Friday, November 25, 2016

London, England

Trip Date: November 2016

At the beginning of November Christine and I boarded a plane for the United Kingdom. We were definitely bitten by the travel bug again (our last big international trip was to Cuba) and needed to get away for a while so we had planned a two-week vacation for England, Northern Ireland, and Ireland. Neither of us had been to any of those countries before, but WestJet had an incredible seat sale during the summer so we couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a few new places. Our vacation started in London, England where we spent five days exploring the historic city.

England's Flag
London is the capital city of England and its largest city with 13.8 million people in the metro area. London sits on the banks of the River Thames in the southeast corner of the island of Great Britain. The city has been a major settlement for more than two millennia and was originally founded by the Romans around year 43.

London's location within England and the island of Great Britain
After an overnight flight we landed at London's Gatwick Airport and boarded the train that would take us to the city. Although jet-lag was a real concern we didn't want to go to bed after getting to the hotel and waste one of our days in the city so we headed out to see a few sites. We were staying in the city of Westminster, which was pretty central to many of London's biggest attractions. We walked from our hotel to the River Thames and made our way towards the Palace of Westminster. The palace was built in 1016 and is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords; the two houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom. The palace is most famous for Big Ben. Most people believe that Big Ben is the clock tower on the north end of the palace, but the name's actually in reference to the heaviest of the five bells located within the tower.

The Elizabeth Tower is the home of the Great Clock of Westminster and Big Ben
Across from the palace is Westminster Abbey; a 700-year-old Gothic-style church. It is one of the United Kingdom's most notable religious buildings and is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English monarchs.

Westminster Abbey
As the sun was sitting low in the sky we made our way to Trafalgar Square, a popular public square in central London. The name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, which was a British naval victory during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805 off the coast of Cape Trafalgar in Spain. Trafalgar Square is dominated by Nelson's Column, a 51-metre (170-foot) memorial to Admiral Horatio Nelson who died during the Battle of Trafalgar. The National Gallery, which houses art from the 13th to 19th centuries, occupies the norther portion of the square.

Trafalgar Square at sunset
After our evening of site seeing we were pretty wiped so we called it a day. We still had several days to explore London and we wanted to be well rested. The next day we decided to buy passes for the hop-on hop-off bus tour. The buses basically pass all the major sites that we wanted to see and since it was the off-season the 24-hour pass was valid for double that amount of time for the same price. To reach the bus stop we walked through Green Park, one of four Royal Parks in London, and came across the Canada Memorial. This monument was designed by Canadian Pierre Granche and commemorates the Canadian Forces killed during the First and Second World Wars. Canada Memorial is conveniently located near Canada Gate, one of the entrances to Green Park. The gate was a gift from Canada in celebration of its contributions to the then British Empire. 

Canada Memorial in Green Park

Canada Gate marks one of the entrances to Green Park
Our first stop on the bus tour was St. Paul's Cathedral. This Anglican Cathedral was built in the late 17th century during a major rebuilding effort in the city after the Great Fire of London. The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London. St. Paul's sits atop Ludgate Hill; the highest point in the city and is one of the most famous and recognizable sites in all of London.

St. Paul's Cathedral
The silver dragon marks the the boundaries of the City of London
A section of the original London Wall that enclosed the whole city dating back to the 2nd century
Across the street from the London Wall is the famous Tower of London. This historic castle, originally built in 1066, sits on the banks of the River Thames. Over the years the Tower has served a variety of roles including an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, and currently as the home of the Crown Jewels of England. The Tower of London is also famous for its ceremonial guards, the Beefeaters.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London with the White Tower (right) prominently displayed
Spanning the River Thames and visible from the Tower of London is one of London's iconic symbols; the Tower Bridge. The bridge was constructed between 1886 and 1894 and stands 65 metres (213 feet) tall.

London's famed Tower Bridge
Included in our bus package was a tour down the River Thames. Our guide was phenomenal for this short cruise and we were able to get a different perspective on many of London's biggest sites.

The Tower of London's White Tower as viewed from the water
A river view of the Tower Bridge
The London Eye and the Palace of Westminster at sunset
A visit to London wouldn't be complete without seeing the royal residence, Buckingham Palace. The palace has served as the London residence for the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom since 1837. Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms, 98 offices, and 78 bathrooms and continues to be the venue for many royal events and ceremonies.

Buckingham Palace
Eventually we made our way over to Hyde Park, another Royal Park and one of the biggest parks in all of London. We entered the park via Hyde Park Corner, a major intersection where six streets all converge. Here you will also find the Wellington Arch; a triumphal arch commemorating Britain's victories in the Napoleonic Wars. The arch was built between 1826 and 1830 by Decimus Burton and was originally intended to be an entrance to Buckingham Palace.

The Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner
Hyde Park is divided by the Serpentine and the Long Water. The park was filled with beautiful fall foliage and despite the rainy day we still enjoyed exploring the park and seeing all the resident waterfowl.

Various species of waterfowl looking to be fed along the Serpentine
One of the highlights of our time in London was taking in a Premiere League football (soccer) match at London Stadium. We managed (somehow) to secure tickets to West Ham United vs. Stoke City. We were a little nervous as West Ham had been in the news recently due to brawls and fist fights in the stands during games. West Ham is a notoriously tough team with even tougher fans, so we needed to stay vigilant. We didn't know exactly what to expect even though we'd previously been to a game in Brazil and I attended another while in China. To be completely honest the West Ham fans were pretty tame during this 1-1 draw. They were more subdued than the Brazilian fans in Rio. Maybe it was the threat of banning all fans from future games and playing in an empty stadium that calmed everybody down.

London Stadium was used as the Olympic Stadium when London hosted the 2012 Summer Games
Enjoying a pre-game beverage outside the stadium. West Ham's nicknames are The Irons and The Hammers, hence this logo.
Inside the open-air stadium
During our last evening in London, while Christine was napping, I headed out for one more walking tour along the river. I was rewarded with different views of previously seen sites, but was more than happy to just be out exploring this beautiful city.

The Palace of West Minster and Big Ben across the River Thames
One of London's iconic red telephone booths. I think they're more of a tourist attraction now as the only people I saw inside them were taking photos and selfies!
London was definitely one of my favourite parts of this entire trip. The city is just so big, with so much history! There is an endless supply of things to do and see that you're never bored. I hope to get back to London at some point in the future and spend more time there, but we didn't have much time to reflect on our stay as we needed to catch a flight to Belfast in Northern Ireland.

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