Tuesday, September 08, 2009

London, Day 5: City of London sights

The City of London is a borough within London that represents the oldest area of London, and much of present-day London built up westward out of this original settlement. Almost everything we saw on day 5 is situated within the City of London, including the Tower Bridge (above), the Tower of London, and St. Paul's Cathedral!

First on the list was the Tower of London, which Dave recommended we visit as early in the morning as possible. This is a site famed for several things. Number one, it served as a prison for many Britons, and likewise, it served as an execution site. Number two, it houses the British crown jewels, which are a gorgeous and impressive expression of British power and wealth.

We hopped onto a Yeoman Warder tour, which is given by the tower guard. The tours are very theatrical and entertaining; our Yeoman Warder explained that when they brought prisoners to the execution ground, they would hurry them up with uplifting phrases like "Let's head off," and "Chop chop!"

Speaking of execution grounds, here is the green where Anne Boleyn and others met their ends:

The Tower is a really serene and interesting fortress, but it obviously has a bloody history. The enormous ravens seem to guard the castle grounds like something out of an Edgar Allen Poe story.

After the Tower, we visited the Tower Bridge and All-Hallows-by-the-Tower, which is the oldest church in England. It has a really neat Saxon arch from the 7th century, and a Roman road in the crypt from the 3rd century!

To fill our tanks before climbing up St. Paul's, we stopped for lunch and pints at a highly recommended pub, The Walrus and the Carpenter.

Dave and I had tasty pub burgers with flavor-of-the-month beers. Mmm.

Then we walked over to St. Paul's, which is a beautiful Christopher Wren cathedral in the style of St. Peter's in Rome.

Churches like St. Paul's confirms my feeling that London is a grand city on par with Rome, and I guess it's no coincidence, considering London's original Roman roots.

St. Paul's inside is very open and expansive, again reminding me of St. Peter's. You can walk up steps to get to various vantage points inside and outside the cathedral, so we went for it! After all, we had been walking a ton and felt pretty fit, and we were always up for seeing everything to the max.

It's 259 steps up to the Whispering Gallery, which is inside the large dome. I felt a little freaked out in there, as it lit up my fear of steep, high places. (I am not afraid of heights, exactly, but I feel acute anxiety with being on the edge of a steep drop, even very steep stairs.)

Nonetheless, I made it up the next 119 steps to the Stone Gallery, which gives wide vantage views of London:

After walking around and taking photos for a while, the group was ready to make the remaining 152 steps to the Golden Gallery, which is at the very top of the dome.

However, the stairs were very steep, and what's worse, they are in an open air shaft outside the curved dome, which constantly reminds you that you are climbing around inside the walls of a gigantic dome several hundred feet above the ground. Ahh! Too much anxiety. I didn't make it up, but Diane got this nice shot of Dave and Rob climbing the steps.

After we finished with St. Paul's, Diane and I went shopping. We knew we wanted to go visit this little cheese shop in Covent Garden, Neal's Yard Dairy. Holy lord, did they have a lot of cheese. They had huge stacks of cheese everywhere, and I got a shot of this, the moldiest cheese I have ever seen in my life:

Look at that stuff, it is so moldy that it is literally collapsing onto itself! And I thought Roquefort was funky. (And delicious.) We did pick out some cheeses and crackers for our road trip lunch the next day, and we packaged them up and went on our way.

We also went clothes shopping, but most everything was too expensive. I did pick up a skirt for 30 pounds that was down from 185 pounds! It's got tons of layers of lace, and I love it.

When we got back to the hotel after our cheese quest, we went for free drinks and food at the hotel, courtesy of Diane's important status as a Hilton customer! It was enough to get us quite toasted, so we went on a crazy rampage around Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden that included Diane mounting the Trafalgar lion statute's paw, as well as our second or third visit to Scoop, a wonderful Italian gelateria that we discovered. The dark chocolate was to die for, but I can never pass up cinnamon.

We got plenty of sleep that night, because we awoke early the next day for our countryside road trip!

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