Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Day trip to London

One of the benefits of our location is that we're a short one-hour (and change) train ride from London.  So one Saturday, we decided to go to London for the day to get our feet wet with the train and the Tube and the city.

Coop was excited.  His first train ride in England!
The magic green box next to him is called "100 Things for Little Children to Do on a Trip."  Score.

Our plan was to start taking bit-sized chunks out of our "Things to Do in London" list.  We quickly discovered that bite-sized chunks is the only way any of it will be doable with a 4-year-old.  The city, despite its fantastic public transportation, is pretty big for small kids.  Even going to station A, taking the train to station B, switching trains to station C, and walking to an attraction puts about a mile on your shoes.  Poor Coop!

So on our first day trip, we managed to do two things.  First, visit the famous Tower Bridge:
We paid the seven pounds per adult to go up in the tower, walk across the upper level walkway, and see some exhibits about how the bridge was built.

The Tower Bridge (which actually is *not* the London Bridge) is a suspension bridge that crosses the Thames River.  Construction on the bridge started in 1886 and took eight years to complete.  It is 800 feet long and has two towers, each 213 feet high, built on piers.

Originally, the bridge had two giant steam engines to raise and lower the draw bridge for passing ships.  Here, Alan is feeding Cooper into showing Cooper the coal bin.

The steam engine:
In 1974, the bridge was modernized and a hydraulic system was installed to raise and lower the bridge.

Coop was most taken with the "stunts on the bridge" display that showed a drawing of a double-decker bus that had accidentally driven on the bridge when it was open (to let a big ship pass underneath) and was forced to jump the gap.  And there was a big display of a motorcycle rider (ala Evel Knievel) who jumped the bridge and then donated his bike and his outfit to the museum showcase.  Coop's up next, it looks like!

Alan sitting by a fountain with lots of naked girls.  (He requested this photo.)

Our second big attraction of the day (not counting the naked-girl fountain) was the Tower of London.  It's a spectacular place (a prison, which always intrigues me!), and could easily become my favorite London spot.  Admittedly, I've only been to two London "spots" so far (this tower and the bridge; wait -- three if you could the airport!), but still...

There's so much good stuff about the Tower of London; a blog post just can't do it justice, particularly because so much that makes the place interesting are the stories of people who were imprisoned there.  I even ponied up the five pounds to buy the official Tower of London souvenir guidebook so I could revisit all the stories and the places of the Tower.

Anyway, the Tower of London is technically a castle fortress, made up of several different buildings and towers.  It gets its name from the White Tower, the most prominent part of the castle grounds, which was built by William the Conqueror in 1078.  (Like the Lincoln Castle, this place was founded by William the Conqueror after his coronation at the conclusion of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.)

As a castle, the whole place had various defense systems in place, including a moat and tons of soldiers with cross bows.
Probably none with four-year-old kids playing hide-and-seek nearby, but you get the idea.

The most interesting part of the castle's history for me is its use as a prison, which really came to fruition in the 16th Century.  Famous people were incarcerated at the Tower, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, and Elizabeth (before she became Queen Elizabeth I).  And, of course, Cooper:

Walking through some of the prison areas today, you can still see fairly extensive graffiti that prisoners left:

Ten people were beheaded on the grounds of the castle, including three English queens:  Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives; Catherine Howard, Henry V's wife; and Lady Jane Gray, queen for only nine days when she was sixteen years old.

Since the 1300s, the Tower of London has also held the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, including the crowns of various royal family members as well as scepters, orbs (small fancy Christmas-ornament-looking balls that the king or queen holds), rings, swords, spoons, plates, and the largest soup tureen I have ever seen (seriously, you could stuff a whole person inside it!).  We couldn't take photos inside that exhibit, but it was pretty glitzy!  This website has a few photos if you want to browse a bit.

All in all, a busy day.  We were on our feet for about six solid hours, and much of that was spent looking at things targeted at grown-ups.  Next time we go, we'll try to hit the science museum and the natural history museum for Cooper!


Rhonda said...

Great pics! I've never been a major history buff, but I'll admit, the history books came alive for me when I was standing in those ACTUAL spots where all those events (that we had only read about) had occurred.

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