Tuesday, March 5, 2013

London, England

Piccadilly Circus in the West End
So I finally made it to London.  It's the capital of both England and the United Kingdom.  With +8 million people, it is home to 12.5% of the UK and it is the largest city in the EU.

Free Walking Tour Group

Liz and James came in from Bristol and we set off to see some of the city's sights.  Getting around on the Tube is quite easy and the London Underground is the world's oldest metro.  We also joined in on one of the city's free walking tours for a 2.5 hour trek through the city.

The Wellington Arch is also known as Constitution Arch.  It is south of Hyde Park which is one of the largest parks in central London.

The Memorial Gates, in Hyde Park, were inaugurated in 2002.  They honor the five million volunteers from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean who fought for Britain in WWI and WWII.

In 1837, Buckingham Palace became the principal residence of the British monarch.  It is over 77,000 m² (830,000 sq ft).  While the Queen lives here, the palace is actually owned by the British government.  It was opened to the public in 1993 but only for 60 days per year.

In front of the palace's main gates is the Victoria Memorial which was erected in 1911.  Queen Victoria was the first monarch to reside in the palace.

St James' Palace is one of the city's oldest palaces.  The Royal Court is still based here but no monarch has lived here in around 200 years.  Currently this is home to Prince Charles and his sons.  This is the place where foreign ambassadors are accredited to.

My favorite spot in London was Trafalgar Square because there was so much going on here.  It is often used for political protests and I'm told that this is a great spot to be at for New Year's Eve.  The square commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.  In the center is Nelson's Column, surrounded by four bronze lions, in honor of Admiral Horatio Nelson who was killed in action during the battle against the French.

The National Gallery is on the north side of the square.  It was founded in 1824 and is home to more than 2,300 paintings.  It is the 4th most visited art museum in the world and, best of all, entry to the museum is free.

Westminster Palace is home to Parliament's House of Lords and House of Commons.  It was built during the Middle Ages but was rebuilt in 1870 when it was destroyed by a fire in 1834.  Collectively, Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Westminster Abbey is officially the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster.  The large Gothic church opened in 1090.  This is where English and British kings and queens are crowned and buried.

Big Ben is the nickname of the largest bell in the clock tower in Westminster although most tourists think that it's the name for the clock and the tower.  The tower, completed in 1858, is the 3rd largest free-standing clock tower in the world.  The tower was renamed the Elizabeth Tower to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. 
Me, Liz, Parliament and the River Thames

Foreign visitors are not allowed to visit the inside of the tower; only UK residents can, provided they arrange it in advance with their MP (Member of Parliament).  Big Ben had been the largest bell in the UK until 1881 when Great Paul was hung in St Paul's Cathedral.

St Paul's is a Church of England cathedral and the seat of the Bishop of London.  The English Baroque church was consecrated in 1708 and until 1962 it was the tallest building in London.  Americans know it as the place where Prince Charles and Lady Diana got married.

The London Eye is a giant 135 m (443 ft) tall Ferris wheel.  It is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe and when it was built in 1999 it was the tallest in the world.  With over 3.5 million visitors annually, it is the country's most popular paid tourist attraction.  A 30-minute ride is £37 ($56).  With so much to try to see we decided to save the 30 minutes and kept on walking.

The Shard is the newest thing in London.  It's a 95-storey skyscraper which was completed in 2012 and opened to the public in February 2013.  At 309.6 m (1,016 ft), it replaces Frankfurt's Commerzbank Tower as the tallest building in the EU.  Construction cost ~£435M (+$657M).  Next time, I'll check out the viewing gallery on the 72nd floor.

With only one day I knew that there was no way that I would see everything.  But I did get a good idea of what I want to do next time.  I'll just have to make a few more visits so that I can catch what I missed and be able to have to time to go inside some of these awesome places.

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