london

The London Eye

No, it’s not the name of a clandestine underground newspaper printed in secret. It’s a huge Ferris wheel new to London as of 2000. To get to the eye I took the Underground to Embankment, walked across the bridge at Charring Cross station, down to the other side, through the sea of street performers posing as robots while keeping my eyes firmly ahead, and straight up to the ticket counter.

Tickets to the London Eye can be bought ahead of time or on site–they’re cheaper online. You can choose a simple ride around the wheel or add a river cruise or a glass of champagne followed by immediate regret for having drank a glass of carbonated alcohol a million feet in the air. There are also fast track passes for the burgiose, which are a good idea if you’re in a rush. At night expect to see a few love birds, photographers whose cameras have apertures the size of a football field and wedding parties if not the actual wedding. Twenty-five people fit into a capsule/car so the line can go fast when it’s only a few rows off the ramp. Otherwise expect a wait.

If you’ve never been on a gigantic Ferris wheel of doom before, be warned–they don’t stop to let you on and off. You take a running start and jump in like a really lame version of Evel Knievel. It takes about 30 minutes to go around once, at which point you have plenty of time to muster your courage for the jump off.

Inside are small touch screens that point out attractions and sites once you’ve identified Big Ben and run out of off-hand London architectural knowledge. On a clear day you are said to be able to see 25 miles, including a lot of people looking up at the sky, surprised that there is actually a clear day to be had in London.

If you’re a fan of pretending people are ants from 440 feet in the air and cackling madly while commanding them to dance for your pleasure, this is the attraction for you.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Persistent American Who Just Wanted A Sandwich

If you’re a lover of Sherlock Holmes in any of his innumerable permutations (yes I did just link to that last one), no trip to London would be complete without a stop to 221b Baker St. When Sir Arthur Doyle originally penned the stories, there was no such address. Today there is, however, and it houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Entry costs £8 (~$12) for adults, £5 for children, and it is open every day of the year (except Christmas) from 9.30 AM to 6PM.

Walking to the museum from the Baker St Station takes about two minutes, and while you’re in the area you can check out a bunch of small shops selling British rock n’ roll paraphernalia. 
Buy tickets at the gift shop to the right of 221b after you pick up your obligatory souvenir pipe and magnifying glass. One more door down is Mrs. Hudson’s cafe where you can grab a bite to eat from one of the ladies dressed in Victorian garb. Also, if you know a ‘presentable young man’ who is at least 6′ tall, the museum is hiring more Victorian policemen to pose for photographs with children and the smitten female–and male–tourist.
221b itself is three floors–when you’re let in, run up to the top floor and work your way down to avoid the other people–recreated on the first two to resemble how Holmes and Watson would have lived. Avid (rabid) fans will take note of the envelopes impaled on the mantle, bullet holes in the wall, books about bee keeping, a medicine bag with the initials ‘J.H.W’, a worn violin, and other items. The casual observer will notice a lot of junk as the museum doesn’t really explain what you’re looking at. Kind of an ‘indier than thou’ fan’s paradise, actually.

The third floor is filled with wax caricatures that I can’t bring myself to think of as I only got rid of the nightmares last week.

I think ‘curios’ means playing cards and shot glasses.

There’s also a guestbook where you can leave your undying love for Holmes. If you’re not in London, though, take heart–the museum has hired someone to answer letters written to the famous address. So grab your Hello Kitty stationary and write away.
And if you’re a fan of BBC’s Sherlock, you can always make your own tour around places seen in the series, much to the amusement and exasperation of your British peers.
Speedy’s is the new face of 221b and quite easy to get to, if not actually eat at as they close fairly early. I went there four times and managed to miss it each time, each instance muttering “I’ll be back,” in a California governor-esque voice.
Despite the heavy eye-rolling of the Korean exchange students who live above the cafe and ‘in’ Sherlock’s fictional digs when they catch you snapping pictures, Speedy’s itself is pretty much rolling in the publicity, going so far to have a contest for fans to design their new Sherlock sandwich. However, be warned if you are in the area during filming, you can’t get close to the cafe and will be asked to move away as recently fans have been swarming the area and being all manners of distracting. Think ‘The Beatles’ landing in the USA. No, seriously.