Thursday, December 31, 2009

London at Christmastime

click on any photo for larger image
We wanted to see London decorated for Christmas. At a friend's suggestion, we drove to the area, and stayed in Bracknell, just west of the ring road (beltway). Each day we took the train into the city. Our passes included the Underground. (Underground magnets were harder to find than expected. But we persevered. And found "Mind the Gap" [watch your step] magnets also.)
The journey into the city was a bit TOO interesting. Several footballers were drinking on the Saturday morning train. Greeting the day while suffering from celebrations of the prior evening. One of these delightful young men was desperate for a toilet, So he stepped off the train at the first stop, to pee off the platform. But, fearing the train would leave, he jumped back on, unrelieved. While the train paused at the station, he relieved himself FROM the train ONTO the platform. More footballers on the way home, with one man hauled off the train, just before a fight erupted.
Track repairs were underway on Sunday morning, so we were bused between stations. Seemed like it would be interesting, but... the bus detour included six stations. And none of the roads followed the direct route of the train. The ride seemed to take FORever. We did go through Ascot, where the races are held. (Think of My Fair Lady.) Sadly, my chapeau was at home. And we did chat with a lovely student from Ghana.
We took two walking tours. The first (in a cold drizzle) took us all over London by foot and by boat. Our guide was a lot of fun, and so were the crew members on the boat. They provided their own commentary, full of observations about their daily rides. The glass gym with its exhibitionists. No billboards/advertising on the Thames. The idea that WHARF is an acronym for "WareHouse At RiverFront." (Hal researched this - apparently it's a myth propagated by riverboat tour guides.)

We started in the Tower of London area near a statue of Emperor Trajan (photos on left) who ruled Londinium in the 1st century. I really liked the detail in this statue. Portions of the 2000 year-old city wall (photos on right) are found throughout the City of London. At night, pigeons nest in the holes and pockets of the wall. Seemed kind of creepy. Like other walls throughout England, outer walls were stripped of the quarried stone over time for other building projects.

The Tower of London will have to wait for another time. But we did walk around it whilst (like that English term?) waiting for our tours.

It just seemed wrong for a skating rink to be on the grounds where kings and queens were beheaded; but, then, beheading sites are all over England, so why not a skating rink here?

Traitor's Gate, beneath the Tower, and a small window

Tower Bridge

The second tour covered Jack the Ripper's haunts and killing night. Our guide, Don Rumbelow (photo on left), is an expert on this subject, having researched and written books on this grim topic. He reveled in showing us the exact spots where Jack's 4 victims' throats were "slashed to the spine." Hal bought the latest book, with grisly photos. We have not dared to look at them yet. Luckily the photos are grouped together, rather than sprinkled throughout the book, for unsuspecting kiddies' nightmares. (And no, I will not post those gross photos.)

Most of London burned in the 1600s, and the Germans bombed much of the old city during World War II, but these unprepossessing buildings (at right) date from the 1600s.

Leiscester ("lester") Square is the theatre district. We walked about looking for good deals on tickets.
Avenue Q was available and reasonably priced. So, at 5 pm we went to see this Muppet-style show for "mature audiences." Great seats. It's brilliant, with the puppet operators onstage. Singing, dancing, profanity, and adult themes. Hal calls it "puppet porn." "Several characters are recognizably parodies of classic Sesame Street characters... However, the characters are in their twenties and thirties and face adult problems instead of those faced by children of varying ages, thus making the show more suited for adults who grew up with Sesame Street." (cit. By the way, Avenue Q was developed at the Eugene O'Neil Theater in Waterford, CT.

We wandered around Chinatown after that; Hal thought it looked like a scene from Blade Runner. We had good food there. I couldn't resist taking a photo of the offerings in the window (duck, squid... and other things?)

We walked past Westminster Abbey and Parliament,

where a demonstration for action on climate change (coinciding with the Copenhagen summit) enveloped us. Blue clothing, accessories, umbrellas, face paint. Colorful and loud. All ages.

Farther west, we saw Green Park adjacent to Buckingham Palace which has 775 rooms. Queen Lizzie lives in a suite of just 12 rooms!

West End has the posh shopping district, with lovely decorations hanging over Oxford Street. Outlined by lights, gossamer umbrellas and gift packages were suspended over the street.

Selfridge's is an old department store which still creates amazing window displays for Christmas. But these fairy-tale-themed windows were shocking in their naughtiness.

Little Red Riding Hood nearly in bed with the wolf;

post-coital Cinderella atop a pumpkin;

Santa hauling the coach for Cinderella's step-sisters;

and a wicked queen querying her mirror.

Oh my.

We went inside just for kicks and found very expensive dresses, and rocking horses with eye-popping price tags (1200 GBP or $1923).

The south side of the River Thames has a park; at Christmastime it is set up with little alpine cottages full of stuff that tourists absolutely need to buy, including food. The sidewalk was packed.

The place was alive with "living statues" - people painted to look like statues, and who stand stock still for long periods. It's quite funny when they do move, just about the time you have decided they really are statues. Their skin and clothing are all painted the same color.

I thought I could have my picture taken next to a harmless-looking mime, but he grabbed my hood! You've got to be careful around mimes.

The faceless man (on left) and our favorites: the "reptiles" on bikes. They looked vaguely like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Completely still until someone dropped a coin in their bucket, then they would pedal like crazy.

The London Eye was in this area also. It looks like a gigantic ferris wheel, but much higher: 443 feet ("equivalent to 65 red telephone boxes piled on top of each other" [cit.]) The old Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier was 90 feet tall. The Eye goes verrry slowly, in 30-minute rotations. It doesn't stop for loading/unloading passengers, except for passengers with handicaps. Surprisingly, I didn't feel any sense of vertigo. Ther are no swinging chairs, thank heavens.

26 passengers are carried in each pod. Supposedly there is a 25-mile view on a clear day. Hal loved the sign posted inside the doors as we rode a few hundred feet into the sky: "Do not lean against doors."

I really liked the nearby statue of Nelson Mandela.

And now, this post is finally done. Whew!

1 comment:

  1. thanks Rosi! Missed you at Christmas!
    Sheila (blue)love the pics