Thursday, February 21, 2013

History Lessons - London Day 2

Our second day started off much better than the first one.  We hit the ground running around 10AM.  The great thing about our kids these days is their flexibility.  Gone are the days where we have to be back for nap or bedtimes, and while they need to eat, they can also do it on the run.  So there is no longer a need for us to be out the door at the crack of dawn for just a few precious hours.  

Aidan's favorite spot in our studio apartment - on the stairs watching tv

We're lucky that Josh has been to London several times, most recently in October.  So he has a decent lay of the land.  And while some of the things we are doing this week are repetitive to him, it's his first time doing it as a family.  And he's been a great tour guide for us and helping to formulate our game plan, something that he's not usually involved in as I generally do all our trip planning.

Aidan in the metro pretending to be Sherlock Holmes

On our second day Josh thought it would be a good idea to do the riverboat tour from Big Ben down to the Tower of London.  We were a little early for the boat's departure so the kids and I took some pictures near Big Ben and the London Eye.  I always find it amazing when the kids know what the sights are before I have to tell them.  I know they knew Big Ben because of National Lampoon's European Vacation - both kids have seen and love the movie and were excited to see "Look kids - Big Ben, Parliment... Big Ben, Parliment".  Aidan picked it out right away.

Posing in front of Big Ben... sort of...

Bridge over the Thames near Big Ben

The London Eye and the Aquarium

Dr. Who phone booth ;)  Aidan pointed out every single one he saw in the city...

The boys with the London Eye behind them

Josh in the phone booth

Big Ben, in case you didn't know, isn't really all that old.  It was built in the later half of the 1800s and celebrated it's 150th anniversary in 2009.  I was trying to figure out the fascination with it but aside from it being the world's largest four-faced chiming clock and the third tallest free standing clock tower, I think it has just become a popular symbol of London.  

A few more shots of Big Ben

Yup again...

We didn't actually go to Big Ben or Parliment on the second day.  But instead spent a good chunk of our day at the Tower of London and the famous Tower Bridge.  While it was slightly chilly (ok, downright cold by Barcelona standards), I opted for the top of the riverboat while Josh and the kids stayed down below.  The cruise was a roundtrip and supposed to take an hour but we got off at the Tower of London with the intentions of getting back on again later on in the day to return to Big Ben.  Yeah, that didn't happen.

View of the London Eye from the top of our tour boat

This building houses the Aquarium (which we went to on our last day)

Just a few more shots of Big Ben...

However, while on the tour, I learned an interesting tidbit - did you know that London proper is actually only one square mile?  I had no idea!  Apparently it is one of the smallest country capitals in the world.  Just thought I would throw that out there.

This arch is actually the London city line

More buildings along the river boat tour

First glimpse of Tower of London

First shot of the Tower Bridge which I had confused with the London Bridge - they are actually two different bridges

Prettier shot of London Tower

And of London Bridge

Liam took this shot of me - he didn't do bad!

I liked that the traditional double decker bus was crossing when I took this shot, just feels very British!

Liam under the bridge

By now it was about 11:45 and we decided that while a little on the early side, we should probably do lunch before taking on the Tower of London or anything else.  First though, it was a stop at Aidan's favorite haunt in any city, Starbucks.  We sat outside looking around at the Tower Bridge.  After Starbucks it was lunchtime.  Yes, it's noon and we really haven't accomplished much at this point besides a 30 minute river cruise.  But it's all good and we aren't in a rush, right?

St. Katherine's Pier

Eventually we made our way from St. Katherine's Pier where we had lunch, over to the Tower of London.  Now, when I imagined the Tower of London, I actually pictured, well, a tower.  It's actually a walled city - at one time a royal home and at others a forbidding fortress.  

Heading to the Tower of London

Aidan and the Tower Bridge

The Tower of London was built in 1078 by William the Conquerer.  Over the years it was used as both a royal residence, as a prison and even as the Royal Mint.  While it has the reputation of being a place where many were tortured and killed, in fact, only 7 people ever died here by execution (before the world wars of the 20th century at least).  

It's kind of hard to see, but I really liked the gold plated weathervanes along with the British flag

Tower of London

More of the outside of the Tower

The lions that guarded the Tower - for more than 600 years there was a menagerie of wild animals kept here.

View of the Tower Bridge in the background

There were kids activities being held - Liam made a stained glass window (using tissue paper, not glass!)

More of the inside

The White Tower

The kids enjoyed running around the Tower of London.  Aidan was especially fascinated by the actors and was less than thrilled when we were in one area, high above the actors and the actors went off to rebel against the king and he couldn’t find a way down to follow them! 

Some of the actors below... they were off to fight the resistance!

Heading into one of the towers

Some of the crowns we saw... apparently I wasn't supposed to take this picture

Interesting metal statue

I found this humorous... 

Supposedly this polar bear's ghost haunts the castle to this day... 

It wasn't til 1832 that the Royal Menagerie left the London Tower for the zoo!

Many of the animals here were gifts that were given to the royal family over the years and were used for entertainment.  Once it became open to the public, people were able to pay for admission or bring a cat or dog to be fed to the lions!!

Josh and Aidan were disappointed to find that the torture area of the Tower of London was much smaller than that we had seen in Belgium back in November.  I, on the other hand, was thankful for this small blessing.  There was also a small area with some of the previous crowns of past kings and queens – and I took some pictures not realizing we weren’t supposed to.  We did not go into the area with the royal family jewels as the line was easily an hour long. 

However, while standing outside the area of the royal jewels, there was a Royal guard.  And we got to experience a changing of the guard which was cool and I got on video.  Notice in the video Liam telling us how he has to go pee NOW… ahhh Liam. 

The guards

Aidan with a view of the Tower Bridge

Before leaving the Tower of London, we, of course, went into the gift shop.  Aside from purchasing some more Schleick horses and knights for their collection, Liam also got a king’s robe.  And in Liam style, wanted to wear it NOW!  And he did… for pretty much the rest of the day, throughout London.  To add insult to injury, he also demanded that we call him “your royal highness” or “king Liam”.  King Liam also wanted to be carried on demand (which we refused, what horrible subjects of his royal kingdom). 

Presenting... KING LIAM!!!

After our visit to the Tower of London, we headed over to the Tower Bridge to do the tour there.  The kids were especially excited about collecting stickers at each tour point to complete a “passport”.  Ok, Aidan was only excited because he thought there was a prize at the end for a completed passport and was rather pissed off to find out that in fact, there was no prize.  Ah well, can’t please them all. 

Liam continued to wear his royal robe during the Tower Bridge tour as well.  Ahhh Liam!  As we walked along the tower walkway between the two end towers, there were pictures of famous bridges in the world – we tried to see how many we knew and if we had actually seen or been on any of them.  We didn’t do too bad.  We actually had been on a few of them as well! 

The Tower Bridge was built in the late 1800s to help with not just increasing traffic in London but also with river traffic - it could not be a traditional bridge but had to have the ability to be raised for large boats to continue down the river.  

His Royal Highness walking along the Tower Bridge

Yes, I am the King!!!

View from on top of the one of the towers of the Tower Bridge

Parts of the tour included videos.  Aidan was pretty fascinated when they did a reconstruction of how the bridge was built – showing each stage of the construction.  I still think he’d make a great architect someday.  They also found it pretty cool that the bridge also goes up to let large boats through.  The only time they’ve really seen this is with the bridge in WoodsHole which is significantly smaller!  We didn’t get to see the bridge go up unfortunately but there is still time left in our vacation! 

Detailed image of the bridge

Walking down to the engine room... follow the blue road!

Engine room

Learning how the bridge works

Josh’s intention after the Tower Bridge was to go over to the London Dungeons.  Yeah, that didn’t fly so well with the kids.  We saw a few actors outside that had “blood” on their faces and both kids pretty much freaked out.  So that was the end of that.  I can’t say that I was disappointed as I was personally looking for excuses as to why I couldn’t do the tour either!!! 

I was waiting for him to get at least one of his feet in the water here...thankfully it didn't happen

Big Ben as we were on our way back...

So since we missed the boat back to Big Ben and we didn’t do the dungeons, we decided to head over towards Piccadilly Circus in search of a bookstore for Aidan.  This is the only thing Aidan wants to do on the entire trip is to find an English bookstore so that he can get some Geronimo Stilton books.  Yes, I know we can order them on Amazon, but I have to agree with him that it’s really nice to go into a bookstore and pick out books sometimes too J. 

We got off at Piccadilly and it was just as busy as Oxford Circus the day before.  Seriously, this is a busy city.  I don’t think I could hack it.  We wandered aimlessly towards what looked like shopping.  Turns out we were walking aimlessly towards the theater district.  But before we got too far, there was a CINNABON!  Yes, cinnamon rolls.  I think this was my favorite food for the whole trip… seriously.  I miss cinnamon rolls.  A friend of mine sent me a picture recently of cinnamon rolls and my mouth was watering thinking of them. 

Piccadilly Circus

Cinnabon - yum!!!!!

Ok, so after our American Cinnabons we headed off in the direction of what we thought was shopping but like I said, was more of a theater area.  While searching we actually came across a movie theater and call it fate (that’s what the kids would think at least), but they were showing Wreck It Ralph, a movie the boys have been dying to see but hasn’t been released in our English speaking movie theater in BCN yet.  And it had just started with the previews so we ran right in to see it!

It was a good movie, just so you know.  The kids were happy with it though at this point pretty exhausted and hungry.  By now it’s after 7 and they’ve been on the go since 10AM and have yet to have dinner.  Aidan is beyond meltdown mode which only then pushes my buttons.  Dinner wasn’t too pretty.  We did pizza and it was just ok, but aside from that, I think everyone was just tired – it was an awesome day overall and we were just hitting our respective walls.  We made it home by a little after 9 when all was said and done and hit the sheets!  On the list for tomorrow – perhaps the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, and the Natural History Museum… and if I’m lucky, shopping!


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