London had been calling me since the late 70s. I had almost resigned myself to accepting that call would go unanswered, and that was OK. I used to think I would love to go to London but if I died and that had never happened I would not be lying in my box worrying about the fact. But fortunately, I did get to London and boy, was I excited! London is about 2000 years old so much of my attraction was the history; to travel and walk in places that go back many centuries is always humbling. To ponder on the many generations who have gone before and trod those same paths confirms that I am just a spec in time and space, but in each moment of my life that time and space is mine, until I too shall pass into history.
London was first settled by the Romans around 43 CE and their influence continued until the 5th Century CE when the Roman Empire fell. The Romans named the town Londinium; it was situated on the banks of Thames River at its narrowest point and became a major port. Subsequent invasions by the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the Normans over the next 500 years have all left their mark on the city. It has survived The Great Plague of 1665 which killed over 70,000 and in 1666, The Great Fire of London which burnt down most of the city. The people living in those times must have thought all hell had broken loose, but the world did not end and today London is an eclectic mix of the ancient, reconstructed and modern.
Our visit to Westminster Abbey was the first of many visits to cathedrals full of dead people. And full it is; over 3000 souls have their resting place here among them Kings, Queens, poets, soldiers, priests, statesmen, heroes and villains. Westminster has been the home of Royal coronations since 1066 when King Harold II was crowned(6/1/1066) and then on Christmas Day of that same year William the Conqueror was crowned and many a Royal wedding has been solemnised here. It is a working church holding daily services at which anyone is welcome. It is also a World Heritage Site and boasts over 1000 years of history going back to the 7th century CE. The current Abbey, started in 1245 by King Henry III, is built on those original foundations. The building was completed in 1745. This means it took 500 years to complete and I am always in awe of those who had such dedication and lived in a time when God, hell and eternity was very real to everyday life.
The Houses of Parliament are across the road from Westminster Abbey; we visited the House of Lords with all its splendor of red and gold and sat in on debate in the House of Commons. I love this photo dominated by the Elizabeth Tower, commonly called Big Ben, which is one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Big Ben is actually the name given to the bell inside the clock tower. It rings to mark every hour and quarter bells chime every 15 minutes.
This photo is taken looking back at the Houses of Parliament as we made our way on a river cruise up to The Tower of London. The Tower of London is actually a Palace built by William the Conqueror in the 1070s, it is famous for the Princes in The Tower saga and two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, were both imprisoned and later executed here. Anne is buried at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula in the grounds of The Tower. The best part about the Tower for me was that in now houses the Crown Jewels which are simply magnificent!
Tower Bridge is just beside the Tower and it lifts to let traffic go up and down the Thames. We were lucky enough to see this in action.
London cabbies are a breed of their own. They need to study for written and oral exams in order to know London by heart. They memorise roughly 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest, from tourist destinations to museums, parks, churches, theatres and schools and know about 320 routes and 25,000 streets in the Greater London Metropolis. The process has been described as like having an atlas of London implanted into your brain (www. thesun.uk.news).
The London Eye, situated on the South Bank of the River Thames, dominates the skyline. It is Europe’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel, and the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom with over 3.75 million visitors annually.
London up until a couple of years ago was the most visited city in the world. 2019 figures puts it at third with 19.09 million visitors after Paris at 19.1 million and Bangkok 22.78 million (top ten most visited cities in the world 2019). Surely thankful I was able to be one of those visitors in 2014.