Sunday, September 06, 2009

London, Day 3: Hampton Court & South Bank

In the morning of day 3, we visited Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII lived with some of his many wives. The palace definitely felt like a castle of the Middle Ages, with its great dining halls and elegant tapestries.

The castle is also famous for its gardens, which are indeed quite beautiful.

We walked through almost all the gardens the castle has to offer, and I have to say, I have been to Versailles several times, and these gardens are as well manicured as those. I really enjoyed walking among them, and we visited the castle maze (which we couldn't complete) and the world's oldest grape vine. Apparently the vine has been bearing fruit since the 1700s and is still producing perfect, delicious purple grapes.

Of course, we bought some, which were picked from the vine that morning (and eaten on the train ride back to London).

When we got back to London - again, Waterloo Station - we decided to stay on the South Bank and visit some museums there. First, we ate lunch at a little fried chicken stand, because (1) grapes on the train are not enough, and (2) everything else was closed. We really tried to abide by restaurants and pubs recommended by Let's Go London, but it just wasn't always possible.

After lunch, we visited the Imperial War Museum, which was a maybe my favorite museum of the trip. The main room was full of airplanes, tanks, submarines, and even a German V2 rocket.

They even had a Sherman tank - get it? Sherman? Hah!

Seriously though, the museum was amazing. Its exhibits on World War I and II simply blew my mind. They had a wide array of uniforms, medals, equipment, signs, and even a full replica of a World War I trench.

I was not surprised that the museum emphasized the Battle of the Somme, which was the subject of my undergraduate honors thesis. It was - and remains - the bloodiest engagement in British military history, and the Brits have not forgotten. I picked up a book on the Somme in the museum shop and even saw a few titles that I had used in my thesis. Pretty cool.

Next we visited the Tate Modern, which is a fine collection of modern art. I wasn't as familiar with their artwork as I am with other galleries, but it was still neat to see. Among those that I did recognize was a set of Jeff Koons mirrors, which are always fun.

Then outside the museum we saw the Globe Theatre, reconstructed since Shakespeare's time, and the Millennium Bridge, through which you can get a pretty nice view of St. Paul's Cathedral.

This is the bridge recently featured (and destroyed by Death Eaters) in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. We didn't see any Death Eaters, but apparently on windy days the bridge really can wobble a bit.

After a wander that included Southwark Cathedral and the Clink (seriously), we went to The George Inn for some pints. The establishment was apparently a stomping ground of Charles Dickens, but I won't hold that against it. The ale was good, and we were good and giggly.

To top off the day, Dave and I had Indian cuisine at Masala Zone in Soho. We each opted for the "grand thali," which included rice, bread, a main dish, a pakora, and three veggie sides. Mmm! It was really, really good, but Indian food is kind of expensive in London, so we left this as our one Indian treat for the trip.

Before going to bed, we watched some more bizarre British television, which included some strange skits involving mathematicians and dangling donut holes. I thought for a long time that Britons were lucky to have such wonderful television shows as "Monty Python" and "Fawlty Towers," but it turns out that much of it is very strange these days - at least as strange as the crap on American TV.

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