Wednesday, December 17, 2014

London Trip - Day 4 - Exploring the Thames, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey

Today after work I took a 30 minute walk along the Thames to see Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. It was absolutely lovely. It rained last night and part of today bringing in unseasonably warm temperatures nearing 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. There was a soft, fresh breeze coming off the Thames which made for a beautiful walk.  The Thames is lined by tons of restaurants and there were little holiday shops in little temporary house like structures set up all along the walking path. Though there were a lot of people it wasn't overly crowded. The view along the Thames is a sight to behold! There were even street performers. One was a violinist playing very beautifully. I got a few seconds of video of the violin - but videos upload very slowly on hotel WiFi - so I will have to wait to share the video of that.

And of course, I have plenty of pictures. I stopped worrying about being looked at as a tourist (whipping out my camera every few steps) on my first day here. With an American accent like mine, I stick out like a sore thumb and there is nothing I can (or want to) do about that. Though I was excited to get to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, I took my time walking. It was wonderful!

Here are the holiday shops along the Thames

This is called the London Eye

As I crossed a bridge over the Thames to get to Big Ben, I was able to finally see why it is named Big Ben. It is huge and the architecture is magnificent.

I took this standing at the base of Big Ben to show how huge it is!

I arrived at Big Ben at 7:55 PM London time and stood waiting the last 5 minutes to hear it chime 8:00 PM. The sound is as big as Big Ben. I video taped the chime but it is taking forever to upload on the hotel WiFi. So, I think I will have to share that tomorrow.

I come to find out that Big Ben is connected to the Parliament building. Parliament is the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen. It is so ornate. Unfortunately, by the time I got there hours for touring were over so I was not able to go in or even get as close to the building as I would have liked as it is completely surrounded with gates and barriers. Still, I got a special treat! As I was walking around taking hundreds of pictures and straining my neck to look up at these massive structures, I caught the interest of one of the Bobbies guarding the area. He politely nodded to me and I took the opportunity to ask if he could tell me what the beautiful building across the street was. He explained that the building across the way was Westminster Abbey. At first I had confused Parliament for Westminster Abbey.

Hearing my accent, the Bobby asked where I was from. I told him and a 30+ minute conversation followed. When I told him how beautiful London is, his sense of national pride kicked in and he told me all about London, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. I don't think any tour guide would have shared so much. It was wonderful. He explained that  the side of Parliament closest to Big Ben is the House of Commons and the other end (where he and I were talking) was the House of Lords. He told me all the most important people - Lords, Barrons, etc. came in through the entrance where he and I were chatting.

He went on to explain that the House of Lords contained records in scrolls dating back to Henry VIII and the most ornate entrance just beyond where he and I were talking was built at the request of and for Queen Victoria. He explained that the steps leading to that door were specially measured to accommodate the size of Queen Victoria's feet and her stride.

Noticing I had an empty coffee cup in hand, he asked if I needed a bin (garbage can). I said yes and he took the cup and threw it away for me in his watch post. He explained that almost all of the public bins were removed in the 1970s and 1980s because the IRA would place bombs in the bins to attack Parliament. He also told me that the barricades outside of the ornate iron gates were put up over the last 30 years also to protect against the IRA.

He told me that when he was a child, there were no barricades and one could walk right up to Parliament unobstructed as the gates were always open. That was, he continued, until the IRA planted a bomb in Parliament's parking garage. Today, Parliament and Big Ben are on complete lock down unless one attends one of the public sessions of Parliament. Unfortunately, with work hours such as they are (and the fact that Parliament just went on holiday break) I will not be able to attend one of those sessions or see the inside of the building. Maybe on my next visit, I will be luck enough to go inside. For now, I was very content hearing such interesting history from a London Bobby.

As interesting side notes, he tells me that no one in Parliament wears wigs anymore (yes, I asked) and the term Bobby is still in use today. He told me that the nick name Bobby came from the the first British Police officer Robert Peel back in the 1800. There is a big statue of Robert Peel in a park across the way from Parliament.

Here are my pics of Parliament.

Following my conversation with the Bobby, I walked over to Westminster Abbey. Sadly, it too was closed and there were no Bobbies immediately around to fill me with stories. Still, I got some excellent pictures. Westminster Abbey is very pretty - but I think it pales in comparison to Parliament. It's funny - looking at Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London, I find that I am most impressed by doors. It sounds strange and perhaps it is strange or shows some weirdness in my psyche - but I love big, old, wooden doors. That is certainly not meant to imply that I no longer love ornate stone architecture. Oh, I do! But there is something that really attracts me to old doors.

I love doors, strange but true

This is china from the Westminster Abbey shop

 This is a cool little bag from the Westminster Abbey shop

 This is the Westminster Abbey shop (closed when I got there)

I told you, I love doors!

Another door

Yet, another door

door :)

 surprise - its a door!

Over all, it was another wonderful day touring England! Tomorrow will be my last full day in London and I head home to NYC on Friday. I am looking forward to going home because I really miss my family. But, I am going to miss London. This is a wonderful place. I am so glad I have been able to visit and do some site seeing.

Here are a few other pictures that just didn't fit into my story but came from the same general area.

 Not sure who this is - but it was a nice statue

 This is a statue of Winston Churchill

Finally, an interesting observation about London....

Ordering Coffee in London is different. First, I have not found any coffee shops yet that allow you to add your own milk/cream to the coffee. With that, the server will often ask if you want black coffee or white coffee. White coffee has milk or cream in it. I don't know whether it is milk or cream because they don't offer the choice... black and white are the only options.

Next, when you say that you'd like your coffee white (with milk/cream), they will ask if you'd like it hot or cold. At first, I assumed that cold coffee was iced coffee and that was wrong. Hot or cold actually refers to the milk that they will put in your coffee. The formal interpretation of hot or cold when ordering coffee is "Do you want the milk in your coffee steamed (HOT) or right out of the milk container (cold)?

Just though you'd want to know that! Good night!


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