We took a tour boat ride on the Thames from the Tower of London to Westminster. The tour guide was a comedian. Told us he was multi-lingual: spoke English, Scottish, Canadian, American, Australian, ... . Described one building as "old and used;" said maybe that's why Prince Charles liked it. Told us that Big Ben was named for the bell in the tower, which was named in honor of Sir Benjamin Hall. Said, Good thing his parents didn't name him Richard.
Here's a shot from the top of St. Paul's Cathedral. Love those dome climbs.
Here's a wartime photo of St. Paul's during the German blitz. Despite, or maybe because of, its prominence on the London skyline, it was only slightly damaged in that period. There's a hole in one wall that's been glassed over as a remembrance of that time.
Here's a picture of the nave ceiling I found on the internet.
St. Paul's is where Prince Charles and Diana were married. (Don't know why Prince Charles keeps popping up in these notes.) Winston Churchill's funeral was there (I saw some dramatic 1965 film of the event later at the Churchill Museum) and Margaret Thatcher's will be, when the time comes.
Parliament. I used to be a frequent watcher of CSPAN's broadcast of Prime Minister's Question Time. On this trip, though, just got the picture; did not visit Parliament in session. Thought this was a pretty good picture from the upper deck of a bus.
Tower of London - where we saw the crown jewels. Also listened to a Beefeater guard/tour guide tell us about all the executions and imprisonments here.
The nearby Tower Bridge.
Westminster Abbey (on a cold and rainy day).
This is of course the scene of the Prince William - Kate Middleton wedding. Many famous people are buried or memorialized here and at St. Paul's Cathedral (as if you didn't know). A few that stand out for me: Handel, Darwin, Chaucer, Florence Nightingale (known in my circles for her use of statistics to define and fix health problems), John Donne (for whom the bell tolls), Samuel Johnson, and T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia). These luminaries make the buildings even more impressive.
While queuing for the Abbey, we saw two men with pink umbrellas.
When exiting, we saw this: two photographers snapping similar shots of their ladies. No, those two cars weren't moving or honking. It's easy to stereotype Japanese tourists and this scene pretty well captures it.
Buckingham Palace. We were in luck. When the Queen is at her Scottish palace during the summer, as was the case now, the Palace tour is greatly expanded so you can see more of the state rooms. Outside, the BP looks like a government office building, but inside, once again, it’s all grandeur. Awesome, in fact.
A couple of internet pictures inside the Palace.
Kate's wedding gown is now on display in the Palace. There was an accompanying video in which the designer explained the symbolism and engineering incorporated into the gown - you royal wedding enthusiasts out there probably know all about it.
I took this picture of a back window in the palace just in case the Queen might have sneaked back into town for a change of clothes and would wave to us from the window. Didn’t happen.
Out front, here are the Palace guards and the Palace leaf-blower.
There was no changing of the guard (or the leaf-blower) scheduled this day, but we wouldn't have anyway, because our Shirley friends had told us that it is a madhouse – people shoving and crowding: rude. So, we hiked to a bus stop, then rode a bus over to the Westminster area in order to tour the underground War Cabinet rooms and Churchill Museum (another three-star item on the Steves list).
Susie decided to sit this one out – too expensive relative to her level of interest. (All these top sites are pretty pricey, but you often get audio sets as part of the package.) We/I didn’t think too much about how long I might be in the museum, so we didn’t set a time to meet. There wasn’t a convenient indoor place to wait, so Susie took up a station outside on the steps. She couldn’t stray too far because we didn’t have operational cell phones. Well, I was in the museum an hour and twenty-five minutes, MUCH longer than what Susie had anticipated. I had tried to hold it to an hour, but there was so much to see and hear. Those Churchill wartime addresses to the nation are riveting. Worse, it had gotten windy and rainy. I hailed a taxi and we had it take us to a warm, dry place for lunch.
Here's an internet picture of the entrance to the Churchill Museum. (Kind of a strange picture, don't you think?)
That is not Susie huddled outside the door, but it's indicative.
The underground War Cabinet rooms were very interesting. From 1939 until the war's end in 1945, these secret rooms beneath the Treasury building, near Downing Street, were used by Churchill and company to run the war. Among other historical treats, you can listen to a recording of one of his phone calls with FDR.
I was thrilled: there were data charts posted - production of fighter planes, etc.
A particular highlight was a film of two classic, older British women reminiscing about their time on Churchill's staff and working in these secret rooms. They were laugh out loud funny. They said Churchill was natural and earthy in his staff conversations, not dramatic as in his speeches. Said he didn't smoke as many cigars as you might expect; only carried them to chew on and gesture with. One lady who apparently transcribed his phone calls said he often closed his conversations with "KBO," which she dutifully typed. After a while a Churchill aide said she didn't need to type that. Did she know what it meant? She said No. Well, it stood for Keep Buggering On. Sort of a predecessor of our LOL.
Another area of particular interest: the Museum had several displays pertaining to shipping supplies from the US to England across the North Atlantic in the face of German submarines and warships. My dad served on US Navy escort ships at that time and later wrote his PhD thesis on this aspect of WWII.
(A day later I was at Picadilly Circus in search of souvenirs when a friendly, chatty British man stopped me. Wanted to know if I was an American, did my father or grandfather serve in WWII? I told him. He wanted to say Thanks. Well, he also wanted to take my picture and sell me some. I look forward to getting the pictures in the mail.)
BTW, a day or two earlier in this part of town we walked by the entrance to Downing Street. Susie said, Did you take a picture? No, I said. You can't see anything behind the barrier. Take a picture, she said. OK, this one's for you, Susie: No. 10 Downing Street, somewhere back there. Been there. Got the picture.
A palace of another type is the Harrod's department store. Huge, beautiful place and I've never seen such a density of clerks. They're everywhere. Here's an internet exterior shot (we were there on a rainy evening).
Here's my picture of the Christmas room: Babe in Toyland.
Harrod's was not too far from our hotel, so we walked home through foggy London town.
That's enough for this posting.
Susie and Rob