Monday, September 08, 2014

three new tour spots -- for me

"What am I going to do for 11 days in England?"

It is hard to believe I ever asked myself that question.  When Ken, Patti, and I chose a cruise to visit Normandy, I decided to fly to England for a few days before we waddled on board our ark. 

11 days, as it turned out.  I was fortunate enough to find first class air tickets from Mexico City to London using my air miles.  But what was I going to do with all of that extra time?

I had seen most of the country -- or so I thought -- during my trips there over the past forty years.  And I did not want to inconvenience my English friends by dropping in for a too-lengthy stay.  At least, too lengthy for them.

Even the idea of spending 11 days hiking from across England coast-to-coast popped up on my list.  But all of that disappeared when I asked Dr. Bob and Julian for hotel advice in Blackpool and Oxford.  They immediately responded that I should stay with each of them.

As you know, I did.  And both of them showed me parts of England I have never seen.  But then I was off to London.

It is hard not to consider oneself a traveler in this city.  It is far too large for me to imagine ever being a resident -- even if I had lived here for the past forty years.  T.S. Eliot had the same quandary.  An American head with an English heart.

Yesterday we gave in to our traveler sides.  Patti purchased tickets on the London Eye -- along with a cruise on the Thames.

In 40 years of visits, I have never seen the city from the river.  As you know from an earlier post, the Thames was (and still is) a major commercial highway for the English.  As a Roman city, it grew up on the river's banks, and it spread out from there.  Most of what we consider to be London can be seen from a boat.

The tour covered the "golden mile" (as Winston Churchill, the chief tagger of things British, named it) from the Houses of Parliament on the west to Tower Bridge on the east. 

Even though the Palace of Westminster (the official name of the houses of parliament) is only just over 150 years old, it is in sad repair.  Large pieces of the building simply give way now and then.  If left alone, it could easily look like one of those sad buildings in Havana that bear the mark of the Castros.  The Windsor hands are a bit more humane.

The place is in such disrepair that a commission report recently concluded: "If the palace were not a listed building, its owners would probably be advised to demolish and rebuild.”  That is not going to happen.  But there will be a major repair coming soon that may cause both houses of parliament (the people, not the buildings) to decamp for 5 years.

At the other end of the trip was Tower Bridge -- another of those Victorian structures that masquerades as a much older model.  It may have starred in more modern movies than Robert Downey, Jr.

Plus we were served up a special treat.  The tour guide had barely said that he had seen the bridge open only a handful of times, a tall ship approached the bridge, and up it went.  Timing and location are everything.

Our second stop was also new to me.  The London Eye.

I suspect this giant ferris wheel, built for the mis-named millennium on 1 January 2000 (even though it was a bit late), is almost as symbolic of London as the parliament clock tower -- often mistakenly-called "Big Ben").  At over 400 feet high, it is hard to miss.

I am not a big fan of ferris wheels.  For death-defying feats, they are right up there with eating tofu and listening to a congressional debate.

But this ride is not about looking death in the face and laughing.  It is about getting a first class view of new angles on London.

Take this shot.

I have seen similar views while landing at Heathrow.  But I was never quite this close to the ground for this amount of time.  I could simultaneously peer into the windows of 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.  Try doing that at the White House and the Capitol.

When we had our feet back on the ground, we decided to go over to the Imperial War Museum.  Ken was shocked that I had never visited it.  I guess I never got around to it.  My third new visit.

But it is one of his favorite London museums.  He had a personal mission there.  Once he was done, we wandered through this tribute to creating and defending the British Empire.

The hall is a veritable grandmother's closet of souvenirs -- that is, if the grandmother was a British field marshal.  The majority of the exhibits are devoted to the two world wars.

Especially, the first world war.  As we discovered at the Tower of London, Britain has geared up with style to remember the 4 years of horror between 1914 and 1918.

The museum has tenderly curated a special exhibit for the war.  And it is all there.  Soldiers dressed in parade clothes marching of to war -- with each country believing victory would be theirs in a matter of weeks.

The technology (especially, artillery and machine guns) that pinned them into trenches.  The submarines that changed the face of naval warfare.  Then the gas.  The miners.  More futile charges that finally eroded the German allies.

More than anything, the exhibit contains the sense of loss that every European nation felt.  A lost generation.  A continent in shambles just waiting for the next outburst of war.

On the whole, I was a bit disappointed with the museum.  As was Ken.  The last time he was there, the exhibits were far more comprehensive.

But I can recommend the World War One exhibit with no qualms.

In fact, I would recommend each of our three visits to anyone traveling through London.  Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the experience we had.

Next stop -- Harwich and Le Havre.


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