The London Trip - Day 4 - National Gallery, Tower of London

10th February 2003

I had a huge sleep. Crashed about 6pm the previous night, woke at 2am, dozed off again till 5am, then dozed lightly till 7am. Thirteen hours sleep. I needed that. I didn't get a cold or flu either, after a day spent cold and wet. This morning, I did full justice to Brian's big breakfast. I ate everything on my plate, and anything that wandered too close. Mushrooms, tomatoes, scrambled egg, toast and jam, and a pot of tea. Very satisfying.

Today was more tourism, but I wasn't going to do it alone. Peter and Shree were coming with me. They had a brief honeymoon, two nights at a B&B half an hour's drive away, and Peter wanted to spend a couple of days with me catching up. So today we were going in to London, to see Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the Tower of London. That doesn't sound like much doing, but after a big day yesterday, a gentle day sounded great to me. Today, I was going to be smart and stay warm. Yesterday, I had worn an inadequate coat and I had gotten very cold. Today I planned on wearing a brand new coat, a great thick padded thing I had bought especially for this trip. I busied myself by moving things around in the pockets (map in bottom left and camera in bottom right, no wait, let's shift the camera to the top, and put the spare films in the bottom right, no wait let's take everything out again and start all over, and put the Palm in the ...) and waited for Peter and Shree to arrive.

Soon enough, Brian came and bellowed several times that Shree was here. I was ready and had all my gadgets and junk artfully balanced around my jacket, so I came on down and greeted the newly married couple. We drove to Merstham, which is a railway station a little further north, that has a car park attached. While we waited for the train, I asked them about their wedding. They were happy and thought it had gone off well. I breathed a sigh of relief; obviously I hadn't been so affected by the red wine that I had spoiled things for them. [The start of my

It was Monday, so the quick trains directly to Victoria Station did not run. We got to London Bridge, then switched to Charing Cross Station. We emerged right close to the Church of St Martin-In-The-Fields. I have a lot of cds recorded by the Academy of St Martin-In-The-Fields, so the name was familiar. They had a free lunchtime concert planned, and free evening concerts during the week, and I wondered how I could get to some of these. Alas, it was not to be.

[St Martin-In-The-Fields

We looked across and there was Trafalgar Square and there was Nelson's Column and there was the National Gallery, and there was a lot of refurbishment work going on in the Square obscuring everything. Most of the work was just in front of the National Gallery.

[The National Gallery with
Trafalgar Square under repairs]

The work didn't interfere with my enjoyment. I managed to aim the camera over and away from the mess. Here's Nelson's Column looking as if nothing else was going on. It was another dim, cold, damp day and I didn't take very good photos. In hindsight, I should have switched to Twilight Mode, but I was so excited about being here that I wasn't thinking straight.

[Nelson's Column in Trafalgar

We wandered down to the Square and soaked up the atmosphere. There were a few small flocks of pigeons hanging around, and taking off and zooming into people's faces. Not as many as I remember from Mary Poppins and "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag" but there still enough feathered rats to be irritating. It didn't seem to irritate this guy. I noticed him talking to what looked like officials, and he seemed to be asking permission, and they gave the okay. Here he's walking towards the pigeon flocks. Look at what's sitting on his left arm, mostly obscured by his body. He had a hawk or falcon, some sort of hunting bird. He loosed it and the pigeons exploded away like a giant feathered bomb. The bird flew back and forward, lazily, but I didn't see it chase a pigeon. We moved away shortly afterwards, so I never saw the aftermath. I would like to think that he came to Trafalgar Square to cut down on the food bill for his bird.

[The falcon]

[Falconer in Trafalgar Square]

We wandered around the column. That's when you get a sense of how large the statues are. here's Peter and Shree in front of one of the lions, and it's huge.

[Peter and Shree in front of
a lion]

After wandering around the square for a bit, it was time to do the National Gallery. They had a small Holbein exhibition, so we started with that. It was great. I really liked the painting of Erasmus, and I spent a bit of time staring at that one. They had drawings and sketches and preliminary works to go with the main paintings, so you could see how the works had developed. The X-Ray work was very interesting. They had two paintings of a husband and wife, and the paintings were back together again (temporarily) after a 300 year separation. It appeared that the man in the painting didn't like the fact that he didn't have a neck in the original version, asked for one, and Holbein had altered the painting slightly and given him a neck. If you're paying for the painting, you can ask for anything you want.

After the Holbein exhibition, we moved through the West Wing, looking at the paintings from 1500 to 1600, and then we moved to the East Wing for the paintings between 1700 and 1900, which showed us the modern stuff, Gauguin, etc. And we finished by doing the North Wing with paintings from 1600 to 1700, the in-between works. I loved the Velazquez. I missed a few centuries, but you can't see every painting in a single day because they start to blur. I'll see more next visit. They had a lot of great works in there. I'd like to come back and visit regularly and spend more time on each section, rather than the whistle-stop tour.

And naturally, I stopped at the bookshop and got some mementos.

[Plan of the National

We headed back out to St Martin-In-The-Fields. In the grounds of the church, a market was opening. There weren't too many vendors as it was cold and blustery, but the vendor that Peter wanted to see was there, so in we went. He was chasing a Russian vendor for some stuff. I wandered around, looking at stuff. Got a Wilbur Smith book, but what I really wanted was a pocket watch. After my watch was smashed up, I had no way of telling time, and I didn't want to get another wristwatch to get torn off with my backpack. A pocket watch seemed like a good idea, especially a winder, not a battery. There was a Russian one there for £28, but I wasn't sure of the quality. In the end, I dithered about it and didn't get a pocket watch till I got back to Virginia. [The market in the grounds
  of St Martin-In-The-Fields]

After that, we stopped in a cafe and had a restorative cup of tea, to help us warm up. It was starting to get very cold. Then we walked to Leicester Square and had a look round. It was okay, but nothing to get excited about. Into Leicester Square Station, and train to Embankment, switch for Tower Hill, and get out there. All these place names and station names, it was like walking the board of a game of Monopoly. Outside the station was a lookout, where you could peer across at the Tower of London. There was a big sundial at the lookout. It was interesting, wondering how they could tell the time with it on the two or three days of the year when there was a stray beam of sunlight.

[Sundial at the station for
the Tower of London]

Around the edge of the sundial, was a history of London, mostly historical. The Great Fire and the Great Plague mingled with Dick Whittington. [Sundial details at the
  station for the Tower of London]

We walked across to the Tower of London, and then we spent a fair bit of time trying to find the entrance. Yes, it too was under refurbishment, and heaps of stuff had been dug up, and entrances were obscured, and it was hard to see how to get in to the ticket box. But we worked it out eventually, after walking up and down a few times, and we got our tickets. Big tickets. Big colourful tickets. Great souvenir tickets.

[Big ticket for the Tower
of London]

We went across the entrance bridge and stopped to listen to a Beefeater telling tales. He was good. He was gory. He acted out tales of head-cutting and dragging traitors to their death, and held up imaginary body parts, and put on a very polished performance.

[A Beefeater in full stride]

We were on the entrance bridge, and behind us was this green swathe, which I presume was originally the moat. And behind the moat were the tower walls, and the Tower of London proper.

[The Tower of London]

We went across the bridge, and started in the Medieval Palace. After a good look at the Palace, we went out and walked along the walls. They had great views of all sorts of things. Including this bizarre Pineapple Building across the river.

[Pineapple Building as seen
from the Tower of London]

We walked along the walls, travelling as far as we could along them. I took photos on both sides. This is looking inside: [Tower of London walls from
  the inside]

And there's the Tower of London ravens. We've all heard the story. If ravens ever leave the Rock of Gibraltar, the Tower of London will be owned by the Spanish or something. Oops. That's a mixed up Scruffy tale. Whatever the legend is, they make sure there's always ravens at the Tower.

[The Tower of London ravens]

The White Tower, which we didn't have time to view.

[The White Tower]

Looking down one of the narrow staircases.

[Looking down those narrow

And still more Tower of London walls.

[More Tower of London walls
from the inside]

And there were sights to see outside the walls. Another of these strange Pineapple Buildings. I was told that they were all the rage because they provided maximum floor space for minimum external glass.

[Another Pineapple Building
under construction]

And of course, there's the Tower of London Bridge. Impressive.

[Tower of London Bridge]

After leaving the walls, we had sore feet from those tiny narrow staircases, so we sat down in the Armoury Cafe and had a ginger beer and coffee and a rest. After the brief rest, we did the tour of the building showing the making of the Crown Jewels. That was interesting, especially seeing the size of those original giant diamonds. I knew they were supposed to be big, but I had no idea they were THAT big. After seeing the making of them, we wanted to see the Crown Jewels themselves. It was getting late and things were starting to shut down, so we were under a little time pressure. We went in to the Jewel House to try and catch a fleeting glimpse of the Crown Jewels. We went through the introductory films and presentations quickly, although we saw everything. And then we got on the little walkway and were whisked past the Crown Jewels so quickly we could barely register anything. That sucks. I presume it's an anti-theft measure, but it's more of an anti-tourist measure. They should slow the walkway down a little bit, or maybe make replicas available that we could ogle at length.

Saw some great items in the static displays, especially a gigantic gold-plated punchbowl. That thing was huge, and the ladle for it was also over-sized. Eventually we came out and headed for the gift shops. Oops. The one inside the Tower was already shut, but the one outside the Tower was still open so we went in there. I bought the usual mementos for myself, then I looked at shot glasses. I had some requests for shot glasses and this seemed like a good enough place to get good ones. I picked up three of them and noticed the price. £6 each!!!! That's about £20, which is about $30. I put them back, I picked them up again, I put them back, picked them up again, all the time calculating my wallet, the B&B no credit card rule, and the exchange rate. Eventually I said "Bugger that" and left them behind. I got one small book for myself, and left it at that.

Time to get back to Redhill. Back to Tower Hill Station, on to Monument, then switch to London Bridge. Here, we did the usual wait to find our platform.

[London Bridge Station,
trying to find our platform]

It was announced, we rushed to the platform and scrambled for seats, and then dozed till we reached Merstham. We got in at 6pm. Peter and Shree dropped me off at the B&B to change, because we were going out again for an Indian meal, something I had been looking forward to for a while.

They came back and picked me up at 7:30 and we were off to Lal Akash in Reigate. It was interesting, but not the Indian food I was expecting. It seemed to be northern Indian cuisine, a very dry cuisine and not very spicy. It was okay, and interesting to try, but I think I prefer the sloppier, wetter style dishes. The wine was good, and the beer at the end was great. I spent the night talking, giving heaps of unwanted avuncular advice. It's not often I get to play this role, so when I get the chance, I like to abuse it.

After dinner, we went back to their place for tea and more chatting and more unwanted advice from me, and finally Peter went to drive me back to the B&B. We had one incident on the way back. As we got to the barrier gate, we saw this guy kneeling in the road, arms stretched to the sky, and bawling. We went past slowly and noticed that he was covered in blood. What to do? Ignore it, or stop and get involved in something that could take half the night? We stopped. He sure was covered in blood. He was a Portuguese kitchen hand, and had been out that night with his mate, also Portuguese, and on the way back he claimed his mate duffed him up. He was badly bloodied, his gums were cut and his eyes were bleeding. He was very upset with his friend, and eventually his bawling dropped to sullen cursing. He had called a taxi before we arrived, and he was waiting for it. We were ready to take him to the hospital and got him in the back seat when the taxi arrived. We hailed the cab, quickly transferred him to it and took off. The taxi driver looked a bit worried, but accepted the fare and he left too, hopefully taking the guy to hospital.

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