Today was my first full day in London after arriving yesterday afternoon. I only have two full days here, and as you probably know, London is massive, and probably takes a week to see everything, and even then you need to come back. So with only two days, I decided to try and see as much as I could today. PositiveMode and his friend decided to go to Bath and Stonehenge for the day, so I was on my own (I could have gone with them, but it cost something like $140, and, as I already said, I only have 2 days to see London, I didn't want to make that 1 day).
I made the plan last night to see as much as I could today, and set the alarm for 8 am. Let me tell you, I think I came damn close to seeing as much as possible. I suppose I could be out seeing more now, but I think my feet may start gushing blood at any point, so I thought it advisible to rest for a while in an air conditioned space (it's pretty warm here). I'll try to give you a rundown of my day without being too long winded, but that won't be easy. And, as always, I can't post pictures. This time, the computer won't read my camera when I plug it in. I swear, they're coming. . . .
8:30 - Out of the hostel to the Tube.
9:00 - The middle of Westminster Bridge in the shadow of Big Ben. I had just enough time to take a few pictures and then hear Big Ben chime 9 am. Walked over to Parliment building to check it out. Took a few pictures but didn't want to go in for the £12 and 75 minute tour. I had things to do and better places to see! Plus, they weren't in session.
9:15 - Westminster Abbey - They don't open until 9:30, so I had a cup of tea in the park. Jolly good I must say. Paid my student rate and I was in (I am still a student in my mind damnit!). I could probably type a few pages about that place, but suffice to say, it was truly amazing. To see that many Kings, Queens, poets, writers, scientists burried in the same place was remarkable. Not to mention how beautiful the inside of the building is. This was either my favorite or second favorite stop of the day (see 3:15 entry). Pictures weren't allowed, and I couldn't post them if they were, but check out this website for panoramic views of the inside of the Abbey. Really an amazing place. I was in awe.
10:30 - Left the Abbey and walked through St. James park towards Buckingham Palace for the 11:30 changing of the guards. Rick Steves recommends watching the inspection of the guard ceremony which takes place at the Wellington Barracks about 500 yards from the Palace if you actually want to see anything, so I took his advice. He was spot on! I stood right next to the fence and watched as the guards were inspected (senior officers giving the junior officers shit for their uniforms and how they were standing - funny). Then the band started playing while the guards marched around and stomped and did other funny British things. The band was the best though. As opposed to the solomn and serious music they play at the Palace, the band was playing Beetles music while the guards marched around (the band composed of guards too in the same giant fuzzy hats). It was great watching the ceremony, and then I headed over to the Palace. (Side note - the guards that you watch being inspected and the band are the same ones who march to the Palace for the changing, i.e., the ones I just watched being inspected were the guards taking over. Also, I always thought it was two guards or something, but it is about 30.)
11:30 - Changing of the guards. Unless you get there at 9 am or are Manute Bol, you don't have a shot of seeing a thing (my sister can back me up on that). I saw some of it over people's head, but it is actually more interesting to watch the crowd. I swear, every tourist within 100 miles must be there. I watched for a while and then headed up to Trafalgar Square. I didn't really care about seeing the ceremony, because I had already seen the inspection of the guards, which is a better ceremony and I was a couple feet away. Right on Rick Steves!
12:00 - Went to Trafalgar Square, London's biggest, busiest square to grab some lunch. Stopped at 10 Downing Street (Prime Minister's house) on the way, but that was a non-sight, because you can't get within a block of it like the White House, and when it's a row home, that can create sight problems. Oh well, at least I was there. I had lunch in the park and then headed to the National Gallery.
12:30 - The National Gallery is huge and full of great, famous art. I took the abbreviated tour, with the help of their own map and Rick Steves of course. To sum it up, I saw: Da Vinci, Raphael, Michaelangelo (I was missing Donatello Ninga Turtle fans), Vermeer, Rembrandt, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh and Cezanne to name a few. Not bad company.
1:30 - Walked about 1.5 miles on the banks of the Themes River to St. Paul's cathedral, stopping at a few spots to take pictures and make sure my feet were still attached to my legs. I made one detour to the Old Baily, which used to be London's old criminal court and where all the hangings took place. Now it's just the criminal court. I was going to go in, but not many cases are heard in August.
2:00 - St. Paul's Cathedral. Massive cathedral with I think the second largest dome in the world. Pretty impressive and beautiful inside, but not as cool as Westminster Abbey. However, you can climb the 600 steps to the top of the dome to see spectacular views of London. I decided this was a good idea. About 400 steps into it, I decided it was a bad idea, and at 599 steps, I decided it was a horrible idea. However, the 600th step was worth it, as the views were amazing. You can see for 20 miles in every direction and it was amazing to see how big London truly is. Of course, I got some great pictures from up there that I can't post! Walking down wasn't fun, but not as bad as walking up (Link to diagram of the dome).
3:00 - 3:15 - Tried to catch my breath, stop sweating so much, and cool off.
3:15 - Crossed the Thames (by foot of course on the Millennium Bridge) to the Tate Modern, London's brand new modern art museum. The museum contains works by Warhol, Dali, Van Gogh, etc., not to mention all kinds of modern art and sculptures. My sister had told me how good this was, and she was right. I think this may have been my favorite thing today. The art inside was absolutely amazing. I loved it and I think I could go back there 10 more times and not get sick of it. I've you've been to London in the past, but not since the Tate Modern has been open, please go back and see it, you won't be dissapointed (if you're a close-minded dolt, you may be, but there's nothing I can do about that). Was there til about 5 pm.
Running out of time, will continue later, but that's all the important stuff. . . .