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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
And return we did! In Spring 2019, we returned to London before flying to Rome to bring our Via Francigena walk. This time we had the opportunity to visit the British Museum. Take a look.