Thursday, 11 July 2002

Parliament and Big Ben

What image says "London" more than a view of the houses of the "Mother of Parliaments" and Big Ben? Today we spent the morning on our buses, each of which had a "Blue Badge" guide aboard to describe the sights of London. (None of my photos from the bus was very good, but we stopped briefly at several places, like this one, so we could take pictures.) Big Ben is named for the man who cast the great bell of the tower; it was built new in the 19th century when the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt after a fire.

Monument to Victoria, and Buckingham Palace

This is a monument to Queen Victoria that is locally called the "Wedding Cake," with Buckingham Palace in the background. Cheryl and I hope to return here to see the Changing of the Guard before we leave; check back Saturday! We also stopped to look at the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, but again we hope to return there Saturday, so I'll save the photos for then.

St. Paul's Cathedral

This is St. Paul's Cathedral; we tried to go back later and have a look inside, but it closed early today, so we'll have to try again Saturday. We'll see if we have time! Our Blue Badge guide told us a story about the building of this cathedral; apparently money was taken from the government's allotment for Westminster Abbey in order to pay for construction of St. Paul's after the earlier cathedral on the site was destroyed by a fire in 1666. The full name of Westminster is "St. Peter's Westminster Abbey," and our guide told us that this is the origin of the expression "rob Peter to pay Paul." Who knew?

While I'm on the subject of word and phrase origins, apparently "Scotland Yard," the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, is so called because originally the building housed a government office that was in charge of Scottish affairs, and the name was kept when the building was transferred to the police. Then there's the "Elephant and Castle" subway stop; apparently this is derived from the name of Eleanor of Castille, wife of King Edward I; and "Piccadilly Circus" doesn't have elephants (or lions or tigers), but rather its name (and that of other "Circuses") comes from an old term for a "roundabout" (which are rare in California, but common in the Boston area, where they are called "traffic circles").

Covent Garden

Here is Covent Garden, which has been turned into a semi-enclosed shopping and dining complex. The string quarted playing in the background was very good, and the area didn't resemble anything I recognized from "My Fair Lady," parts of which took place here. Our guided tour ended here, and we fanned out for lunch, or to shop, or to explore further, or in not a few cases to go back to the hotel and sleep!

Buses at the London Transport Museum

Right behind Covent Garden is the London Transport Museum. The exhibits include a variety of mass-transit vehicles from horse-drawn cabs to modern subway cars, and interpretive and hands-on displays explaining the history and some of the subtleties of operation of a mass-transit system. The photo shows four old double-decker buses; of course, newer versions still ply the city's streets every day!

Riding the Tube

The subway, called the London Underground or simply "the Tube," dates back over a century, with much of it having become possible with the advent of electric propulsion (since obviously you couldn't have a smoke-spewing locomotive in such a confined space as a subway line!). The cars are reasonably clean and roomy, but a little too old to have air conditioning...

The Piccadilly Theatre

Many of us planned to see shows in London's West End "Theatreland" this evening; Cheryl and I were going to buy last-minute "rush tickets," but Nancy Jo and John Doughty decided they weren't going to use theirs, so they gave them to us and we went off with several other MBCCers to the Piccadilly Theatre to see "My One and Only." The Campbells had an adventure getting there to join us; they got separated in Harrods, and spent hours trying to find each other before walking separately to the theater where they knew the other would end up by 7:30. Steve had both tickets and he got there a little late, so Kathy had to talk her way in without a ticket! Fortunately, ticket-holding MBCCers were there to vouch for her...

Splash zone at "My One and Only"

We're glad we went; it was a fun show, with a suitably improbable story providing "hooks" for plenty of Gershwin songs. At the end of Act I is a dance in a pool of water that they somehow put on stage, representing the beach of a deserted island; before the show the theater staff came out to give plastic raincoats to everybody in the first two rows, and warned us that when we saw a palm tree appear on stage we should put on the raincoats! We needed 'em, too, once the dance really got going... Afterward everybody started walking back to the hotel (about 15 minutes, so it was quicker than going up and down all those escalators to use the Tube), but Cheryl and I decided to hitch a ride in a pedicab, a three-wheel human-pedaled two-seater. It made for an entertaining end to an entertaining day!

To next day's adventuresTo Friday, 12 July 2002

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new 11 July 2002, revised 21 July 2002