Exploring London – Part 2

Where’s Platform 9-3/4??

Where’s Platform 9-3/4??

Our new hotel was located in Kings Cross, only a few blocks from the Kings Cross and St. Pancras Stations. We happened to know that Platform 9-3/4 of Harry Potter fame was in the Kings Cross Station so we thought we’d give it a visit and perhaps take a free train ride to Hogwarts. Why not? Our GPS directed us to a brick wall that seemed impenetrable … even to David.

We finally entered Kings Cross station, found the platform listed on the directory and headed straight there. There was a long, long, really long line of folks queued up … mostly muggles, but a few wizards we guessed … trying to catch the Hogwarts’ train. We watched one gal disappear in the blink of an eye. Gulping gargoyles … it was wraith-like… an apparition? We, however, knowing our muggle-limitations, gave the queue a pass. We had places to go and things to see.

She disappeared so fast, I could barely see it!

She disappeared so fast, I could barely see it!

We boarded a BigBus London double-decker tour bus and sat up top for a chilly, but open-air view of the city. We figured we’d stay on the bus for a complete tour and then pick and choose the spots we wanted to visit.

IMG_7012.JPG

Turns out there were several routes of interest, so after completing the circuit of one, we transferred to another route and another and another which pretty much took up most of the day, but we did get to see lots of London, if only in passing. Take a look.

Boudica, queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe led an uprising in Roman Britain. She and her daughters are captured in the bronze sculpture above and seem to be catching a ride on the London Eye.

Boudica, queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe led an uprising in Roman Britain. She and her daughters are captured in the bronze sculpture above and seem to be catching a ride on the London Eye.

The Marble Arch, a triumphal arch which, although stately, seems out of place in this traffic island.

The Marble Arch, a triumphal arch which, although stately, seems out of place in this traffic island.

Wellington Arch was built as an original entrance to Buckingham Palace and later became a victory arch proclaiming Wellington's defeat of Napoleon. Crowned by the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, it depicts the Angel of Peace descending on the 'Quadriga' - or four-horsed chariot of War.

Wellington Arch was built as an original entrance to Buckingham Palace and later became a victory arch proclaiming Wellington's defeat of Napoleon. Crowned by the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, it depicts the Angel of Peace descending on the 'Quadriga' - or four-horsed chariot of War.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral

london2-boat_big ben.JPG
Big Ben was under repair … BAH!  Actually, Big Ben is the name given to the bell inside the clock tower and he’ll be silent until the repairs are complete in 2021.

Big Ben was under repair … BAH!

Actually, Big Ben is the name given to the bell inside the clock tower and he’ll be silent until the repairs are complete in 2021.

Tower of London with the pinnacle of The Shard in the background

Tower of London with the pinnacle of The Shard in the background

We loved the archers strategically placed at the top of the Tower of London.

We loved the archers strategically placed at the top of the Tower of London.

Frenetic Piccadilly Circus

Frenetic Piccadilly Circus

Back in our hotel that night, we narrowed down our list of the sights we wanted to visit and started out with the best of intentions to visit as many as possible. We did not make reservations in advance and thus we were met with long lines or ‘sold outs’ for every one. St. Paul’s Cathedral had no tours available; Westminster Palace, the same; Tower of London, nothing available to fit our schedule; British Museum … a queue that wrapped around the building. Not to be deterred, we looked for more obscure, less visited sites and found several as we wandered.

The British Museum … the line went all the way around the building.

The British Museum … the line went all the way around the building.

heads on pikes.jpg

The Southwark Gateway Needle on London Bridge is an interesting sculpture. It’s a fairly unassuming piece of art and I think if we didn’t know what to look for, we would have just passed it by. This historical memorial carved in gray Portland stone, commemorates the British ritual of displaying traitors’ heads on pikes during the 14th to 17th centuries. The heads were apparently dipped in tar as a preservative and mounted by the Keeper of the Heads as a warning to possible dissidents to the Crown. According to several sources, Paul Hentzner, a German visitor to London in 1598, reported in his diary that he had counted over 30 heads on the bridge. Among famous heads on display were those of William Wallace (‘Braveheart’), Thomas More, Guy Fawkes and Thomas Cromwell.

Southwark Gateway Needle … a reminder of the heads that were once displayed here.

Southwark Gateway Needle … a reminder of the heads that were once displayed here.

Not far from the Tower of London, we stopped to visit All Hallows Church, the oldest church in London founded in 675 AD (CE). There were no lines to enter, no tickets to procure, no admission charge. We wandered freely in this age-old building, admiring the architecture and soaking up the peace and solace of the place compared to the hub-bub outside.

The  South Bank LIon  on the south end of the Westminster Bridge once stood atop the Lion Brewery building in the 1830s.

The South Bank LIon on the south end of the Westminster Bridge once stood atop the Lion Brewery building in the 1830s.

All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in London.

All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in London.

When we descended to the crypt museum, we learned more about the famous folk that had visited this church. For instance, William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was baptized here in 1644. Thomas More was beheaded here. John Quincy Adams, our 6th President, married his wife, Louisa, here in 1797, making her the first First Lady to be born out of the USA. Melania Trump is only the second foreign-born First Lady, by the way.

london2_all hallows-marriage register jqadams.JPG

Historic St. Katherine Docks (aka St. Kats), first opened as a commercial dock in 1828, sits in the shadow of the Tower Bridge. Old habits die hard and we couldn’t resist the temptation to take a look around and admire the sailboats moored at the marina there.

St. Katherine Docks

St. Katherine Docks

We walked through Hyde Park, a beautiful, expansive green belt in the middle of the city. London has a myriad of parks and green space to sit and ponder and rest and enjoy.

Queen Elizabeth Gate - Hyde Park

Queen Elizabeth Gate - Hyde Park

Our bus tour also included a ferry ride on the Thames. We boarded the ferry at the Tower Millennium Pier and sat topside once again, relying on hot tea and snuggling to keep ourselves warm. We stayed on the ferry for over two hours, enjoying its entire route. The river was busy and the narrated tour offered lots of insight into the sights we saw. Views along the Thames were absolutely awesome.

Cleopatra’s Needle guarded by a pair of sphinxes was originally erected in Heliopolis, Egypt c. 1450 BCE. In 1819, the obelisk was given to Britain as a gift. One of a pair, the other obelisk is located in New York’s Central Park.

Cleopatra’s Needle guarded by a pair of sphinxes was originally erected in Heliopolis, Egypt c. 1450 BCE. In 1819, the obelisk was given to Britain as a gift. One of a pair, the other obelisk is located in New York’s Central Park.

The London Eye is London’s iconic giant ferris wheel.

The London Eye is London’s iconic giant ferris wheel.

Monument to the Great Fire of London is a Doric column topped with a golden fire located on the original site of St. Margaret’s, the first church to be destroyed by the fire. The monument, built between 1671-1677, is 202’ tall and located 202’ from the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started on September 2nd, 1666.

Monument to the Great Fire of London is a Doric column topped with a golden fire located on the original site of St. Margaret’s, the first church to be destroyed by the fire. The monument, built between 1671-1677, is 202’ tall and located 202’ from the spot in Pudding Lane where the Great Fire started on September 2nd, 1666.

Great views of the Tower of London from the boat. Note the ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’, the water entrance through which prisoners of the Tudors were brought to the Tower.

Great views of the Tower of London from the boat. Note the ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’, the water entrance through which prisoners of the Tudors were brought to the Tower.

Westminster Palace was also under repair.

Westminster Palace was also under repair.

We got a charge out of the nicknames for some of the modern skyscrapers that meld with the historic city buildings … the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin and Walkie-Talkie building.

Handsome, verdigris lion’s head mooring rings line the Victoria Embankment and though the moorings were evidently seldom used, a London rhyme about the rising of the river is still recited … ‘When the lions drink, London will sink. When it’s up to their manes, we’ll go down the drains.’

Handsome, verdigris lion’s head mooring rings line the Victoria Embankment and though the moorings were evidently seldom used, a London rhyme about the rising of the river is still recited … ‘When the lions drink, London will sink. When it’s up to their manes, we’ll go down the drains.’

‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’

-Samuel Johnson, 1777

Our days in London were gone in a flash. There was so much more to see and as we boarded the train at St. Pancras bound for Gatwick Airport and the British Airways flight back to Las Vegas, we vowed we’d return to see more and walk more in England.