Growing up in the country, I have never been used the sounds of the city and wasn’t all that sure how I’d do sleeping in London. But I slept like a log, and the first thing I noticed when I woke up was, not the sound of traffic, horns, voices, subways, or sirens, but the chorus of birdsong filling the air with their sweet voices.
After a quick breakfast at the hotel, I made my way to a little shop that sold Scandinavian food. It has now been 17 years since the last time I was in Norway, but looking at the brand names and types of food took me right back. It was very tempting to buy a tin of leverpostej or kaviar, but I knew I couldn’t eat them all in one setting and didn’t have any way to keep them cold and couldn’t bear the thought of throwing it away half-eaten. I did find a treasure-trove of salty licorice though and bought a couple of my favourites.
Then it was on to the Tower of London. I had an hour to explore before there was a tour lead by a Yeoman Warder (aka Beefeater) and managed to make my way through most of the towers of the outside wall area. Each area was set up in either different eras or to show a different part or aspect of the Tower’s history. I was quickly realizing the 3 hours recommended for the site was not going to cover everything! I would catch the highlights, though. I made my way through the medieval palace that was once residence to Kings and learned about what life was like then, through some of the places prisoners were kept awaiting their execution and why they were held there, what the guards wore and how they defended the Tower and from whom, the Royal Beasts – a sort of zoo that was kept there of strange and exotic animals from around the world given by dignitaries over 600 years, life during WWI, the chapel, and the crown jewels. The Yeoman Warder tour was very enjoyable – he kept everyone laughing and made history come alive. I found everything was well done to keep the interest for the young and old alike.
After leaving the Tower, I grabbed a lunch from a nearby Pret A Manger (a healthy fast food chain with sandwiches, wraps, and snacks available, some of which are dairy-free) and made my way down the street to The Monument to the Great Fire of 1666.
I caught the bus to the house of Charles Dickens and enjoyed a self-guided tour there. I had never stopped to think about the man behind the words much, and this gave great insight as to who he was as a person. His younger years were fairly idyllic in Kent, but when he was 11 his family’s fortunes declined and his father was thrown into debtor’s prison. Charles began working at the age of 12 under harsh conditions and 10 hour days pasting labels on jars of boot blacking. His family’s situation improved and he was able to return to school eventually, but this traumatic time always remained with him even though he never revealed this portion of his past to anyone save his wife and 1 close friend. In his adulthood he loved to entertain company and his writings were well-received during his lifetime.
From there I caught another bus on to Hampstead Heath to the house in which John Keats boarded.
St. Pancras Train Station, and beautiful Hampstead Heath
In contrast to Dickens seeing the fruits of his labour, John Keats felt he was a failure in his work, and it wasn’t until after his death at age 25 that his poetry became well-known and he is now considered one of the finest poets in history. He had trained to be a physician but poetry was his real passion. Most of his writings took place while he was at this house, and it was here that he met and fell in love with Fanny Brawne. Unable to make a living from his work, he felt unworthy to marry her and tragically died from tuberculosis at a young age.
After pausing in a secret garden for an espresso and slice of dairy-free banana bread, I continued down to Camden Town and stopped at the market there. It was bustling with people in its warren of tunnels and alleys and I saw some interesting things. One of the buildings used to be horse stables and had some pretty neat carving. My main objective was to find Cookies and Scream – a vegan (and therefore dairy-free) shop known for their cookie ice-cream sandwiches and milkshakes.
Friday nights the Victoria and Albert Museum is open late so I headed there next. I only had opportunity to visit the Medieval and Renaissance collection and the Fashion collection as it would take several days to have seen it all. Here are a few highlights:
I enjoyed supper at a nearby Leon – another healthy “fast food” chain that specializes in different dietary requirements. And that is the end of another day.