This is backtracking a bit. I had intended to post this a couple of days ago, but the technical problem I had with my blog delayed it. So, here's my rambling account of how I spent my last day in London. After spending a day visiting museums and another wandering a bit farther afield to Greenwich I decided to spend my last day in London seeing a bit more of the city itself. Well, actually, I spent most of the morning at the British Library, which has very quickly become one of my favorite places in London. However, by late morning, I'd tired of being indoors, so I took the Tube to the Baker Street station and started my stroll.
Why Baker Street? Because I grew up reading Arthur Conan Doyle, of course. 10 Downing Street may be considered by many to be the most famous address in London, but not by me. For me, the most famous address is 221B Baker Street. Because I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes stories, the London of my imagination is still Doyle's London - the London of gaslight and Hansom cabs and pea soup fog.
The London of today is much changed from the London of 120 years ago (rebuilding from being bombed in 2 world wars have seen to that, if nothing else), but I am possessed of a good imagination, and for a brief moment, walking up Baker Street, I could see old London in my mind's eye.
I then made a quick turn through Regent's Park, yet another lovely urban park here in England. I don't know how the English developed their knack for it, but they're really good at city parks. I still haven't managed to see Hyde Park yet, but if it's on par with the others I've seen, it must be a wonderful place indeed.
I cheated a bit at this point and caught the Tube to Westminster station instead of walking, and I kind of regret this now. London is a very walkable city and the central part is quite compact. However, for reasons that I really don't remember, I took the Tube instead. Oh well....
For those of you who are unfamiliar with London geography, the Westminster Tube station deposits you right next to Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Turn 'round the right way coming out of the station, and there's the tower of Big Ben.
I contemplated calling in at Westminster Abbey and paying my respects to Newton and Darwin, but admission was 10 pounds - a bit steep by my reckoning. Instead I strolled up Whitehall towards Trafalgar square, along what I think may safely be called the corridors of power.
Whitehall is lined with government buildings, and like the ones in Washington DC, these buildings do imposing very well. Come to think of it, they actually do imposing a bit better. DC with all its (neoclassical?) architecture is imposing, but also quite beautiful. The buildings of Whitehall dispense a bit with architectural frippery and concentrate mainly on being imposing: they are large and they are monolithic.
Also along Whitehall lies Downing Street (that other famous address I mentioned earlier), but it's a bit of a disappointment, really. Security concerns have closed the street to everybody, and you can't really see No. 10 from the security barrier. (Although I must say that the security detail manning the barrier was quite gracious in answering questions from a bunch of tourists about which distant doorway was No 10, though I'm sure they get asked this constantly.)
And then of course, there's Trafalgar square. Home to the National Gallery, the church of St. Martin's in the Fields, Nelson's Column, and probably a bunch of other stuff I'm forgetting. At the moment, Nelson's Column is a bit less impressive than usual - it's undergoing maintenance and is covered with scaffolding and tarp - hidden from view.
Oh well, another reason to come back.
On a whim, I ducked into the National Gallery (I do love the no entrance fees policy at many London museums) in an attempt to get a little culture. Now, I need to make it clear that what I know about art probably wouldn't fill a thimble, and I saw an awful lot of nice stuff from a lot of people I'd never heard of. There were some highlights, though: There are some very nice Rembrandts and a couple of nifty Vermeers. The Turners are Impressive, and they have an interesting DaVinci (and the number of people crowded around it left me wondering if it was mentioned in "The DaVinci Code").
All that was something of a sidelight for me though, I could have spent hours happily perusing the impressionists.
In particular, the Monets.
In particular, one Monet - of water lilies and a Japanese bridge.
I have a poster of another painting in that series on my wall at home, but that's nothing to seeing one in person.
Properly cultured, I wandered up The Strand and back, perusing some positively drool-worthy tartan cashmere scarves in one shop along the way (thank God I don't have room in my luggage for stuff like that or I'd have blown my budget right there). I contemplated wandering up Charing Cross Road, but decided that access to that many bookshops would be too great a temptation, and found myself at a loss of what to do next.
Eventually, after looking at my map, I decided that, touristy or not, I couldn't be this close and not go see Buckingham Palace. So I walked down The Mall and had a look.
Good Lord, and I thought the White House was big....
By this time, afternoon was wearing on, so I pointed my feet towards Victoria station to catch the Tube back to my hotel. This sounded the only sour note in my day. Victoria station at rush hour is something I wouldn't wish upon an enemy, and the bloody ticket machine kept breaking just as I got to the head of queue.
The day didn't end all badly though, I found a nice little Italian restaurant 'round the corner from my hotel and had a nice dinner before heading back to my hotel to pack for my trip to the seaside.