London

We had a full day available in London today so we thought we’d make the most of it. Tomorrow morning we begin a Trafalgar Tour of the British Isles and will be on the road with the bus group for sixteen nights before we eventually return to London for a few more days on our own. Our first task was to find a laundromat and wash our dirty clothes before the tour gets going, because there probably won’t be another chance for at least a couple of weeks. We crossed over the Lambeth Bridge to Westminster and found a laundromat in Horseferry Road. The guy who runs the laundromat was both helpful and very friendly, so we hung around and chatted to him while our clothes were washed and dried. By the time we’d brought the freshly laundered clothes back to our hotel room, we still had half a day free to explore the city.

We walked through the Victoria Tower Gardens to the Houses of Parliament, passing Rodin’s magnificent sculpture of the Burghers of Calais. There was quite a lot of construction or renovation work happening around the parliament buildings complex. Much of it was heavily scaffolded, including Big Ben (although we later discovered that one clock face was left exposed, so thankfully we can say we’ve sort of seen it). Directly across the road were a group of Brexit protestors (see my next post). No British people we’ve met on tour so far are happy about the way Brexit is being handled. This post continues after the next set of photos.

Westminster Abbey is essentially only a five minute walk from the Houses of Parliament, so we joined the long queue at the entrance door. We’ve been into many impressive churches, basilicas and cathedrals in Europe so far but nothing prepared us for what we would see inside Westminster Abbey. The place was truly amazing. It’s the best thing I’ve seen in Europe on this trip. Not only is it a magnificent structure, standing tall for almost one thousand years, and not only does it contain some (many) of the finest sculptures we’ve seen, but it is like walking through the pages of a history book. To find ourselves standing alongside the tombs of the kings and queens of England (well, many of them, with a notable exception being Henry VIII) including Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, or viewing the burial sites of Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence, David Livingstone, Matthew Boulton and James Watt and many more, or even reading the memorials to Jane Austen and the Brontes was inspirational. And then there is Nelson Mandela and also the Unknown Soldier, whose grave is the only one on the floor which will never be walked upon. This was such a special place. Please read on past the next group of photos.

After leaving Westminster Abbey we immediately passed two more protest groups, basically side by side. A group of women wearing face masks was protesting about pension payments, and in the middle of the adjacent intersection a large group of taxi drivers were standing around talking. There was no traffic going through that intersection because they have parked their vehicles in the middle of the lanes of the surrounding roads and walked away from them, creating an effective blockade of all roads around Britain’s government buildings. More about that in my next post. We passed Downing St, but the gates were locked and there was plenty of security, so that’s as close as we got to Number 10. We also saw the Whitehall War Memorial, where wreaths had been laid on May 23 commemorating the sacrifice of UN Peacekeeping forces. More text follows these photos.

The next place we came upon was Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar in Victoria is Marg’s home town, so it was a place of some interest to us. Nelson’s Column dominates this space, surrounded by four magnificent lions. There are some great fountains here, and also the National Gallery. We had a bit of fun watching the buskers here as well. The blues guitarist was very impressive, but the two Yodas were very ordinary indeed and not comparable with any of the many buskers we’ve seen on our travels to date. Yes, you guessed it, there is more text following the next set of photos.

Our walk through London continued. Soon we reached the theatre district, where we’ll be seeing Les Miserables in a few weeks from now, and then Picadilly Circus. There was a very entertaining, and quite flexible, dancer entertaining the crowds there, and one red double decker bus after another passing by. From there we walked along Jermyn St, past many quality mens wear stores. We even discovered Charles Tyrwhitt, where my business shirts came from. We stopped to buy ice creams in The Green Park, and ate them as we approached Buckingham Palace. Donald Trump was here earlier this week and the road leading to the palace was still draped with British and American flags. We watched the guards marching back and forth in front of the palace for a while. The palace exterior looks a little drab from outside the fence, in comparison with other palaces we’ve come across in Europe, though I’m sure the interior is quite spectacular and is decorated in a manner befitting a monarch.

Leaving the palace, we walked back to the Thames through St James Park, which, like the other parks we’ve seen today, is a really pleasant place to visit. Its lake provides a haven for many bird species, and hundreds of people were enjoying walking along the paths or sitting around on benches passing the time of day.

We crossed the river over the Westminster Bridge and walked along the Albert Embankment to our hotel. Soon after, we found a really nice little pub, The Windmill, in Lambeth, just a couple of hundred metres from where we are staying. The food was good, wholesome pub fare, the beer was warm (well, not too warm really) and the mood was quiet and sociable. The perfect place to end a great day in London.

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