The modern architecture behind an old church in London, right across the street from the Tower of London
We left for London at 6:30 on Thursday night. We stayed at the Royal National Hotel on the North side of the river. I met my two hotel mates, Lelia and Kelly, and we went up to our room to unpack. The room had 3 twin beds, a small bathroom and a few counters to for us to put our bags on. The room was much smaller than American hotel rooms, and even smaller than my room at the manor that I only shared with one person. When I grabbed my phone to check my messages over wifi, I realized… there was no Internet in our room! Gasp! To get Internet, guests have to go down to the lobby to get a temporary user name and password, then they have to stay in the lobby for as long as they need the Internet. Needless to say, that lobby was crowded during most evenings.
On Friday morning, I met up with my friend Michelle to go to the Tower of London and the British Museum. We had bought our tickets before we left and printed out conformation paperwork. It was a good thing we did, since there was no way to print at the hotel and we saved a few £.She had looked up all the stops we needed to make to get to the Tower on the Tube, and with only one minor mishap (make sure you get on the train going the right direction) we made it to the Tower. This was my first time in one of the most famous areas of the city, and it was amazing. There was a huge contrast between all the new, modern buildings being constructed and all the old churches and pubs that had been there for hundreds of years. We explored the Tower of London for several hours, and we even got a group tour from one of the Beef Eaters! After taking some pictures of the Tower Bridge (not the London Bridge), we took the Tube again and moved on to an area of London called the Boroughs for lunch. After eating at a little (and I mean little!) place called Chicken Cottage, which seems to be a chain store, we set off for a prison museum called the Clink. It wasn’t as interesting as we thought it would be after paying a £5 admission. There weren’t any original furnishings since it had been built in 1144 and used for other purposes, but at least we can say we visited the oldest prison in England.
For the last time that day, we took the Tube British Museum, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. There were mummies, Egyptian, Greece and Roman statues, wall carvings from Ninevah, and, one of the most exciting things for me, the Rosetta Stone. We spent HOURS looking at artifacts from all over the world, and we still missed about three rooms, mostly because several rooms were closed and we had to backtrack. We went back to the hotel and got supper at a pizza place on the main floor. I had noticed that one of the specials was Chicken pizza, so I ordered it… but it was not at all what I had expected. There was chicken, but there was also corn and onions… which I picked off. Yuck. After stopping by the lobby for some Internet, it was definitely time for bed. We had spent most of the day walking, and we had another full day Saturday.
That morning, I had planned to go exploring by myself. That was really intimidating, so I was relieved when my friend Elizabeth agreed to go with me, since we both had a tour of the Churchill War Rooms in the afternoon. We set off for the short walk to the British Library, which was one of the places in London I was most excited about visiting. But…we were too early. So, we walked a little farther down the road to St. Pancras International, a train station which I found out later was used in some of the Harry Potter movies. Right across the street was the famous King’s Cross Station, so of course we had to visit there as well. After taking a picture at the cart disappearing into the wall at “Platform 9 3/4”, we walked back to the British Library, which was just opening. The first thing we could see when we walked in was the King’s Library, which are books collected by the monarchy over hundreds of years that only people with special permission are allowed to use for their research.
You can read more about it here: http://www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/prbooks/georgeiiicoll/george3kingslibrary.html
My friend Elizabeth had visited the library the day before, so she showed me where the “Treasure Room” was. Original manuscripts from Jane Austen, handwritten lyrics by the Beatles, a Gutenburg Bible from the original printing, and a copy of Magna Carta were all on display here, along with many other rare manuscripts from around the world. It was one of the highlights of my London Weekend. I was a little disappointed when I tried to see the rest of the library. There are many reading rooms that contain more modern manuscripts for research. When I asked if I could look through them, I was informed that I needed a membership to enter them.
From the Library, we took the very crowded Tube to the area of London known as Westminster, where many of the iconic and important buildings can be found. Our tour of the Churchill War Rooms was supposed to start at 1:00, but someone was running late. But, it was okay, because a Scottish Marching Band, complete with bagpipes marched halfway down the street where we were waiting. We soon saw that it was made up of teenagers, and they sounded really good! After waiting for what felt like forever, we finally walked down the stairs to the basement of a government building and entered the rooms that Churchill lived in while he was planning during WWII. There was also a museum dedicated to Churchill’s life, and I learned a lot about him. They had his Nobel Literature Prize, which was a book that had been bound in silver and inscribed on the front. After continuing through the museum and the other rooms that had been restored to the way they were during the war, I ate lunch at a little cafe in the heart of the War Rooms.
I met some friends at the base of Big Ben, at 3:00, when I heard the Big Bell ring for the first time. That was another amazing moment. Our group explored the area, and we would have gone into Westminster Abbey, but it had already closed for the afternoon. We also found a statue of Abraham Lincoln in a garden across from the Abbey and Parliament building, which was unexpected but cool.
Our group then took the tube to the part of London called Piccadilly (though we didn’t go to the circus part since some of the others had been there the day before) and we saw a little bit of Hyde Park (because the same people had already been there too). We stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe so Chelsea could get a shirt for her mom, and our group split for a while so some could see Buckingham Palace and others could eat supper. Chelsea and I decided Buckingham Palace is best seen in the daylight, not during twilight/evening. After we all came back together, we decided to take a bus to Waterloo so we could ride the London Eye.
We confirmed our tickets around 6:30, then went for supper. Chelsea and I ate at a really nice Italian restaurant called Cucina. It was really fun to watch the interactions of the families eating supper around us.
Riding the London Eye at Night was one of best investments we made during the entire trip. The city at night was beautiful! The Eye never stopped moving, so we had to step on as it was moving by, but the cars were really big and spacious. They were completely enclosed by glass, so we got a 360* view of the city. Several mounted tablets allowed us to tap landmarks on the screen that matched up with what we were viewing, and gave us more information about buildings we were interested in. It was one of the most fun experiences on the entire trip. Then our group took the Tube back and went to bed.
On Sunday morning, we got up early to check out of our hotel and to visit Hampton Court. Many famous royals during the Tudor and Stewart period, including King Henry VIII and William II. But, it hasn’t been lived in by the royal family for hundreds of years, and it is now open to the public. It inspired some of the architecture for Harlaxton Manor, including the Greek-like towers on the roof.
We had planned to visit the meadow where Magna Carta was signed, but the roads to get there were in bad shape for recent rains, so we returned to Harlaxton in time for supper.