Monday, June 21, 2010

Saturday, June 19

First day in London. A long drive from Heathrow to the Waldorf Hilton right in the heart of the old city, just off the Strand. We unpacked and went out for a stroll.
The first thing that strikes one is that London is goofy for statues. They're everywhere, not only as free-standing statues but also as decorative elements on buildings. One literally can't walk a single block without seeing them (remember, though, we're in the old town; things are probably different further out). They even have statues (dragons) that mark the boundaries of the City of London proper. Most of the statues seem to have been erected between 1800 and 1950 so it must have been something of a public fad. Indeed, much of the city here dates to that era, giving a certain architectural unity to London. The main exception isn't buildings that are older but buildings that are much newer--I'd say 1970 and later. We don't see really old buildings in old London because the whole thing burned down in 1665 and also was heavily bombed during the Blitz.
Which brings up a second striking visual feature, the impact of the two world wars, seen mainly in the form of war memorials. We saw several on our walk, including ones for marines, for soldiers of various types, and for the navy. Most striking, though, was a church sitting on a little block, heavy downtown traffic all around it, like a little island. On it were some statues, of course. At the head, very prominent and grandiose, a statue of Gladstone. At the stern, more modest and human, one of Samuel Johnson. The chief element on this island is the church, St Dunstan's. It got our attention at first because its bells were ringing incessantly and elaborately. We walked across to see the statues, for at the Gladstone end were two modern military statues, clearly of WWII vintage. I don't recall the names, but both were fliers and one of them was the chief of bomber command during the war. The plaque recorded that 55,000 aviators lost their lives in bomber command, a truly terrifying statistic. The statue caused me to look more closely at the church itself, which had various other references to fliers on it, including at least two wreaths of flowers recently placed.
A plaque on the stern explained the place. On this site, it said, the Danes built a church in the 9th century. The church was later rebuilt by William the Conqueror. It was rebuilt again by Christopher Wren (probably the medieval version was destroyed in the Great Fire). Destroyed by German bombs in WWII, the church was rebuilt yet again in the 1950s when it became the official church of the R.A.F.
That's but a taste of the density of historical references around here. We literally crossed the street from the church and I noticed a Twinings tea shop. Look closer and no, it's not *a* Twinings shop it's *the* Twinings shop. The original, built in 1705.
It's like that for block after block.
We walked from the Strand to Fleet Street, then down to the river, and back again. Found a place to eat which was nothing special. Now back in the hotel again and updating this journal.

1 comment:

  1. The Twinings shop was one of Sam's favorite parts of London!

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