Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

I Spy with my London Eye

Our second day in London began at 4 a.m., just Benny and I sitting on his bed at the Bed & Breakfast trying not to wake Ron. I spent the time reading my Lonely Planet "England" guidebook and dithering over the day's plans. Since we were up at such an ungodly hour (only 8 p.m. in California, though), I decided to take us to Westminster Abbey and get in line before it opened and the tour buses arrived. 

Benny loved the English breakfast, with hot chocolate presented to him in a little pot. Ron and I attacked our plates piled with fried eggs and slabs of hamlike bacon, with a fried tomato on the side. I knew what the last was, because I'd read Bill Bryson's book on England. ("I thought it was a blood clot!") It was such a civilized way to start the day, especially for a woman who usually began her mornings with a Snapple and a Special K bar.

So anyway, there we were at Westminster Abbey, 45 minutes before it opened, so we walked along the Thames and admired Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Benny stared in amazement at the London Eye, the city's enormous ferris wheel, and only solemn promises that we would ride it that very day would convince him to leave the riverfront.

Westminster Abbey was a little overwhelming. I mean, here's this medieval building — small, dark, elaborately carved — built by King Henry III in 1245. Chapel after chapel, tomb after tomb, statue after statue, the three of us patiently shuffled along with the crowd, and this is at 9 a.m. on a Thursday before summer begins for most families. Most of the sightseers had audioguides clamped to their right ears, squinting at the carvings in the colored light reflected by stained-glass windows. I'm of two minds about audioguides. Obviously they're better than huddled groups following a tour guides, but these audio devices are kind of like cell phones -- they distance you from their surroundings. I personally only used them in surroundings I didn't know, like the Churchill War Rooms or Versailles. Most of the time, I followed my little printed guides.

Benny started asking to leave at Edward the Confessor's tomb, and by the time we got to the Tudors, he was ready to revolt and wondering if he liked England so much after all. But the Tudors were non-negotiable, of course, and he did let me lift him to look at Queen Elizabeth I's tomb, where she rested with her sister Mary, who almost executed her.

We bade a regretful farewell to Westminster Abbey (well, I did) and
hopped a double-decker bus to St. Paul's Cathedral. "Do we have to go in there?" Benny asked nervously, but I was more interested in the tourist office across the street. I bought Fast Track tickets for the Tower of London, The London Eye and the Churchill War Rooms and then we started looking for a lunch. We ate take-out burgers on the steps of St. Paul ("The li-i-ittle old bi-i-i-rd woman comes ...")

Speaking of birds, where the heck had all the pigeons gone? Ron and I had visited Britain in 1997, and we remember flocks of pigeons practically darkening the skies at Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's steps and other public squares. What had they done with the pigeons? I imagined some grim bird elimination campaign by the London Olympic Committee, some kind of Birdbrain Orange thing or pigeon contraceptions in the fountain water. Arsenic-laced bread crumbs, perhaps? One wonders.

View from the London Eye
I found another bus that took us to the London Eye, an elegant circle ringed with bubble-like cars that would take us more than 400 feet into the air. We stood in our bubble, noses pressed against the glass to take in the incredible views. Benny was enthralled, but once the excitement died down, he slumped against the bus stop, exhausted and convinced that nothing would ever please him again. Ron and I took him back to the B&B and we picnicked in our room and went to bed early again.

No comments: