Saturday, 2 July 2011

Last Day in London- Mind the Gap

The Eurostar got up to speeds of 270 km an hour on our return to London.  It was a sad farewell as the 28 tour members who returned to London went their separate ways. It seemed a very familiar thing to cross the road to Edgeware station to catch the tube to Earls Court. Thankfully the old Victorian Hotel I booked into is only a very short walk from the station. I booked this hotel as its on the Piccadilly line and a direct route to Heathrow for my trip tomorrow. The receptionist told me that I was upgraded and then promptly told me I was at level minus 1. The look on my face must have said it all however it was a nice room if just a little tired but it had plenty of room.

 A quick dump of my bags and I was off to the London Eye. Its a giant 135-metre (443 ft.) tall ferris wheel situated on the banks of the Thames. It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, visited by over 3.5 million people annually. The queues were quite big so the option to pay a little more and fast track worked for me! I was pleased I went as the views over London were superb with the capsules designed so that everyone gets a great view. The nice thing is that they don’t jam too many people in and so you can move around freely. The whole ride takes 30 mins to go the full 360 degrees and it does not even feel like you are moving.

I knew some people were going to the West End to see Wicked and others were seeing Billy Elliot. I decided I would make my way down to Leicester Square to chance my luck to see if I could pick up a ticket. My luck was in and I grabbed a ticket for Wicked. With a couple of hours to spare I retraced my tracks and revisited Covent Gardens and had some of the delicious paella for dinner. Yum!

Wicked was just that …wicked. It portrays the Wizard of Oz in such a different light…amazing acting, singing , costumes, storyline…….just wicked. My seat was great…only 20 rows from the front and slightly raised seating meant a clear view. Standing ovation stuff. Because I am such an old hand at the underground, getting home was a breeze.

The next day I was on a tight timeframe. The papers had been saying to expect huge disruptions at the airport due to strikes by border security and immigration staff. In addition all police leave was cancelled and they were on high alert for possible actions of violence by protesting activists. One paper reported that there was an hour long queue to get into a two hour queue for immigration. Papers painted a pretty grim picture and I tried not to think about it.

Trip Advisor had said that if you only pay for one admission in London then you must go to the London Tower which dates from 1066. Of course by this time I had paid for many admission tickets and none of them to the Tower. I had an hour to spare before the much acclaimed tour by the Yeoman Warders.

One of the unmissable highlights is the Crown Jewels, an astonishing collection of priceless coronation regalia. A detachment of soldiers from those on duty at Buckingham palace guards the Crown Jewels. The soldiers come from the regular army units and are on ceremonial duties in between normal operational deployments.

The White Tower displays five hundred years of spectacular customised royal armour worn by royalties throughout the centuries which gave some insight into the personalities, power and physical size of England’s kings. Real skill is required by the royal armourers to combine practical protection for tournaments and battle with the design s and decorations fit for a King!

The Ravens ensure a provision against the legend that Charles II was told that if the ravens left the Tower the Kingdom the fortress would fall. There are 6 ravens but the yeoman explains later they have two spares.

The Bloody Tower and Torture Tower have their gruesome part to play in the history of the Tower. The instruments of torture were not my favourite part!


The Yeoman Warder (Beefeaters) tour was full of tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution and torture about the 20 towers that make up the Tower of London. The Beefeaters all live on site and they deliver a spiel which is scattered with some well versed jokes and punch lines. Apparently Traitors Gate and the Bloody Tower have been used in 3 movies and the actor (forgotten which gladiator type it was) pushes up huge gates with one hand. Given their enormous weights I guess they put that down to Hollywood!
We finished the tour in the Chapel of St. Peters. All of those executed on the Tower Green were buried in the Chapel and many executed on Tower Hill were buried here as well. The Chapel has served as the place of worship for the Tower community from 1520 and is still in use today with regular services.

My last trip on the London underground meant an hour long trip out to Heathrow all for one pound forty. With Mind the Gap ringing in my ears I reached Terminal 3 (there are 5) and relative calm and no evidence of strike disruption. Phew! It was surprising ( and a relief) to find I  still have 3 kg spare in my luggage, so I hope any purchases in the States weight light!

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