Travel Journal March 7, 1999
Picadilly Circus and the Tower

London, cont.

I reccomend visits to the Tower of London, the British Museum Antiquities Gallery, and the London Guildhall for their displays of antique craftsmanship. -- Rick Foss.

I left the apartment around 6:00 this morning, as I couldn't get back to sleep. Everything was of course closed, and being Sunday, things wouldn't start to open until around 11:00. I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood, just to "get my bearings". I found a fish and chips place that opened at 7:00, and I ordered a sausage roll and a cornish pastie.

Time for a flashback...when I was 14, my family moved to Australia, and stayed there for two years. When I was going to school there, I used to eat a "Big Ben Pie" for lunch on most days. This was a firm, squarish, spicy beef pie which is nothing like the American beef pies (which are more like "soup pies"). After 25 years, I'm still missing those pies. Well, the cornish pastie might not be a Big Ben, but it comes darned close...memories of Australia came flooding back to me then. The sausage roll was not really very much like the Australian sausage rolls, but it wasn't bad.

Another thing I've been noticing, while I'm on the subject of my Australian past, a lot of the local place names here are exactly the same as the ones I remember from Australia: Kensington, Bromley, Victoria Station. Amid all of the polyglot strangeness of London, it gives a certain comforting familiarity.

On my way back I passed a church, and snapped a few photos. This place is thick with old churches.

At this point I decided to take a very long walk. I figured that I would pick a destination which was about an hour or two away, and by the time I had managed to get there, it might actually be open. So I set out for Picadilly Circus. I passed a bunch of interesting establishments which were closed: the British Museum of Natural History, Harrod's (the London equivalent of Macy's I suspect), and Wellington's house. Here's a few pictures:

Harrod's Department store

A Typical London street

Hyde park and a couple of local constables.


Eventually I made it to Picadilly Circus. At first I was a bit confused - it's marked on the map as a "point of interest", but I couldn't figure out what made it different from any other intersection of several streets at odd angles. (London is probably the least rectilinear city that I've ever been in.)

However, eventually I found a small arcade (in the sense of a corridor of shops) which led to a large arcade (in the sense of a gaming parlor.) Now, having been in the computer games business for 17 years, I'm fairly jaded by video-game parlors [Or should I say, 'parlours' -- when in rome...] but this "Trocade" was the biggest, most spectacular video game arcade I'd ever seen or heard of. It consisted of six floors of games, including "Sega World". For example, an entire floor was devoted to racing games, another to flying games, and so on... here's a few pictures.

The escalators are kind of cool.

A vertical shot.

Do you think that they have enough racing games? I don't know, I think they might need a few more. (This was just one row of several)

Another thing I noticed is that our old friends from the Reduced Shakespeare Company (who used to play Renaissance Faire in Southern California) are still up to no good.

After Picadilly Circus, I decided to head south towards Westminster.

Passing by St. James park.

I got to Westminster; Unfortunately, my obligatory pictures of the clock tower and Westminster Abbey were spoiled by raindrops on the camera lens. I'll have to be more careful about that in the future. I'll try and replace them at a later date. (In fact, about 20 percent of todays photos were spoiled for various reasons, including me shaking the camera. I'm still learning to use this thing, having never owned a camera in my life before, so bear with me. All in all, I'm pleased at how well many of the shots are coming out.)

Rather a good rendition of the old bulldog, IMHO.

Here's a man many love to hate...

At this point, my ankles were hurting really badly, so I decided to take the subway for the rest of the day's excursions. Rick had mailed me a couple of tickets for the London Underground (popularly known as "The Tube") before I left. I handed these tickets to the lady in the ticket window, and got back something called a Travelcard, which is a credit-card-sized paper card with a magnetic strip on the back. (Those of you who ride BART in San Francisco know exactly what I'm talking about.) The card I have is good for seven days of unlimited travel.

San Francisco may be proud of it's public transport system, but it pales in comparison to the one in London. There's over a dozen different lines, hundreds of stations, and nowhere in town that's more than a few blocks away from a station (although I'm sure that the stations are less dense in the outlying areas.) The travelcard is also good for the municipal buses and light railways.

  Some pictures of a tube station.

I took the tube to Tower Hill, which lets out next to the Tower of London. Here's some shots of the tower from the outside. The green grassy area used to be a moat, until Wellington had it drained for public health reasons.

The entrance to the Tower.

Anybody need a nice texture map?

A couple of guides in period costume explaining about the lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, ca. 1190 or so. This is in the "reconstructed" portion of the building.

A reconstructed chandelier.

Also reconstructed, I believe.

Occasionally I like to take random shots of architectural details. You'll see a lot of this in the future.

The White Tower, at the center of the complex.

Some shots from on top of the south wall.

These buildings face the white tower. As you can obviously tell, they were built at a much later period.

The next set of photos is from the Royal Armory, which is inside the White Tower.

Pikes, anyone?

A small chapel.

Various plate mail suits. There were a lot more of these.

This was how they stored gunpowder.

A small cannon.

Some small mortars.

  Another display of swords and pistols.


A larger mortar.

Another shot of the White Tower.

Next, I went in to see the Crown Jewels, but unfortunately they don't allow you to photograph them.

My overall impression of the Tower is that it's a place that's been battered by history. This is true of London in general as well; I don't think that there's a single site in town that hasn't been scarred by The Great Fire, the Blitz, misguided Victorian antiquarians, ambitious rulers, or just the needs of commerce.

Footnote: One very clever thing that I did before I left was to pack a set of long underwear that I had purchased at REI. I wore these under my jeans all day today, with the result that I was seldom cold (except for my hands and face. I think I need to get some gloves.)

Another footnote: It's really cool having an infinite supply of film! [But later: Making all of these thumbnails in the GIMP is really tedious - it took me about three hours to make this page. I know that there's programs to do this automatically, but it won't do much good unless I can hook my laptop up to a network somewhere.]