Day 5 – Canada Day in London

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Am I the only person who didn’t know about the Tower of London? Sure I’ve heard of the Tower Bridge, and I’ve seen Robin Hood dozens of times and I know that the kings lived in a castle and whatnot, but somehow it just didn’t occur to me that that castle is standing in the middle of London and it’s totally a thing tourists can do.  I almost talked myself out of it because of the price, but the more I thought about our plans to see Romeo and Juliet at the Globe, the more I thought the play would wouldn’t work well with a baby. The play was supposed to be our one splurge, so we had a little room in our budget. Plus, we got some two-for-one tickets to the Tower of London, so we decided to make it happen. It was so worth it.

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We began our tour with a yeoman guide, who told us a lot about the history of the tower, how many kings lived here, how many weddings and beheadings were here…you know, all the juicy details.  Then we were free to wander.  Many of the buildings inside the fortress are set up as museums with collections of armor, weapons, furniture, and the likes.  We could have easily spent all day here, but we only scheduled half a day for it.

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We also waited in the long line to see the crown jewels, which again I was surprised to be worth the wait and  proved to be an interesting exhibit. The building houses all the crowns, robes, orbs and other royal getup.  No photos allowed, but you can check them out online.

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Now, I know M already mentioned this in his account, but it’s too good of a story not to tell again. You see, our greatest fortune of the day stemmed from our greatest regret: we didn’t think to use the public toilets at the Tower before we crossed the Tower Bridge.  Once we were well on our way, we were also near fainting for lack of food in the hot sun, so we had to make a choice: hunt for a washroom or find some lunch.  We chose food, assuring ourselves that we would find a bathroom on the way, but no such luck. So we picnicked with a lovely view of the bridge and the tower on the other side of the Thames, and then only had enough time to race back to Westminster Abbey for Evensong.

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Evensong! What a treat. And the best way to view Westminster Abbey for free. We just told the guard we were here for the service, and we were allowed to file in to the chapel and grab a seat.  It’s not just the price that made it so special, though. Most cathedrals are best viewed with live choral accompaniment, and this was just a dream.  E slept through half of it and actually stayed pretty quiet through the rest, so we were able to enjoy it and keep from disturbing the other worshipers.  As a bonus, the service honored Canadians in honor of Canada Day. We felt pretty privileged.

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So we ended up back on the street, greeted by the roaming ads for the Book of Mormon musical that apparently was visiting London the same time we were. It’s now evening and we’re in desperate need of a toilet. We saw some pay toilets on the street but they required coins, of which we had none.  We knew that museums were not only free, but they were equipped with public restrooms, but the trouble with museums is they close in the late afternoon.  M took to his smartphone to find out if any museums were open late.  We found a listing of the John Soane Museum with this note:

The Museum is lit by candlelight on the first Tuesday of each month, from 6 until 9pm.  This event is extremely popular and many more people arrive than we can possibly get in to the house. For this reason, at 5.30pm we issue tickets to the first 200 people who arrive.  Please use your own judgment to decide what time to arrive, as people always arrive earlier than any time we may suggest.

As luck would have it, this was actually the first Tuesday of the month. So we booked it up to Temple Station. We gawked at the justice building. We found more Canadian treasures:

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And finally we found the museum. We had enough time waiting in line outside to take turns walking to Starbucks to use their bathroom (thanks!). And as the evening went on, we again found ourselves getting hungry, getting low blood sugar headaches, getting anxious. We almost left. But thankfully we didn’t. This museum was a gem of a find. It’s an architect’s own home and his personal collection of sketches and architectural models. He had architectural details, like gargoyles and the like. He had egyptian relics. He had paintings. It was horribly crowded with floor-to-ceiling collections of every kind. And lit by candles…it was pretty neat. And serendipitous that we made it there.

No photos were allowed inside, but check out the collection online here.

Afterward, we were on the prowl for dinner, but the neighborhood didn’t seem to have anything that looked satisfying. We made our way to St. Paul’s cathedral, hoping to find a bite nearby. Still no luck, but hey, we found a guitar. If I had known this cathedral was featured in Mary Poppins, maybe I would have played “Feed the Birds,” but instead I played “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”

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It was a nice way to end a busy day before heading back to Holloway Road for an omelet and panini at a cafe down the street from our flat, and finally resting in bed.

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