Wednesday, June 8, 2016

London Part 1 -- Walks About Town

We arrived at JFK Airport for our flight to London and received first bad news, then much better.  The bad news was that the second leg of our flight to Gatwick, after a stop in Reykjavik, was overbooked since they had switched to a smaller plane than usual.  However, our agent pleasantly continued, they had moved us to a non-stop flight on British Air.  It left an hour later and arrived an hour earlier, plus it came with free supper including gratis beer or wine.  Never enjoyed being bumped from a flight more!

We had rented a flat in the Pimlico neighborhood through Airbnb.  It worked out very well, indeed.  It was in an apartment complex, or as the Brits say a "housing estate," that is actually quite famous.  Part of Pimlico looks as it has for a very long time, with block after block of these attractive and almost identical homes.  But the section of the neighborhood where we were is just across the river from the Battersea power station, which the Nazis bombed repeatedly in WWII.  They were as inaccurate as the Brits and Yanks, so this part of Pimlico was devastated.  In the late 40s through the early 60s it was rebuilt as Churchill Gardens, and it was in fact larger and better built than any other post-war housing development in London, for which there were many thanks to the Blitz.  If you look closely at the upper left corner of the picture above, you can see Louise in her blue blouse on the back porch of our unit, and the Thames of course just to the right of the building.  Below are other photos of the area, plus a telephoto of three of the towers of the Houses of Parliament from our front deck.  That's Big Ben on the left and, to the right, the London Eye Ferris
wheel which sits just across the Thames from Parliament.

Our flat was conveniently located, less than a mile from Big Ben and from Buckingham Palace, and it was to the latter we first headed.  We were lucky to arrive during the colorful changing of the guards, some of whom were armed with flags or musical instruments, others with rather more than that.

The music continued as we walked about town.  We heard some haunting sonorities coming up from an Underground Station, and descended to find this armed forces band playing Big Band music of the '30s as part of a recruiting campaign. 

In Soho we encountered this chap performing on a traffic cone.  The timbre was somewhere between a kazoo and a bass trombone, and he was actually quite good at it.

My Fair Lady - Covent GardenThen we entered Covent Garden, where Henry Higgins "discovered" Eliza Doolittle.  Today you're more likely to encounter Indian food or high end fashions.  Downstairs was a sort of food court where a would-be Peter Potter had set up a boom box with the musical accompaniment to opera arias, and supplied the baritone part.  As busking goes, he was pretty classy.

The weather stayed dry almost the entire week, so we ended up doing more walking and less museum-visiting than we had anticipated.  However there were many things to photograph at those museums, so we'll save that for our next blog entry, 'London - Part 2.'  One of our walks went through Green Park and this memorial to the British Bomber Command in WWII, which lost 55,000 of the 125,000 airmen who participated during the war!  The centerpiece is this statute showing the typical crew of a single plane.  Across the street in Hyde Park we failed to see any speakers at Speakers Corner, but Louise did attempt a conversation with some of the avian residents.

We went by many sights that were near and dear to us from the news or, in the case of Selfridge's, from the many BBC and ITV programs we've followed on PBS.  The inside of Selfridge's looked much like Macy's, Nordstrom's or Marshall Fields, but with much pricier tags on the items.  Harrod's however was truly different, particularly in the women's fashion section.

Some other sights:  Trafalgar Square, first looking north toward Lord Nelson with the National Gallery (a fantastic art museum we'll say much about in our next blog entry), then from the National Gallery steps toward Nelson and Big Ben.

Then there's the wee little glimpse you can get of #10 Downing Street and, a block away, Big Ben.  We skipped photographing a few other gothic towers on the Houses of Parliament, but did catch the far other end, with Richard the Lionhearted sitting on his horse next to Parliament.  An odd juxtaposition, actually, since there was no such thing as Parliament in R the L's time.

Another day we took a stroll through Belgravia and stumbled upon some interesting historical markers.  The one Louise is standing in front of identifies it as the home of Neville Chamberlain for a number of years before he moved to 10 Downing Street.  Both it and the house Winston Churchill lived in for some years were basically clones of all their immediate neighbors.  Great country houses like "Downton Abbey" were certainly individualistic, but not London homes of the high and mighty, at least the ones we encountered.

We'll close with a tad bit more pageantry, which is hard to miss in central London.  We never actually went looking for it, it just found us.  The theme this time is horses, with the changing of the Horse Guards and yet another random parade of horsemen next to St. James Park.

Our next entry will take you along on a visit to a few art and history museums, then it's on the road for our bike trip to Oxford and Cambridge, hopefully on roads less busy than this one a block from our Pimlico flat.


Unknown said...

Took us right back to London! What a place! Enjoyed the photos and the commentary a lot.

Sciencehippie said...

Really great blog Dad! Can't wait to see you in the Netherlands in just one week!