Archive | November 2018

A Thing…

So… I decided to do a thing.  I have a bit of extra time right now, so what better opportunity is there?

I decided to write a book.  My thought right now is that it will be about my trip, commingled with the last couple years of my life.  The record of my experience; my emotions, my fears, my successes, my failures.  What the trip meant to me, and what the people in my life mean to me.  A memoir, I guess. There will likely be some overlap with this blog, but this blog has always been more about the things I do and see, rather than the emotional experience of it…

I have no idea if it will go anywhere, or be any good, or if it will just collect dust on my hard drive, but I will never know if I don’t write it.

I wrote some pages today.  You have to start somewhere.  Everybody starts somewhere.  Am I just crazy?

London 2018: The Shard

Day 3, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Growing up near Seattle, I’m no stranger to tall, needle-like buildings that offer a view of the skyline.  The Shard is so much taller than the Space Needle though!

The Shard is designed to look like a shard of glass extending skyward, to a total height of 1,016 feet, and 95 stories.  It is a mixed use building, with residential, office space and a hotel occupying its 95 floors.  We were there to visit The View from The Shard, an open air observation deck and viewing gallery with a cocktail bar, and some of the best views of London.  The View from The Shard occupies floors 68-72, and there is not usable floor space up above that, so you can look straight up and see the architecture of the building and the sky!

Once you pay your admission, access to the observation deck is via a high speed elevator – it would have been cooler if it was a glass elevator with a view, but I guess you can’t have everything.  Then you have to climb a couple of flights of stairs in order to get to the open air observation deck.

Once at the top, the view is incredible, and you can stay as long as you like.  We had a cider, and sat on the AstroTurf and checked out the view.  There are windows on all sides, so you can see all four directions, although the glare of the sun made it a bit difficult for us to see in that direction.  Even the bathrooms had a floor to ceiling window!

My only complaint about The Shard was that I wish there had been more seating on the observation deck.  We had been on our feet all day, and really just wanted to sit down for a few minutes!  Nobody bothered us when we sat on the AstroTurf, but it just felt a little bit weird.

The Shard was expensive, but it was certainly worth it since it was included with the London Pass.  Relaxing with a great view!

On our way home we stopped at a Greene King Tavern pub for a late dinner and a cider.  I had a simple ham and cheese sandwich.  We got back to the hotel at 10:15 – a late night for me!

Tube Stations: London Bridge (near The Shard), Earl’s Court (hotel)
Costs: The Shard – 27.20 pounds (free with London pass), dinner and cider
FitBit Steps: 14,500!


London 2018: Tower Bridge

Day 3, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Nearby the Tower of London is the Tower Bridge, so we headed there next.  The bridge was built between 1886 and 1894, and is a bascule (otherwise known as a drawbridge) and suspension bridge.

Me and Taryn with the Tower Bridge in the background

The bridge was built for both pedestrian and vehicle traffic.  However, there is a twist!  The bridge was built with pedestrian walkways up above too so people could still cross the bridge when it was open to allow ships to pass through.  Talk about a view!

Unfortunately, you had to climb several stories to get to the top walkway and most people didn’t want such a workout just to cross a bridge.  According to some sources, the upper walkway became a place frequented by prostitutes and pickpockets.  As a result, the upper pedestrian walkway was closed in 1910.  The official story is that the upper walkways were not used because pedestrians preferred to wait at the bottom and watch the bridge open when ships came through.  Perhaps they preferred to wait at the bottom because of all the prostitution on the upper walkway!

In the 1980s the upper walkway was reopened and now you can visit.  When we were there, the elevator was broken, so we still had to climb all those stairs – 206 steps!  On a very hot day…  With no air conditioning…  Wow – it was a good workout…

The exhibit explains how the bridge was constructed, with divers wearing those old fashioned bell helmets submerging to build the underwater portions of the bridge.  These workers were very well paid!  It also shows some of the more than 50 designs that were submitted for the bridge before the existing design was chosen. Additionally, the exhibit shows other bridges around the world and the way that they are designed.

A diving suit from the late 1800s

The real draw (ha ha – no pun intended!) of the paid experience is the glass floor that allows visitors to see down to the bridge and the water below.  It is a very interesting experience!  I was a little bit nervous about standing on the glass at first, but I was brave!  Once I got over my fear, it was pretty amazing.

Your admission also gets you into the original engine rooms; the bridge was once lifted with steam power, 20 – 30 times per day!  It took a crew of 80 people to keep the engines operating.  In 1976, the operation of the bridge was converted to electricity, and now the bridge is only lifted approximately three times per day. It is pretty incredible to imagine what went into making this bridge operate!

One of the original steam engines

I enjoyed our visit to Tower Bridge, and the view of The Shard nearby.  We were going there next!

Costs: Tower Bridge – 9.80 pounds (free with London pass)

London 2018: Tower of London

Day 3, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

After departing from the City Cruises boat, we made our way up to the Tower of London.  This is another one of those iconic can’t-miss London experiences.

The Tower of London was originally founded in 1066 as a part of the Norman Conquest of England.  The oldest structure on the site, the White Tower, was built beginning in 1078 by William the Conqueror, and it has been in continuous use since then!  The site was added on to several times over the years and has served as a royal residence, a prison and has housed the royal menagerie, the treasury and the Royal Mint.

Despite its reputation as a prison, torture chamber and execution ground, only 7 people were executed here until the 20th century.  Most executions were actually carried out at Tower Hill, which was north of the Tower of London.  During World Wars I and II, 12 men were executed here for espionage, surpassing the total number of executions during the medieval period.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the tower was expanded to its current size, with two concentric walls built around the White Tower.  There was construction to further fortify the castle with moats and ditches too.  The Tower of London site is large, encompassing 12 acres.

We spent several hours wandering around; checking out the numerous exhibits in various areas of the castle.  There was a very interesting exhibit on the Royal Mint, explaining how money is made and counterfeited, as well as historical attempts to crack down on the counterfeit problem.  The King and Queen’s quarters are open to the public, so you can check out how royalty lived in the medieval period.  I do have to say, I’m glad to live in the modern era – I like flush toilets, being warm and showers a bit too much to have been very happy back then.

From 1235 until the 1800s, the Tower of London housed the royal menagerie, essentially London’s first zoo.  There were lions, a polar bear, an African elephant, and in later years, pumas, eagles, tigers and a jackal were added.  Of course, there was very little real knowledge about the care and feeding of the menagerie’s animals, and the keepers fed elephants a diet of meat because they assumed they were carnivores.  Perhaps even more bizarre, one elephant arrived with instructions from the Spanish King to only feed it wine between September and April.  Sadly the elephants didn’t live long, as I am sure you can imagine why.  Visitors could see the animals, although it was not for the faint for heart.  In later years of the menagerie the animals sometimes injured or killed their keepers, and even visitors!  It’s not a good idea to pet the lions…

There is an exhibit in the White Tower on armor, which was cool!  They had so many suits of armor for horses!  They also had suits of armor that would fit gigantic men, and young children.

There were also lots of other random artifacts, including the original Norman Garderobe.  That’s a fancy way of saying toilet, which is a fancy way of saying hole in the outer wall where your waste could drip down the outer wall of the castle.  Yuck.

Even though the Tower of London didn’t have many executions, there was an exhibit in the Salt Tower documenting the stories of some of the prisoners that were kept there over the years.  And an exhibit of some medieval torture methods, including the rack.

Finally, no visit would be complete without checking out the Crown Jewels!  The line was long, but it moved quickly, and the jewels were incredible!  Room after room of staffs, jewelry, table settings and of course crowns.  No photos were permitted inside this exhibit, but the jewels were very pretty!  They even had two moving sidewalks that took visitors past the crowns – to prevent people from bottle necking at the crowns.  Taryn and I went back and got back on the other sidewalk to get a better view of the jewels on the other side.  What can I say – I like shiny things…

A tower Beefeater

While we were at the Tower of London, we had lunch at the New Armouries Cafe, one of their onsite food options.  I had the fish and chips, which came with peas.  A little malt vinegar and I was happy!  The cafe is cafeteria style, but they do a pretty good job with the food.  Taryn and I also had some sorbet while we were waiting in line to see the Crown Jewels!  Delicious!

The Tower of London was well worth the visit, with so much to see!  We weren’t anywhere close to being done for the day; our visit to the Tower Bridge is coming up next!

Costs: Tower of London – 22.70 pounds (free with London pass), Lunch at New Armouries Cafe.

Thanksgiving Turkeys

Tomorrow is that day of days, where we Americans stuff ourselves silly with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, wine and the aptly named stuffing.  If you are truly serious about this free for all of gluttony, you wear your fat pants…

I snapped this pic of some wild turkeys at the campground where I stayed in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.  I liked the framing of the dirty, cobwebbed bathroom window…  Art is everywhere.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Now make sure you are ready – go find your fat pants!

Turkey Window


London 2018: City Cruises River Cruise

Day 3, Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tuesday we made the most of our day.  We were up at 7 and out of the hotel room by 8:30 – it was a bit chilly in the morning!  There was a bit of trouble with the Tube, since there was some sort of issue with a train on the line we wanted, but we were soon on our way to the Westminster Pier.  We were going to take a cruise on the River Thames!

Brandon, me, Taryn and the River Thames

City Cruises offers a 24 hour, hop-on-hop off pass; we boarded and enjoyed a leisurely ride up the river on the boat.  Our guide gave us lots of information on the history of the river, and the buildings and bridges that we saw along the way.  He was very funny too, and it was a beautiful day for a boat ride!   If the weather is cooperative, I would definitely recommend sitting up top – you can’t beat the view!

We departed at the Tower Pier; we were going to the Tower of London next!

Tube Stations: Earl’s Court (hotel), Westminster (at the River Cruises dock)
Costs: City Cruises River Cruise – 18.75 pounds (free with London pass)  Note: City Cruises advertises this as a 24 hour pass, but the boats only ran until about 6 pm at the latest – check the times!