By Friday, we were pooped. We packed so much into three days, we had done so much walking, and we had spent so much time on buses and Tube lines that we were exhausted. The two of us slept in on Friday morning. Our plans to go museums early were scrapped. I could spend all day in a museum, especially ones with the large collections in London, but I know Susan doesn’t fancy them all that much. Without telling her, I modified our plans a bit. Without telling me, she was grateful.
We slowly got ready for the day, then headed for downtown London to check out some sights we wanted to get in before the trip was ended. We hiked first to Tower Bridge.
This is the famous two-towered bridge that I have always thought of when singing that nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Because it is a drawbridge, it always seemed logical to me that the game associated with the song includes two kids lowering the outstretched arms clasped at the hands over a third child. This is not the reality, though. London Bridge is a modern span, built in the 1970s, and like other public structures of that time, it is largely nondescript, especially in comparison to the Victorian, mock-gothic Tower Bridge.
Tower Bridge was in the distance during our stop at the Tower of London during our Tuesday tour. We had a brief moment before going into the Tower of London to take pictures of Tower Bridge. Susan and I agreed to check it out for ourselves. The bridge is impressive, though narrow. Judging by the video stories told in each of the towers, the bridge was an engineering marvel. It was the first time a steel structure was to be built, and it came with steam engines to power the two lifting decks. Many people of the day speculated it couldn’t be done, but the engines worked right up until the decommissioned them in the 1970s (Why were the 70s such a horrible decade?).
While we were in the south tower, the lift operator announced that bridge was going up and we could see if from the observation decks, which were built as walkways for people to use while the bridge was up. They must have liked stairs in the 1890s, because there are about six stories’ worth in each tower to get to the walkways, which is now the observation area. And they weren’t enclosed in glass until much later. I can’t see how this was an appealing alternative to waiting for the ship to pass. Anyway, I digress. Susan and I were excited and surprised that the bridge was going up because our Tuesday tour guide, remember Rodney?, told us that bridge only went up about five times a year. I was thinking, “what dumb luck. We’re up here while the bridge is going up and we won’t be able to see it.” On the way down in the lift, though, the operator told us it goes up about five times A DAY.
From there we walked along the Queen’s Walk (everything is named queen, king, Victoria or Albert or both, or it has some nonsensical name like Tooting Bec or Picadilly), to the London Bridge Tube station where we Tubed to St. Paul’s Cathedral, the seat of Susan’s religion, the Anglican church. She was unimpressed with that aspect, but like the building. They’re in the process of doing all kinds of cleaning and restoration to the building, and seeing it in process gives a unique before-after look. The exterior around the front door has been cleaned to look as it did the day Sir Christopher Wren presented it to the King and Queen in the 1600s, but the rest of it is stained an awful black color probably from the exhaust of millions of cars and other industrial particles in the air. St. Paul’s isn’t far from the formerly dirty Thames.
What I found most interesting is they have turned the crypt into a destination. There’s a gift shop, museum and something called the Crypt Cafe. It all sounds very morbid, but in a genius stroke of irony, it was a very lively place.
The rest of the day was a bit a of a wash. We had both taken to sitting and resting more than walking. We agreed to go to Covent Garden to look for dinner. We had heard that it was a neat shopping district. It was. in fact, it was laid out very similar to Quincy Market in Boston. But the main hall was more like a flea market than a shopping area. The area was flanked by arcades of expensive international brands, but nothing of interest to us.
After almost being hit by a cab, Susan and I ambled past another church named St. Paul’s that stood at one end of the quad, and was supposedly the location of the first Punch and Judy marionette show. Fittingly, a street performer was about to set up and go through his routine. He had a small electronic music maker and a suitcase, the latter of which he swung about a bit, then set it down and pulled out a long yellow rope. With a bit of theater panache, he laid the rope out creating three side of a square, making some people move out of the area now defined by the rope. He went back to his suitcase and motioned to the crowd in front of him, which pretty much ignored him. That was amusing. He tried to start his act, but oblivious Brits stepped over his rope and walked through his performance space. Next thing we knew, the music machine was gone and he picked up his rope and stomped over to some friends waiting in front of the church. Susan and I agreed that if this wasn’t part of his act, he should give up performing, because this was the best we’d seen of him yet.
We walked on and ended up in Leicester (like Lester) Square and supped at the Spaghetti House, which turned out to be really damn good, and a great spot to people watch. Dinner was slow and enjoyable. We finished the night with dessert in the Internet cafe nearby.