because all good journeys must end in time
Alrighty. Finally, Day 5. Sheesh. I do apologize, my readers, for taking such a long, drawn-out time to write this chronicle. I have only the excuse of feeling uninspired to write on which to fall back, and it is a sorry excuse, indeed.
At any rate, day 5 began with packing and checking out of the hotel. Bittersweet, it definitely was. This is a city that captures you and a country that woos. We left our luggage at the hotel desk and proceeded to Trafalgar Square. Our day was to begin with a visit to the National Gallery, apparently.(I'll be totally honest: my entire memory of this timeline is weirdly messed up. I am told, and it makes logical sense to me, though, that this is, in fact, what happened. For some reason, I have never been able to place the NG visit into Sunday. My timeline is contaminated. haha) First, a stop at Pret for an early lunch to be eaten on the square while watching the crowds. This involved watching a rather intrepid pair of girls try to touch the bottom of the fountain without falling in or getting their sleeves wet. They also enjoyed a moderately illicit walk along the fountain wall--quite the balancing of it all. The National Gallery could have used a few more hours of exploration. The rooms were massive and filled with some truly amazing pieces. Pleasantly, the walls were often painted in colors to complement the art so carefully arranged on them. The incredible range of art that I was able to see on this trip was really breathtaking. Artists and pieces I had not yet had the pleasure to enjoy were beautifully complemented by paintings I had studied and taught about but had never thought to actually see. I love that. (It's also why I would love to revisit the Metropolitan in NYC--there just wasn't enough time....) This was a time when I was grateful to have a companion to keep me from spending the entire day in one museum, though. After all, the Tower awaited. Honestly, if I were to describe my walk through the gallery, it would just a be a catalog of paintings, etc.; therefore, I will merely mention something I inadvertently learned through my experience there and move one. As a teacher of World Literature, I should have already known this, nevertheless I did learn this: it is quite the disservice both to your story and to your audience to attempt to tell a story of a Old Testament hero while diminishing the concept of the Hebrew hero, ordained and empowered by God. *Sigh* It just doesn't work quite right. It's like trying to describe a Greek tragedy while minimizing the hubris of the hero. Ah well. Lesson learned and noted for the next time.
Now we moved on to grab some yummy lunch goodies (well, second lunch--that probably makes it technically "tea" haha) and to Bank station. Exiting Bank station brought us to the heart of The City and a very powerful corner in the landscape of London: here stands Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, the Bank of England building, and The Royal Exchange, now a shopping center (keeping things strictly in the realm of the financial, after all. haha). I would like to mention at this point that the last two days we were in London, we consistently ran into this purple t-shirted school group from the continent. Seriously. Everywhere we went they were either arriving or leaving. We even rode in the same underground cars with them once. It was very odd. Certainly, they never realized, but it felt moderately like stalking. It was also highly hilarious. I mention it here because I distinctly remember them gathered about on the plaza in front of The Royal Exchange eating lunch. It's making me laugh again just thinking about it. The Royal Exchange, by the way, was founded in 1565. This is the second building as the first was burned in the Great Fire. The Bank of England is relatively young, not having been established until 1694, and the Mansion House wasn't built until the first half of the Eighteenth Century, thus both were spared the ravages of the fire. From there, we passed down King William St. to find the Monument. And here I offer praise, yet again, to Sir Christopher Wren. It may be an unsophisticated way to say it, but this guy was all win. The Monument is 202 feet tall and stands exactly 202 ft. from the bakery on Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of 1666 began. The fire spread rapidly, burned for three days, and although the death toll is officially believed to be only eight, destroyed 436 acres of the city. This section of land contained not only the major financial buildings and the original St. Paul's Cathedral, it also contained an estimated 13,000 homes which resulted in the homelessness of an estimated 7/8s of the population of the time (a great number of them poor tenement dwellers). The fire was certainly an event with long to be felt repercussions. The Monument is quite fitting (have I mentioned Sir Christopher was a genius, yet?): a tall doric column with golden torch-flame adorning the top. Still distinctive even in the modern, skyscraper-filled city.
From The Monument, we ventured down along the Thames to the Tower of London. We stopped for a nice little picnic in front of an office building and then off to view history and destruction. Really, it says so very much that despite only intending to stay there for a couple of hours and then make our way to Harrod's or the Natural History Museum, we were there for four and a half hours. It is a really amazing place. Viewing the developing of British history and the monarchy through the growth and evolution of the Tower complex is fascinating. Also, there were super cool weapons. And when I say, "super cool," I mean a collection of some of the oldest, most unique, and most beautiful weapons and suits of armor I have ever seen. The history of the Tower as a prison is both fascinating and heart-wrenching. Carefully carved graffiti in the walls gives testimony to the dark history of religious persecution of which the Tower was a part. Then, of course, the Crown Jewels. Now, I do have to say that it was moderately hilarious to me that you were smoothly ushered past the collection of Crown Jewels on a conveyor belt. Ok, a "moving sidewalk." That was interesting. I will admit to blatantly walking briskly back up the conveyor (with a partner in crime--I was not the only bender-of-rules) to have a second whisk past the truly stunning array of priceless royal accessories. It's honestly the kind of thing that is almost incomprehensible. So many, many priceless stones in one place; such a collection of skillful workmanship and unimaginable wealth. Amazing. And then there are coronation robes encrusted with diamonds and embroidered with gold. At some point, you stop trying to absorb it and just gape. Really. It's one place I'm glad you can't take pictures as I'm absolutely certain the pictures would only be disappointing; that they could never capture what you see when you are conveyed along past the glass cases. The Tower is most definitely a worthwhile way to spend an afternoon.
Following the trip through the Tower, dinner was grabbed (really good pizza) at The Dickens Inn. (Yes, that was a passive voice sentence.) Then, pictures at and a walk across the Tower Bridge (Famous bridge checklist: Brooklyn--check; Westminster--half check; Millennium--check; SF Bay--no check. Ok. The last on is unrealistic. Moving on.) and down Tooley Street to the London Bridge station, and an attempt to wander through Harrod's. This attempt was to result in failure, however, as our prolonged (and worthwhile) meander through the Tower had put us into the early evening. ON a Sunday in Britain, that means no shops for you! Instead, there was a lovely walk and conversation through Knightsbridge and Kensington Palace Gardens. All too soon, we were trudging about through Paddington station, and I was bidding Phillip goodbye. Thing I learned at that moment: when you spend five days with a good friend, you get used to them. Realizing that you won't have said friend around the next day is a very odd feeling. I scrounged up a bed at London Central Hostel (really neat building, really Londonish ambience inside) and about 6 hours or sleep. In the morning, it was back to Paddington (why yes, it is the place where Paddington Bear was found by his nice family) and then on to Heathrow. And then, hours of fun flight back to the US.
For the record, going through Customs at an airport that is not your final destination is un-fun. Why there isn't a way to proceed from Customs to the terminal without going through security, I don't know, but there isn't. It's blargh. Also, Newark Airport is an interesting experience. It was fun to add a new airport to my list, though, for what that's worth. Also, being surrounded by American accents again was a really strange feeling. Also, the flight from Newark to Houston was absolutely freezing. Freezing. And no blankets as it wasn't a trans-Atlantic flight. About half-way through, the lady next to me looks over and says, "Are you freezing, too? Is it just incredibly cold in here?" To which I heartily agreed. I slept all the way from Houston the New Orleans (the jet lag and return to sleep schedule was way more brutal returning than going), but still managed to notice the middle-aged guy across the aisle slid his iPod between his legs to hide it rather than turn it off when we were told to turn off our electronic devices and that he had his music up so loudly I could hear it over my own music. Good job, grown up; good job. At any rate, I arrived to the sweltering heat and humidity (a good 30º warmer than the city I left), gathered my bags, and pondered how I was going to find my parents sans phone. We managed to connect just about the point when I was about to get rid of my pull-over in favor of just my tank. I definitely was missing the weather already. haha. Weather aside, I was now basically home, safe and sound, remarkable journey ended. That sentence sounds as bittersweet as I felt. It was quite a trip, and one I'm decidedly glad I made.