Seeing a city on foot is really the best way to get a feel for a place, so H and I decided that all of our travel through London would be exclusively on foot. In a city like London, walking is pretty much the fastest transportation you can ask for anyhow unless you are truly traveling far afield. If we could have squeezed in a trip to the Kew Gardens on this trip, we certainly would have taken the tube.
As it was, central London is within easy foot traffic pretty much anywhere you want to go within a five mile radius, so we set out on foot in search for food. We knew that London was going to be expensive, but decided to suck it up and just have breakfast at the first place in Marylebone Village that smelled good which turned out to be the curiously named Sherlock Holmes Hotel. The hotel appeared far more contemporary than the name might suggest and the food wafting out onto the street simply smelled good. We sat down, looked at the menu and I used the excuse that were going to walk at least 10-12 miles today to start the day with a variation on the traditional english breakfast, a breakfast pizza called the Energizer while H had the standard £14 ($28 US) breakfast. I was initially hesitant, but being adventurous is sometimes worth the effort and the breakfast pizza actually turned out to work amazingly well as the fresh marinara with sweet basil matched quite well with the smooth texture of the baked beans and the selection of sausages and fried egg. If you order the Energizer, do share with a friend or loved one as it is the equivalent of a caloric atomic bomb and the size makes it work well for two.
The plan after breakfast was to walk down past Buckingham Palace again, over to the Tower of London for a tour then over to The Tate Modern which we figured would be a full day especially if we walked the entire way. We also wanted to spend at least *some* time in a park, so we walked through Hyde Park which was H’s favorite part of the trip, particularly when we saw the horses from Hyde Park Stables riding through the park. H misses being involved in equestrian sports and I certainly sympathize, so the idea of being able to ride horses in the middle of London, one of the largest metropolitan cities in the world was something special.
We continued on down over by Buckingham Palace to cross the street where we looked up to see something completely unexpected in an urban setting such as London…..an equestrian crossing button up high above the pedestrians and bicyclists that I apparently missed yesterday. Very cool.
Continuing down to the river we came across the giant pink granite Duke of York Column in the Carlton House Terrace. Had we more time, a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum would have been appropriate.
Walking down from the Duke of York column will get you to St. James Park, one of the oldest if not the oldest Royal Parks in London. Just to the East of St. James Park, they were getting ready for Trooping the Color (wiki entry here) in honor of the Queens official 79th birthday in front of the old Admiralty Building and the Horse Guards Building. It truly would have been something to be able to see this event which will be taking place next week. One of my fantasies is to have enough resources to be able to travel to places and events to document them photographically and this is just such an event that would be a wonder to be able to document.
From here, we walked South along Parliament Street and East to the River Thames which we would follow along all the way to the Tower of London where we figured that despite our abhorrence for most touristy things, we’d pay for the opportunity to tour a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From our walk along the Thames, you can see the size and grandeur of the London Eye across the river (wiki entry here). It’s another “touristy” site, that perhaps if we had time this trip we’d see, but for now, that will have to be on another trip.
Continuing on down the Thames we ran across the location of the City of London School from 1883-1987. This building of course struck a nerve with me as I recognized it from watching Thames Television programs such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Benny Hill and many others as a kid as this building was on their logo or splash screen in modern parlance. I did not know exactly the significance of the building, only the association of it with Thames Television at the time and I simply had to find out as soon as an Internet connection could be found.
We eventually made it down to the Tower of London around 10:00 in time to buy tickets, navigate through the crowds of some of the two million visitors and tourists who visit each year had already started to assemble. It really is an amazing place that King Richard I had begun construction on almost one thousand years ago and is the home to much history and political intrigue that has guided the UK through its early years. Of course it has also been the home of the Crown Jewels since the 17th Century, but unfortunately they do not allow photography of the Crown Jewels and I was unable to capture any images to share.
While not the greatest picture, I rather like the juxtaposition between old and new in this image taken from the Tower of London wall looking into central london and the London Gherkin or 30 St. Mary Axe.
King Edward I’s oratory or “Little chapel over the water” as it has been referred to in medieval historical documents.
St. John’s Chapel is one of the best preserved Anglo-Norman churches and was an amazingly serene place of beauty that belied much of its history from the 14th century to 1858 as a store for state records.
This amazing silver engraved field armor and horse armor was made for Henry the VIII when he was much younger and not as heavy as is commonly depicted. The armor itself is quite lightweight with engravings designed by Paul van Vrelant of Brussels.
The Tower ravens originally protected by Charles II are a famous part of the history of the Tower of London and even hold their part in legend which tells that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the kingdom and the Tower alike will fall.
The White Tower is part of the original fortress designed to subjugate Londoners and has functioned as a citedel, a royal palace, a prison, a treasury and armory alike. When it was constructed by William the Conquerer, it was the largest structure in Great Britain
After the Tower of London, we walked over to the Tate Modern to take a look at modern art. I’d have more photos, but the Tate Modern does not allow photography inside the galleries for some reason.
I have a love/hate relationship with much modern art and while I absolutely have been a huge fan of many contemporary artists such as Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky and many others including more contemporary artists such as the minimalist Richard Serra and Chuck Close, I simply do not understand some of the work I’ve seen over the years at various modern art museums in San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, Seattle and London. Some of the works from artists like Jannie Antoni or Marcel Duchamp or Piero Manzoni just irritate me. Granted not every work by Antoni, Duchamp or Manzoni is “crap” (after one of Manzoni’s groups of work in the Tate where he canned his own feces), but I am left gobsmacked as they say here by some works that I simply have either no appreciation for or am left wondering just what the significance to art and art history is.
After the Tate Modern, we walked across the Millennium Bridge and up to St. Pauls Cathedral (wiki entry here). Unfortunately this was Sunday and we did not want to disturb services by walking in as tourists, so there are no photographs of the inside. It is hard to get an appreciation for the size of this building from photographs and in fact, the photograph of the cathedral from the plaza fails to show the great dome at all.
Walking back from the the Tate Modern and St. Pauls, we walked past the Palace of Westminster, Parliament buildings and Big Ben, seeing it from both sides of the Thames. This complex of buildings is one of the largest Parliaments in the world containing almost 1,200 separate rooms and will be another place to return to next time we are in London if we can somehow avoid the hoards of tourists navigating the pickpockets and street vendors selling all man
ner of trinkets.
We also got a little taste of just how much of a surveillance culture there is in London. Walking back, I looked up to see not only the MI5 building, but a bit further down the river, also the MI6 building. I said to H, “Oh, look! MI5 and MI6!” and proceeded to take a couple of photos of MI5 until a guard stepped out from behind a column and shook his head at me. Not knowing what British law was with respect to taking photos of certain buildings, I capitulated, but even up the road a bit when taking photos of the Ministry of Defense building, I had a guard shake his finger at me leaving me with this photo as the only image from that part of our walk.
Finally, we made it back to the Marylebone area where we had the absolutely best meal of the trip at Fairuz, a restaurant serving Lebanese cuisine on 3 Blandford Street. Perhaps it was due to walking through London and being on our feet for the entire day, but this was a most spectacular meal of this trip to the UK, that began with a simple fresh vegetable dish including cucumbers, carrots, chiles and onions. Common enough, but the vegetables were very fresh and quite tasty. Entrees were equally spectacular with a charcoal grilled farruj musakhan, chicken marinated in garlic, lemon juice and spices for H and Kharoof Mahshi, a lamb stuffed with rice and herbs dish for me. The service was excellent, the food was beautifully seasoned, cooked to perfection, and dining on the street at the end of a beautiful summer day with H just topped it off. As an aside, it was wonderful to taste Za’atar again as my source of Za’atar back in Salt Lake had long since dried up. If anyone knows a good Internet resource for Lebanese Za’atar, let me know.