London: Tourists

My very favorite part of London may be riding the Tube to Westminster Station and then coming out up onto the street to see Big Ben RIGHT THERE looming up at you. I remember feeling like, "NOW I'm really in London!" at that moment last time, and the amazement has not worn off even a little. It's not really called Big Ben, of course, as I've had drummed into me by various sources. Big Ben is just the bell inside, and the tower is actually Elizabeth Clock Tower. But I feel like a pedant whenever I point this out to anyone, so let's stick with "Big Ben" like the rest of the world. :) Although my niece Katy calls it "Big Elizabeth" which is quite catchy.
Speaking of cute, we had this Tiny Big Ben at home and Daisy begged me to bring it to London with me so I could hold it next to "its Mommy," Big Big Ben. I actually remembered to put the tiny one in my suitcase, and then in my pocket, and then take a picture of it! What an impressive feat of memory. (And I even brought it home, too.) Aren't they cute, together at last? 
It was so cold! But so great to be walking around in the city among all the hordes of people. I don't know why I like that so much. But I do.

At any rate, Big Ben is spectacular, and if it's "BONG"-ing at you as you come upon it, as it was at us, there is nothing quite as lovely. I had written to my brother Kenneth asking him: if I could only do one thing in London, what should it be? (he and my other brothers studied there too, a couple years before I did), and he said that walking out of the tube to see Parliament and the clock tower was his favorite, too. "Or, if you really want to keep it to just one thing," he added, "exit at that same tube stop (closing your eyes so you don’t see Big Elizabeth) and then walk over to Westminster Abbey."
I love Westminster Abbey, too. We didn't go in on this day, but I did later. Love those Gothic arches!
A few other places: here is Sam at the British Library. Oh, it isn't all in a box like this. This is a special collection—King George's collection or some such thing. You can look at these books but a librarian has to go get them for you. MY favorite part of the library is its collection of "treasures": old and rare manuscripts; things like music by Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Beethoven; Letters from Anne Bolyn to Henry VIII, documents signed by Queen Elizabeth I; her fancy "E" with loops and swirls all over. Da Vinci drawings and diagrams; the Magna Carta; Jane Austen's writing desk. And of course stunningly illuminated Bibles. I remember being so overwhelmed by it all when I came here years ago, and it was all just as amazing this time. There is something about knowing this very paper was handled by J.S. Bach, or seeing the unique blots and wobbles in someone's handwriting…it makes the past feel so close. I love it.
St. Martin-in-the-fields. When we went inside, there were several (homeless?) people in the back pews, hunched over sleeping in various positions, and snoring. It was oddly soothing. Lovely simplicity in the chapel, too, quite different from Westminster Abbey. I used to go to lunchtime concerts here, and once I went to an evening concert where they played Mozart by candlelight. So lovely.
Sam loved all the interesting buildings. And these weather vanes.
This tram across the Thames is something new (to me). It's up the river near Greenwich. We mostly rode it because Sebastian really wanted us to (we had learned about it in school some time ago), but we were glad we did. Beautiful views from a different perspective. And a cool little airplane museum (the tram is sponsored by Emirates Air) as well.
This tree-table was in one of the restaurants we ate at and I liked it so much!
We spent some time just riding around on the tube and letting Sam draw people. He loves doing that and I love watching him. He tried to be discreet about it, but he sometimes ended up with a bit of an audience anyway. I was taking pictures with the utmost stealth, through my fingers. I felt like a spy.
Sam drew buildings and things too. Amazing what one can accomplish while standing in line or sitting  down to rest at a museum, when not holding/catching a bunch of small children! Such fun to watch. Of course, he isn't the only one that can draw buildings!
As you can see from this page from my scrapbook, I engaged in similar pastimes myself, when I was in London years ago. (Hey! There's that candlelight concert program I was talking about.) I, too, would have been an excellent artist, if I'd ever learnt. Ha! Actually I had to take notes on the architecture of James Gibbs for a class. Ah, those were the days. :) Did we get an A on our paper, Beth? I seem to recall feeling we got less than we deserved.
Another unexpectedly fun place? The London Eye. I'm sorry to say I've been kind of resentful of the London Eye to this point. It wasn't there when I lived in London, and I looked on it as kind of an upstart, like the Rothschilds looking down on the Nouveau Riche or something. It seemed to sit by the Thames smugly, as if it had every right to be there, and I must admit it irked me.

Still, I found myself wanting to go try it out, if only to sniff at how it wasn't worth the money. (Though spending foreign money, as everyone knows, is so disorienting that one might as well not be spending any money at all. What's another 20 quid, old chap?) And I knew the kids would want to know about it. But once we got aboard I found myself quite liking it! I was enthralled with the views and I loved seeing Parliament and Westminster Abbey from above. It rotates slowly enough that you really feel you get a good long look in all directions, and each individual pod (module? bubble?) is big and full of windows. It's fun to feel suspended in the air that way.
St. Paul's
This building is nicknamed "The Shard"—it's another newcomer (London had a big construction boom before the Olympics, apparently) and we'd learned about it a couple years ago, so it was cool to see it in person. 
This building is also cool (30 St. Mary Axe, or the pickle building as my kids call it). The architect was Norman Foster, who I feel I know personally because we watched a documentary on him. :) He did the update of the Reichstag building in Berlin, too.
It was sunny up in the Eye, but when we got back down, some clouds rolled in and it got SO cold again. But I really wanted to go on a boat up the river. That's another thing I didn't do when I was here last time, and I've always regretted it. (One of my brothers said it was his favorite thing in London!) Luckily the boat was heated on the lower deck, so it was comfortable even down on the water. We rode all the way up to Greenwich, past the Tower of London and Traitor's Gate, and under Tower Bridge.
It was cool to see the layout of the city doing the London Eye and then the river cruise. I felt like I never really got a handle on where everything was when I was here before, because I rode the Tube everywhere. You just emerge from underground and there you are, with no idea what part of the city you are in. So being aboveground was nice.
I had dreamed of eating at Wagamama again for lo these many years, and finally we got to do it. I didn't even remember what was so good about it, just that it was a place we liked to go when I was here before. And it was still great. Yum!
Nelson's Column
Our hosts had organized a visit to the National Gallery, which was great as always. SO many cool paintings to see, SO many rooms, and SUCH tired feet, as I remember well from the old days. The museums can be so overwhelming, and the best way to see them is really to live there and take them in bite-sized pieces. But, when short on time, one does what one must. 
You can take photos in there now, which surprised me, but I suppose maybe it was useless trying to prevent it. Sam told me lots of things about various paintings I didn't know well, and I appreciated them, but I just can't help having a preference for intimate landscapes like the one above, where I feel like I want to just jump into the picture and immerse myself in that world.
And Turner. I've always loved Turner.
And the Impressionists! I don't mean to love the same thing everyone else loves, but I just do. This one by Monet, of the Houses of Parliament along the foggy Thames, makes me shiver with happiness. I love the feelings it brings back when I see it.


  1. There is OH SO MUCH that I love about this post!
    1) You know, Sam really should save those sketches because they seem so British-Library-Worthy. So glad you went there! And I'm relieved that so many of these places are still just as wonderful —that I didn't just love them because I was young and naive.
    2) I have felt the same about the Eye, but will reconsider my snobbishness and give it a try sometime.
    3) you can take pictures of the paintings? All I have are dark blurs I snapped without a flash. I need to go back.
    4) I love the impressionists too.
    5) I KNOW I went to that concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, because I remember hearing Pachabel's Canon there. Did we go together? Also
    6) I took Dr. Britsch's class and learned about 5% of what you did. Absolutely no recollection of a project of that magnitude. How did I even pass?
    I am going to have to give you a call and have you tell me all about this trip, all over again. It makes me so happy you went!

  2. DID we go to that concert together? We must have. My only regret about London is that I didn't connect with you sooner. It took quoting the Scarlet Pimpernel to each other during that fateful train ride to Scotland to reveal your sterling character to me.
    Also, I'm sure you were an excellent scholar of all sorts of things in Dr. Britsch's class, but you WERE engaged, after all. Weren't you?

  3. And quoting the Hobbit cartoon while washing dishes! :)


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