Saturday, November 7, 2009

Westminster and Remembrance Day


Breezy, sunny and cool, a gorgeous fall day after last night's pouring rain. We tubed to Westminster and walked along the Embankment to Trafalgar Square, then back across the pedestrian bridge and Westminster Bridge to meet Karen, leader of our London Walk of Old Westminster. Like all the guides we've had on these walks, Karen had an actor's voice and told lively stories about everyone from Cromwell to Winston Churchill to William Wallace (let me know if you're curious about what it actually means to hang, draw and quarter someone, because now I know - ugh).

This walk, from Big Ben to the Jewel Tower to the Thames, Parliament Square and Dean's Yard, was very much about power, history and tradition. Although we're both still a little mixed up about the differences between Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, we both enjoyed it.

It was a great day to wander around outside, looking at historic buildings. St. Stephen's Bell Tower (inaccurately referred to as Big Ben, we learned) sparkled in the sunshine.


And off Smith's Square was a neat little Georgian street that still held traces of World War II and the Blitz.


At the end of the walk, we ran into a Remembrance Day celebration along Victoria Street. The pipes and drums were very stirring, as were the widows (or veterans?) in black. We crowded up to watch and listen. The Brits do this so much better than we do. Note the dirk in the piper's sock, just in case...





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Everywhere we go are people selling poppies and all kinds of people wearing them. I have managed to lose first the pin, then when I got a new pin, the poppy itself...

After a quick pub lunch in St. Stephen's Tavern, said to be a favorite watering spot of MPs, we made our way to Churchill's War Rooms. These were built underground to keep Churchill and his ministers safe during the war. The lights stayed on for six years, until V-J Day, when everyone turned out the lights and went home. Many of the rooms were left just as they were on that last day until being transformed into a museum some forty years later.

After this, a leisurely walk through St. James's Park, featuring the Queen's pelicans along with the geese, ducks and swans. The plane trees (sycamores to us) are shedding their leaves, and they litter the ground in great piles. All of London was out strolling, jumping in the leaves and taking pictures of each other in front of famous landmarks, like these:


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Weary, we headed home via Green Park tube to our stylish little room.


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