Tuesday, July 14, 2015

London, England

There's a line in the movie "Fail Safe" that has always stayed with me. An American and Soviet general are talking on the phone. They are talking about London, where they were both stationed during World War II. The American general asks his counterpart if he liked London.

"Very much," the Soviet replies. ""The great cities are those where one can walk; I would walk all the time in London. Wherever you turn, there's history."

That's London, New York's economic vitality mixed with Washington's history and government structures. It's tough not to bump into something familiar while visiting. Go to one area, and it is the inspiration for some of Charles Dickens' novels. Go somewhere else, and it's where Jack the Ripper hung out. And walk down Whitehall, and see a string of buildings that are familiar to even American tourists.

Maybe the greatest person in British history was Winston Churchill, who at one point in 1940 was the one last, loud, lonely voice for freedom in a world in which tyranny seemed to be winning. He is remembered in a place of honor in Parliament Square, overlooking his old stomping grounds at the Houses of Parliament. Both places can be inspirational, and Churchill's war room isn't far away.

I've hit a few high points on a blog here, but I must come back someday and look at this great city in detail. Here is a video look at some popular highlights:

Learn more about this vacation.
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London, England: Royal Artillery Memorial

You've probably noticed that art can cause controversy - even when it comes in the form of a military memorial. Such is the case with this, located in Hyde Park Corner.

During World War I, both sides spent much of the time throwing shells at each other. As a result, more than 49,000 Englishmen in the Royal Artillery died. After the war, that prompted a movement to pay tribute to that branch of the service.

It opened for public viewing in 1925. As memorials go, this is a grim one - more realistic than most in showing the cost of war. Those who thought the whole episode should be a little more, well, glorious, weren't happy. Use of the howitzer, on top, as part of the design didn't go over well either. But it still stands there, one of the best known memorials in Europe.

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London, England: The Albert

Thirsty after all this touring? Thought so.

A London visit wouldn't be complete without a stop at a pub. This one gets points for an interesting design, and some history. It's been around since the middle of the 1800's, named for Queen Victoria's husband.

You'll be happy to know that fish and chips are served here. Check out the menu here.

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London, England: Westminster Abbey

This isn't a typical angle of Westminster Abbey - but at least I can say I was at this famous facility. It is shown on the right side of the photo.

A church was first put on this site in the 7th century, and coronations of British monarchs have been held here since, gulp 1066. There have been 16 royal weddings here since the year 1100 (the last was Prince William and Catherine Middleton - too bad we don't hear much about that couple), and the current building started to go up in 1245.

As you'd expect, it's a great honor to be buried here. Sir Isaac Newton is here, and so is Charles Darwin.

After getting this close to the building, I was curious about what it looked like. There are clues here:

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London, England: Church of St. Margaret

If members of Parliament need a place to pray when things aren't going well, the Church of St. Margaret is right next door. Thus, it gets the nickname "the parish church of the House of Commons."

It's right across the street from the House of Parliament and Parliament Square, and right next to Westminster Abbey. This could be called the Abbey's little brother, since it was designed for the common folks and built late in the 11th century. There have been changes since the last major reconstruction in 1523, but people from then would recognize it now.

Among those buried here are Sir Walter Raleigh and John Milton. On Sept. 12, 1908, Winston Churchill was married here.

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London, England: Buckingham Palace

Anyone can take the classic picture of Buckingham Palace from the front? Not everyone has the imagination to take it from an angle.

Yes, the Queen and family do live here, and it's also their workplace. It's been the official palace since 1837, although other facilities are used as well. The chapel did get hit by a German bomb during World War II. That area was rebuilt as the Queen's Gallery to be something of an art museum.

Yes, tours are available. And even when you aren't allowed inside, the place is a good spot for celebration. You can imagine the crowds on V-E Day in 1945. There's also a famous here, where the Queen can do her Queen wave to her subjects, new babies can shown to the masses, etc. You can find plenty of other information about the place at other sites, like this one.

Surely we need a video of this place:

Oh, and if you ever want to see what the side of the place looks like, I've got a picture.

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London, England: Trafalgar Square

You can find thousands of images of Trafalgar Square in London on the Internet. All of them are better than this. My photographic options were a bit limited on the back of the bus.

This is one of the most famous open spaces in London. It honors a variety of people and events, and also serves as a gathering place. Think Times Square in New York on New Year's Eve.

Trafalgar Square salutes the win by the English over France and Spain in the battle off Cape Trafalgar, Spain in 1805. It opened around 1840.

Right in the middle of the square is Nelson's Column. Admiral Horatio Nelson died at Trafalgar. The Admiral is on top of it, not that you can see it. The top of his hat is 169 feet above the ground - 14 feet, six inches shorter than what was thought before the column was refurbished in 2006. There are a variety of statues surrounding the column. One is a major surprise - George Washington. Wasn't he fighting the British once upon a time. The state of Virginia sent it over.?

The National Gallery also bordered the square. Thankfully, that is included in the picture behind the column.

I'll have to come back here at some point, and look at all the statues, etc. And take a better picture.

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London, England: Admiralty Arch

Wow. This 100-plus-year-old building seems to have aged well.

It's Admiralty Arch, and connects the Old Admiralty Building. It's on The Mall near Trafalgar Square. The building went up in 1912, authorized by King Edward VII in honor of his mother, Queen Victoria. He never got to see it finished, though. The inscription on top translates to "In the tenth year of King Edward VIII to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910."

This used to be used for work associated with the government. The building was put up for sale in 2011, and purchased by 2013. The plan is to turn the place into a luxury hotel. I'd say that idea has a good chance of working. Who wouldn't want to stay there?

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London, England: Downing Street

You might say this is the most exclusive residential area in London.

It's Downing St., home to one of the most famous addresses in the world. The British Prime Minister traditionally lives at 10 Downing St., which ranks with 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington when it comes to fame.

Not as well known is the Prime Minster's neighbor. The Chancellor of the Exchequer lives next door at 11 Downing St. (Sometimes they trade, as the living quarters at #11 are larger. Tony Blair, who had children living with him, made such a switch.)

Sir George Downing built the street in 1680. Eventually the government took control of the area, and other buildings on the street have served in the government in one way or another. For example, 12 Downing St. hosts the press office.

Commoners used to be able to stroll down the street, but as you could guess that era is over. This picture shows the entrance to the short street, with a security checkpoint waiting for visitors. Protesters were present across the street the day we went by, which sounds as if it is pretty typical.

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London, England: Parliament Square

In professional sports, the ultimate honor bestowed by a team on a player used to be a retired uniform number. The idea is that the number would always be associated with that person. Then came along a bigger tribute. You're nothing, these days, unless you get a statue.

Apparently the United Kingdom got there first. It opted to honor heroes with statues well before sports teams got the idea.

Some of the nation's greatest figures are remembered in Parliament Square, which is right across the street from the Houses of Parliament. The square has been around since 1868, and it featured London's first traffic signals.

Eleven people are so honored. Can you name the only American to be so honored? I would have guessed Franklin Roosevelt - World War II and all that - and I would have been wrong. Abraham Lincoln is the winner. The list also included Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, David Lloyd George and Nelson Mandela. The latest addition came in 2015, with a statue for Mahatma Gandhi.

It looks like Edward Smith-Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby, is getting some touch-up work done. He is a former Prime Minister (1850s and 1860s) and Chancellor at Oxford.

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