Day Nine - London Eye, Buckingham, Camden
Wednesday morning we got up nice and early, and once again dashed to Villandry for our pastry fix. This was our last full day in London, and we had a busy schedule planned. After spending the past two days shopping, we wanted to spend this one checking out famous sites and taking pictures.
Before our sightseeing started, we stopped by Leicester Square to see about picking up some half-price tickets for a show that night. There were a couple of things that Kerah really wanted to see, but there weren't any tickets available for those. We perused the available shows, and decided on a quirky-looking one called "Stones in His Pockets." Our evening entertainment secured, we headed for the Tube and popped down to Waterloo station. We had the London Eye in our sights.
Click on the thumbnails for larger pictures
The London Eye is a gi-mungous ferris wheel that was erected on the banks of the Thames for the big millenium celebration, at which point it was called the Millenium Wheel. Unlike other ferris wheels, this one doesn't have little benches where you can sit with your sweetie. Instead, you get hoisted up in pods the size of a small bus, along with twenty or so other folks. It's just as well that we weren't on a little bench, since it wasn't terribly warm out and you could hear the wind whipping by even inside the comfort of the pod. The operation is run by British Airways, and they pitch it as a "flight" aboard the London Eye. I personally wouldn't characterize it as flight, but we did wait in a queue similar in length and duration to an airplane queue. Once we were finally aboard, we were slowly lifted to a height of about 450 feet. We oohed and aahed and snapped a whole mess of pictures. The views were quite nice, towering over Big Ben and Parliament, and the structure of the Eye itself was pretty cool. The whole ride took about 30 minutes, and was well worth the ten pounds admission.
After the ride was over, we walked across the Westminster Bridge to get another look at Big Ben and Parliament. We took still more pictures, and I even had Kerah take a picture of me next to one of the red phone booths. She thought that was terribly stupid, but took a picture for me anyway. (You can see the picture on the right side of the top title graphic.)
Me, Kerah, Westminster Bridge, Parliament, and Big Ben
Kerah had spied Buckingham Palace when we were up in the Eye, and she had been wanting to go, so we walked along St. James Park to go pay our respects to the queen. The weather was pretty blustery, but it was still nice to see all the waterfowl and such as we strolled down the promenade.
Before we knew it, we had reached Buckingham Palace. It's pretty impressive, though not quite as imposing as I tend to think castles should be. You know, a formidable aerie with ramparts and battlements and a moat and whatnot. Instead, Buckingham Palace looked more suited for a garden party, which is just as well since I suppose is what it gets used for these days. We walked back and forth outside the gates, gawking at the guards with their super-tall furry hats, called bearskins. They only do the changing of the guard every other day, so we didn't get to see that, but it was still pretty keen. Once we had our fill of guard-watching, we checked out the circle in front of the Palace. There we found some groovy sculptures and took still more pictures until the wind got the better of us and we decided to get moving.
Statue of Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace's front gate
Buckingham Palace from a small distance
We strode purposefully down the other side of St. James Park until we reached Trafalgar Square, where we once again visited with the "fucking massive" lions. Bidding farewell to Admiral Nelson, we hopped to Tube to Camden Town, where we hoped to grab a bite and do some shopping.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this tale, Camden Town is an area famous for being freaky, like the Greenwich Village or Haight Ashbury of London. There were lots of hipper-than-thou folks roaming the streets, as well as drunks, bums, and small-time dealers muttering "sense" under their breath. There was also the lovely smell of urine that always seems to linger in the more bohemian parts of big cities.
Our first goal in Camden was to find some lunch. I still hadn't had fish & chips and our time was running out, so we searched high and low to find someplace that could offer us a good plate of deep-fried, vinegary fish. We finally found such a place in the Crown Fish & Chips Bar, which was painted bright red and bore the strong aroma of deep-fried fish. I had cod and chips, while Kerah decided to get some deep-fried pineapple (it seems there's nothing that can't be deep-fried). The people there were really nice and patient with the stupid Yankees (us), and we enjoyed our meal, though I don't think we'll be buying a deep fryer for the house anytime soon.
Bellies fully of batter, we walked around Camden Town some more, once again in search of shoes and a black leather jacket. There were lots of really funky shoes down there, stuff that you just don't see in the states, and it was hard to resist the siren call of all the groovy tennies on display. We were strong, though we did try on a few different pairs each, always finding some reason why we could actually live without the particular shoes in question. We also looked at some more Doc Martens, and Kerah tried on some leather jackets, but in the end, we emerged from Camdentown without a single purchase. (You would think we'd be better at wanton consumerism by now.)
Tired of shopping, we retired to the Oh! Bar for some refreshment. I ordered a Newcastle, and Kerah got some crazy multi-colored cocktail that garnered a look of contempt from the barkeep when I ordered it. I don't know if the contempt was for the cocktail or for me or both. The drink might have deserved it, but I hadn't even done anything particularly contemptable. The stupid drink was prominently featured in their menu. If it was a hassle to make the drink, then maybe the barkeep would be better served by taking it up with management. All the surliness netted her in this case was a crappy tip.
Speaking of undeserved contempt, we got jeered at for being "Yanks" as we boarded a double decker bus to go home. We hadn't even demonstrated ourselves to be clueless tourists yet, though. That would be when I futzed around trying to put my Tube pass in a little machine when all I had to do was show it to the driver. Chuckling, the driver asked me, "Are you an Ozzy or something?" Apparently some Londoners hold Australians in even lower regard than Americans.
Once we finally managed to board, we made our way to the top of the bus, where we made big tourists of ourselves by taking goofy pictures of each other. It was really quite interesting tooling around the city at such a height, and it gave us a fun new perspective on London. I'm sure it gets to be a bit of the same-ol' same-ol' after you've done it a number of times, but we got a nice charge out of it.
We met Tess and John back at their flat, and walked down toward Leicester Square for the play. We stopped beforehand in the Salisbury Pub, which was ridiculously packed and thick with smoke (man, those Brits can smoke!). We stayed there just long enough to down a pint, then headed for the theater... er, theatre.
Now, I'm not much for live theater, but Kerah really loves it. As a concession to me, we had picked Stones in His Pockets because it looked to be a funny production. It turns out that our hunch was right. The play starred Bronson Pinchot, who in my mind will forever be Balki Bartokomous from the ABC sitcom "Perfect Strangers." In fact, John and I were convinced that at some point in the show he was going to yell out, "Coosin Larry!" Well, of course he didn't, but he was so good that it made up for our disappointment. He and co-star Christopher Burns each played about a dozen other characters, and they did so with impressive range and excellent timing. The highlight of the show was a frenetic dance routine that had us in stitches.
After the show, we went back to the flat, ordered pizza, and played some more euchre. Once it started getting late, we packed up a couple things and then hit the hay. Our London adventure was almost at an end.
> Day Ten - Our fond farewell >