London

Most places Kate and I travel to require our family members back in the States to pull out the nearest map before being able to appreciate our excitement in going there. “Oh, Raja Ampat?! … And that’s in…Indonesia. Okay…which is…above Australia kind of. Okay, cool!” Knowledge of our destination’s geographical location never quite cut it though and it usually wasn’t until after our trip, when pictures and blogs had been posted, that family members were truly able to share in our excitement for having visited the places that we had. It was refreshing then, to have a city on our itinerary as synonymous with international travel as London was. Finally others would be able to take part in our enthusiasm prior to our trip.

Never before had we been to a place depicted in so many movies, tv shows, books, songs, and the like. Seeing double decker buses whiz past us, red telephone booths dotting the street, and the Union Jack waving from atop the Houses of Parliament, we were positively star struck; like getting to spend a few days with a celebrity. It was a feeling that would last for the entirety of our brief four days in the city. Some may argue that that is far too short a time to see London, and I would agree, but in a way, it was perfect. We were able to leave the city at the peak of our excitement in being there and, for that, it will always retain a special place in our memories.

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Our reason for visiting London was to see a former student of ours, Ian, and his parents Bessie and Yves. We enjoyed our time with them just as much as we did sightseeing in the city.
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We were disappointed to find Big Ben under a thick layer of scaffolding upon our arrival to downtown London. Thankfully, the rest of the Houses of Parliament were in full view.

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We learned that at one point within the last decade or so, London had removed all of their iconic telephone booths since they were no longer in use. After complaints from tourists, they reinstated them.
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The Christmas market in Trafalgar Square
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One thing we loved about London was all of the free museums. At the National Gallery we were excited to see paintings from the likes of Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Monet among many, many others.
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One of the famous Landseer lions of Trafalgar Square. The lions‘ namesake and creator was a career painter, not a sculptor, who gathered his inspiration for the statues from a lion corpse. When the corpse had rotted beyond recognition, Landseer had to finish his creation from memory and sketches he had made.

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Inside St. Martin in the Fields Church, where we attended a free concert featuring a burgeoning cellist with piano accompaniment.

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At the Houses of Parliament. While we were walking by, a door in the ceiling of the enclave opened up, making for a cool picture.
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Westminster Abbey
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Stopping for a cup of coffee in a pub outside of Trafalgar Square
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Spending the afternoon with Ian

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Outside of Buckingham Palace
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We were just about to leave the palace and move on to another sight when we started noticing a lot of commotion inside the palace gates. Outside, a regal line of heavily decorated horse riders began filing down the street, led by a man on a white horse sounding a trumpet. Shortly after, the queen came zipping out of the palace gates and past the ecstatic crowd. The scene could have been plucked from any number of centuries except for the fact that the queen was inside a Land Rover and not a horse carriage.
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While walking back from Buckingham Palace, we passed a park where we came across a small group of people surrounded by a significantly large and eclectic group of wild animals. Squirrels, geese, pigeons, and, parakeets enthusiastically buzzed around the members of the crowd fighting over handouts of peanuts.
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At the Christmas market in Hyde Park

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While getting a picture inside one of the telephone booths, Kate discovered that they weren’t entirely out of use. Apparently, they functioned quite well as public toilets, as evidenced by the puddle of urine Kate stood in while taking the picture.

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Almost immediately after arriving in London, we discovered mincemeat pies, which, in spite of their name, we were happy to find entirely meat free. We would eat an unnecessary amount of them during our brief stay in the city.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral

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Millennium Bridge

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Apart from seeing St. Paul’s Cathedral, we were also excited to go to Millennium Bridge as Kate had read that there was artwork on the bridge made from discarded chewing gum. At first, we thought we had missed what we thought was a permanent exhibit but then, upon further examination of the bridge, we notice tiny specks of color tucked into its crevices. The artwork, to our delight, was miniature. A scavenger hunt then ensued, trying to locate as many of the colorful creations as we could.
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One piece of work next to my boot

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Apart from the free museums, concerts, and an abundance of iconic landmarks, another thing we loved about London was knowing that buried beneath our feet were centuries and centuries of history waiting to be discovered. While walking down a street in between fairly modern looking apartment blocks, we came across a significantly more ancient looking wall. From an indiscreet plaque, we learned that we were looking at the Grand Hall of Winchester Palace, a site of once great importance and prestige. The ruins had been discovered during the London Blitz and weren’t entirely unveiled and restored until development started taking place in the area in the 1980’s.
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A couple important things we learned while touring London was that this is called Tower Bridge, not London Bridge
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…and that the Tower of London isn’t merely a tower but an entire castle complex.

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Going to the London Natural History Museum with Ian, Bessie, and Yves. We could probably could have spent every day for an entire year in the museum and still not seen everything we wanted to, just like London itself.

Read on for a poem by Kate:

Hidden Treasure

Hop off the bus and look around,
Tower Bridge is easily found.
While passing through Trafalgar Square
observe the lions’ stately stares.

Spin around the London Eye
to see the city scrape the sky.
Watch Houses of Parliament wield their power
while Big Ben tolls at every hour.

Near St. Paul’s stretches Millennium Bridge,
Be sure to look down at each thin ridge.
There are treasures there easily missed,
not found on any tourist’s list.

Tiny wads of discarded gum
have been shaped and painted for a bit of fun.
Once forgotten, dismissed as trash,
they’ve found a home in an artist’s cache.

 

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