Saturday, June 16, 2012

Walking Tour of London

To get us acquainted with London, our lovely API hosts, Rachel and Carmen, took us on a walking tour of London.  In all, including walking back to our building (we could have taken the Tube, but the weather was so nice we decided to walk back), we walked about five or so miles yesterday.  It was insane.

Our first stop was Trafalgar Square, a huge square commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar and the victory of the British over the French.

No, you're not seeing things, that really is a statue of George Washington.  Cool story about this statue: Washington swore he'd never set foot on British soil, so when they made this statue they imported soil from Virginia to set it on so he's still never stepped on British soil.

There are four of these lions around the base of a huge statue of Nelson on a massive column.  The artist who made these lions had never seen a lion before, and all he had to work with was a dead lion he got from somewhere.  Well, but the time he got to sculpting the back end of the lion it was so decayed he had to get rid of it and he used his greyhound as a model.  Unfortunately, that's not accurate at all, so the back legs look nothing like a lion (it's hard to tell in this photo, but look closely).

Statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square
Our next stop was Admiralty Arch, built by George VII for his mother, Queen Victoria.  It basically starts the "driveway" up to Buckingham Palace.

Now, the artist who built this was owed A LOT of money by a duke.  To get back at the duke, who was known for having a big nose, he apparently carved the duke's nose into the stonework.  Although, that is simply a rumor, there is a nose carved into the stonework.

After Admiralty Arch, we headed over to where Whitehall Palace used to be.  Whitehall was Henry VIII's palace, although it burned down a while ago.  We got to see where Henry's tilt yard used to be (that's where he jousted and had the accident that caused his leg ulcer).  Right now it's being prepared for the Olympics, that's where the beach volleyball will be played.

We walked around the front of Whitehall where they have a few guards standing there (two on horseback and one on foot).  We just so happened to be there for the changing of the guards there, which was pretty cool.  It's so much more of a production than I thought it would be, but it was still really cool.

Across from the changing of the guards was the only room that survived the fire at Whitehall.  In its time, Whitehall was the biggest palace, even bigger than Versailles.  All that remains from the original structure is the banquet hall.  Charles I had the ceiling painted glorifying the monarchy.  So, naturally, when he was beheaded, Oliver Cromwell had it done right outside there.  When Charles II returned, bringing back the monarchy, he was crowned in that room to show that the monarchy was back and to stick it to Cromwell.

We also got to see where the Prime Minister lives.  You used to be able to walk right up to it, but when Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister she was was hated so much they had to put in these huge black gates, so that's as close as we got.  We could still see his house though, it's the black and white one.

 We then walked over to see Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey.  I already knew this, but I'll share it anyway.  Big Ben is NOT the name of the clock (the clock has some crazy long name I won't go into), but rather the name of the bell, and it's named after the architect.  We didn't go into Westminster Abbey, Rachel was just trying to show us where everything was for our own reference.

The last stop on our immense walking tour was Buckingham Palace.  Unfortunately, the Queen wasn't in today, she was at her other palace.  It was amazing, you could literally drive right up to the palace like it was no big deal, so different than the White House where you can't get within like a mile of that place in a car it seems!  The palace was huge and amazing with a massive statue out front and everything.  We also got to see where Charles and Camilla live.  It's not nearly as impressive, but it was still pretty cool to see in my opinion (it used to be where the Queen Mother lived).

Well, it's almost eight in the morning here.  Today we're going out to Greenwich and then doing some stuff with the University.  It's going to be another long day, and classes start tomorrow.  Keep posted for more tonight!

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