When I prepared for the London trip, I asked a few people who had been there recently, or who had spent a lot of time there, or had read a lot about it to give me their opinions of Things Not To Miss. I went to many of them, and they were all completely delightful-- from the British Museum to Hampton Court to just walking along the Thames for an afternoon.
This isn't about that stuff.
One of the people I asked was my old friend Tanner, who's gone a few times in the last decade or so, and he had this to say:
I would highly recommend taking an afternoon to amble down Fleet Street, hitting pubs. If you start at St. Paul's and head west, you can convince yourself that you're not just hitting pubs, but also seeing historic London. Like The Old Bell Tavern, a Christopher Wren built pub. Then The Old Bank of England, which was the building under which the tunnel exists that The Butcher of Fleet Street used to move bodies from the Barber Shop to the Pie Shop. And The Old Cock, that Samuel Pepys wrote about. Then on to the Old Cheshire Cheese, and read the articles on the wall about the death of their famous Swearing Parrot. From there, you just a block or two from the Thames, and the Temple station. Or, continue down the Strand, and check out King's College 'n' shit.
Ladies and Gentlemen, how could I not do that?
I came at it from the opposite direction-- I started West and headed East, basically. The first place I saw was this one:
"Hot shit!" I thought to myself. "That's one of the places that came highly recommended from Tanner!"
Rob and I went in and each got a pint. "Ah, wow, the sense of history," I thought to myself. "Just imagine! I'm in a place that was built in 1538 and rebuilt in 1666 after the great fire! How amazing!" I sipped my beer. I looked around. "This doesn't look like it was built in 1538 and rebuilt in 1666," I thought. "It looks like it was built in the 1980s. Oh, shit."
Sure enough. Less than half a mile away from Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, another bar had set up shop... and called itself The Cheshire Cheese. I immediately realized that I, a tourist, had just been bilked out of beer money by a bar that had been built and designed solely to bilk tourists. Fuck. What a rube I am!
At least I got two beers out of it.
I think we stopped somewhere else for a beer, but now I can't remember and at some point taking beautiful pictures became secondary to drinking.
Then, down the street to the Old Bell Tavern, which had signs proudly proclaiming its allegiance with Christopher Wren. More beer! Tried to order food, but there was a leak in the kitchen. No food. More beer. Leaving this bar, we were confronted with a bustling mob of foot traffic, so we dodged sideways, planning to head down a side street.
One of the things that I love about London is the vast and amazing history. America has about four centuries of history that we've been taught about, but we don't have the sense of a city being built on the ruins of itself for a thousand years plus.
While ducking down the side street, we stepped into a beautiful courtyard, and basically walked for a half mile in this weird, vacant, beautiful agglomeration of buildings and churches and topiary.
It was glorious.
Then, we found the real Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
Hot damn, that is what history feels like. The Old Bell was nice, but it had been overhauled and modernized. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese had too, a bit, but it still was what I imagined a real old-school pub would be like-- tiny ceilings to accommodate the apparently much-shorter people of half a millennia ago. Tiny windy corridors. Stairs leading to weird dungeon-y rooms.
It was fantastic.
By this time, with all the beer and whatnot, we were pretty hungry, but the Old Bank of England was closed. I don't rightly remember what the name of the bar was that we stumbled into, but it was another slice of history. I hadn't had fish and chips yet, so I got those.
There's nothing quite like eating incredible crispy fish and steaming chips (and even the mushy peas) served to you in a pub that is older than America. Historical fish and chips, ladies and gentlemen.
Here's an excerpt from a sort of newsletter-y thing I wrote mostly for my own edification about taking a trip to London over Thanksgiving.
It was pretty awesome, you guys.
Here comes a random assortment of photos and stuff slash facts.
The way that the UK grocery stores handle bottle storage and baggage is nothing short of brilliant. In a city where a very small percentage of people own cars, and most travel by bus and trains, their solution to the problem of hauling around a large number of bottles is elegant and clever. The US needs to get on board with this.
Henry VIII apparently loved eating peacocks, which were a delicacy.
A thing that is interesting about the UK in the wintertime is that the sun sets around four PM, which is odd and a little unsettling, especially at first. On the plus side, they lit up Hampton Court Palace beautifully several hours before suppertime.
The "Full English," with bacon, baked beans, tomato, egg, sausage, hash browns, mushrooms, and black pudding.
The Tower of London is home to a bunch of ravens, the "guardians of the tower." There's a legend that "If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall." These suckers were HUGE, too. I had no idea that ravens were this enormous.
Went to the British Library, to see an exhibition about Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination, a collection of artifacts and books about Gothic literature, art, and pop culture.
This is one of the maps of Transylvania that Bram Stoker actually used while doing research for the writing of Dracula. Research that he did at the British Library.
This is an engraving of a page from a 1700s English Travel guide, using as a basis for this engraving Julius Caesar's Commentary on the Gallic War:
Also seen: a vampire hunting kit, Jack the Ripper's original "Hello Boss" letter, a page from Exodus written in Greek from the 3rd century, original Leonardo Da Vinci sketches, the Magna Carta, original pencil hand-written lyrics to many Beatles songs, hand-written Mozart compositions, and on and on and on. Breathtaking stuff.