All this happened, more or less...

My name is G and these are the true stories of my adventures.

Monday, June 23, 2008

London, Day 2 -- The Touristy Bits

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I woke up on Monday morning at 4:15, about four hours after I'd gone to sleep. I could blame the jet lag for this, except that when it's 4:15 in London, it's 11:15 in the evening at home. So that would be backwards jet lag.

No, there are two far more probable causes.

First, as it was just after the solstice, the days were extremely long. You welcome these long summer days when it's still light out at ten in the evening; however, the flip side of that is the sun streaming gloriously through your window at 4:15 a.m. When I woke up, my first thought was: O crap, did I miss breakfast?

Nope, I didn't.

The second cause of my untimely awakening took a moment longer to creep into my consciousness. Then it hit me: Roommate. Snoring.

Now, I actually love sleeping in a room full of people. Even strangers. I find it very soothing to lie in bed and listen to all the little noises people make in their sleep. Maybe this recalls my time in Japan, when I quite often had a pile of friends staying at my place after a long night out; maybe it goes back more deeply into my childhood when my brothers and sister and I spent many pleasant summer nights crammed in tents or pop-ups; maybe farther still to my twin and I bobbing around in the womb together. Whatever the reason, I always prefer to be with someone else.

But o god, the snoring was bad. Normally, a snorer will fade in and out over the course of the night. They'll get themselves in the wrong position and really start sawin' logs. Then they'll roll on their back and quiet down. Then they'll shift again and start all over.

This snorer was a steadily roaring buzz-saw. What made it worse: it was a girl. You can pick on a guy about snoring, poke him in the ribs, roll him over, tease him about it in the morning. But it's just embarrassing for everybody when a girl snores like that.

I laid in bed for about an hour and a half -- actually stuck my iPod in my ear to help cover the maddening drone. When it became clear that I was not going to get any more sleep, I gave in, got up, and went downstairs to beat the morning shower rush.

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The snorer actually disrupted everybody's sleep. Even when I was still lying in bed, there was restless stirring among all the roommates, and by the time I got back from the shower, S was up and ready to tackle our first day of the London tourist circuit.

After a quick -- but invaluable -- breakfast in the hostel, we headed for Pimlico Station and hopped on (in?) the Tube. We started at Big Ben, which was... ya know, big. We walked down the street past the Old Bailey, laughed at the massive line queue of tourists outside, and passed a very pleasant morning people-watching in a tiny coffee shop. We then meandered through West Minster Abbey.

Westminster Abby will pique the interest of almost anybody. As frail beings who are daily reminded of our own mortality, we may fear and loath the dying, but we are irresistibly drawn to the dead. We spend millions of dollars making and watching horror movies about them, and we gawk at a corpse any chance we get. If you don't believe me, check out the crowd in front of a mummy at any museum. Well, in Westminster, there are loads of people laying around dead, including royalty and public heroes from over the centuries, as well as some more surprising folks and some pretty intriguing stories. For example, Oliver Cromwell -- who became Lord Protector in 1653 and died of natural causes (probably malaria) in 1658 -- was first buried in Westminster Abbey, in spite of the fact that Westminster is a Catholic church and Cromwell was vehemently and violently opposed to Catholicism. In 1661, shortly after the monarchy was restored, he was charged with regicide and his body (or what they believed to be his body) was exhumed and "posthumously executed" -- that is, decapitated and hung in chains. His head was put on a spike outside Westminster and stayed there until 1685. Whether that body actually was Cromwell's and what has happened to it since then are both matters for debate that you can research on your own time, but I think the moral of the story is clear: Don't piss off the king. Or, you know, kill him.

I can't even get started on Poet's Corner, but if you're a lit buff like I am, you might be surprised to find yourself quite moved by it. Or if you're a physicist or a naturalist on a pilgrimage, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are interred there, too. So overall, I give Westminster Abbey two enthusiastic thumbs up; regardless of what you happen to be into, you'll find something someone there worth seeing. The Jeremy Irons narrated audio tour is a nice touch as well.

The sky was brilliantly clear, so we decided to swallow the rather large admission fee and go up in the London Eye. I do not recommend doing this on a cloudy day or if you have claustrophobia or acrophobia (that's fear of heights, not acrobats), but otherwise, it's quite a sight to see. I brought my brand-spankin'-new camera and am absolutely giddy over how my photos turned out -- you can see all the way up the river to St. Paul's in the shot at the top of this entry. Thank you, wide angle lens!

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After the Eye, we wandered aimlessly through Jubilee Gardens and then down through Green Park. S and I share many passions -- travel, sushi, karaoke, soy products, putting on fake accents, etc -- but one of the strongest is people-watching. London's parks afford limitless opportunities to act as if you're minding your own business while subtly minding other people's. Case in point: the woman above, whom I have dubbed The Pigeon Whisperer.

Buckingham Palace, another touristy must-see, is located on the other side of Green Park, so after our stroll beneath the trees, we watched the guards do their little marching bit. They march exactly as you expect them to, so it actually gets quite boring pretty quickly, particularly on days like this when the palace isn't open for public tours. You simply stand outside the gate and look at it. However, back along the people-watching lines, tourist-watching is its own special branch of the discipline, and fascinating subjects abound outside the palace.

The guy pictured below officially wins my "Stupid Things Tourists Do" Award for this trip. And I say that in love. He brought a teddy bear with a policeman's hat to Buckingham Palace and took several minutes to negotiate with the officers outside the gate in order to get a picture of them with the bear. The joyous photo below came after lots of stubborn head-shaking from them and shameless pleading from him. I don't know what he said to finally make them cave, but it's clear that this moment was the pinnacle of his trip to Europe.

Bear Guy, you rock.

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2 comments:

neverbelieve said...

My friend's father is currently Receiver General of Westminster Abbey! :P I don't think I could stay in a room with others for many reasons - definitely only hotels for me. Did you venture further afield than London? I'm not a big fan of our capital city to be honest. ;)

G said...

Didn't have much need to venture -- there was so much to do in London! Absolutely loved it! I do tend to gravitate toward the fast-paced urban centers though.
And you're missing out on the hostels, my friend.