The Tower of London is to my left as I continue towards Tower Bridge to rendezvous with my hostess after she gets off work. Ah the history this castle evokes. From its origins coming from William the Conqueror after the battle of Hastings in 1066, the castle was William’s effort to solidify his holdings and defensive posture in his newly acquired territory. Serving also as an official residence for some Kings of England, a prison with notorious reputation as the last place you’d want to be sent to and for some it truly was. Now home to the Crown Jewels I lamentably could only gaze at it while I passed because this was not on my itinerary of places to visit. Besides the small fortune you pay to get into this storied complex I was a bit short on time for my meet up so I opted for a few snaps of pics as I assiduously walked by. The crowds are getting a bit thick in this area due to the close proximity of another popular destination for many; the Tower Bridge. With construction starting in 1886 and completion and opening for traffic in mid-1894, (Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan is actually older and much bigger in span but not a drawbridge), it draws its name not just from the two towers that act as a support structure, but mainly for its proximity to the Tower of London.
I remember hearing about this bridge in school and imagined it as a grand span both in length and width, but when I first toured in England back in 1995 upon being in our touring ‘lorry’ we traversed this storied span in a matter of seconds. ‘Was that it?’ I must admit I equated the bridge’s haughty reputation and legend with actual physical size and in my naïve notions was a bit unsatisfied. A modest if not barely adequate 2-lane affair handling approximately a mixture of tens of thousands of people crossing over the river Thames in cars, trucks and by foot but not to be forgotten it still serves as a functioning drawbridge with nautical traffic passing between raised bascules on a fairly routine basis. Today was not one of them but so much the better for me for I am running a bit behind.
With my trusty iPhone to help guide me through the antiquated layout that is the London back streets, I reach my destination in time and my hostess and I set out for the Globe Theatre. Not the original mind you, that structure was built in 1599 but destroyed by fire in 1613, rebuilt on the same site 1614 but closed in 1642. The current structure now was built in 1997 and it stands very near the original location from the 17th century. Since we’re here on a weekday and the admission to tour the inside is again a bit of a sum, we forgo the tour and I opt to peruse the gift shop for things Shakespearean. There were some productions being held there closer to the weekend but they were not Shakespeare plays and for me to lay down the ‘big quid’ it would have to be one of those plays. But it’s all good, the gifts and trinkets from the shop will suffice.
From there we start to walk towards the Big Ben, Parliament & Westminster area. Staying parallel with the Thames we stop in a sort city sponsored Children’s Science and Activity Center. My hostess had taken her young son here on occasion while in the city and so we ducked in to sit in the warmth from the biting chill and wind. At one point we were looking down over this rail onto a lower floor and watching a couple practicing a dance routine. They had a small boom box playing a song and they were going over the moves they had planned out. I didn’t expect to see this on my trip but it was pleasant to watch as we warmed up. With the sun going down over London we leave the Center and continue our way towards Big Ben and we pass the huge Ferris wheel near Big Ben but it’s not going at the moment. The cold has put a damper on the tourist’s desires to ride up there and it was one of those typical gray cloudy days the month of January usually brings this time of year. I snap a few more pics in this area and pass on the obvious tourist’s temptations of the Big Ben area because of declining visibility and we instead head for a train station and start our way out towards my hotel. My hostess has offered to cook me a meal and so we detour and go out to her flat to grab a bite.
This detour we take requires us switching to another line. We get off at this one station and start to head for the exit and she moans a bit and informs me that since this is an old station and we’re just got off one of the most underground of lines, the next platform we need is up on the first level. There’s a lift we can ride up on but due to the age of this platform there’s only one big lift to accommodate the commuters. Mind you we’re right in the rush hour period. As we walk towards the lift it’s obvious from the congregating of people waiting in this undulating mass that this might take a while. She informs me that there are stairs but ‘it’s a bit of a huff’. Pfft!, please, while on tour if my hotel room is below 10 stories I always take the stairs. Go for the calorie burn is what I say. Even with all my stuff on my back, I still make the trek. Being without my instruments and clothes and hygiene needs how hard can this be? “I’m taking the stairs”, “Meet you up top” she says and I head for the stairs. Hmm, not many people choosing the stairs. I notice there’s just a few, and I mean a ‘few’ people traveling my direction and it’s in the complete opposite direction to the lift. ‘What’s keeping these people away?’ I think to myself. At the base of the spiral stairs a sign informs the pedestrian that it will be 197 steps to the top. ‘Oh, this is why’, as I answer my earlier query. The stairs are wide and able to accommodate many people plus they’re not that steep and of modest height, about 9” or so. Just set a pace and start Chris. My practicing to a metronome has given me a natural intrinsic tempo I can default to. I set mine for this purpose, which happens to be around the 150 – 160 bpm and start my ascension. There’s another young couple that started the trek a little before me and as I pass them fairly early over the next minute or so they start to fall behind as the sound of their footsteps becomes more distant. The couple is French, I can hear them talking to one another, and although I can’t follow French very well, I can tell by the tone and cadence they’ve bitten off more than they can chew and before they’ve realized it, they’re past the point of turning around and must endure the climb. We had all crossed the Rubicon but I was faring much better as I strived to keep up my pace and they fell more and more behind. Signs were still posted reporting your progress or diminishing your strength depending on you looked at it; ‘Oh good I’m halfway there’, or ‘WTF!? I’m only halfway there!’ I’ll admit around step number 150 or so I was starting to call up the reserves but I stayed pretty steady. Upon reaching the top I quickly made my way to the disembarking area for the lift and I had beaten my hostess to the top. I stood the in a winded pose with my arms akimbo on my hips looking for a bit of a comment of commendation for my athletic undertaking. ‘You OK?’ I didn’t think I looked out of breath. I answer with a nod of my head, ok maybe a little. ‘Right. Let’s go’ I trailed behind trying to catch up as she briskly walked towards the exit turnstiles.
When we arrive at her flat she informs me that she needs some items to prepare the meal so I’m called on to go to the corner store to pick up a few items. She asks me to pick her up a few Ales to drink for later. I ask her what kind and she says ‘whatever, you decide.’ I tell her I am the last person you’d want trying to pick Ale or any kind of beer when it comes to taste. Since I have never been a drinker of beer or ales, I can only use the quality=cost formula; Expensive means good taste. She smiles and says I trust you. OK, another adventure. Most of my fans know that I don’t drink and that I’ve never been a big drinker, especially when it comes to beer. Just never liked it, or I should say I’ve never acquire the palate or taste to discern one from another. It all pretty much tastes the same to me. I had some, what was told to me, really good beer while in Belgium a long time ago. Sorry, couldn’t tell the difference. Just not my bag baby. So I defer to my next standard of choosing; interesting name. So I see ‘Spitfire’, ooh, the plane that turned back the invading German Luftwaffe and helped win the Battle for Britain in WWII, which sounds good. Aw look, the ‘Fuzzy Ferret’, a bit on the rodent side but rats and bawdy times go with pubs and drinking don’t they?, sounds good. I grab those two and at the checkout counter the clerk informs me that ales are 3 for 5 quid, would I want another? Sure why not, let’s see…..Old Red Hen is appealing enough for me. The clerk looks amused as do some of the other people in line cuz’ I’m making my choosing out to be this semi-celebratory like event. I’m announcing my choice in a typical loud American tourist voice as I stride back to the counter holding the ale out in front of me and elevated a bit as if I found some kind of valuable artifact. All the other customers in line are waiting for me to return because I’ve held up the check-out process for this 3rd choice. They exhibit proper British courtesy to me and tolerate my obvious delight in turning a quotidian errand into something fun. I make the short walk back and proudly present my purchases to my hostess and she can’t help but smile at me cuz’ I’m feeling a bit ‘puffed up’ by the whole experience. ‘You can be such a tart sometimes Chris’
We eat this delicious vegetarian dish she prepared and I head back to the hotel. One more day tomorrow and I’ve still got to finish seeing the paintings at the National Gallery and another famous ‘fab’ spot that’s on my list. The night folds in and I go to sleep.