It was our last real day in London. It was the last real day of our holidays. The sun was peaking through clouds in some places. You would still not call it a sunny day, but it was better than yesterday.
Our guidebook said that cruising down the Thames was one of the most interesting ways to experience London. We decided to accept that advice. We also got advice from our Monogram guide on how to do exactly that. He suggested we should take a boat that we could get onto just outside our hotel. We were one block away from the river, so we took that advice as well. As a result we hopped on to the Thames Clipper
The Thames River has been the main artery for London since about the time the Romans invaded. The river is jam packed with historical sites and the wonderful reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. Added to that there are numerous famous bridges, each with its own stories.
The most popular and best served area for boats is between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge. That is exactly where we sailed. On the way we tried to sign up for a ride on the London Eye but it was all booked up. That was a shame for we heard the view from there was wonderful. Next time.
We hopped on the boat watched the river, building along the bank, and most important, the people. Until World War II the north side of the river was the side of wealth and the south side belonged to the lower classes. After the war, the festival of Britain in 1951 began the resurgence of the south bank, which now has some of the most interesting modern buildings.
The south side had some fine looking pubs, County Hall, Tate Modern, the Globe theatre, and a stunning new City Hall. The north side has the Parliament Buildings, The Ministry of Defence, Somerset House, Temple and Inns of Court, Fishmongers Hall, Custom House and the world famous Tower of London near the Tower Bridge.
The Thames River looked murky, but it is clean. 100 species of fish have returned to the river since it was cleaned up. In fact, salmon have returned to the Thames and they are picky fish that only come to clean water. That is a remarkable cleanup considering how polluted the river was before. A whale even came up the river and was beached. The hearts of many children were broken when that happened. Even dolphins have even been spotted in the river.
We disembarked the Clipper near the Tower of London. It is not really a tower at all. The Tower of London was deeply feared for most of its 900-year history. William the Conqueror built it. People who committed treason or threatened the crown were held and often tortured in its dank dungeons. A few lived in luxury in the Tower, but most were abject prisoners. The crown jewels are housed in the Jewel House of the Tower of London. The largest diamond there is 530.2 carats (106 g.). Nearby was a sign that extolled the days when Kings and queens kept lions at that spot. The royal beasts roared at people entering the tower. We did not spot any such beasts.
We also took a number of photos of the Tower Bridge. This bridge was built in 1894. It is a flamboyant bridge with a roadway that can be raised. When the bridge is raised it is 135 ft. (40 m.) high. It has pinnacled towers with a linking catwalk. It is a sensational bridge. Apparently the American who bought the London Bridge and moved it to Arizona, thought he was buying this much more spectacular Tower Bridge.
After a brief visit to this area we found a restaurant/bar for dinner. The Waiter mistook us for Americans and we strongly rebuked him for his mistake. We enjoyed a gourmet burger because it was Burger Day. I enjoyed a burger with a Northcote beer.
After that we took a leisurely walk along the north shore of the Thames. We crossed the Millennium Bridge and caught the boat back to near our hotel.
For supper we returned to the Red Lion because we heard it was Churchill’s favorite. Not really. We were getting lazy. Tired and ready for the end. I again had fish n’ chips sans crushed peas. Chris had steak and Stilton pie. A double Jameson was enjoyed as well. The meal was completed by banoffi pie.
Today we went on a city tour of London. I won’t try to describe everything we saw; just a few highlights. Our guide was Carlotta a fiery English commentator with a sharp tongue and liberal with her opinions. We enjoyed that. We did not get many stops to take photographs.
London is a fascinating city. All museums in the city can be entered without charge. Now we have found civilization! Sadly, we visited none of them. Next time for sure! On the other hand, London contains more billionaires living in it than any other city in the world. So it cannot possibly be the home of civilization. I will have to look elsewhere.
This was the Tower Bridge. The American who bought London Bridge and moved it to Arizona, mistakenly thought he was buying this bridge, which is a lot more interesting than the one he bought. Caveat Emptor.
There is of course a lot of history here. German bombing in World War II destroyed 60% of London. In particular 80% of the old part was destroyed.
The Parliament Buildings and Big Ben are seen on every city tour. The Victoria Tower on the left end (when facing from the river side as in my photo) contains 1.5 million acts of Parliament enacted since 1497. Maybe the neoliberals have a point about big government. That is an awful lot of laws. At least they have provided employment for armies of barristers and solicitors. There is only one part of the old building (the original Palace of Westminster) that was built in 1097. This is Westminster Hall. So it is nearly 1,000 years old. Its roof is much younger. It was built in the 14th century.
Big Ben is the most famous site of London together with the Parliament Buildings. The day before we got here Big Ben’s clock was shut down and the structure was already being covered for renovations.
We also drove by Westminster Abbey where Prince William and Kate were married. It is a grand church that took 500 years to be constructed. This is the final resting place (or as some believe the second last resting place) of the monarchs of England. It has been the setting for coronations and other pageants. Again we did not go inside. Again I am disappointed in myself. We should have gone inside.
We also drove by Buckingham Palace. This is both the office and home to the British monarch. Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Princess Anne, and the Duke of York live in the building with 50 staff residing there. It is also used for some ceremonial functions such as banquets for heads of state. No one invited us to dine.
Next we passed Pall Mall (pronounced pal mall) a dignified street filled with men’s clubs that were created to give men refuge from the scurrilous attacks of women. Apparently the interiors are well appointed but peasants like us need not apply. Of course only members and their guest are permitted to dine. Some of these clubs have a 25-year waiting list. Many rich people want to line up to become card-carrying snobs. It is sad that they have nothing better to do with their time and money. Like everywhere else, standards though have been slipping. Some of the clubs even accept women now.
Next we saw Piccadilly Circus. This is a circle (hence the name). It is actually quite small. According to Carlotta, “Where? There. Gone.” Nowadays it consists mainly of commercial shops, so really is nothing special. The circus has London’s gaudiest displays of neon. Trump would probably like it.
We finally stopped at the grand St. Paul’s Cathedral. After the Great Fire of London in 1666 the old wooden church that had been built in 604 was left in ruins. John Donne’s memorial, built in 1631, was the only sculpture that survived that fire. The church was rebuilt on the same site.
One of the most spectacular features of the Cathedral is the dome that weighs 64,000 tons yet is held high and secure by the genius of architecture. It is actually 3 domes on top of each other. The domes are supported by enormous flying buttresses. The dome is the second largest in the world after St. Peters in Rome. We stood underneath the Dome and were stunned it was so beautiful. The church does not contain pews or chairs. Parishioners are expected to stand for the services. This is worse than Roman Catholic churches with their constant up and downs. The church still has 4 services a day.
There are crypts of many famous people and even some commoners in the basement. Sir Christopher Wren, the architect o the Cathedral, has a very simple crypt i the basement . He said, “if you want to see a memorial to me, look around you.” This is a people’s church. It is a home to commoners and not just nobility.
The church was bombed 78 times in World War II. 27 bombs in one night alone. Some of the bombs failed to explode. So much for German competence! 4 bombs did destroy the high altar and none of the walls were damaged and most importantly, the Dome did not collapse. Pretty good English engineering! The men and women of Saint Paul’s–all volunteers–heroically saved the church from fires.
Like all magnificent cathedrals St. Paul’s is difficult to clean. The cleaning job takes 11 years. That is about as long as my basement man cave. They can’t use sand blasting or detergent either. Only steam will clean and protect the building. If you want to keep a church for a thousand years you have to be careful. Our visit to the Cathedral alone was worth the city tour. At least we got to see one of London’s magnificent cathedrals from the inside.
After we left the wonderful Cathedral we drove by the Bank of England and Lloyds of London. The other religion of London is money.
We drove across the Millennium Bridge. Carlotta informed us that the bridge used to wobble because engineers should design bridges not architects. It cost £8 million to repair. Ouch. That is worse than the Bethesda Hospital debacle. At least I think it is worse. The architect apparently is now known as Lord Wobbly.
One thing we noticed on our drive through town is that London has a lot of pubs. Not that this is a bad thing. Carlotta told us London has 7,000 pubs. Some of them really looked interesting too. I wish I had had time to try more of them. There just was not enough time to see all the pubs or cathedrals.
We drove by a ritzy area where Putin had bought some property for $14 million. Apparently he never uses it, just his friends and family. Putin was a career military man before he became a politician. I guess that work pays well in Russia.
After the Cathedral we got back on the bus and continued our magical mystery tour of London. We drove by Trafalgar Square London’s most important site for public meetings. It was here that the crowds entered cheering wildly when World War I was declared. Can you imagine wild cheering for the start of a war? Many thought the soldiers would be home by Christmas. In fact the soldiers had a motto, ‘Home or homo’ by Christmas.
We drove by the famous Ritz Hotel that was named after the Swiss hotelier César Ritz who was the inspiration for that wonderful expression ritzy. I never knew where it came from. The chateau style building was designed to be fake news. In other words the owners wanted to give people the false feeling that they were in one of the grand hotels of Paris where world fashion leaders would ensconce themselves. Even the rich like to pretend they are grander than they really are. Don’t come here to dine unless you are properly attired. No straw hats and fading cords for the men. Apparently it takes 3-6 months to get a reservation for afternoon high tea with scones.
We drove rapidly by Hyde Park for fear we might hear one of the radical opining. Of course they are only allowed there one day per week and this was not it. So they have to bang away incessantly and annoyingly on their blogs instead. Bloggers don’t have to listen to hecklers but they do have to read.
We got a passing look (that was enough) of Harrods founded in 1849. Apparently Prince Charles buys cat food there. Some cats insist on the best. Harrods, it was said, could supply darn near anything from a packet of pins to an elephant.
The last rich area we got a glimpse of was Chelsea. This used to be a bohemian area filled with writers, artists, and other rebels. As so often happens with such areas, eventually the rich realize this is a cool area. Then they become an invasive species driving out the poor locals who can no longer afford to live there. Then it becomes a dead zone with no life, only shopping. That is what has happened here.
After our tour we had dinner at Luccina restaurant near our hotel. Again our Monogram guide recommended it. Eating Italian in London that makes sense right? As soon as we walked in we thought we had made a disastrous mistake. It was too warm inside and it was too cool outside. Unlike Goldilocks we did not find a place that was just right. The red wine was not room temperature; it was soup warm. An ice bucket helped to cool it, but other patrons looked down their long noses at us. A small price to pay we thought. Chris’s meal of penne conpollo came without the promised garlic sauce. There might have been a dribble of sauce. What self-respecting Italian waiter would serve this? Chris asked for “extra” sauce and it was delivered without fuss so after that the meal improved. We really believed it was the only sauce. How can a chef forget the sauce? I enjoyed spaghetti Bolognese. After enough wine we cheered up dramatically. We finished our meal with tiramisus and coffee.
I left Chris at the hotel and ventured out with my camera gear and a tripod to photograph the Parliament buildings and city skyline across the river Thames. I wanted to photograph the city at night As Joni Mitchell sang, “Night in the city looks pretty to me.” I had a great time and it made me feel that dragging the tripod along was worth it. My travelling companion was not so convinced.
I crossed Westminster Bridge with its massive barriers against truck terrorists. Later that night we watched the television news about truck terrorism in Spain. That is what modern life is all about. We could stay home. It is fairly safe in Steinbach, provided you avoid the radicals at Main Street Bread & Butter, but it is not quite as interesting. Sometimes we have to take some chances or life can get pretty insular and dull.
The people of London, like the people of Paris, are certainly resilient. I remember watching a television comedy news show, John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight where he showed a Brit fleeing his bar during the terrorist bombing on Westminster bridge, but he was not scared enough to leave his pint of beer behind. He was shown running down the street carrying his glass. The bridge tonight was jammed with people. No one was scared. People taking photos; enjoying life. The terrorists can’t scare us. Only Trump can scare us.
Today we began the last leg of our journey. Again we were traveling by train. We began by hurrying up so that we could wait. Sarah Jane our Monogram rep woke us up to get our luggage down early so it could be loaded onto the car for our drive to the train station. At the station we stood and waited with our luggage for the cart to take it to the train. Meanwhile an extraordinarily loud group of workers banged their tools against anything that would make a loud noise. As they did so, a cart came by with the word “STILL” emblazoned on it in hopeless irony. There was nothing still here except our thoughts that could not be heard. It all seemed pointless, unless the point was to annoy us and disturb us from our tranquil journey.
That was soon followed by something even more disturbing. As we went to line up for our train on the 2nd floor of train station the gate was closed. In fact, the entire floor was closed and we had to leave. We had not idea why or where we should go. Thankfully, Sarah Jane was still with us. Monogram believed in accompanying its babies right to the end and we were grateful for that. She led us to another place on the main floor. Sarah talked to an official who explained that there was a bomb scare and the entire 2nd floor had been evacuated. There was no one there other than the bomb squad. There had been a terrorist threat. Someone had left an unattended bag in the station. “It could be a bomb”, we were told.
The weird thing though was that we did not leave the train station. We were immediately underneath the 2nd floor. If there was a serious explosion would the building not collapse on us? I nervously looked at the entrance/exit to the station. There I noticed the Police Car I had not noticed before. How long would it take me to dash to the outside? How long would it take Chris? Neither of us were up for an impressive 100 yard dash. Adrenalin would like improve our chances but I doubted not enough to make a significant difference. Yet no one moved. We all stood there underneath the danger. Were we too stupid to be afraid of terrorists? This was Europe. There had been recent occasions where fear was justified. No one moved outside. None wanted to leave their place in line. We heard no announcements. Was this folly on steroids? All I know is we survived. After about an hour of standing there waiting for doom or progress, we were allowed to move on. The brave bomb squad had neutralized the threat. I hoped they were brave, and not as stupid as us.
Our trip to London on the train was interesting. To begin with I learned an important lesson in economics and politics. That is that things are better for the rich. This time we road 2nd class. This was not as comfortable as the 1st class trip from Amsterdam to Paris. It definitely pays to be 1st class. We did not know why we had been relegated to 2nd class. Were we again being punished as we had been last night? What bad things had we done?
As a result of our diminution we sat in a seat facing another couple our knees knocking against each other. Well, at least my knees knocked against the woman from Ohio facing me. I had no leg room at all. Chris was more fortunate. Sometimes it pays to be short. This was one of those times. The train ride was not entirely unpleasant. It was still much more luxurious than air travel. I tried my best not to grumble.
We crossed the English Channel as the English call it through the darkness of the Chunnel. That was interesting. When we hit English soil we saw the light. This was the land of civilization. So I thought. On this trip 2 books had guided me. One was Sir Kenneth Clark’s magisterial Civilisation. The other was Eric Hobsbawm’s magnificent The Age of Capital. These books had added immeasurably to my journey, as good books always do.
We arrived in London where once again a Monogram babysitter met us to lead us to a car that took us to our hotel the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge Hotel right beside that famous hotel. Although its location was its best feature, the hotel was extremely luxurious. How much did we pay for this? We did not know. After being second-class citizens it was nice to be elevated to 1st class. We can always dream can’t we? It was a very luxurious suite. This was no typically small European hotel room. It had a separate room with a couch and huge television set. The bedroom had a smaller set. All of the décor was modern extreme. Usually I don’t like that, but today I did. We felt like luxury to boost our flattened egos.
The lighting system was much too complicated for us to figure out how to use, so we largely acquiesced with what we got when we switched it on. We figured out how to do that only after a tedious trial and error process. There was a convenient chair with side table for reading that I appreciated. We lounged and relaxed for an hour or two before we did anything that might tax our brains or bodies.
Eventually we went out to eat. To do that, we walked cross the famous Westminster Bridge right across the street from our hotel. That bridge had very recently been the site of a terrorist attack exactly 5 months earlier on March 22, 2017. The attacker was a 22-year-old Briton Khalid Masood who moved down the pedestrians who were idly walking on the bridge injuring more than 50 people and killing 4 of those. After he left the car that had crashed into near by New Palace Yard where he fatally attacked an unarmed police officer and shot an armed police officer and died at the scene.
This was treated as a case of Islamic terrorism. Trump would be proud of this refusal to be what he considered politically correct. It seemed that Masood had sent a final text message that he was waging jihad in revenge for western actions in the Middle East. Some claimed he had been a member of ISIS, but the British police have found no link to any terrorist organization. It really appeared that he was a home-grown British terrorist. Every country now has these in this globalized world. Every country has too many of these. There were signs of anti-terrorism everywhere. The bridge now had massive iron and steel barriers to prevent any more automobile terrorism. More construction was on-going. We felt completely safe on the bridge. When we got off no so much.
The bridge was crawling with tourists. This would have been easy pickings for a terrorist. We were surprised “only” 50 had been injured. It was even more crowded than Paris.
We really did very little sight seeing today. Our made goal was dinner. Our Monogram guide, Augustine, had recommended a nearby restaurant that we enjoyed. She said it had been Churchill’s favorite restaurant. That was good enough for us, even though it looked modest. It was called the Red Lion. Later we learned many politicians frequently the place because it was very close to Parliament. Thankfully none were in attendance today. We had the place more or less to ourselves.
When we got back I got sick. I thought it was the result of a chocolate bar I had half-eaten. Chris refused to try an experiment to determine if that was the cause. She refused to eat what was left. So the mystery remains. I was hoping I would feel better before our lengthy flight home.