Thursday, July 24, 2014

UK Interlude - London

Most people will tell you that London is a must-see city with incredible diversity in every facet of its life. Whether that is expressed as a cosmopolitan population, in the arts, its amazing history or architecture, London is represented in all of these plus more. I agree with those who say that London is a must-see, but do not expect to see it all!

While I had the joy of visiting London on previous occasions, Jan had not been here before. Would her experience be that of others who looked and gasped and said, "It really is all true? Just like the picture books!" We were about to find out. I for one, was looking forward to introducing Jan to this incredible city.

Having only a few days, we chose to stay in the City of Westminster and therefore central to many sights and places on our list to do. We were in fact delighted with our accommodation in St Ermin.
It was minutes away from such places as Buckingham Palace, St James Park, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament etc etc. We chose not to use public transport, but instead enjoyed the atmosphere of a busy, working London by walking everywhere and mixing with other tourists and those who make a living in this town.

Having already enjoyed other marvelous cities like New York, Amsterdam, Sydney, and Paris, London is something else again and, in my view, quite unique. It is 'British' with all the trimmings of Royalty and History! I hope it will always remain British.

What does one do (or leave out) in limited time available? For sure, we walked everywhere, ate in English pubs and mixed with the locals, visited museums, and so on. We just let it happen. Not a bad way, I am sure, though it meant we would not do it all.

Viewing London from the River Thames on a normal ferry to Greenwich is a good start. It is a trip I have made on a couple of previous occasions, the first one back in 1981. These ferries always have a knowledgeable person on board who talks about London history and points out interesting places. They are not paid and rely purely on tips. The fellow we had on board told me he had done this now for some forty years. I could have sworn it was the same fellow back in 1981! He was worth every penny of the tip we gave him.
 Departure from Westminster Bridge in the shadow of Big Ben. How London is that!
Houses of Parliament.
 Sightseeing in comfort.
City of London with a good view of St Paul's.
 What a place this is! The Crown Jewels are kept here in the Tower of London (above).
 The magnificent Tower Bridge!

 I love the occasional 'old' architecture, now being replaced by the modern look.
 Though have to say that eyesores like that above are welcome to fade into history!
Destination Greenwich where there is much to see.
We did not make it to GMT observatory to check Greenwich mean-time

Greenwich is also the 'resting place' of the Cutty Sark. A ship with a colourful history.

Wouldn't it have been fantastic to see this great ship in full sail on a rough sea. It probably would have looked something like this:
The above pic with thanks to:

To quote from the same website:
"The Cutty Sark was once the most famous of the great clippers, the name ‘clipper’ referring to the fast sailing ships of the nineteenth century that traversed the world’s major trading routes. Commissioned by shipping magnate Jock ‘Whitehat’ Willis, she was built in a Scottish shipyard and launched at Dumbarton in 1869.  The Cutty Sark’s unusual name derived from a poem by Robert Burns called ‘Tam O’Shanter.’ In this ode, a hero is chased by some witches, with the fastest one’s revealing shirt being known by the Scots as a cutty sark. The Cutty Sark was a masterpiece, the pinnacle of sailing ship design. Her composite hull of timber and iron was sleek and strong, while her three masts could hold a spread of canvas that propelled the ship at up to 17 knots. As a result, she spent the 1870s speeding across the high seas, establishing a reputation as one of the fastest ships afloat."
To conclude our brief aide memoir of Greenwich, we will leave you with a Jan 'gem of a photo'. She has a wonderful gift of finding the unusual image, like the following:
A sailor's dream! And we did not count how many bottles there were!

The following morning saw us back striding it out to maximise the day. We covered so much, including Buckingham Palace, St James Park, Trooping of the Colours, Piccadilly, The Strand, St Martin in the Fields, Museums, etc etc

Being so close to our accommodation, Buckingham Palace was first. The inevitable photos are below. One cannot but recognise these land marks.

And yes, Her Majesty was at home, but too busy to meet us mortals!
ER was about to farewell the Commonwealth Games Torch relay.

From here we walked to Harrods and really found nothing there that appealed for us to stay any length of time. Certainly, the prices did not impress at all!

Wandering through Hyde Park we enjoyed a more leisurely pace and were glad to leave behind the London Roads and traffic for a while. Quite happy to rest and have some lunch as well. Walking through the park we finally found ourselves in front of the Royal Albert Hall and, of course, the splendid Prince Albert Memorial. This was well worth a more detailed look and lots of photos!
Royal Albert Hall.

The Albert Memorial.

Having survived all this, we found our way to the Victoria & Albert Museum and began running out of time and energy. But what an amazing collection in the Museum! Loved the history, the treasures, the fabulous art, sculptures etc. Music was of course also very important in  those early days and it was good to see some of the most beautiful instruments ever built, like the harpsichord below:
Rather beats the Flemish Harpsichord Carol and I built!

This blog can never do justice to all we saw. The art was just so special and I wanted to go on and see more, but in the end, I was so tired that I begged Jan to excuse me and leave her to rummage around by herself for a while longer. I was just happy to sit down in the relaxed atmosphere of the inner gardens well aware that we still had a long way back to St Ermin.

By the time we walked back to our hotel we considered we did well, but realised we covered so little! It was a mere drop in the ocean!

The next day saw us heading back towards Buckingham Palace but chose to enjoy St James Park on a stunning morning.

A wonderful attraction that captivates people from every generation and culture!

A happy Jan in a gorgeous setting!

It is all part of showing off!

As we moved out of St James Park, we crossed the road in front of The Horse Parade Ground. Right on the button there was a horse movement:
It seemed this guy was sent to fetch the guards from the palace.

Could we be so lucky as to watch the changing of the guards - or whatever these fancy parades are called? Patience was the key word and we were not unrewarded when we noticed lots more horse movement both from the direction of Buckingham Palace and the Horse Guard Parade buildings.

Back with his charges.
Lined up on the Parade Ground
Looks like the changing of the Guard.
We did enjoy this impressive ceremony. The Poms are pretty good at this!

As to monuments, there are plenty of those in London

At Piccadilly - Anteros

Or, if you prefer:
A bit of Shakespeare

But for me, the more moving monuments were of recent times and of events in my life-time.

The Battle of Britain

Glad to see that the women of World War II are not forgotten!
As to other monuments? Let us just share a few well known ones, like:

St Martins in the Field (would] loved to have gone to a concert here).
And below, as it looks from Trafalgar Square
Nelson Column on Trafalgar Square
A close up
Happy moments for Jan in the heart of London.
It's all here - Admiralty Arch, The Mall, Whitehall, Charring Cross 
and of course:
Big Ben
Westminster Abbey
Houses of Parliament

Our London visit was simply 'crowned' with success.

Our visit to UK was brilliant. We thoroughly enjoyed so much and we haven't even told you about our visit to Oxford, and especially the Ashmolean Museum there, which was so informative and interesting. But, it is time to head across the Channel and catch up with good friends Jochen & Sylvia in Germany and further on to Florence. Come on Jan: 

"Come fly with me!" (Our theme song as we left for our honeymoon in 2010!!)