In the Fall of 2013 we finally were able to visit a city we always wanted to see – London, England. Listed below is our trip blog and some pictures we took of London and surrounding areas. At the end of this post Anne gives her impressions of our stay and tours.
Greetings from London! Anne and I arrived early this morning after a 7 hour transatlantic flight from Washington DC. Here I am standing outside of our hotel – the Lancaster Gate Hotel near Hyde Park. This is a good location, close to the major transit hubs.
After checking in to our hotel, we immediately started touring. Though tired from the long flight we wanted to adjust to the time change by staying awake. Our “hop on, hop off” original London tour company bus showed us around the town, with narration of the sights we saw.
The highlight of the day for me was a visit to St Paul’s cathedral in London. I had written a paper in college about the cathedral’s architect, Christopher Wren. Today I saw the inscription on Wren’s tomb in the cathedral written in Latin: “SUBTUS CONDITUR HUIUS ECCLESIÆ ET VRBIS CONDITOR CHRISTOPHORUS WREN, QUI VIXIT ANNOS ULTRA NONAGINTA, NON SIBI SED BONO PUBLICO. LECTOR SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS CIRCUMSPICE” Fortunately, I remembered back to that term paper written long ago and I recalled what this meant, “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you.”
I was amazed by the size of St Paul’s and learned it took 35 years to build.
On Thursday we will visit more famous sights in London. Tomorrow we are taking a road trip to visit Stonehenge.
Today we ventured outside of the London city limits to see some of the sights in the English countryside.
Our first stop was Salisbury. Here I am in front of the impressive cathedral, with the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom (404 feet). My favorite dead British architect, Christopher Wren whom I mentioned yesterday, was said to be upset that the spire was not perfectly straight, and failed in several attempts to fix it. Our guide said the spire has a 1.5 degree tilt to the right. Lighten up, Chris! The spire looked good to me, and was straighter than my Italian architect ancestors produced with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
It was a beautiful Wednesday to see the British countryside. The cathedral was striking against the clear blue sky. We would not have any rain today.
Our guide said this was the only English cathedral with statues of catholic saints adorning the facade. It seems when King Henry VIII was excommunicated from the Catholic church and founded the Anglican church, he had the saint statues removed from all the cathedrals in England. The bishop of Salisbury, though, was on good terms with King Henry and the statues at the Salisbury cathedral were allowed to stay.
Equally impressive was the interior of the cathedral, which still hosts worship services. In an adjoining nook one of the original 13 copies of the Magna Carta was displayed. Volunteers at the church were positioned throughout and they were very helpful in explaining the history of this amazing structure.
Queue the Chariots of Fire music! We saw a group of school children, dressed in their uniforms, running through the streets of Salisbury this day.
A 20 minute drive away was the site of the Stonehenge monument, which dates back to 2500 BC.
We were allowed to circle the monument on a walking path. I was surprised at the grassy field surrounding Stonehenge.
We were given audio wands where we would enter the number of different viewpoints of the monument and given a history of Stonehenge. The purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery. To me it seemed it was used to track the movement of the sun and the earth’s seasons, as an aid to farming. The Stonehenge site is being renovated. We saw a new visitor’s center under construction and our guide said in the future visitors will take a train around the monument rather than have a walking trail. I am glad we were able to visit when we could still walk the grounds.
As our bus weaved its way through the beautiful British countryside we approached the town of Bath for our final stop.
Here we took another “audio wand” tour of the ancient Roman baths built over a natural spring. The tour was very well done and really gave a sense of what the baths were like in Roman times.
We had ventured far from our London base to get to Bath, so we had a three hour bus ride to return to our hotel. It was a great day of touring. Tomorrow we visit some of the famous London sights we missed on day 1.
On day three of our London trip we saw many highlights of the city that we had missed two days earlier.
Here I am in front of “Big Ben” – though it really isn’t named that. We learned this is the Elizabeth Tower. “Big Ben” is the large bell within the tower.
Here is Anne receiving guidance from our bus driver. We stayed on the bus for two hours, listening to our guide tell stories about the various buildings we saw.
“The Queen must be in town!” said our guide as we spotted these royal guards. It seems Queen Elizabeth doesn’t spend much time in London, preferring her residence in Windsor. The royal guards are only seen in London when the Queen is nearby. We learned later that the Royal Baby, Prince George, was christened at Buckingham Palace the day before.
We wrapped up our four days in London in style visiting the current Royalty’s residence at Windsor Castle and a past English monarchy castle at Hampton Court.
Windsor Castle is where Queen Elizabeth resides most of the time, about 20 miles outside of London. We found it fascinating to get a behind the scenes look at the Royal Family, seeing guest bedrooms, dining halls, and St George’s Chapel. The chapel was especially impressive, and we saw the tomb of Elizabeth’s parents (King George VI and the Queen mother). We were told the queen visits the chapel often to pay respects to her parents, especially on Thanksgiving. We were standing in the spot the queen would be at in just a few short weeks.
Windor Castle is high on a hill with a beautiful view of the English countryside. We could see why it is the Queen’s favorite residence. By contrast she calls London’s Buckingham Palace “the office”, a place she visits only for official business.
At Windsor Palace we had a closeup view of the royal guards. Their presence this day told us the Queen was on the grounds.
Next we visited a royal castle of the past, Hampton Court. This residence is known mostly for King Henry VIII and his many wives. We were told the story of King Henry VIII and his failed marriages. It was eery to be in the same hall where Kathryn Howard pleaded for her life before being executed, and where wife #2 (Anne Boleyn) danced with the King before her demise.
While not as spectacular as Windsor Castle, Hampton Court also had beautiful grounds featuring these unusual looking trees.
We finished the day by catching a train at London’s Liverpool station, packed with commuters on this Friday night. After a few anxious moments we located our train to Harwich, where we boarded a ferry to take us overnight to the Netherlands. Our first ever visit to London was a good one, and we want to come back some day to see even more sights.
There are many hotels in London from which to choose. I was very happy with Lancaster Gate Hotel. It was in a very safe neighborhood and only a few blocks from an underground station. We were one block from Kensington Park. In addition to the convenient location, the hotel was clean and the staff was helpful. It is common to have small rooms in Europe and this room was no exception. Although it was small we had everything we needed. The breakfast was very good. The buffet did not change, but there was enough variety to keep us happy for the several days of our stay. We had dinner at the hotel one evening and the quality of the food was good.
While our two days of using the Hop-On/Hop Off double-decker buses provided an excellent overview of many London highlights, my favorite tour was Windsor Castle. The grounds are beautiful and the opportunity to visit part of the Royal Family’s home was educational and entertaining. We were able to see the part of the castle that had been renovated since the fire of 1992. I found St. George’s chapel, on the Windsor Castle grounds, to be fascinating. We spent time in the chapel viewing the final resting place of the Queen Mum, King Henry VIII and many others.
After our London stay – a ferry trip and river cruise!
Following our four days in London we took an overnight ferry to Amsterdam, and then embarked on a wonderful seven night Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River.
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