Friday, November 30, 2012

Man-Made Caves and Poor Man's Times Square

The weekend we went to Cardiff we decided to take another day trip. Last time Caitlin was in England she went to  his place called Chislehurst Caves. After some research we found it was only a quick train ride out of London and that it only costs £5 so we determined it would be a fun and not too expensive excursion.

So, Caitlin, Austy and I headed to the train station in the morning all bundled up since the weather had gotten colder. When we got into Paddington we had to take the Tube to London Charing Cross to catch the train to Chislehurst, where the caves were located. We decided that Caitlin and Austin should buy Oyster Cards since tube fare is cheaper and easier when using an Oyster. I already had one from my time in London with my parents and I needed to top up. The ticket office line was long so we were once again able to experience the annoyance of the tube money machines. We knew from previous experience that these machines do not like our American cards and so we had to pay in cash. By the time Austin and Caitlin reached the front the realization was made that this particular machine only took coins--no notes--and since we don't carry around £20 in coins we had to go to the ticket window anyway.

At this point I'm afraid we're going to miss our train (but then again I'm always afraid we're going to miss out train) and so we hurried down the stairs and onto the proper line. We ended getting there in plenty of time and were the first ones in our train car, but better safe than sorry, right? As our train left the station, and then London, we got a wonderful view of Parliament, Big Ben and the London Eye (as well as the Shard, which I discussed in my earlier blog post). We got to Chislehurst in no time at all and it was a short and very easy walk to the caves.

The caves were actually really cool and well worth the £5 entrance fee. These are man made caves (so no stalactites or mites in sight) and they have served many purposes. It was used by the Romans and the Druids a long time ago and more recently it was used as a music hall where artists like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin have played. Because of the acoustics of the cave I can't even imagine how awesome that must have sounded.

But the more important and practical use was as storage and shelter during the First and Second World Wars. During the first it was just used to store ammunition but during the second it gets really interesting Thousands of people lived down there during the war. They had very uncomfortable bunk beds (and a mailing address to go with each), a little store, shower facilities (only able to be used every once and a while because there were so many people) and anything else they may have needed. It was essentially a little town underground which I thought was pretty much awesome. They even had a hospital and it was the only one in England not to lose a single patient during the war. Pretty impressive for being underground, I'd say.

And during the war, because of the threat of bombs they would have to turn out all of the lights in the evenings. Let me unpack that for you: even though the caves are however far underground, enemy planes would still be able to spot the light from the sky if they were left on. Crazy, I know. So every night at 9pm, every single light would turn off, submerging the entire cave in darkness. And we were submerged in total darken for a minute or so during the tour and let me tell you, it was not fun. I would have hated to spend every evening that way.

After the tour finished, we headed back into London to walk around a bit and get some lunch. It was an easy and pleasant walk to Covent Garden on which we learned that Edith from Downton Abbey is currently on the West End starring in Uncle Vanya. We got to Covent Garden, which was all decorated for Christmas and walked around for a while looking for a candy shop that Caitlin wanted to show us. I didn't realize that Covent Garden was so big. We'd eventually given up and decided to find something to eat when we stumbled upon it. Hope and Greenwood was a very cute candy store where I got Toffee Crumbles and Caitlin got Cherry Bakewells as well as my newest obsession--Pear Drops. We were all rather proud of ourselves that we were able to find it.

We then had lunch at Bella Italia before heading towards Piccadilly Circus. We walked through Leicester Square (where the TKTS booth is) and went into the giant M&M Store. What I found interesting about the M&M Store was that the one in New York and this one were quite the same except for one major difference. In the one in New York, all of the cheesy knick knacks said I<3NY. In this one, the trinkets weren't about London, they were about the UK in general. There were Union Jacks everywhere. And while I'm sure the NYC store had some American Flags, probably not to the same extent as the Union Jacks here.

When we finally made it to Piccadilly Circus it seemed to be that the Piccadilly Circus and Leicster Square combo forms a bit of a poor man's Time Square. They tried--an M&M Store, TKTS, giant screens covering the buildings, tons of restaurants, gimmicky stores, located near the theater district--but you can't quite replicate Times Square, even in London. Sorry. It was fun to walk around and see everything though.

After a quick tube ride back to Paddington Station we were back on the train to Oxford. It was a good day, exploring a cool attraction, perhaps a bit off the beaten path.

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