Tuesday, March 14, 2017

London: Crows, Crowns, and Convicts.

We woke up fairly early on our second day in London and immediately headed out for a tour of London via the double decker bus, hosted by Big Bus Tours. What we discovered was that our tickets lasted for 48 hours, and its hop off and on. It allowed us great flexibility for getting off the bus and wandering when we wanted and riding close to our next destination when ready. Since it hits most popular tourist destinations, it was perfect!

A View From The Top

We first took it past Tyburn, the infamous site of executions of a general nature. So, highwaymen and all around bad boys. If you spent a month in the company of gypsies, you may have been hung there. My favorite story is of Jack Sheppard, a notorious highwayman and all around bad boy hung there. Its said he was quite good-looking and a bit of a player with the ladies. If you hear the term, he is a Jack The Lad in Britain, its attributed to our heartthrob, Mr. Sheppard and means the man in question is a heart breaker. His hanging attracted over 200,000 viewers. The most ever. I imagine mostly women, some crying, some laughing and the rest relieved husbands and fathers.
Right next to where the hanging tree was, which could hang up to 28 people at once, 12 times a year, is now a beautiful horse head statue.
10m high bronze Marwari horse head by Nic Fiddian-Green  

The Marble Arch is also next to this area. Built in the 19th century by John Nash, it was meant to be the state entrance to Buckingham Palace but has since been moved to the same island as the Marwari horse head sculpture.

We next traveled along Oxford St and found out that if an area has crowns on their street lights, they still pay a portion of their taxes to the Queen. She makes a small amount of money off of it. Something like 40,000,000. :)

Interesting side note, but the same topic...the City of London, pays the Queen quit rent for two parcels of land that no one recalls where they are located. The terms of the rent has not changed since it was created in the 1200's. An axe, a knife, six oversized horseshoes, and 61 nails. Talk about loving their traditions! No one remembers where the land is, and the only reason they continue to pay it is, its tradition. I love these Brits.

Our last stop of the day was the infamous Tower of London. Famous for brutal executions and housing the crown jewels. 
Sadly, you aren't allowed photography in the room with the crown jewels. And the rumor is, if you touch the glass, the doors close around you immediately. I'm not sure its true, but I wasn't tempted to find out. 

Three queens were executed here, as befitting their station in life. Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey.  Otherwise, most people were executed close by at Tower Hill, not in the Tower of London as commonly thought. 
One great story we heard about the Tower of London, is its believed that 6 crows must sit on the walls of the Tower or London will fall. To make sure thats always the case, there are 8 domesticated crows with their wings clipped that live there. 

                                                                Two crows on the wall

These are just a few highlights of our day touring London. There is so many more stories I can tell and would love to share in a future post!

I hope you enjoyed these ones!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

And the adventure begins!

We flew into London at about 11AM their time. Customs was shockingly simple and to be honest I had been worried about it from the before we even landed. With todays world issues, and President Trump making travel difficult for others, I had considered other countries making it uncomfortable for us as well. My hands were sweating as we rolled up to the customs officer with our carry on luggage and I was convinced that by that sheer fact alone, Id look suspect and need to be interrogated. "Her hands are sweating, she's clearly up to more then just visiting Loch Ness and taking selfies with Big Ben."
The reality is always much less interesting then my imagination and we sailed right through. The customs officer was very friendly and funny and we went through within minutes. He also humored me when I proudly declared how excited I was that the UK was my very first passport stamp! *Swoon*
We dragged our carryons out to our car and was met with a very talkative driver full of tips for our stay. I highly recommend Blackberry Cars.  Not only was our driver friendly and knowledgeable, the car was a well taken care of Mercedes and the price was very fair. Much lower then the traditional Black Cab, and although more then The Tube, much easier when dragging around multiple bags.
Our first stop was at our hotel, The Rubens At The Palace and I cannot say enough things about the hotel and staff there. They go out of their way to ensure your stay is perfect. From the doormen to the reception to the concierge. It was all amazing. Very clean with amazing views of The Royal Mews. Its located right across the street from Buckingham Palace and a short 10 to 15 minute walk to Big Ben and the London Eye.

We dropped our bags in the room and then wandered over to Big Ben. Its very busy in that area with tourists from all over the world and of course, the occasional British worker trying to make their way to and from work/home through the masses. 
We took our required Big Ben pics:

Fun fact: Big Ben is the giant bell inside; the tower is actually called Elizabeth Tower, but no one calls it that. :)

Big Ben and my head.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Next up, we walked over to The London Eye. The view from the top of it is amazing and its considered the number 1 paid attraction in London with about 3.5 million visitors a year. If its a clear day, they say you can see as far as Windsor Castle on it. 

Fun fact: Model Kate Moss has ridden it 25 times! 

A stow-away.

Next, as it was getting dark, we found our way to the pub The Two Chairmen. Its claim to fame, is its one of the oldest working pubs in Westminster, London. The name comes from the two men who would be hired to carry the wealthy through the streets of smelly, muddy, dirty London on sedan chairs. Across the street from the pub was a theater called the Royal Cockfight, where the wealthy would bet on cock fights. The chairmen would wait for their next fare across the street at the pub and then when called, two chairmen would pick up their next passenger and off they would go!
Its believed that yelling, "Chair Ho" was how the upper class would attract their attention and resulted in the word, "Cheerio", heard today.

The staircase in the Two Chairmen.

 Tha bar in the Two Chairmen

First Fish & Chips with peas.

Outside of the Two Chairmen

We ended our day at the hotel with some amazing tea and cookies! Only day 1 of 21 total days on our Whistle Stop tour of the UK!