On July 18th, we woke up to our last day on our tour of the British Isles. We started the day with a bus tour, always a challenge in London because of the ridiculous traffic there. Our guide and driver did a great job of getting us through the city and to all of our stops at exactly the right time. We managed to see new things and to see in daylight things we saw at night the evening before.
Our bus driver made his way through roundabouts and tourist-infested intersections, and we arrived at St. Paul’s Cathedral at a little before 10am. Unfortunately, this was yet another site that does not allow pictures to be taken inside, so while we saw the tomb of Lord Nelson, whose body was pickled in brandy after his victory at Trafalgar, brandy that was then consumed by some of his sailors, I cannot show you the tomb.
Needless to say, the ornate mosaics, the detailed paintings, and the scale of the place made the cathedral at least as impressive on the inside as on the outside. While we could not photograph the interior, we could take pictures from the top. The problem was, we would only have 25 minutes to climb the 528 steps; our tour guide announced that he didn’t think we could do it in that time frame.
Just above the first level of the climb, there was a window in the floor that enabled us to look down to the bottom.
It took us about 15 minutes to make it to the top.
Then we scrambled down to the bottom just in time to make the 35 minute time limit.
We still made it to Buckingham Palace just in time for the changing of the guards.
There were enough videos and pictures of the changing of the guards that I’m pretty sure we could create a 3D model of the event.
It was almost noon at this point, and the plan was to walk through St. James’ Park to Coventry Garden for lunch.
At the edge of the park, we crossed into the Horse Guards Parade Ground.
Soon after discovering horses in London, we made it to Covent Garden, a shopping and restaurant district of London.
In the area, every type of restaurant could be found from American friendly Shake Shacks to British pubs serving traditional fish ‘n’ chips.
We had several options for what to see next – the London Eye, King’s Cross Station, the Globe Theater, and more – but the group quickly came to consensus to visit the British Museum. For some, this was because they wanted to learn more about the exhibits. For others, the fact that admission to the museum was free was attractive after a week of spending money.
The museum was packed full of items the British had “acquired” in and around their empire and brought back to Britain for “safekeeping.” The whole collection was a testament to the way the Brits had managed to combine being condescending to other people around the world while stealing from those people.
From the Rosetta Stone above we moved to the friezes from the Parthenon.
There were two challenges in the museum: the heat and the herds of tour groups. Outside the museum, the weather was sunny and almost 80 degrees. In the un-airconditioned and crowded museum, this meant that the temperatures ranged from “greenhouse-like” to “the inside of a parked car in Richmond in July.”
The big tour groups were more troublesome. There were large tour groups closely following guides providing explanations of the exhibits, and the people in these groups had collectively decided that no force in the universe would separate them from their guides. These groups swept through pretty much exactly like this:
When we were able to fight our way through to the exhibits, it was striking just how old some of the items were. There are fewer years between the present day and the Roman Empire than between the Roman Empire and many of the Egyptian exhibits.
We also found nice bookend to the deflated bog people we saw on the first day of the tour, in Dublin: a body preserved in the Egyptian desert back in 5500 BC. The heat and dry climate preserved the body without mummification.
When we left the museum, we travelled to Leicester Square and Piccadilly, shopping areas that were huge hits with our group. There were Nickelodeon and Lego stores in addition to the more typical shops.
Following the shopping success, dinner was the biggest hit yet.
Knowing that this was our last night on tour reenergized the group for some shopping in Piccadilly.
The next morning, we woke up to our last breakfast of oddly whipped European-style scrambled eggs. They, together with the Irish sausage that had a read-like consistencey, will be missed. At 6:30am, we hopped on the bus to head to the airport. The tour had flown by, and, making the trip even better, we got to the United States exactly on time and went right through customs.
Thanks to everyone for all that you did to make the tour a success!