England (Hotel Master Robert - London)
Aug 11, 2008
|Today we will travel into Central London. Not to see the Queen but to see where a couple of Queens lost their heads. We are off to The Tower of London.
First off, though, we will head over to breakfast. Nothing new there. Ignored by the serving staff. Empty platters. No milk and few plates. Sigh.
Frustration, I mean breakfast, done, we load up our backpack and it’s off towards the Underground Station. It costs us 7 pounds (NZ$21) each for 24 hours of limited train and bus travel in London, which was quite a bit more expensive than the Continent. That paid we descend into the depths of Hounslow West Station to wait for the train.
The train is tiny. Narrow and low roofed, it is very claustrophobic. We hear people on the train (and even before that on the station) talking, alright moaning, about the poor service and constant delays on the trains. Rowena and I look at each other and think “Great”!
Perhaps today will be different or perhaps it is the over reaction of locals (we hope). We end up standing in the middle of the carriage (it being quite full) and we make it through five stations and one train change (Piccadilly Line to the District Line) before we are advised by the train driver that there is a signal fault at Earls Court Station and to expect some delays.
After ten minutes the next advice message is that the train has been allowed to proceed to the next station (Acton Town) where passengers will have to change back to the original rail system we were all on (The Piccadilly Line). Ah well!
The change does not take very long as the next train comes in quite soon and we all jump aboard. But now there are two lots of passengers on the train and it is VERY crowded. The rumbles from the other passengers reach Volcano level. And we are a bit miffed ourselves.
It takes one and a half hours to complete the forty minute journey. We change at South Kensington Station (a place from a patter song by Gilbert and Sullivan’s Operetta “Iolanthe”, exciting) and reach our destination at Tower Hill reasonably quickly after that.
Emerging out into the world of light we immediately see The Tower and out comes the camera. Plenty of older, stately buildings surround us and soon they become an electronic image file.
A short walk and we are there. In front of The Tower. I am very excited. This is one of those red letter places that I have planned to see on our tour. It does not disappoint. There is a small sling shot thing on the grass area where the moat used to be, several men in period costume and some sort of contraption that supports archery.
Joining one of the five or six long queues we buy our tickets (17 pounds and 50 pence each) and off we go to The Tower entrance. We are a little early for the guided tour with one of the Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters) and so we hang around with the ever growing crowd by the main gate. There are no armed soldiers here, nor police officers with guns (as in France) but there is a search table at a check point just outside the gate, and our bags are searched prior to being allowed in. They are pretty thorough.
The Yeoman Warder finally arrives and with what is clearly a Sergeant Majors best parade ground voice he calls us all together. There is a very large group of people that join the tour but this guy can talk over the whole lot of us. He is a true showman and is very entertaining with stories at each of the various parts of The Tower we walk around. As one would expect there are famous names and dates from the past. But there is a myriad of little bits of information about this door, or this walkway or that wall area. This is well worth while.
The tours ends in The Chapel Royal and the Warder relating the entry criteria for becoming a Beefeater, why they are called Beefeaters, and the number one question that Beefeaters are asked. That being “Where is the loo?”
From there we follow our noses around other parts of the attraction and spend a bit of time poking into here and there culminating in The Crown Jewels. Brilliant. This red letter place gets a green tick and a gold star.
From the tower we head down to The Thames. We are right below Tower Bridge and the camera gets another work out. Across the river is the Naval Cruiser (retired) HMS Belfast. This is now a naval museum.
Camera out again.
Feeling a bit hungry by now we take a short walk along The Thames and into a nearby dock We find a small sandwich shop, a real one, that does sausage sandwiches without all the salad and all the wasted garnish. In fact that is what we have. A couple of sausage sandwiches and a drink. And not a bad price for Central London.
From there we head back to the river to see if we can find a river cruise. Whilst we were in Paris we had thought about doing a cruise on The Seine, but decided to put it off for The Thames. We found one that offered a circle cruise for 7 pounds each and jumped aboard. Well the cruise down river took ten minutes and the return only took longer because we stopped at four or five stops to let people off. There was no commentary, no opportunity to stop and take photos and we were back on the riverbank about 30 minutes after we started feeling pretty short changed.
There is a more up market tour that takes a little longer but those costs about 20 pounds each and you have to book on line. Perhaps we should have done The Seine tour. All wise in hindsight.
From there we started the long ride back, via the underground and the two changes of train to Hounslow West Station. As we headed out off the station we see a supermarket (Sommerfields) and head over. They have a bank of rotisserie chickens and we decide that that will be tea. So, chicken in hand, accompanied by various bread rolls, sauerkraut and cheeses, we walked out to the main road and decided to take a different route back to the hotel.
Although the alternate route is a main road, we find ourselves in an area that is quite deserted. Across the road there was a man walking in the same direction. He kept looking back at us. I was also aware that he would walk quickly ahead of us. Then he would appear from around a corner, stilling walking away from us, still on the opposite side of the road and still looking back at us.
As we reached the main road area by the hotel the guy increased his walking speed and then was gone. I am not sure what he was up to but I felt that I was about to meet him and his friends at the next corner or hidden driveway. That did not happen, but did make me feel vulnerable for a moment.
The hotel was a welcome sight and we soon found ourselves sitting at the small table in our room eating our chicken and rolls.
We went to bed early (for some reason) and again I could not get to sleep. In the end I managed to watch back to back reality police shows until about 3am.
Funny sort of day.