A London side trip during a long Central America tour may seem a little strange. It seems strange to me anyway. However Mom, being a Florida State University alumnae, was able to get housing used by FSU exchange students for a good price. In this case Mom and I stayed in a three bedroom, two bath unit with a fully equipped kitchen and furnished living room for $100 a day. It's a pity we didn't have more people to split the cost, I think it was normally used by eight to ten students. The best part was the location; we were in central London about a block and a half from the Tottenham Court Underground station and three blocks from the British Museum. The only problem is that it was only available between semesters, including the Christmas holidays, which is why Mom and I spent Christmas in London.
This was my first trip to England, or any part of the British Isles. I liked it. London is a huge multi-cultural city, the center is easy to get around on foot or using the Underground, it has polite, friendly people and lots of history, museums, theaters, parks and pubs, and is very safe compared to big cities in the U.S. and Central America. If it weren't for the cost of living and the weather I'd be in the market for an apartment near one of the parks.
I arrived mid-afternoon on December 16 and had a long slog through passport and customs, Mom arrived mid-morning on 17 December and breezed through passport and customs. This, and the early arrival of her flight, is why she was already on her way to the flat when I went to meet her. Sorry Mom. The rest of the day was spent checking out the area around student quarters and stocking the kitchen. The next day we made our first trip to the:
The next day we walked around central London, taking pictures along the way, and picked up some half-price tickets to My Fair Lady. We were in London for pubs, museums, and theater. I placed a slightly higher priority on the pubs than Mom, but we were mostly in agreement on activities.
Some standard tourist pictures of Tafalgar Square with the National Gallery in the background, a Lion in the square, and somebody famous, I don't know who, serving as a pigeon roost:
Nelson's Column, a zoom of Nelson on top of his column suffering a pigeon indignity, and a picture of St Martin's Cathedral as seen from the Trafalgar Square:
From Trafalgar Square we walked around central London a bit, taking pictures all the way. There is no logic to the following sequence of pictures, they're just presented in the order I took them. First is Buckingham Palace, a band practicing at the Guard Museum, and the band's mascot:
The tower of Westminster Bridge with Big Ben, some cool buildings near Westminster, Victoria Tower rising above Parliament, and a shot of Parliament:
The back of Westminster Cathedral, and Parliament and Big Ben seen from the other side of the Thames.
After walking around most of the afternoon we returned to the flat, changed and went to see "My Fair Lady". It was good, but I couldn't help but compare it with the classic movie version starring Rex Harrison.
The next day we first got tickets to see "The Mousetrap", walked through Covet Gardens--a pre-Christmas shopping zoo, then headed to St Paul's Cathedral. These are late in the day pictures from the top of St Paul's, a shot of the Thames with the London Eye in the background, and a few random shots of London:
More from the top of St Pauls; a heavily Photoshopped picture of the Globe Theater, the Millennium bridge, and a shot of the moon over London that I liked. I apologize for the lighting, it was about 4 or 5 p.m. on December 19 and the sun sets very early that time of year in London. That's one minor downside of visiting London in December. After this we went to see "The Mousetrap", a fun Agatha Christie mystery.
No new pictures for the next three days; we went to Picadilly Circus, hit some bookstores and other shops, and visited the British Museum two more times.
On December 23 we made it to the Tower of London, so of course there are pictures. The first one is me standing in front of the Tower complex wearing my early Christmas present, a blue wool sweater. I hadn't needed a wool sweater in Costa Rica, but it was nice in London. Following this is another shot of the Tower without a goofy guy in the way. Then part of the original Roman wall the tower was built on, and a statue of Trajan discovered while excavating in the area (remember I'm an amateur photographer, I didn't mean to give Trajan the finger):
The courtyard outside the Bloody Tower. The Bloody Tower is where the 12 year old Henry the fifth and his ten year old brother were murdered in 1483. Next to the Bloody Tower is the entrance to the central part of the Tower:
This is the central courtyard of the Tower, Waterloo Barracks, and the White Tower where the Crown Jewels are stored. I have no pictures of the Crown Jewels, which were behind thick glass, but I do have a picture from the 1540 Armory of Henry VIII, also in the White Tower:
From the courtyard of the Tower you can see the Tower Bridge, then some of the ravens that hang out in the tower on the Roman Wall. There is a legend that says that if the ravens leave the Tower will crumble and disaster will fall on England, so now there are always at least six ravens kept on the premises with their wings clipped. Last is a picture of one of the Tower guards, I believe they are called Beefeaters:
The next day, Christmas Eve, we went on the London Eye, a big ferris wheel on the Thames. Before I could get on the carriage of the Eye I had to surrender my Swiss Army knife, which had a small blade, a screwdriver, and a cork-screw. I don't know if they were afraid I was going to hi-jack the Eye, dismantle it or get drunk on it, but they were taking no chances. My knife was tagged and I was able to claim it as I left from a basket full of pocket knives, about three quarters of them Swiss Army knives. I'm not the only person who likes to carry a practical knife. Anyway, from the Eye I took pictures of London (what else), starting with the Embankment Train Station, central London, St Paul's Cathedral, and Big Ben:
Those were the best shots on the trip up. On the way down is a shot of the London Eye capsule next to ours, one of the arms of the Eye (it's easy to see how much damage I could have done to it with my Swiss Army knife), a picture with Parliament, Big Ben and Westminster bridge, a zoom on Parliament, and a building next to the Eye (my guidebook says a Dali museum is in the approximate location, though I can't swear that is what this it):
After the Eye we walked to Westminster Abby, but could not get in. A few pictures from the outside:
On Christmas day we walked around part of London, going through Hyde Park and Picadilly and points in-between. After that I did laundry, journal updates and postcards. In summary, Mom and I had a mellow Christmas.
The day after Christmas was another walking tour of London, starting with the Globe Theater. Here is a front and side view of the stage, the stage ceiling, and a partial view of the standing and sitting area:
From the Globe we crossed the Thames on the nearby Millennium Bridge. From the bridge I was able to get a good shot of both the Globe and St Paul's:
We walked along the Thames to the Tower Bridge, one of London's most famous landmarks:
During a tour of the Tower Bridge I took some late afternoon pictures of the Thames and the Tower of London, then took a night shot of Tower Bridge while we were walking away:
The next day we went to crypt in St Paul's, taking a wrong turn on the way and losing a lot of time, then to the London Museum, which focuses on the history of London. The only picture of note was of the Mayor's coach:
On the 28th we went to a book fair under Waterloo Bridge where I spent 70 pounds (a little over $100 at the exchange rate at the time) on three 19th century maps of Europe, the Austrian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. I like old maps. We then went shopping at the street market on Portabello Road, hit an Ecco shoe store (I was tired of spending every day in the same pair of boots), then back to the flat. No cool pictures but a nice day. On the 29th we hit the National Gallery and Blackwell's, a book store. Also no pictures. I made up for the next day, when we went to:
The day after Bath, December 31, I wanted to ship a package home. I had accumulated stuff I didn't want to carry with me around Central America. It took a while to find a place to do the shipping, and longer to get things properly packaged. It also cost a lot, about $130 total. This and a little shopping killed the day. My fault Mom, sorry for the wasted day. I went out on my own that evening for some very limited pub hopping; it's difficult to get in a pub in London on New Year's Eve. I saw the New Year in at Picadilly Circus then headed back to the flat. Not a major celebration I admit.
On New Years day we got tickets to see Les Miserables and walked in Kensington Gardens around sunset and had tea at the Orangery:
That evening, our last night in London, we went to see Les Miserables, which was fantastic. The play had to omit a lot of the novel, but it managed to stay true to the story. Even with much of the novel cut out the play moved at a frantic pace, which only worked because it was staged brilliantly. I need to see it again. In fact, just the opportunity to see more plays would justify another trip to London.
That was my Christmas in London while touring Central America. It was a bit of a detour from the major trip, but was worth it. I had never been to London before and I was impressed. It is expensive and the weather is less than ideal, but London is a fascinating city with lots of history, outstanding museums, beautiful parks, dozens of theaters, and even a few places to get a beer. I'd like to return and stay a while.