Monday, April 14, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 31

Today is my full day in London, I have been looking forward to London this entire trip. Since I had my "tube" maps it was much easier to find my way around. First stop was Big Ben. Big Ben is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster and often extended to refer to the clock and the clock tower. The tower is officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, renamed as such to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II (prior to being renamed in 2012 it was known as simply "Clock Tower"). The tower holds the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world and is the third-tallest free-standing clock tower. The tower has become one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom and is often in the establishing shot of films set in London.

Of course Big Ben is attached to the House of Parliament aka The Palace of Westminster which is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Palace lies on the Middlesex bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster, in central London. For ceremonial purposes, the palace retains its original style and status as a royal residence.

Both of these structures are iconic and being their in person was just amazing. I walked around the structures and took as many pictures and video as I could. By the way the weather was amazing!!

While on the other side of the River Thames trying to get a full shot of the entire Palace you can't help but see this huge Ferris wheel called The London Eye. The entire structure is 135 metres (443 ft) tall and the wheel has a diameter of 120 metres (394 ft). When erected in 1999 it was the world's tallest Ferris wheel. Supported by an A-frame on one side only, unlike the taller Nanchang and Singapore wheels, the Eye is described by its operators as "the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel".

I had planned to ride the wheel but unfortunately I never got a chance... guess there is always next time. 

Next on my stop was Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey, formally titled the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, is a large, mainly Gothic, church in the City of Westminster, London, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is one of the most notable religious buildings in the United Kingdom and has been the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English and, later, British monarchs.

I didn't go in the building as there was a huge line and I was trying to see as much of London as I could. But I will say that Big Ben, Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey are some of the most incredibly detailed and beautiful buildings that I have ever seen.

I made my way through St. Thomas Park, which was beautiful.. I love that they have this piece of green land with a beautiful lake right in the middle of the city. I was making my way to Buckingham Palace.

I was at the right place at the right time as this was one of those rare opportunities to witness the changing of the guards. It was both amazing and horrible as there were thousands of people all over the place. I got to see the new guards march up The Mall to Buckingham Palace and then I made my way through the crowds to try and see the actually event but with the thousands of people and large gates in front of the palace, you really couldn't see much.  I did get to see the "relieved" guards exiting Buckingham Palace and marching away.

It was kind of like controlled chaos. It was great seeing this but I think I might have liked to have seen Buckingham Palace without all the people surrounding it. I never had a chance go back and see it on an off day... next time.

I walked through Green Park (another beautifully green park in the middle of the city) and made my way to SoHo and then West End. The West End of London (more commonly referred to as simply the West End) is an area of Central London containing many of the city's major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings and entertainment venues (including the commercial West End theatres).

I continued my walk through Chinatown and Leicester Square back to the Thames River. I walked along the north side of the Thames River for a bit before crossing The Millennium Bridge, it's officially known as the London Millennium Footbridge, is a steel suspension bridge for pedestrians crossing the River Thames in London, linking Bankside with the City of London. Construction of the bridge began in 1998, with the opening in June 2000.

Londoners nicknamed the bridge the "Wobbly Bridge" after participants in a charity walk on behalf of Save the Children to open the bridge felt an unexpected and, for some, uncomfortable swaying motion on the first two days after the bridge opened. The bridge was closed later that day, and after two days of limited access the bridge was closed for almost two years while modifications were made to eliminate the wobble entirely. It reopened in 2002.

This was on my must see list as I've seen it in many movie most recently Harry Potter. It was fun walking across the bridge to the other side. Once there I checked out the Globe Theater and walked along the south side of the River for a stretch.

Made my way to London Bridge and crossed back across the river the north side of the Thames and made my way to the Tower of London. Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence.

Again all I did was walk around the area as there was a line but this place looked like it would be a "day" event and not just an hour or so and if I was going to spend a large amount of money I wanted to make sure I had the time to really enjoy it. I plan to go inside the tower on my next visit.

I then walk across what I thought was the "London Bridge" but come to find out it's actually called Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge (built 1886–1894) is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London which crosses the River Thames. It is close to the Tower of London, from which it takes its name, and has become an iconic symbol of London.

When I saw this bridge from afar I assumed it was the famous London Bridge but when I actually got to the London Bridge (which really isn't anything special) I knew I was wrong. I walked across the Tower Bridge to the south side of the river. I opted not to pay to go up and over the bridge.

I made my way back to Kings Cross Station via the tubes and was determined to find Platform 9 3/4 and sure enough, I don't know how I missed it yesterday, but there it was. Not only is there a photo op but there is an actual store called Platform 9 3/4 next to it.

I got in the line for the photo op and at first I was kind of embarrassed as there were nothing but young teenage girls and a few boys standing in front of me and all the parents were standing around the outside waiting. My embarrassment only lasted a few seconds when I told myself that I love Harry Potter and I don't really care what these people think of me. I'm just as much of a fan if not more then these kids and I want my picture too. 

I waited for about a half hour or so and it was finally my turn. The guy who was helping with the photos handed me a Gryffindor Scarf but I held up my hand and said... Hufflepuff please so he wrapped a yellow and blue scarf around my neck. I asked one of the adults standing around if she wouldn't mind taking a picture of me and she obliged. What they have you do is hold onto the basket and the guy who is working there grabs the back of your scarf and says one, two, three and then throws the scarf up and backs away while another employee takes a photo and tells you to look back as your pretend to run. I did a few takes and it was a very magical experience. Of course when you're done you then go over to Platform 9 3/4 and you can buy that picture for 10 pounds and of course I didn't hesitate.

Next I attempted to find the door (221 B Baker Street) used in the current Sherlock tv series. After walking around for about an hour I was unsuccessful and called it quits. I would attempt it again tomorrow. For now I headed back to the hostel.

I was so exhausted as I had walked all around downtown London for about 12 hours but it was so worth it as this will be a day that I will never forget.

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