March 23, 2012 – The B&B in York was great; unfortunately the walls are very thin and our neighbors were talking the majority of the night. Once again we were the first ones down to breakfast, and happily began munching on home-made bread (one of our hosts makes multiple loaves every morning; when Louisa mentioned how good the bread was we were given a little to-go bag with several slices for eating on the train). We each went with the hot breakfast, and enjoyed the eggs, sausages, bacon (for Tony) and mushrooms. With a pot of Yorkshire tea, of course.
We caught a train around 10:30 and were on our way to London! Timing was perfect, since we were able to get tea and bacon sandwiches on the train. Apparently people really like the bacon sandwiches; we even had people walking by to get off the train, notice the sandwich and comment to their traveling companion “Look at that bacon sandwich!”
The small station we got off at was only about a mile from our B&B. As we were walking up the hill Tony nonchalantly commented “I may have missed a 0.8… it’s actually 1.8, not 1.0, until the B&B.” Good thing we had those bacon sandwiches!
Needless to say, the B&B in North London was a welcome sight. ;-) While the other places we stayed at were individual homes or individual row houses, this B&B was a combination of several row houses. Interior walls had been removed to allow for corridors, though this did create something of a maze-like effect. Our room was on the top floor, and had two skylights rather than regular windows. We actually liked this since we could leave those open, allowing the smells from a nearby Thai restaurant to filter into the room.
As usual, we dropped off our gear and then headed to a (different and much closer) tube station. Since this was the whirlwind portion of our whirlwind trip, we had a few things to see this afternoon. We reached the city around 2:45ish, and made our way over to the Tower of London. Perhaps because of the name, but we were expecting the tower to be, well, a tower. Instead it’s a walled fortress built over older Roman ruins. The central tower, called the White Tower, houses England’s crown jewels. The Tower of London could easily be an all-morning stop, but we had other things to see and daylight was in short supply, so we limited our tour to seeing the crown jewels and taking a quick walk around the interior courtyard, pausing to admire a decorated cannon, before heading over to Tower Bridge.
Pedestrian traffic was fairly heavy, but we made it up to the bridge. Walked halfway across it, and realized the entrance we needed was on the other side. So we continued on, crossed the road, and then backtracked. At least we got “walk across Tower Bridge” crossed off our to-do list.
After getting or tickets we headed up in the elevator to the first pedestrian bridge. There are a total of two pedestrian bridges, each with a fantastic view down the Thames. We also enjoyed the pictorial exhibits on famous bridges throughout the world, as well as, that were displayed inside the pedestrian walkways. The tour ended in the engine room, where we could see the coal-driven engines which used to raise the tower bridge. (The lift mechanism has since been modernized). Once you exit the engine room, make sure to walk over to City Hall and look for the ice cream vendors; the vanilla tastes liked whipped (and iced) cream.
By this time we were feeling ready for some dinner. So were the many people who had just gotten out from work, so things were a little bit crowded. As in, people were drinking their beer while waiting in a queue for a table. We found ourselves by Trafalgar Square, a great spot for people watching, not such a great spot to get dinner without a reservation. Until Tony noticed the sign for Saint Martin’s-in-the-Fields. More specifically, the restaurant in the crypt. This restaurant is a gem. The food is excellent (we each got the fish and chips, while Louisa also had the mushy peas), there is plenty of seating and the atmosphere is pretty neat. They also offer adult beverages, several entrees, and large pitchers of ice water. (Plus the bathrooms are large and clean – and free.)
After dinner we walked across the square to the National Gallery. There were a few street performers outside doing some pretty funky break dancing, and the square was beautifully lit up on the warm night. The National Gallery was open late tonight (until 9) so we had a few hours to wander around and look at the beautiful masterpieces. Some of our favorites were the da Vinci, almost any landscape, and one of Jesus and the high priest by G van Honthorst (Louisa was intrigued by the light and realism). The museum itself is quite beautiful, with lovely mosaics along the entry hallway and high-ceilings in the exhibit halls.