(Minus Westminster Abbey and possibly other churches. I know, the best parts! I will have to make supplementary posts.)
Obligatory Underground photo.
In the airport — it’s the Queen! I am charmed by British money, especially the coins (especially the 20 pence piece), but I could not figure out how to count with them.
My plane arrived at about 11pm, and I wandered around a while trying to figure out how to get on the right train (to get to Katherine’s house), and then I finally figured out that I could get in line and buy a ticket by asking A LIVING PERSON. So I did that and it was fine. Then I found the platform and entertained myself by listening to people speaking English! And they were all so English! They don’t just exist on tv shows and movies! They are real! In some ways, your first thirty minutes in a new country is the most fun, when you’re in the flush of that realization that this place you carried in your head really exists and is just like normal. Plus, there was the pleasant shock of effortlessly overhearing other people’s conversations. (Pleasant at first — by the end of my five days, I was ready to enjoy tuning out German again.)
Speaking of Germany.
Still more shocking was the fact that all the timetables and lists, all the loudspeaker announcements, all the essential things I needed in order to find my way around, were in English. This isn’t to say that it’s difficult to get around in Germany — it’s pretty intuitive for me now — but I still developed the instinct to decode whatever I see, from advertisements to train schedules. It was like in college, when I’d been reading Latin for long enough that I would start to read something in English by scanning the sentence for the verb and the different case endings, before realizing that I could read the sentence straight through. (Note: This shows you how bad a Latin student I was, not how good. A good Latinist wouldn’t be constantly trying to rearrange the grammar in her head to sound like English…)
Anyway! When I got off at the right stop, I was met by Katherine, who ushered me back to her flat, and it was the first time (since Warsaw in October) that I got to experience the pleasure of shutting my brain off in a strange city. I love that. I’m a pretty methodical and capable traveler, but I have to turn it on, and when I can turn it off and just follow, I’m much less tense!
But there is something nice about making your way through a huge strange city by yourself, and I got to do that the next day, which was Thursday. I rode the tube (the tube!) in to Trafalgar Square, and followed the little guide that Heidi made me.
This is, I think, Waterloo station. Even their train stations look totally different than in Germany!
Look, it’s England.
Trafalgar Square: not that interesting!
The base of Nelson’s Column. If, like me, you have read tons of British children’s books, especially E. Nesbit or Arthur Ransome, but never bothered to learn anything about 18th and 19th century British history, you will probably know Nelson’s name but nothing about him.
I then started walking down Parliament St, passing lots of government buildings and various military memorials…
There really were a ton of memorials. Let’s just say that London is slightly more enthusiastic about their role in World War II than Munich is.
Outside the Royal Stables.
Big Ben! This was taken from alongside Westminster Abbey, which was the first place I visited. And it was awesome, but it cost 17 pounds. I’ll take about it all later.
Westminster Abbey from back near Big Ben.
Also near Westminster Abbey: a statue of Lincoln. It’s in front of…
the Supreme Court of the UK. The building, however, is the Middlesex Guildhall. This section was built between 1906-1913 in the “Art Nouveau Gothic” style, which is one of my secret favorites.
This is just a “look, it’s London!” picture.
I started across Westminster Bridge…
A big statue of Boudicea.
There were good views from the bridge (although the angle of the sun and the slight haze made it less great for photos). I tried several times, with no success, to take a picture of myself with Big Ben.
Nope. Couldn’t even smile at the right time.
Anyway, here it is.
Big Ben is, of course, chiefly known for the time that Peter Pan landed on its hands. (This will not be the only time in this post that I link to a Disney movie.)
Then I crossed the Thames (!!!!) and walked down the south bank of the river for quite a while… in fact, all the way until I reached:
Then I retraced my steps and little and cross the Millenium Bridge:
(Just like that scene in Harry Potter.) (That is Warner Brothers, not Disney.) (And hey! I hadn’t watched that since I went there — it’s fun to recognize things!)
You can see the dome of St Paul just across…
Seen from the south.
It is really too tall to take pictures of! I went in, but only to the side chapel “to pray,” because this, too, cost something like 12 or 14 pounds to see the nave. I could have gone to a service for free, but I ended up not being able to time it right. That’s okay though — although there has been a St Paul’s [around] here since the early 600s, the present building is English Baroque (um, as you can see, by the hulking exterior)– and although if I stayed long enough in London, I would definitely go around looking at all the 17th-early 20th century churches, and the other Christopher Wren churches especially, or the neo-Gothic variations, it wasn’t on my priority list this time.
But in fact, St Paul’s is mainly significant for a different reason.
It’s where the bird lady “feeds the birds” in Mary Poppins!!
After that I wandered around some and looked at churches.
This is a church that wasn’t rebuilt after it was bombed in WWII. Now it’s a garden.
I found part of where the London Wall, built by the Romans (and used by medieval and later inhabitants for over a thousand years) used to be.
London was founded by the Romans after their invasion of Britain in 43 A.D. (This was a century after Julius Caesar invaded, if you recall that first of the two most important dates in English history (c.f. 1066 And All That). (If you need to brush up on your British history please consult it.)) This wall was built around the turn of the 3rd century.
Then I changed tack and went over to Covent Garden. Which was not that exciting. But it is apparently the site of the very first (recorded) Punch and Judy show in England, which is cool.
This is the market where Eliza Doolittle sells flowers. There’s a church along the square here especially for actors (why I do not know) and I visited it, but it was pretty unremarkable.
Then I visited this Catholic church, seemingly hidden beneath the other buildings on the street, which reminded me to go look at Westminster Cathedral — not to be confused with Westminster Abbey, the Cathedral is the Catholic Cathedral in London (the Anglican Cathedral is St Paul’s). It’s an interesting and rather strange building, but I took enough pictures of it that I am also bumping it to another post.
These are the Royal Mews…
And here we are at Buckingham Palace!
So I showed up and started taking pictures while the light lasted, and after no more than five minutes, I noticed a definite stir around one of the side gates.
Then actual guards/police/whatever with firearms showed up —
— while the others walked back and forth inside — and I walked over to the large-ish group of young tourists (all speaking German. I heard so much German in London!). Then a black sedan started coming out of the gate, and the Germans screamed. But false alarm, there wasn’t anyone recognizable inside. Then a grey SUV followed and the Germans squealed again because –!!
It’s Prince William!!! In the light blue shirt! I was super pleased with my success in (a) accidentally seeing royalty at Buckingham Palace within five minutes of arriving, and (b) getting to see German youths get all verklemmt over British royalty. A win win.
These are the gates, by the way. A serious coat of arms.
And this is the Queen Victoria memorial, being the true mother of her people and so on. That sturdy man with the lion is one of England’s true hardy stock, I think.
Here is Victoria herself…
The grandmother of Europe!
Then Katherine and I met up again in Wimbledon and had dinner at a “village pub,” if Wimbledon counts as a village — why not!
Hello, head of random guy. I had, oh gosh, pie with meat? Now I completely forget. And I forgot to take a picture, sorry Courtney!
SO ENDS PART ONE.