So far it’s been a busy weekend. Turns out England has a bank holiday, which means a long weekend. Not only that, but London hosted the soccer Champion’s League Final on Saturday… talk about irony. Last time I was in Europe my mom and I were in Rome the very same weekend that the Final was held in that city (see posts here and here), and now here I am, four years later, in a different city, encountering the same event and the soccer fans that inevitably come with it. Oh well, we managed to avoid most of the pandemonium but did have a few chuckles over the behaviour and songs of the fans, who were mostly German. Let’s just say they liven things up a tad.
Regardless of that, we have managed to fill our days in London and we are getting used to using the underground to get around. Since I’ve used it before it has taken me less time to reacquaint myself with it and now we travel mostly without referencing our map. Here is Justin waiting for a train to arrive at South Kensington station.
Thankfully the last two days have included glorious weather, which is a kindly change from the rain and cold that greeted us on Friday. It has been warm and sunny and that has made all the difference for us. Yesterday morning we started out by checking out the Portobello Street market. Apparently Saturday is the day to see this as 2,000 stalls and food trucks line the already quaint street to sell their wares. The large majority of stalls were selling antiques and I have never seen so many silver teapots and coffee pots in my life. Literally block after block was filled with merchants (and pedestrians), but the air was festive with musicians on the street corners, and the hustle and bustle of shoppers and tourists. The food stalls really were the highlight for us. Here are some pictures.
We picked up a peri peri chicken sandwich (above) as well as a picnic lunch for later in the day, and headed into central London to see Westminster Abbey. No photography allowed inside but here is a photo of the exterior.
Inside really is amazing. It’s not the largest church I have ever seen but it is incredibly beautiful. And of course it is filled with the burial places of countless famous politicians, writers, artists, and royalty.
After we got out of the abbey, we headed across the street to a little green square to eat our lunch under the watch of Big Ben, with the requisite English ginger beer.
As we were finishing up we heard a bit of a ruckus behind us, which turned out to be a parade of mopeds (I think there must have been hundreds) making their way down the street. If you can’t imagine what that sounded like, it was rather humorous. Dave, we thought of you.
Feeling rested, we headed to the Churchill War Rooms, which are located in the actual underground bunkers that Winston Churchill headquartered Britain’s side of World War II from. It was rather incredible to walk around and imagine the bustle of secretaries and to think of generals plotting out battle fronts on wall sized maps. This is where it actually all happened. Where D-Day was decided and tactical decisions were made that shaped the war. All the rooms have been carefully recreated as they were in the 1940s thanks to photographs and eyewitness testimony. The map room in particular actually stands as it was the day the war ended. The generals who had been working there day and night since the start of the war turned out the lights for the first time and went home, leaving things exactly as we saw them today.
After the war rooms we relaxed in St. James park outside for a while before walking to Buckingham Palace. There is quite the array of birds and extremely tame squirrels in the park, and we (or maybe it was more me) were kept amused.
From here we walked back to Big Ben and the Parliament buildings by way of Trafalger Square, and over the Thames, at which point we found a pub and had some fish and chips before making our way to our hotel for a well deserved night of sleep.
The next day we headed to Kew Gardens, a 300 acre parkland and cultivated botanical garden, including several impressive glasshouses that were built for a world fair in 1848. We spent many hours wandering through different gardens, climbing up to a treetop walkway, and wandering through royal cottages and houses on the grounds. We really could have spent all day there and Justin was in love with the fact that all the trees and plants were labeled and tagged with their Latin names. An impressive feat considering how many hundreds of trees there must have been. Just like the Natural History Museum, this garden really showcases the reach of the British Empire at it’s height, when it had the capability to collect samples from all over the world and display it here for the public. Here are some highlights.
After Kew Gardens we planned to head to the Imperial War Museum, only to discover when we got there that it was closed until July for renovations. Oops. Instead we got an early start on dinner and turned in at a decent hour. We stopped at an Italian place near Trafalgar Square and shared a pizza and a wine tasting trio. Delicious!
Phew. That was a rather large post! I am now done my coffee and croissant and it’s time to go to the Tower of London for our next big day!