The Streets of London – Part 1

The Streets of London – Part 1

A city of some 8 million people, London is one of the most visited cities by international travellers. It traces its roots back to Roman times, and the central city of London still largely maintains its medieval boundaries. My husband and I spent our first two days in England in London, at a university dorm near London’s Victoria Station. It’s a daunting city, even for two people who lived in Toronto for eight years. But our flat is only about forty minutes from London via train and we’ve been able to visit several times, giving us a basic familiarity with some of its most popular attractions. Enough that we could serve as guides on a whirlwind tour for our visitors.

The day started with an early train ride to London’s Waterloo Station. From there we wandered past the London Eye, across Waterloo Bridge to Big Ben and the Parliament building. We snapped several pictures of Big Ben from all angles, but didn’t linger very long at Parliament.

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(All the Canadians agreed that Canada’s Parliament buildings are better anyway. Sorry England.)

A hop skip and a jump from there we reached Westminster Abbey. Our visitors decided not to pay the fee to go inside, so we took a look at St. Mary’s Church instead. It’s the building right next to the abbey. After the hourly prayer (‘thanksgiving’), we continued on our way.

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As we passed the Royal Calvary barracks, one of our number described the shift change for horses and riders. There are always two outside the barracks and people crowd around to take pictures. We heard a commotion coming from that area and hurried over, hoping to catch the same. Instead we witnessed a change of the household guard; a group of guards on horseback set out for Buckingham Palace after a brief ritual where they lined up across from the shift they were replacing.

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After the horses rode into the distance, we continued to Trafalgar Square where we looked at each of the different monuments and paused to admire the Canadian Embassy. There was a great deal of discussion about the giant blue chicken, because none of us can figure out what the point of it is. We decided to walk to Buckingham Palace, a place me and my husband had yet to visit. We detoured through St. James Park and purchased some ice cream to eat on the way. The park is beautiful, to say the least. There are lots of open green spaces for people to relax and picnic alongside flower gardens and a little river. There’s lots of wildlife in the park as well. It’s the kind of place I’d go every day if I lived nearby.

When we arrived at Buckingham Palace, we took a look around the outside. Canada has an entire gate which includes the symbol for every province. The palace is decadent, to say the least. The gates and surrounding monuments are embellished with gold.

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(The Lion and the Unicorn are common depictions in both the UK and Canada. This is the heraldic crest representing the UK. The Lion represents England and the Unicorn represents Scotland. The unicorn is chained because a wild unicorn is ‘a dangerous beast.’ In Scotland, the positions of the lion and unicorn are reversed, but the unicorn is still chained.)

We hung around outside the gate for a while and witnessed a change of guard. This was very interesting to watch. Normally the guards move on patrol or stand at attention. It’s funny to watch them patrol because the way they march is funny. For the shift change, a small group of guards marched out behind their superior officer. They paused at each of the duty stations to perform a small ritual. Then the commanding officer would reach into a small alcove behind the guard post and take out a piece of paper (we assume this paper was read from but we were too far back to hear). Then the former guard would march away behind the commanding officer while the new guard took their place. It was fascinating to watch.

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When we left the palace, we circled back to St. Martin’s on the Field for lunch at the Cafe in the Crypt. As you can tell, we saw a lot in a short period of time. To keep from spamming too many pictures, I’ll split this day in two.

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