Day 3. All along the Tower Bridge
Morning arrives early in the northern latitudes. The first rays of the new rising sun streamed through our eastward window at 4:50AM.
We've stayed in Europe a number of times. I've traveled for work and Jackie has been with me on trips to Provence and Paris as well as London during the Winter Solstice. We knew there would be some differences to the accommodations versus a rental apartment in the US. Our apartment is nice and reasonably spacy. The windows look out on a busy intersection which gives us a sense of being in a city.
Despite being a modern apartment, there is no air conditioner. This is very common in Europe, where temperatures rarely pass 90F (32C). It's not a terrible situation, but I am accustomed to a bit of breeze on me, if only from a ceiling fan. There's not even a fan to move the air about. That's a comment, not a complaint. The woman at the pub last night said we're in for a warm week with temps as high as 35C (95F). Yikes. Hopefully the museums have A/C. Or at least a pub.
It's 7:15AM and it's time to wake the family. I've had a couple cups of coffee (wheeee!) and a bowl of Frosted Flakes. The British version of the cereal seems to be more sugary than I remember in the States.
Beau does not wake up happy, despite her usual chippy demeanor. I put this to good use after I've drank all the coffee. She is threatening to put us in the worst nursing home when we're older.
Another day of Maximum Fun Time™.
We started our day walking up to the Tower Bridge, about half a mile from our flat. Over the Thames and across the motorway, we lined up to enter the Tower of London. The tower churns visitors through the site at the rate of several hundred per hour, leading tours shouted by guides dressed as palace guards. We opted to self-learn, walking about randomly through the ramparts and into a queue to view the Crown Jewels.
After 90 minutes, we'd had our fill of the many untimely ends of English nobility and looked to find a place to eat. Jackie spotted a Pret-a-Manger on the corner by the exit, so we headed that direction. We have eaten at a "Pret" before and liked the concept. The kids were a little taken aback by the pushing and shoving and complete lack of queuing by everyone else, but they liked the food.
We stopped for a few minutes at the All Hallows of the Tower Church. The original church was destroyed by the Blitz during World War II, so most of the architecture was new, although restored to resemble the older church.
From All Hallows, we walked toward the Monument to the Great Fire. Having read Neal Stephenson's massive Baroque Cycle books, I knew a bit about the events leading up the fire and the aftermath. For the kids, the excitement was to climb 311 steps up the center of the monument to see the view from 200 ft (65m) up. Imagine London in the year 1677, and it would've been a much more impressive notion. Jackie and I shared a pint of cider while the kids climbed. Beau was much more excited to be burning off energy, but to his credit Elijah made the ascent and waved at us from the observation deck.
From the Monument, we took the Tube toward Temple station. The station is named for the Temple Church. Jackie and I visited this church in 2011 and we very much liked the experience. For anyone who has read Dan Brown's The da Vinci Code will understand the significance of the church. Although he gets some of the details of the church incorrect, and the volunteers are quick to point this out, the visit is worthwhile for the beautiful stained glass and (if you're lucky) an impromptu concert on the organ by one of the novices. I sat in the Temple Church, along a back bench and listened for an hour to a young man practicing while mid-winter sun streamed through the glass.
From Temple, we got aboard a rush-hour Tube train back at Temple and headed to Westminster. As we got out into a mid-afternoon tube into the bright sunlight and crowds of selfie-stick wielding tourists.
We crossed the Thames at the Westminster Bridge and found a nice park, where we sat in the grass for half an hour watching elementary school children chase each other on a school field trip.
We walked into Waterloo train station to get a few items for the apartment from a Boots (think Walgreens). Waterloo is a nexus for London commuters. Overground rail trains come and go to all the suburbs and the Underground comes in on 3 or 4 lines. Tens of thousands of commuters transit through Waterloo during a rush hour and they were all there at the moment we walked in.
After getting our items from Boots, we walked out onto the street and found a pub. We realized we had stopped at this same pub 4 years ago. In fact, it's the place where I made this statement for all to see. Sadly, it seems the photo is lost to whatever crappy cloud service my Twitter client was using in 2011.
Something I noticed yesterday, men and women stand out on the streets with a pint glass in hand. Every flat surface near a pub holds a glass or has a suited professional nearby. Some are smoking, but most just seem to be enjoying the outside air. Great Britain has such a strong beer culture that it would cause mayhem if the police tried to force them inside. And for all the glass on along the exterior, I didn't see evidence of broken glass.
After our pints and a small snack, we walked outside to a very lovely evening. The sun was about an hour from setting and the air temperatures were nice. As we were near the London Eye (giant Ferris wheel), we decided to look into tickets. Jackie and I rode The Eye in 2011 and she's not comfortable with heights, so she walked about while the kids and I rode the wheel.
Finished with the Eye, we walked back across the Westminster Bridge and into the Tube. We came out of the Bermondsey station with about a mile to walk to the apartment. Along the way was a Tesco, so we grabbed a few more items for the apartment. The final couple hundred yards were probably the hardest all day.
We sat at the dining table, footsore but happy. I made some toast and spread the pieces with a couple of English treats--orange marmalade and clotted cream. Clotted cream is essentially unsalted butter, but with a more substantial creamy flavor. I cut up some Stilton cheese and opened a can of beer while Beau reviewed her photos on my laptop.
A couple of final notes...
As we walked into the apartment, my Samsung Gear S smartwatch buzzed to inform me that we had walked 25,000 steps that day.
The Guardian says the temperature hit 28C (83F) today in London. With all the people crowding around, high humidity and the lack of air-conditioning in public places, it felt every bit of 38C (100F).
Photos are coming, but our apartment has slow Internet access. Also, I haven't had any free time to cull through the shots.
Wednesday, a Harry Potter walking tour. Hopefully less than 25,000 steps worth. Especially as the Guardian says July 1 may be the hottest day in the last decade.