I feel I do not have to give you any of the history of London since it is perhaps one of the most noted cities in the world. We had waited a while, acclimating ourselves to a new country, before we attempted to tackle a large city. In the end, it was not as difficult as I had imagined it would be. I will say a good sat nav (GPS) is not a bad idea. I suppose the best way to describe everything is to take it as we did. We did not take any tours, but instead just learned to navigate our way around while we took in some of London’s most famous sites.
We parked at one of the outermost tube stations-not the most popular as the parking was atrocious-but instead took one of the next stations where the parking was ample. Almost everywhere is pay and display in England, which means you pay at a machine located somewhere in the lot, and then place the ticket on your dashboard. Every lot has a time limit, fortunately, ours gave us until 2am. We didn’t need nearly that much time.
Our two youngest children were free when riding the tube, so we purchased three day passes (somewhere around £23 = $35), which would take us anywhere we wished to go for the entire day. We then took the next train in to London. We did have to change to another tube line. It isn’t as difficult as it may seem. There are maps of the entire tube system on every train, and in the tunnels leading to the trains there are breakdowns of what direction takes you to what stops. The tube stations were busy, so I did not take photos. Sorry!
We decided before venturing into town that we wished to see the poppies at the Tower of London before they were picked up on November 11 (Armistice Day), so our first stop was Tower Hill. Apparently, all of England had the same idea! We were delayed on our approach to the Tower Hill tube station twice before finally having the ability to disembark. We were then funnelled through the station in a massive crush. We did not even have to scan our passes when we left the station. It was too crowded and the authorities had opened the gates to allow everyone off.
Tower of London is, of course, mentioned in gobs of literature and referenced in many stories. It originally dates back to 1066 when William the Conqueror established the Tower to keep the “hostile Londoners at bay.” In 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded on Tower Green. Elizabeth I was imprisoned within the Tower. And, lastly, in 1605, Guy Fawkes was tortured in the Tower after his failed attempt to assassinate James I and Parliament using gunpowder to blow up the parliament building. The tower is known for all of these things as well as being the current location where one can see the Crown Jewels.
The tower, for the 100th anniversary of World War I has an amazing installation piece called Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red created by the ceramic artist Paul Cummins. 888,246 ceramic poppies were slowly added to the moat around the tower – one for every British and colonial soldier killed in World War I. Poppies are what the English wear for Remembrance Day, which is a lot like the holiday of Veterans Day in the U.S. Each poppy for this exhibit was made by hand and set out by volunteers. Each has already been sold, and after November 11, will be shipped off to the people who purchased them.
When you stand and take in exactly how many poppies there are, it is astounding. It is very humbling, and even my 9 year-old’s eyes bugged when she was told what each poppy represented.
The lines to tour the Tower were atrocious, so we decided to walk. We initially walked up to St. Katherine’s Dock, where we ate lunch. Then we backtracked to the Tower of London Bridge. We crossed the bridge to Southwark. From the bridge, you have a great view of the buildings along the Thames, and the Shard.
We continued along the Thames, passing a reproduction of the Golden Hinde, Sir Francis Drake’s ship that circumnavigated the globe, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. The Globe is also a reproduction based on the 1599 and 1614 models of the site. The new Globe opened in 1997. We had been heading toward Westminster, but we forgot to turn toward a particular road we were supposed to take and stuck to the river front, happening upon the Millennium Bridge. This was the highlight of the day for my children. If you are a big Harry Potter fan, you will recognise this as the bridge the Death Eaters destroyed in the movie Half-Blood Prince. They all were very excited and insisted on crossing the Thames.
millennium Bridge crosses the Thames between the Tate Modern (which I completely missed!) and St. Paul’s Cathedral. I thought my children might be excited to see the cathedral from Mary Poppins, but they only reinforced my belief that I haven’t had them watch the movie enough. I was singing “Feed the birds, Tuppence a bag…” and they were telling me they didn’t remember the movie well enough. (*sigh*).
We did go inside the Cathedral briefly, but there is a tour and they do not allow photographs within the Cathedral. We hope to return to take the tour. The children had lost patience with walking by then, which is why we hunted down the nearest tube station to go to Westminster. It is really an incredible sight when you exit the station and immediately see Big Ben before you.
I studied the Parliament Building in a History of Architecture class my final semester in school. I was taken by the photos, and I was fascinated by it as we walked to see it. We had to go out on the bridge to really get a scope for the Gothic Revival building (My son must have been bored, because he took enjoyment in spitting in the Thames. *facepalm*). My husband is used to most of the gothic churches being built between 1200 and 1400, so I had to ask him when he thought the Parliament building was built. He was very incorrect.
As we were taught, the government required a larger Parliament building than the one they were using, so in the process of deciding to build a new one also decided the new home of Parliament should be a distinctly “English” architecture. As a result, they dictated the design should be Gothic or Tudor, which they felt to be the most English forms. Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin were the architects, Pugin being responsible for the addition of Big Ben, an iconic symbol of England and London. Barry was supposedly looked at the big picture or larger details of the building, while Pugin had the eye for detail. I will say the detail is amazing when you stand on Westminster bridge and examine this building. This exacting eye had a price in that Pugin went insane before the completion of the building around 1870.
From the Parliament building, we began to walk. Stopping to sit outside of Westminster Abbey before venturing through St. James’ Park, which has a lovely walk along the pond. We walked past Buckingham Palace, and then up the road to Charing Cross Station where our day ended.
Fortunately, we were able to bypass the Tower Hill tube station on our way back to our car! I had been informed earlier by someone working in one of the tube stations that Tower Hill had been closed numerous time that day because they could not handle the crowds!
This roundabout made me glad we didn’t drive into London! I cringe to think of what parking would have entailed!