I've been meaning to post some photos of our stop in London for a while. Here's some quick pics and highlights of our last port of call on the way home, in no particular time and date order.
New Zealand War Memorial - Hyde Park
After learning a bit more about the New Zealand War Memorial on the way over, I was really looking forward to our visit to Hyde Park to see the monument on the return visit.
There were a few other visitors the day we went, was trying to spot the ex-pats, but no joy. Kiwis have left their mark there though and there were some wreaths laid to pay tribute to New Zealanders who have lost their lives in battle along side their British counterparts.
Walks around London
It was great to be able to stay with Fiona, a friend from back home, who now lives in London working at the Houses of Parliament. One day we walked together around the older parts of the city, including a tour around parts of the square mile to see remnants of the old walls of London and the monument where the Great Fire of London apparently started in a bakery.
One morning we went to the Columbia Road flower market, with stunning flower stalls and quaint shops lining the road. The marketeers sing out as you walk by "three bunches a fiva" and "cheap enough to give to give to someone you don't even like". They banter across the road to each other - "hey bryan, I got blisters bryan, from takin' all the monee" - hilarious. I guess you had to be there ...but I just loved the cockney accent.
One of the highlights was a visit to the Churchill Museum which is located underneath the city streets, within the bunker where Churchill and his war cabinet met during World War 2. It was from the relative safety of the bunker that Churchill and his cabinet slept, ate, plotted and communicated with Stalin and Hoover. It was also where Churchill's regular radio broadcasts to the people of Britain were recorded. Everything has been left as it was the day the war ended in 1945. It's just quite remarkable and the museum attached to the old bunker highlights Churchill's life and career both before and after his stints as Prime Minister and as a great war time leader.
What I found most fascinating was the maps they had on the walls to monitor the progress of the war. The front line and other key boundaries were marked out with different coloured wool and drawing pins - red wool for the front line.
They used to keep score by counting the losses each side had suffered on a small blackboard and its still sitting there with the last scores entered on the board the day Germany surrendered.
We missed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace because they only parade and change guard every other day of the week in winter time. It seems its more about the amount of tourist demand than the issue of guards having to stand out in the cold, and obviously has nothing to do with whether the Queen is in residence or not. It kind of takes the enchantment out of it all, but when you've grown up with AA Milne's classic "They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace, Christopher Robin went down with Alice..." it's hard not to get just a little bit excited about being there, even though all you can do is stand outside the gates and wonder what's going on inside - but not for very long - places to go, more sites to see.
The Globe Theatre
Glynn and I really enjoyed the tour of the new Globe Theatre which has been completely re-built exactly how it would have been in Shakespeare's time. It has a great museum and we took the guided tour which was well worth it. See a photo below of Fiona and Glynn outside the Globe.
There's a huge amount of audience participation required during plays held here because the stage is so small, and those on the theatre floor were often and still are called upon to be in the crowd scenes. I can't wait to come back one day and see Julius Caesar, so when Mark Antony asks the Romans whether they want to see Caesar's will I can yell "show us the will, show us the will" - fun!
Tower of London
The Tower of London feels like the heart of English history. From the museum displays in the old white castle to the surrounding towers where Elizabeth 1 was once held amongst many others, including most wives of Henry VIII.
We lined up to see the crown jewels and got to see guards marching (tick), and the famous black ravens. Legend has it if they leave the tower the Queen's realm will fall into the hands of its enemies.
Arriving early enough we caught the first guided tour of the day with one of the famous Beefeaters who live on the grounds and are charged with protecting the crown jewels and defending the Tower itself. They are called Beefeaters because they were once fattened up to make sure they looked like they could defend the Tower, and one of the kings once used them to test out the meat on his plate because he was scared of being poisoned.
These people were paranoid about loosing their reign and being cheated on by their spouses so, many died at the Tower including Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives who was beheaded in the courtyard and buried at the Royal Chapel in the Tower grounds. Legend has it that Anne was born with six fingers and was given as one reason she was often seen as a heretical figure or a witch. She was apparently so despised by the King that in the end she was buried in an unmarked grave in the Royal Chapel in quick lime. The Beefeater tour took us into the chapel and explained that when Queen Victoria had all the graves excavated for identification Anne's remains were found with one hand indeed having an extra digit. Her grave in the chapel is now marked, and her life story quite a read. While the royal family still attract a lot of attention today, I guess England must be thankful there's a bit more stability and reason nowadays than during Henry's reign.
Some other highlights were a visit to the Tate Modern, with a large scale interactive exhibition of a tube that you can ride down on a sack, although Glynn, Fi and I were all keen as mustard it was fully booked for the day. A walk over the Millenium Bridge to the other side of the Thames to see St Paul's Cathedral. No photos but a great visit out to Greenwich Museum and the international dateline. A self-guided tour of Westminster Abbey and a peek at the Tower Bridge from a vantage point inside the Tower of London.
Guided tour of the Houses of Parliament
We were lucky enough to get a personal tour courtesy of Fi, through the House of Commons, House of Lords and Westminster Palace. Fi's been working as a Clerk of a select committee of Parliament, and when required sometimes assists counting the votes when the House sits in the evenings. Over time Fi's built up an impressive knowledge of the history of the place. We were one of the first kiwi contingents to experience the McLean tour and I can recommend it if you are heading over to London - one not to be missed. No photos of the inside allowed unfortunately, but the House of Lords is just stunning.
It was really nice to spend time with Fiona and her man, Patrick. We had lunch together on Sunday at a small italian restaurant in Covent Garden and then on our last night we shared drinks at a traditional old english pub called the Holly Bush Inn in Hampstead. Glynn and I stayed on for dinner at the pub and he finally accomplished one of his missions while in London to try three different types of warm English ales. It was a great way to spend our last night in London and effectively the last night of our great Christmas holiday in the northern hemisphere - how fitting that it be in a pub.
Thanks to Fiona for having us stay and for all the guided tours and letting us borrow her A-Z of London. What a massive city and like our trip to Paris, left with a long list of all the places to see next time.