Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Let the adventure begin! Day 1 and 2 (Part 1)

Oh, where to start. I guess the beginning will have to do. Starting 24 hours before our flight, we were already getting alerts that delays were starting due to the volcanic ash. As the day went on, I continued to receive text messages pushing back our flight 1 hour, 3 hours, 4.5 hours.... Of course if you call customer service to ask if you really have to be to the airport on time since the plane is obviously delayed, they will tell you "we are working on getting an alternate plane to make the flight on time." The fear of missing our flight pushed us to still get at the airport at least 1 hour ahead of the scheduled flight (5:55 pm).....and I can tell you that airlines lie! There was never a plan to get another plane, so needless to say we sat in Terminal E for over 5 hours waiting for our flight. 

One nice thing about Continental Airlines, is that they obviously felt bad for everyone and not only offered a $12 meal voucher for the terminal, but also rolled up a little stand to hand out drinks and snacks while we waited. When we finally ready to board the flight at 10:30 pm, we both were shot and exhausted (and some us very poor sports).

Once we finally boarded the plane, we thought we'd take off quickly.....but we were wrong. Apparently, several people missed the flight (how can you miss a 6 hour delayed flight) and had checked luggage, so the airline had to go through the luggage section and pull their bags for safety reasons. I'm glad our safety is important, but that cost us almost another 45 minutes on the ground. We finally were in the air at 11:30 pm!!!! We had a late night dinner served at 1:30 am, which neither of us really ate since the entire time our plate was out we had turbulence and we thought we may not keep down the food. I finally fell asleep about 2 hours into the flight during the move, but it didn't last long. You see, when you leave after midnight and are heading towards the sunrise, the night gets short....really short. So about 4 hours into the flight the sun was rising.  Neither of us slept well, but we finally landed at Heathrow around 4 pm on Monday. Customs was quick and painless and we hopped on the tube to our hotel. The Crown Plaza near Kensington is lovely and was easy to find right off the tube.  We met up with Gemma there around 5:30 pm. For those who don't know Gemma, she is my kiwi friend that I've known for almost 9 years since we met at Camp Saginaw in the summer of 2001. 

After getting a bit settled into our hotel, we decided to venture out towards Piccadilly Square. We mainly looked around a bit and tried to find a pub to get some supper. We were finally successful and sat down at Cambridge Pub for some classic English food. 

What's better than Fish and Chips? Nothing!!! It's even better next to an English beer. 

After we filled our bellies, we walked down to Trafalger Square. Being that is was nearly 10 pm at this time, we couldn't really take pictures. So we continued down towards Parliament (which was a buzz this late due to recent elections) and finally hopped on the tube to return to our hotel. We both fell asleep pretty quickly cause we knew we had a full day ahead of us. 

Alarms went off early on Day 2 so we could get a move on early in the day. We bought ourselves travelcards for the day since we knew we would be using the tube a lot. Getting the travelcard also made us eligible for 2 for 1 deals at some of the attractions.

First stop, the place I've been secretly dying to see, The Tower of London. I'm crazy about Tudor history so to see the place which is so famous in this time period just made me giddy. We arrived before 10 am so we could try to avoid some of the crowds. After walking through the gates we went straight for the Crown Jewels, as there is often a long queue to see them. Unfortunately we couldn't take any pictures in the building and we were watched like hawks every step we took. I can only describe how beautiful the jewels were and how much they show power and wealth. The largest diamond in the world, the Star of Africa (530 carat) is in one of the sceptres which is worn during coronations of the monarchs. It such a shame such beautiful pieces are worn so infrequently. 

Next up, a Beefeater tour around the tower. The beefeaters (Yeoman Wardens) are the official guardsmen of the palace and also give excellent free tours. We started by talking about entryway into the palace. Traitors and prisoners typically entered via the underground gate by way of the Thames River though Traitors Gate. 

The river has been pulled back from the walls over the years, but the gate remains in place (and I'm sure the water is more for the effect than anything).  Following entrance into the fortress, the prisoners were placed in various holding rooms based on their rank, while waiting for their sentence and punishment. In the center of the fortress right next to the White Tower, is the Tower Green. 

This is the famous place known for it's cruel history of public beheading. This particular area was reserved for more distinguished "guests" such as Anne Bolelyn (2nd wife of Henry VIII), Catherine Howard (5th wife of Henry VIII), and Lady Jane Grey (the 9 day Queen) who received a more "private" beheading ceremony compared to those who were beheaded or hung outside the gates at Tower Hill.. Before a beheading, a scaffold was built, in plain sight so that the prisoners could see the construction from their windows. Imagine watching every nail being hammered into the wood planks that will soon be covered in your blood. Not any easy task to undertake. 

We then moved onto the chapel right next to Tower Green where many of the killed prisoners were buried following their execution. Since it's a functioning Christian chapel, no cameras, videocameras, etc were allowed in the room. The Beefeaters said over 1000 remains are buried in the walls and under a tablet on the west wall, including Sir Thomas More, and many higher status people such as Anne and Jane are buried at alters in the fronts of the church. This was the end of our awesome tour. It's hard to believe that all of these guides actually live in the walls of this place while they are employed, so it's a fully functional palace to this day. 

Next up was the White Tower, which is currently under renovation (notice the small section I was able to photograph). Currently, this houses many of the royal armories history. What's unique about this building is how you travel between floors. You still walk up the very steep spiraling staircase (and always back down) which seems to go on forever. If you aren't a mobile person or have trouble with stairs, this place is definitely not for you. I have a few photos of various artifacts from insides, which I may add later, but it was difficult to take great photos as the rooms were dark and I don't think flash was allowed. 

From there we explored various towers around the property. It's really hard to imagine how big this place is because there is so many towers with varying displays. Honestly, I have a lot of pictures, but as I'm having to sit in the lobby of the hotel to access the internet, I don't have the time (or energy at midnight) to put them all here. I promise I'll update some of them which I get a down day or a few hours (such as train rides)

We spent nearly 4 hours around the Tower, and finally left to explore other parts of London. I'll leave you with a picture of the Tower Bridge immediately outside of the gates. I'm hoping to finish Day 2 tomorrow, during which we continue our adventure to the British Museum and Buckingham Palace (which was quite busy as the new prime minister was announced today). Until then....CHEERS!

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