London: A haunted tower, a Wicked show, and a midnight stroll
London was a natural first stop because British Airways offered a direct flight from Houston and it is ALWAYS worth it to fly direct. British Airways also offers free spirits on international flights, even in economy, to our delighted surprise.
After a moderately restful nights sleep on the plane, thanks to our complimentary night cap, we arrived early on a Saturday morning and took the Heathrow express into town. I can't believe how ancient 2014 seems now, but since then Uber, free WiFi, international data plans, and smart phones seem to make this next sentence obsolete. If you happen to still be living in 2014, though, I (or really Dan) highly recommend these Streetwise City Maps for experienced and oblivious tourists alike. They are laminated, have really great color coded transit maps, AND double as an umbrella when you leave yours on the tube.
Okay, fine, back to 2016, where blogging is a real profession and Instagram is a legitimate marketing platform. So, as I was saying, our first day in London was going perfect. We had warm, sunny skies and a room reserved across from the Tower of London.
After checking in and freshening up, we walked over to the Tower for our first touristy attraction. It was still early and so not terribly crowded, but we did have to wait less than a half hour to see the Crown Jewels. You will need a separate ticket for this exhibit.
By happy accident, Dan makes the perfect tour guide. He may not be an enthused travel planner (or any type of planner), but he seems to know plenty about art, history, and science. Sure, I planned coming here, but I quickly realized that I knew very little about the Tudor's torture chambers.
For you, I'll provide the cliff notes (is that still a thing?) because Wikipedia is readily available for your historical interests.
The Tower of London is a sprawling campus, a former royal residence turned "white collar" prison turned torture chamber turned armory. You can wander about on your own using the visitors guide. The key attractions are the Crown Jewels and the Bloody Tower where the various Elizabethan torture methods were illustrated in various cringe worthy displays, although reportedly these were seldom used.
In other areas you can see where prisoners were held and where they inscribed cryptic and desperate messages on the walls. It's fascinating to learn about the key figures who spent time here, including Ann Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, and Queen Elizabeth I herself. If you don't know much about the Tudors, do yourself a favor and read about them, even the Wikipedia page will keep you scrolling through their scandalous lives.
Conveniently located next to the Tower of London is the iconic Tower Bridge. You can schedule a tour inside and climb up to the top, but we just took pictures from the river bank to save time for our next activity.
Next we made our way to the theatre district. I have always wanted to see the musical Wicked and thought it would be so fun to see it in London at the Apollo Victoria theatre. We grabbed dinner at a pub nearby, then left for the show.
We each got a glass of wine, found our seats and then.... The jet lag hit. At intermission we were both fighting to stay awake, even though the show was so good! We actually had to run outside to feel the cold air on our faces and try to wake up.
Sure enough, we caught our second wind and enjoyed the rest of the amazing show. I'm so glad we did because I had no idea it ended like that!
Afterwards we strolled the short distance over to Buckingham Palace. It looked so majestic without all of the crowds. Then we crossed over to Big Ben to gaze up at that beautiful clock all lit up at night. I loved how clean, well lit and safe the city felt even though it was late at night.
After a veryyyyy long day, we took the tube from Westminster back to Tower Hill to sleep.
Next up, what happens when you are caught taking photos inside Westminster abbey, strolling through London's parks, and shopping with Kate in Kensington!