Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jolly Old London

I'll admit to a special fondness for London, as it was my first international trip. It's what started my passion and mission to see as much of the world as I can. The people, the buildings, the current of ancient energy running through the city right alongside the new. London is every bit as cosmopolitan and diverse as New York or Los Angeles, with the added bump of being the home of one of the most powerful monarchies in history however symbolic they might be in our current time.
London was founded officially as a little civilian port town by the Romans after they invaded Britain in 43AD. The locals weren't too happy with that, and a few years later the warrior queen Boudica led her people to revolt against the Romans. The occupiers ultimately won, with the Romans continuing to dominate the island right up into the borderlands of Scotland. Excavations all over the City continuously find evidence of Roman occupation.
You won't find any of that evidence in modern day London, but what you will see is a beautiful old city, with plenty of modern glass buildings like the affectionately named "Gerkin" (a fantastic glass building which looks just like a pickle, or a torpedo), and cushioned by the slow moving Thames river which empties out into the English Channel. You'll see the river right before you land at Heathrow, flowing back and forth like an uncoiling snake. Barges and boats putt along right past grand old monuments such as Big Ben and Lambeth Palace. The Parliament building, which used to be the old Westminster Palace, shines like golden lace in the sun on a good day, making you wonder however did the old stone masons carve such delicate designs in stone. Want to see the whole of London? Climb aboard the London Eye on the other side of Westminster Bridge.
Looks a little high, doesn't it?

Climb aboard for a spectacular view!

Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey on a gorgeous day
London has world class museums such as the Victoria & Albert, the Tate and the Imperial War Museum. The Tower of London also has many small museums on the inside including typical medieval torture devices inside the infamous Bloody Tower. The Tower also happens to be built on the remains of a Roman garrison. The famous ravens of London have a home on the green in the middle of the tower complex. An old saying goes, "If the ravens leave the Tower, the Tower shall fall and England with it." I don't know about you, but those ravens look pretty fat and happy... ha ha. Here is where you can see the Crown Jewels, and the Armory. Check out that armor!
White Tower, built by William the Conqueror and home to Anne Boleyn both before she was crowned and before she was executed on the Tower Green

Henry VIII was mighty proud of himself, wasn't he?!  *wink wink

Hop on the Tube and take a trip to Baker Street. Right down the way is Abbey Road, and the great Madame Tussaud's wax museum. Think she was a sham? Think not. The real Madame Tussaud was employed by King Louis XVI of France and forced to prove her loyalty during the rebellion by making death masks of executed aristocrats. Can you blame her for defecting to England?
Outside Baker Street station, home to it's most famous "resident", Sherlock Holmes

Home to a couple of the most memorable churches in the world, London leads the way with Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral. Over 3000 people are buried under the floors of the Abbey. Visit the chapel where Elizabeth I and her sister Mary Tudor are buried together, side by side. View the little niche where King James moved the crypt of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, carved out of pretty light colored marble. At the far end of the Abbey a the black granite slab sits in the floor, the resting place and Tomb of the Unknown Solider. It is lined with red poppies and carved with somber words to remind us that some gave all for King and country. Make sure to pay the little extra to take the verger guided tour, so you can view the resting places of Edward Longshanks, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the beautiful mosiac tile floor which is hundreds of years old. Many people remember St. Paul's as the place where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married in 1980. However, there's been a cathedral on the site since the early 7th century! The current building was brought up in the 17 century, and features a soaring cupola and underground crypts with the burial places of many famous Britons like Lord Nelson the hero of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Westminster Abbey
And how could we forget Buckingham Palace, home of her Highness, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. Watching the changing of the guard is a neat experience. It's really remarkable how similar the uniforms are to our United States Marines, and the easily recognizable bear-capped red coats are a quintessential London view.

London is blessed with easy to use public transportation, both bus and tube. Taxis abound for short trips, but to me it's best on foot. Getting to London is easy, as its a major hub for flights all over the world. From here in Los Angeles, its a 10 hour non stop flight to Heathrow or Gatwick. Right now on British Airways or Virgin Atlantic it's between $1000-$1200 for a round trip flight! That's not too bad. Many hotels are available for the many sections of the City on When you land at either airport, you can take the tube right to Victoria Station in the center of the City. So what do you say? Get on over there and have yourself a pint with the locals, some proper tea at middday, and a yorkshire pudding at supper!
Let's get this economy going!

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