After a spot of tea in the hotel room, we headed out on the walking tour we devised for ourselves through Google maps and Trip Advisor back home. We wandered under London Bridge to the tune of the nursery rhyme song, and then found ourselves at the edge of the Thames, looking across at the grand St Paul’s Cathedral and with an up-close view of a dry-docked sailboat.
Winding along the road, we came upon our first real destination: Borough Market, a large year-round market that is a must-see for any foodie.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, and a bunch of fun guys!
We checked out the Beyond Bread stall for the sweet treats recommended by another blogger we stumbled upon last night, but then decided rich doughnuts might not be the best start to the day. What makes for a good breakfast?
In the adjacent market (maybe also part of Borough Market?) we found stall upon stall of delicious takeaway options. We settled on Indian - practically the new English cuisine. (Truly a better breakfast than a doughnut.)
I was about to buy some balsamic vinegar chocolates (tastier than they sound when I say that out loud) when we were interrupted by drumming and chanting. Lunar New Year celebrations right in the market!
Brunch in the open-air market immersed us in the experience but did nothing for the chill gnawing at our bones. Recall that the bulk of our trip will be in warm climes, and so we relied upon layers of lighter clothes to handle the London winter weather. Not quite enough. We found a café with organic coffee and warmed up.
Time was ticking and there was still much to see. Again facing the chilly morning, we continued with our self-serve tour and stumbled upon the ruins of the Winchester Palace. Once home to bishops in London on royal or administrative business, this 12th century palace included a tennis court, bowling alley, and even a prison! The palace remained in use until the 17th century when it was turned into tenements and warehouses. These ruins, including a glorious rose window, were rediscovered in the 19th century and preserved.
Finally, Tower Bridge across the Thames and a view of the Tower of London.
Originally, I had thought we would cross over the bridge and wander back along the other side. Borough Market had eaten through more time than I had planned (no regrets, though) so we turned our feet back toward the hotel. The promenade along the Thames opened into Hay's Galleria which was once where much of London’s water-borne commerce was unloaded.
Back again to (the much-less-exciting-than-Tower-Bridge) London Bridge…
…and back to the hotel. Time enough to grab our stuff and check out before a(nother) walking tour. The tube would have sufficed to get us there, but this is London, after all. A double-decker red bus is the way to go in style!
This second walking tour – professionally provided by Sandeman’s – kicked off at Covent Garden Market, where the old Apple Market and the new Apple Market sit side by side.
While waiting for the tour to begin, Mindy ticked off another London “must do”:
First thing we learned on the tour? Covent Garden’s interesting past. It started as a garden for the local convent (Covent came from convent) but then after the disenfranchisement of the church, it became one of the most renowned red-light districts in all of Europe. At the time, the book detailing the working ladies – each with the “menu” of options available – outsold the bible! The Victorian era of puritanism cleaned out the professional companions, and the market became a trading zone for fruits and vegetables. Recognizing the higher margins on manufactured goods, Covent Garden Market changed over to jewellery and trinkets; in the last 30 years, individual artisans have been replaced by Coco Chanel, Gucci, and – of course – Apple. The market is now little different from Yorkdale Mall, only in a much nicer setting.
At Trafalgar Square, with its monument to the Lord Admiral Nelson (incidentally, a big believer in equality among all people – at least compared to the norms of his era), we learned about the incredible English defeat of the combined French and Spanish armadas during the Napoleonic War.
Notice the “gun-metal” finish on the lion (there are two at the base, though one isn't visible) and the plate of the plinth? That’s thanks to the brilliant military tactics of Lord Nelson. Seriously. The initial English navy manoeuvre back in that Napoleonic battle cleared out a third of the combined French and Spanish fleets without the English losing a single ship. Napoleon’s navy promptly surrounded, and the English took their cannons and muskets before sending them home. As no righteous English soldier would ever use a Spanish or French weapon, they returned the scrap metal to London and melted it down. To add insult to injury, the centre of London was then formally moved to this Parisien-style public plaza, a more or less permanent reminder to the rest of Europe that England once reigned supreme.
We passed through the grand Victoria Memorial gates and into the royal neighbourhood – where the road is painted red to avoid the inconvenience of having to roll out a red carpet every time the monarch is in town. The gate originally housed offices for the navy, hence the nautical themes.
St. James Palace – nestled behind what was the German embassy in the 1930s – lacks the glamour of Buckingham and other palaces, but it is keystone institution in England’s political history as the physical representation of the royal court after private armies ceased to be the measure of noble power. (Clever man King Henry the VII used his private army to seize power from King Richard, then promptly outlawed such armies to avoid similar threats to himself.)
Buckingham Palace was originally built to be the home of the Duke of Buckingham. Sadly for his heirs, the Duke was greatly in debt to the King when Buckingham House was built, and the King rather fancied this beautiful new house. As a courtesy, the royal family arranged a compromise, wherein the Duke of Buckingham would be permitted to live in the house until he died, at which point he would “generously” bequeath Buckingham House to the King. It became Buckingham Palace, and remains the residence of the monarch.
The reigning monarch Elizabeth is not content to merely wave to her subjects from the balcony, however. (That balcony – permitting a connection between the Queen and her people – is credited as part of the reason the English royal family enjoyed an 89% approval rating among the English in the last national survey on such matters.) Queen Elizabeth has dabbled in the film industry, starring as herself in a fictional film about Queen Elizabeth going to watch the Olympics under the protection of 007. Queen and Bond Girl!
The garden stretching out in front of Buckingham has always been open to the public.
Historically, municipal police could not enforce the law on royal grounds, and so the park became the host of all manner of vices. Buckingham Palace looked out at a veritable orgy of the common people.
The tour wrapped up in front of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.
For the first time in its history, Big Ben is undergoing renovations. It was starting to take after the Tower of Pisa as Big Ben slowly sank on one side into the soft bank of the Thames. We didn’t (really) see Big Ben, but we did see a rare site that won’t be seen again for at least 150 years – Big Ben surrounded by scaffolding. Hooray?
At least Westminster Abbey – the site of all coronations since William the Bastard became William the Conqueror, King of England – was visible. (That is, aside from the extreme glare of the setting sun that accounts for the lack of Westminster Abbey photo here.) Did you know that the English monarch must request permission from the Mayor of London prior to entering the city? A compromise reached between the conquering William and the economically powerful city of London, back in the day.
The lawn in front of parliament is informally designated for protests and public messaging. After a 5-year occupation by protesters in the wake of the (second) Iraq war, this public space no longer permits such “occupation” style protests. Today, it was some environmentalists and people seeking fair treatment for immigrants.
True to our style of aggressive traveling, the tour finished just in time to rush back to the hotel for our baggage, and then a return to Heathrow for our flight to Lisbon.
At the aeroport, our customs officer noted that we had a one-way ticket to Portugal. Citizens from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are required to show a departure ticket before heading in to Portugal. I guess this is a Portuguese requirement, as our customs officer was satisfied simply by looking at the ticket confirmation in my email (on my phone). I didn’t even have to send him a screenshot.
Settling in for the night, we are in a new hotel, a new city, and a new country. This place might be the Lisbon airport’s equivalent of a Doubletree.