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Never leave the tea behind - Curt Yeomans

Never leave the tea behind ...

That was exactly the mentality of one woman, who was sitting in the cafe that is located in the crypt underneath St. Paul's Cathedral, in London, England, one day last month, when the fire alarm went off.

The staff of the cafe was pushing everyone to get out as quickly as possible. The cafe is next to the St. Paul's Cathedral gift shop, so all of us who were buying gifts had to evacuate, too. That's when I saw her -- a tea-lover determined not to leave her drink behind.

This old woman, who looked to be, maybe, in her 70's, was walking as fast as she could to get out - while carrying a silver tray containing a tea pot, and tea cups.

London is a great place to visit, because when you're there, it has this feel that makes you think that it's everything it has ever been portrayed as being on television, and in the movies. But, is it?

Well ... not quite. London is like old school meets new school.

Take everything along the River Thames, as an example. On one side of the river, you have the 9-year-old London Eye Ferris wheel, which towers 443 feet over everything else in the city. It takes a half-hour to rotate around the whole thing, because it doesn't move very quickly.

Look out from the modern-looking viewing capsule, and you can see everything for miles. From the Tower of London, to Buckingham Palace, all of London is laid out before your eyes.

Across the river (and behind Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament) is Westminster Abbey, which is 740 years old (the abbey's building, that is, the actual abbey is more than 1,000 years old.)

Speaking of Westminster Abbey, this is a must-see, if you ever go to London, just to take in all of the history of the place. It is the burial place of several monarchs and famous Englishmen and women, including Queen Elizabeth I and her half-sister, Queen Mary I; scientist Sir Isaac Newton; author Charles Dickens, and evolution theorist Charles Darwin.

But, if you want a really interesting history lesson, go to Tower Hill, to see the Tower of London. For starters, it houses the crown jewels of England, so you get to see the royal coronation regalia that has been used over the years, including several crowns, rings, scepters, orbs, gold plates, and royal robes.

When you go through this part of the tower, you start in a room that has a wooden seat built into the wall for every monarch England has ever had.

At the tower, I also got to see a great temporary exhibit on King Henry VIII's armor, appropriately called "Dressed to Kill." Some of the armor was just plain weird, like a helmet that included what looked like gold-rimmed glasses (without the lenses), buck teeth and metal ram horns on top.

Another suit of armor, possibly one of the last made for dear old Henry (according to the exhibit) had - and you'll never believe this unless you see the suit for yourself - a 52-inch waist.

One other thing I loved about the Tower of London is the fact that they sell a "Paddington Bear," which was dressed up like a Yeoman Warder, or a "Beefeater," as they are sometimes called. Of course, I bought it.

Now, I need to wrap up this column (don't worry, there's more London next week), but I would be remiss if I did not mention the Underground before I go.

The Underground is London's subway system, also called "The Tube." One of its great features is the gentle, proper-spoken British woman who recorded all of the intercom phrases, such as "Now stopping at Westminster," "Mind the gap," and "This is a Circle Line, via High Kensington and Notting Hill."

Another thing that is great about the Underground is the wide variety of people on the train. Like all subway systems, you get a great snapshot of the community. You have the glam rocker, standing next to the stereotypical English gentleman, while the "mod" people are intermingled amongst the housewives.

Well, come back next week, and I'll tell you about standing before Sherlock Holmes, the entire royal family, and a spread-eagled Madonna.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.