Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?

On Thursday, for the second time since we have been in England, we boarded a train at Cheshunt headed for Liverpool Street Station in London. This time we weren’t moving house to Slough for an indeterminate period of time, we were going into the city to look around. Consequently, we weren’t struggling with luggage, in the middle of peak hour, having been in England only 3 days, travelling to stay with someone that Meg, Brock and Quinn had never met, so it was much more relaxing.

We arrived at Liverpool Street and decided to walk down toward the Thames and the Tower of London. Having all played Monopoly it was fascinating to see Fenchurch Street Station, Whitechapel, Northumberland and, indeed, Liverpool Street Station. We also saw a red Double Decker bus heading between Liverpool Street and Kings Cross Station. Shops and areas referred to in films, television shows, music and books. “The celebrated Mr. K. performs his feat on Saturday at Bishopsgate” sang the Beatles, all we did was walk through the area. Monica Ali wrote a novel called ‘Brick Lane’ which was nominated for the Booker Prize, we walked just by.

Getting down to the Tower of London was a cause of confusion for all of us. Wayne had been there before, 25 years ago as part of a bus tour. Meg had seen the place on television but never in real life. Brock and Quinn had no idea what we were looking at. For both Wayne and Meg the Tower of London just wasn’t quite what they expected. Both expected that it would be darker somehow, but the stones in the building are quite light in colour. Meg also felt that it would be smaller than it actually was. What was surprising was seeing the remnants of the wall, of which the Tower of London used to be a major part, which once surrounded the city. Of course, London was much smaller back then but it was exciting to see that many of these things are being preserved. What was not surprising was that getting in to see the inside of the Tower and the Crown Jewels which are kept there was extremely expensive.

We walked across Tower Bridge to South Bank and did the Queen’s Walk past the HMS Belfast down to London Bridge. It was fabulous to be able to see both the Tower and Tower Bridge in the one vista. We talked about the various people who had died within the Tower, how their heads had been displayed on spikes at Traitor’s Gate, and how the Bridge still lifts up when any large ships, such as HMS Belfast, pass beneath it. We tried not to sing ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ as we went over the bridge, perhaps the fact that the current bridge is not the original, helped with this. A bridge has existed over the site since the Romans built a wooden pontoon bridge around 50AD. Other succeeding bridges have included the one which was destroyed by the London Tornado of 1091. Perhaps the most famous was the one designed by John Rennie and completed over the period between 1824 and 1831. This bridge was sold to an American, Robert P McCulloch for 2,460,000 US Dollars and was disassembled, transported to Arizona and then reassembled. It was rumoured that he had thought he was getting the more picturesque Tower Bridge, however, McCulloch denies that (but of course he would, wouldn’t he?). The present bridge was built to replace that one, which is apparently Arizona’s second biggest attraction after the Grand Canyon.

At this point, because the London Monument was wrapped in scaffolding and cloth, we ducked down into Monument Underground Station and took the tube to South Kensington which brought us out right next to the Museum of Natural History. The boys were initially a little bit non-plussed about going to a Museum, not having had great experiences in the past, but once inside they enjoyed it tremendously. Dinosaur skeletons and animatronic models were our first stop, followed by a section on mammals which had exhibits of almost every type of mammal you could image. By the time we finished going around the section on humans we had been there for 2 and a half hours and needed some lunch. Planning to definitely come back and see more, we boarded another red double decker bus up the road to Hyde Park Corner (with a very short detour, as we jumped off to take Meg into Harrod’s and then jumped on another one when we came out).

Hyde Park Corner is the site of the Wellington Arch, so called because it used to have a statue of Lord Wellington on top. This statue was originally placed there as a tribute to Wellington on a trial basis in 1846. It provoked much controversy because it was so large and Sir Robert Peel’s government voted to repeal permission to place the statue there. Wellington at this point let it be known that removing the statue would be such an insult that he would resign all of his royal commissions. In 1883 the arch was moved a short distance to make room for more traffic. During the move the statue was removed and is now on a plinth not far away, it has been replaced by a statue called ‘the Quadriga’, a woman riding a chariot with a young man driving four horses which took it’s place in January 1912. You can climb to the top of the arch, it has been preserved and opened by English Heritage, and the views from the top are fabulous.

While we were inside the arch one of the attendants mentioned that Australia’s Prime Minister had been there only a couple of hours earlier. He had been to place a wreath at the Anzac Memorial, which you can see in our photograph of the memorial taken from the Arch. We were somewhat disappointed to miss him, Meg had wanted to have a few words about some issues we have been having with Centrelink for the last few months but c’est la vie. Instead we walked down into Green Park, opposite the back gardens of Buckingham Palace, where we sat and watched squirrels playing and the Metropolitan Police racing up and down the road booking motorists. It made for a very exciting lunch.

Once we had finished eating we walked down to the beautiful Canada gates and the front entrance to Buckingham Palace. This is the image that many people have of London and it was crowded, both with tourists and members of the media filming stories with the Palace in the background. Quinn was disappointed in his desire to throw eggs at the palace and Meg in her desire to have the Queen invite her in for lunch, but that didn’t detract from the views. Even the Queen Victoria monument in the centre of the road is majestic and impressive. If it were not for the fact that our train tickets prevented us from travelling back home between 5pm and 6:15pm we would have stayed longer and loitered around St James Park, St James Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Instead, we glanced at them as we jumped back on to the Underground headed for Liverpool Street Station once more.

As it transpired, we made it out of Liverpool Street Underground up onto the platform for the One Rail Network train to Stanstead Airport with, maybe, thirty seconds to spare. While there was a short wait before the train departed back to Cheshunt, we did manage to get seats, rest our feet, and plan what we would most like to do when we next get back to London. There is so much more to see in London, even in the places where we did go, we could spend a month there and still not see everything. Hopefully it will not be too much longer before we get the opportunity to check out more of the city.

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