08 October 2014

England: what I saw in London

In my last post I showed you images of many of the common tourist attractions in London, the places that everyone goes to and photographs. In this post I've included some of the more wacky and wonderful things that caught my eye as I strolled London's fascinating streets.

The old and the new seem to sit very comfortably together in London. On the left, the 21st-century Shard, Western Europe’s tallest building, home to offices, bars, restaurants and a hotel, towers over Southwark Cathedral, built between 1120 and 1420. On the right, St Paul’s Cathedral overlooks the pedestrian Millennium Bridge.

Finding a comfortable place to rest your weary sightseer’s feet is not difficult in London – it can even be fun. These book-shaped benches near St Paul’s Cathedral, just a few of the 50 scattered about the city, are a hit with young and old.

There are several places where a tourist can get a bird’s-eye view of London. You can spend an hour on the giant Ferris wheel that is the London Eye (cost £29.50), you can zoom 800 feet up to the top of The Shard (cost £29.95) or you can pay a mere £5 and catch the lift to the top of the tower of Westminster Cathedral, where you can stay as long as you like and enjoy 360 degree views over the city. This is the view straight down.

The royal angle - tourists love it. They risk getting bitten by those savage horses (!) to pose with members of the royal guard on horseback, they mob Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard, and they spend hours watching guardsmen marching back and forth for no apparent reason.

Keep an eye out for the little details when you’re exploring London. Just walking along the north and south embankments of the mighty River Thames, you can see incredible ornateness in everyday items – just look at the sculptural details in these lamp stands and benches.

Tick, tock, check out the clocks! If you think Big Ben’s amazing, think again. These are just some of the clocks I noticed adorning London’s buildings. The Pied Bull Yard (some history here) is near the British Museum, The Cittie of Yorke is a Grade II-listed pub in High Holborn, and The Royal Palace of Justice, the site of the High Court and the Court of Appeal for England and Wales, is in the Strand.

London also has its fair share of the tacky. A cardboard statue of Mr Bean stands next to a Union-Jack-painted mini in the entrance to a jam-packed-with-crap souvenir shop in Piccadilly Circus, and Yoda solicits the tourist dollar in Trafalgar Square.

Look up! Most of the old buildings in London have wonderful sculptural decoration: human heads and figures, fantastical gargoyles, and geometric designs. The intricate decoration on the left is on Westminster Abbey and that on the right is on a building on Victoria Embankment.

London is a paradise for the culture vulture. See a Westend show, catch a concert, stroll the hallowed halls of the National Gallery, The Tate or the British Museum, or simply feast your eyes on the many public artworks that grace the city streets. This whimsical sculpture, The Navigator by David Kemp, at Hay’s Galleria, is part pirate ship, part water fountain.

Check out the signage. I spotted this sign for the famous Twinings tea brand as I strolled along Fleet Street. It was at these premises in 1706 that the famous R. Twinings tea company was founded by Thomas Twining. This original tea shop houses a small museum, detailing the history of Twinings, as well as selling their famous products.

Here be dragons! When you remember that St George is England’s patron saint and that he’s most famous for slaying dragons, it’s not surprising that you can find dragon images throughout the country’s capital city. These examples are on Holburn Viaduct.