London was just a pass-through point this time, but we enjoyed it nonetheless — so many places to see, so little time.
The real highlights of this short visit are not likely to be found in most guide books.
We had been to the Tower, Buckingham Palace and other standard tourist fare on previous trips. But I had not seen another standard, St. Paul’s Cathedral, so Michelle and Alie indulged me. None of us had seen the Churchill War Rooms, but that is the subject of another post.
On our first night, we stopped for a quick bite in a Taylor Walker Pub. Many pubs in England are “free houses” not tied to any one brand of beer or ale, but others are controlled by a brewery. Neighborhood pubs and those in villages are often called a “local.”
We arrived just a bit early for “football night.” We were able to find the last small table in a corner. I went to the bar to order (standard practice in a pub), and by the time the food was delivered, the place was packed. Two guys played pool near us, but everyone else was engrossed in soccer on the big screen TVs. Michelle, now a Costa
Rican resident, is more of a fan than Alie or I, but all three soon found ourselves engrossed in the scene, cheering with the crowd for good plays and groaning at the bad. Pubs may be mentioned in guide books but I would add, a football game is a great way to make one special.
I was up early in the morning and walked through the Kensington Palace Park. There were the usual assortment of runners and people walking their dogs. I saw Queen Victoria’s elaborate Prince Albert Memorial and the much simpler memorial fountain for Princess Diana. The latter was dry at the time, perhaps simply because it was still quite early in the morning.
Temple Bar, near St. Paul’s, was a name I vaguely remembered, so I was interested to see a sign saying it is the last remaining original gate from old London’s walls. I was still at loss for why the name was so familiar until recently I realized Temple Bar is also a famous gathering district in Dublin.
A cathedral has stood at the location of St. Paul’s since 604. There have been four or five, some torn down and others burned. After the Great Fire of 1666, Christopher Wren was commissioned to build the present cathedral started in 1665 and completed in 1710. Wren had two particularly unusual features: He used clear glass, not stained glass, in order to let in more light and made the building very plain (the Victorians made it more elaborate); and he build a dome, supported by two smaller domes inside each other, elevated on walls above the roof lines. It was the tallest building in London until 1962.
The Duke of Wellington and Lord Nelson are buried in the crypt and there also are many memorials for many people including Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Lawrence of Arabia, Samuel Johnson and Alexander Fleming.
We were not allowed to take pictures inside except for a towering stone stair case, each step supported solely by the weight of the others.
On our only other full day before leaving for Cornwall, we had an English experience not available to most. Michelle once taught school in Kenya and had a roommate from England, Janet. Janet and her husband Paul invited us to take a train to their home for lunch. The house was an upper-middle class structure from around 1900. It has very high ceilings, former servants’ quarters and “back stairs.” Janet and Paul have created a beautiful English garden in the rear.
Have you had samphire? Janet served broiled fish with samphire, a vegetable that grows in marshy coastal areas. It is similar to bright green asparagus stalks with a crisp, salty taste.
An old portrait of a gentleman with a sailor’s cap and medal on his chest was on the wall. It was Janet’s grandfather from the little Cornish village Polperro who was credited with saving the lives of sailors on a sinking ship.
Finally, apropos of this English luncheon, Paul is a retired professor specializing in Shakespeare. Look for his recent book “Shakespeare: A Six Pack” in which he tries to show us the “culture and mindset” of the original audiences. It wasn’t in bookstores when we visited, but it is now. I just got my copy. I’m looking forward to reading these plays with his perspective.