I wanted to get there to take the iconic picture before rush hour. It was great to take our first Double Decker Bus ride in London! (We took one in Singapore once, but that does not count!)
How fun to get there via bus. We went by all the Arabic restaurants near Marble Arch, and we met a nice Algerian man visiting on holiday.
We got to the road with no traffic! There was the CUTEST little Japanese family of four that was trying to take the picture with the mom setting up the camera on a chair, clicking the self timer, and running over to the road. It did not work! So, OF COURSE, we offered to take their adorable picture of all four crossing the road like the FAB FOUR!
Then it was my turn:
Oh the thrill of fulfilling a dream! Then we walked over by Paul McCartney's house. He wasn't up yet. I am sure he would have invited us for tea had he been awake. :) (Speaking of tea, our room has Twinning Everyday in our room, and it is the best tea!)
Then, we took the Tube to London Bridge where we walked out to the center and took in the Thames.
Then, we walked over to the Leadenhall Market. It is this lovely piece of historical architecture in the middle of the big skyscrapers or London. I am not a big Harry Potter expert, but this is Diagon Alley in the films.
After this, we had more time since we started so early. We had tickets to enter the Sky Garden at 12:45, but they have free walk ups from 7-10. We were there right at 7 am so we were the first to take in the amazing view from the 35th floor of the "Walkie Talkie" building without the crowds. (I have heard that even with a designated ticket time, there is a line that can take up to 30 minutes.) WOW and double WOW! It was a clear morning in London and spectacular.
The new buildings are required to have free green space, but they could not fit it in, so they did it on top of the building! (I really want to show you, but the pictures are taking forever to load with the free hotel internet. I could pay more, but I don't want to.)
Then we took in the Monument to the Great Fire of 1666 where most of London burned. Then we took the Rick Steves "City Walk" until we got to One New Change Shopping Center. You can go up to the rooftop terrace, and feast on spectacular view of St. Paul's from there. We ate our breakfast and marveled!
Then, we went into St. Paul's! We got there a bit early so the man in charge let us go to the service that was just concluding. So lovely! St. Paul's is amazing. The American Chapel to US soldiers from Britain was touching.
We stopped by the Tourist Information Center to pick up a free map and continued our our City Walk down to Dr. Johnson's House. Dr. Johnson wrote the first English dictionary, and it was just great to sit in the room where he wrote it! We also saw one of the few houses (stores) that survived the Great Fire at 17 Fleet Street. We also looked into Twinings Tea.
From there we stopped by to pick up our "hard" copies of the London Pass Guidebook. They had a downloadable one, but I like the physical ones much more! While there (on Charing Cross Road), I noticed that the National Portrait Gallery was right next door, and we were ahead of schedule due to seeing the Sky Garden so early instead of at our 12:45 time slot. So, we popped in to FEAST on so many wonderful portraits. My favorite was of Henry VIII with a small portrait of Anne Boleyn right next to it. I sent a photo of it to my childhood friend, Sue Brock. When we were in 6th grade we got hooked on the PBS Henry VIII drama. (Could this have been the beginning of my fascination with all things British?) We wanted to write a book about him and his six wives. I even went to the El Segundo Library and did research!
Loved this quieter venue compared to the hustle and bustle outside near Leicester Square.
Then, we walked 20 minutes through Piccadilly Circus, the "Time Square" of London and a bit too busy for my taste! We arrived a very special place: Handel House! OK, he wasn't a Brit, but he lived much of his life in a flat on Brook Street, and this is where he composed Messiah, and if you read this blog or 3yearbiblebookclub.blogspot.com, you know I am a head-over-heals Handel fan! To sit in his composing room made me weep. He wrote Messiah here! I had to pause and take it all in. It is a simple little museum with no bells or whistles, but I loved it. What is so fascinating is that Jimi Hendrix lived in the same flat house (only many, many years later, obviously). Just this year, they opened his flat as a museum too. I know very little about him, but I do remember when he died when I was 11 years old. We went up to his flat, and we were surprised at how much we enjoyed learning about him. What I LOVED were all the actual album covers he had in his apartment and displayed on the wall. Guess what? He had TWO Handel's Messiah albums, and they looked very well-worn! I wonder if Hendrix knew that he shared the same address with Handel? I should have asked the people in the museum about that!
We took the Tube to the famous British Museum. This is a place that you want to get to early in the day, but it was more of a priority for us to get to Saint Paul's early as it also gets very crowded, and we loved having it quiet for our climb to the top of the dome! So, the British Museum was amazing, but a little claustrophobically crowded for me. The history was amazing, but I kept thinking, "They stole all this stuff from other countries!" I guess some of those artifacts from Iraq would have been destroyed by ISIS, but still: THEY STOLE THEM! Just sayin'!
It was not very well air-conditioned in the British Library. A little digression: air-conditioning really is not very good here in any of the public places. George keeps telling me that is not usually that hot here, but it is not hot for too long in Oregon, but all the stores are air-conditioned. Not here.
I am thankful our room has good air-conditioning though. Can I say SCORE on that account? I was going to book one of Rick Steves' Bed and Breakfast suggestions, but I knew we would be here in July and none of them had air-conditioning and were several floors up. With the window open on a hot night, the street noise would be difficult. I know it doesn't happen that often, but it could. Guess what, we have had the first and second hottest days of the year (88 and 92) while we have been here. So, I am thankful for GOOD air-conditioning in the Premier Inn London Victoria!
After seeing so many amazing artifacts in the British Library, we went up to the restaurant outside the Reading Room and had our FIRST proper English cream tea. Delightful!
After this, we took a walk to the British Library. I had checked the website, and I thought it was open until 8pm, but it was only open until 6 pm. We had to rush to see the things in the special reading room that houses some very important manuscripts. My favorite was the Codex Sinaiticus that dates back to AD 350 and one of the oldest complete Bibles in existence. (Now, you know I am not only a nerd about all things British but am also a BIBLE NERD!). It was so worth it to make the trek there just to see that amazing sacred text!
As you can see, we had a very busy day! We took the Tube's 23 minute direct route back to Victoria Station during RUSH HOUR, but it was somewhat invigorating to go along with the throng; the teeming mass of humanity going about their everyday life. Coming out into the massive Victoria Station hall was amazing. We just moved along with all of them and were not "rocks in the river" of their life stream. We figured out how we erred in getting off of the Victoria train when were first arrived and made it back to our hotel much more efficiently! We managed to find a local grocery store and even got to see all the workers run after someone who tried to steal packages of meat.
We came back to our room and feasted on our grocery find and could barely keep our eyes open before we fell asleep at 8 pm! (Thus why this is two days late. I kept falling asleep while I was typing!)
8.1 miles + inside walking in the large British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and British Library.