Today was a really busy day. I saw the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, then went to Piccadilly Circus yet again to pick up some tea at Fortnum and Mason.
After that, I had some noodles and karaage, and picked up some Japanese confections at Minamoto Kitchoan. On the way I came across the Whittard shop, but didn’t buy, and found out that Uniqlo moved.
After all that, I went back to the hotel, cleaned up, and set off for the Tate Modern, saw the Miro exhibit, saw a bunch of other cool stuff there, then walked across the Millennium Bridge to the Underground and went home.
I’m totally exhausted, but I love traveling.
See the Jewels and Kiss Your Day Goodbye
I dragged myself out of bed reasonably early to get to the Tower of London today. Going there on a Saturday is a really bad idea, by the way. It’s totally jammed with tourists, and there’s no way to get out of there in under three hours unless you just want to stand in the middle of it, look around, and just leave.
If you want to see the crown jewels, you can kiss the whole afternoon goodbye. The line was monstrously long. I skipped it.
I took Rick Steves’ advice, and bought my ticket from a gift shop outside of the tube station called Traders’ Gate.
As you leave the station, go down the stairs, and it’ll be on your right. They’ll give you a piece of paper with a pink/yellow/white copy, and you take that to the main entry gate. It works exactly like a ticket, and you avoid the huge lines for tickets. Brilliant.
Well, they still get you for £18, but at least you don’t have to line up for it.
So That’s Why My Ancestors Left
I walked in just as one of the Beefeaters’ tours was starting, so I joined it right away. The tours last 55 minutes, and are entertaining, if a bit grisly. We saw the Bloody Tower, Traitor’s Gate, the White Tower, the courtyard, and the chapel.
Then I headed for a bench and took a break. My trusty hiking shoes have been breaking down, and my feet are paying for it. The shoes themselves are fine, it’s just that the soles are no good anymore, and there’s no amount of insert trickery I can use to avoid that. So when I walk for more than a couple of hours, my feet hurt like hell. Pacing becomes vital.
I wandered around the courtyard a bit and took some pictures, then wandered to the walls, and wound up in the tower that houses the old crowns, minus the jewels. That was somewhat interesting, if a bit sad-looking to see crowns without jewels (not even fake ones) in them.
I got some good photos of downtown London (also known as The City) from the walls, headed back to the courtyard, and on to the White Tower, which is full of armor, including the Rude Armor of Henry VIII.
I love a nice armor collection, so I enjoyed the White Tower a lot. My favorite weapon was a combination mace/gun. If you run out of bullets, just bludgeon your enemies, I guess. It looked painful either way.
There was also a dragon made out of bits of armor. It was very cool.
The path through the White Tower leads you to the basement, which used to be a torture chamber, and is now a gift shop. So I guess it’s a modern-day equivalent: you squeeze into a room with a hundred tourists, all shuffling around trying to find tchochkes to commemorate their visit to the Tower. I shuffled for a few minutes, about went crazy from it all, and got the hell out. There’s not much worth buying there that you can’t buy at the main gift shop, and the main gift shop has less of an apres-torture chamber feel to it.
After that, it was on to the Bloody Tower, to see where Sir Walter Raleigh and his wife were cooped up for 13 years, and where the two princes were murdered. Such a cheerful building.
But you don’t go to the Tower of London for warm fuzzies, you go to get a good dose of history. And history here is full of people doing really nasty things to other people.
Back in the courtyard I caught the changing of the guard, and then I was pretty much done with the Tower as a whole.
Escaping from the Tower
I headed out towards the Tower Bridge, took some photos, bought some stuff at the gift shop, and headed to Piccadilly Circus for some shopping and a late lunch.
First it was off to Fortnum and Mason, famous purveyor of teas, jellies, and other things. Tea and shopping bag purchased, my mission there was over. That shopping bag will surely spark envy in the U.S. Mom will love it.
After that, I went across the road to a wagashiya, which is a place that sells Japanese confectioneries, called Minamoto Kitchoan. It was a neat place, with all kinds of authentic Japanese confectioneries, with authentic Japanese prices. I picked up an anmitsu bun (which is a bun filled with red bean paste), and some youkan, which is a kind of sweet red bean paste in a block. It goes well with green tea.
I also bought a small jellied peach-like thing. I forget what it was called, but it was delicious.
Lunch was at a place called Wasabi, which had a deal where you can get 2 items for around £5. I got karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and yakisoba (noodles in sauce that are sauteed). I wish I could have gotten more than two pieces of karaage, but that was the combo deal. The food was very good, but the floor was a bit dirty, so I wasn’t too thrilled about putting my bags down.
Then it was back on the streets, wandering around Picadilly Circus and sightseeing. I was going to stop by the UniQlo in Piccadilly, but it was closed until later this year, and I didn’t feel like going to SoHo, because it’s a pain to go to Tottenham Court Road from just about anywhere.
I decided to head home for a shower and break.
Follow the Orange Poles to the Tate… Uh, Where’d They Go?
After cleaning up, it was off to Southwark to the Tate Modern, to look at the Joan Miro exhibition, as well as some other great pieces of modern art. When you exit from Southwark Tube station, just follow the orange street lights to the Tate… well, until you run out of orange street lights, which I did at one point.
Fortunately, I had my Nexus One and Google Maps, and could figure it out. But there weren’t any signs or anything after the quaint orange light poles ran out, which is really very annoying.
The Miro exhibition was fascinating. Modern art changes so much, and to watch a modern artist change so much over his lifetime was something I haven’t had the chance to see. It was a really well-curated exhibit.
I also got a chance to look at some of the other galleries there as well. Rodin’s “The Kiss” was impressive, and I did see a couple of works by Jackson Pollock— he’s one of my favorite artists. I also saw a lot of photo montages by John Heartfield, which were fascinating. And of course a few Dalis. Dali is always fun.
There was also a photography exhibit on Afghanistan then and now, with images from the 19th century British expedition and from 2010-2011. I would not call it photojournalism, but it is an artistic expression. I don’t know. It felt forced. I’m not going to get into the politics of Afghanistan. The images were vivid, but it’s the photographer’s statement about what he feels about Afghanistan, not necessarily a reflection of reality. That’s how photography is.
I don’t know that photography ever really accurately represents reality. It just represents our perceptions of reality, since the person behind the camera frames the image, and chooses what to put in the frame, and what to leave out of the frame. So as an art exhibition, it was interesting, and I’ll just leave it at that, because I can’t judge it as a representation of reality. I’m not on the ground there, so I can’t make any statements either way.
After all of that, I headed out of the Tate, since they closed the gift shop before I could buy anything, and headed to the Millennium Bridge to cross the Thames. It was around 10 p.m., so the sun was just starting to go down.
London in summer is pretty interesting, with sunset so late in the day. I would imagine that winter is brutal, though. Sunset at 4 p.m. or so, I would guess.
I got some lovely shots of the bridge, the river, the skyline, and St. Paul’s, then it was back to the hotel to call it a night.
That was a great day, but I’m exhausted.