August 23, 2017 London: A Magical Mystery Tour


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.

It was a fine day in London.

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