Thursday, March 5, 2015

Trip to London - final entry

I am devoting this, my last post on our trip to London, to brief descriptions of a number of places we visited during our trip.
The London Eye on the South Bank of the Thames  was intended as a temporary feature when it was constructed for the Millennium celebrations.  It quickly became one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and is now here to stay.  Although it has been described as a giant Ferris wheel, a cantilevered wheel is more accurate.  Unlike with a Ferris wheel, the cars are self-contained, do not dangle, and can accommodate a few dozen people (there were about eight people in our car).  I never had the slightest sensation of vertigo even as we approached the peak.  As it’s one of the tallest structures in London, the Eye offers a great way to take in much of London in one glance and get a lay of the land - I was able to get some good photos from there.  I recommend the London Eye as an early stop for first time visitors.

Photos from and of the London Eye
If you’re going to the Eye, it’s logical to also visit the London Dungeon next door, especially if you have kids (visitors to either attraction have the option to purchase tickets for both at a discount).  The Dungeon is a haunted house type attraction slanted toward the scarier parts of pre-20th Century London history – both historical (Jack the Ripper, Guy Fawkes), and fictional (Sweeney Todd).  It was all in good fun, but those with questionable hearts (and backs) should probably avoid the Drop Dead ride.
The Tower of London is one of the most famous sites one can visit in all of England.  So much history has occurred here, and the best way to learn about it is to wait for one of the periodic tours led by the iconic “beefeater” Yeoman Warders.  After the initial tour, which includes the Scaffold site where notables such as Anne Boleyn were executed, visitors are taken to the Royal Chapel (where visitors are reminded to remove their hats and “silence that instrument of the Devil, the Mobile phone”).  From there, visitors can roam on their own to such structures as the White Tower, which features collections of armor and armaments – including Henry VIII’s armor, which features an enormous codpiece that was symbolic of his rank.  Tickets are £24.50 so be sure you give yourself plenty of time to get your money’s worth for the visit.
The Tower of London -
Dan was very impressed with Henry VIII's "armor".

Entry to the London Zoo is expensive, £22 at the gate for adults, £16.50 for kids under 15.  The selection of animals is not especially noteworthy.  A quick summation is that if you’ve been to the Cleveland Zoo (entry to which is only $12.25 for adults, $8.25 for kids under 12), then you’ve no need to visit the London Zoo – at least that’s my impression after spending several hours there.
Dan & I did not partake of shopping at any of London’s more upscale stores.  Frankly, neither Selfridge’s, Harrods, nor Fortnum & Mason hold much interest for either of us.  We did visit Foyles and Waterstones bookstores, along with several independent shops – including Gay’s the Word.  I was reminded of my days living near Boston, when I’d spend hours perusing bookstores there – most of which are now sadly closed. 
We did, however, sample some of the gay nightlife in Soho.  Our favorite place was Village, which featured a very friendly staff and daily events.  Village has two main level bars, along with a basement bar with a small dance floor which opens on Saturday.  On our last night there, I was persuaded to do something I hadn’t done in over 20 years – sing Karaoke.  Dan joined me for a duet rendition of the theme to Goldfinger.  Despite its rather small footprint, Admiral Duncan is likely the most well-known gay bar in Soho – perhaps in all of London.  Both times we went there we found ourselves being hit on - which, as someone who’s pushing 50, I found rather flattering.  A nice way to cap off the evening was to head to Snog for a frozen yogurt.

At Admiral Duncan
Scenes from Village
Final thoughts…
Ages ago, my 8th Grade history teacher described Britain as “Socialist, that’s one step from Communist.”  (Then again, my 8th grade history teacher also said that Hitler was a homosexual and that Franklin Roosevelt knew about the attack on Pearl Harbor in advance, both conspiracy theories that have been soundly refuted by the empirical evidence.)  Well, even with the presence of the NHS – which no politician would dare propose to abolish – the British would never refer to their nation as Socialist, and I heard their leaders specifically refer to their system as Capitalism while watching the news there (which is far more substantive than our news, by the way).  I saw more evidence of the entrepreneurial spirit, more “get up and go”, and more small businesses during my time in London than I’ve ever in any American city.  Those who read my blog with any regularity know I am an inveterate booster for redevelopment in Cleveland.  But ten days in London firmly put Cleveland’s fair-to-middling efforts in perspective.  We have a lot to learn.
Dan & I had a wonderful ten days in London.  We found the people to be kind without being obsequious.  Despite cautions I’d read in travel articles warning of crime, we felt completely safe.  Indeed, the biggest crime related story I heard about while in London was the mugging of a retiree in the lobby of his building – while there were several shootings in Cleveland during the same time period.   It’s worth pointing out that police in England, with rare exceptions, do not carry firearms.  Indeed, a proposal to arm them with Tasers is being met with some resistance.  London has a variety of cultural events, restaurants, nightlife, and tourist attractions that will appeal to anyone.  There’s always plenty to do here.  It’s also quite practical as a jumping off point for other areas of the UK.  But ten days afforded us barely enough time to scratch the surface.  There’s so much to see, from Abbey Road to Brighton to Stonehenge.  We will most assuredly visit there again. 

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