I've never been so happy to be somewhere. We arrived late, a nice 11pm. From the air London looked like a few dirty patches of light, until we got closer. They expanded into very pretty little spiderwebs of lit strands. Super pretty. After getting out of immigration, being stuck behind a large bunch of smelly Slovakian men, collecting our baggage and getting ourselves sorted. It was much later. So, when we pulled up to our hotel (the very nice and charming Grande Hotel, complete with super cute bus boys who, honestly, made me swoon with their accents and that they took all my luggage upstairs so I didn't have to) I didn't care about the cab price (from Stansted, a mean 106). I was even more stoked to meet up with my family, I've only been gone a few weeks, but I'd missed them!! By the time I got up to my room I discovered that it didn't have any hot water (fail). The hotel had just had the boilers replaced, apparently. This meant a super nice upgrade, so I was down with that. It did mean that I wasn't in bed till a nice 3.30am. And I got a super chirpy 8am wake up call. My dad is way too happy for that early in the morning.
Still after a hotel breakfast (I love hotel breakfasts!) we all donned outer layers and climbed aboard one of those giant red double decker buses. We drove past a dozen amazing sites, and heard lots of brilliant facts. Things like the rhyme about Georgie Porgie (pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry) was about one of the King Georges, who was a crazy wominizer. So much so that his father (who was king at the time) opened up the Kings Estate to the public for rent. Or something. Anyway, when you're on the Kings Estate, all the lamp posts + road signs have little crowns on the top.
On the Tour Bus
There was another one about Lord Nelson, who was apparently a captain, or a corperal fighting a war. There's a statue of him in Trafalguar Square. He coined the phrase 'to turn a blind eye', he did. He'd already lost an eye, and in fighting a war his superior had made the signal for retreat. However, Nelson held up his telescope to his blind eye, and said that he couldn't see any signal. They continued to fight, and so I hear that they won. I'm not really sure what he's famous for, but it's definitely something I'm interested in finding out.
It really was crazy how much history there was all over the place. We drove past a church that still displayed damage from the bombs dropped in WWII! The history really was mad, and dripping in details that are why some of the city is how it is today. It really was phenomenal.
The only downside to sitting on the top of an open air double decker bus is that it was cold. Bitterly, face bitingly cold. Still, you wrap up as much as you can, and when you get off you head for the nearest coffee shop and stand as close to the heaters as you can.
We made two stops, the first the London Eye. We did one of the champagne flights which came with a super nice priority priviledge. I was glad that we weren't waiting twently minutes in the fridgid cold, though I did feel a little guilty for cutting the line. The view was very pretty. I couldn't get over how huge London is. It actually does go for as far as your eye can see.
Champagne up the London Eye
Right by the London Eye is Big Ben, which is actually quite big. And pretty - it's actually decorated with an awful lot of gold. The tour guide on the bus told us that if it's up that high, it really is gold. If it was painted, they'd need to erect scaffolding to repaint it every year. After ten years that ends up costing more than using real gold, which is fine for almost ever.
Just Down from Big Ben
It chimed, and we all took silly photos with it. We viewed the Houses of Parliment and Westmister from the road. The details in the stonework really are phenomenal. There is absolutely nothing like it in New Zealand. It really was crazy to see these amazing buildings, and know that they were still used today.
We also visited the Tower of London, which I actually found really interesting. There was some of the first examples of 'graffiti' in the prison tower. Honestly, if you had to carve your handle out in stone rather than paint it, I think we'd have less taggers, and more talented taggers than we do today.
Less awesome was the Torture Tower. The idea of torturing someone for information really doesn't sit well with me, and looking at the instruments and how they were used really did make me feel ill. What's more, it's redundant, because you have no idea if the information you get out of your victim is reliable, or whether they're just telling you what they think you want to hear. Officially they didn't use any form or torture, but unoffically? It makes me sad for those people.
We watched the Beef Eaters + Swiss Guard do their thing, saw the crown jewels which were mind boggling. I can't imagine the literal value of some of those pieces - the size of those diamonds were actually quite mad! I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't glass fakes (and even if the ones we saw were glass fakes, the real ones exist and would have been somewhere else, still the same size).
Some of it was quite over the top (who needs a punch bowl the size of a bath made out of gold??) but some of it was quite pretty and interesting. I don't remember half the details about coronations and mornachy and the use of all these things, but it was interesting at the time. You could also see the London Bridge from the walls. It was quite exciting to see these things in person, rather than on a postcard or whatever. I really was stoked to be there.
After a short nap at the hotel, we reconveened for dinner (an amazing meal at Cafe Rouge, which had a 10.50 for two courses - so so tasty!) and headed into the Dominion Theatre for our first ever London Show, We Will Rock You. It was a tribute to Freddy Mecury, and the sang a fair chunk of the Queen discography. The story was a bit weak, but it did have its high points. Some of it had us laughing, which was brilliant. Less brilliant was the almost mocking use of the haka intro, which wasn't cool at all. Still, it was brilliant to see a show in all it's glory. I enjoyed it!
Sadly, thanks to airport closures in Pisa, we only really had the one full day in London. I was hoping to see a few familiar faces, people that I miss like crazy and catch up with the crew. Still, I'll see them in a few weeks, so it's not all bad. We left the next day on a train from Paddington Station (the station where Paddington bear was found!), but I'll be back. London has such a brilliant vibe, and I was absolutely stoked to be there.
Next up: Sommerset.
Things I learnt: - If a stone building is painted, it's not stone. It's just carved out to LOOK like stone. It's a bling thing, apparently. If you're using real stone you don't paint it, because you want people to see that's its the real thing. - I should have learnt by now, but two pairs of gloves are needed when outside. - Just because they speak English here doesn't mean they get my accent. I was better understood in Italy + Canada than the mother country. - I'm still a sucker for an accent. - Shows in London? Brilliant. - When riding the escalators up/down the tube, if you want to stand, you stand on the right. People on the left want to walk, and if you don't get out of their way they will push you. - I love how into social networking and interactive applications London is. Every second place is advertising apps that you can download for free, that'll help you do whatever it is you're doing there. It's all very localised and clever. - The tube? Super efficent, and way way awesome. Less awesome if you're carrying a 30kg snowboard bag. Still, when I navigated two lines with the bag, I felt like a rockstar! - Yeah! Back to driving on the left side! I think the last few weeks have done me in, though. I find that about half the time I'm looking right instead of left when I cross the road. Was also weird to have the driver on the right side of the car... - They use the orange light on traffic lights to tell you when it's going to turn green as well as red. Bizarre! - I walk much too slow for Londoners. I guess maybe I'll learn how to walk faster??