Friday, July 17, 2009
After a good 10 hours sleep, we woke up feeling refreshed and ready to conquer London. Our first full day was split fairly evenly between the British Museum (a "must-see" by any standards) and shopping along Regency Street (which Dave was a great sport about). We started up at Oxford Circus and made our way down Regency to Piccadilly Circus. Of course, my first stop was Liberty:
Next up was Bath: a charming Georgian town in southwest England, not far from Wales. Built along the river Avon, the city itself is charming and would be an excellent destination for a long-weekend. Bath has long been a destination for wealthy Londoners looking to escape the city in the summer and it is where Jane Austen wrote many of her famous novels. Today, celebrities like Johnny Depp continue to retreat to the charming town.
Of course, the major tourist attraction to Bath (and the source of its name) are the Roman Baths, which is one of the best-preserved examples of their kind remaining in the world. As a Classics major in college, I have a particular interest in all things Roman, but I think they're of sufficient general interest to be worthy of a place on just about everyone's hit list.
On Sunday we decided to sleep in, but we still managed to spend the entire afternoon at one of my all-time favorite stops: The Tower of London. Between the engaging Beefeater tour guides, the Crown jewels (housed in the building above), the ravens, and just the incredible amount of important events (i.e., executions) that have gone on here, it's just a wonderful way to spend a day -- particularly one as glorious as we enjoyed that Sunday.
The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower, dating back to William the Conqueror. Inside was a special exhibit on Henry VIII, whose coronation was in 1509, exactly 500 years ago this year. Anne Boleyn, Henry's second wife, was executed "in the French fashion" (i.e., by a sword instead of an axe) just steps away from where I took the picture.
Sunday evening we dined in Hyde Park and then walking from the park up to Buckingham Palace, which is just a 15 minute walk away in Green Park. Since the Queen was enjoying her holiday in Scotland while we were there, the flag flown above the palace is the Union Jack (when the Queen is in resident, her royal standard is flown instead).
The monument to Queen Victoria just opposite the Palace. I'm a huge fan of Queen V. and the size, scale and artistic merit of this monument makes it truly breathtaking in person.
On Monday we decided to spend our day in the city of Westminster. Our first stop was Parliament and Big Ben for a quick photo or two. Then we were off to Westminster Abbey, which rivals (and arguably surpasses) the Tower of London for its history and cultural importance.
This was my fourth time to visit Westminster and every time I see something different and learn something new. Just about all the great men and women of English history are buried here, from Edward the Confessor and Elizabeth I to Isaac Newton and Geoffrey Chaucer. In fact, there are so many people buried here that it takes great care to not constantly stumble over graves. I would imagine that worshipping here would feel rather like communing with the dead, many of whom are memorialized with lifelike statutes and portraits, which only heightens the sensation that you're sharing this space with another world.This brief prayer is outside the exit to the Abbey, and has been a favorite of my family's since my first trip to London in 1996.
We then pressed on to St. Paul's Cathedral, which is an absolute architectural marvel. This is a shot from the very top of the Cathedral, which Dave took as I declined to take the last 300 or so steps from the Whispering Gallery to the top (the narrow, steep steps are a bit claustrophobic and I'd made the trek before). Our final stop that day was the Museum of London, a hidden gem among the more popular museums in the city. I highly recommend it as a great rainy day activity that won't be overly crowded.
Alas, we awoke on our last day in London to steady rain, which forced us to cancel our plans to visit Hampton Court (an impressive Tudor-era palace just outside London). Instead, we decided to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is dedicated to the decorative arts and includes just about everything from priceless blanc de Chine and Victorian silver serveware to exhibits on hats and fashion.
This picture of the pagoda-style bed is for my friend Beth of Chinoiserie Chic. Its size and detailing in person was magnificent and was the highlight of an impressive collection of 17th and 18th century Chinoiserie furniture and art.
Dave will kill me for posting this picture (its admittedly not particularly flattering of him), but there are precious few pictures of us together, particularly in London. Our final stop on our last day was Trafalgar Square, where a chilly rain drove us indoors to the National Portrait Gallery, which has an amazing collection of...you guessed it -- portraits, but its collection of Tudor portraits is my favorite.
Our final night in London was spent dining at the Boxwood Cafe, a restaurant operated by the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey and attached to the famed Berkeley Hotel. After a delicious meal, we retreated to The Berkeley's Blue Bar (pictured above) which was suggested to us by Beth and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. All in all, it was an excellent finish to a wonderful stay in London.
I'd also like to thank both Beth and Christy (from A Lil' Welsh Rarebit) on their excellent suggestions on what Dave and I should do, see and eat while in London. Your suggestions were spot-on and greatly appreciated, ladies!
Next up is Part 2: Ireland!