Sunday, February 21, 2016

Like I Never Left (London 2016, Part 3)

Eleven years.

That's how long it had been since my last visit to London. Okay, really more like ten-and-a-half, but still, a very long time. 

Looking at maps before I left, I could still picture in my mind the things I would see, but of course, London has changed in the time I've been away (I'm still eyeballing the Shard with some mistrust). I wondered what it would be like to wander around some of my old haunts, and whether I'd still love it as I used to.

Spoiler alert: I did. I do.

I woke up before my alarm clock--at something like 6:00 in the morning, which was good and bad. Good because it gave me a lot of time to wander around London, bad because, well, jet lag. But when do I let jet lag stop me?

I started with a Marks and Spencer Breakfast of Champions
(only one scone, saved the rest for other days).
London starts to wake as I approach Bayswater Tube Station.

Waiting for the Circle Line.

I took the Tube to Westminster Station, because it is there I could pay homage to my favorite London icon.

Hello, Big Ben! 
It was early, so nothing was open, but I had a wander around by the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, before walking across Westminster Bridge to the South Bank.

Westminster Abbey

Parliament from the bridge.

Looking West as I cross Westminster Bridge.

Most people make an immediate left at the end of the
bridge...but if you make a right, you get this picture.
It was a little bit overcast, but I could see occasional signs that the sun was trying to push its way through. I walked on along the South Bank, because I haven't spent a great amount of time there in the past.
Artsy-fartsy view of Ben. I was waiting for the hour to come
so I could take a video of him chiming.

Looking across at the North side of the river. 

I found this graffiti haven along the South Bank and had a look around. 

The current prime minister has his share of non-fans.

Outside the National Theater, a statue of Laurence Olivier.
Come around a bend--the Thames is very twisty--and there's
the dome of St. Paul's. 

St. Paul's Cathedral is something like 600+ years old. The buildings to the
right are all under the age of 15. 

A little side street--cuter in person. 

I wandered away from the river walk for a bit in search of WiFi, a loo, and a mid-morning snack. I found all three at a Starbucks, where I was delighted to find that you get tea in a proper mug (not paper) and the snacks are very British. 

Apparently this means "Don't applaud, just throw money."

My first glimpse of the Shard. I'm just not sure about this
one but I suppose it's here to stay.
Bacon Butty (yes) at Starbuck's, and yes, I put the HP Sauce on
it. Delicious.

Refreshed, I returned to the river, doubling back a tiny bit to get a glimpse of the Globe Theater. The original Globe--where many Shakespeare works saw their debut--burned down long ago, but a replica has been built near the original site and is used as a working theater and museum to this day. I got to play around on the stage in 1999, but this time I decided to skip the tour.

St. Paul's is almost directly across from the Globe.

The sun was starting to make more of an appearance.

Next to the Globe, a couple of charming little buildings.

Selfie with St. Paul's (hard to see, but it's there).
 Strange as it sounds, I had never walked across the Millennium foot bridge, and as it provided a direct route to St. Paul's, I took it today.

So many new buildings.

It's a well-used bridge.

Looking East--way off you can see Tower Bridge.

The last time I went inside St. Paul's was 1999, and it was on my wish list for this trip. Photography is not allowed inside, but trust me, it is spectacular. During the German blitzkrieg of World War Two, Winston Churchill famously said, "St. Paul's must be saved at all costs." While much of the surrounding area was decimated by German bombs, St. Paul's and it's famous--and glorious--dome survived, thanks to firefighters and a dedicated group of people called St. Paul's Watch.

Near St. Paul's is a lovely bronze memorial to the fire
fighters of World War Two.

St. Paul's is the second-largest free-standing cathedral dome in the world, with the largest, of course, being St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. I've seen both, and both are incredible, but my heart is always, of course, going to lean London in these things. St. Paul's is gorgeous, inside and out.

The front.
 I did a cursory tour of the ground floor (the best part is standing right in the middle under the dome and looking up), before heading up, up, up. First to the Whispering Gallery, 257 steps up, according to the official web site. From here, you look down upon the floor of the cathedral, and according to the web site, "It gets its name from a charming quirk in its construction, which makes a whisper against its walls audible on the opposite side."

Another hundred-something steps up (for a grand total of 376), is the Stone Gallery, and I hiked up to this for the view (who needs the Shard, anyway?). It was windy up there, so I didn't stay long, but I got some great shots with both camera and iPhone.

Eleven years ago, there was only the gherkin over there.

Looking across the Millennium Foot Bridge. The Globe is just to the left in
this picture.

A close-up of the above.

Looking West, you can see the London Eye. 

A selfie for Instagram. 

Another with the iPhone.
 After the dome, I went down to the crypt to pay my respects to Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Christopher Wren. As a rule, I'm not a fan of crypts, and if you've seen one sarcophagus, you've seen them all. (Seriously.) But these dudes are important to England for various reasons, and Wren is the reason we have St. Paul's as it is, so I had a look around and then got down to the important business of going to the gift shop.

Next, I had a look around the surrounding area, including the old church yard.

It had to be done. 
Across the street from the church, I found a small sculpture which offered a really terrific shot.

By this point, it was just starting to approach lunch time, and I was feeling very smug indeed that I was making my way around London without any problems. For someone who gets lost in the grid streets of the small city she's spent most of her life near (Sacramento), I have an uncanny sense of direction in London and can almost always point the right direction to the river. And that river does not run in a straight line. 


There's so much more to Monday, but it will have to go in another post. Stay tuned!

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