We arrived in London on the afternoon of August 29th in much the same fashion as I had during my two layovers while traveling to and from Comic Con in July: Namely, our friend Anwarul was
When planning this two week vacation, TJ and I opted to stay in a London-based hotel during the first week, when our focus would be on absorbing the sights, sounds, and flavors of London. We found a place that was located within five minutes walking distance of two different train lines, ensuring that we had quick and easy access to anywhere in the city.
During the second week, we used Anwarul's home in neighboring Henley-on-Thames as our base of operation for traveling to various other places both near and far. Today, though, is all about London.
All told, we spent seven days and eight nights in London. This was a trip that I had been anticipating for 11 years; I hold fond memories of my time in London during a summer 2001 study abroad trip, and had always wanted to recreate that magic with TJ.
I won't bore you with the play by play, but here are some of the most memorable highlights.
Westminster Abbey only received a drive-by nod from us, as the line was long and we had a tour scheduled at Parliament that made the timing tricky. Instead, we opted for coffee and a brisk walk around the neighborhood, both of which were enjoyable. The Abbey is one of the most notable religious buildings in the United Kingdom and has been the traditional place of coronation and burial for English and British monarchs. The Abbey is that in name only; it has been a "Royal Peculiar" since 1560 - exempt from the jurisdiction of the diocese and instead subject to the direct jurisdiction of the monarch.
Our tour began and ended in the 916 year old Westminster Hall, which was designed to host state occasions and to be a place for feasts and entertainment. Work on the hall began during the reign of William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, who desired a space that would impress and overawe. It is one of the largest undivided medieval spaces in existence today.
It's a shame they don't have an interesting mosaic tile pattern on the floor or a Chihuly chandelier, because that was the only room in which photographs were allowed.
Other highlights of the tour (with Internet-swiped photos) include:
- The House of Commons, where the democratically-elected Members of Parliament (MPs) meet to debate and make laws;
- The House of Lords, where laws are scrutinized and challenged on behalf of all the people, not constituencies, in the UK. Lords challenge the government to think harder about its legislation and policies;
- St. Stephen's Hall, which stands on the site of St. Stephen's Chapel. Destroyed by the fire of 1834, the Chapel was where monarchs and their families worshiped while staying at the Palace...though it was turned into a debating chamber for the House of Commons in 1550.
Important services held at St. Pauls have included the funerals of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thathcher, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Photography was not permitted inside (because why should beauty be shared?), so here is another Internet-swiped image.
The attraction consists of a small museum, called the Tower Bridge Exhibition, that tells the history of the bridge and how/why it came into existence. Visitors are able to visit the Victorian Engine Rooms, which house the steam engines that once powered the bridge lifts.
I've got to say, the bridge itself is gorgeous, but the fun stops there. The exhibits aren't particularly fascinating. I was expecting more artifacts, but the majority of the exhibit takes the form of print media and timelines of events, not all of which pertain to the bridge itself but rather greater London. Your time is better served just stopping for a photo and moving on with your day.
The Tower of London, offically named Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, is a historic castle located on the North bank of the River Thames. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. A grand palace, it served as a royal residence in its earlier history.
The castle was used as a prison from 1100 to 1952 though, despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, only seven people were executed there before the World Wars. Despite this, there was a charming exhibition featuring various torture devices on display.
The Tower is an expansive complex featuring several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. It was inscribed onto the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites in 1988.
My favorite thing about the Tower was actually a temporary art exhibit located outside of the complex, in the moat. Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was an evolving art installation that sought to fill the moat with 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies. Each one represents a British military death during the First World War, which began in 1914. The last poppy was scheduled to be planted on November 11, 2014, commemorating the war's end on the same day in 1918. Guests were invited to purchase one of the poppies for £25, with 10% of the price, plus all net proceeds, going to one of six military service charities.
The exhibit has sense been dismantled, and poppies are on their way to their new homes. I'm sad to say that we didn't take advantage of the opportunity, and I am now perusing eBay.
Join me next time as I recount our final London exploits and prepare to take our tale into other corners of the kingdom.