London Calling

“London calling, now don’t look to us/Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” The Clash – London Calling

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A gate in front of Buckingham Palace ©Chad R. Mitchell

Welcome to a 12-hour blitz tour of London. This is not a trip that was taken with children. No, in fact it was a brutal hike around the sights, over long walks, through the bitter cold (it was snowing even), and not an in depth affair. It involves diving into subway tunnels, catching subways, (did I mention long hikes?) and only stopping to catch a bite or a beer and continue on our way.

This was a scouting affair, perhaps for a longer ordeal, and I kept my eyes peeled for just how it may be once we are abroad as a family unit. But this was business, in fact on a business trip, with a coworker, and we were determined to cram the metropolis of London into a single day.

“Anarchy for the UK/It’s coming sometime and maybe” Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

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The London Eye – ©Chad R. Mitchell

I flew into England on a Tuesday, mid-day, and made my way to the hotel room. Jet lag wasn’t too bad, partially because I was able to sleep, and partially because I used No-Jet-Lag. No-Jet-Lag is a great homeopathic remedy that aids in digestion, discomfort, and the general feelings of being forced into an unfamiliar sleeping pattern. In addition my little daughter has a knack for keeping us awake at night and I was so exhausted on the flight I simply passed right out.

The rest of the week was uneventful, we were staying in the small town of Kettering, about an hour north of London, and it is primarily an industrial city. It has a spectacular, beautiful church, but not much else in the way of culture. So I was very anxious to have the weekend to explore London.

We had a car, and originally I was planning on hitting up London fairly frequently. But that was before the realization of working long days in a foreign country became my reality. Plus I heard that traffic is intense in the city, and I was fairly sketchy with the left hand driving.

Fortunately my coworker had taken the train to London before, and knew how to navigate, and purchase our tickets beforehand. We had to purchase tickets on the East Midlands train line, either first class or main cabin, and they ran about 95 Pounds for a two-way ticket. Of course that was off peak and during the week they run quite a bit more… around 120 quid.

“It looks like King’s Cross station. Except a lot cleaner and empty, and there are no trains as far as I can see.” Harry Potter

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Kings Cross Station – ©Chad R. Mitchell

The train arrives into St. Pancras Station. It is a beautiful station, directly next to and attached by tunnel, walkway, and tube to the better-known Kings Cross Station. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see the 9 ¾ platform, because it was a busy and rather confusing terminal. There are many signs and directions but it is an organized mess, and one that those in the know shuffle through in an almost magical way. The rest of us, the tourists, and there are many, simply stare in confusion at their guidebooks, wall-guides or shuffle up to the counter to ask for assistance.

The best advice I can give at this point is to make sure you have purchased an unlimited daily tube pass. Make sure it is for the 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 zones, which refer to the different areas of London that the tube travels along. These are of primary interest to tourists, as they go to the most popular areas and cover the most visited sites.

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The Tube. Go check out the site for details.

Once we alighted from the train we decided to step outside and take a look around. It was snowing. Being from California, the only time I like the snow is when I am  well prepared, and perhaps snowboarding. I do not like standing in skinny jeans, with a hoodie, and a thin pleather jacket as my only defense. Needless to say I was shivering in seconds and walking like a madman to our first destination.

We had heard the British Museum was fairly close to Kings Cross, so we decided to go there first. They had a display on ancient Egypt that both my coworker and I were keen to see. Normally I am not much of a museum traveller. I prefer to see what the country that I am in has to offer. Museums could be anywhere, and they have exhibits that could be seen everywhere. In my opinion the world is a living museum. I’ll save the dead civilizations for when I am somewhere less interesting… But this was an exception, a good starting point and, more importantly, out of the snow.

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British Museum. Outside/Inside. Awesome ceiling.  ©Chad R. Mitchell

I have to say, a quick journey through the British Museum only touched upon the awesomeness it contained. I strongly advise a visit if you get the chance and are into that sort of thing. It has FREE admission and it is open from 10-5:30 weekdays, and until 8:30pm on Fridays. It is excellent for children; I saw many of them, in strollers, toddling along, and in their parent’s arms. Check out the website for the list of current activities.

We spent about an hour there, and then had the realization that to really explore and see all there is to see, we would have to have a dedicated day unto itself. So we rushed out, wanting to catch the rest of London before the day was through.

We made our way back to Kings Cross and headed toward London Bridge by way of the tube. We had heard rumor of a the Boroughs Market, which is a “farmers market” in the loosest sense of the word. If you have ever been to Portland for their weekend market, or any of the other great foodie/farmers/weekend markets you will know that there are great ones and good ones. After struggling through the crowded market, with a mulled wine in hand, and unable to purchase food past the crowded lines, we gave up. And rated this a sub-par market…

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You can’t see through the tourist’s heads… ©Chad R. Mitchell

On our way out we went looking for food. Hoping to find a nice English pub with some delicious warm vittles to sate our appetites. Fortunately close by was a pub, with delicious pies, (I had a cilantro, chicken, sun dried tomato one), and it was in an old bank. Simply awesome, and they brewed their own beers, as many do… But unfortunately I simply can’t find the info of where we went.

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“Ring out, Market Bell, for the fruit of the earth!” Southwark Cathedral Blessing

The day was fast flying by; it takes a long time to see a lot. So we were anxious to continue. Since the Southwark Cathedral was on our way across London Bridge, we decided to step inside.

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I may be a man of faith, but I am not a religious man. By that, I am not usually interested or affected by the pomp and circumstance of organized religion. But I have to tell you, entering a cathedral, (though sneering at the “suggested” donation of two pounds. 4… if you wanted to take pictures) and hearing the chamber choir singing toward the vaulted ceiling, I was immediately struck to the core. Below my feet lay the dead saints, resting their bones in solitude, and around me was a building dedicated to God. I couldn’t help but be struck by the beauty and the grandeur, even while being aware of the cost of such a building. Both in money and the blood of the peasants who put forth their pennies to men who claimed to hold the key to heaven. Despite that, I was still blown away at the devotion of said believers and their fervent desire to please God. I was even a little choked up at the sounds and the vision of such a “holy” sight.

It was short lived and we made our way out of the building. Realizing that the day was once again passing quickly. We rushed across the bridge, confused by which one was in fact London Bridge, (hint: it’s the least assuming and ugliest), and hurried toward the more interesting tower bridge.

There is a walk that goes along the north side of the river, and is quite beautiful, even if cold in the middle of February. It winds between the different bridges and we eventually arrived around 4:30pm at the Tower of London.

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The Tower- Full of Ghosts – ©Chad R. Mitchell

This was the sight I was unprepared for… Any pictures I post are poor representations, though I tried to capture it with my panorama feature of my iPhone. I had to leave my camera behind at home, as I had to carry too many technical items for work…

This historical sight will forever linger in my mind. The sight is far more than a tower, it is in fact a monumental castle, and one that has permanently altered and affected western history in ways that will be forever felt.

Staring at the walls, I couldn’t help but think of the sheer madness of America’s founding fathers. The fact that they could defy the crown, and the empire, and the history of their world… It simply must have been unthinkable. This castle, an image of the power that was controlling the world for hundreds of years, must have been even more formidable when it was a living, breathing thing.

We had even decided to spend the £20.90 to enter, and take the tour. However, buyers beware, the castle closes at 4:30pm. An unfortunate turn of events, and one that we were forced to face as we were simply too late to enter.

After a few turns around the castle, and staring in awe at the walls that hold haunted halls, we decided to carry on. A quick turn about tower bridge and we were on our way toward Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

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Tower Bridge. Disneyland style crowds. ©Chad R. Mitchell

Sadly, we encountered a frustrating turn of events: The circle line that runs to the St. James and Victoria stops was out of commission. This meant more walking, in the bitter cold, to a different line, further away.

I will save the reader the confusion of the journey, as it was a rare weekend in which we travelled. And usually the line that runs to these locations is convenient and easy. For parent’s with kids it is usually an easy jaunt. Even with strollers.

“Panic on the streets of London/Panic on the streets of Birmingham/I wonder to myself/Could life ever be sane again ?” The Smiths – Panic

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 Eventually we made it up the Victoria line to Green Park station. It was a beautiful walk through there, the quietest park in London, at least when it’s cold out, and we reached Buckingham Palace.

To be honest, I have no respect for royalty (American independence beat into my brain?) and I really found the palace underwhelming. The beefeaters, (those that guard the palace), were stoic, and the changing of the guard only happens ever other day at 11:30 am during off season. Good to know if you go out for that sort of thing.

It was dusk at this point and we realized we were close to Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament, where Big Ben resides.

We made our leisurely way past the signs for the Princess Di memorial walk, around St. James park and down toward the final sights of our trip.

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Westminster Abbey was phenomenal; I want to go back when I can go in, and with my ladies by my side. But the real treat was the final sight as night set in. As we turned the corner we could just see the glowing clock, lit up as it has been throughout history. And I honestly wondered if we would see Peter Pan, flying by with Tinkerbell, and straight on till morning….

“Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ” Peter Pan

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We lingered on, staring at Big Ben as the night ticked on. It was only with the chiming of the clock that we were startled out of our gaze. As we turned we could just see the Eye of London, the giant wheel that is London’s newest visual addition, and we remembered that we were indeed back in modern times.

We made our way back, somewhat tired and subdued, to Kings Cross station. I departed from my coworker and called up a local friend. The rest of the night was spent checking out Camden. It is London’s hip and yet run down side of town, but one that is great to experience… without the kids. Definitely not kid-friendly. But fun. Yes… fun…

That was my less than 24 hour tour. I have more notes I may add later but that is all for now. Feel free to ask any questions, and I will be glad to respond…

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