing off in the distance?

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Later, we find out that this is "The Shard". A modern London building. I turn my head and focus back to the building I prefer to look at, the ancient walls and stories of the London Tower. A structure that has stood since about 1097 holds so much more interest for me.

This catapult sits near the entrance to the Tower, where the moat used to be.

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Just past the entrance. Off to the left is the Coins & Kings section, "The story of the Royal Mint at the Tower." Onward and to the right are the tower structures.

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We will go up those stairs for a long walk around the outer wall, but first, we turn left to see the mint. Here is the area in front of the mint:

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A zoom in of the archer on top of the tower. Note also the crosses in the walls.

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The Mint's many displays illustrated how the kings developed coins over the centuries. Many of the displays were interactive. Some displayed the British dry sense of humor: you'd walk into an alcove and a man's voice started talking about how he was locked up for counterfeiting, pleeing "please help me!".

Leaving the Mint, we walked up the stairs I described earlier. Here is a great view of the Tower Bridge:

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This is a view of The White Tower, built by William the Conqueror more than 900 years ago.

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Ravens perch and fly throughout the towers (it's part of the towers tradition). These two were quite tame, posing for me and a group of school kids:

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These mesh baboons reside on the walls of the courtyard. We later learn that the royalty kept many exotic animals in the tower. A sign: "Lions were the most important royal beasts at the Tower and were kept here for 600 years. The enclosure where all the animals lived was called the Lion Tower. Kings and queens always wanted to have lions at the Tower. They were epecially proud of any cubs that were born here. British lions have become an important symbol representing pride and power – from the sculptures in Trafalgar Square, to the shirts worn by the England footbal team."

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A close-up of one of the towers:

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A tour group in the courtyard:

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The Crown Jewels is a popular attaction at the London Tower.

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Two guards walk the area beside the entrance:

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This museum within the Towers hosts the many treasures of the British Royalty. Gaudy gold plates, ceramic dinner ware, serving containers that are simply huge and gaudy, silverware, much more. We were not allowed to take photos. At the end of the tour are the crown jewels, including those of the current queen, Queen Elizabeth II. We had to step on a moving walkway to get past the Crown Jewels, so that no one could linger and stop the flow of people.

Next we walked through the White Tower (see photo above). William the Conqueror began building this "great keep" in the 1070s. From the London Tower, we looked down on the scene below. The wall was bombed during World War II. Wow, this brings history home. I think the cages have something to do with the ravens.

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About this time, I (ahem) began thinking of the "call of nature". I asked John, where did they poop and pee? Lo and behold, a couple giggling women were posing for phone-photos in this little room, and when they left I looked in anc found:

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We sat for awhile in this chapel.

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Next we cam to the Arsenal. Suits of armor, armored men on wooden horses - amazing how heavy and clumsy but ornate the suits were, and how strong the horses must have been. And then we come to this:

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What the heck? We read the signs: "A tradition of displaying British military strength by creating trophies from masses of weapons has long existed at the Tower." "Building on the tradition of trophies, this new dragon has been constructed using objects and materials that represent nine institutions which were housed in the Tower - and in some cases still are."

It's mid-day and were are tired (in a good way). It's time to find a place for rest and refreshment. But finding those seemingly simple pleasures in downtown London, amidst just oodles of construction, proved to be a chore. More walking. And on to my next post.



15 May 2017

London trip, day 1

We set off to London May 2, 2017. Loved the direct flight from DIA to Heathrow! British Airways, aah. "Would you like some wine? Here's a bottle for now, and would you like another to go with your meal?"

At Heathrow, we bought our "travel card", a 7 day pass for the Tube. The pass comes on an "Oyster card". Worked like a dream for the entire trip. We set off to find our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express on King Street out in Hammersmith, a couple miles west of main London. It is set back from the main road and very quiet. And . . . it is within easy walking distance to two Tube stations.

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Looking east towards the Hammersmith station:

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Looking west towards the Ravenscort station:

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The first thing to do? Hit the streets and get physically tired so we could crash and get rid of jet lag. The area around Hammersmith is a grand mix of races and nationalities. We heard English only some of the time. Crowded sidewalks, crazy traffic. Big busses, small cars, vans, bikes, loud motorcycles. Small shops, small eateries, big stores (like H&M), chain restaurants (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway), pharmacies, computer shops, banks, shops with fresh fruits and vegetables, pubs, a scenic old church. A group of uniformed students bustled out of a parochial school. Found an English pub and had a nice ESB beer. (ESB means extra special bitter; it was dark and creamy and unlike our local Colorado craft beers.)

Back near the hotel, we walked into a small joint that sold kabobs and fish and chips. We ordered the fish and chips! We sat down for a long wait, since our waiter/cook had to batter and fry the fresh cod. As we were the only customers, we struck up a conversation with this young Persian. He had a 9 month old son, and explained that he, as an immigrant, could not get health insurance, but luckily his son could. We discussed our views on Trump and health insurance and he talked about his situation and his adopted country's politics. Same problems worldwide. Since it took so long for the fish and chips, he gave us a salad "on the house". That fish was the best we've ever had!

Since the little eatery did not sell beer or wine, we stopped at the bar/restaurant in front of our hotel. After we sat down and perused the menu, we realized that we had to go to the bar to order. This turned out to be the "way it is" in most of the pubs and some of the eateries in London. We re-discovered gin and tonics. The tonic was lovely, like nothing we get here in the states. Just like we found in Ghana or Togo. Ice was the issue, though, had to keep asking for more!

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Ah, London. Up to our quiet room for an early, great night's sleep.