I am writing this post over a week after the events, while riding the train from Bologna to Venice, and then from Venice to Rome a few days later, finish it in a flat in Rome.
I read that it rains in the UK on average 156 days of the year, so I was really expecting rain while we were on this part of the trip. The people here talk about it. Rain is normal in the UK, but it missed us, only at night did it pour and during the day a few light sprinkles here and there.
My family and I left our flat, rode bus 207 to Shepherd's Bush station from Acton, and took the underground to Greenwich. You switch to a newly constructed overground train to get down to Greenwich and before people here said it was only accessible by water. We would pick up a cruise on a large barge-like boat for tourists on the River Thames from Greenwich to Westminster, which is where Parliament and the Abbey are, among many other prominent, historic London sites.
We arrived a little early, and at that location in Greenwich is a tour of the Cutty Sark, a historic fast clipper ship from the mid 19th century. Right next to it is the Old Royal Naval College, which includes a museum, and an example of hundreds of possible sites to visit. When I was a teenager, digital watches came on the market, and I wore one along with many other nerds, but also, using a short wave radio, set it to the second to Greenwich time. The world doesn't use Greenwich time any more, because atomic time is more accurate, but Greenwich time, what I called world standard time, originated at the Royal Observatory. A time ball has dropped there, normally each day at 13:00. We saw that observatory as we took off from Greenwich. This is where the phrase originated, dropping the ball.
The Thames River is unusual in that it is controlled by the ocean tides. The depth of the river rises and lowers dramatically, up to twenty feet. This has been important to the history of England and the importance of London. The current changes twice a day, depending on the tide. Essentially, the Thames carried out the garbage and sewage and then brought in the cleaner fresher ocean water once a day. During ocean storms, flooding became a problem, just like it has in Venice and other such locations. As we moved along the Thames, we saw "the lion's heads" at the top of the embankment, the wall alongside the river. They are cast in bronze and each holdiung a mooring ring for an emergency to tie up a small vessel. An old poem reads, "When the lions drink, London will sink. When it's up to their manes, we'll go down the drains." There are times at spring and fall tides that the tide does rise to touch their bronze heads.
As we floated west, we saw the Golden Hind, a replica of the Sir Francis Drake ship on which he sailed around the world. Quite close is the reconstructed Globe Theatre also on the southern side of the river. We passed under varous bridges of varied age and importance, the Tower Bridge, taking on the nature of the London Tower, the famous London Bridge, the Waterloo Bridge, the Millennium Bridge, and the Westminster Bridge. The London Bridge, even though it is now a plain modern urban concrete structure, was the first of which was built by Roman founders of London. The longest standing London Bridge construction started in 1176, finished in 1209, and lasting until 1831. It had numerous buildings on it, and was famous for its use for displaying the severed heads of traitors, starting with William Wallace's in 1305. An earlier version of the London Bridge was destroyed in 1014 by Olaf to block enemies from London, inspiring the lyrics, "London Bridge is falling down." The greatest view along the Thames in my opinion is moving to Westminster to end our cruise and seeing the Gothic spires of the Parliament building, the Abbey, and Big Ben from the river, the latter which was under repairs while we were there.
We departed from our boat and walked to a hop-on, hop-off bus, which is a good way to see everything, and visiting whatever you want on the route, several of which are available. The bus comes with audio that comments on interesting, historical, and important sites along the way just as you pass them. While walking to the bus, we saw 10 Downing Street, the home of the British Prime Minister, which is surrounded by iron gates and many armed security so that you could not get near the place anymore.
The busses in London, as you have likely seen, are double decker and bright red. You can't pay cash. Like many other metropolitan areas, you are required to have purchased some type of card, the oyster, which is refillable, or a paper card that gives you something like 75 minutes of riding. The upper decks of these hop-on and off busses is half covered and half open-air, the latter much better for pictures. Our bus made its way down the Strand, which is the most famous and important roads in the history of London.
Growing up, the pub was synonymous with a bar. I don't think I even knew that it was short for "public house," which is essentially a social meeting place, but is still associated with drinking. I noticed taverns, and I asked a Brit what was the difference, and she said there was none. She said that the pubs have turned now into restaurants in order to survive. Certain parts of the United States are heavy alcohol areas. The town of just over 20,000 where I attended college had over 50 bars in it. Englad seems worse to me. There are pubs all over the place, it seems like at least one, and sometimes more, on one side of a city block. Very often people are crowded on the sidewalk after work with tall glasses of alcohol in their hands.
The pub is also connected to famous people in the history of England, where and who they sat at pub with. Some of the oldest of these were pointed out as we drove along -- writers, politicians, soldiers, and statesmen.
Our first hop-off point was St. Paul's Cathedral, which we planned on visiting for just an hour. St. Paul's is very old and for centuries and centuries, really up until recently, was the tallest building in London, rising above everything else. So much revolved around religion for so many centuries that it was a very important building. On the outside west of the cathedral in a little garden area more difficult to see is a statue of John Wesley, even as nearby here he was said to have been converted, whether that is true or not. Note is made of Wesley in the cathedral because the Wesleys were Anglicans, even as Susannah, John's mother never left the Church of England. John and Charles were non-conformists who did leave it in founding Methodism.
Buried in the crypt, essentially the basement of St. Paul's is Christopher Wren, who was the architect or planner of much of London. He has a famous statement about the whole cathedral itself being his memorial since he designed the present iteration of it, the former burning down in a London fire. Also buried down there with a gigantic tomb is the Duke of Wellington, which is the title for Arthur Wellesley, who was famous for the Battle of Waterloo, and defeating Napoleon early in the 19th century and later serving twice as Prime Minister.
The original entrance to London, a stone archway is right next to St. Paul's.
Interesting to my two daughters are other areas besides the historical. We went on some excursions of the foodie variety, at one point hopping off to catch other bus transportation to dum-dum donuts, a famous super donut chain in London. After eating the donuts, we split up, with my wife and daughters taking the bus to the Charles Dickens museum, his former home, and my staying on the hop-on and off bus to later meet with them at Trafalgar Square.
I can't tell you everything I saw the rest of the way. I found that the Waterloo station, next to the Waterloo Bridge, named after the British victory at Waterloo, was to be the original public transportation hub with Paris, France, but the French rejecting it unless the name was changed. Instead the plans were changed to come from something close to King's Cross station in Northern London. The Lambeth Palace is a gigantic, monstrous edifice on the south of the Thames, where the archbishop of Canterbury lives, when he is in London. Buckingham Palace is even more grand, ostentatious in its immensity, along with its majestic nearby parks. I hopped off for my last time to go there, and then walk the length of the park to the Churchill underground museum, which is the original location where he commanded Englad during World War 2. He made important speeches from this location. With it is a fine museum to Churchill, chronicling his life and career in minute detail.
More to Come