London – the City and Kew Gardens

We took a walking tour of the small area known as the City of London. We toured St. Paul’s Cathedral. While we were not allowed to take pictures inside, the exterior of the cathedral was impressive.

There was an exhibition of sheep statues all over London decorated like British characters that were whimsical and colorful. The ancient and modern stand side-by-side in London. The small tower in the middle of the business district is a relic of days gone by and is now a private residence. We also learned about the political structure of the City of London and the seat of government for the area – Guild Hall.

In the afternoon, we took a trip out to Kew Gardens. In a small village outside London, Kew Gardens is a huge area with many different types of gardens and hot houses. It was truly beautiful and a welcome change from the fast paced life in London.

London – The Tower, Westminster Abbey and Somerset House

Our day of touring began early. We had a lovely view of Tower Bridge and were then ushered into the Tower of London to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Tower with a Beefeater for our guide. The guards on duty for the day were a group of Gurka soldiers from Nepal. We stood beside Traitor’s Gate where prisoners were brought into the Tower for incarceration via boat. The Tower is a large complex that began in the middle ages as a palace for the king. It houses the Crown Jewels and many other royal items. From The Tower, we traveled by boat up the Thames to Westminster Abbey. We saw the graves of many ancient royalty plus Chaucer, Handel, Dickens, and Darwin. The interior of the Abbey is truly beautiful and not to be missed on a trip to London. We finished our day with a traditional Indian meal and a walk through Somerset House with a view of the Lord Nelson staircase.

London Sites

Our tour of London began at the Washington Mayfair Hotel – our home base during our stay. We visited Covent Garden where we enjoyed a traditional roast dinner for our first group meal. The meal was delicious and the company delightful. Our first official tour day began with a walk toward St. James Palace. We stopped on the street to view Spencer House, the place Chopin lived in London and Her Majesty’s Vintner shop. We saw a plaque regarding the representation of the “Republic of Texas” as a separate country.

We walked through Green Park toward Buckingham Palace and witnessed several teams of horses training for their duties as well as the changing of the guard processional from St. James Palace to Buckingham Palace with band escort. We also witnessed some of the mounted guard riding up “The Mile.” Buckingham Palace is truly grand. Our guide Tom was sure to encourage us to celebrate the birth of the new Royal Princess with a tin of cookies.

We finished our first day with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms where Churchill directed the war effort during WWII. The War Rooms were created far underground to protect government officials during the Blitz.

London – Stratford-upon-Avon – The Theater

Our adventure in London began with an overnight flight from Atlanta to London. Flying in over the English countryside was a beautiful sight with the rolling green hills and colorful farmland.

We adjusted to the new time zone and then headed off to Stratford-upon-Avon for our Shakespeare pilgrimage. We took a train from Marylebone Station and found the train service as excellent and timely as we had heard. There were numerous little stations along the way with beautiful villages and grazing land for sheep and cattle. Ancient churches stood along more modern apartments and shops reminding us of the long history of this area. Arriving in Stratford, we joined a local walking tour and were able to experience the sights with historical information and hilarious stories of life in 16th century England. The Avon River is truly tranquil and beautiful with its famous swans gracing the waters. Holy Trinity Church has stood on its present site since 713 A.D. Started as a Saxon monastery and then converted to the local church in 1210 A.D., it was the center of town life for centuries. The beautiful church has wonderful stonework and a weeping chancellory that bends off of the knave of the church symbolizing the head of Christ on the cross bending to one side. Shakespeare’s birth and death are listed in its records and his tomb is in the chancellory.  His tomb carries its own curse warning against digging up his bones, a common practice in olden times so that the space in the church could be sold again for another burial. The bust of Shakespeare above his grave was placed in the church only seven years after his death and is believed to be a good likeness. The churchyard houses a beautiful and ancient graveyard. The town of Stratford has many historical houses of the Shakespeare family.  Wisteria covers the house of Dr. John Hall, husband of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna. The simple house that was the birthplace of William Shakespeare also housed his father’s glove making shop.

After taking tea in Stratford, we boarded the train back to London in time to attend “Les Miserables” at the Queen’s Theater. The theater was wonderful with ornate golden carvings and a beautiful ceiling. The musical was fabulous with live music in the pit. Our evening ended with a bicycle rickshaw ride through the theater district experiencing the sights and sound of nightlife in London.