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:



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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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Monday, July 13, 2015

London, England: Cenotaph

Consider yourself a word wizard if you know what a cenotaph is. It's an empty tomb or monument designed to honor those who have remains located in other places. One example that Americans might know is the John Kennedy Memorial in Dallas.

Let's shift the discussion to England. After World War I, there was plenty of talk to commemorate those who gave their lives in service to their country. The Cenotaph became that war memorial in London.

It was built around 1920, and has been the setting for ceremonies on Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to Nov. 11 (the day World War I ended) each year.

By the way, the dates of World War II were added to the structure years later. And this is not the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier's equivalent - that's down the street, although ceremonies connect the two.

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London, England: Big Ben

Big Ben is the nickname of the bell that rings out in the tower of the Palace of Westminster in London. However, many people use it as a reference to the entire clock. It's an iconic sight. Whenever a television show wants to indicate that the story has shifted to London, the clock is inevitably shown.

The tower was built after a fire destroyed the old structure in 1834. It is not open to the public, although UK residents can contact their legislator to receive a tour and have the chance to walk up 334 stairs to the top.

The bells have been silenced a few times. Sometimes there are mechanical problems, but at others it's deliberate - such as during the funerals of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

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London, England: The London Eye

All right, the technical name for this giant ferris wheel is the Coca-Cola London Eye. A few other sponsors have been attached to the name over the years. Some people call it the Millennium Wheel, which should give you an idea when it first opened - Dec. 31, 1999. I could have used this fact when I missed a trivia question about the Eye on our cruise.

The wheel is 443 feet high and was the tallest structure in London until the Shard came along a few years later. The wheel takes 30 minutes to make a circle, and goes slowly enough so that it doesn't have to be started and stopped for passengers. Exceptions for that rule are made in special cases, such as for those with disabilities. Most people simply walk on and off while the structure is in motion.

As of 2015, it costs at least 19 pounds to go for a ride - more if you don't want to wait as long and are willing to pay to cut in line. I didn't get too close to it, although this picture gives you an idea of the neighborhood. So I appreciated the chance to see a video:



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London, England: St. Paul's Church

St. Paul's Church has been the parish church for Covent Gardens for a long time. Yet, that distinction takes a back seat to its other status. Valuable clue: It's known as the Actors' Church.

The relationship between stage and church becomes apparent when walking around the church itself to get to the back yard. There are a couple of actual spots for theater productions on the relatively small grounds, which as you can see in the picture are nicely done.

Plays have been sponsored here for more than 300 years. The first public performance of Pygmalion, later turned into My Fair Lady, was here. W.S. Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) was baptized here. The composer of Rule Britannia, Thomas Arne, is buried here. The place even has its own theater company and orchestra.

That's a lot of history in a small spot. But that's London.

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London, England: Covent Gardens

The centerpiece of the Covent Gardens district of London is this structure. Formerly, it was the home of a large market. (That facility ist still around in a sense, but it has moved about three miles away.) Now on the site, there are all sorts of little boutiques, restaurants and stores. It's all quite charming, if at first glance a little pricey.

What's more, the Royal Opera House sits right across the street from the market area. Nearby are several theaters and other entertainment options.

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London, England: St. Paul's Cathedral

Think big.

St. Paul's Cathedral in London certainly qualifies. It's the biggest church in England at 515 feet and 250 feet wide, and is the fourth largest church in Europe. (It looks like the other three are in Italy.)

The site has hosted a church of some sort since 604, but the current place was built after a fire in 1666. For Britain, this has become a symbol of resistance. When Germany was bombing London during World War II, volunteers manned the hoses to make sure that the structure didn't go completely up in flames.

Want history? This is where Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Horatio Nelson is entombed here, and so is the Duke of Wellington.

And if you want views, climb 528 steps to the top of the dome. If you want fun, climb 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery.

The whole story:



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London, England: The Shard

The Shard is relatively new, and doesn't get the publicity on this side of the pond compared to  some of its ancient neighbors in London. Still, it's likely that it will catch up in that department soon.

The structure, formerly known as the London Bridge Tower, is in the Southmark section of London. It goes 87 floors into the sky. You can live there, eat there and work there.

But frequently, people just come to look around. There is an observation desk on the 72nd floor, and the views are pretty terrific. The tallest building in the European Union drew some resistance, as some people no doubt like their London attractions old. But it is quite a spectacle and has changed the skyline.

My picture of the structure was taken on a bridge on a rainy Sunday morning, serving the only purpose of proving I was there. Like the pole in the way? Me neither. A short video is a better idea:



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London, England: Tower Bridge

London had a problem in the late 19th century. It needed another bridge across the Thames. The catch was, the city couldn't build a typical bridge because that would mess up shipping to the port areas.

The Tower Bridge was the solution. It has the elements of a drawbridge, so that large ships (like the one shown, I guess) could pass through safely.

A total of 40,000 people still cross it every day, in one form or another, with a speed limit of 20 mph for vehicles. Some stop at an exhibition for a quick lesson in the structure's history. And the bridge is still raised about 1,000 times a year to allow ships to pass through. At least 24 hours notice is required.

Care to see what it looks like when opening?

 

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London, England: Tower of London

The Tower of London is quite famous, ranking as one of the city's top tourist attractions. My guess is that some people don't know much about it before walking in the front door; it's simply on the to-do list.

Here's a clue: the name is actually Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Tower. And from 1100 to 1952, it served in part as a prison.

Yes, the Royal family has lived there at times over the years. The Tower also has hosted all sorts of government activities over the years. The building has been fought over and celebrated. In other words, you can't write the history of London, or of the United Kingdom, without it.

The place was damaged a bit during World War II, but it was fixed up quickly and visitors (2.4 million in a year, according to one source) constantly stream past. They see the Crown Jewels and see the Executioner's Block.

Let's go inside:



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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Skagen, Denmark

After touring five great cities in less than two weeks, a little rest isn't a bad idea. Thus, Skagen was a fine change of pace for travelers on our cruise.

It's a small town right at the northern tip of Denmark. There are a few main streets along the waterfront, and there's a nice shopping district for visitors. This picture shows one of those streets, which was quite crowded because we happened to drop in the week of a music festival in early July. Lots of acts were playing on the street, and lots of beer was being consumed outside.

It all reminded me of Provincetown, Massachusetts, with the same sort of geography and arts/crafts feel. Skagen also was the best place on the cruise of Northern Europe to buy t-shirts, for what that's worth.


Here's a longer look at the place:



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Skagen, Denmark: Water Tower

Even the water towers are interesting in Skagen. Can't say I've taken many pictures of them on this side of the Atlantic.

For the history buff, this was built in 1934 and served the village through 1983. It has 130,000 bricks and runs 34 meters high. You can still walk up to the top and take a look at the view - if you don't mind the 120 steps, the last 40 in a spiral staircase. It's open in the summer.

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Skagen, Denmark: Mindestøtten

It took a little work to figure out what this monument marked. Google's translation feature can be useful.

On Dec. 27, 1862, the Swedish ship Daphne ran into trouble. Lars Kruse took his own fishing boat out and saved the crew, but eight fishermen died in the incident. This memorial marks the event.

Kruse earned the gratitude of the town for his efforts, and was immediately put in charge of Skagen's life-saving service. Kruse drowned in an 1894 incident at sea, as he tried to reach land during a violent snowstorm.

For his work, Kruse has been honored in several paintings by local artists. The momument shown here is in a small square along a main street.

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Skagen, Denmark: Skagens Museum

Skagen is best known for its arts, and it has a museum along its main street. Naturally, a statue of two of its best artists greet visitors in the walkway to the front door. Say hello to Michael Ancher and P.S. Kroyer, two of the founders of the museum.

The facility began in 1908, and has 1,500 works of art and some sculptures in the garden.

We didn't go inside the facility due to time issues, but those who did gave it good reviews.

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Skagen, Denmark: Grenen

Welcome to an odd but interesting tourist attraction.

The top of Denmark separates the North Sea (west) and the Baltic Sea (east). For those who look at it on a map, it would seem it's one big pond, with Denmark sticking up at the top to divide it slightly.

And then they go to Grenen, and find out they are really two distinct bodies of water in a large sense. That's because waves come from the North Sea and crash into Denmark from the west. But they also crash in from the Baltic Sea from the east. This is a picture looking almost straight north, and you can see waves breaking on both sides. I'm not sure if there's another place on earth like this.

By the way, each wave leaves a little bit of sand behind. So Denmark's area is growing very, very slowly. Someday, maybe you'll be able to walk to Norway.

This photograph doesn't do it justice of course. So let's go to the video tape, taking no responsibility for the musical choice:



Some of the tours from Skagen don't go to Grenen, but that shouldn't stop you. City buses run to the north to a tourism building (food, souvenirs, bathrooms) once an hour. Then it's a matter of paying for the ride to the point; the tractor/tram is shown in the video. Bring Danish currency for both rides, and go. Oh, and if you have a small towel to wipe the sand off your feet, bring it. You'll thank me later.

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