London by bus

Trip Start Jun 17, 2013
Trip End Jul 20, 2013

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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

We bought our tickets for the hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus and went exploring. It was extremely hot but a beautifully clear summer's day.  We started at Victoria Station and went passed Hyde Park and Speakers’ Corner.  Marble Arch at the junction of Oxford Street and Park Lane used to stand in front of Buckingham Palace until 1851.  Oxford Street was extremely busy with shoppers.  Trafalgar Square was full of tourists and very few pigeons!!!  Feeding the pigeons is now banned and a trained falconer is employed.  Nelson’s Column is guarded by four lion statues at the base and topped by a statue of Horatio Nelson who was the vice admiral who commanded the British Fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and lost his life (we saw the "Victory" in Portsmouth). Victory in Europe Day was held here on 8th May, 1945 to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany and to hear the formal announcement by Sir Winston Churchill that the war was over.  Amazingly, building work undertaken on the south side of the Square in 1960 revealed a number of deposits, dating from approximately 40,000 years ago, were the remains of cave lion, rhinoceros and hippopotamus were found.  The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are beautiful buildings and take your breath away - the Elizabeth Tower, in particular, which is often referred to by the name of its main bell, "Big Ben", the heaviest of the five bells it houses. The time is shown on four dials 7 metres in diameter - the hour hand is 2.7 metres long and the minute hand 4.3 metres.  The clock face is picked out as a giant rose, its petals fringed with gold. The tower rises up again in a great jet of gold to the higher roof that curves gracefully upwards to a spire with a crown and flowers and a cross. It's elegant and grand and has fairy tale qualities.  We heard it ring at 10am – deep and slow - the present bell developed a crack, which gives it a distinctive sound. It weighs 13.8 tonnes.  The Houses of Parliament were hit by bombs on fourteen separate occasions during The Blitz. The Elizabeth Tower took a hit by a small bomb or anti-aircraft shell at the eaves of the roof, suffering much damage there. All the glass on the south dial was blown out, but the hands and bells were not affected, and the Great Clock continued to keep time accurately which it has done since it entered service in 1859.  The Houses of Parliament are an emblem of parliamentary democracy and the Westminster system of government. The gothic church, Westminster Abbey, built from stone from Caen, is also here.  Since 1066, when King Harold and William the Conqueror were crowned, the coronations of English and British monarchs have been held here. Since 1100, there have been at least 16 royal weddings at the abbey.  In 1997 the funeral of Diana was held at the Abbey. We then came to Temple Bar marking the entrance to London (commercial centre) from Westminster (the political centre). Its name comes from the Temple Church which has given its name to a wider area south of Fleet Street.  I have been rereading “The De Vinci Code”, this holiday and have been amazed at the number of places (London and Paris) we have been that are mentioned including here as “The Temple” once belonged to the Knights Templar.  Next on the horizon is the round dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, a Church of England cathedral on Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the City of London, which dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604. The present church, dating from the late 17th century, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and was part of a major rebuilding program which took place in the city after the Great Fire of London.  St Paul's Cathedral occupies a significant place in the national identity of the English population. It is the central subject of much promotional material, as well as postcard images of the dome standing tall, surrounded by the smoke and fire of the Blitz.  Important services held at St Paul's include the funerals of Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill; peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars; the wedding of Charles and Diana, and the thanksgiving services for the Golden Jubilee, the 80th Birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth.   On an entirely different note, the impressive Tower of London comes into view.   This was a castle founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest.  The White Tower (also built with stone from Caen where we stayed in Normandy)  which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952 although that was not its primary purpose. Among those held and executed at the Tower was Anne Boleyn – one of the wives of Henry V111.  It too was a victim of “The Blitz”.  No visit to London is complete without visiting Buckingham Palace to visit the Queen.  It would have been nice to have seen the sign that a new royal baby had arrived – but no such luck!!! To finish off the day we had a delicious dinner with Graham's niece and family.
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