Princess Visits The Queen

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
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130
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Trip End Oct 06, 2013


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Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

After getting lost in my enthusiasm for the idea of scantily clad Brazilian women dancing inhibition-free at Carnival, and then booking non-refundable hotels and a big cruise out of Rio (also non-refundable), I had to break the the news to a substantially less enthusiastic DH that a Brazilian visa was one of the hardest ones to get... putting our hard-earned cash at risk. The mandatory on-line application form was strangely complicated and required a followup appointment at an applicable Brazilian embassy - given our nonrefundable financial commitment we picked the nearest embassy with the greatest chance of success- London. And with inhospitable Tunisia motivating an early exit, we had an extra week to deal with the inexplicable gauntlet that Brazil makes potential visitors run through. The most immediate downside- Cool Britannia is Cold Britannia in January and it's our first really cold weather in nearly two years.

For DH, who until recently thought she was from English ancestry (turns out her shaky family tree has roots in the docklands of Ireland with more than a hint of nefarious criminal activity), London was that comfy pair of well worn bunny slippers after an endless series of great but pinching new shoes/countries that took some time to break in. Her passion for London was so great that, after months of a self-imposed blogger exile, she insisted on writing the blogs for the latest city to be unilaterally added to our list of potential retirement spots.


One of the more exhilarating aspects of the type of traveling we do is experiencing the surprises and unexpected twists and turns a country and its' people have to offer. Often times we don't have much time to research ahead, or last minute changes don't allow for planning. It can regularly put us out of our comfort zone but making it up as we go has been a big part of the adventure. However, traveling to a place like London smacks of familiarity, comfort, and for me, an almost giddiness of excitement as I know this city!!  I recognized so much, and in some instances I even knew what was around the corner- it's London after all! Memories are brought to life from the history books of my school days, past visits, the recent Olympics, and also as the backdrop today of some of our favorite British detective shows.  London is the heart of this country and, as it so happens, the country of my people, lol!  (editors note- DH continues to struggle with her shrouded Irish heritage!) London did not disappoint with an exhilarating fusion of tradition and free-spirited avant-garde.  No matter what street you are on, you know you are in London.  Yes, the Hanson cabs, red telephone booths, double-decker buses, uniformed bobbies, and a legion of statues help (editors note- I always found it odd that Toronto coppers recognize monumental achievements like successfully completing a coffee break by handing each other plaques and medals but the Brits might actually outdo them with honorary statues), but the architecture, the familiar street names, the countless pubs, (the city has more than 5,000), all contribute to an almost intimate feel of the place.

Vic booked us into an exceptional boutique hotel in the heart of Piccadilly Circus which was an ideal base for this unexpected extra week in London (thank you Tunisia)!

Short of the Tilly’s hats and fanny pouches, we morphed into "Timmy and Tammy Tourist" without shame.  Bundling up against the cold and damp (which meant wearing pretty much every item of beach-weather clothing we had since we hadn’t trudged through snow in almost two years), we hit the streets armed with a City street map, a guide book of the "must see" sights, a fully charged "Tube" pass, and a prepaid six day voucher for a number of the top sites that London had to offer. We walked everywhere and the good thing about the cold weather (is there anything good about cold weather??) is that it certainly kept the legendary London tourist hordes to a very manageable level.

As an observation, we did note the surprising variety of foreign languages you hear on the street and it appeared to us that most of those in the hospitality industry: waiters, waitresses, and other sales people, were not of British stock.  An extremely cosmopolitan city to be sure.

Our very own British Invasion included 10 Downing Street (tight security means you can’t get anywhere near the front door anymore), Big Ben, Parliament Buildings, The Supreme Court, The Courtauld Gallery, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, The National Portrait Gallery (thumbs down on the new Kate Middleton portrait!),  Royal Albert Hall, lunch at Marks and Sparks, The Transportation Museum, Royal Albert Hall, Buckingham Palace (editors note:  despite hanging around the front gate for hours, the Queen refused an audience with the Princess), Shakespeare's The Globe Theatre, Kensington Palace (where the new Princess also refused to meet my Princess), Thames River Cruise, and The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels (they now have a moving sidewalk to whisk you efficiently by the gaudy bobbles… and by the way, Vic really needs to step up his jewel giving game if I’m truly a Princess).

The most extraordinary building I have ever had the privilege of viewing is the phenomenal Westminster Abby which is steeped in more than a thousand years of history. Benedictine monks first came to this site in the middle of the tenth century, establishing a tradition of daily worship which continues to this day. Once you cross the threshold into this completely captivating building, you can't help but be transported back in time. The overwhelming medieval surround hosts the most amazing treasures of paintings, stained glass, and other artefacts. Westminster Abbey is also the place where some of the most significant people in the nation's history are buried or commemorated.  From Charles Darwin, to Charles Dickens, to Sir Frances Drake.  Taken as a whole the tombs and memorials comprise the most significant single collection of monumental sculpture anywhere in the United Kingdom.

No two visits to this distinguished British landmark would be the same.  Exploring the numerous enclaves, halls, side chapels and alters along with the crypts in the under building, evokes such a sense of awe, plain and simply put, the building engulfs you. Every step seemed to bring another significant piece of history to life- it took much longer than expected to weave our way through this mammoth complex.

And speaking of mammoth, one of the more oversized characters in the annals of history has to be Winston Churchill.  In my opinion, this has to be one of most charismatic and exceptional men in history. Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a British politician, and is best known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, he served as Prime Minister twice (1940–45 and 1951–55). And apparently the war effort wasn’t the only conflict he mastered:

Bessie Braddock to a tipsy Churchill: "Sir, you are drunk." 
Churchill in response: “Madam, you are ugly. In the morning, I shall be sober.”

So when we saw the Winston Churchill War Rooms and Museum we were compelled to retrace the footsteps of my portly hero. The Cabinet War Rooms provided the secret underground headquarters for the core of the British government throughout the Second World War. The fear that London would be the target of aerial bombardment had troubled the government since the First World War and in 1938 the basement of a Whitehall building was chosen as the site for the Cabinet War Rooms.

We were able to enter this very well preserved war room that sheltered Churchill and his government during the blitz. His wartime bunker was a fascinating piece of living history; an underground maze of rooms that once buzzed with round-the-clock planning and plotting, strategies and secrets. The museum housed a collection of memorabilia and snapshots of this admirable mans’ legacy- a truly captivating exhibit.

"If you are ever in (insert name of city), please look me up" is not something you say casually to Vic and DH just to be polite, because we will look you up!!  We want to send a shout out to marathon man, Elliott W, a new friend of ours we met in the Antarctica - great guy and a delightful night out in London.

We also managed to hook up with friends Fred and Una, and Michael and Valerie, dinner companions from our long-ago cruise to Hawaii. Given that Michael is the dictionary definition of 'colourful character’ we had a lot of laughs and good stories. I suspect that Fred continues to struggle with Una’s crush on Elvis but the King's songs continue to evoke fond memories of that part of our adventure.
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Comments

Tina on

I thought this was going to be boring compared to the rest of the posts. It SO wasn't! Fabulous overview of London town... but seriously... retirement??? I hope the visa came through. Rio is calling!

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