Our four day stay in London gave us a nice flavor of what the city has to offer. In this post, we will detail our last couple of days in this worldly place, along with our observations of a few of the differences between the United States and the United Kingdom’s cultures and ways. We hope you enjoy the tour!
On Saturday morning, we had tickets to tour Westminster Abbey. This is the church where Princess Diana married Prince Charles back in the early 1980’s. Having seen a fair share of cathedrals in our day, we expected this to be the spit and polished pinnacle of what had experienced in the past.
The building dates back to the 1060’s, so it’s age far surpasses anything we had ever been in. It is downright ancient. The first thing I noticed when walking through the doors was not the soaring ceiling, but the musty smell that can only come from a thousand years of existence. Spit and polished, it was not. But moving beyond that, it was spectacular. One thing that stood out to us was the sheer amount of people who have been buried or commemorated inside the edifice. The number is currently in the vicinity of 3300 souls. Almost every corner of the building is filled with memorials, statues, tombs and such.
Photos were not allowed inside, so we grabbed a few appropriate ones from Pinterest. As you can see, some of it felt a bit cluttered, taking away from the openness usually experienced in this type of building. The halls were loaded with famous Brits: names like George Handel (Hallelujah Chorus), Issac Newton, Mary-Queen of Scots, Edward the Confessor, Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. The sheer volume of recognizable names was mind boggling. We paid extra for a tour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which occupy the upper levels of the church.
That ticket afforded us a tremendous view from behind the high altar, back towards the front of the building. Somewhat of a narrow feeling, but spectacular in its own right.
The only grave that is not allowed to be walked on is the one for an unknown British soldier who was killed during World War I. The stone is surrounded by red poppies, reminiscent of the ones that the American Legion pass out on Veteran’s Day in the U.S.
We really enjoyed our visit to this amazing church.
Afterwards, we made our way around the corner towards Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Parliament building.
Unfortunately, this is the view we had of Big Ben. As a matter of fact, much of London is under scaffolding. The entire skyline is filled with tower cranes.
We did get a peek at one of the clock faces though!
We also had a front row seat for a Brexit demonstration in Parliament Square Green. We really didn’t want to stick around for that too long, as it seemed a bit raucous.
From there, we headed up to the British Museum.
This large facility houses a great many of the world’s treasures, clocking in at over eight million works. It was the first national public museum to ever be established, and has free admission (a £5 donation is suggested). Our goal here was to see both the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.
The Rosetta Stone is the only remaining piece of a larger tablet that allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was actually the same decree issued in three languages: hieroglyphics, Egyptian demonic, and Greek. Knowing the Greek allowed translation of the other two languages.
While there, we also saw the Elgin Marbles, which are the carved panels off of the gables and roof perimeter of the Parthenon in Greece. We were so fascinated (and tired) when we looked at them, we forgot to get photos.
Here is a photo from Guide London that shows the detail of these pieces. They date back to around 600 BC. There is quite a bit of controversy over Great Britain having them, and Greece is campaigning to get them back. We will leave the arguing to them, only to say that they seem a bit out of context in the middle of London. Quite a bit like the Wright Cycle Shop and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory being located in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. We did enjoy seeing them though.
Sunday found us heading to two places with possible connections to Diana, which she is still trying to piece together the details on. Diana’s grandmother’s maiden name was Shepherd. Back in the early 1700’s, Edward Shepherd developed a small square just north of Green Park called Shepherd’s Market.
Today it is a small collection of shops and cafes. It sits a few steps from the current Saudi Arabian embassy. It was nice to be able to walk through an area bearing a familiar family name.
We also went to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The latter actually has a connection to her father’s side, a man by the name of Lawrence Halstead.
Lawrence was the Keeper of the Keys at the Tower of London in the 1600’s. He would’ve been involved in the nightly ceremony of locking the front gate by candlelight, a ceremony that still takes place today. We tried well in advance to get tickets to the event, but it was sold out. Seeing that this is where the Crown Jewels are stored, his job was quite important.
Next to the Tower of London sits the iconic Tower Bridge.
What a stunning piece of architecture! Seeing photos of it in the past, I imagined it to be bigger than it was. It was quite compact, and took just a few minutes to walk across. Still, what a treat to be able to do that. Interestingly enough, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge is actually older than this structure.
Our last stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum. Again, a free museum housing a huge amount of worldly treasures.
This is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s small notebooks, circa 1500 or so.
They had a special exhibit on photography, which included an impressive display of cameras from over the years.
Here’s a couple of blasts from our past. On the left is a Kodak Instamatic, complete with flash cube. I had a Kodak 104 version of this. My sister had the camera on the right, a Polaroid Swinger. Remember the TV ad? Meet the Swinger…Polaroid Swinger… Sorry if you remember it, as you won’t be able to get it out of your head for the rest of the day. :). We wrapped up our visit to the V&A with a snack in the courtyard.
What a great place to hang out for a bit and enjoy the day.
So, how did we get around London? Well, we started out on foot. During one of our first excursions, we looked for a public restroom and were told to use the one at the Green Park Tube (subway) station. Remember, we are veteran subway riders in NYC, so we thought nothing of it. Seeing the dirty conditions of the restrooms and station in London (worse than NYC, in our opinion), we decided to use Uber to travel longer distances. That service worked exceedingly well for us. It was entertaining to converse with the drivers, most of who were Middle Eastern or from India. One spoke very little English, but he had a great Motown playlist coming from his speakers. Nothing like navigating the streets of London to the Four Tops. :). A word on those restrooms: they charge 50p (equivalent to cents in the US) to use the dirtiest facilities we have ever seen. One would think that money could be used to clean and maintain them. Our recommendation is to make sure you use a restroom at any museum, restaurant or retailer before leaving.
Also, here are a few things that we found different than what we are used to in the US. Of course, driving on the opposite side of the road stands out. That doesn’t translate into walking, though. Where we tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk (like we drive), the British left hand driving doesn’t carry over to their walkways. One of our Uber drivers likened the disorganized manners of those hoofing it as spaghetti. That pretty much sums that up! :). Furthermore, as a result of the ancient age of London, the roads don’t have a lot of order to them. No grid patterns here, folks. That actually is somewhat charming, and it all seems to work just fine. Yes, the roads do have lines painted on them, but they are hand painted and are all a tad confusing to us.
And one last word about our flat. As I said before, it is located in a row of 1920’s era buildings in Knightsbridge/Chelsea.
Our courtyard featured these large maple trees. Definitely a nice view to look out on. We were just a block from the V&A and were convenient to many of the sights in the city. Being able to eat all of our breakfasts and a couple of our dinners there worked well for us. Small grocery stores were located close by, so no worries on getting food. Our host provided us with several breakfast items, along with laundry detergent and soap. We were even able to do our laundry in the flat, giving us a fresh start for our trip. We were extremely happy with our accommodation choice.
And what is up with those doorknobs in the middle of the door?
It has to do with symmetry. With the jumbled state of the roadways in London, order and balance has to be established somewhere! On the practical side, it makes the door a lot harder to open and close.
And what on earth happened to my iPad plug? That is actually an adapter to fit the British 230 volt system. Apple iPads and iPhones are dual voltage, so no need to convert, other than the adapter. Exercise caution with your laptops, curling irons and such, as you may need a converter.
That wraps up the London portion of our journey. Monday afternoon, we Ubered up to get our motorhome north of town with our first driver. He was extremely helpful to us in arranging that. We will begin to detail that portion of our adventure in our next post. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!