Sunday, November 15, 2015

Day 94: Bonus Day

Ok, so Venice had a bad night of it. More GI issues. She's still not eating. Chris and I quickly discuss our options. What is the point of traveling to Scotland, if Venice is going to stay in the hotel room the entire time and we'll worry about her as we guiltily tour around (if that's even possible)? We should just go home early. It seems time for all of us to head home. I will admit that touring around for so long has taken it's toll on me as well. Back in Berlin, we would go for a jaunt for the weekend, but then come back to "home base" for a while. This current jaunt is over a week long and it's pretty tiring living out of a suitcase, packing, unpacking, re-packing. Learning all the new problems of a new place (no conditioner, smaller beds, shared spaces, creaky floors, faulty lights, noise, etc.) So, I think we're all ready to be back in a "home base", and since it's the end of our trip, that will be our home-home.

Chris gets on the phone immediately and fixes our tickets home. We cannot get tickets for today, but we can get onto tomorrow's flight. And thanks to United for NOT charging us a change fee (again, since we've already paid that once to switch to flying out of Scotland instead of Berlin). We will have good seats for the long flight and then somewhat cruddy seating arrangement on the flight to Eugene, but that's only an hour, we can handle that. Done.

Next, Chris heads to the front desk to see if we can extend our stay at this aparthotel one more night. Yay! We have one more night here, no more packing and unpacking. We can remain settled. The only bad part of this, is that we packed up, thinking we'd be in another place. So, now, we have to dig through our bags to find what we need for the next day (and unpack my Dopp kit... side note, I now know why it's called a Dopp kit, had to Google it, you can too!) Somewhat a pain, but worth it.

With our plans in order, we can begin our day in earnest. After breakfast, Venice decides it's best if she stays home and rests. She gives us her support in going out and exploring a bit more. Chris, Xander, and I head out to see a few more sights before leaving, on this, our bonus day.

No taxis today. No Uber cars. We are ready for public transportation. Our first stop, the Tower Bridge.

Tube station (top-left), Xander pointing to our destination on the map inside the train (top-right)
Mind the gap! (bottom-left), No entry (bottom-middle), Xander (bottom-right)

Side story: I'm sure you've heard the "Mind the Gap" quote/joke a lot. We had. However, it's amazing how much you really do hear it and see it throughout a single day. Mind the gap. Mind the gap. Mind the step. Mind the gap. Perhaps, if you live here long enough, it becomes white noise in the background and you no longer hear it. But, being here a short time, it makes us laugh, almost every time we hear it. Mind the gap. And to be clear, the gap is not always equivalent. Sometimes there is no gap. Sometimes it's a step down from the train, or up. And sometimes, a small adult could fit through the gap. You really do need to mind the gap. There are also a lot of places with low ceilings (I guess they were shorter in the Middle Ages?) and doorways that I even duck (poor Chris, still smarting after hitting his head in Austria).

As I've talked a lot about the crowded Tube stations, I have not talked about the labyrinth style in details. It is similar to Berlin's Ubahn stations. But even more labyrinth-y. Berlin's underground system seemed to be large hallways, with trains (of the same line) sharing platforms. Here in London, the "hallways" to each platform, or the way out, seem to be super narrow. The main entrances are large, but once you pick a line, you commit to a small tunnel (2 people side-by-side can walk comfortably, 3, not so much) heading to the platform. Everyone seems to be going the same direction. I think this is because, a lot of the tunnels below are single directional. As long as you follow the signs to your platform or the Way Out, you will be going the correct direction for that tunnel. As you can see in the photo above (bottom-middle), there are places where it says "no entry". This is the "other" direction. And while some seem to be going against the rules, in this photo, most people follow the signs and all traffic flows in one direction. I can't imagine going against traffic. It seems like just asking to get bowled over. Anyway, I wonder what model-representation of this underground labyrinth would look like? A bunch of criss-crossing tubes all over the place. Seems like a fun project for someone to do...

Out of the Tube system, we make our way towards the Tower Bridge, passing the Tower of London on our way. We are also treated to nice views of the Shard. The clouds and peaking-blue skies give a beautiful background to our view of the river Thames (which is quite murky, by the way).

A spinning table for play, with the Tower of London in the background (left)
Tower of London (middle) and the Shard (right)

As we approach the Tower Bridge, I could see the blue colours of the suspension cables. How did I not know it was coloured blue? Guess I haven't looked at many photos of the bridge. On our tour, we find out that these are the "new" colours which were instituted in 1977. The original colour was greenish-blue (according to the Wiki page) but in reality, just looked like brown to us.

We find our way onto the bridge and to the exhibition area and there is no line. I was expecting to have to wait, but we walked right in, got our tickets, and went in the first elevator going up. A wonderful surprise!

There are two walkways connecting the two towers and you are allowed to walk through both of them. Due to the two walkways, you are able to see both directions along the Thames, as well as seeing the other walkway. Today, the flags are flying at half-mast in mourning for Paris.

A westwardly view(top-left), The other walkway (top-right)
Xander making a souvenir penny (bottom-left), original colour (bottom-middle)
Eastwardly view (bottom-right)

Both walkways have a glass bottom in the middle. At first, we're a bit slow to get onto the glass. By the second walkway, Xander's ready to try jumping on it (although he abstains). This is definitely fun for all of us tourists waiting a turn to take some photos.

The tour is a self-guided tour and we are able to go at our own pace. Once you leave the towers and walkways, you can go underneath to see the engine rooms (mostly replicas of the old coal and steam engines). Funny story: At this point, I was ready to sit for a bit. So, Chris and Xander were checking out a certain display in the engine area and I took a seat. It was a chair along the wall, next to another display of some sort. I didn't pay any attention to what it was, I just knew it was a chair, mostly out of the way. I checked my phone to see if Venice had Skyped, needing anything. As I was engrossed with my phone a couple walked up to the display next to my chair. The guy started cranking the hands-on part of the display. Immediately, I shifted in my seat as the chair lurched upwards. Surprised, I giggled and said, "Oh, you're moving my chair!" It took a few seconds for the guy to understand what was happening (English wasn't their first language) but he finally got it and told his female companion what happened. By this time, I had jumped off the chair and was still laughing (slightly embarrassed, as I think he was, too). OMG! I moved on. He re-cranked the lever to see how the chair moved and they continued to explore the exhibit. Too funny.

On the walls of the walkways is a photographic display of bridges from around the world, including architects, spans, building style, and other factoids. Yes, the Golden Gate is one of them. We also saw the Rialto and Ponte Vecchio from Italy. And a few modern ones that look like they're from a sci-fi movie and not the current times. One of the bridges, included, is the Millennium Footbridge, here in London, just a few bridges west of the Tower Bridge (the third bridge over). Xander became enamoured with it and really wanted to see it. This is the kind of touring we love to do. We had plans to see the Tower of London, but we're all a bit "done" with formal tours. Xander saw something he really wanted to see. So we switched up our plans and decided to try for the Millennium Footbridge. But, first we must find lunch.

We dine at a beer and hamburger place nearby. As we're eating, Chris looks up coffee places and finds F*CKOFFEE. Xander and Chris decide this is a MUST for us. It's not too far, and after we eat, we head over to find the coffee place.

Enjoying our beverages and chocolatey-snack at F*CKOFFEE.

On our way back from coffee, we pass by the White Cube, again. It is a free-admissions art gallery. Another perk of this kind of touring is that we can just decide to go on in, and we do. It's a brief view of the local art scene. One of the displays (see photo below), was of some text (greyish-off-white) on a white wall. You had to be close enough to read it, otherwise, the text disappeared. So, I thought it was funny to walk by and see people, appearing to be staring at a white wall. Just like a common joke.

Art in the front courtyard (left), Installments from a Light display

We move on, heading towards the water. We walk onto the London Bridge again, to take a peak back at Tower Bridge (it's not raining today, so it's a really nice view!), Then back to sit along the waterfront by the Southwark Bridge.

End of the London Bridge (left), Southwark Cathedral (middle), a colourful underpass (right)

Stopping for me to take a bathroom break (left), the Southwark Bridge (middle), stopping for a rest (right)

Finally, we make it to the Millennium Footbridge. It's fun to get a view back towards the Tower Bridge. So far, this area, around all the bridges, feels less crowded. I don't know if it's the time of the week, or if it's because it's not raining, so people aren't all huddled in the same areas, but it just feels less crowded today. In addition to our slow pace, this uncongested feeling creates a peaceful day of touring. I am sorry Venice's illness had to be so bad. We miss her.

Looking back, you can see the Tower Bridge (super tiny in the photos)
Xander took some great photos of us. He noticed we covered the church in the background
and had us move and then moved himself so as to create the perspective he wanted. 

As we walked across the Millennium Footbridge, we could see St. Paul's Church, which created a beautiful view and destination. As we approached the church, we could see that something big had occurred here earlier. People were cleaning up temporary stands that looked to hold hundreds of people in the streets.

St. Paul's Church.
Curly-twisted bushes (bottom-middle, photo by Xander)

We take the Tube home. Check on Venice. Rest a bit. Venice is still not up for eating, so when we head back out for dinner, she opts to stay in. We'll bring her some food back from the Shake Shack.

One of Xander's last Bingo items is to ride a London double decker bus (we rode one in Berlin, but it doesn't feel the same as one of the iconic red buses in London). We have confirmed with my high school friend, that our Oyster Cards are good for buses too (this is what we thought until we bought them and the wording on the tickets confused us). We cross our fingers that they'll work on the bus. We are prepared to pay cash if we need to, so we're not too worried about failure (and remember, they speak English here, that's very helpful!)

We walk down the street to the nearest bus stop. Guess what? We missed our bus, because we were waiting on the wrong side of the street! Dang "right side driving". Silly Americans. We cross the street to be on the correct side of traffic. Here's where we make our second tourist mistake. A different bus comes, and we can take this one as well, only it doesn't stop! It drives right by us, because we were sitting down as it approached. We watch other people, and they stand near the curb and wave it down (really, just hold their open hand out at at 45 degree angle from the ground). Ok. We are on the correct side of traffic AND we know to stand up in advance and wave down the bus. Got it. Now to just wait another 10 minutes for the next bus.

Success! We got on the bus! We waved it down and it stopped. Our Oyster Cards turned the scanner green. AND, bonus, the second row of seats on the top level were open. Xander got to, basically, sit in the best seat (the woman in the front row offered to switch out seats so he could have the front, but the second row was good enough... how nice of her to offer).

Top deck of a double decker (left), Temporary Ice Skating rink (right)

We're back to Covent garden. Chris and I were here the night we went out alone, but tonight, the lights are lit, the decorations for the holidays are more complete. The weather is warm enough to eat outside (the area is covered, but it's not "inside").

Covent Garden (top-left), Xander and Chris almost got hit by a low flying bird (top-right)
The wonderful musicians (bottom-left), Disco ball making sparkly lights (bottom-right)

Part way through our dinner, we were treated to a wonderful concert. A performing quintet set up to play on the lower level. The spinning-twinkling lights and the quality music made for a magical atmosphere. Funny story: Xander went to go check it out first and came back reporting it was a group of boys and girls. We asked what he meant by "boys" and he responded that they were young. Chris and I had images of teenagers in our minds and were super impressed by the level of playing they were displaying. But when I went to get a look, I came back with a group of 30 year olds. Funny how different perception is!

The group was very good at performing. They danced. They shouted. They had humour. They entertained. There was a 6th member of this group, his job was to go around the audience (top and bottom levels) asking for donations and to sell their CD. Yes, I did buy one. I enjoyed their performance so much and thought their music was really well done. I'm a sucker for a good entertainers!

I ordered one more burger to take home to Venice while Chris raced to the bathroom with Xander, who was in a big hurry. We headed back to the bus stop (once again, we went to wait on the wrong side, doh!) Our Oyster Cards blinked green (phew) and we get second row seats up top, again!

Venice has been snoozing during the time we've been gone. She's asleep when we get home, but wakes up to try a bit of food. After two bites, she's back to bed.  Poor thing.

Good-night, London. We hope to see you again to do all the things we missed due to time running out (Buckingham Palace, Regent's Park, Harry Potter Tours, British Museum, National History Museum...)

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