Thursday, June 28, 2012

I usually drag Mark around to look at mouldy old stones and buildings, or through art museums or interesting houses, and he manfully goes along with the plan. But the tradeoff is that we do go to see war museums, airplanes, and anything mechanical whenever possible. So, today is RAF Museum day, up north of London. 

I shouldn't complain, it really is a great museum -- probably the best display of old planes and helicopters of all the air museums we've visited (and we've visited quite a few, I tell you). They have an old restored workshop with the truly antique planes that I found interesting and beautiful, and huge hangers full of bombers and early jets that Mark found fascinating. It is a huge collection, and the museum is well-laid-out and documented. I took tons of pictures of the planes - which are interesting to me as photo subjects, not necessarily as military paraphernalia, of course -- and poked around at the older planes. Some o the old wood and fabric biplanes and triplanes on display are just beautiful, in a way that the modern jets and planes just aren't, at least not to a non-buff like myself. We didn't realize that we'd timed our visit with the live opening of the Bomber Command Memorial  in London, which was on a huge screen in hte main hanger, and there was a flyover of modern jets and an old Lancaster bomber at noon. It was pretty cool, if I say so myself.  If you are at all in terested in military history (particularly WW1 and WW2) it's worth the trip up on the tube (about half an hour). 

I finally dragged Mark away from the planes and battle plans, and we hurried back to London to see the London Museum -- the history of London from prehistoric times to Roman city, to medieval city and onward. Super museum!! Worth a couple of hours, at least -- starting upstairs you wander down through the archeological evidence from the stone age to the thriving settlement here in Roman times, and then to the medieval town (and plague, and then fire!) . You can see how the city evolved and grew -- and how the fire reshaped the "modern" London in a way tha t wasn't matched until the Blitz destroyed so much of the city again. I loved it -- and dawdled over each area until Mark was ready to throttle me, I'm sure. But we were both mesmerized by the modern section of the museum, with photos and audio/video clips of the bombings and the privations of WW2. The collection is fantastic, and well organized, too, which is nice. The museum doesn't tend to get mentioned much in the guidebooks, but it's a gem and I would love to go back when I wsn't so tired and my feet didnt hurt. That's the side effect of how we travel -- go go go go! , by the end of the day, we're both just dragging and footsore. But there is so much to see, I can't bear to slow down much.

We walked over to Smithfields Market -- the usually busy meat market and shopping district -- but it had already closed  and we could only peek inside at the ornate Victorian market stalls and roofed-over arcade. Ah, well. The day was beautiful, sunny, and clear -- so off to The Eye!

We decided to take advantage of the London Card offer for a free Red Rover river ticket to take the boat from the Tower pier to the  Eye, not realizing that it was slow, and we would wait for almost an hour for the next boat. How this can be presented as a hop-on-hop-off option  is beyond me -- the wait alone for the boat was nuts. But the views from the river are pretty, I guess, and we can at least say we saw the Tower bridge raised at least once.  We went from one long wait to another, of course-- the Eye is a huge attraction and it made me feel particularly  touristy this afternoon -- long wait, exorbitant price, rewarded by cool views, but frankly I'm not seeing the allure. I can't imagine doing it in high season when thousands more people show up. It was not too bad a wait, but we queued up and trailed through the barriers to get into our pod with twenty or so people (including one family with not one, but TWO wailing children) and did our slow arc over the top of the wheel, gawking at the views. They are good, I'll admit -- you can see all the way to the edge of the city andinto the countryside if the weather is clear, as it was today. It was neat to see the places we'd visited laid out like a huge map as we looked down. 

Can't say I like the new tall building, "the Shard", though. It's touted as the tallest building in Europe (when it's finished) and it really isn't that attractive ...just a narrow obelisk-shaped glass building...very harsh. I am rather fond of the rounded, squat building they call 'The Gherkin', though. It looks like some sort of sex toy dropped in the middle of the financial district. The architecture of the city is so diverse,though, that there is ap lace for everyting -- tudor half-timbered buildings next to modern glass-and-steel monoliths. It all just sort of melds together in a hodge-podge of styles. I have to admit that I like the huge Georgian squares that surround the city center the best of all, though. Row after row of pale -painted townhouses with identicfal doors, facing great green park squares. There is something just so civilized about them. 

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