Day 3: The City of Her Majesty



May 27, 2019

Last night we literally slept for about 11 hours. I tossed and turned from about 2-3 AM but for the most part I slept that whole time. Emily fell asleep and never awoke until morning!  We started off by getting breakfast at our hotel, Hotel Novotel. It was a fantastic continental breakfast! Mine included ham, scrambled eggs (British style), 2 chocolate croissants, toast, orange juice, and a cappuccino. The hotel had an amazing coffee machine: you could choose an Americano, Latte, Cappuccino, Espresso, or just steamed milk from the push of a button. It would then steam your milk first and then grind, press, and brew the coffee…amazing!! After breakfast we set out for our big London day. We started off heading to the Greenwich pier and taking a ferry along the Thames river all the way to Westminster. It was great that this was covered by our London Pass! The water offered a great view of both banks of the Thames, and allowed us to see the skyline of London incrementally from east to west.  The tour guide confirmed (I was still skeptical) that the actual old London Bridge was shipped and re-assembled piece by piece for a bridge over Lake Havasu in Arizona! So cool that Emily had been there and seen that already. The new London Bridge was opened to traffic in 1973 (though it’s nothing special–Tower Bridge is way more elaborate). We arrived at Westminster and instantly were disappointed when we saw that Big Ben was completely covered in scaffolding, except for 2 faces of the clock. The Parliament building was also slightly under construction, but was mostly visible.  We learned that the tower is actually called Elizabeth Tower…Big Ben is the nickname for the largest bell in the tower. We never heard it chime, but we weren’t sure if that was because we weren’t there at the right time or if the chimes were disabled due to the renovations.  

Palace of Westminster under renovation
Palace of Westminster under renovation

We then headed to the London Eye! We thought our London Pass would have covered this, but apparently it did not. We went ahead and paid for a ticket. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long. The views of the city were fantastic. We got a glimpse of so many landmarks including Buckingham Palace!  Each chamber of the wheel holds about 25 people and is air conditioned. The wheel takes 30 minutes for one revolution. Emily and I did the math a bit later and calculated that for normal hours of 10 AM – 8:30 PM, and assuming that everyone pays the price of £30, the attractions pulls in £15,750 per day, which comes out to be about £5.7 million per year!  We thought we should build one in Knoxville and charge half that…we’d be well off, ha!  

The London Eye
The London Eye


View from the London Eye looking South toward Westminster
View from the London Eye looking South toward Westminster


View from the London Eye looking Northeast toward Waterloo Bridge
View from the London Eye looking Northeast toward Waterloo Bridge

Following the Eye, we headed to the “hop on hop off” tour bus that was covered under our London Pass.  This took us along the streets of London and was a great way to get a glimpse of the city while in transport. The tube is quick but doesn’t offer a way to actually see the city pass by.  We took it all the way to the Tower Bridge stop, and from there we went to explore Tower Bridge. Finally, an icon of London that we could actually see and was not under construction! The London Pass covered entry, so we went in and explored. After climbing up stairs for what seemed like 10 minutes, we made it to the top, from where a walkway connects the towers together. At one point, there is a glass floor through which you can look down to see the Thames and the road below. Quite terrifying actually! Scary enough that the staff were handing out stickers to those who were brave enough to walk across it.

Looking down into the Thames from the upper walkway
Looking down into the Thames from the upper walkway

It was quite busy as it was a Bank Holiday and the circus was in town. The staff member who told us seemed at first to be joking, but then we realized the circus really was in town and was performing in one of the towers–acrobats, dancers, the full deal. We headed down and saw the engine room of the bridge–where all the machinery is housed for the drawbridge. I’m not sure if the machines are still active, but they showed the original setup as well as the current. Apparently it’s all based off of water pressure and steam, not necessarily electric motors.  

The engine room of Tower Bridge housing one of the original steam engines
The engine room of Tower Bridge housing one of the original steam engines

We were a bit pressed for time after this, as we had an Afternoon Tea reservation at the Savoy hotel at 3:00. Using Google maps, we found a route to get there and arrived right on the dot!  This was the highlight of the day. It was a very fancy hotel it looked like. Their restrooms even had REAL towels, which after use could be disposed into a hamper. We dined in the Thames foyer, in which there was a live pianist filling the room with ambience, as well as fancy tables and decorations. The architecture was also quite elegant, especially in the skylight in the center of the room.  

The Savoy
The Savoy

We were given the choice between Afternoon Tea and High Tea, with High Tea having a bit more savory options than Afternoon Tea, which is a bit sweeter in nature. We opted for Afternoon Tea. We were given menu full of tea options. I picked the Darjeeling tea and Emily got Dragon Tea, both black teas. We started off with some Rose champagne and eating an Avocado/Tuna Tartare biscuit? with chocolate bread. I didn’t care for it too much–the Tartare kinda freaked me out. Then we ate six kinds of sandwiches: Cucumber with barrel aged feta spread and extra virgin olive oil on sun dried tomato bread, Egg with English mustard and tarragon on white bread, Smoked Salmon with cream cheese and fennel pollen on spinach bread, shrimp with marie rose and lettuce on wholemeal bread, and Coronation Chicken with mustard cress on black olive bread (definitely the best) (plus one more that we can’t remember).  

Sandwich assortment for Afternoon Tea
Sandwich assortment for Afternoon Tea

Next we were offered a huge 3-tiered stand of baked goods, including scones, spiced cakes, macarons, and other goodies.  We also tried another tea…I got the Savoy Afternoon Tea, and Emily got Vanilla Black Tea. One surprise we received as we were dining was that the hostess bought out a “Welcome to London” card thanking us for coming, and also gave us a piece of cheesecake on a plate with “Welcome to London” painted in a chocolate sauce. We felt so honored! After this was over we were absolutely stuffed! It was an unforgettable experience, and we’re so glad that we did it! Of course, it was certainly more expensive than I would have liked to pay, but now we can say we have had Afternoon Tea in London!  

Assortment of Afternoon Tea scones, pastries and cakes
Assortment of Afternoon Tea scones, pastries and cakes

After waddling out of the hotel and down the street, we came to Trafalgar Square, which was a beautiful square with fountains, serving as the home of Nelson’s Column (commemorating Admiral Horatio Nelson who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805) and the National Gallery. We poked our heads into the gallery for a bit in search of paintings by Monet and Van Gogh. We briefly saw some Monet paintings before we had to head out.  We were encouraged to see a group of Christians preaching the gospel and singing “Great Are You Lord” with guitar and vocals just outside the gallery. There was an “activist” wearing a shirt with a picture of a cow that said “Not your mother, not your milk” who was trying to contradict what they were saying. During the music the one preaching went and shook hands with the man and a friendly exchange proceeded. So glad to see the church at work in London!

Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery in the background
Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery in the background

We hopped back on the bus tour and saw a few more sights, of the most notable was Westminster Abbey. We didn’t get off and go in, but it was absolutely beautiful. I could envision all of the pomp and royalty entering that building for every royal wedding and coronation! 

Westminster Abbey
Limited view of Westminster Abbey from the tour bus

Ending our bus tour at London Bridge station, we went to get a couple more pictures of the Tower Bridge and then headed back to our hotel in Greenwich via the tube. Apparently today was a Bank holiday, so many places closed early, including the ferry that we took to Westminster, ruling out the possibility for us to take it back to Greenwich from the Tower Bridge pier. Side note, because we passed the Waterloo station a few times, the song by ABBA was stuck in our heads almost all day!!

Step Metrics (est): 17,736 steps; 8 miles; 794 cal; 3h 7m time


Self Q&A

Q: Is the drawbridge in Tower Bridge operational?

A: Yes. The bridge usually opens at least once a day and if you’re a boat that requires an opening, you need to book it in advance. The bascules are raised around 1,000 times a year. River traffic is now much reduced, but it still takes priority over road traffic. It can be opened any time of day. They will not hesitate to open the bridge during rush hour if scheduled. Today, 24 hours’ notice is required before opening the bridge. There is no charge for vessels (but you do need a tall enough boat to necessitate an opening). Normally it doesn’t open full-height, but sometimes it will for cruise ships. You can see when the Bridge will open next on its website.


Q: What is Tower Bridge used for? Especially considering that none of the other London bridges are drawbridges.

A: Only Tower Bridge lifts up because the only area that large ships needed access to was the area between Tower Bridge and London Bridge. As the city of London developed and the size of shipping increased, London Bridge became an effective barrier for ships. Therefore the docks and wharves all developed in the area immediately downstream of London, and the area between the Tower of London and London Bridge became known as the pool of London and developed into the main international trade port for goods in and out of the city. Eventually more bridges were built further upstream; this didn’t matter because cargo ships never travelled that far up the river anyway, as they all loaded/unloaded at the pool of London. However when in the mid-nineteenth century a river crossing was proposed downstream from London Bridge, it was necessary to ensure that shipping could still pass through as the pool of London was still of vital importance to UK trade.Multiple plans were submitted and the one that was eventually chosen is the bridge we see today as Tower Bridge.


Q: What do the wavy lane lines mean on the roads?

White zig-zag lines

A: The zigzags are to warn motorists that they are approaching a zebra crossing (the technical term for a crosswalk), where pedestrians have the right of way.


Q: Why do the traffic lights sometimes flash yellow?

A: Pedestrian light controlled crossings (pelican crossings) are signal-controlled crossings where flashing amber follows the red ‘stop’ light. You MUST stop when the red light shows. When the amber light is flashing, you MUST give way to any pedestrians on the crossing. If the amber light is flashing and there are no pedestrians on the crossing, you may proceed with caution.


Q: Do all red lights turn yellow before they turn green?

red and yellow

A: Yes. Red and amber traffic lights illuminated together shows that the lights are about to change to green and that it’s okay for drivers to get ready to go. You may release your handbrake and prepare to drive away, but you must not cross the line until the light turns green.


Q: The shower with a water knob and then a temperature knob–is this a British thing?

A: Not that I have found.


Q: What is the DLR?

A: The DLR is the Docklands Light Railway, which connects London’s two financial districts, the City and Canary Wharf, with spurs to Stratford, Greenwich, Woolwich and the Royal Docks. The DLR only serves the Docklands area in the east. DLR trains are also fully computer controlled.


Q: What’s the light rail?

A: This phrase refers to the DLR


Q: Are you supposed to tap in/out at the DLR? If so, why is it not gated?

A: There are no ticket barriers at DLR-only stations, and correct ticketing is enforced by random on-train inspections by the PSA. Passengers without a correct ticket, pay-as-you-go Oyster users or a contactless bank card who have failed to touch in at the start of the journey may be liable to a £80 penalty fare or prosecution for fare evasion. There are barriers at Bank, Canning Town, Woolwich Arsenal, West Ham and Stratford, where the DLR platforms are within a London Underground or National Rail barrier line.There are no ticket gates on the DLR because the majority of stations aren’t staffed (only major interchanges and the four sub-surface ones are, the latter for safety reasons). You can’t have gates/barriers at an unstaffed station, as there has to be someone there to admit travellers who have valid tickets but that don’t operate the barriers.


Q: What does this symbol mean?

British Rail logo
British Rail logo

A: This is the old British Rail logo, indicating a railway station on the  national network but which also covers suburban rail services as well as intercity trains. Network Rail operates the tracks and supports the stations, there are individual TOCs (Train Operating Companies) who pay Network Rail to run trains on the tracks under a franchise license from the government. The Association of Train Operating Companies owns the entity National Rail. National Rail is used a marketing device to explain to customers that there is a national network, even though they are made from individual companies. It also provides a national ticketing structure, as well as common timetables and other passenger information. London Overground is a rail network which was built on existing metropolitan rail tracks and some new links, but it is operated for London only and is a separate train operator outside of ATOC with different ticketing. London Underground interconnects with National Rail stations but is totally separate and primarily is an underground metro service for London.


Q: What is the shard’s function? Office space?

A: The Shard comprises a 26-floor office complex, occupied by 32 companies across ten business sectors, three restaurants – aqua shard, oblix and Hutong, the five-star Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, ten residential apartments and the UK’s highest viewing gallery, The View from The Shard.


Q: What are Bank holidays?

A: A bank holiday is a national public holiday in the United Kingdom. These are set by the UK parliament in statute law. The term bank holiday is commonly used interchangeably with other public holidays such as Good Friday and Christmas Day, which are held by convention. The term refers to all public holidays in the United Kingdom be they set out in statute, declared by royal proclamation or common law. There are eight holidays a year in England and Wales, nine in Scotland and ten in Northern Ireland. Additional days have been allocated for special events, such as royal weddings and jubilees. Bank holidays are days on which most businesses and non-essential services are closed, although an increasing number of retail businesses (especially the larger ones) do open on some of the public holidays.


Q: Is the Oyster symbol the circle with a line through it? What does it mean?

A: The “Oyster” isn’t the symbol itself, but is a card and form of electronic ticket used on public transport in Greater London in the United Kingdom. It is promoted by Transport for London and is valid on travel modes across London including London Underground, London Buses, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), London Overground, Tramlink, some river boat services, and most National Rail services within the London fare zones.  Transport for London uses different symbols for different services, but all have the same shape:

Transport for London
Transport for London symbols


Q: How did the London Eye get sponsored by Coke? 

A: Introduced in 2000, as the Millennium Wheel, the Eye was previously sponsored by British Airways before becoming the EDF Energy London Eye in 2011. Coca-Cola took over in 2015 after striking a two-year deal with the wheel’s owner, Merlin Entertainments, for an undisclosed sum.


Q: Is the IMAX in London really 360 degrees? Do they really offer an emotional support buddy?

A: From my research, these are both false claims. The screen is the largest cinema screen in Britain and measures 26m by 20m with a total screen size of 520m². But it is not 360 degrees.


Q: Why did they want to buy London Bridge for Lake Havasu?

A: The bridge was slowly sinking and was deemed unequipped for modern traffic. Renovations seemed impractical, but instead of trashing it, a city councilor naved Ivan Luckin searched for a buyer in the United States. Robert McCulloch, the purchaser and founder of Lake Havasu City, needed a way to bring in more visitors to the city.  McCulloch bought the bridge for $2.5 million. Workers reassembled the bridge stone by stone, perfectly replicating where each stone should be placed. To ensure the bridge could handle modern traffic, construction crews built a hollow core of steel-reinforced concrete, which was then covered with 10,000 tons of the original 19th century granite. When all was over, the shipping, assembly and dredging took over three years and cost some $7 million—seven times as much as McCulloch had spent on the land that made up Lake Havasu City. In the end, however, the purchase proved to be the marketing ploy that Lake Havasu City needed. From a population of just a few hundred in the early 1960s, the town blossomed to over 10,000 residents by 1974. In 1975, its chamber of commerce reported that the bridge had drawn nearly two million visitors the previous year. The town he built from scratch is now home to over 50,000 full-time residents and boasts a thriving tourist industry. More from the History Channel.


Q: Do they use yards or meters in the UK? I saw several road signs that use yards.

A: Britain is officially metric, in line with the rest of the EU. However, imperial measures are still in use, especially for road distances, which are measured in miles. One supposed reason for this is that it would have been a monumental task to switch all road signs to use kilometers instead of yards or miles. Interestingly, imperial pints and gallons are 20 percent larger than US measures. Cars have speedometers telling you your speed in miles per hour, and their fuel economy is measured in miles to the gallon. However, fuel is only sold in liters.  


Fun Facts

  • The Waterloo Bridge was built primarily by women during WWII and is clad in Portland stone, which is cleaned by rain.

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