London: A City of Museums, Parks, and Cathedrals

We have been so lucky.  By spending our holiday in Northern Europe we have had a second summer in a row without one uncomfortably humid  day. We love it.

We had quite an extensive itinerary planned for today which took us through St. James Park that practically borders Buckingham Palace.  It's a very pretty city park with winding walking paths, ancient shade trees, and a pond with different species of birds. Not all are native. In fact a sign says the pelicans were originally a gift from Russia.

Today all of the birds, most gifts from other countries, are protected through the generosity of companies such as Tiffany's.

Our self guided tour of London took us to Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum which is part of the Imperial War Museum.  It was Churchill's secret underground headquarters along with his cabinet during WWII which was necessary because of the bombing of London. It's a fascinating walk through underground chambers which  have been left mainly untouched since the war when it was a secret headquarters.  Churchill hated the underground. He said it confirmed the enemy's power. Using our audio guide we learned that the ceiling of the bunker was fortified with steel 6 feet thick. This gave many of the people  working there a sense of security but the truth is it wasn't as safe as they thought. If a bomb had hit the building, it would have collapsed. It was also vulnerable to chemical attacks.

We read the personal reflections of many of the people who worked there. They described Churchill as being determined and demanding. He often put a sticker on documents that read "Action this day!" yet  he was a kind man with a good sense of humor.  The kitchen staff had a cat named Smokey who slept on Churchill's bed on the few overnights  he spent there.  

The museum itself was very interactive with videos, photos, and transcripts. I heard some tapping and saw children excitedly  lined up in front of a hands on exhibit.  Upon closer inspection I discovered it was a manual typewriter.  "This is our most popular exhibit for kids," a museum guide told me with a smile. " The only problem is we need to order our ribbons from China."  Churchill hated noise of any kind. The actual typewriters used had sound silencers on them.

The Thames River has quite a current causing the water to appear to be churning in all directions. We took a boat down the river to the art museum Tate Modern.  The boat passed the London Eye which looks like a giant bicycle wheel. It was quite crowded. It looks like you would have an amazing view from it, but it costs over $30 US per person so we gave it a pass.

The Tate Modern is housed in an old power station. The exhibits are displayed by concept rather than by artist. We visited most floors and saw paintings and sculpture with a geometric concept.  There are three giant frames for example with bold blue borders with a different colored stripe accenting each one.  One odd exhibit to me is called Sugar and Oil. It is a black and white video showing what happens when crude oil is poured on a stack of sugar cubes.  An interesting exhibit is  a series of vintage radios turned into a high tech robot.  There are also impressive paintings by Picasso. Children are  invited to draw pictures using a high tech stylus. Their artwork is  projected on the wall.  On the top floor is a nice cafe with panoramic views of the city.

St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren who worked on it for over four decades in then1600s.  It is the fourth largest cathedral in Europe and was where Charles and Diana were married in 1981. The church is considered England's national church. By the time we got there it was ready to close within an hour and at $27US a ticket, we decided that was too expensive so we did something different. We went to a 20 minute Evening Prayer Service there. It was a very peaceful and calming experience with prayers and readings from psalms.

Today we are off to the British Museum and to my favorite store, Cath Kodston. I can't wait!


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