“I have been to London to visit the Queen”. 😀 What can be a better reason to go to London? (Although the other reasons are more obvious, more practical and more valid.) London, the capital city of England and the whole of the United Kingdom is one among the Alpha cities of the World and is a major economic centre with the skyline marked with modern high-rises. Though I am not here to see the contemporary skyscrapers of the expanded city but to explore inner London or London’s ancient core better known as the Square Mile. As I walk through the streets of London, I take my reader along on a virtual trip.
The City of London got the name of Square Mile because of its area of 1.12 sq mi. It was established by the Romans at around AD 43 and was known as ‘Londinium’. It was a flourishing city then. The Romans built bridges on the River Thames making it a commercial centre and a major port. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the city saw the downfall. Much later it was rebuilt by Alfred the Great, king of Wessex or the first king of England. London withstood all the further attacks and remained the dominant city to this day.
When you talk of London the very first music that plays in mind is “London Bridge is falling down”. With all other important and iconic monuments of London, I was much interested in the London bridge. While I planned my trip the few names that danced in my mind were Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Bridge, London Eye, Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral and British Museum. A few more places were there too but I kept them in my secondary list.
What can be the best way to see them all? Hop on hop off bus is possibly the best answer but the London traffic scared me a lot. The very first day the most noticeable thing was interconnecting roads with frequent traffic signals and the resulting high and slow traffic. The traffic conditions are so terrible, mostly in the peak hours that it may take hours to drive to a fairly short distance within the City and surrounding extended parts. As a result of such delay, we missed our very first tour on the very first day which was supposed to start from the Buckingham Palace Road. The next noticeable is the horrendously high pitched Ambulance siren scaring every soul around.
Due to such traffic conditions we had to re-reserve the tickets with a good amount of money for the next day. We came to the understanding that road travel must be avoided unless it is essential. This was the biggest lesson learnt in London and I would advice this to anyone travelling to London. London Tube or the Underground is the best possible, quickest and cheapest (if passes are already done) way to commute within the city. For the places listed above, we had to take the HOHO (Hop-on Hop-off) bus as it would help us see the beautiful buildings around other than my personal preference and along with it comes the information from the guide.
I had my preferences in place and the guide too, asked us to convey our desired location to stop the bus accordingly. Initially, we were so content with our seats in the upper deck of the open top bus that we were reluctant to move our lazy body. With our laziness getting over us as we kept moving through the ancient city listening to our guide directing us towards each and narrating the respective narrative, we forgot that we travelled far beyond our stops.
In this way, we were over the Tower Bridge, the iconic bridge of London (mistaken by some as the London Bridge). Now we pushed ourselves to get down at the Tower of London. This historic castle sits on the bank of the River Thames in the London Borough of Tower Hamlet. It is separated from the Square Miles in the west by the Tower Hills. It was built in the year 1066 after the Norman conquest of England with the initial White Tower, with consecutive phases of expansions later. The complete structure that stands today, is a set of buildings within two concentric rings of fortification and a moat.
The castle was built as a royal residence but later it was converted into a prison and a place of execution. Although it is more of a museum than a prison today, it still has a few inmates captured within its premises – and they are some six odd Ravens. The Legend says the Ravens in the Tower of London are the protector of the Crown and of Britain. If they are driven away it will lead to the fall of the crown and so of Britain too. There are various stories associated with this belief. I will not go into the details of those rather I would focus my attention on what I was interested in.
My primary interest was to get a glance of the Kohinoor Diamond (which was once the pride possession of India), one of the largest cut diamond in the world. In 1851 it went to London after the British annexation of Punjab, for display in the Great Exhibitions, never to come back. It later became the crown jewel to be worn by the females of the Royal family. It is said that Kohinoor has brought bad luck to the men of the Royal family wearing it. Since then it is worn by the female members only.
Apart from the Kohinoor of India, there were many other jewels from various parts of the world with the Cullinan (the largest diamond in the world) from South Africa. The dazzling crown jewels and the rich and opulent displays of various items in the dimly lit chamber bedazzled us. Each building within the complex is for various displays like the one for the crown jewels, one as the prison and the ways of execution, one for the royal menagerie and others.
Coming out of the tower we climbed up to cross the Tower Bridge by foot. It is a combination of Bascule and Suspension Bridge with two towers supporting the whole system. The upper level has two horizontal walkways to keep the provision open for pedestrians to cross the river while the bascule is in operation for the passage of boat traffic. The bridge was completed and opened for use in 1894. Being the iconic monument of London this is one of the primary tourist destinations and thus there was a huge number of tourists with a majority of them from China and some were seen busy in their premarital photo shoot.
Taking the ferry on the River Thames was another important thing in my list so we jumped into the boat for the cruise over the river that came clubbed with the HOHO bus tickets. Though the river water was murky rather than the expected blue, the ferry was enjoyable with ancient to modern monuments on either side of the bank. The Shard was popping its head up and was seen above all, while the London Eye was gently moving round and round. The boat passed under the London Bridge, Southwark Bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, Waterloo Bridge to finally ended our cruise in the Westminster Pier.
Yes, it was again the Westminster Bridge ahead of the pier and the Big Ben beside it. Alas! Big Ben is under renovation and will open in 2020. The magnificent Westminster Palace was standing in front of us, but it was a bad time of the day and the sunlight was spoiling it all. Again there was the opportunity to cross the Westminster Bridge by foot to reach the London Eye. It was a remarkable experience to get a bird’s eye view of London and the surrounding Boroughs from the capsules of this gigantic fairy’s wheel moving at a snail’s pace to give the visitors enough time to enjoy the view. It was the late afternoon time and the strong reflection was marring all the pictures.
The biggest disappointment was to see Big Ben in this way
Then a long walk through the streets of London with hundreds of people, some tourists, some locals – some exploring the city while others returning home after their workday, some capturing the London moments in their camera or phone while others running and walking to remain fit. The busy city life was on while we walked towards Buckingham Palace. All of a sudden we entered the green haven within the heart of the city. We moved through the Birdcage Walk shaded by the green foliage which was gradually taking the colours of the Fall.
The chirping of birds was heard from the adjacent St James Park. We wanted to have a closer look and thus entered the grasses and to our surprise, there were a few wild rose-ringed Parakeets clinging onto a pretty lady standing with her cup of coffee. The birds seemed friendly and even the grey squirrels feared her not. She asked the surprised onlookers to extend their hands for the birds to perch on them. The birds did perch on other visitors and on my husband’s extended hands. But the lady was their favourite and they soon returned back to her.
Then we walked to Buckingham Palace and my imaginative mind tricked me to see the Queen waving to the crowd from the balcony of the East Fast of the Palace. (Remember, I said earlier that “I have been to London to visit the Queen.”) Buckingham Palace is the London residence and the administrative headquarters of the Royal family of the United Kingdom (so there is always a possibility to see the Queen.) Outside the Palace stands the impressive Victoria Memorial monument facing The Mall.
There were a huge number of tourists gathered outside the palace. The Queen’s Guards (as the guards of Buckingham Palace are called) were seen posted outside the Palace. They were in their official red coat and black bearskin (the tall fur cap worn by the Queen’s Guards). Then there was a change in the post of the sentries. It was getting dark and so we decided to end our day retiring back to our hotel.
You can never say when it will rain in London or rather the whole of the United Kingdom. The taxi drivers are the best person to inform you about the exact weather forecast (better than your weather app in your mobile). They keep themselves updated with the hourly forecast and are the correct person to help you in planning your day depending on the weather. The next morning was rainy as predicted and it was raining cats and dogs, spoiling our first half of the day. Then we braved the rain and started for the famous British Museum.
The British Museum is more than 250 years old and it has grown with time since its foundation. All credits of the expansion go to the extended British colonisation. The museum displays artefacts and antiquity from almost every part of the World. The items are segregated and displayed in various departments based on Geography. I could not cover the whole of the museum but visited a few departments like that of Egypt and Sudan, Greece and Rome and finally and definitely the South Asian department with displays from India and the neighbouring countries.
It was interesting as well as tiring to go through the huge quantities of displays. One day is just not enough for such a vast museum and we had a few hours to explore, so we rested. We needed some fresh air after the heavy dose of history and so we walked down to the Trafalgar Square and seated ourselves comfortably in the clear weather. Who knew that such a gloomy day can end up such bright.
It was the hub of the Square Mile and every iconic monument were close to it so was the iconic London Telephone booth, London Taxi, London pillar box. I have seen all that I had in my London bucket, yet could not meet the Queen or the “Fair Lady” from the ‘London Bridge is falling down’ rhyme. Getting lost in my fanciful wishes within the crowd of hundred of tourists, in the centre of the Square Mile in the City of London, in Trafalgar Square I ended my London tour.
And a couple of London moments from my Camera.